I didn’t believe in evolution once. There were a few reasons why, but one of them was that there didn’t seem to be enough transitional fossils. I’d heard various biologists and paleontologists say the same thing: the chain had missing links.
Now I realise that evolution, on a long enough timescale, often stops looking like a gradual slope, and starts looking like a series of steps.
Evolution often work in fits and jerks. There’s periods of rapid change (when there’s strong selective pressure), coupled with long pit stops where not much happens (the pressure relaxes). This conceit is found in several theories. Ernst Mayr’s “genetic revolutions.” Stephen Gould’s “punctuated equilibrium”.
Sometimes, this is dictated by outside pressures – climate change, or the introduction of a new competitor. Sometimes it’s dictated by the form itself. As WD Hamilton pointed out, you’d expect a complete flying creature to be more successful than a semi-evolved creature with half-grown wings. Once selection starts working, the creature rapidly moves through morphological space until it reaches the new optimum.
The fossil record can be likened to a ship traversing an ocean, while a satellite in space takes a photograph of it every day. Imagine the voyage takes 10 days – would you expect the 10 photos of the ship to be at perfect 10% intervals along the journey? Not hardly. There might be doldrums. There might have a strong tailwind. It might have to carefully navigate around some rocks. But this isn’t disproof of the mechanism of sail, and it’s not proof that the ship is magically teleporting from place to place. Evolution isn’t just a question of “where are we going”, it’s a question of “how quickly will we get there?”
This sort of adaptationist thinking isn’t trendy, but even an evolution driven by drift isn’t going to operate at a constant rate throughout history. The generation of mutations is modulated by a host of environmental factors (radiation, UV light), and their spread is capped by social factors. Maybe all kinds of interesting mutations developed in the humans living the New World. So what? Until 1948, none of that affected the gene pool of the humans living in Europe at all. There was a big natural barrier in the way: the Atlantic ocean.
Another thing: does something looking superficially unchanged mean it’s not evolving? The horseshoe crabs are a famous example of “living fossils”, nearly unchanged after hundreds of millions of years. But it seems they did actually change a little bit – fossilized horseshoe crabs have legs that split into two ends, while the modern kind have no split. (Perhaps there’s better examples of living fossils. Cladoselache is a Devonian fish that looks very much like a modern shark. Trigonotarbida is 400mYa old yet easily recognisable as a spider – some fossils even have spinerettes.)
I guess you always want more fossils. But when I die, the fossil record will likely keep no record of me, so who am I do to deny transitional fossils a hypothetical existence?No Comments »
As the 90s gained integers, you started to hear about “shareware” games. Instead of buying a $60.00 box of air and praying the game was as good as it looked in Nintendo Power, you actually got to play the fucker before you bought it. Imagine that! Next thing, you were up all night, watching a 2mb file called DOOM1_1.zip dribble down your dad’s 2400 baud modem.
My favourite part of gaming’s tidal changes (whether it’s the rise of the internet or the advent of CD drives) is playing all the weird crap that hit the market before the industry got its shit together. Apogee released a lot of oddball titles – you got the sense that they were seeing what would stick with the new shareware business model – and Hocus Pocus fits into that category.
Like many of their games, it was a new IP, made by an outsider with little history in the game business. It’s a side-scrolling platform game about a wizard who must collect crystal balls. You flip switches, ride elevators, fight enemies, and dodge identity theft lawsuits from Mario. The graphics are colorful, glossy and shiny, like someone sprayed the whole game with WD-40. The monsters and environments are visually creative.
Animation is a mixed bag. Some enemies run and move in a lifelike fashion, but your main character is a department store mannequin. Ditto for the audio in general. The music is half good, half unlistenable shit. The omnipresent PEW PEW PEW of Hocus firing his magic spell drove me to muting my audio.
I played the shareware version of this obsessively when I was 5 or so, becoming the intolerable local kid who would watch others play and fly into a rage at their incompetence. I played the nine levels so many times that I could draw a map of them from memory. When I revisit Hocus Pocus, I like it less and less. It’s playable and inoffensive, mostly because it’s hard to screw up platform games, but there’s not much too it.
Various things grate at me. The game has basically three enemies with different graphics. The gameplay never varies. There’s the sense that you’re playing the same level over and over with different graphics. Switch combination puzzles suck. The “jokes” sprinkled throughout probably sounded funnier on the drawing board. Super Mario Bros makes it look as shallow as a kid’s wading pool, and that’s bad. SMB should be the standard that platform games build on, not an insurmountable mile-high yardstick.
I never bothered with the full version. Shareware had a dark side – usually the paid version was just the free version + some more levels + maybe a new weapon or something. Very few Apogee titles were worth getting in full (Raptor being a notable exception). In some ways, Apogee made arcade games for the PC. Remember how Mortal Kombat would always leave you wanting more at the arcades but as soon as you got it for a home console you’d be sick of it, like, yesterday? Same story here. Some games are best confined to small doses.
As far as I know it works on Dosbox if you play without audio (no great loss). As was their policy, Apogee magnanimously allowed developers to retain the copyright on their worthless IPs, and so the developers theoretically could have started a Hocus Pocus burger chain or something. They didn’t.No Comments »
Music is a form of art, and although there are many ways to define art, one definition is “intentional specialness”. We live in a universe ruled by randomness and chaos, and things that aren’t chaotic (meaning they have elements of planning, intention, predictability, uniqueness, etc underpinning them) register in our minds as interesting.
Put another way: the universe is a random series of numbers (1, 4, 2, 7, 9, 3, 6, 4, 1, 2) while art is a non-random series (1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4).
Art is a man-made island of reason in an ocean of stochastic chaos. Even works of art that seem chaotic (like a Jackson Pollock painting) have “intentionality” behind them. Pollock wants his paintings to look that way. It’s not an accident.
Listen to the sounds around you. Bird chirps. The humming of an air conditioner. A passing car. All of it’s just a boring canvas of random noise. But then, consider music: a series of frequencies carefully arranged in time by a composer. A steady beat. A steady rhythm. An E superimposed over a C# to create a sad minor third. A submediant (VI) resolving back to the tonic (I). All of it planned, all of it deliberate.
The power of music isn’t that it sounds pleasant (noise rock, death metal, etc). It’s that it’s special!
So why does music sound empty to you?
Assuming your brain is neurologically undamaged, my guess is that you’ve listened to so much of it that the “specialness” has gone away. That it’s been a part of your life for so long that your brain has totally habituated to it and you no longer perceive it as distinct or different to the rest of the background noise in the world.
William S Burroughs said that the new addicts shoot smack to feel good, while old addicts shoot smack to feel normal. And eventually you stop feeling anything at all.
We rely on specialness to give our lives meaning, but it’s short lived and easily destroyed. The first act of sexual intercourse on a movie screen was a transgressive, outrageous statement. The 2,436,734th act of sexual intercourse was just lazy button-pushing.
But people still keep trying. Much of our lives are spent shuffling around in the dark, trying to recapture the ghost of specialness that was exorcised long ago.No Comments »
An internet celebrity would probably read the poem and think Ozymandias had it easy. He lost his empire, but at least he left behind two trunkless legs of stone and an inscription. A Vine star can disappear entirely. There are no low and level sands: the internet in 2016 is more like an ocean of quicksand in 9-magnitude earthquake riding a subducting tectonic plate straight into the asthenosphere. Changing trends, changing media, nobody having any clear idea what works and what doesn’t…Fame achieved on the internet is only slightly longer-lasting than fame achieved by starring in an ISIS beheading video.
Time for my quarterly Maddox check-in. Yep, still alive.
I’ve written before about how I obsessively check everyone I’ve ever heard of to make sure they haven’t died. In Maddox’s case, I check to make sure he hasn’t committed suicide. He just seems like he’s on that road. He updates his website with bitter rants with zero jokes. He alienates friends and business partners. He actively repudiates much of his early writings – you get the vibe of an aging musician insulting the hits that brought him fame. His last book failed. His next one will probably do the same. Everything I see from him depresses me.
When I first found him in 2004, he was at the top of his game. He had a hilarious shtick (which I’d describe as “smart person pretending to be stupid person pretending to be a smart person”…read his stuff and you’ll get it), a series of wildly popular viral articles, and rabbit ears for internet culture of the time (SomethingAwful, bash.org, etc). His site was getting monstrous amounts of traffic, with zero promotion. He inspired countless imitators.
Around 2005, gaps between articles started going from weeks to months. From September 2007 to September 2010 he published a whopping six articles. And this was around the point where you could no longer afford to do that – the internet was changing, and it went from “charismatic writers with loyal followings” to “clickbait writers dangling shiny objects in front of your face, and hoping you weren’t distracted by an even shinier object”. By the time Maddox finally came “back” (sorta), he’d lost all the momentum he’d built up. His articles now get tens of thousands of hits. It used to be millions.
He’s still an interesting person. Not so much for the content he’s putting out (which is sporadic and shitty), but for the brief glimpses behind the curtain.
He seems to be trying to rebrand, to “pivot”, as political wonks are saying now. This video has been edited to include a grovelling “explanation” of why he used the word “gay”. His rejection of his first book is a calculated move to deflect blowback from a passage that appears to recommend sexual assault (if you’re an idiot with no understanding of satire or humor). I don’t know why he even bothers. The people who are offended by such things are intractable to apologies. They don’t want him to grovel, they just want him destroyed.
To be fair, he’s always been a conflicted guy. What I liked about his occasional forays into politics was that he’d be so unpredictable in his stances. On some topics he’d lean left, on others right, on still others he’d take a view shared by no political ideology I’m aware of.
But now he’s virtually repudiating his edgelord past. It’s a shame, but it’s not surprising. People get older, and people change. Tucker Max is now an entrepreneur. Thilo Savage took down his site after it apparently caused problems for his professional career. Robert Hamburger…god, I don’t even know. If I think too much about him I’ll read Real Ultimate Power one last time.
A shattered visage.No Comments »
“Nothing taught by force stays in the soul.” Plato
“Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed.” Samuel Johnson
“According to a rule of thumb among engineers, any tenfold quantitative change is a qualitative change, a fundamentally new situation rather than a simple extrapolation. ‘More is different.'” –Philip Warren Anderson
“I remember asking a wise man, once . . . ‘Why do Men fear the dark?’ . . . ‘Because darkness’ he told me, ‘is ignorance made visable.’ ‘And do Men despise ignorance?’ I asked. ‘No,’ he said, ‘they prize it above all things–all things!–but only so long as it remains invisible.” ? R. Scott Bakker, The Judging Eye
“The cognitive functioning of a human brain depends on a delicate orchestration of many factors, especially during the critical stages of embryo development—and it is much more likely that this self-organizing structure, to be enhanced, needs to be carefully balanced, tuned, and cultivated rather than simply flooded with some extraneous potion.”
? Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence
“The original is unfaithful to the translation.”
? Jorge Luis Borges
“Was it you that killed me, or did I kill you?” Abel answered. “I don’t remember anymore; here we are, together, like before.”
“Now I know that you have truly forgiven me,” Cain said, “because forgetting is forgiving. I, too, will try to forget.”
? Jorge Luis Borges
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
? Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
“It reminds me of a story that Ulysses S. Grant tells in his memoirs about a night he spent on the wild prairies of East Texas. He and a fellow officer were near Goliad when they heard “the most unearthly howling of wolves” directly in front of them. They couldn’t see the wolves through the tall prairie grass, but the men knew they were near. The other officer asked Grant how many wolves he thought were in the pack. Grant, not wanting to seem afraid, tried to lowball the number at twenty […] The men arrived to find just two lone wolves sitting on their haunches. These were the sole animals who had made all the noise that had scared Grant so badly, that had convinced him he was overwhelmingly outnumbered. Four decades later, after a full life in public service and politics, Grant would relate that he often thought of this incident when he heard of a group changing course due to criticism or someone giving up because they were deterred by an unseen enemy. The lesson in such situations, he concluded, was this: “There are always more of them before they are counted.” – Ryan HolidayNo Comments »
There’s a pianist joke that goes something like “When [butt of joke] started to play, Steinway himself came down personally and rubbed his name off the piano.” Some works would are improved by an attachment to their creator, others degraded. Thomas Pynchon and JD Salinger are/were notorious recluses who feel/felt that nothing about them should reach the wider world, except their books. This might be the polar opposite, a boos that’s almost worthless on its own merits, but gains a degree of interest through its connection to Kathy Acker.
In short, it’s the story of the author going to Haiti and having sex with several people there. I don’t know if it’s autobiographical, or intended as a riff on Cole Porter’s “Katie Goes to Haiti” (I suspect the latter).
It’s easier to say what it isn’t than what it is. It’s not experimental, and not particularly Burroughs inspired. There’s no cut-up prose. There’s sexual content, but no violence. It’s short but still overlong, with many pages detailing Kathy’s transport and lodging arrangements, as well as uneventful conversations with natives.
Kathy’s descriptions of carnal knowledge read like stereotypical male pornography. No “and then our HEARTS became as ONE”, just hyperbolic and florid descriptions of erogenous zones grinding. Towards the end, she abandons the “sexcation” angle and strays into political and social commentary.
If this wasn’t written by Acker, it would probably be instantly forgettable. But coming from one of the most notorious and difficult Beat Generation artists, you’d start to speculate on the whys and the wherefores. In other words, Acker’s name was a treasure map, so I was inspired to dig in barren soil.
The boring longeurs might be a parody of holiday writing (sun-kissed people giving you the blow-by-blow real estate dossier of their hotel suite, under the impression that this is as interesting to you as it is to them.) The male-oriented pornography might be a statement on…something. Cameras as phallic objects. Male gaze.
The political angle at the end is the most interesting, particularly in contrast. At the start, everyone she meets is happy, welcoming her with open arms and open legs. On the strength of her first few hours, Haiti is paradise on earth. But the further Kathy strays from the main tourist towns, she encounters other things: poverty, disaffection, and fear. Don’t forget, this book was written during the auspice of Papa Doc and Baby Doc. I heard someone say “Minnesota Nice is when you wait until someone’s left the room until you backtalk them.” Likewise, I’ve always thought that extreme, showy openness of much of the third world is often a mask for something.
It’s not much of a book no matter how you judge it, but it’s interesting. The Beat Generation was like Monty Python: most of their juice comes from surprise, and their defiance of convention. Here’s the ultimate and most cynical execution of that: a book that’s almost completely normal. Probably hard to find, but the things Acker wrote about aren’t. In fact, they’ve probably become even more common since her day, for better or for worse.No Comments »
Once, I heard a description of Family Guy that cuts right to the heart of the show’s failings. “The Simpsons, if every character was Homer.” Everyone’s crazy, everyone’s a clown, everyone’s the Lord of Misrule. Everyone’s a Punch and nobody’s a Judy. It’s a common failing in comedy: “the straight guy is boring. The screwball gets the laughs. So if we eliminate the straight guy and have two screwballs, it will be twice as funny!”
The straight guy provides ballast, you fool. Comedy’s like a game of table tennis. You can get pretty creative playing it, slamming balls off the wall while standing on your head. But it only works if you have a stable, unmoving net.
Ichi the Killer is not quite a comedy but has a similar weakness. It draws us (or perhaps anti-draws, given that it’s an adaptation of a Hideo Yamamoto manga) into the world of sadistic yakuza enforcers, and asks us to bask in the sangfroid of one particular sadistic yakuza enforcer, who is different to the others to the extent that he has scars on his face.
I don’t know what’s supposed to be shocking and awful and Ichi. Everyone in this film is a repulsive person. Gangsters crack jokes while scraping bloody remains off ceilings. Sociopathic prostitutes manipulate their johns. The movie sets gray against a backdrop of slightly lighter gray. It’s a good setting, but it needs some contrast. It needs a “straight guy”. It’s Family Guy all over again. If Homer’s the baseline, then Homer stops seeming shocking and funny – he’s just just the way things are.
I like the scars on Ichi’s face. A “Glasgow smile”, as they call it a few thousand miles away. The film’s best scene comes early on, where we see Ichi blow smoke through the cuts.
Elsewhere, the film’s aesthetic is less successful. The violence is undercut by the fact that 1) the effects are cheap and 2) the acting doesn’t sell us on the brutality. There’s a scene where Ichi tortures a man by puncturing his cheeks with an alarmingly huge pin…and in between bouts the man speaks calmly and lucidly. It’s like watching a WWE pay-per-view where wrestlers bounce back up after getting chairs smashed over their head.
Later, the effects team just gives up trying. CGI looked better in 1993. The remaining wheels fall off the movie’s wagon when we get to horrible special effects that look like a SyFy movie made in an antifreeze lab.
I haven’t read the manga, although I read Yamamoto’s other big work: Homunculus. It was fascinating, for what it was, but he doesn’t seem to be very adaptable as a mangaka. That might have been Ichi the Killer’s undoing. Generally, there are two schools of adapting manga: the first is to capture everything, the second is to try to capture the “spirit”. Both of them can fail horribly, but in unique ways. Judging unseen, this feels like the first case. You can’t shove ten volumes of manga into a DVD player, and you shouldn’t even tr
This was crying out to be something like that Cronenberg film, Eastern Promises, particularly that scene in the bathhouse, involving linoleum cutters. That moment was what this movie dreams of being when it grows up. Now, it’s just blowing smoke.No Comments »
Contemplate Rivers Cuomo, of Weezer used-to-be-fame. Does this look like a man who diligently checks his groupies’ IDs before letting them on the tour bus? It’s doubtful.
RHCP’s Anthony Kiedis was recently sighted sporting a combo of pedostache + pedoglasses (or “molestacles”, as they are sometimes called – check your Funk & Wagnalls). In the 90s, RHCP had a hit with “Love Rollercoaster”. Be advised: Kiedis’s own Love Rollercoaster is conspicuously missing the “You Must Be This Tall To Ride” sign.
Slipknot’s vocalist Corey Taylor has also gotten on to the trend of hanging a “free candy” sign on the tour bus. The truly disturbing part about this man is that sometimes he can be heard performing vocals for Slipknot.No Comments »
Films such as The Cabin in the Woods are often described as “a love letter to horror.” Monolith’s 1997 first person shooter Blood is more like a rambling, 50 page Unabomber manifesto stuffed into horror’s mailbox at 2:00am, complete with the final line “ps: nice view thru yr bedroom window ;)”. Conceptually it’s one of most ridiculous and nebbish games ever made: the dialogue consists of groan-worthy riffs on famous horror movies, the levels are themed off places like the Overlook Hotel and Crystal Lake, the game shoves references to Lovecraft and George Romero under your face with such obsessive frequency that you almost want to pat it on the shoulder and say “Relax, I get it. Stop trying so hard.”.
But it’s also one of the most fun shooters ever made. There’s just no cohesive direction to any of it, and strangely, that completely works.
You have 1) a brainless “shoot everything that moves” gameplay, 2) paired with a complicated set of RPG -style damage modifiers (as a simple example, stone gargoyles repel fire attacks). You have 1) a nonsensical throwaway plot about an old west gunfighter (with anachronisms galore), and 2) a very detailed mythos, right down to the fact that the enemy cultists speak a constructed language (there was a dictionary on the now-defunct Blood site, revealing said language to be the product of hurling Sanskrit and Latin at each other in a Participle Accelerator.) You have 1) shitty graphics (the Build engine was dated in 1996, and even more so in 1997), and 2) fairly groundbreaking use of 3D voxel imaging (for tombstones and such). Blood’s an anomaly.
The game’s a mess, in the best way possible. It’s like it was made by two different teams living on two different continents who could only communicate by carrier pidgeon. “Throw a bunch of interesting ideas together” seldom works, but here’s the exception.
I’ve played through it several times, at various difficulty levels, and I still find it capricious, challenging, and occasionally brilliant. The Build Engine isn’t the prettiest whore on the waterfront, but it allows for destructible/deformable environments and the game takes those features and runs like they’re a pair of scissors. E1M3, “The Phantom Express”, takes place on board a moving train – it’s stunning as a visual effect, and the level design perfectly complements it: you have to fight tense gunbattles in narrow train corridors, etc. The only bad thing is that none of the later levels quite match it in creativity.
The weapons are savage and visceral (though I never figured out exactly how the voodoo doll work), and the level design fun, flowing, and filled with endearing human touches. Duke Nukem 3D was the anti-Quake. This is the antier-Quake. This is the final and complete triumph of content over technology, and nobody in gaming realised it, either then or now.
Not even Monolith did – Blood II was an inexplicable attempt at remaking this game with zero character or charm. And of course, the game still has a modding community.
Blood isn’t perfect. The final boss is the easiest one in the game. The weapons aren’t balanced all that well (generally, the cooler a weapon seems, the less useful it is in the game) and some of the enemies are truly ridiculous bullet sponges. It’s bimodal nature means it has daring creativity paired with cloddish FPS cliches – there’s the old “shoot a crack in the wall to reveal a secret area” wheeze…again…and again…
But it’s classic, and the rarest type of game: one that is impervious to time. To preserve a human body, you generally extract all eight litres of blood – and I guess this is where it all ends up. Duke Nukem 3D came out a year before and laid the ground for this type of game (gory violence + campy irreverent humor), but between the two of them, THIS is the one to play first, and perhaps last.No Comments »
People who fight social change do so for two reasons. The first is that sometimes society changes in a bad direction. The second is that sometimes society changes in a good direction. Yeah, think about it. How terrible would it be to spend your life fighting eugenics or whatever, have society adopt eugenics anyway…and then society doesn’t collapse. Wouldn’t that just be the pits and the shits? Why were you even alive?
On a related jag: lots of famous men use prostitutes.
Charlie Sheen. Tiger Woods. A-Rod. These are wealthy, high-status men. They could have consensual sex with any number of women. Yet they choose prostitutes.
I think it’s because sex prostitutes is explicitly transactional. You fuck them, you pay them, and they leave. They don’t expect you to talk or be entertaining, they don’t gab about you to their friends or the tabloids, they don’t try to move into your house or poke holes in your condoms. THEY LEAVE.
Economists talk about revealed preferences, where peoples’ true desires can be triangulated through their buying habits. If men, given unlimited money and status, choose prostitutes, does this mean that this represents some kind of…ideal preference? I heard someone say that a communist sees a mansion and thinks “nobody should have this much” while a capitalist thinks “everyone should have this much.” Are prostitutes the mansion in this scenario? In the future, will there be social welfare so that every man can afford prostitutes?
I think there’s more to famous men using prostitutes than it just being more convenient. It’s an upgraded form of love, love made efficient.
Love is traditionally haphazard, rambling, impenetrable, irrational, awkward, and (to an extent) based on deception. From the male end, it looks like this. Make yourself attractive. Approach women. Hope they don’t write blog posts about how creepy you are. Court a woman over months or years. At any stage in the proceedings, things can fall apart for any reason at all, or even no reason at all, and you’ve just wasted four whole years putting the toilet seat up and pretending to like Michael Bublé.
In its natural form, love is like crude oil, filled with grit and sand and byproducts. Sometimes it’s still usable. When the Japanese occupied Tarakan island they found that the crude was light enough to pump directly into their ships’ boilers. But why not refine it? Why not strip out all the stuff you don’t need?
Prostitution is refined love.
A working lady can fulfill any need you can possibly have, whether you want carnal knowledge, emotional intimacy, or even just someone to hug. Is it fake? Yes. For a whole lot of us, fakeness is all we need. I don’t need to actually IRL kill people in Battlefield 4. I don’t need rappers in music videos to actually own those expensive cars. All that matters is that the illusion is real enough, and thanks to technology, it either is or soon will be.
Soon, we might be looking at people who get married the way we look at people who churn their own butter. It will be a bucolic hipster lifestyle choice.
There’s nothing wrong with living in the past. Look at the NES gaming console, and how people fondly remember it. Some people build shrines to the NES. We have to do this, because the console can’t speak. It lacks a voice, so we commemorate it.
The human race is in a similar but different predicament. We’re coming obsolete…but unlike every other product in history, we can talk about our own obsolescence.No Comments »