Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Look at Fighting in the Age of Loneliness

Jon Bois and Felix Biederman have just released a five part documentary about the rise of MMA into the cultural phenomenon that it is now. It's got some slick production values and Felix does a good job of narrating it, but there are some pretty big gaps in the history of MMA and their central thesis of its rise connecting to the downswing in the economy and our fractured political landscape don't really have any connection to its rise. Or if there is some connection, they don't put the facts there to back it up. The biggest problem with the conceit is that it felt like somebody who watched Fight Club and took the idea seriously.
 
They tie the rise of UFC to the increase of political correctness in the work place, but that's not really the zeitgeist that it followed. The UFC followed in the wake of pop culture as a whole being much more open about sex and violence in the nineties and not really caring about anything. There wasn't some primal need that was being repressed due to the workplace changes. Combat sports have been a part of human history for as long as we have recorded history. Wrestling has been practiced for thousands of years and gladiator combat in Rome was a big draw. UFC was a little ahead of its time, but there was always a crowd for seeing the different combat disciplines face each other. What helped UFC and MMA get big was a confluence of four things. The internet becoming ubiquitous and especially streaming sites and filesharing services let people find the fights and become a fan, The Ultimate Fighter blowing the fuck up, boxing was in a downswing and didn't have big names, and Jackie Chan and Jet Li were becoming movie stars in America and that made more people interested in martial arts.

The internet made finding everything easier. I used it to find pro wrestling and then slowly moved into watching MMA fights I could download on Kazaa or find on youtube or dailymotion. It gave an easier way to introduce the sport to new fans as well and you could make sure they saw a good fight as opposed to getting them to come out to a bar for an event and hoping a good fight happened. I know I did that plenty of times. It also made it cheap to introduce somebody to it instead of convincing them to split a PPV since they weren't really aired regularly in bars yet. The internet also created one of early MMA's biggest sensations in Kimbo Slice. Slice had a youtube channel where he would walk around and challenge people to a fight in their backyard and usually destroy them. He was huge, had an awesome beard, and a weird balding pattern and people loved him. In college the first fighting event I watched with a bunch of non-fans was an Elite XC show that was supposed to be headlined by Kimbo vs. Ken Shamrock. Shamrock got hurt and was pulled from the card and replaced by Seth Petruzelli who I had seen in King of the Cage so I put my money and him and won some money from people who only knew about Kimbo Slice. Kimbo was such a big draw that Dana signed him to UFC and put him on a season of The Ultimate Fighter.

Speaking of the Ultimate Fighter this is one thing that the documentary hit on that was a really big deal. The first season of it showed up when reality TV was the biggest thing going and it was good tv and the competition aspect was excellent. The first season had awesome fighters and most of the fighters ended up in UFC eventually. Later seasons kind of lost that part as UFC grew it already had the best fighters under contract or they were signed to other promotions. The first season was different though. The personalities clashed like every reality show, and the hook to get people in was the coaches were going to fight on PPV after it ended and their teams competed and Chuck Liddel and Randy Couture and had name recognition and the talent to draw people in. It all built up to the first free UFC show on television and it couldn't have asked for a better finale than Forest Griffin vs. Stephen Bonnar. It was a decision in the favor of Griffin, but it was a war that everybody watching loved and both men went on to good careers in the UFC and into the hall of fame since they had one of the best fights ever and helped balloon the UFC into mainstream consciousness.

The reason UFC could creep into mainstream consciousness is because boxing was falling out of favor. They didn't have the big name heavyweights that drew peoples attention and the boxing was starting to get boring. It wasn't about just technical skills and boxing it was also about working the refs and holding to prevent damage. The general public didn't appreciate the work of the fighters and that left a hole for a new combat sport to take the spot and MMA fit the bill. People were getting interested in not just boxing, which was a limited form of fighting, but wanted something more.

And a part of that was the resurgence of martial arts movies. They had made a decent inroad into the popular conscious with Bruce Lee's movies, but didn't really move beyond that. In the mid to late nineties that started to change again. First with Jackie Chan's Rumble in the Bronx and then with his other movies and also Jet Li's movies. The two men brought their movies to America and their fighting styles with them. The fights are very stylized in the movies and don't seem realistic, but people still respected the styles and the knowledge of them made them want to see something other than wrestling or boxing showcased in fighting sports. For the most part that style didn't really work in the octagon, except for Lyoto Machida and Anderson Silva. Silva didn't really fight like them, but he landed a front kick knockout that was straight out of a movie and really helped showcase those strikes being effective. Later in MMA there would be even more movie like knockouts the most famous of which with would be Anthony Pettis jumping off the cage and roundhouse kicking his opponent in the head in what is probably a top five knockout of all time.

Those are the elements that really contributed to MMA's rise and more specifically UFC's rise to being a global sport and powerhouse. There is a section that talks about PRIDE, but for the most part the documentary also focuses on UFC too much. Sure, it is the biggest organization around, but a lot of companies helped bring MMA to the powerhouse it was and developed talent that UFC managed to grab because it had the most money. It's also really weird that they put such a focus on the Gracie's without mentioning the Gracie Hunter himself, Kazushi Sakuraba. Granted I'm more fond of him than most MMA fans since I also enjoy pro wrestling which he dabbles in. I remember watching the PRIDE Grand Prix from 2000 when he fought Royce Gracie in a no time limit fight that went ninety minutes before Royce's corner threw in the towel. Those two guys fought at the highest level for ninety minutes and it was awesome. They vaguely reference Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, but not the crazy slams that made him famous. Most importantly they don't talk about the time he lifted a dude up and tried to throw him out of the ring. They mention the steroids being fine in PRIDE but don't call out Mark Kerr by name who made a huge name in Pride as being a giant muscle monster and dominated with ground and pound and made it a strategy in the sport. He also had a documentary about him from HBO the Smashing Machine which was a pretty big deal back in the day. And then there is my favorite PRIDE fight Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama. These dudes don't defend at all. The first thirty seconds of the fight is them grabbing each other by the back of the head with one hand and raining punches with the other and it is nuts.

Okay that kind of got off track, and I thought about editing it out, but those fights are awesome and everybody should know about them if they don't and check them out. MMA had a lot of influences that helped make it big and it wasn't just UFC. Obviously PRIDE was a big part and PRIDE Never Die! There are others. The first one I watched on DVD was King of the Cage which was competing with UFC in the beginning and lost and a bunch of fighters from there ended up in UFC. World Extreme Cagefighting was making good strides before it got bought by UFC and was a feeder organization before tv deals meant UFC needed more shows and they closed them down and brought most of the fighters into UFC. Bellator is the biggest competitor for the UFC right now and the shitty Reebok deal has led to a lot of fighters leaving UFC for Bellator. K-1 is also a company that helped change the way combat sports are viewed. It's not full on mixed martial arts, but kickboxing does have different rules that allow throws and kicks, just not ground fighting, and it has a big crowd viewing it. There are several companies trying to garner viewer support by signing big names from the past as well, but they are often not that long lasting.

Strikeforce was another of those challengers and it was the one that brought Ronda Rousey to the forefront of women's MMA. Gina Carano and Cyborg kind of made a dent in the public conscious about it, but until Ronda dominated everybody it wasn't really a big thing people were paying attention to. Once UFC bought Strikeforce it was only a matter of time until UFC added women's divisions. Ronda changed the sport and made it a big deal, which makes it even worse that she's a garbage person. So moving on the biggest miss the documentary made was they talked about the straw weight division season of The Ultimate Fighter without mentioning Invicta. Invicta started as an independent organization that is all women's fighting and probably ran for four shows before UFC took them in as a company that they aired their shows on their streaming service, and for the TUF season with straw weights they almost all came from Invicta's roster. Bringing in women's fighters was a boon to UFC because it harkened back to the early days. Too many of the men's fighters had rankings now, they had standing, so when they fought they didn't want to lose it now. The women fighters didn't have that. Every fight was their chance to make a statement and they took it. If you lose by taking a chance and being exciting you still made a name in the eyes of the fans and Kat Zingano nailed that. She got a shot against Ronda and went for a big flying knee and missed it and got tapped out like everybody else. But she was the first that didn't show fear against her and she showed personality in her interview after the loss and it was awesome. Rousey's loss was probably the best thing to happen to women's MMA because it changed it from being a one woman show and now there were a bunch of names in the top tier and gives other fighters name recognition to be pay per view draws.

The Documentary makes a really good point about the Reebok deal and how it is undervaluing the fighters, and UFC starts to do this as well. Early in the UFC it was all about the fighters making names and selling shows around the fighters. This would be the only part that kind of fits the thesis of political correctness in corporate places changing fighting. The brand of UFC is what sells the shows. Most people don't even know what MMA is, it's just UFC to them. The fighters lose their individuality and just become fighters, they don't market the fighters they just market UFC. If a fighter can't market themselves their PPVs don't sell and Renan Barao is the best example of that. That dude couldn't be beat, but he's from Brazil, can't speak English, and therefore can't sell his fights, and UFC doesn't bother doing it either. It doesn't matter that he's one of the best fighters in the world because he can't sell his fights. And on the opposite end of the spectrum is Conor McGregor. He had a mediocre record, but he could trash talk and that sells fights. For three years I went to the local Buffalo Wild Wings to watch UFC PPVs and it was never as full as it was for Conor or Ronda PPVs. The documentary does this weird thing where it basically blames Dana for being shitty for being a Republican, which he is, and I agree with, but at the end it does a weird thing where it seems to sympathize with him during his press conference after the end of the Khabib vs. Conor fight. It tries to tie us to Dana because he's defending the sport from being a sideshow, but that's bullshit. Dana loved that shit when Conor did it. Conor jumped over the cage after winning a fight and went face to face with Jose Aldo to challenge him for his belt for no reason. He ignored Conor breaking a bus window and injuring fighters so they missed a fight. But when Khabib jumps the cage and gets in the face of one of Conor's managers who was racist to his trainer, now Dana has a problem with it. If Khabib can keep selling PPVs I'm sure Dana will change his mind.

Probably the biggest umbrage I take with the documentary is them framing Jon Jones as a misunderstood person. He's a great fighter, that part is true. But other than that I don't agree with anything they say about him. Jones talked like a holier than thou fighter then got a DUI. I'm not going to bag on him hard for that, I've got one of those, we're all stupid when we're young. Then he got in trouble for a hit and run which Biederman kind of runs past quickly. Jones was under the influence at the time, hit a pregnant lady, came back to his car to grab the rest of his stash, then fled again. Then he got busted by USADA several other times for steroids and cocaine. So it doesn't really matter how good he is as a fighter, because he can't follow the rules. It felt like they wanted to make a point about how USADA is unfair and there are really good points to be made about it, but Jones is not the one. The Diaz brothers would have been a solid case. Marijauna is a painkiller, but it also slows your reaction speed so we could argue if it is actually performance enhancing. But the bigger thing is you can't tell when they did it and if it was after the fight and didn't actually help them. Josh Barnett recently won an arbitration against USADA after it was revealed his positive test was because of a contaminated supplement and not because he was doping. There are arguments they could have made they just chose the losing one for some reason.

The first two episodes of the documentary lay out a good beginning of how MMA grew into the what became the UFC. The history is very interesting and laid out well. When they highlight a fight with narration it makes the fight feel awesome. Those sections got me excited to go check out the fights again. So it's a real bummer that the central point of the documentary just kind of hangs there without any support from the argument he's making. It's hard to say if its really worth watching for that reason. It has a lot of well done stuff, but when it falls flat it falls really flat.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Daredevil Season 3: The Man Without Fear

Warning: Beyond Here There Be Spoilers

Season three of Daredevil was really strong television. It had a story it wanted to tell and it told it straight through, but that is also one of its weaknesses. Except for the first season of Daredevil every Marvel Netflix release has been a season long story that requires you to watch the whole series for any kind of conclusion on anything. Even season one had that issue at times, but the episodes usually built to a climax that made you want to keep going and not a conclusion and then rising action to require you to watch the next one. The overarcing stories that a binged series aims to bring can be rewarding it’s nice to have one off episodes to break up the pace and to give some resolution once in a while. The series also seems to be embarrassed about being a comic book property and avoids putting Daredevil in his suit and never lets Bullseye be Bullseye and wear a Bullseye outfit. Although he is the one person who wears the Daredevil outfit in the show. They do let Bullseye be ridiculously accurate with every thrown weapon which is awesome.

It’s kind of hard to separate my thoughts about this season from my thoughts about the Marvel shows in general. As mentioned earlier the shows all tend to have a season long story that they focus on and there is no real episodic breakdown for the series. Season 3 of Daredevil does break the trend of the shows having five or so episodes of filler in the middle because the story doesn’t have enough material to cover, but it still suffers from the same pacing issues. There are no clear ends to episodes. Many final scenes run into the beginning scene of the next episode. The worst would be the ending of episode nine going right into episode ten and then the episode is almost entirely dedicated to a flashback about Karen’s backstory. Karen is a good character in the show, but the flashback is forty minutes straight that takes us out of the action of Daredevil breaking into Kingpin’s headquarters and finding out that Kingpin has sent Bullseye to the church to kill Karen. So while it would have been nice to have some episodic breaks in the series the longer story doesn’t really allow for it. Which I’ll come back to in a bit, but I want to talk about some stuff I really liked before I get to that so this isn’t all negative.

The fight choreography in this series is awesome. Which isn’t surprising because the Daredevil series has had the best fights in all of the Marvel shows and has the best action beside Into the Badlands for western television. A lot of people have heaped praise on the fight scene from episode four that goes through the prison and is one long uninterrupted cut with some pretty intense acting scenes in it as well which is very well done. For me every time Bullseye and Daredevil fight it’s a highlight. Episode Seven is the first time they fight and it is a perfect encapsulation of what I want from a fight between the two characters. If there is any distance between them Bullseye is throwing whatever is at hand and has the advantage, but once the distance is closed Daredevil is in control and takes over the fight. It’s a brutal fight and it’s evened out because Daredevil is injured the whole season so Bullseye can get the advantage. Episode ten is bad, for the most part, its almost entirely a flashback about Karen’s life before meeting Matt and Foggy, and feels like something from a completely different show. But the episode is redeemed because the ending is Karen talking to Father Lantom and she attends church when Bullseye shows up. This brings us back to the end of episode nine where Daredevil is in Kingpins headquarters and hears that he’s sent his men to kill Karen at the church. So after forty minutes of backstory for a character who we already understand pretty well and don’t really need the show gives us an awesome fight scene. It starts with Karen distracting Bullseye from the civilians in the church and builds to Lanton sacrificing himself to save Karen. After that Daredevil shows up and we get another excellent fight scene. The best part of this fight scene is that its not about beating each other, but that Bullseye wants to kill Karen and Daredevil wants to save everybody.

The fight scenes climax perfectly with the series as the finale ends up with a three way fight between Daredevil, Bullseye, and Kingpin. Vanessa is there as well and Bullseye wants to kill her since Kingpin killed the girl he was stalking, but Daredevil always stops those attempts, but will let him try and kill Kingpin when they’re fighting. The three men all have different fight styles and Daredevil has different styles depending on who he’s fighting. Against Bullseye he’s more the martial artist and countering the trained combatant, but when he’s fighting Kingpin he’s a boxer who fights like his dad. He doesn’t defend, he takes the big shots in order to deliver his own big shots. It’s a good element of Daredevil’s character that he can’t control his emotions when fighting Kingpin. The end of the fight where Daredevil unmasks and yells at Kingpin is very rewarding and the denouement of the story provides a nice future for all the protagonists, which is good since apparently the season has been canceled.

The biggest downside of the Marvel shows and this one in particular is there seeming reluctance to embrace the comic book nature of the story. Daredevil doesn’t wear his suit at all and I just a dude in black with a mask over his face. Bullseye does imitate Daredevil, but never wears his own outfit which is a bummer. Sure it might look kind of dumb in reality, but that’s the world comics exist in. It’s especially stark in comparison to the CW DC shows which have all the characters in costume and give their villains the goofy names they have in the comics. The dedication Netflix Marvel has to being gritty overwhelms all the other aspects of the show. It lets them highlight how much damage Daredevil takes in a fight, but it kind of stops the characters from having light, fun moments with each other.

This season was definitely a step in the right direction, not that it matters with the cancellation of the shows on Netflix with Disney starting their own streaming service. But it didn’t stop doing to the dumb things the shows were doing it just executed them well enough to not be a problem. It’s a thirteen episode long movie, but it is paced right and keeps moving so its not as noticeable as season two or any of the other shows. It doesn’t embrace the comic book fun and relies on grittiness. It goes gritty to seem real, but the damage Daredevil takes and keeps going when he’s bleeding everywhere pushes it too far sometimes and makes it seem unrealistic in a different way than most comic books. If you like the character of Daredevil it’s a well done season and should keep you happy even with all its flaws.

Monday, November 19, 2018

My Trip to Busch Gardens

The other day I went to Busch Gardens for the first time and thought I’d write up a review because amusement parks are awesome and I wanted to write about the rollercoasters. It was a pretty slow day at the park, but we had perfect weather in the 60s getting up to the low 70s all day and the coasters only had wait times of about five minutes all day. Unlike a lot of other parks there aren’t really much in the way of in between rides at the park. It’s either kid rides or coasters, and as a huge fan of coasters I didn’t think that would be a thing that would bother me, but it’s nice to throw in a dark ride every once in a while. I guess the equivalent here would be the animals as the rides are mixed in with the zoo. And it does have two transport rides that take you over or through the animals with the train and the sky tram. The train in particular was awesome as the rhinos were only a couple feet away from us as we went through.

They do have a nice assortment of animals throughout the park, although they don’t have a reptile house and that’s a bummer to me as I think they’re awesome. They do have a huge Galapagos Tortoise and a bunch of alligators so I guess that makes up for it. The alligators were pretty lazy on my visit as it was a cooler day, but they are huge and just impressive to see. The sky tram provides a nice view of all the animals in the free range part of the park as well. So with that out of the way lets talk about the five coasters that I went on.

Cheetah Hunt

This is right across from the Cheetah’s hence it’s name and theming. It’s a launch coaster and starts with a fast turn right out of the loading bay which is awesome. The two big hills that it launches you over give you a lot of zero g at the apex which is awesome. It’s got an awesome section that simulates chasing prey where the coaster goes side to side with tilts and slight turns which is really fun. It’s a long coaster, but it’s fast and goes by fast. Really fun ride.

Cobra’s Curse

This coaster has a lot of theming in its queue, but there was nobody in line so I didn’t absorb much of it, but it also uses the theme on the actual ride which is cool. It uses small trains and a lift to take the carts to the top instead of a chain hill which was the first time I’ve been on one of those and it was cool. A third of the way through it stops you and turns the cars around and sends you backwards for another third of the way before it starts sending you up high banked turns with the carts rotating freely and it’s really cool. It’s a pretty small coaster, but has a lot of fun features and is a great ride.

Montu

An inverted coaster with a bunch of inversions and is just a really cool coaster. I don’t really have a ton to write about this one despite it being really good, because it’s a pretty normal type of rollercoaster just executed very well. Rode this one on the back on my second ride and it makes the g forces more intense as you get pulled over the inversions by the front of the car, or maybe it just felt that way since it was after we had eaten. Either way I like the back on an inverted coaster as you also can’t see what’s about to happen and brace yourself.

Kumba

When you’re going up the lift hill and see the loop going above it you know you’re in for something good. This coaster was my favorite in the park. It’s big and it’s got a lot of inversions which is everything I love in a coaster. Just a really well executed coaster that gives you a lot of bang for your buck.

Shiekra

An impressive dive coaster and one that is much better if you get the front seat. The steep chain lift is ominous and builds really well to the delayed vertical drop. It follows up with some nice inversions and a second delayed vertical drop, which feels even more intense than the first one, and feels cool as you drop into a tunnel as well. There’s also a drop right over water where it sprays water onto the path as you go over it which is a cool element to add to it. Definitely a fun coaster that doesn’t just hang its hat on the 90 degree drop and has a really good follow up to it which I liked.

Of the parks I’ve been to Busch Gardens has some pretty solid cheap food options. Obviously haven’t checked out everything. Once I get more jobs going I kind of want to check out the smokehouse they have in the garden. For something that’s only an hour and a half away from me it’s probably a park I’m going to be picking up a season pass to. As a one day park it’s kind of not worth the price despite how much I liked it. Those five are the coasters for adults and that’s about it except for a drop tower. The animals are cool and it’s a pretty solid zoo. I’m going to check out the other zoo in Tampa soon so my opinion of its zoo might go up or down in a bit. But it’s definitely a good park to have a pass too if you’re nearby. It’s not as busy as other florida parks and it’s got awesome rollercoasters. You can just head in for a quick morning trip and hit everything up and still have the whole afternoon to do something else in the area. Cigar City Brewing is only eight miles away and a solid place to check out for one thing.

All of the coasters are cool, and most importantly they are all very different from each other. I was only at the park for five hours and walked around the zoo, had lunch, rode the train and tram, and still rode every coaster but Kumba twice, and did Cobra’s Curse three times. So if you’re in the area I’d check it out, but it’s not worth a huge trip. Although that might change as they have a preview for their new coaster which is coming next year called Tigris which looks awesome.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Conspiracy Theories and Me

Growing up and into college I was a big fan of conspiracy theories. And to a certain extent I still enjoy looking into them today, but there isn't that ability to buy into them anymore. The biggest factor in that is how the conspiracies have changed. They aren't vast overarching schemes to control people that are ludicrous on their surface, and underneath contain every famous person being a lizard person in disguise they are all attempts to smear political parties and politicians with everyday people as willing participants. Every mass shooting becomes a false flag attack to take our guns, even though no politician or group makes that push after the mass shootings. Every message sent has subversive text that normal people just don't get. The part that makes this complicated is that some conspiracy theories have been proven correct. So now everything gets a certain air of legitimacy because hey, sometimes these things are right.

When I was growing up and got to embrace the beginning of the internet the big conspiracy was the Illuminati and the lizard people. Not everybody who believed the Illuminati went in for the lizard people, but it's was more an extension that some corners took very seriously. I was willing to go in for the belief in the Illuminati, but the lizard people was a step too far, but I loved reading about them because it got so weird. The idea of a secret cabal controlling everything was such an interesting idea and it seemed to make sense. Now I know the powers that control the world aren't secret it's just all the really rich people influencing the politicians with their money and keeping the status quo the way it is. There is no secret about the control that people are using. There are obvious inconsistencies in the beliefs these people held and the ability to disseminate those beliefs. The Illuminati are all powerful, but can't shut down your angelfire or geocity site with frames and an animated graphic when you open the page.

To me it was just a fun way to spend time and have information you can talk to people about, or just horde the information like gold. They were fun stories to read and investigate and try to make additional connections on your own. The theories about the lizard people really upped the ante and are science fiction stories. It's all framed like a documentary, but the ridiculousness just makes it a fun story to read and engage with. Beside the fact that there is no way to prove any of this stuff the problem comes from the fact that these conspiracy theories also work as anti-semitic and codes for saying “The Jews” run everything. A lot of the Illuminati conspiracy is based on the existence of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” It's a faked document written to provide a basis to discriminate against Jewish people and was used by many noted anti-semites like Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler to back up their biases.

For my tastes the best conspiracy is the Knights Templar and them protecting the bloodline of Jesus Christ. Obviously this one got a big push into notoriety with the publishing of Dan Brown's “The Da Vinci Code.” it contains such a sprawling history and contains several secret societies and a huge secret that overturns how much of history is viewed. The views and details in “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail” is a good read and really illuminates everything that goes into this conspiracy and the many events that happened to keep this information quiet. The conspiracy holds that a crackdown on the Knights Templar gave us the superstition about Friday the 13th and is the cause of the Spanish Inquisition. It's also what led to the false popes in France who knew the truth and were protecting the bloodline of Jesus Christ. The sheer grandiosity of this conspiracy just makes it so interesting. And that's without going into how so many famous people throughout history are linked to it and hid messages about the truth in all of their work. For me reading this conspiracy is a really cool alternate history fiction made all the better by barely being different from our real world and taking so many small parts of art and history to expand their belief about what happened.

But those are really out there conspiracy theories. The ones that make all these other theories seem more plausible are the ones that were proven to be correct and have allowed other theories sponsored by the same people get a little more traction as being real things. The first one that will come to mind didn't really have a conspiracy following for it, but is a comparison many of these theories will use to show the US government does indeed hide things, and that is the Tuskegee syphilis experiment that claimed to be curing the men infected, but really just monitored them and let them spread the disease to their wives and have kids born with the disease.

The conspiracy and other government run tests that show what the government is capable of is MK Ultra. It featured hopes of using drugs like LSD to weaken peoples mind states and make them susceptible mind control, theoretically with the goal of creating a “Manchurian Candidate.” Many of the records were destroyed so it is tough to find out all the details of the experiments that occurred and their goals. Not as damning but the Air Force's Project Blue Book which investigated all reports of Unidentified Flying Objects proved that the government took the idea of UFO's seriously, especially since there were several instances with credible reports and no explanation for them.

The big change in how I felt about conspiracy theories came after the 9/11 attacks. For a good bit of time I was a truther. Like most opinions of mine that changed while in college it wasn't from the facts changing, but realizing the people I agreed with had a lot of other dumb views that made me look at the facts and reassess them. The best way to debunk conspiracy theories is to remember that any conspiracy has to have some kind of goal behind it. Most of them are to make money of some kind. The best argument for 9/11 is that it gave the US a reason to invade Afghanistan. Not only did it give a good excuse, but we also had the backing of most of the rest of the world in doing so and their support in the war. The Iraq war shows that the government was perfectly willing to exaggerate a claim made by an untrustworthy source and use that as justification for going to war with a country.

The realization that the government didn't need the prelude to start a war. They would come up with one themselves. The best argument against it being a conspiracy is just how big of a cover up it would have to be. Too many people would have had to keep the biggest story quiet and somehow be fine with the idea of the US government killing thousands of citizens to start the war on terror. The person that made me realize I was on the wrong side was Charlie Sheen. When it was announced he'd be the narrator of an official Loose Change movie I knew I was wrong. I mean, the facts meant I was wrong, but having somebody so unstable on the same side as you really draws things into a more stark comparison.

The conspiracy theories that have come into being after this have largely been claims of mass shootings being false flag operations and the families of the victims being crisis actors. The most prominent of those being the Sandy Hook shootings. Thanks to Alex Jones many people think this even never really occurred and was used as a call to take peoples guns, despite that push never coming and the NRA and Republicans getting out there and saying we shouldn't talk about gun control so close to the event while sending thoughts and prayers to the victims. A lot of other smaller shootings have had the same accusation leveled at them by Jones, but this is the one that gets the most traction. Twenty kids were killed and because of these accusations their families are hounded by believers in the conspiracy and sent death threats.

This is the point where I stopped enjoying even my own ridiculous conspiracy theories. The kind of rhetoric is the same as used for the other conspiracies I've talked about. The signs are there if you look for them, and you can't trust the mass media. Believers in the Illuminati have occasionally boated to Bohemian Grove to investigate and been escorted off peacefully, UFO believers have tried to investigate Area 51, but been rebuffed by the Armed Forces who guard the location. I'm sure there are investigators who are so persistent that they annoy anybody involved with those conspiracies, but the idea of calling grieving parents and telling them they didn't have any kids killed in those attacks and telling them to kill themselves is too much. Seeing real life consequences for conspiracy theories just changes things.

It only escalated from their with the propagation of pizzagate. People had to believe there was proof of wrongdoing in the Hillary Clinton emails that were leaked that they believed the people running a political campaign couldn't possibly be talking about food, and specifically pizza that often. So they applied the logic they used on 4-Chan that cheese pizza meant underage porn and that the pizza place mentioned must be keeping kids there. So a man went into the pizza place with an assault rifle and told them to release all the kids from the basement, of a building without any basement. Luckily nobody was hurt in the incident and the man was taken into custody, but the sincerity with which people have started to believe in conspiracy theories is startling. When they are such a grand web of conspirators it helps to keep the immediacy of the problem away. The Illuminati is controlled by people you can't get to and you can't really do anything about. It was all about the idea of being small in the world and being oppressed by the people with power and reach. Now it's much smaller targets that can be found and hounded and that makes the conspiracies dangerous.


The older conspiracy theories helped to explain why only certain people succeed in the world and why certain information can't get out from the government. Now the conspiracies are about undermining events that would force you to reexamine your political beliefs. Donald Trump might not be your ideal Republican candidate, but Hillary Clinton visits a child sex dungeon so you can't vote for her. Somebody just shot a bunch of kids maybe we should regulate guns, don't worry it was a fake attack orchestrated by Democrats to take guns so ignore it. The call to tribalism is strong and this just gives an easy way to ignore the shortcomings of their own political party and point to the other side as being worse. While it's not completely overriding my enjoyment of looking at Illuminati and Area 51 conspiracy theories the new ones do remind me that there is an element of fact checking that is important in reality and that while these beliefs are a fun fantasy for me they are all too real for some other people.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Thanks Jim Caldwell

Over the last four years the Detroit Lions haven't done as well as I've wanted and hoped they would, but realistically they did as well as they should have for the most part. With Aaron Rodgers leading the Packers they weren't going to be the best team in the division and three winning records with two trips to the playoffs is pretty good. Especially considering the fact that they haven't been very good since Barry Sanders retired, and even then they were only good because of him. Not to mention the team is just ten years removed from going 0-16 in a season. Caldwell has finished turning the losing culture of the team around. Jim Schwartz did a lot of work on that as well, but even with the improvements he brought the culture of not being good was still there and the team needed a fresh start and that's what Caldwell gave them.

I'm not going to lie. There were many times in many games where I would curse a blue streak about Caldwell's easy going coaching manner and plays left unchallenged and timid play calling leaving points on the field. The reality is that the team is consistently a challenger in the division and has a shot of getting into the playoffs. I don't think he was ever going to be the coach that really took them to the next level, but he did what his job was and that was rebuild and rebrand the team as one that can win and is no longer a joke. He was helped by the presence of some great players in Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Ndamukong Suh. But even after losing two of those players he managed to keep them performing at a high level.

Every fan feels this way, but the past couple of seasons have had some bad officiating that really changed the way the games went for the Lions. I won't list all the calls that screwed the Lions, but there have been several big ones that hurt them big time. Might as well start with the one from this season as it would have put them in the playoffs if it didn't occur. The catch against the Falcons that everybody thought was a touchdown, but on review was called back saying his knee was down then ran off ten seconds to end the game. Considering how long it takes for refs to decide the process of a catch has been completed it seems a real bummer that a guy can be down when his knee hits, but still have to hold onto the ball when he hits the ground, but a guy who drops the ball when it hits the ground doesn't make the catch when even if his knees hit the ground. Caldwell's only losing season in 2015 saw two major calls that completely changed games that would have given them a winning record. The first being in the Seahawks game when Calvin Johnson fumbled the ball on the one yard line and KJ Wright batted the ball out of the back of the end zone which was ruled a touchback for the Seahawks when it should have been a penalty and given the Lions on the one yard line. The other call would be the phantom face masking penalty that gave the Packers another play which resulted in a hail mary touchdown by Rodgers. Replays clearly show that there is no contact, but the call was made and the Packers capitalized.

The biggest of the bad calls that went against the Lions in the Caldwell era happens during the Lions vs. Cowboys playoff game. The officials call pass interference and announce the call then get together and reverse the decision, despite replays clearly showing the pass interference. Fine, that happens all the time. Although Dez Bryant also runs onto the field to yell at the refs which should also be a penalty. So the officials just ignore all of this and the Cowboys get a free stop. Granted the Lions didn't help themselves by shanking the punt on the next play, but that's beside the point as it should never have had to happen.


Now this whining about bad calls seems like it's getting away from my point of thanking Caldwell for turning the team around, but if it wasn't for the work he did turning the team around we wouldn't be the kind of team that can point to such big deal calls working against us. I've seen controversial calls against the Lions before, but most of them I just forget because the team was bad and it didn't change the outcomes of the season. Caldwell made the Lions a team that can make it to the playoffs and be a winning team. Now they're a team were it's a disappointment when they don't make the playoffs instead of a team where fans are happy when we can go .500 and beat each of the division rivals at least once a season. So thank you Jim Caldwell for making the Lions a team that can disappoint me when they don't win.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Nobody Wants to Work

The other day at work we were really busy and understaffed, which happens a lot once summer arrives as I work in a resort area. I was covering up front and while we're working a customer complains about how we're so busy at the registers and the person in charge of running the front end says that nobody wants to work. And I'm pretty sure that's quite incorrect. I know we don't have many applications coming into the grocery store I work at, but it's not because people don't want to work. There are many factors that play into why we aren't getting applications. One of the big stereotypes I'm going to take a run at is one I've been told at classes my company sent me to when becoming a manager, and that's that young people don't like working. Granted, that personally drove me crazy as I've always been a hard worker and am one of those young people, but even going outside of that personal view I can tell it's not completely accurate.
My store did recently increase the pay rate they are offering to help in the summer which has made somebody decide to quit since the part timers we're hiring would get paid more than him, but before that we were offering essentially minimum wage which is below all the fast food places in town. And as we are a tourist town in the summer all the restuarants and golf courses are hiring which means you also get tips as well as whatever their pay is. So the grocery store is offering a lower wage than a lot of other places and you can't take tips. Also once you start training we never have enough hours to offer people so if you're hired before the summer you'll get like fourteen hours after your training is done with the promise of a lot once summer starts and the business shows up. If you don't get hired until summer is here you get thrown right into the fire and have to deal with everything being way too busy from the get go. That's the kind of thing that makes retention hard to manage, and we always have high turnover with new employees.
But that's a symptom of the way businesses have been working for the past couple of decades which is minimizing hours and maximizing the labor they get out of each employee. The addition of Self Checkouts has helped that and then the rest is made up for by expecting more out of every employee for less. When I first started working in a grocery store seventeen years ago I was a bagger and the store would have three people working that role at a time. The store I work at now, is bigger than the one I started at and we have one bagger and they only work from three to eight so all the department managers handle their tasks before they show up like bringing carts into the store.
The people who complain about how nobody wants to work are from the older generation and trying to complain about the young kids not wanting to work, but what they are ignoring is that they had full time jobs, and benefits were pretty prevalent when they were getting hired. Now everybody wants to hire part time employees so they don't have to give them benefits and every part time job requires you to be available nights and weekends. Those requirements kind of suck for a full time job, but are the kind of thing a person can make work, but for a part time job you're not getting enough hours to support yourself and that means you need two part time jobs, but they both require the same kind of hours, and that means people have to choose one job over the other. Right now the backup to my department and one other is the same person and when I talked to her I found out she only wanted to work part time and wanted to work weekends, which they never told me when I'm making the schedule for her and of course we're working her 40 hours a week, even though she's retired and just wanted to keep herself busy. There's just no respect for what an employee wants to do and it's all about what works best for the company.

Now I will admit that most people don't want to work, because working sucks. I don't want to work, but I've had a job for almost 13 straight years with a couple of breaks in between and I work. We have to work in the system we have so people have accepted that and make the system work. With wages not increasing, but living costs raising people find it hard to work the same jobs that don't allow them to support themselves. So people can only take one of those jobs at a time and have to choose which job best works for them. The reality is that it's hard to make life work with one part time job and when you don't get compensated well people aren't going to enjoy their job or want to stay there. When companies don't look at what the reality is for their work force they don't understand why people can't or won't work for them.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Titanfall!

With my tax return I invested in an X-Box One and Titanfall because I was going to jump into the next generation of consoles eventually and this game looked awesome. I like the One's interface menu. It's simple and very similar to the 360's so I wasn't confused when I jumped in. The party system is a little more complicated to start up than on the 360, but it runs just as well once it's going so the switch of consoles hasn't been a difficult learning experience. The odd thing was when I inserted a DVD and had to download a DVD/Bluray player program. I don't know why that wasn't just on the machine to start with.

But enough about the console let's talk about the game Titanfall. I haven't full explored all the multiplayer options, but I've got over twenty hours in the game and I've beaten the campaign on both sides; IMC and Militia so I've got a pretty solid base for my opinion. And that opinion is that this game is awesome. It's missing some bells and whistles like renaming your classes, but it does have a gender choice for classes so it does have that going for it. Any complaint I have about the game is along the cosmetic side of things. Just the peripheral stuff that CoD and Gotham City Impostors have of getting emblems and titles for doing challenges and letting people see them. The fact that there is no real benefit to prestiging is kind of a bummer. At least extra class slots and with the titan loadouts as well it would be easy to alternate gaining an extra pilot and titan loadout for each prestige.

The gameplay is phenomenal. To start with the basic FPS part of the game is very well done. Everything moves smoothly and it's a polished shooter as you would expect from the guys who brought the world Modern Warfare 1 & 2. The weapon selection is smaller than most modern shooters, but everything is balanced fairly well and serves a different purpose. Although I haven't used the LMG or the Kraber sniper much the rest of the guns all feel good. They all have strengths and weaknesses and it's good that every weapon has some kind of limitation and strong point. I don't really have a favorite for weapons, but when it comes to Ordnance I prefer the satchel charge. The others like frag grenade, arc mine, and arc grenade have their benefits, but for me satchel charge is where it's at. More oomph and all I need to do is double tap x after tossing it. Well worth the shorter range and having to manually detonate it.

The second half of this game is the Titan combat and it's exciting as well. I don't have experience with other mech games, but I like the slower, but heavier feel the titans have compared to the pilots. I'm also not very good with my titan yet, but the difference in how the game plays between being on foot and being in the titan is obvious, but how well combat is balanced between the two is perfect. Titan weapons will do good damage to another titan, but pilots can evade the damage if they are careful and throw out more damage against them with the anti-titan weapons. The way the maps work with these two different forms of combat is amazing. There are awesome wall running sections and elevated paths for the pilots to take and offer lots of different ways to move around, but the titans get more standard FPS map patterns to follow and face each other. As a pilot you can ignore enemy titans and fight other pilots or the minions that spawn for the enemy side.

Which brings me to another wonderful aspect of this game the minions and specters that spawn as NPCs in the game. They provide a good feeling when you are having a bad game or if you aren't an FPS superstar and allow you a way to help your team in a game of attrition or in other game modes to grab a Titan faster. It's a really good choice to keep the maps full when everybody is on foot and doesn't make things feel overly full once a bunch of people get in their titans which changes the size of the match. It's just an amazing job that Respawn did of balancing the changes in combat between pilots and titans and it's so amazing to look at for their first showing as a studio on a big game that is there to sell a new console and they nailed it out of the park. The game lacks single player which is fine with me, because the single player of an FPS is always more of a chore and they make the story play out in multiplayer maps which tell a basic, but solid story which is all I ask for from an FPS in the first place.

They make up for the lack of single player by having fifteen maps which is a crazy big number for a shooter to come with standard now and I haven't had any maps I don't like. Some of them are a little unbalanced in Hardpoint, but nothing that makes me hate a map. It's got five basic game modes which isn't a ton, but they provide enough change of pace amongst each other. I wouldn't be surprised to see more game modes come out with the DLC either. Although balancing a game mode with the titans and pilots might be difficult, but I trust them to come out with a strong way to do it.

I am loving this game so far. It's a great FPS that does a lot to change how the genre works and is all the better for it. Definitely a game that makes jumping into the next gen of consoles worth while and it is the game that sold me on the X-Box One as I was debating which console I was going to go with. I don't regret the decision I've made yet.