Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How to handle a GTA IV press request

On the eve of the latest release in this celebrated and vilified series, here's all you really need to know in order to handle 
a question about Grand Theft Auto from the press:

1) The question they all want to ask: "Aren't these games too violent for kids?"

2) The answer: "Yes. Hence the M rating for Mature. (click as you hang up)

I wish there were national headlines each time a new crime movie 
came out, saying "Is this movie too violent for kids?"

The unspoken implication: All videogames are for kids. And videogames twist kiddie minds.

Yet note that as videogames proliferated throughout the Nineties and 2000s, the rate of violent crime among American youths fell dramatically.

(Duke Ferris's excellent summary of the decline in youth crime 
as it paralleled the rise of 
; and here's a link to  the plummeting rate of violent crime in U.S. schools.)

Paris Hilton gets her head harpooned in the movie House of Wax and that earns no more outcry than some jokes on Talk Soup. Carjack somebody in a videogame and it's the front page of the New York Times.

All of which is to say that I'd wish the media would relax.
Gamers -- mature gamers, that is --love Grand Theft Auto for all the same reasons that they love gangster movies and 
Stephen King novels...y'know, all the things everyone loves.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tito Ortiz's acting career

Former UFC champion Tito Ortiz says he wants to quit his mega-money career as a fighter in order to concentrate on acting. So what's he land for his first acting gig? He's got a bit role in his girlfriend Jenna Jameson's "mainstream debut," Zombie Strippers.

Way to go, Tito!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It turns out that I have nothing in common with the Green Party

I've been experiencing Democrat Fatigue this year...an exhausted feeling that the party is going to continue wasting great talents like Barack Obama and botching what should be gimme elections. It's been bad enough lately that I decided to start looking into the Green Party as a possible new home. Then I went to the Green Party website, and discovered to my amazement -- after just a few minutes -- that I disagree with almost all of their politics.

I've now read their official Platform and I’ve judged most of it to be crazy. Listen to some of these crazy ideas:

“Federally mandated 30-hour work week”: This is a terrific idea if you don't mind our productivity falling behind Serbia's and our GNP crashing. Even crazier: the Greens’ proposal to pay workers for a 40-hour week by enacting a gargantuan “social dividend” tax. If crazy ideas were mountains, this idea is K2.

“Free, Federally-Provided Child Care for All”: Have you ever dealt with the DMV? Imagine a DMV for child care. Now imagine paying the taxes to support the DMV for someone else's child care. If crazy ideas were mountains, this idea is Mount Everest.

“Workplace Democracy”: I kid you not, the Green Party wants to make it federal law that any workplace with 10 or more workers gets to democratically elect its managers. If crazy ideas were mountains, this idea is so crazy that there is no earthly mountain big enough to represent its craziness – you would need to explore the deepest reaches of space to find a planet with a big enough mountain to represent this proposal.

“Abolish the CIA, NSA, and All US Agencies of Covert Warfare”: Yeah, because who needs the most important elements of 21st-century national defense? Not us, apparently. News flash: it’s going to take more than the Newark Police Department to monitor and disrupt hostile governments and substate terrorists. “US agencies of covert warfare” turn out to be pretty important when the chips are down…I’m all for safeguarding the Constitution in times of crisis, but abolishing our best friggin’ defense isn’t the solution to Guantanamo, folks.

And I won't even get started on their foreign policy, which is pretty much ripped straight out of Noam Chomsky.

All of which is to say, the Green Party and I are not a good fit. Maybe I will start the Mario Party.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Baseball Vegetable Day

No fooling around -- I vowed earlier this week to do nothing on Saturday but watch baseball on TV, and sure enough that is exactly what I'm doing. It began with the Giants-Cardinals at 10am PST, with a dynamite outing from Tim Lincecum (the only thing worth watching on this year's dreadful Giants team). There's a pitcher to love: 5'10, 170 pounds, looks about 16 years old, and is arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He looked great in a 3-0 Giants win.

Conveniently, the Giants game ended just minutes before the start of the 1pm Dodgers-Braves game on the FOX national telecast. I watched the Braves come from behind to defeat the hated/evil/terrorist Dodgers.

And what's this? Just as that game ends, the 4pm national WGN telecast of the White Sox-Rays game commences. Great chance to finally see this much-heralded lineup of Rays youngsters, featuring Evan Longoria (who signed a six-year contract at age 23 despite only playing six major-league games in his entire life).

Sum total: Three consecutive ballgames over nine consecutive hours, interrupted only by a little "Stargate SG-1." I've been in need of a battery-recharging day with our national pastime.

And lest anyone think this day is going to be completely wasted, I've got a swanky restaurant reservation for later, so Baseball Vegetable Day should at least have a classy end.

Paranoids w/ The Knife Hits @ Bender's, SF

Last night was the CD release show for my friend Elliott's band The Paranoids; I joined my co-workers J.T. and Tom to show support. As usual, the Paranoids made it very easy to
support them, playing a terrific show to a packed house.

The opening act (pictured here) was The Knife Hits, and I had a chance to chat with their guitarist at the bar before they went on. Also a Daniel, he hails from South Africa and did stints in London and Paris before "ending up here somehow." Outstanding. The Knife Hits were all right, though the vocalist dedicated one of their songs "to all the lovers out there," which earned the band an immediate -10 points on my rating scale.

(It turns out that Tom is another massive Kubrick aficionado, so we spent some time rapping about Michel Ciment's theory of the"implied trilogy" formed by Dr. Strangelove, 2001, and A Clockwork Orange. I don't get to do that too often! Tom had some essential words of appreciation when he said "Kubrick is..." and, lacking the words, simply concluded "...Kubrick is." Well put.)

Overheard at the bar: "Dude, I've got some bomb-ass shit.....but I've got to work all day tomorrow."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Games, pizza, beer...this is not a bad career

Tuesday night in San Francisco -- after work, a bunch of us were invited by our old pal Doug at Valve Software come by Blondie's Bar & No Grill for a world-exclusive unveiling of the new map in Team Fortress 2, an awesome team-based shooter game that we play a lot of.

This is my idea of paradise: an open bar serving you whatever you want free of charge...towers of pizza boxes filled with North Beach Pizza pies for us to snarf...and two rows of computers where we could sit and play team-versus-team in one of the best games of all time.

Yes, this is what we do for a living. If you're a nerd (which I am), this is pretty tough to complain about. (Just get a load of the nerds in this photo...it's tragic.) As an added bonus, the PC Gamer team was in excellent form and we absolutely owned the opposition. (Nice work, Jeremy!)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Wine countrying

Our world-renowned wine country is, like, an hour away from me, yet I'd never been. So this weekend I joined friends for a weekend excursion to vineyard-covered points north. I spent most of Saturday bouncing from winery to winery, where I learned quite a few things:

1. It's easy to get sloshed even when you're having only a mouthful of each wine. The trick is to taste five or six wines at each stop, so that you've imbibed the equivalent of a swimming pool's worth of wine over the course of the day. When we reached our last stop, Unti winery, I was variously described as "glassy-eyed," "quiet," and "done."

2. Wineries are great, even if you care nothing about the product. Consider: mankind has been producing wine by more or less the same process for thousands of years. The vineyards, the grapes, the vats, the barrels...all in service of a beverage. It appeals to both sides of me -- the side that appreciates a complex, structured, militaristic operation, and also the side that appreciates art and its creative variations. Winemaking is both worlds, plus the final product gets you buzzed. It's for me.

3. There is 80-year-old grape jelly. I had some at one of our stops. It tasted like...grape jelly.

4. Fourteen acres of vineyard (planted with chardonnay, merlot, and syrah) with a modular house on the property will run you a smooth $1.9 million. At least that's the asking price from Sotheby's.

Seems like exactly the kind of thing to blow 2 mil on if one has the 2 mil to blow on something.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Controversy in the Pope Room

We'd had a long day in software training. (Is there any other kind of day in software training?) There were 12 or so of us, filing out of the classroom at the end of the all-day session and ready to blow off steam. Luckily, we were on Bush Street downtown and there are plenty of steam-blowing choices within easy walking distance. After a couple of rounds at The Irish Bank, we made our way to Bucca di Beppo for dinner and several bottles of chianti.

Since our party was so big, the greeter seated us in the Pope Room, pictured above. It's exactly what it sounds like -- a round banquet room where all the decorations celebrate our two most recent pontiffs of the Catholic faith, the illustrious John Paul II and the more newly-minted Benedict XVI (seen here in the glass case atop our table).

After a few glasses of vino, I casually mentioned that the current pope had been a member of the Hitler Youth in his teenage years. No one believed me. I tried to explain that every German kid at the time was pretty much required to join the Hitler Youth, so there was no particular shame in Mr. Ratzenberger's membership. For a kid growing up in early-1940s Germany, the Hitler Youth was basically the Boy Scouts (if the Boy Scouts hated non-Aryans, that is). There's no evidence that the young Ratzenberger or anyone in his family were involved in any Nazi activity beyond dressing up in the uniforms and posing for creepy photographs. (For those of you who followed the link: yes, that's the pope.)

But it didn't matter; no one at the table was willing to accept my version of the pope's biography. So we all raised a toast to the pontiff and -- unless I'm just being paranoid -- I thought I saw his little plaster head slip me a sinister wink.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bay Area politics in a nutshell

I snapped this in the Sunset district here in SF, walking back to my car after a late-night movie with some friends. (We saw "21," which is like "Rounders" except if "Rounders" was  really stinky.) I noticed this graffiti on the sidewalk in front of me, a perfect summary of this city's political life.

In the immortal words of Walter Sobchak, "at least it's an ethos."

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

My coach kicks ass on TV

The guy issuing the beatdown in this photo is Alex Serdyukov, my main MMA instructor at Gracie/Fairtex, where I train in the sport controversially known as "ultimate fighting." This week Alex earned himself a huge victory on national TV as a welterweight in World Extreme Cagefighting (a "feeder" subsidiary of the UFC). It's great fun to see one of your coaches handling business in front of thousands of spectators and a sizeable cable audience.

It bears mentioning that Alex is one of the many people who put the lie to the stereotype about
MMA being a "bloodsport" practiced by snarling barbarians. (Although, in fairness, Alex does
appear to be snarling in this photo.) A soft-spoken Russian immigrant, Alex earned himself a business-school degree before pursuing his pro fighting career. As a trainer, he follows the example of our mutual teachers in the Gracie family, emphasizing the application of calm, intelligence, and technique in a fight.

Alex has been a big part of my own training getting more sophisticated and productive. I'm a pretty decent jiu-jitsu player but I need work on becoming a better boxer and wrestler. Alex has been really helpful in correcting my bad fight habits and learning how to dictate a gameplan on somebody. He also cracks me up by shaking his head disapprovingly whenever someone claims to be tiring.

It turns out that mastering this sport is really hard -- who knew!? -- and it causes contusions and discoloration about the face and head; but it's also a lot of fun and downright satisfying when you're having the better
of it. There's something confidence-building about learning to stand "in the pocket" with an opponent (the pocket being the area right in front of him) and exposing yourself to damage in order to try doing some damage yourself. (It's what fighters euphemistically call "trading.")

If you get a chance to catch the replay of "WEC 33: Back to Vegas" on VERSUS Network, try and check out Alex's fight. And if it's your first experience watching MMA, try and keep an open mind about this highly misunderstood and highly awesome sport. (I sometimes wonder if I missed my calling as a defender of the sport. Playboy published my incensed letter-to-the-editor after they ran an ignorant article about it; I guess you can't count on Playboy for much, except a great reality TV show about Hefner's Bunny housemates.)