Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Liberal Rant: The Supreme Court

Cartoon by Nick Anderson.

Antonin Scalia has died, and already conservatives are trying to frame his legacy as a staunch originalist who ruled based on what the law said, not what the political trends were. Liberals such as myself have a hard time swallowing that pill, as we see him as more of an actively conservative judge who ruled largely along ideological lines. I personally find it hard to believe an originalist would side with Hobby Lobby and rule that limiting campaign contributions from corporations was a detriment to free speech. Regardless, I don’t think his legacy will become clear until well after his death. It’s easier to judge the dead long after the fact.

As of writing this, Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court has not been filled, nor has Obama nominated a replacement. Yet already we see congressional Republicans lining up behind Mitch McConnell in his move to block any Supreme Court nominee until a new president is elected. Their reasoning is that Obama should not be able to pack the court with another liberal justice, tilting the Supreme Court to the left and making it easier for activist rulings to be issued.

There’s something shocking yet depressingly familiar about having one of America’s two major parties being willing to paralyze one of the biggest institutions in the country to score political points. Republicans have been blocking Obama’s nominees ever since he took office, forcing many agencies to go without leadership for months or even years. Republicans, despite trying to brand themselves as something other than the party of “no,” are taking this to the logical extreme with this recent stance against replacing Scalia. This is somewhat expected, but it doesn’t make it any less egregious.

Let’s start with the obvious here. We have an odd number of justices for a reason: to prevent ties. With an even number of justices, ties are much more likely to happen, meaning that the Supreme Court can effectively deadlock itself. And given how the current make up is four liberal justices and four conservative ones, that seems very likely to happen. Republicans have already paralyze the legislative branch with their posturing and obstructionist reactionism. If they are successful in their latest venture, then they will have paralyzed the judicial branch as well. Once again, Republicans are letting politics get in the way of actual governance.

Second, it’s the president’s constitutional authority to fill vacancies in the Supreme Court. In one of the greatest ironies in this administration, the party that thumps and invokes the Constitution the most are trying to prevent Obama from doing his constitutional duty. By preventing Obama from doing his job for the sake of politics, they are ignoring (or even defying) their beloved document that Democrats always seem to violate. Despite trying to protect the legacy of a supposed originalist and literalist, they are going against what the Constitution literally says. I hope the irony is not lost on those fellows.

Third, and most importantly, Republicans don’t even have to do what they’re doing to get someone they like nominated. I don’t know if McConnell, Cruz, and their kin realize this, but they have a majority in the Senate. This means even if Obama wanted to pack in an activist liberal, he couldn’t, because the Senate could just kill the nomination. At this point, if Obama wants to make good on his promise, he’ll need to nominate a moderate or a conservative to the bench. In other words, this posturing by the Republicans is totally unneeded, as they can still get a conservative justice despite Obama being in office.

The Republicans latest ploy is facepalm-worthy, not only because they’re prioritizing politics over the functionality of one of the country’s most vital institutions, but also because they can get their way without having to openly state their plans to block any nominee. This isn’t overplaying their hand, this is them revealing their hand before the dealer reveals his when the odds are already in their favor. In a sense, Republicans have already lost whatever they were trying to accomplish, as they’ve pretty much cemented themselves as a party of obstructionists, not conservatives. I don’t know whether I should be celebrating or shaking my head.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Drawn Together Picked Apart- Dirty Pranking No. 2

All pictures are from the Drawn Together Wiki.

Episode Number: 6th in season one, 6th overall
Original Airdate: December 8, 2004
Focuses: Clara, Captain Hero

Since the last two episodes I’ve reviewed were good episodes, I figure it's time I tackle an episode that I dislike. While Drawn Together can be clever as well as offensive, sometimes it forgets to be clever and just jumps straight into being offensive. This is one of the episodes. What’s wrong with it? Let me tell you.

Plot Summary
Clara feels like she’s missing something in her life, as princesses are often want to do. When she discovers Foxxy and Spanky pranking a pizza man; Foxxy pays for the pizza, while Spanky defecates on it. Spanky then presents the pizza, claiming he didn’t order the pizza with “sausage.” Clara joins in on the pranking, bonding with Spanky in the process. This continues until Clara’s father, the king, threatens to take Clara home if she continues her behavior. Clara defies her father, however, and eventually carries out a final prank with Spanky. Her father realizes how happy pranking makes her, and decides to let her stay with the Drawn Together crew.

Meanwhile, Xandir tries bonding with Captain Hero, but Hero keeps standing him up for his heroic duties. When Xandir gets upset, Hero decides to stand up his latest job (stopping an invading army of robotic bugs with hats) to take Xandir to the zoo. They have a great time, but everyone on Earth, including the Drawn Together crew, are vaporized by the bugs. The bugs then take the “sausage pizza” prank back to their planet.

Best Moment
Captain Hero has to stop a terrorist threat in the Middle East. In Superman fashion, he tears off his clothes to reveal his costume...which is the exact same outfit he had on before.

Worst Moment
Clara tries to join in on the sausage pizza prank by offering the money to pay for it. Spanky assumes the money is for something else, and whips out his “thick eight,” his hog penis. Clara recoils in horror, and protests until Spanky puts it back in.

Season One has several gags revolving around Spanky’s penis, by the way. This is probably the worst of them.

The Good

This episode is not without its good parts. The subplot is quite good, with some funny gags, including one where Xandir and Hero enjoy their zoo visit while the entire world collapses around them. Any moment with Toot is a great one, including one where she asks Captain Morgan (a bottle of rum) why he doesn’t love her back, smashing the bottle against a wall, and “saves” him by licking the rum off it. There are some jokes in the main plot that work rather well, and Clara’s ark is actually good satire. It shows me there was a good premise behind Clara’s character before she turned into a generic religious right caricature.

The Bad

That being said, there’s plenty wrong with this episode. For one, every joke that doesn’t hit is cringeworthy. There’s one where a kiss goodbye between Clara and her father turns into a makeout session. There’s one where when Wooldoor is not invited to the zoo with Xandir, he takes a sniper rifle and remarks, “I’ll be in the clocktower.” Spany has a line where he remarks that the mistake he made was nearly as bad as converting to Islam in August of 2001. None of these jokes are particularly clever, and just seem there to punch decency in the face. There’s also a lot of imagery problems in this episode, especially the crap on the pizza (yes, they actually show it). This episode is not clever enough with most of its jokes to save itself from being far more tasteless than funny.

Hilarity Meter ™ : 2/5 (Pretty Funny)- The gags that work are quite good, but most of them are far more tasteless than funny.

Offense-o-Meter ™: 4/5 (Very Offensive)-  Incest, threats of eye gouging, hog penis, and tons of poop jokes make up his episode; all of it offensive, none of it clever.

Verdict: 2/5 (Mediocre)- This isn’t a good episode, and like half of Season One, it is totally worth skipping.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Press Start: Top Five Redeemed Games

All pictures are from Wikipedia.

They say that all people deserve second chances, and given my experiences as a gamer, I think it can be applied to video games. Sometimes when a game rubs me the wrong way, I tend to abandon it, but when I revisit it, my opinions of it change for the better. Sometimes it could be because of disappointment, going in with bad faith, or just expecting something different than what the game offers. These five games are games that, upon revisiting, were truly great experiences that deserved my praise the first time around. Let’s get started.

#5- Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales

Growing up, I played more Final Fantasy spinoffs than actual Final Fantasy games. I remember loving Tactics Advance, but two games I don’t remember enjoying was Tactics Advance 2 and Chocobo Tales. I have no plans to revisit the former, given how I remembered it as truly bad, but I gave Chocobo Tales a second shot. Instead of being as average as I remember, it turned out to be quite good.

Chocobo Tales is basically a Mario Party game with a Final Fantasy skin, but it stands out to me for several reasons. For one, the minigames utilize a pop-up book style that makes the game very pleasant to look at. The minigames themselves are fun and engaging at the best of times and just boring at the worst. The game also comes packing a card battle minigame, which in my opinion is the true star of this game due to its animations, strategy, and oddly addicting deck building system. And of course, this game is cute beyond words. This game may be a minigame collection, but it's a damn good one with a lot of polish and heart.

#4- InFamous

InFamous has on my “to play” list for a long time, and as soon as I got a PS3, I tried to get my hands on it. I was interested to see what Sucker Punch could do outside of Sly Cooper. At first it struck me as an edgy and clunky superhero game, but after it some time, I found that it was an edgy and solid superhero game.

InFamous is rough around the edges. The combat isn’t that engaging, the world tries far too hard to be dark and edgy, and it takes a while to get enough powers to make the game interesting. But despite this, I’m glad I gave this game a second chance. Traversing the city, especially when you get new powers, is always a blast. Cole can actually be an interesting character sometimes, and the story is surprisingly strong. While battles with basic enemy grunts can be repetitive, battles with stronger enemies can be intense and engaging, and the boss battles can be fantastic. While not as strong as Sly 2, Sucker Punch delivered a solid first entry in a likewise solid series.

#3- Bioshock Infinite

I didn’t get far into the first Bioshock. True, it was a visually masterpiece, and was very atmospheric, but the gameplay was not engaging enough for me to explore the otherwise fascinating city of Rapture. I gave the series another chance with the latest game in the series, and I was hooked.

Bioshock Infinite has all the strong points of the original Bioshock: an atmospheric and fascinating world, a great story, and absolutely beautiful graphics. However, what really got me hooked on Infinite was the gameplay. The gunplay this time around was far more engaging and challenging, and the spells you learn feel far more important in combat than in the originals. Add in elements like the skyhook and Elizabeth’s ability to open rifts, and you have an amazing package. I know actual fans of Bioshock might have issue with Infinite, as it’s more action oriented than the others, but for me it made all the difference.

#2- Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver

I’ve said previously that Gen 2 was my least favorite generation of Pokemon. When I made this statement, I was basing this off my experiences with HeartGold/SoulSilver, which didn’t make a good first impression with me. After playing HeartGold again, I take it back. In fact, HeartGold is one of the stronger Pokemon games out there.

The core gameplay of HeartGold is the same as most Pokemon games, but the fundamentals here are especially strong. Johto’s regional catalogue of Pokemon is pretty good, and carries a strong sense of nostalgia. The boss fights, while not terribly challenging, can still be entertaining, and can offer a true sense of progression. The environments are charming and pleasing to look at. But most importantly, it’s fun in that classic Pokemon sense. HeartGold is this high up not only because it's a strong Pokemon game, but because it really overcame the terrible first impression it made on me.

Oh, and for the none of you that care, Gen 6 is shaping up to be my least favorite generation.

#1- Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon

Very few games left as terrible a first impression as Shadow Dragon. As a fan of Fire Emblem, it felt very underwhelming, and it lacked things that drew me to the series in the first place. Over time, however, my opinion on it has evolved to the extent that now I think it’s one of the strongest Fire Emblems.

Yes, Shadow Dragon has its share of flaws, mainly in terms of the overabundance of units and how only Marth can visit villages. However, the core of what makes Fire Emblem great is there. It has engaging and thought provoking maps, as well as great fantasy world with political intrigue. The core combat and strategy is as strong as ever, and every move counts, especially if you want to recruit all playable units. It also deserves props for introducing reclassing to the series, and for implementing it in a way that doesn’t break the game. Shadow Dragon is becoming one of my favorite DS games, and I can think of no other game that I’m glad I gave a second chance.