Thursday, February 28, 2013

What to do with Fruit?

Let me give you a little insight into my thought process today on the way back from doing laundry.
I was thinking about eating, which I do a lot of despite not being a stereotypical fat American.  I remembered that I have one remaining peach on my table, just hanging out, the others long eaten.  I could just eat it outright, but it's been there awhile, not rotting, but it has been ripe and ready to eat for a few days easy.  I could chop it up and make smoothies... or I could buy some ice cream and turn it into awesome.

I went to the store to buy ice cream, and possibly some soda or juice or whatever, to mix in with my fruit.  Deciding to go with a flavor theme, and not knowing what else tastes good with peaches (pretty sure root beer would be bad news) I searched for peach related items.

Ben and Jerry's makes a Peach Cobbler for Willy Nelson.  This was the fantastic realization of the day.
Also, I was lucky enough to find peach/mango/pineapple nonsense made by Ocean Spray.  To recap, my ingredients upon arriving home and pulling out my blender and everything I needed were as follows:

  • 1 ripe peach
  • 1 pint Ben and Jerry's Peach Cobbler
  • 1 small bottle Ocean Spray pineapple/peach/mango juice
  • milk
Making only enough for myself (liter clay mug), I used the top 1/4 of the pint of ice cream, 1/3 of the juice, about a cup of milk, and of course, all of the peach, sans pit.  Anyone wanting to make this themselves, probably would want to use a blender that doesn't leak or smell a bit like garlic.  I wasn't so lucky.

By the way... it was delicious.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Where Literature and Video Games Meet

I usually don't write about video games. I'm pretty sure I said these same words the first time I wrote about music or movies on this blog too. Most games I play don't really deserve mention anywhere outside of maybe a comment about how I played it, and it was alright, or good enough to buy, or whatever. Sometimes though, sometimes there is a game that defies expectations, or flies under the radar, or is so abused by critics that it is never given a chance to be appreciated for what it truly is.

The other day, bored with my other games, I decided to play Dante's Inferno again, from the beginning, with a clean slate. For a little background... this game came out in 2010 from EA and Visceral Games. It was almost universally panned for being a rip off of popular Play Station franchise God of War. Also, there was much criticism about the decline in intensity the farther one played into the game. The most interesting parts of the game being closer to the beginning, and the more monotonous levels were closer to the finale.

This is just Limbo.  It's like level one.  
As I give this game another shot, I find myself appreciating the visual style of the game. Based on the first part of the literary masterpiece the Divine Comedy, this game follows the voyage into hell taken by Dante and Virgil. Of course, it is a video game, and there are plenty of deviations from the actual text with regards to plot, but the basic ideas, themes, and world building are essentially right out of the text.

The game is designed beautifully around the text. Each level has it's own distinct themes and visuals, with the overall theme being hell. The developers did such a good job designing hell, that I've seen screen shots used by the History Channel in documentaries about religion and cults.

City of Dis
The in-game storyline, and subsequent levels of the game take much from the text. The main character is Dante, reimagined as a crusader. Dante travels through Hell to save his love Beatrice (based on the actual Beatrice Portinari, the subject of another Dante work, La Vita Nuova) from the evil clutches of the devil.

Throughout the game, and in the proper circles in which they appear, you meet Virgil, Charon, King Minos, Cleopatra and Antony, Cerberus, Ciacco, Plutus, Filippo Argente, Phlegyas, among others. There are a few characters that don't appear, like Nessus the Centaur, and the Minotaur that guards the gates to the 7th circle. This was a little disappointing, but I do understand that not everything in a literary masterpiece can appear in a video game. Because I know a little about the actual work, this game became more interesting to me as I discovered how close the writers used the actual text to inform the storyline, characters, mythologies.

Speaking of characters, Beatrice, who is the most important character, in fact, the driving force behind the entire plot, doesn't actually appear in the Divine Comedy until Dante reaches Paradise (which is the third part of the trilogy, the Inferno is the first). The character of Beatrice in the game has been criticized as being too helpless, child-like, and naive. Apparently, we are too forward thinking to appreciate a simple damzel in distress storyline. However, as the game progresses, there is a realization that instead of Dante saving Beatrice from Satan, it is actually Beatrice who saves Dante from any of the circles of Hell where he deserves to remain. And although she does succumb to Lucifer, falling deeper into her new role as the queen of Hell, ultimately she is the one to break Lucifer's hold on her, not Dante.
Beatrice goes through some... changes
So, is this just a carbon copy of God of War? Not really. For one thing, it is a multi-platform title, meaning I didn't have to own a specific type of machine to play it. Only Play Station owners can enjoy God of War. There is more to the game with regards to collecting things to boost your abilities that isn't present in God of War and a Punish/Absolve aspect that relates to the damnation/salvation theme. Also, I have found myself playing the game repeatedly, without having to rely on online play. That can't be said of other franchise titles like Call of Duty, or Gears of War. Also, I didn't reach the end and realize it ended too quickly and I was expecting more, like Assassin's Creed, Batman, or Dishonored.

Probably rated M, by the way
I recommend for anyone who enjoys action games with some puzzle elements, fans of demonology, the occult, classic literature will enjoy the themes, visuals, and story elements.

The end of the game leaves itself open to sequels, which would make sense, as the Divine Comedy is a three part journey. It would be difficult making Purgatorio and Paradiso into an action filled fighting/puzzle game like Inferno, but seeing as how Visceral is not above tweaking and outright changing key plot points to make the game interesting and challenging I still see the other two parts as doable. However, Visceral has stated repeatedly that they will not be pursuing the other two parts of the Divine Comedy much to my dismay. I would have liked to see how they designed those realms and what story they would tell in order to make Dante need to slay more creatures.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Baby's Name is Bob... Get it?

1991, David Geffen
produced by Butch Vig

Kurt Cobain - guitars, vocals,
Kris Novoselic - bass, vocals
Dave Grohl - drums, vocals

singles -

  • Smells Like Teen Spirit/ Drain You/ Even in His Youth/ Aneurysm
  • Come as You are/ Endless Nameless/ School/ Drain You
  • Lithium/ Been a Son/ Curmudgeon/ D-7
  • In Bloom/ Sliver/ Polly
Today is Kurt Cobain's birthday.  or, it would have been, had he made some better decisions.  Anyway, he would have turned 46 today.  This album was Nirvana's breakout hit record.  It is their second record, first with Dave Grohl, and the album that created the need for the music industry to invent a new genre (grunge) as well as propel the Seattle scene and alternative music in general into pop culture.  Also note, the singles are more like little EPs than actual singles, something that was a big deal in the early '90s and then kind of fell out of favor.  Speaking of falling out of favor, the trendy "secret" song was also a big deal back then.

After listening to this album, and Nirvana in general, it is pretty obvious to me now the influence American Hardcore had on the band and pretty confusing to me why the record industry had to coin a new phrase for this particular brand of noise-punk.  They are very much like the Pixies, and Flipper, Sonic Youth, and Black Flag far more than other Seattle based bands of the time, like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam.

I listened to this record in middle school.  I owned a copy, but, also, it was everywhere, on the radio, television, etc, pretty hard to ignore.  I had to buy it twice, my first copy was stolen.  The entire album is pretty impressive.  Territorial Pissings is a weird ass track, but that hardly takes away from the other solid garage sound of the rest of the album.  

I think, like a lot of people around my age, this was the first major celebrity death that I actually cared about.  Followed shortly by Jerry Garcia.  I remember where I was when I was told of his suicide, outside of school, waiting for the doors to open.  Which, I guess would probably be true of most 6th grade kids at the time.  

Nevermind was #17 on Rolling Stone's list of top 500 albums of all time and on Virgin's top 1000.  It is ranked #2 on VH1's top 100, and #3 on Mojo's top 100, and #4 on the Guardian's top 100.  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Outlaw Jesse James

This is another post in my series on cool old folk songs. Hit the label Folk below to see other posts in this category.
Frank and Jesse James
Jesse James, famous American West gunslinger and train robber, has been memorialized by American folk tales and folk music. The story of the James Gang has been told and retold by many musicians, in many different ways, much like the story of Stagger Lee.
I'll take a minute to share some U.S. history...

During the American Civil War, the frontier states, like Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas, were prime targets of guerrilla warfare waged between Confederate "bushwacker" guerrilla fighters, and abolitionist Jayhawkers loyal to the Union. Jesse James and his brother Frank were Confederate bushwackers. They fought for Drew Lobbs Army and the Quantrill Raiders in Kansas and Texas.

After the war, the brothers joined up with Cole Younger and several of his brothers to rob banks and trains. This of course, made them outlaws, and a target of the famous Pinkerton detective agency.  This gang is destroyed during a botched bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota.
The James Younger Gang
Afterward, the James brothers join up with Charley and Robert Ford to continue their outlaw lifestyle.  However, the Fords turn on the James brothers. In 1882, Bob Ford is paid off by the Missouri governor, Thomas Crittenden, to assassinate Jesse James, and shoots him in the back of the head.

Following the murder, the Ford brothers are arrested to be hanged for murder. Crittenden pardons them at the last minute. Frank surrendered to be tried five months later. He served a year in jail and was aquitted of all charges.

In music, Jesse James is heralded as a hero of the people, a Robin Hood-esque outlaw. Frank and Jesse are often portrayed as soldiers of fortune, and the Fords as traitors.

There have been many songs written and recorded about the James Gang. In fact, Joe Walsh was in a band before the Eagles called the James Gang. Frank and Jesse James by Warren Zevon, Jesus Christ and Jesse James by Christy Moore, Fighting Man by Timmy Brown, James and Cold Gun by Kate Bush, and Outlaw Jesse James by Cannonball are all good examples of music about the outlaw.  And, of course, who could forget the memorable Just Like Jesse James by Cher.
Bob Ford shooting Jesse James
The most famous Jesse James song, however, was written and recorded in 1924 by Bascom Lundsford. This particular song has been covered since by Pete Seeger, Van Morrison, the Pogues, Woody Guthrie, The Kingston Trio, Ry Cooder, and Bruce Springsteen. Titled simply Jesse James, the lyrics are below.

Jesse James was a lad that killed many a man,
He robbed the Glendale train,
He stole from the rich and he gave to the poor,
He'd a hand and a heart and a brain.

Well it was Robert Ford, that dirty little coward,
I wonder how he feels,
For he ate of Jesse's bread and he slept in Jesse's bed,
And he laid poor Jesse in his grave.

Well Jesse had a wife to mourn for his life,
Three children, they were brave,
Well that dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard,
He laid poor Jesse in his grave.

Jesse was a man, a friend to the poor,
He'd never rob a mother or a child,
There never was a man with the law in his hand,
That could take Jesse James alive.

Jesse was a man, a friend to the poor,
He'd never see a man suffer pain,
And with his brother Frank he robbed the Chicago bank,
And stopped the Glendale train.

It was on a Saturday night and the moon was shining bright,
They robbed the Glendale train,
And people they did say o'er many miles away
It was those outlaws, they're Frank and Jesse James

Now the people held their breath when they heard of Jesse's death,
And wondered how he ever came to fall
Robert Ford, it was a fact, he shot Jesse in the back
While Jesse hung a picture on the wall

Now Jesse went to rest with his hand on his breast,
The devil will be upon his knee.
He was born one day in the County Clay,
And he came from a solitary race.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mascots and Design: part two

I am a big fan of design. I flirted with the idea of being a graphic designer back in college, but chickened out after convincing myself that I'd never be as talented as every other graphic designer who had ever made money at it. However, it has remained a curious hobby. Sports logos are an interesting thing, to me. And not just professional sports either. There is great potential to brand and market a team, organization, or school around a particular icon or theme. Sometimes I feel like this potential is wasted by schools and teams that just borrow from other more famous professional logos. I digress though.

Chris Creamer's Sports Logos is a huge internet database and online community devoted to logo design. They do a good job researching and categorizing sports logos, offering a pretty comprehensive history of sports iconography. I was pretty disheartened then, when I read this article about the Atlanta Braves decision to change the design of the BP baseball cap they were going to offer.

click me
That is the Screaming Indian, or Laughing Brave. In case you aren't up on your classic Major League Baseball mascots, it was retired and replaced by a tomahawk logo in 1966. For more about the Indian mascot issue, see a post I wrote earlier Mascots: Is the Name The Fighting Hitlers Already Taken?

The writer of this article about the Atlanta Braves design choice is not only insensitive to the issue of Indian iconography in sports, but isn't very eloquent in how he frames his disagreement with the franchise's decision to not be racist.

He states: 
The Atlanta Braves have cowered in the corner, yielding to a tiny minority of voices and have made a last-minute change to their BP cap design. But they don’t even have the nerve to issue a press release saying that they chickened out and didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. They didn’t say that they decided that honoring their past wasn’t worth offending the white guilt of some writers. They didn’t say that they wanted to be in the news one more time for bowing the the infinitesimal pressure they might have read in the comments section of some article about their new BP hats.
The article sounds like a kid whining because his parents didn't show up to his baseball game like they promised. Halfway through the article, I half expected to hear Will Smith start singing, "Parents just don't understand!" Reading this article, and a few of the comments underneath, crushed my optimism that this nation has made great strides in the racism department. In fact, I was amazed at the selfishness. Really, this is all about a disgruntled consumer that won't be able to buy the hat he wanted. In fact, nostalgic fans clinging to the Braves racial identity are truly in the minority, which makes his whole statement that much sillier and ironic. The loudest voices are not necessarily the majority of voices.

I encourage reading the rest of the article, linked right here. It is also worth reading comments. To be fair, from a design perspective, the laughing Indian is a much better design than the Atlanta A crossed with a tomahawk. However, that is a pretty poor argument to have when faced with the racially insensitive implications of both designs. At least the tomahawk isn't an actual Indian doing a characteristically Indian thing (he is presumably screaming a war-cry).

A comment from the comment section gave me hope that not every sports fan is an insensitive, shallow, racist. It reads as such:
Does this article have a point, or did you just feel the need to incoherently rant about some related subjects? Seriously, there's no sense of organization to this piece at all. You go from attacking the Braves organization for (wisely) backing down from the use of a potentially offensive design to criticizing them for using something simple, and then somehow you get to needlessly attacking the "self-entitled, unintelligent, hipster wannabes" who you perceive to be the root of the problem? Pick a subject and stick to that, don't just jump around from idea to idea without any sort of rhyme or reason. I'm not saying that I completely disagree with you - I think the logo, in this day and age, is a bit much, but there are certainly worse depictions of Native Americans that need to be stamped out first (looking at you, Washington Redskins). However, the way you go about constructing your argument makes you sound like an angry high schooler. Also, this all seems like a thinly veiled attack at Paul Lukas, who's been very vocal about his opposition of these sorts of caricatures. Maybe it's just me, though.
The writer of the article missed the point that the organization made an effort to be familiar with the feedback presented regarding their choice of icon and theme that they identify with. They made a choice to not aggravate a sensitive topic for a group of people in this country. Instead of understanding the issue, the writer of the article attacks what he considers to be a group too small to be taken seriously, thereby dismissing the entire civil rights stance.

Personally, I believe the Braves made a good decision to retire a culturally insensitive icon over 30 years ago, and then decide it was probably a bad idea to resurrect that icon. Hopefully soon we will arrive at a time when the Indian sports mascot is seen in the same light as minstrel shows, and there won't be a tomahawk, or laughing brave, or Chief Wahoo, or arrow head to be seen representing any sports franchise.