Sunday, November 23, 2008


I'm going to start with some wisdom from one of my biggest influences, Harlan Ellison. This is from the introduction to his tome of film criticism from the 80s, Harlan Ellison's Watching (which - holy crap - just came back into print this year! go get it!)

The inescapable, core problem with writing critical comment about films is that the commentator is really given no option.

If the review is positive, if the film is something special that one wishes to inveigle the reader into actually going to see, literally conning the potential filmgoer into spending money through the seduction of words, one is limited. The word-pictures can only do so much. The restrictions are many and truly fearsome. The critic dare not give away the great scenes, dare not reveal the punch of the surprise ending or expose the killer; the critic may not hint at, or paraphrase, the memorable lines that everyone talks about interminably, at risk of robbing the moviegoer of the frisson of joyful discovery...

...And what one is left with is the negative, or killer, review. One can be infinitely entertaining when savaging the unworthy, the cupidic, the inept, the dishonest. Like Spaceballs.

Most of Ellison's "reviews" were originally printed in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, a bimonthly publication. As he had no chance to get his review to the reader before they headed to the box office, he abandoned the format and constructed instead essays on film

I used to write quite a few film reviews for until I quit after becoming frustrated with exactly this issue. Why write about something if you can't TALK about it? I was repeating myself, becoming all too predictable, and if there's one thing I hate it's predictability.

So I'm letting you know at the outset: I'm not going to separate out the (SPOILERS) in a little box you have to highlight. If I'm writing about something, I've seen it, which means I'm assuming you have too. Everything is on the table.

Now, on "film" specifically:

I saw exactly three films in the theater in 2008: There Will Be Blood, Iron Man, and WALL-E. I'm aware that isn't many. However, I watched all of Deadwood, all of The Wire, all of John Adams, all of Generation Kill, all of True Blood, and the new Doctor Who Series One and Two; I kept up with Lost, Battlestar Galactica, The Office, 30 Rock, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Naruto Shippuuden; and I REwatched most of Buffy

What this tells you about me is that I'm largely disenchanted with the feature film. Even at three hours, it is the Short Form and I consider it markedly inferior. There's very little a non-documentary, non-animated movie can do for me emotionally anymore. The stories have no room for surprises, only special effects. And don't get me wrong, I'm no snob, I LIKE special effects, especially since they're usually (see above) animation - but what I LOVE, what I CRAVE is the cliffhanger. The Needing To Know.

It won't be strictly cinema, either. If there's a record I'm suddenly really into, even if it's not contemporary, you'll know. I play keyboards in a rock band which gigs around Manhattan, and that's semi-adventurous. I should really give Rick Wright a proper eulogy (as well as David Foster Wallace.) The Phish reunion happens in about four months and I'm lucky enough that I will be there. I'm almost done rereading Cerebus ("the longest sustained narrative in human history") and I have a lot of thoughts about that. In a few weeks I'll hit level 80 in WoW (way behind everyone else in my guild, of course) and head into Naxx, which should be fun. I'll also port over a few old pop culture posts from Everything2 that I deem worthy.

Politics will probably not be a focus, just as neither will conspiracy theory, but both of these are useful lenses to view mainstream work through. 

So - a blend of the scholarly and the silly, the instructive and the effusive. Say it with me: BLARG.

victory or death! yes we can!

So I saw this on BoingBoing:

Last week, President-elect Obama appointed Kevin Werbach, assistant professor of legal studies and business ethics at Wharton, and Susan Crawford, who teaches communications and Internet law at the University of Michigan, to co-chair his FCC transition team. In preparation for his incoming administration, the two, both seasoned Net Neutrality advocates, will be tasked with providing information on U.S. government Internet and telecom policies, along with advising on budgetary and personnel matters.

Obama's hardline stance on net neutrality, like a lot of his policies, got very little press coverage, but it's one of the most important domestic issues to me - and something I certainly don't think we would have been guaranteed under Hillary.
The Wharton professor is a hardcore World of Warcraft player, a member of two guilds: “One of them,” he wrote on his blog in 2006, “was started by my friend and inveterate tech connector, Joi Ito…The other guild is very different — it’s composed primarily of academics and other thinkers who study and write about virtual worlds.”

So, my immediate reaction to that was... how "hardcore"? The two-guilds thing doesn't mean anything at all, especially if one of them is "thinkers" who are just there to document behavior.

Wouldn't it be great, I thought, if we had the link to Werbach's character so we knew EXACTLY what type of player he was?

And I went down a couple blind alleys, even looking up Ito's guild on WoWJutsu, before I realized that Werbach had posted the link on his own blog. Right under the link to his CV.

So here it is. Now: What does this tell us about him, as a person, as a gamer, as a government official? I will attempt to translate all the dorkese.


Every player in WoW belongs to one of two warring factions, Alliance or Horde. Werbach is Horde. Children often choose to be Alliance because they perceive them as "the good guys", but students of history (both ours and Azeroth's) recognize that Alliance culture is based on medieval European culture and Horde culture is based on the indigenous cultures that were supplanted by the West.

Werbach is a Tauren (a minotaur), which basically makes him a Native Kalimdorian. The Tauren revere nature, living in wigwams near giant totem poles. As a Shaman (see below), he could also have chosen a troll (blue-skinned Jamaican-like monster) or an orc (green-skinned Klingon-like monster), so there must be something about the cow-man that appeals to his liberal guilt.


The Shaman is a "hybrid" class, which means depending on where you put your points you can be: A) a ranged spellcaster with comparatively strong armor, B) a melee fighter with comparatively weak armor, or C) a healer with comparatively strong armor.

The fact that he chose a hybrid class signifies that he's open-minded -- like me (SHAMMIES FTW LOL), he probably didn't know exactly what he wanted to do at the end of the game, and he didn't want to be limited. So I feel much safer with a shaman than I would with a mage, warlock, rogue or hunter, all of which are strictly damage-oriented.

The fact that he chose C) (his build, under the Talents tab, is 0/8/53) means that he enjoys helping people, and being depended on. Again, this is exactly what I'd expect from someone aligned with Obama.


So how far has he gotten? Well, he's definitely not "hardcore". A hardcore raider would have beaten the game, which means defeating the demon Kil'jaeden, and no one in his guild has even set foot in the final raid "dungeon" where old Killy J lives. Nor have they beaten Lady Vashj, three raids before that - they haven't even beaten Zul'jin, which is only a 10-man job! I'VE done that! (Granted, that was after the 30% Hit Point reduction dropped a few weeks ago.)

However, they're no slackers - they're ranked #36 on their realm - and neither is Werbach. He's got the head, chest, gloves, belt and shield from Karazhan (the entry-level 10-man raid), the shoulders and trinket from Gruul's (the entry-level 25-man raid), and the dagger from player-vs.-player battlegrounds. There's also a good mix of badge gear in there. What all that means is that he has indeed spent dozens and dozens of hours in each of these different environments - you always have to run a place quite a few times before YOUR gear drops. So from my perspective, he either plays quite a bit more than I do or (more likely) he plays a bit less but he's been at it twice as long. Either way there's a strong commitment to the group, and to the endgame.


Werbach is still level 70, which means if he's gotten the expansion pack that came out a week ago, he hasn't spent much time on the new continent. A well-geared 70 should be able to hit 71 in just a few hours. However, this is understandable, given the promotion!

What he HAS obtained recently that I find noteworthy is the surname Jenkins. That means, some time in the past few weeks, he went far out of his way to a dungeon no one ever visits anymore just so he could kill 50 rookery whelps in 15 seconds just so he could become Supernovan Jenkins. It makes him laugh, it makes other players laugh when they see him. It is a purely social phenomenon, fitting his initial description of WoW as a primarily social space.

Why it would make you laugh - well that's an internet phenomenon unto itself, much like rickrolling. (You will probably find it funnier if you DON'T play WoW.) But so the inclusion of the Jenkins achievement in the game indicates that the people within Blizzard (the company that makes WoW) pay close attention to the community they've created, and therefore if Werbach is a guy who responds strongly toward that behavior - well that of course is exactly what I want to see from someone in power.