Thursday, December 13, 2007

Vinyl Is Back!

I'm a little late to this, but Wired magazine wrote on October 29, 2007 that vinyl is on the rise. They even reported that has created a vinyl section on its website! Good news indeed -- although I doubt that Amazon will have the kind of records I enjoy, at least I can now put music back on my wishlist.

What did the record industry have to say about this? The typical bullshit:

"Our numbers, at least, don't really point to a resurgence," said Jonathan Lamy, the Recording Industry Association of America's director of communications. Likewise, Nielsen SoundScan, which registered a slight increase in vinyl sales last year, nonetheless showed a 43 percent decrease between 2000 and 2006.
I'll bet that the record industry wants to play down this growing trend of vinyl enthusiasts because the major record labels have invested a lot of money in the production and promotion of CDs, and that's not something they want to just throw away. This highlights the major record labels inability to keep up with new music and trends. Their business model just isn't suited to be that nimble.

And Wired does explain why the RIAA numbers are way off:
But when it comes to vinyl, these organizations don't really know what they're talking about. The RIAA's numbers are misleading because its member labels are only now beginning to react to the growing demand for vinyl. As for SoundScan, its numbers don't include many of the small indie and dance shops where records are sold. More importantly, neither organization tracks used records sold at stores or on eBay -- arguably the central clearinghouse for vinyl worldwide. is possibly the greatest site ever. Through eBay I've found most of my best and favorite records at, usually, reasonably prices (I still think $76 dollars for No Trend's 1984 Too Many Humans was a good deal! Really!) Just yesterday, I found Sightings' debut 7" and the Violent Ramp 7" -- pre-Wolf Eyes noise rock -- on eBay for "buy it now"! Of course, I scooped those right up.

Wired also writes that "the vinyl-MP3 tag team might just hasten the long-predicted death of the CD." As I've written before, Polyvinyl Records has already started offering a free mp3 download of any release purchased on vinyl. Here's to hoping that this practice becomes the norm -- ripping my entire vinyl collection to mp3 will be quite the daunting task!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Thursday, November 1, 2007

More 'Jesus and Mo' Goodness

This webstrip is increasingly becoming one of my favorites.

Further reading here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Squad Command

IGN offers a hands-on preview of THQ's Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command, a turn-based, tactical squad combat game. I'm looking forward to this title because the gameplay is going to be incredibly similar to Microprose's X-COM: UFO Defense. I have good reason to think that THQ has done an excellent job on this title -- THQ is the publisher responsible for the Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War series and Company of Heroes series of real-time strategy games, all of which are excellent.

Additionally, this should be a huge improvement over the PC's Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate, the first turn-based, tactical squad combat game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. While Chaos Gate isn't a bad game, it's very buggy and difficult to run under Windows XP.

I'll be getting this title for the Nintendo DS instead of the Sony PSP (in fact, I got a DS specifically because of this game) because the stylus and touch-screen are much better suited for this genre. While the PSP has better graphics, I'm more interested in the functionality that the DS offers. Looks like I made a good choice, too, because Front Mission is also going to be released for the DS -- which is another turn-based, tactical squad combat game, but instead of a squad of soldiers, Front Mission gives the player a squad of customizable war robots called "Wanzers" (walking panzer, i.e. walking tank).

Now I just have to hope that the X-COM DS homebrew project sees completion!

Update: IGN has a review for Front Mission DS.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Anti-Choice Summed Up In Four Panels

The Golden Compass

I've come across the movie The Golden Compass, set to be released in theatres on December 7, 2007. The movie is a fantasy-themed story about the adventures of a young girl. The girl is given an object called "the golden compass," which is said to give a glimpse of the future. She is then approached by the leader of the Magisterium -- a group which aims to control all of humanity. Her adventure includes talking animals, armor-clad warrior bears, and a world of witches.

Why has this movie perked my interest? Because it's based on English writer Phillip Pullman's book trilogy His Dark Materials, a series of children's books based on anti-religious themes. Of course, such material has already drawn the ire of Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League and all-around douche-bag. On October 9, 2007, Donohue told interviewer John Gibson of FOX News:

Look, the movie is based on the least offensive of the three books. And they have dumbed down the worst elements in the movie because they don't want to make Christians angry and they want to make money. Our concern is this, unsuspecting Christian parents may want to take their kid to the movie, it opens up December 7th and say, this wasn't troubling, then we'll buy the books. So the movie is the bait for the books which are profoundly anti-Catholic and at the same time selling atheism.
So Donohue is basically arguing that the filmmakers are trying to "trick" parents into letting their kids see this film, and then they'll buy the books for their kids and their kids will be "baited" into atheism.

Wow, that's fucking rich coming from Donohue. Isn't this what religion does in general? Children are tricked into believing in religion because their parents unquestionably subject them to such nonsense throughout their entire childhoods, while also telling their children that such nonsense is literally true. Most children are never given the opportunity to explore multiple religions, or to hear arguments against religion. This behavior is the definition of indoctrination. And now Donohue points the finger at Pullman, charging Pullman with the same behavior that religion has expressed for millenniums? Ha!

I think this is great. It's time we aimed literature at children that encourages thinking, instead of the rigid doctrines of religion. Besides, if religion is true, then no amount of criticism can deter humanity, right? What are the religious so afraid of?

Cost of the Conflict in Iraq

Friday, October 19, 2007

John Rambo

Holy shit!

Failing on Sex Education

Today's Baltimore Sun has an article about House Appropriations Committee Chair David R. Obey's decision to push for increased funding of abstinence-only education in public schools:

President Bush, in his budget request, asked for a $28 million increase in community-based grants, which Obey has obliged.
What's the problem here? Obey is the Democratic Representative from Wisconsin. What are the Democrats thinking? Obey claims to be taking this strategy because he thinks that he "can pick up Republican support for much bigger health and social welfare programs that the White House wants to cut." If history is any indicator, Republicans are very unlikely to make such a compromise -- it's more likely that they will take this win from Obey and give Democrats nothing in return. Not only does it help them pass legislation that they support, but it makes the Democratically-led Congress look ineffective when Republicans block the health and social welfare programs that Democrats support. This is a terrible strategy.

Not only that, though, but why are Democrats even considering to endorse legislation that runs counter to the current science on sex education? Aren't we trying to fight the anti-intellectualism of the Right? We have complained for nearly 7 years that the Bush administration puts ideology ahead of science. What is Obey thinking?

At least Henry Waxman, Democratic Representative from California, gets it:
I've made clear to my colleagues that I don't believe abstinence-only is an effective approach, or that it makes sense to increase funding. I haven't been able to prevail on the issue of appropriations but plan to continue to fight for better programs for youth.
Keep up the good fight Mr. Waxman!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The New Feudalism

Via Mike the Mad Biologist over at, I came across this from Mahablog:

Those of us who were children in the 1950s and 1960s got so used to economic times getting better and better that we assumed that was the way the world would always be. Any slowdowns were just temporary glitches. In the early 1980s, when mortgage rates went through the roof, lots of my contemporaries cheerfully took out balloon mortgages because of course in five years they’d be making a lot more money. But, as a rule, they didn’t. Now I think most people have stopped expecting. They’re just hoping to hang on to what they have.

I’ve believed for a long time that much of America’s prosperity — whatever’s left of it, anyway — has been floating on the wealth created in the postwar years. That’s when all those veterans got college degrees on the GI Bill and went out and started businesses or created new products. That’s when all those middle-class couples, booming with babies, bought their first houses with mortgages subsidized by the U.S. government. That left with them income to buy new refrigerators and cars and television sets, growing the refrigerator and car and television set industries in America. It was win/win for everybody. [emphasis mine]
The bolded section is what those on the Right -- arbiters of "supply-side economics," "voodoo economics," and "trickle-down theory" -- would like to pretend has nothing to do with economic growth. The principle is quite simple; pay workers enough to purchase what they produce, and the economy will grow. Mahablog quotes Rick Wolff:
From 1973 to 2005, this is what happened to the 80 percent of US workers in non-supervisory jobs. Their hourly wages — adjusted for inflation — rose from $15.76 to $16.11. That is, over a 32 year period, most US workers enjoyed a stunning 2 percent increase in what their hourly pay could buy. Because their work weeks shortened over those years, their real weekly pay — what they could actually afford for a week’s pay — actually fell from $581.67 to $543.65, a decline of 6.5 percent. This means that workers’ wages could buy less in 2005 than in 1973.

Over the same thirty years, US workers produced 75 percent more. In the language of economics, that’s how much output per worker — “productivity” — rose. Corporations got 75 percent more goods and services produced per worker. They sold that extra output and thus got much more revenue and profit per worker employed. Yet what they paid those workers did not rise. Stagnant wages did not allow the workers to buy any of the extra output they produced.

The numbers on productivity and real wages before then — from 1945 to 1975 — were very different. Productivity rose much faster then than afterward. But the big difference is what happened to real wages: hourly, they rose 75 percent from 1947 to 1972, while weekly they rose 61 percent. In other words, US workers wages then rose with their higher productivity — exactly what stopped happening after the mid-1970s.

The welfare state economy of 1945 to 1975 was driven by two interconnected fears: of lapsing back into the Great Depression and of succumbing to socialism. History reduced those fears enough so that, after 1975, business could undo the New Deal and go back to the pre-1929 gaps between rich and poor. Most paid commentators cheer the business reaction as if it were good for everyone, but workers suffering the new sub-prime economy may reckon differently. The explosion of workers’ debts has postponed that reckoning. So too have fundamentalism, escapism, and the noise from all those commentators.
Read the whole thing.

Radiohead Update

It's already been reported that Radiohead's new album, In Rainbows, has sold approximately 1.2 million copies. Gigwise speculates that the average price paid has been about £1; however, an internet survey conducted by music industry newsletter Record of the Day found that the average price paid has been about £4, according to an article by The Times.

This means that Radiohead has made between $2.4 million and $9.6 million of pure profit on this album. There's no record label or contract that splits up the revenue.

So when will some other major label acts follow in Radiohead's footsteps? Can you imagine a world in which the cash cow artists that record labels depend upon abandon the labels -- a world in which the capitalism is taken out of the art?

I'm looking forward to see how this story unfolds.

Monday, October 1, 2007

"...To This Decaying Business Model"

Time Magazine writes today that Radiohead's new album is going to be self-released. That's nothing new, but here's what makes it interesting:

In Rainbows will be released as a digital download available only via the band's web site, There's no label or distribution partner to cut into the band's profits — but then there may not be any profits. Drop In Rainbows' 15 songs into the on-line checkout basket and a question mark pops up where the price would normally be. Click it, and the prompt "It's Up To You" appears. Click again and it refreshes with the words "It's Really Up To You" — and really, it is. It's the first major album whose price is determined by what individual consumers want to pay for it. And it's perfectly acceptable to pay nothing at all.
Simply awesome. I'd be interested in seeing the data collected, as well as the average/median price paid for the digital download. This has the potential to dispel any myths about file-sharing and bittorrent, especially if it turns out that many people will pay a reasonable price for an artist's music if the buyer knows that his/her money will be going directly to the artist, not a record label.

And this quote from singer Thom Yorke sums up nicely what I think of record labels these days:
I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say 'Fuck you' to this decaying business model.
A decaying business model it is. Record labels are parasites on the hard work of (usually) talented performers. With the rise of digital music, mp3 players, the internet, and a continued decline in the sale of physical copies of music (i.e. CDs), there really doesn't seem to be a purpose for record labels anymore. Artists can now do almost everything that a record label would traditionally handle -- production can be done cheaply with a home computer and the right software; distribution, as well as advertising, can be handled through the artist's website or a social-networking website. Add to that the fact that digital files of music are a much more popular method of collecting music than the purchase of physical copies of music, and the expenses of distribution are a lot lower than they have been in the past.

In a related note, I want to point out that Polyvinyl Records is doing something interesting with digital downloads. If you buy the vinyl LP, Polyvinyl will give you a code to download a digital version of the record from their website. A very cool idea, and one that I am particularly taken with, since I am an avid vinyl enthusiast, but I'd also like to make a digital archive of my records. This just makes that process a little easier!

The end of the Time article raises another interesting point:
Meanwhile, as record sales decline, the concert business is booming. In July, Prince gave away his album Planet Earth for free in the U.K. through the downmarket Mail on Sunday newspaper. At first he was ridiculed. Then he announced 21 consecutive London concert dates — and sold out every one of them.
This is nothing new either, since artists have always made more money on tour than through the sale of records. Just read Steve Albini's "The Problem with Music," which lays out in stark terms just how fucked the average major label act really is.

Once artists set up their own distribution networks through the internet, outside of the music business, there will really be no reason left for record labels to exist anymore. Except for the fact that these labels still hold copyright over most of their catalogs, their demise is almost certain if Radiohead's experiment works.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Universal Health Care

Today's Baltimore Sun has an Op/Ed by Jim Jaffe titled, "How would we enforce mandatory health coverage?" The column misses the point entirely about what universal health care actually is.

Jaffe writes, "But how will the new system deal with those who fail to buy the required insurance? There will be more than a few of them." No shit, sherlock. That's exactly what is the problem with the current system -- about 47 million people are unable to afford health insurance. The whole idea behind universal health care is that people won't have to buy their coverage anymore; instead, it'll be available to everyone who needs it.

Maybe I've got Jaffe's column figured out wrong here, but he writes about "any such universal system" in his article. This leads me to believe that Jaffe is discussing the idea of universal coverage in any form. Not at any point does Jaffe offer the alternative to a mandatory health coverage purchase by citizens, which is actually what universal health care advocates are fighting for -- that the government foot the insurance bill.

Jaffe also discusses a point that many workers simply refuse coverage offered by employers, which is interesting:

More than a third of employees who are offered insurance at work opt out. Most of them get coverage elsewhere, but nearly a quarter simply go without insurance. These are people who think they have more important things to do with their money. Some will feel that way even if the price is cut. That's not necessarily irrational, particularly if you're among the healthiest 50 percent of the population that accounts for only 3.4 percent of the nation's annual health bill.
Actually, that is quite irrational in a universal system. One of the values of a universal system is the idea of shared risk. Shared risk means that we all pay equally into the system, regardless of our current health condition, to subsidize those who need health care. Since all citizens would be paying into the system equally through taxes, everyone citizen will have access to health care when they need it, without having to face the burden of high monthly premiums, co-pays, and other costs as a barrier to access.

Currently, our for-profit model of private health insurance allows the healthy to pay less, with the reasoning that they use less health care. What are the side effects of this model? Those who actually need health care end up paying more for their insurance. This effectively turns health care into a class system, in which only the affluent can afford their care. Those who cannot go without coverage, because the healthy are not subsidizing the sick in our private system. This is partly why approximately 47 million Americans go without health insurance -- no one is helping them out.

Jaffe goes on to relate this to Social Security and Medicare:
Many of them would also not participate in Social Security and Medicare if they could opt out. But they don't have that choice, which explains why the participation in these two programs is nearly 100 percent.
And there's good reason people cannot opt out of those programs -- they are built upon the idea of shared risk, which partly explains their longevity. Additionally, those two programs are considered the government's most successful, which have incredibly low administrative costs. This means that we get what we pay for in those two programs, with virtually no money wasted. Private insurance, on the other hand, has administrative costs that continue to rise. A universal health care system administered by the government would be much more efficient with our money than a private corporation.

So, yes, Jaffe is right to criticize a mandatory health care insurance purchase by consumers. But it would have been informative for Jaffe to explain what a real universal health care system is and offer that as an alternative for readers, as well as not leave the impression that mandatory health care is the same as universal health care.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Class War...

... is already being waged from the top. Do something about it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Civil Marriage is a Civil Right

The front page of today's Baltimore Sun has three articles about the decision of the Maryland Court of Appeals to uphold a ban on same sex marriage in the state of Maryland.

Maryland's highest court rejected same-sex marriage yesterday and upheld the state's 34-year-old statute defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
What was the legal argument for doing so? It'll shock you:
It is clear that homosexual persons, at least in terms of contemporary history, have been a disfavored group in both public and private spheres of our society [...] This court nevertheless finds that [...] a history of unequal treatment does not require that we deem suspect a classification based on sexual orientation.
In his dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Robert M. Bell wrote:
To be sure, there are important differences between the African American experience and that of gay men and lesbians in this country, yet many of the arguments made in support of the antimiscegenation laws were identical to those made today in opposition to same-sex marriage.
In Loving v. Virigina, the 1967 court case in which Robert Loving and Mildred Jeter challanged the constitutionality of Virigina's antimiscegenation laws, the United States Supreme Court ruled:
Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival. Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942). See also Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190 (1888). To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.
How could the Maryland Court of Appeals rule that denial of gays and lesbians the right of marriage is not a form of discrimination based on sexual orientation? Clearly, if we were to substitute the words "sexual" for "racial" and "sexual orientation" for "race," we can demonstrate that the reasoning for striking down antimiscegenation laws can be applied to measures banning same sex marriages as well.

The 14th Amendment guarantees the rights and privileges of the United States constitution to all citizens. If we bar gay and lesbian couples access to these rights and privileges, that is a clear violation of the 14th amendment. If a same sex marriage case were ever to go all the way to the US Supreme Court, I'm confident (despite President Bush stacking the bench with staunch conservative justices) that it is very unlikely the Court would overturn 40 years of precedent. In fact, if the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of a ban on same sex marriage, they would also have to strike down the ruling in Loving v. Virigina, which is very unlikely.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

We Are A Police State

Asking questions that go longer than your allotted time limit can get you arrested. Freedom of speech? Psh, not in America. Notice how the neither John Kerry nor the audience stand up in defense of this young man. We are in submission.

Welcome to the Police State.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Banned Books

Today, I read this post over at Pharyngula about objections to a book from a 15-year-old student and her grandmother:

Lysa Harding, 15, couldn't believe the sexually charged prose of the novel she checked out from the library at Brookwood High School. Her grandmother was offended, too. Now they're refusing to return the book, "Sandpiper" by Ellen Wittlinger, saying other teens shouldn't be exposed to it.
Yeah, yeah, another load of bullshit. Reading through the comments, though, I happened upon this link to the American Library Association. The news-release has a list of the ten most "challenged" book of 2006:
  • "And Tango Makes Three" by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, for homosexuality, anti-family, and unsuited to age group;

  • "Gossip Girls" series by Cecily Von Ziegesar for homosexuality, sexual content, drugs, unsuited to age group, and offensive language;

  • "Alice" series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor for sexual content and offensive language;

  • "The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things" by Carolyn Mackler for sexual content, anti-family, offensive language, and unsuited to age group;

  • "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison for sexual content, offensive language, and unsuited to age group;

  • "Scary Stories" series by Alvin Schwartz for occult/Satanism, unsuited to age group, violence, and insensitivity;

  • "Athletic Shorts" by Chris Crutcher for homosexuality and offensive language.

  • "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky for homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language, and unsuited to age group

  • "Beloved" by Toni Morrison for offensive language, sexual content, and unsuited to age group;

  • "The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier for sexual content, offensive language, and violence.
What do you notice? Nine out of the top ten challenged books make reference to sexuality in some form or another, and that's why they're on this list.

Are we still so obsessed with the sexuality of others in this country? Parents, just get over it already. Kids are going to fuck whether or not you shield them from the realities of the world. Instead of forcing them to navigate these waters without a compass, wouldn't you rather it be that your children are informed about sex so that they don't make a stupid decision? Don't you think it would be better that your child knows how to have safe sex (i.e., using a condom) so that you don't have grandchildren before your own kids have graduated high school, or so that your kid doesn't have to experience the unpleasantness of piss that feels like burning, broken glass?

Seriously, get your heads out of your asses.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The End of Journalism

This post over at makes some rather interesting observations:

It has become all too easy to shrug off the decline of legitimate news organizations and "old-fashioned" print media as the Internet and direct and digital cable TV expand by leaps and bounds. But the fact that we've reduced real news and truth to a consumer commodity subject to ratings and sales poses a threat to our freedom that is mostly ignored.
and here's how this threat has manifested itself:
[Rupert] Murdoch [owner of News Corp.] operates most of his major media properties at a loss, slashing ad rates and subscribers rates in order to drive the less well financed family-owned and journalist-owned properties into oblivion. That's his goal with The New York Times. Decades ago news outlets competed with each other through their ability to deliver the best information first, quality of writing and quality of investigative journalism. Today, the Murdoch's of the world have radically changed the paradigm forcing news outlets to compete as business entities mostly through advertising revenue. And with his deep pockets, Murdoch always has the advantage. Murdoch does not see his broadcast and print news ventures as a means to enhance the provision of free information to a free people, Murdoch rather uses his former news and information properties to propagandize his various political agenda--the anti-gay one for example--both through the dissemination of lies and the diversion of circus-like entertainment. And he's brilliant at this. Murdoch has done more damage to American democracy and freedom than a dozen George W. Bushes could ever hope to accomplish.
Why is this so important? Because without a free press there will be no one watching government. Those in a position of power will be able to abuse that power because no one is plastering their misdeeds all over the front pages for all Americans to read. Without an informed populace, voters cannot make sound decisions at the voting booth, and therefore, candidates will find it easier to lie to constituents about their intentions for office.

The blogosphere, while more democratic than traditional print newspapers, is missing something important -- credibility. People trust print news as a source for objective information because there are journalistic standards in place to ensure that that information is reliable. The methods that those like Murdoch engage in threaten to disrupt these journalistic standards, and thus, shift the focus of news gathering from keeping a watchful eye on power to more trivial pursuits, while also having the side effect of reducing the credibility of print journalism.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sometimes One Side is Right

I saw this over at Pharyngula today:

and it explains perfectly why I think centrists are idiots.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Moore's "Truth Squad" on the Larry King Live Interview

Last week, Michael Moore responded to the Sanjay Gupta interview on Larry King Live with another release from the Truth Squad. Moore also posted a letter to CNN asking why they hadn't responded to his webite postings yet.

Well, CNN finally responded yesterday, and to say the least, the response is less than adequate.

I'll be watching to see if Moore responds to CNN.

UPDATE: Moore has a follow-up letter to CNN, as well as a re-cap of the confrontation.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Moore Vs. Blitzer: Part 2

Here's the rest of the interview:



Moore faced off with Sanjay Gupta on Larry King Live last night:

Here are parts 2 and 3.

There's a webchat posted over at HuffingtonPost with Moore, conducted after his interview with Gupta.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

8 Reasons Conservatives are Wrong on Health Care

After I posted the Michael Moore video, I remembered this Tom Tomorrow comic from last week:

Be on the lookout for these classic responses from the know-nothing conservatives when it comes to health care in the United States.

Michael Moore Destroys Wolf Blitzer

You have to see the video:

Go to to see the Moore's response to Sanjay Gupta's report.

There's some commentary over at Alternet that helps to put this into perspective, too.

Monday, July 2, 2007

A History Lesson in Media and Democracy

Required reading for today -- an Al Gore speech from October of 2005. Here's a sample:

It is important to note that the absence of a two-way conversation in American television also means that there is no "meritocracy of ideas" on television. To the extent that there is a "marketplace" of any kind for ideas on television, it is a rigged market, an oligopoly, with imposing barriers to entry that exclude the average citizen.

The German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, describes what has happened as "the refeudalization of the public sphere." That may sound like gobbledygook, but it's a phrase that packs a lot of meaning. The feudal system which thrived before the printing press democratized knowledge and made the idea of America thinkable, was a system in which wealth and power were intimately intertwined, and where knowledge played no mediating role whatsoever. The great mass of the people were ignorant. And their powerlessness was born of their ignorance.

For further reading, look up Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.

This gets me thinking... will vlogging destroy blogging as television has destroyed print, or will blogging bring a return to the Rule of Reason?

US House Votes to Ban the Fairness Doctrine

This morning I read that the US House of Representatives voted on an amendment to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations for FY 2008 that would ban the FCC from using federal funds to bring back the Fairness Doctrine.

For those of you who don't know, the Fairness Doctrine was a FCC regulation that required broadcasters, both TV and radio, to present a balanced program on controversial issues. The regulation was applied to only TV and radio, not to print, because of the definition of the airwaves as a public resource. Having a balanced program serves the public interest and helps to ensure that voters can make informed decisions based on all the available information. Without the Fairness Doctrine, broadcasters have a license to air propaganda. Of course, the Right-wing loves that the Fairness Doctrine has been abolished because now they can dominate the airwaves with their one trick pony. It's a lot easier to gain an audience using the tactic of sensational broadcasting when the listeners aren't informed on the topic being discussed.

Of course, the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) completely agrees with the House's decision. If it's good for business, they're in. Good for democracy? Yeah, fuck that.

But what really pisses me off about this is the House vote. Just a little more than half of the elected Democrats voted for this amendment! It's also interesting to note that the Bill which was amended did not pass, and that Republicans -- who voted in unity for the amendment -- voted in near unity against the Bill.

So, which party is looking out for the interests of an informed public? Oh wait, silly me. I forgot that having an informed public to strengthen America's rapidly deteriorating democracy isn't a part of the game plan. Way to go, Democratic majority...

Friday, June 15, 2007


Some Friday fun.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Burlesque Comedy

Quite possibly the best This Modern World comic. Ever.


Lately, I've reestablished my infatuation with the X-COM series, which is probably because of the recent release of UFO: Extraterrestrials. Although UFO: ET fell short, in a number of ways, of my expectations of the game, the various mods created by fans have helped to make UFO: ET much closer to the original X-COM: UFO Defense.

I remember when UFO: Aftermath was first released. Then, as now, I became excited that a new X-COM inspired game would be in my hands. Aftermath was a huge disappointment, a game which neither captured the same tension and suspense as the original X-COM nor the seamless gameplay. At least UFO: ET gets the turn-based part right and a bit of the atmosphere. Without the mods, though, that game would be in the dustbin with Aftermath already.

And all this excitement has brought to my attention that there are rumors that X-COM may finally get a proper sequel.

Monday, June 11, 2007

X-COM Videos Part 4

This is a video clip of the final mission, completed in one turn!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

X-COM Videos Part 3

Here's a video clip of X-COM: UFO Defense's sequel, X-COM: Terror from the Deep:

The sequel was built upon the same engine as the original, but the developers made it much more difficult. Many criticize Terror from the Deep because it's so similar to UFO Defense, but I think the game has its merits. This clip appears to be from about mid-way through the game.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

X-COM Videos Part 2

Another good youtube video:

This clip is from much later in the game and it has some commentary (the voice-over sounds a bit like Keanu Reeves, heh).

Friday, June 8, 2007

X-COM: UFO Defense

Here's a little introductory video of X-COM: UFO Defense that illustrates why this is possibly the greatest game of all time:

In the coming days ahead, I'll be posting youtube videos of X-COM that I think are worth watching. Enjoy!

The Criminalization of Sex

American injustice, served cold:

When he [Genarlow Wilson] was a senior in high school, he received oral sex from a 10th grader. He was 17. She was 15. Everyone, including the girl and the prosecution, agreed she initiated the act. But because of an archaic Georgia law, it was a misdemeanor for teenagers less than three years apart to have sexual intercourse, but a felony for the same kids to have oral sex.


The trial finished [...] and the jury came back with [...] "guilty" on the aggravated child molestation.

He looked at the forewoman. She was crying, seeming to understand they'd just undone a promising future. Indeed, when the jurors found out there was a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, several were incensed. The prosecution told them to write a letter, then moved on to the next case.

And look what the prosecutor of the case, Eddie Barker, thinks about it:

Barker thinks five years is fair for receiving oral sex from a schoolmate.

Fair? Are you fucking kidding me? In what fantasyland is this punishment reasonable and how does this punishment serve justice? What wrong was corrected? Can barker even answer these questions without resorting to, "Well, I was just doing my job." You know what? The Nazis said the same shit.

Or could it be because of this?

The first time the Supreme Court voted on Genarlow's case, it was 4-3. The four judges who voted against the black teen were white. The three judges who voted for him were black.

Seems like this case is knee-deep in race issues. Consider this:

At the same time this trial was under way, a local high school teacher, a white female, was found guilty of having a sexual relationship with a student -- a true case of child molestation. The teacher received 90 days. Wilson received 3,650 days.

But there's some good news. CNN reports that the case will be reviewed and a decision on whether or not Wilson will be given back his freedom will be be issued Monday.

You can follow the case here.

This is yet another reason why mandatory sentences are bullshit. The blanket application of punishment doesn't take context into account, and then people who have wronged no one are charged with a crime. Not to mention that criminalizing sex between consenting minors itself is completely unreasonable. What purpose does this serve? Who is being protected? The consenting minors?


New Sightings

I just ordered the newest Sightings LP, Arrived In Gold. Expect a review when it arrives in the mail.

I'm looking forward to this one! A sample track can be heard on the Load Records website.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Police Brutality of the Day

This morning on the train, a friend of mine told me about an incident at a UCLA library in which police officers used unnecessary and unprovoked forced against a student. The college newspaper wrote a story about the incident when it happened in November of 2006 and also wrote a follow-up that includes links to video of the incident. That video can be found on youtube:

Despite the fact that the student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, relented to the police's requests to leave the library when he failed to produce his student ID, the police stopped him from exiting the library and tased him. While on the floor, shocked and stunned and recuperating from the experience of having his muscles lock up, Tabatabainejad was ordered to "stand up or get tased again" by the police.

Police also refused to answer requests that they identify themselves by providing their badge numbers. One officer responded to such requests by threatening students -- "get back over there or you're gonna get tased too." Such a threat constitutes "illegal assault" by an officer.

In a follow-up from The Sanfrancisco Chronicle, the paper reports that
Tabatabainejad only refused to show his student ID because he felt that he was being unfairly targeted because he is Iranian-American. Tabatabainejad stated that he would show them his ID if the officers asked the other students to show their IDs. The police's response was to taser him. Tabatabainejad said, "Here’s your Patriot Act. Here’s your fucking abuse of power." While the police claim that he resisted them, the video evidence does not support that. Tabatabainejad even yelled, "I’m not fighting you" during the confrontation.

So far, the only facts coming out are that the student has filed a lawsuit again the University, the campus police and
officers Terrence Duren and Alexis Bicomong. I really hope these officers get nailed to the wall for this shit -- lose their badges and serve time in prison for abuse and assault.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Fuck American Anti-Intellectualism

Today, Eugene Robinson, or "Mean Eugene" as a good friend of mine is fond of calling him, has a column in The Washington Post advocating "an egghead for the oval office." The topic is built upon Al Gore's recent book, The Assault on Reason. I couldn't be more pleased that someone in the mainstream media is giving intellectualism its due credit!

Some highlights:

When I look at what the next president will have to deal with, I don't see much that can be solved with just a winning smile, a firm handshake and a ton of resolve. I see conundrums, dilemmas, quandaries, impasses, gnarly thickets of fateful possibility with no obvious way out.


I want a president who reads newspapers, who reads books other than those that confirm his worldview...


I want a president -- and it's amazing that I even have to put this on my wish list -- smart enough to know that Darwin was right.

Actually, I want a president smart enough to know a good deal about science.


I want the next president to be intellectually curious -- and also intellectually honest. I want him or her to understand the details, not just the big picture.


I don't want the candidates to pretend to be average people, because why would we choose an ordinary person for such an extraordinary job? I want to see what they've got -- how much they know, how readily they absorb new information, how effectively they analyze problems and evaluate solutions. If the next president is almost always the smartest person in the room, I won't mind a bit. After all, we're not in high school anymore.
Hopefully, more people will voice this concern. I, too, am sick of the rampant anti-intellectualism in this country. Why wouldn't we want the smartest and most capable person in America leading the country?

"Dig Your Claws Into My Organs"

Holy shit!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Science Is Not Religion

PZ Myers rules:

There is a fundamental contradiction [between science and religion]. Faith says that the way to get answers is by revelation, accepting authority, and dogma. Science says that the way to get answers is by examining the evidence critically, testing hypotheses with experiment in the natural world, and by constantly reevaluating and revising our ideas to make them more accurate. It isn't just that the two arrive at different, conflicting answers—for instance, that the earth is 6000 years old vs. 4.5 billion years old—but that their methods conflict. Scientists will not accept a random idea because someone contemplated and decided a deep "Truth" appealed to him: a kernel of observation and evidence is required.

It is disingenuous for Brownback to claim that science and religion do not contradict each other, given that religion contradicts itself. Which "same god" created the material order? Allah, Jehovah, Vishnu, Thunderbird, Jesus, Ymir? Which sect's interpretation will we accept: Catholic, Protestant, Sunni, Shi'a, Scientologist, Mormon? There are even two accounts of the creation in the book of Genesis that differ from each other greatly—which one is the "spiritual truth"? Most importantly, how will you objectively evaluate these explanations? [emphasis in original]

I couldn't have put it better myself. Myers rips apart an editorial by Senator Sam Brownback, printed in The New York Times. Read the whole thing.

And this hits on something that really bothers me -- when people call science a "religion." Science and religion couldn't be more opposed to one another even if they got up and clashed swords. Science is the antidote to religious inanity.

Enter the Blasphemy Chamber

I think this relates to a few of my most recent posts about the electoral system and religion rather well:

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Philosophy of Epistemology

I've been wanting to get this post up for quite awhile now, but time hasn't permitted me to do so. Last week, I had a very interesting discussion with a good friend of mine on the train. The original topic concerned a statement made by Richard Dawkins, who famously equated the teaching of religion to children with abuse.

Dawkin's approach emphasized that religion's use of fear causes great mental abuse to children, but I took a different approach during this discussion with a friend. My argument for agreeing with Dawkins was as follows:

1. Deception is defined as misleading others to believe something to be true. As wikipedia states:
Deception is the manipulation of perception to alter thoughts and feelings through lies and cleverness. Deception involves concepts like propaganda, distraction and concealment. Fiction, while sometimes manipulative, is not a deception unless it is portrayed as the whole truth.
2. The question is, then, is deceiving children considered to be abuse? I would answer that it is. Under any definition of abuse, to be deceptive is to be emotionally and/or mentally abusive. Abuse is defined as using someone wrongly to one's own advantage. It can easily be argued that religion uses people to its own advantage through coercion. The Inquisition is a prime example.

3. Religion makes many claims about the universe, and also puts forth that these claims are truths. In other words, religion has made claims for which it also says are true.

4. In all the thousands of years that religion has been around, never once has religion provided any verifiable, empirical evidence to support these claims that it posits are true. Religions claim there is a god (or gods), yet they have never proven this claim. Under any logical framework, it is the responsibility for the one making the claim to provide the evidence to prove that the claim is true; it is not the responsibility of the person not making the claim to prove that the negative of that claim is true.

5. Since religion has not provided the necessary evidence to support its claims, yet religion still preaches these claims as truths, religion is being deceptive.

6. If religions are being deceptive, and if the teaching of deception amount to abuse, then the teaching of religion is abuse.
My friend raised some questions regarding epistemology -- namely that one cannot actually obtain an objective truth; therefore, one cannot be held accountable for claims that are believed to be true but not proven to be true. Because no one can analyze evidence through another's perception, we cannot know for certain that both are viewing the evidence in the same way; however, I would argue that with multiple, independent perceivers, we can verify that a piece of evidence is viewed virtually the same, and therefore, we can state that we are so reasonably close to the truth that we can call the evidence a truth. With each added independent perceiver, the chance of error decreases.

This is the basis of the scientific method -- which posits that we can only accept evidence for claims that are observable, repeatable, and verifiable. Science has a long track record of making claims, providing evidence to prove those claims, and altering those claims when new evidence arises that disproves the old evidence; we can say that science has a method to provide truths to a reasonable degree. Science also uses a transparent methodology, so that anyone with enough interest can repeat the experiments and observations used to prove claims. Religion has no such method in place, and is therefore unfit to make claims of truth.

Since religion has no such method to provide verifiable claims, since religion's claims in the past have been proven wrong again and again, and since religion continues to make claims that it states are true (but that religion cannot know for certain within a reasonable degree that those claims are true) then religion is being deceptive.

I only make the claim that religion cannot know that its claims are true because religion does not have a method with a proven track record for obtaining truths. To continue to make such claims is the very definition of being deceptive. I don't have to claim that religion's claims are false, because it is not my responsibility to prove the negative of their claims.

My friend would argue that I cannot prove that such deception is intentional, and therefore, I cannot call it abuse. Whether or not religion is intentionally deceptive is besides the point -- religion is still being deceptive, and religion still teaches that deception to children. Even if religion believes that such claims are true, then are then being self-deceptive and self-abusive. Religion, because it teaches claims that it cannot know to be true but still teaches those claims as truths, is both deceptive and abusive.

Sightings S/T LP

I apologize to my handful of readers out there for not getting my Sightings LP review up sooner. I have listened to the whole record several times over, and I'm very impressed.

Over at Load Records, you can find the bands page, as well as a sample track from this record, entitled, "Cuckoo."

I really like those record -- unadulterated, raw noise rock, and the record never fails to please. Screeching vocals, overbearing guitars, distortion-driven drums -- it's all there. I think I'll take a chance on the latest offering available on Load Records, Available in Gold, as well. A sample track for that record, "Dudes," can be found on the Load Records website. The sound has definitely progressed and transgressed since that first LP release, and the trance-like, distortion-laden soundscape created on that track is rather compelling. I'm just glad the LP is still available.

If you like that Sightings track on the S/T LP, I'd recommend checking out some of the rock-based stuff from Gang Wizard, another interesting, avant garde/noise rock musical machine. I have the Jeckyll Loves Hyde LP, which has a few very raw noise rock pieces like the Sightings LP, but also some more spacey, experiemental pieces. An interesting record, nonetheless.

Why There Weren't Any Dinosaurs On Noah's Ark

I just came across this and had to share.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Answers in Genesis Opens The Creation Museum

PZ Myers' blog post on this subject is a must read.

I haven't read all the way through, but I felt the need to comment on something that Myers hits on early in his post. Some newspapers feel the need to give both "sides" the same validity by reporting in a "he said/she said" fashion. An example from The New York Times:

For the skeptic the wonder is at a strange universe shaped by elaborate arguments, strong convictions and intermittent invocations of scientific principle. For the believer, it seems, this museum provides a kind of relief: Finally the world is being shown as it really is, without the distortions of secularism and natural selection.
This kind of reporting is wide-spread across pretty much all subjects that journalists cover, and it's appalling. When something is blatantly false, a journalist shouldn't give those false claims the same weight as true claims -- yet, time and time again, journalists will do just that in order to appear "balanced." Not all topics are in dispute: some ideas and claims are demonstrably false, and it's a journalist's job to point that out.

But the quote above from the Times goes even beyond that kind of sloppy journalism. The quote appears to be giving more credibility to the false claims, considering that secularism and natural selection are described as "distortions" and that The Creation Museum is described as being "shaped by elaborate arguments, strong convictions and intermittent invocations of scientific principles." The reality couldn't be farther from the truth -- there's nothing scientific about The Creation Museum, there are no elaborate arguments, and the only strong convictions evident are those unsupported by empirical evidence.

All The Creation Museum has for visitors is a fistful of lies. Take a look for yourself, and read the response from the National Center for Science Education.

Cindy Sheehan's Exit

This should be required reading these days: Cindy Sheehan's letter to Congress hit the nail on the head. She accurately points out that the United States is operating underneath a broken "two-party" political system. Why did the Democrats cave-in on their vocal promises to swiftly end the occupation of Iraq? Senator Russ Feingold summed it up best:

Under the President’s Iraq policies, our military has been over-burdened, our national security has been jeopardized, and thousands of Americans have been killed or injured. Despite these realities, and the support of a majority of Americans for ending the President’s open-ended mission in Iraq, congressional leaders now propose a supplemental appropriations bill that does nothing to end this disastrous war. I cannot support a bill that contains nothing more than toothless benchmarks and that allows the President to continue what may be the greatest foreign policy blunder in our nation’s history. There has been a lot of tough talk from members of Congress about wanting to end this war, but it looks like the desire for political comfort won out over real action. Congress should have stood strong, acknowledged the will of the American people, and insisted on a bill requiring a real change of course in Iraq.
And where does this land Sheehan? Apparently, there are those on the left who actually believe that the Democratic party represents their interests. I hate to break it to you people, but only the far Right-wing and the center Right-wing are acceptable in mainstream political discourse. Just turn on your TV if you doubt this.

I, for one, am sad to see another realize the immovable path that our country appears to be walking. Unless there is a total collapse of the existing system, there will never be true reform for a more progressive future.

This morning, a man on the elevator noticed my Sex Pistols shirt and started up a bit of chit-chat. God Save the Queen seems strangely appropriate right now, so I'll end with a piece of that.
God save the queen
The fascist regime
They made you a moron
Potential H-bomb

God save the queen
She ain't no human being
There is no future
In England's dreaming

Thursday, May 17, 2007

UFO: Extraterrestrials - A Review

I should start this off with an admission: I am an X-COM nerd. Unless you've been in the gaming equivalent of living in a cave for the last 14 years, you've probably heard of this title. First released as UFO: Enemy Unknown in the UK and later released as X-COM: UFO Defense in the states, this gaming title is the pinnacle of strategy games. It's almost always the top choice for gaming magazines and websites, having won IGN's #1 PC game of all time, IGN's #12 game across all platforms, as well as the website's #5 scariest game. It is by far, my favorite game of all time.

The concept of the game was simple -- UFO sightings have increased sharply in the late 20th century, and the governments of the world are getting worried. They decide to create an international organization called X-COM (Extraterrestrial Combat Unit) to combat the threat.

The game combined two separate layers of strategy: a real-time "geoscape" mode, and a turn-based "battlescape" mode. In "geoscape," the player's primary objective was to hunt down UFOs entering the earth's atmosphere and to send out interceptors to shoot them down. After finding a target and sending it to the ground, the player would send a troop transport carrying X-COM's best of the best to investigate the crash site and neutralize any alien survivors. Aside from these primary tasks, the player managed X-COM's bases around the world. In base management, the player can hire scientists and allocate them to research new alien technologies recovered from UFO crash sites. Upon understanding a particular alien technology, the player can then hire and allocate engineers to build those technologies for X-COM to use. Base management includes many other tasks, like managing storage space for collected artifacts, equipping troops for tactical battles, equipping interceptors, purchasing base defenses, and building new structures to expand the base's capabilities. It was also important to intercept and investigate as much alien activity as possible, since funding for the X-COM project is based on performance. Do poorly in any given region, and countries in that area will drop funding. Do poorly for 2 months in a row (finances in the negatives at the end of the month), and the project gets terminated. Aliens win.

But "battlescape" is where X-COM really shined.

The "battlescape" is where your X-COM soldiers met the alien menace face-to-face. You won't only visit UFO crash sites either: sometimes you'll go to landed UFOs that still have a full crew, or visit alien bases set up on earth, or you may even have a retaliation by the aliens against one of your bases! But the most feared mission of all is the terror site -- where aliens come to terrorize the peoples of earth in their cities. Many an X-COM player has witnessed their entire squad wiped-out at at terror site.

Combat is turn-based, meaning that the X-COM side get a turn to move its soldiers, and find and shoot aliens, and then the alien side gets a turn to do the same to your soldiers. While this may seem slightly unrealistic, the game makes up for it by adding in reaction fire. By saving TUs (time units), X-COM soldiers have a chance to shoot reaction fire at an alien that comes into view or fires at them during the alien side's turn. This turned-based format is far superior to the real-time format from a tactical standpoint. Being turn-based, X-COM allows the player to make intricate tactical plans and execute them with effectiveness. Real-time games require a very sophisticated AI to mirror what a human can do in turn-based format (and I'm yet to see a game convincingly execute this -- just witness the unplayability of the UFO: After[...] series, UFO: Aftermath, UFO: Aftershock, and UFO: Afterlight.) For tactical combat with heavy emphasis on strategy, turn-based format is the only way to go. Even real-time/turn-based "hybrids" (that simply add a "pause" button to the real-time action and let the player queue up unit actions to commence when the game is un-paused) are no better than a straight real-time game. The player ends up pausing every five seconds anyway, so why not go all out turn-based? Only turn-based combat allows the kind of control required for a squad-based, tactical combat game.

And X-COM really set the mood well. The game is one of the most intense and frightening gaming experiences available. The aliens have superior technology, usually have superior numbers, and can do some pretty crazy shit to your soldiers (like turn them into zombies, which, if killed, hatch into more aliens that can turn your soldiers into zombies!) Night missions are particularly troublesome, as your soldiers' line-of-sight is limited but the aliens still have their full vision capacity. This leads to the player walking the map and getting shot in the dark, usually from an unknown location. Aliens hide in tight corners, small rooms, and dark alleys, leaving the player to never know whether or not that next step around a corner will be that soldier's last. Players also get attached to their soldiers as they rank up with each mission and gain experience. Losing a hardened veteran can be disparaging. Morale also plays an important role in setting the mood -- when soldiers die, the surviving soldiers take a morale hit. If things get bad enough, soldiers may start panicking (wasting all their TUs before your turn begins) or even going berserk (using all their TUs before your turn to fire indiscriminately around themselves)! The music helps set the scene too, which is very creepy and atmospheric. It's this kind of tension that engulfs the tactical portion of the game -- it's what makes X-COM so addictive and so satisfying.

UFO: Extraterrestrials (lets put aside the redundant and uncreative title for the moment) aims to be the "spiritual successor" of the X-COM series, and as sad as I am to say it, UFO: ET falls short in a number of ways. The first title released by Chaos Concepts, a small, independent developer based in Czechoslovakia, UFO: ET implements a number of features from X-COM, but in slightly different ways. The different design decisions don't break the game, but they make for a lesser gaming experience in the shadow of X-COM.

In the "geoscape" in UFO: ET, the globe is divided into territories. In each territory, the player or the alien force may have only one base. This differs from X-COM, as the player could put a base wherever s/he wanted, and both X-COM and alien bases could be in the same general region. There also seems to be less alien activity compared to X-COM as far as alien bases and terror sites go, too. In X-COM, you could expect a terror mission at least once a month. I've played UFO: ET games in which no terror sites pop up for months at a time. Since there are few territories, alien base missions and base defense missions are rare too. What the game does have is lots and lots of UFO crash sites, but I'd hardly call them crash sites. UFOs are always completely intact after being blown to bits by my interceptors. UFO scouts and fighters appear often in the early game, but they don't seem to be doing much other than flying around. Unlike X-COM, UFOs in UFO: ET don't seem to be on a mission -- like scouting out an area, then bringing in the big ships for base-building for terror missions. It seems that in UFO: ET, UFOs just fly around.

The base management is also lacking in UFO: ET. In the player's primary base, the player can do almost all the usual things from X-COM: allocate scientists and engineers, manage soldiers and interceptors, buy and sell equipment, and build new base structures. But some things are missing, like living quarters having an impact on gameplay, general stores (to store your equipment and alien loot), soldier/scientist/engineer recruitment, and the ability to easily re-arrange your base from the pre-designed starter base. Living quarters exist, but they don't have an effect on gameplay. One Living quarters can house a seemingly infinite number of personal, unlike X-COM's, which could only house 50. There's no longer any recruitment in the game of any personal either. One soldier randomly shows up every month or so, and scientists and engineers come in sets of 10 with each laboratory or workshop built. Moving around structures was annoying too -- even if I built an extra hanger, I couldn't destroy the old ones to rearrange the base... even if there was no craft currently in the hanger! X-COM let you move hangers around while your interceptor and transport crafts were on missions, so I don't see why I can't do that in UFO: ET. But you can't do any of the basic base management functions from X-COM in UFO: ET's secondary bases. Those bases only allow the player to build hangers and detection buildings for UFO interception.

Another problem in UFO: ET is the design decision to have real-time intercept battles in the "geoscape." While this appears to be a good idea, in practice it doesn't seem to work properly. It's unrealistic that a dogfight can stretch more than half-way around the globe in a matter of a few hours. From a gameplay standpoint, the real-time interceptions will give the player a headache when trying to keep UFOs above land. UFOs that land in the water are unrecoverable, and since UFOs will continue to fly around during combat, the player will have to do some serious micromanagement to ensure a crash site. Considering that finances are extremely tight in this game, selling alien equipment gained from crash sites becomes essential to keeping the checkbook balanced. The inability to direct where a UFO will be shot down is a definite mark against the gameplay.

The final problem in the "geoscape" is the finances. The developers made the decision to subtract salaries from soldiers, scientists, and engineers on a daily schedule, instead of at the end of the month, like in X-COM. I understand why this choice was made: in X-COM, there is a well known exploit with salaries. All the player had to do was transfer all personal right before the end of the month. Since all personal were in transit, no salaries were paid by the game. Chaos Concepts tried to remove this potential exploit from their game, but only succeeded in creating new problems. Now, finances are difficult to keep track of, and make balancing the checkbook a big headache for the player. The finances screen doesn't give the player a whole lot of information, and it should have given projections for the end of the month finances with this kind of salary system. Alternatively, the developers should have just tried to figure out a way for the game to count personal in transit when calculating salary at the end of the month. There appear to be some bugs in the finances too; for instance, players will be charged two days salary for personal if they change research projects on the same day. This was also a bug in X-COM (as far as changing production in workshops in the same month goes), and it would have been nice if UFO: ET had gotten rid of it.

In the "battlescape," UFO: ET doesn't do much better. The game has some interesting design decisions that alter the gameplay in significant ways from X-COM. The biggest change is that soldiers do not die, they are merely incapacitated. Many have complained that this system isn't as great as X-COM's; however, I have to say that I don't mind it so much. The developers made this design choice to cut down on players reloading each turn because a favorite soldier is lost during combat. Honestly, if players want to cheat themselves out of an intense gaming experience, that is their decision. I always enjoyed the "ironman" X-COM games, which involved the strict discipline of never reloading a tactical mission. I felt this way of play kept with the spirit of the game. Others may disagree, as this is a choice of personal preference, but I think that Chaos Concepts was trying to find a way to keep the tension of losing soldiers while also preventing players from reloading every turn. It works in some ways (there are serious consequences for being careless with soldiers in the form of up to 45 day hospital visits back at base) but the design feature doesn't keep the tension and suspense in the tactical part of the game like X-COM did.

The "battlescape" just isn't that scary in UFO: ET. I don't fear going to terror missions like I did in X-COM. There aren't that many aliens to begin with, and there's really no need to go into buildings. Aliens are almost always walking around in the open, charging your soldiers head-on while making no use of cover. I am yet to see an alien approach my soldiers in any other way. Aliens also walk very close together, making grenades really useful at taking out 2 or 3 baddies at once. Aliens will also run up within a few tiles of your soldiers to take shots that usually miss and eat up all their AP (action points). Not exactly intelligent AI in my opinion. In X-COM, aliens took pot-shots and then hid behind cover, snuck around the map to hit your soldiers from the side, and would retreat into buildings, which made for some really intense and suspenseful gaming. Walking into a room with a soldier and not knowing whether or not they'll survive the reaction fire makes for great tension. UFO: ET just doesn't provide this. And one last thing that really takes away from the fright and tension that could have been -- morale doesn't seem to play any role at all in the game other than soldier susceptibility to mind-paralyzing attacks. Soldiers will never panic or go berserk (at least, they haven't in my experience), which was an aspect of X-COM that really made for interesting and tension fulled gameplay.

Other problems in UFO: ET's "battlescape" are more annoying than anything else. There are no in-game speed settings like in X-COM, so you'll be forced to watch weapon fire crawl across the screen (even well past the intended target!), and soldiers and aliens move at an incredibly slow pace. The game also forces the camera to center and follow any action the player may do, be it moving, turning, firing, selecting, or kneeling. This can be really annoying to have to watch, and considering that the game can handle more than one action happening at the same time, it's a strange design decision. Forcing the camera to center and follow every action in the game becomes an obstacle to efficiently moving all your soldiers at the same time. None of the X-COM titles forced this kind of "auto-scroll" for every player action.

But that's not all -- UFO: ET is missing all kinds of "battlescape" features from the original X-COM. There's no option to save APs for future actions, like kneeling, shooting, and reaction fire. The game also only has 2 levels on all maps, unlike X-COM which had 4, which leads to smaller missions. Maps are also all pre-designed, meaning that the player will see the same exact maps with the same exact placement of objects often. X-COM had a random map generator, which many give credit for the game's re-playability. UFO: ET's re-playability won't be very long with only about 200 unique maps in the game.

In the end, the game just feels incomplete. It's got a good start, but all the missing features and the strange design decisions can be a serious distraction from the gameplay. The graphics aren't that bad, but their nothing special either. It would have been nice if the units in the game were 3D models instead of 2D sprites, since the tactical mission take place in a fully 3D environment. Since the environment is 3D, it would have been cool to be able to rotate the camera, too (there's a mod that implements this, but the design decision to have 2D sprites for units renders this option effectively useless.) Some other problems with the graphics are just small gripes, i.e. missing and choppy unit animations (aliens instantly "fall" to the ground, unarmed soldiers still look like they are holding a weapon, and soldier/vehicle movement can be choppy when using mods that increase movement/fire speeds.) But aside from those things, I don't have any complaints about the graphics -- it's a huge step up from UFO Defense's 320x200 resolution VGA graphics.

I felt the need to write this review because I've been waiting for a proper X-COM sequel for more than a decade now. X-COM: Terror from the Deep, the sequel to UFO Defense, was good, as it added some new features, fixed some exploits and bugs, and made the game nearly ten times more difficult than the original. But the game was built upon the same engine as the UFO Defense, which left many fans wanting more -- better graphics, more interaction, and more complexity. X-COM: Apocalypse, the final true X-COM sequel, tried to do that but ultimately failed in some respects. The game had updated graphics for its time (1997), a more complex tactical combat system, more complex base management and finances, more options, more strategy, and tougher gameplay. But the developers of that title, Microprose, were on a tight budget and were forced to leave some really interesting features out of the game (like playing as the alien menace). In addition to that, Apocalypse added in a real-time option to tactical combat, allowing the player to choose between real-time and traditional turn-based before each mission. The side-effect of this "hybrid" game engine lead to a broken turn-based game, and an overpowered real-time game. Sadly, Apocalypse was not able to recapture the tension and suspense of the original X-COM.

Never having a proper sequel to the original, UFO: ET seemed to be the game I was looking for. The developers said their game was to be as true to the original X-COM as possible, and I watched the forums for more than a year anticipating the game's release. When all is said and done, though, UFO: ET just falls short, like every X-COM remake has in the past.

But there's no reason to lose hope just yet. As I continue to visit the game's official forums, I have found a community of modders who are trying to fix many of the broken and missing features in UFO: ET. Already, things like reserving APs in battle, settings to change the speed of actions, hiring and firing soldiers, true soldier death, and a number of bug fixes are available. I have tried some of the mods, and they do help to bring the game closer to X-COM, but I still worry about game balance. Many of the mods change the gameplay, and so I await an official patch from the developers before I attempt to play the game all the way through. I'm still hoping that this could be a sequel worthy to stand in the shadow of X-COM.

Note: Some may question my decision to review this game in the shadow of X-COM, arguing that this is not X-COM but a different game all together. I'm sorry to rain on your parade, but the developers themselves said they aimed to remake X-COM, and they've mirrored the original in concept and design for many aspects of UFO: ET. Therefore, I see it as only fair to judge this game in respect to its differences with the original X-COM.