The Movies-To-Watch List: Yojimbo (1961)

I don’t know what I was expecting from Yojimbo. I’d never seen a Kurosawa film before, and it seemed like a good place to start. I knew he was influenced by westerns and my experience with that genre is pretty sparse (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly didn’t do much for me). I guess I thought this would be a moody period piece.

I was not prepared for the amount of humor in it. I wasn’t prepared for the jazzy soundtrack. I wasn’t prepared for the lighthearted subtitling (I loved it when Inokichi says of the Samurai, “He’s tough as hell!”) I figured the movie would be good; I didn’t realize it would be so much fun.

And of course, Toshirô Mifune is fantastic in it. As with Kurosawa himself, this is someone whose work I’d always heard glowing descriptions of, and it was a treat to finally see it for myself.

I am completely ready to see more Kurosawa. I know I’m well behind on this, but I’m glad to finally start catching up.

—*—

And that completes 2014’s Movies to Watch list, only a little bit behind schedule. This was a fun activity and I’m looking forward to diving into the 2015 list.

Posted in Movies | Tagged

Love and War: How Militarism Shapes Sexuality and Romance

(Full disclosure: Tom Digby is a colleague of my wife’s and a pal. He gave her a copy of his book and after she finished it, I read it.)

Yesterday this article was going around Twitter, or at least the parts I bump up against. It’s a discussion of “Gamergate” and how that “movement” represents a reactionary male attempt to maintain control on whatever it is that passes for geek culture. This is correct, but only partially so. “Gamergate” is a misnomer because it has nothing to do with (video)gaming and never did. It’s all about straight white men trying to silence women (and anyone else who isn’t one of them) in any arena where those men are, and doing so through harassment, threats, and violence.

If Gamergate were simply immature male nerds, it would actually be a little easier to deal with, but the movement has found allies such as Mens’ Rights Activists, the right-wing Breitbart.com, FOX News, and anti-Feminist Christina Hoff Summers, none of whom give a fig about videogames or “geek culture” but are very interested in pushing back against Feminist gains. While the average Gamergater stalking that hashtag on Twitter might think he’s doing something about some nebulous concept of journalistic ethics, these allies are simply happy to have footsoldiers in a much larger battle.

And a battle it is. Love and War: How Militarism Shapes Sexuality and Romance, by Tom Digby, a philosophy professor at Springfield College, lays down an argument that America, as a militaristic society (one that values and puts faith in war and warlike behavior as a social tool), has developed concepts of gender and sexuality that serve a conflict more than a community. The “Battle of the Sexes”, Digby says, is a literal battle on literal battlefield because we can only process these things in terms of war.

In such a society, the argument goes, the gender lines are firm and fixed. Men have a duty, women have a different duty, and anything that violates this segregation is a tool of the enemy. The male role is that of procreator, provider, and protector. It is his duty to spread his seed (as a wartime population is always in need of replenishing), provide security for his family, and fight to protect what is his. He must be willing to suspend or repress his emotions so that he is able to kill others without concern for their lives and sacrifice his own without similar concern. The woman’s role is to bear the children the men sire, provide whatever the man asks for, including and especially sex, and otherwise stay out of the man’s way.

Thus, women who demand something more to life than serving a man or men and women who do not sort comfortably into one of two genders or a single sexuality cause problems for this machine. They interfere with its smooth running and therefore jeopardize the entire enterprise, just as if whoever the perceived enemy is had purposely sabotaged it.

And the fuel for this machine is a steady diet of fear, hate, and unfocused militaristic propaganda, pointing out threats in all directions and calling for constant violent retribution. Movies, TV, videogames, comics, and other forms of media in which only a non-stop barrage of violent action can possibly do anything against the number of threats facing our usually white male protagonist. These images keep up the militaristic society, and the militaristic society develops these images. It’s no surprise, then, that a videogaming culture fed an endless supply of military, football, and other male power fantasy simulations would react to female “trespassing” as they have, nor that there would be an already organized anti-Feminist community to welcome them.

Digby isn’t pointing out anything particularly revelatory here. It doesn’t take long to look at American society and note that it hates women and loves guns. But along the way he connects some especially subtle dots. He lays out his examples with wit and humor, and in layman’s language, and goes places I had no idea existed.

The most interesting part, though, is at the end, when Digby points out that not only is such a militaristic culture outdated for a civilized country, it’s outdated even for a militarized country. The type of war that a militaristic society is intended to fight isn’t at all how wars are fought anymore, and thus the roles we’ve asked genders to play aren’t even valid when it comes to actual war. We demand our military have the latest and most efficient weapons and technology, but we still seek to operate them with a bronze-age population. Digby sees this as hopeful that we will change our society in response, but I’m more pessimistic and wonder: when the actual military has outgrown your militarization, maybe it’s not designed to fight the war you think it is.

Digby’s book is a helpful way for someone like me, an average Joe just trying to reconcile these different things that sure seem related into a cohesive narrative. It’s a book that helps you look at the Gamergate phenomenon and realize it’s not about the soul of geek culture (I’d need to be shown there’s both a culture there and a soul to even be had) but is far more nefarious and far-reaching. It’s a part of a larger, more organized whole, and Love and War shows it’s been going on for a long time.

Posted in Books | Tagged , , ,

I Had That For A Year

Yesterday’s I Had That is number 52, the last in a weekly series that lasted only a little more than a year, allowing for a couple of missed Sundays. Part of the success of me sticking to the schedule was because although I didn’t have the entries written in advance, I had a list of them all planned out. Some things on the list didn’t make it — I remembered the thing, like the die-cast spaceship above, but there wasn’t much to say about it — and some stuff got added later, usually when something else reminded me of it. It also helped that for some of the entries I re-ran old blog posts that fit in with the concept.

Two things I do a lot on this blog are reminiscing about my past and bitching about nerds, and it’s kind of weird for me to bitch about nerds buying up plastic junk and then me going on for a week about the plastic junk I used to have. I was a kid, and I was not immune to the siren song of stuff. I’m still not completely immune.

Thanks for coming along for this feature, if you did. I got some good feedback about it and I’m glad it resonated with some of you.

I’ll be taking a short break on Sundays and then will return with a similar year-long feature, I Played That!, which will look at computer games from my VIC-20 days until the mid-90s, when I got my first(!) console. (I never owned a Nintendo or Sega, so you won’t be seeing any Zeldas or Marios.) It will probably focus more on the games itself than my memories associated with them, largely because most of those memories will be, “I played this in my dorm room while listening to REM albums” or somesuch.

Posted in Misc | Tagged

I Had That! #52: 1983 Toyota Tercel

The first cars I remember my family having were a Yellow AMC Hornet station wagon and a white Ford LTD. These were eventually replaced by a Dodge station wagon and a Ford Grenada, respectively. The Dodge was junk from the get-go and was replaced by this, a 1983 (possibly ’82, but I’m pretty sure ’83) Toyota Tercel. (There may have been something else between the Hornet and the Dodge, but I don’t think so.)

I learned to drive in the Grenada. When we went to my aunt’s house in Vidalia, I took it on the back roads and long winding driveway around the property. But when I finally got my license, it was the Tercel I drove. Back then, when you filled up with gas and charged it — which I did often, much to my dad’s dismay — you told them the license plate number, which is why to this day I can tell you the license plate on the Tercel was 905B567. (My friend Gene’s white Maverick, which I also spent a lot of time riding in and filling up, was 644B898.)

I loved the Tercel. Not only was it “my” first car, it was just great to drive. There was nothing fancy about it, but it was a lot of fun. I knew where every inch of the car was at all times. Gene and I installed a tape player in it and one of those fake switches — a Death Ray — that were popular for a while went on the dashboard. I’m sure my dad loved also driving it.

This car essentially closed the book on this story. Although some items post-date it, instead of driving it to toy stores it went to record stores and, eventually, my girlfriends’ houses. The days of action figures and robot toys were over.

This ended in the Spring of 1986. While driving near Lakeside Mall on Causeway Boulevard I got to this intersection:

and hit another car. I swore he ran the red light; he swore I did. My dad an I went back several times and tried to time the lights and discovered that 95% of the time I would have had the green light, given where I’d started from.

It didn’t matter. The Toyota was totaled. I was heartbroken. I felt like part of me had been ripped out. The trauma of my first wreck was nothing compared to the loss of my first car.

My dad replaced the Toyota with a Nissan Sentra, which I hated. As a sham replacement it had little chance to begin with, but being an ugly maroon color didn’t help, not did literally breaking the day after we got it. I drove it over to Gene’s house to show him, talked to his grandmother for a minute since he wasn’t home, and then wen to leave and it wouldn’t start. The ignition had busted and it needed to be towed back to the dealer. This was only the first of many misadventures with this cursed thing, which I later inherited when I went to college. I drove it all through my time at LSU and despised the thing, leaving it unlocked so someone would steal it.

This piece of junk served me until I got my first job out of college, at which point I gave it the heave-ho and bought my first bought-by-me car: a red Toyota Corolla.

When did I get it? It became “mine” in 1984.

Do I still have it? I carry it in my heart.

Posted in Misc | Tagged ,

Space Cabby by Ing

I follow the enigmatic Ing on Twitter and the other day something piqued my interest. Ing was looking for an idea for something to draw. I naturally replied with my first instinct: Space Cabby! Drawing things folks tweet about is something Ing enjoys, and before too long I had this in my mailbox:


(click to Ing-crease its size)

Holy cow, look at that! That’s the work of someone just sitting going hmm, what should I draw and then I say Space Cabby and boom. I really envy my talented pals who can do this.

Ing has a portfolio site with tons more art on it and a Redbubble shop where you can buy things! (I love the “Terror of the Deep” shirt!) Go check it all out!

Thanks Ing!

Are YOU an artist who would like to draw Space Cabby for me? Please let me know!

(Here’s the Space Cabby Gallery!)

Posted in Comics | Tagged ,

The Ugly Atheism

Not long ago several people at satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo were murdered by men claiming to be Islamic fundamentalists, offended by the magazine’s anti-Islam cartoons. CNN’s entire website was practically devoted to this one event, hitting every possible angle it could. Around the world, people fell over themselves to declare “JE SUIS CHARLIE” in support of the slain men and in defiance of their “radical Muslim” murderers. Failure to do so was seen as some kind of deference to censorship and Islamic fundamentalism. Tu had to es Charlie or else you don’t support free speech and Voltaire and the like.

On Tuesday evening a man named Craig Hicks went into his neighbors’ condo and shot all three in the head. The three victims, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, Yusor Mohammad, and Deah Shaddy Barakat, were Muslim.

Hicks was a self-described “Anti-Theist”. Being an atheist is pretty easy; you don’t believe in God. There isn’t any other requirement. Being Anti-Theist, however, means opposing the concept of religion, presumably working against it. (For the record, I consider myself anti-theist. I don’t follow any religion and I’d like to see an end to religion, though I am limited to complaining on my blog and Twitter.)

Anti-Theism is strongly tied to the “New Atheism” of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens (despite his worship of Mammon and Power). In fact, the “New” in “New Atheism” signals that, for these folks, simply not believing in God is not enough; one must do it loudly and proudly, and actively work against those who would force theocratic beliefs on all. To some extent, I see a bit of a need for this; too often in America it’s assumed that everyone is Christian and will have no problem with having Christian beliefs thrust upon them and people have to stand up and remind them that this is not the case.

But the Dawkinsian Atheists aren’t simply opposed to all religions. They’re opposed to some religions more than others. One, in particular, and that’s Islam. Dawkins has a long Twitter history of singling out Islam for especial disdain even as his bio claims he “Treats all religions with good-humoured ridicule.”

Hicks was an avid fan of Dawkins and apparently posted his and other Anti-Theist writings on his Facebook page. He must have been an absolute treat to have in your newsfeed. He was also a fan of Rachel Maddow’s show, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and other leftist entities.

In short, Craig Hicks is a problem for everyone. He’s a lefty who murdered Muslims as, possibly, a hate crime. He’s a “radical” atheist. Liberals and Conservatives alike are puzzled exactly how to spin this.

Fortunately, there’s an out. Hicks and his wife are claiming this was simply a feud between neighbors over a parking space. Because when you have a problem with your neighbors, you usually shoot them in the head. Dawkins, to take the heat off himself, clings to this explanation. Surely this, and not a constant stream of anti-Muslim rhetoric, is what motivated the killing.

Note he also pulls in the NRA, hoping to spur a game of “let’s you and him fight” while he slips out the back door.

I am not saying Richard Dawkins is responsible for this killing. I think it’s interesting, however, that when a killer pops up who is a loudmouth Atheist, suddenly the excuses that are feeble and weak when they excuse Christian, Islamic, or Gun-Enthused are perfectly acceptable.

Were the Charlie Hebdo murderers unhinged? Are their religious beliefs not germane to the discussion? No, say Dawkins and Harris. They were Muslims killing in the name of Islam and this is why these people are a problem. Period.

Even after he was being spotlighted in this attack, Dawkins continued on.

Atheism, including his brand of it, isn’t to blame, says Dawkins. After all, it doesn’t preach the “legal killing” of dissenters. Merely that its dissenters — some more than others — are vicious enemies who can’t be trusted or reasoned with. Where’s the harm in that?

Dawkins and his ilk have long been an ugly facet of atheism. He’s the most vocal and visible, but there are plenty others out there like him — almost always white men, interestingly — preaching a normal distrust of religion but then adding an extra helping of anti-Islam-in-particular side. I’ve not been immune myself at times, which is embarrassing to me. This brand of “Capital-A Atheism is part of a whole that includes the Men’s Rights Advocates, the GamerGaters, the Reddit Misogynists, and other groups of angry, vocal, white men who are tired of not being recognized as the geniuses they are.

The strange thing about this singling out of Islam is that, at least here in America, if you’re an atheist, Islam is pretty low on the list of religions you have to worry about. Most American Muslims are too busy not to get harassed by every other American to worry too much about making life hell for atheists. Meanwhile, Evangelical Christians have run of the land, trying very hard to criminalize and eliminate anything that doesn’t fit in with whatever the hell they believe in today (it varies since for some reason the King James Version of God also agrees with whatever the Koch Brothers want). Honestly, in America, Muslims and atheists should be hand-in-hand because they’re pretty much identical to many other Americans.

I stopped following the atheist “community” years ago when it was more interested in gossip about its various personalities than anything else. It was also disheartening seeing focused misogyny against Rebecca Watson and other female skeptics become the center of discussion. I’m kind of sorry I got away from it, in a way, as now I feel I ceded ground to these types.

As I said, being an atheist simply requires you to not believe in God, and that’s pretty easy. To be an anti-theist, it’s not enough to simply oppose religion. At that point, you are making an argument. You have to demonstrate that decent behavior is possible without religion. All those things you claim can be done, even without religion? You sort of have to do them. There is no point in opposing religion if you’re just going to start a holy war of your own.

Posted in Religion | Tagged , ,

The Movies-To-Watch List: The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

When I first asked noir expert and shuffleboard champion Leonard Pierce for movie recommendations, The Asphalt Jungle was high on his list. Having watched it, I can see why.

This movie is great. Such a simple idea done beautifully. The plot is immediately recognizable: small-time hood with a heart of — well, skip that part, but he has simple dreams of just going back home to the farm — gets involved with a can’t-fail Big Score that of course fails. How the players react to the crumbling plan around them hits every angle: desperation, pathos, hubris, cool, and our protagonist’s bull-headed perseverance. Dix (Sterling Hayden) is a “hoodlum” hired as general lunky muscle for the operation, but the brains, Riedenschneider, takes a liking to him. He recognizes in Dix someone dependable and no-nonsense. Dix is laser-focused on one goal: return to his childhood farm. Whatever will get him there, he’s down for, and Riedenschneider recognizes this determination. Even when things go completely to hell and Riedenschneider himself loses his head some, Dix keeps on his path.

What’s even more interesting than the caper or Dix’s quest are the women who circle around the players. They are the only innocents in this world — to varying degrees. There’s the doting wife, the not-so-doting wife-and-mother, the mistress, the would-be moll, all affected by this plot but not a willing part of it. Not a one of them is listened to by any of the men, who have near-contempt for them. This isn’t unusual for this kind of film, but it seems to be foregrounded here more than I’ve seen before.

Also interesting is how the film’s title fits in. There’s a speech at the end by the Police Commissioner about how much we need the police patrolling this wild environment. He flicks on police radios reporting gunshots, murders, robberies, all happening simultaneously and constantly. However, the caper we just watched involved criminals and criminals acting against criminals and harming criminals. The only innocent victim is the jewelry store that’s robbed, and even then the loss is diminished, as it’s simply a large, well-insured jewelry store. The Asphalt Jungle, the city beneath the city, is presented as its own shadow domain that only occasionally crosses into ours. Presumably only the police can keep it at bay, despite the one we spend the most time with being crooked as hell.

The Asphalt Jungle was a solid movie I could easily re-watch.

Posted in Movies | Tagged

San Juan: The Game So Nice I Bought It Thrice

One of my favorite boardgames is actually a card game, San Juan. It’s a card game version of Puerto Rico, a game I don’t have much love for. San Juan, however, is the first game I ever rated a 10 on BGG. It’s a great game with an interesting idea: the cards are everything. They’re the buildings you’re constructing, the goods you produce, and the money you get for selling the goods.

You can skip this paragraph if you’re already familiar with the game. In San Juan there are five roles, each of which allows the players to do something. There’s also a bonus action for whoever chose that role. If I choose “Builder”, for example, everyone will get to build, but I will get a discount on the cost of the building. You want to maximize those bonuses for yourself and minimize how much they help others. Along the way you’ll produce and sell goods and also build up victory points. A few buildings have a cost of 6 (cards) and they give bunches of VPs based on other stuff you’ve built. When someone builds her twelfth building, the game ends and whoever has the most victory points wins. It’s a low-confrontation (you can’t burn down your opponents’ buildings), quick-playing game that is fairly easy to learn and has no downtime.

I’ve bought the game at least three times. A few years ago my dad and nephew came to visit and we played. My nephew enjoyed it, so I gave him my copy and bought myself a new one afterwards. Now there’s a new edition out and as soon as I saw it, I grabbed it. One of the few complaints I had about the game was that it got a little samey after a while. There was an expansion available, but only in a bundle with a bunch of other expansion I didn’t want. This edition includes that expansion, plus a new building, so boom, I went for it.


yayyy san juan now has a cathedral yayyy

Becky and I played three games of it this weekend (one without the new buildings, just to brush up on the rules). The new cards add a lot to the game without breaking its fundamentals. Essentially, all of the new buildings give you other methods for accomplishing things. There’s one that gets a good whenever you do the Councillor phase (and the good always sells for 2, which is great). The newest building, The Hut, gives you a card if you didn’t sell anything on the Trader phase. The Harbor lets you tuck a card when you sell goods, and those are worth VP at the end (and, since you never see your goods, you have no idea what you’re taking out of the game, which is interesting.) There’s a 7 cost building, the (what else?) Cathedral (ugh), which is available for anyone to build and gives you VPs based on how many of the 6-cost buildings other players build. The whole thing really opens up the play, but doesn’t complicate anything or add weird new elements.

In addition, some of the original buildings have been changed. Gold Mine, which originally gave you a card if you drew four different-cost cards, now gives you the lowest-priced card of those four, turning it from an occasional powerhouse to barely worth building, in my opinion. It wasn’t fantastic before, but now, unless there’s an Indigo strategy, it’s not great at all. Speaking of an Indigo Strategy, the Guild Hall has also been nerfed, which is unsurprising, since it was often houseruled anyway. It used to pay off 2VP per production building, which was crazy, and many people houseruled it to 2VP per production building type, putting it in line with other 6-cost buildings. The new version splits the difference: 1 VP per production building, and an additional 1 VP for each type of Production building. Seems fair. Also the cost of the Prefecture went from 3 to 4. Interestingly, the Library — which can be insanely powerful — has been unchanged, but I don’t know what they’d do with it, really.

Production-wise, the new edition is fine. The graphic design is a little better in some ways, with VPs standing out a lot more from costs (maybe this time when I teach it to people I can explain “THIS is the COST, THIS is how many VPS it’s worth” fewer than four times and have it actually sink in.) but the “purple” cards (non-production) are no longer purple, they’re all a dull gray. Production buildings are not a dull gray, but since Sugar is white and Silver is dark gray, it’s irritating. There are some quick visual cues, but they’re subtle (experienced players won’t have a problem, but it’ll be tougher for new ones). To complicate matters further, the expansion buildings DO have a purplish thing going on with them. In the image above (click on it to make it larger) the top row are the production buildings, and the bottom row is a mix of original non-production buildings (Poor House, Prefecture) and expansion non-production buildings (Tavern, Customs Office).

All in all, though, it’s a net positive. This is a game I love, and this edition overall is a welcome sight. I’m really looking forward to more pays of this.

Oh! And they give you another pencil, which is good. My original San Juan pencil was getting worn down.

Posted in Boardgames | Tagged ,