Blog Archive

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Apathy


I can only assume that unbeknownst to all, I am sleepwalking and during that time doing something extraordinarily exhausting. There is no other explanation for being this tired. I've never really watched Parks and Rec, but had to pick up the quote "Oh, I’m fine. It’s just that life is pointless and nothing matters and I’m always tired. Also, I can’t sleep, I’m overeating and none of my old hobbies interest me.", as it sums up the whole thing pretty well. I appreciate every hour where I am not obliged to work, and if nobody makes me do something, I just don't. It's not like I live in filth or anything, there's just no drive. Some people are very active in their spare time, enjoying sports or yardwork, socializing or travelling. It all seems so unrewarding and pointless to me. Often I've been advised to go on holiday, visit a foreign country, but I honestly wouldn't know what to do once there. Sloth doesn't quite describe it, apathy seems more accurate. Objectively I am doing fairly ok in life, yet it feels like a drag.

Watching a movie or listening to music or reading books, while all vicarious and with varying payoff, are a few things worthwhile that don't require an enormous effort. To be honest, most of my spare time is spent in front of the computer, designed to make everything easily accessible. Maybe it's sensory overload, once you're used to all this stupid, screaming entertainment being thrown at us and laid out at our fingertips. I'm afraid that's all I have to say right now. I've already prepared some great title pictures for future posts, but all I can come up with for each image doesn't seem worth writing down. The above picture by the way, Phaedra (1880) by Alexandre Cabanel doesn't imply apathy, I just felt the weary expression would fit.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Warframe


Hawken is a fantastic game and an awful lot of fun, but at some point you've played all maps over and over again, all your main mechs (Bruiser ftw) are fully equipped with elite parts and the only tangible reward is better equipment for your fourth mech that you don't really use in the first place. To get a break from that I checked out another free-to-play title that is very popular on Steam.

Warframe is a third person shooter / hack'n'slash / action RPG game in a distant-future setting. There is a bit of a plot about the revival of the noble ancient Tenno warrior race who pick up the fight against the evil Grineer clone-empire that controls the solar system, the Corpus conglomerate and the Infested, alien mutant monsters. However this has little practical influence on the game other than packing the enemies in different bundles.
Warframe has a very unique design when it comes to your own faction, the titular Warframes (your character's humanoid exoskeleton suit) and your equipment. The other factions and most of the levels however look exactly like you'd expect them. The missions/levels consist of randomly combined segments, which sounds like a source of endless variety, but there are only so many segments and most of them are brown-grey corridors of stone and metal with few highlights. Throughout the game you unlock the planets, moons and dwarf-planets of the solar system, but you can't tell the difference (except for the Earth-levels).

Warframe's gameplay reminds me an awful lot of Hellgate:London. You rush through hordes of enemies, mow down anything that moves and vacuum up shiny objects that drop to the ground. Looting and leveling is what it's all about. You improve your equipment using mods, which improve stats or add effects, which can each be upgraded as well. Your Warframe is essentially like a class in a classical RPG, with tanks, healers, damage dealers and so forth. Every Warframe has a melee weapon (e.g. swords), a primary weapon (e.g. rifles) and a secondary weapon (e.g. pistols), you can also get an dog-like creature or a drone to follow you into combat. More importantly however, other players join you on your missions and with the right combination can make a very effective team.

Warframe is free-to-play, but as usual this means a huge paywall. Real money translated to ingame platinum gets you all items, but at absurdly expensive exchange rates. You can get most non-decorative things through prolonged grinding, which brings me to the biggest issue I have with this game: grinding, grinding, grinding. If you're into rushing through the same indistinguishable corridors a dozen times to gather resources to get a gun that has five percent more damage output, you're going to love Warframe, because that's 90% of the game, the rest consists of combining mods and upgrading your equipment to the brim. There are several mission types, but those only add having to kill one especially hard enemy as well as the usual hordes or defending a spot for some time.

In summary, Warframe has a solid premise, but more than anything it feels shallow. The grinding, looting and upgrading isn't as rewarding as it should be to keep new players motivated. It could have done way better given the scenario and design approach, but like this it's forgettable.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

True Detective

I always insisted that Columbo is the only good detective/crime show on television, but since watching the first season of HBO's anthology series True Detective (released January-March 2014) that has changed. True Detective follows detectives Cohle (McConaughey) and Hart (Harrelson) over a period of seventeen years and the investigation of a murder in Louisiana. What makes the show so good is not only the absolutely superb performances by both lead actors in their utterly different characters, but also the overall direction which lets the scenery take center stage (like a fading memory of a town that once was), the great cinematography, the excellent choice of music and of course the intriguing storyline with occult, supernatural and conspiracy motives sprinkled across, but rarely in a tangible way. Thanks to the format there is enough room for silence, for long shots, for tension. True Detective saves the genre from being defined by the idiot shows on daily evening TV.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Misery of the Poor


I have this one discount supermarket that I always go to, they're as affordable as the next one and it's pretty close. Recently, a man stood next to the trolley bay. He was wearing denim clothes and a windbreaker, a corduroy cap and a large backpack. The backpack wasn't quite closed so you could see a crystalloid object in it. He had a curly, unkempt beard and a wrinkly face, he must have been at least fourty. I got a shopping cart and he mumbled something that I didn't catch, to be honest I didn't really listen or even look at him directly. After getting my apples and milk and whatnot, I brought back the shopping cart. He was still there and people kept passing by, just like me. I was walking away, barely getting what he was saying, only "excuse me please...", addressing nobody in particular and yet everybody. The words were that of a man who had unintentionally interrupted a conversation, the tone was that of a person who would never dare such a thing. I don't know what the next words were, but considering his apparel, the place he was standing and his choice of words, one automatically figures him to be begging for money. Let's assume that to be true.


I was wondering what his expectations were and what reasonable outcome was really to be expected. If a thousand people walked into the store that day and ten of them gave him a some change, I'm not sure this would turn up enough to feed him for the day - that is, if we would be served in the first place. I find it hard to imagine that begging is the most profitable option in any situation, but then again I might be naive. 
I felt bad. As I've already pointed out, I'm not rich by our western standards. My income is below the national average, I can't afford a first-hand car or holidays trips, but I make enough money to pay rent and buy food, which is fine with me. Giving this man the amount of money he would otherwise make in an entire day wouldn't significantly impair my life, but I couldn't afford to help every person in a situation of need like that.

A miserly thought crept up on me: I'm not particularly smart or skilled, but even I can make a dignified living. Work is terrifying so why would I give the money I have made through hours of suffering to him? If a person fails so hard at providing basic needs for himself, which was definitely the case with this fellow human being, there must be a significant reason for that. There was no way of knowing what that reason was, but I vaguely know some shockingly inane people that are paid more money than can be good for them, yet here he was. To each what he deserves? Away with altruism? Was there a point to Rand's Objectivism after all?
Yet I knew I don't want people to live that way. There should be a consensual minimum living standard in our society and that man seems to be below it. Individually in that moment, I did not have the means to "fix" his situation. I could at least have made it temporarily better, which is much better than looking away and doing nothing. If I were ever in his place, I would wish for outside help, for the kindness of strangers, for empathy put into practice as well. Are there any criteria for a beggar to deserve help or aren't there? Is the Buddha as worthy of help as a random drunk?

I think we can all agree that extreme poverty, which includes homeless people, is not due to lack of resources, but due to their distribution through the system that we live in. Just because there are empty flats doesn't mean that everybody already has a home. The question that bugs me is if this is a flaw in the system or an explicit feature and in the latter case if it's a good or a bad idea to have it that way. 
That day, I consciously chose to do nothing and I don't know if that's the kind of person I am, the kind of person I should be or the kind of person I am made to be. I don't even know if that is the kind of person I want to be.

The next day, I went by the spot he had been standing at. He wasn't there, only a fine dust of glassy shards covered the place he had occupied. I haven't seen him since, but I overheard two colleagues chatting and mentioning him, one of which said that he had given him some change and received a small crystal in the form of an octahedron in return. It made me wonder if maybe the man I saw wasn't even a beggar, but somebody who tried to make a living selling bric-√†-brac and it was only my bad prejudice that turned him into a beggar in my mind. I was going to ask my coworker about it but out of nowhere he's been acting very strange lately - always looking over his shoulder like somebody is watching him, mumbling to himself and I think his hair has started to fall out. 

Anyways, poverty will remain an issue even in our relatively wealthy society because it is such an intangible problem with no clear solutions, morally or economically. There might not even be a consensus if it even is a problem or not, which might be the must underlying problem of them all.

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed.” - Herman Melville

Monday, September 15, 2014

Desolate Worlds

Artificial Brain - Labyrinth Constellation [2014] []
Between the frosty harshness of Diocletian and the monstrous hypnotism of Portal,  in the gutters below Gorguts, lies the depravity of Artificial Brain from New York, featuring Dan Gargiulo from Revocation. Guttural, dissonant and ugly, yet complex and diverse, you really need a prefix to call this record death metal (brutal and technical seem the adjectives of choice). It took me some time to get into, because one really needs to pay attention. This isn't background music and this isn't something you listen to for three minutes. Labyrinth Constellation is unique in that it sounds both mechanical and organic, both sharp and blunt at the same time. Alien insect organ soup with cyborg sawblade shards in it, as the Sci-Fi lyrics would put it. This album is worth the effort.


Bongripper - Miserable [2014] []
I usually try to avoid bands that have references to weed in their name, because the music was always the same interchangeable dull blur of bass-only stonerdoom to me. This moloch of a record might have somewhat cured me of that attitude: Bongripper's three song instrumental record manages to find a sweet spot somewhere between the massaging, hypnotic repetition of drone, the palpable groove of stoner and partially the uneasy feeling some death/doom records have. It's not even a harsh record, it's not Eyehategod slowed down even further, it's not Acid King, it's rather Pelican gone dark. Most importantly, there's still texture and structure and a plot to it, it's not an undefined blob. I caught myself just listening to this and doing nothing else. Well done.


Entombed A.D. - Back to the Front [2014] []
It's been seven years since the ok Serpent Saints. Meanwhile legal struggles have torn the founding members of Swedish death metal legends Entombed apart, thus the name change to Entombed A.D.. The new record eagerly stays true to the band's trademarks, however to the degree that it is predictable and disappears somewhere in the blur behind the gamechanging releases of the early 90s. When it comes to the bare ingredients - Petrov's roaring vocals, the trademark guitar sound, fine production - Back to the Front has everything it needs, but the mixture won't exactly blow you away. Maybe there aren't enough catchy hooks, maybe the album starts out too slow, it's hard to put a finger on the reason why this record is alright, but that's about it . 


Paranorm  - The Edge of Existence [2014] []
I love Voivod, Vektor, Obliveon, early Nocturnus, all that space metal stuff, so why not give these guys a try. This is the second EP from Swedish band Paranorm, who at first listen sounded a lot like a sterile version of Coroner to me. The Progressive/Technical Thrash Metal label seems to fit well. Paranorm display well-crafted instrumental work here, with nice changes between the melodic lead and grinding rythm guitars. One release it reminds me of is Demolition by Vektor: there are some great songs on that, but it took them until the next album to play them as well as possible. On paper I should love this EP, but it feels too stiff to leave a lasting impression. Should the parallel work out, these guys have the potential to release a killer full length debut.


Vaniardur - Ithryn Luin [2012] []
I admit that I've been very superficial about this one. I was interested in the kind of music a guy makes who puts the two blue wizards, a minor footnote in Tolkien lore, onto the cover of the album. Exactly what you'd expect, it turns out: Ambient with black metal elements, wavering keyboards, guitars as stringy shapes of noise, more keyboards, sounds of nature, big organic drums, more synth. Don't get this mixed up with the condensed, bitingly sharp Minas Morgul by Summoning, this soundtrack to a story that never was is significantly more clear, serene, just as majestic, but in brightness, not darkness. Minas Morgul terrifies you, this enchants you. A one-man project from Denmark, Christian Gr√łnning has put together a coherent, if somewhat monotonous soundscape.


Sacrilege - Behind the Realms of Madness [1985] []
This bloody little gem from England's Sacrilege is an often overlooked milestone in extreme music history. The mixture of hardcore punk and metal, which rushes back and forth into grindcore territory, provided a blueprint for Bolt Thrower's "In Battle There's No Law" and Napalm Death's "Scum", not only for the ingredients, but also very much for the overall sound. Vocalist Lynda Simpson spits fire and acid above a sawing and thrashing instrumental sledgehammer that would later join Benediction, Napalm Death, The Damned, English Dogs and others. Classical grindcore often cites punk bands on one hand and metal bands on the other as an influence, but Behind the Realms of Madness might be the purest aggregation of both worlds.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Enough


At the end of July in Ar-Raqqah in Syria, soliders from the Syrian army were killed by members of IS. After taking the military base and control over the city from the army, IS executed more than 50 captured soldiers, beheaded several of them and put their heads on poles along a fence in the middle of the city. Now, almost two months later, IS has published a third video in which they executed a westerner, this time not an American reporter but a British aid worker. The reason given for the beheading was that the captive was helping arm Kurdish fighters against IS.


After a long time of non-committing statements and clear avoidance of any definite decision, US president Obama has announced that the US military will join with European forces to fight IS directly and support local enemies of IS. Germany for example has confirmed plans to support local troops like the Kurds with weapons and training and is now evaluating if further steps will be taken.

The reason behind the delayed response from the US and Europe is clear: The retreat from Afghanistan is still ongoing and nobody wishes for more military enengagementn the middle east. Obama has tried to make getting out of Afghanistan and Irak his legacy, in stark contrast to his predecessor. However the pressure from the utterly public display of brutality that IS has shown has gotten so immense that it can't be tolerated any more. Another aspect might be the long-predicted vacuum of power in the region that was once filled by the US military, but diminished as soon as the retreat started, leaving behind a divided government in Irak and an army with little training and even smaller organization.

There is lots of talk about supporting the local forces opposed to IS, especially Kurdish Peshmerga. The counterargument to this is that sending weapons does not guarantee that they won't fall into enemy hands, which is exactly what happened in Syria and Irak and has significantly strenghened IS. The only way to ensure that those weapons are used for the right purpose is to put them in the hands of the own personal, but that means boots on the ground and shedding your own blood.

Personally, I was long opposed to our governments intervening with middle-eastern local power struggles. Getting the allied troops out of Afghanistan and Irak always seemed a good idea to me. However after the last few months, I might not be the only one to reconsider this. The inhuman brutality and iron age ideology displayed by IS have crossed a threshold that brings me in favour of sending NATO personal to Irak and without warning shooting everybody waving an IS flag.
Sending out armed forces is terrible and should never be an option in today's world, but IS isn't from our millennium. The western nations have the means to utterly crush IS and not by doing so, standing idly by while these disgusting marauders publicly slaughter civilians, they explicitly allow this to happen.

I find it sad that it takes public adresses like the ones in the recent news to force our elected leaders to make up their minds in what kind of world we want to live in in this day and age. I am certain that crimes against humanity like the ones displayed by IS have happened in Africa within the last ten years, only there the media presence wasn't nearly as big.

Another thing that baffles me is that IS seems to have a large influx of foreigners from Europe and America. Educated, seemingly civilized people that lived in peaceful, prosperous nations, who then decided to travel to Irak and help spread the brutal, impoverished, anti-progress, insecure, primitive and oppressed lifestyle that IS is fighting for. What on earth would move somebody to think that living life the medieval califate way is a good idea?
If religious reasons are the answer, then these are the kind of people the world should have gotten rid of hundreds of years ago and there is no reason not to smash them with all the might of the western military-industrial complex.