On political philosophy

I grew up a political conservative by default, a rules-concerned little boy in a largely conservative family. As I matured, I became more liberal. I still consider myself largely a conservative, but I hold a more liberal viewpoint with respect to some issues. Now, this isn’t a screed about how brilliantly correct my politics are; my politics have evolved enough over my life that I know perfectly well whatever I write now will be cause for wincing when I reread it ten years in the future. No, lucky reader, this is yet another screed about how screwed-up American politics are, and yet another plea for sanity.

It won’t be long, no worries. I just have three points to make, nice and simple.

#1: Conservatism, liberalism, whateverism: these are at most rules of thumb, not ideals to be attained.

When I say I’m largely conservative, it’s more of a general thing than identifying with the current political meaning. I don’t throw ideas out just because they’re “old”. I like being cautious, especially with decisions that are important or look like they could spin out of control. I don’t care for fixing things that aren’t broken. And things that are broken should be fixed carefully, with some forethought, lest they become even more broken or cause problems elsewhere.

Conservatism (or liberalism, or moderation) should be considered a temperament, a tendency, not a law of nature. “Let’s hang on to whatever’s in place” is a stupid law to live by, just as much as “Let’s ditch whatever we have” or “Let’s just go down the middle”. Look at the problem, look at the data, look at the proposals. Apply ideals, apply history and personal experience. Then make the call: what should we do? If at any point you ask, “Well, what does my party think? I’ll just follow their lead” then at best you are not contributing, and at worst you’re part of the problem.

#2: The universe is too complicated, and people are too messy, for a single political philosophy to completely describe a practical society.

Forget about politics for a moment. Let’s say your high school yearbook calls you “Sweetest Person” in your graduating class, and you’re kinda proud of that. Is that going to rule the rest of your life? Are you going to refuse to ever lose your temper again just because of a few stupid words? How about if people call you a penny-pincher, and you’re proud of how frugal you are? Are you willing to rule out an “impulse buy” that would be worth it, just for pride’s sake?

No? Then why do people act like that in politics? Embrace the label as far, as strongly, and as long as it accurately describes your concerns; the moment it doesn’t, cast it off.

#3: Stop hypocritically circling the wagons.

This was actually what, ahem, inspired me to write this post. If the other person does it, and you call them out, apply the same standards when one of your people does it. If you piled in on the other person without mercy, now you don’t get to say, “Well, technically these cases are different because [piddling difference] . . .” or “Let’s wait until all the facts are in.” Did you stop to consider the details in the first case? No? Then the details don’t suddenly matter when it’s your side’s reputation on the line. If you’ve changed your mind and the thing does or doesn’t matter to you now, (wo)man up and admit you were wrong before.

Same thing holds in reverse.

I can respect you whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Anarchist, or even a Cubs fan. I can respect you if your politics show a desire to change the world for the better, to avoid losing good things to fear or hate or apathy or plain old foolishness. The moment you start defending people just because they have the right letter next to their names, however, is the moment I start losing respect for you. I don’t care what ideology you think you’re fighting for. We aren’t here, ultimately, to play at tribalism. We are here to make lives better, even when it means we have to change ourselves in ways we might not appreciate.

My politics have changed over the course of my life. Right or wrong, they’ve changed to reflect my understanding of the world, and my desire for America to be the best it can be. I think that’s healthy. They didn’t change just to blindly match whoever happens to say things I like. I think anyone would agree that would be unhealthy. And, need I say, this country’s politics are very sick indeed right now.

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MST3K 11×14: No goose in this one

“Edgar R. Burroughs? They’re really trying to spread the blame around.”

The movie: At the Earth’s Core, which feels like it might have been better if they had come up with the idea themselves instead of adapting a book

No smoking in the giant drill, but you’re taking along your fine china? Okay then.

I suspect if this movie were made today, the guy would have gotten the girl somehow or else she would have ended up dead. Not sure which era of movie-making that reflects more positively on.

All the host segments are good here. The meta backhanded compliments as Crow and Tom tell Jonah he’s pretty okay for not being Joel or Mike, the steampunk robots (although Crow is just eh), the camaraderie, fun songs, the approaching and actual wackiness, and what’s this? Dynamic camera angles for the big finale? Yes please. Everybody’s clicking, Cynthia certainly included.

Max confesses the movie is kind of fun, and it seems likely the riffing team thought so too: A lot of fun references here, ranging from Carol Burnett to Hungry Hungry Hippos to Tim Burton, and fun riffs in general.

That was quite a shock ending, and Kinga’s reaction is flawless. Not a hint of humanity there, without coming off as a monster. So, was Jonah not sure if he’d want to come back, or was Joel not confident of getting a second season, or did they just want to do something different?

I say hidey-hole.

Push the button: A strong ending to the season. Overall it’s a pretty good, enjoyable season, especially if you allow for the actors settling into their roles and relationships.

Top of the top episodes: Reptilicus, Yongary, Wizards I, The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t

The not-so-great: Loves of Hercules, Wizards II

The episode I mainly remember as “Oh, and that one happened too”: The Land That Time Forgot

Funniest invention: Probably the Afterlife Alert in Time Travellers

Funniest host segment: Probably Gypsy’s time travel safety lessons from the same episode

#12: The Millennium Falcon was brainwashed by Hydra during ESB

Straight from a disturbing part of our subconscious, it’s . . .

The Top Eleven Plot Twists We Want To See in The Last Jedi

11. The heroes get into a fierce sabers-vs.-blasters fight, but Mara Jade comes out of nowhere, tells Luke, “I got your back, hon”, and turns the tide. WOOHOO!

10. Kylo Ren either grows a spine or gets over himself.

9. A battle for an orbital robotics factory ends with the factory exploding, with droids and droid bits spraying in all directions. Stopping the DVD at the right frame reveals: droidekas, V.I.N.CENT, Bender.

8. While dealing with her late husband’s belongings, Leia finds Han’s stash of C/7 Voyager fanfiction.

7. There’s a subplot about trade disputes and it’s absolutely gripping.

6. Finn goes to Endor’s moon to recuperate from trauma he feels because of all the evil things he did as a stormtrooper, and finds he shares a love of show tunes with Wicket III. And yes, that leads to the final celebratory scene at the end of the trilogy in exactly the way you expect.

5. “Shoot, Rey! SHOOOOOOOOOOT!”

4. Snoke turns out to be a fist-sized human-salamander hybrid who just sits really close to the holoprojector.

3. Artoo dresses up as Darth Vader for Halloween Death Day and totally scares the stuffing out of everyone.

2. Remember all that nonsense about midichlorians boosting your Force powers? Turns out that was just propaganda from the eugenics-industrial complex.

1. Luke has no deep philosophical convictions about wanting the Jedi to end. He’s just been depressed since the last Quizno’s within a parsec closed its doors.

Void Pyramid: it’s pretty okay

Void Pyramid is an old-school computer game released in 2016 by A. Hagen, Shea Kennedy, and DJ CJ Buckets (don’t blame me, I’m just reading off of the credits screen). It’s free on Steam and elsewhere. In this game, you are a lowly Egyptian banished to the Void Pyramid by the Prime Pharaoh. Your mission is to escape the Pyramid. Since the V.P. gets its name from being a pyramid that flies through the void of outer space, and since it’s filled with random encounters that want to kill you, rob you, and devour your soul, this is going to be a difficult task.

Combat is very simple, there being a few permanent powerups that may or may not appear in any given game, plus a couple of combat items that can be bought. Mainly you mash the attack until the enemy is dead. If you play at all cautiously, survival should not be an issue. The game’s attraction lies elsewhere.

Part of the fun is good old-fashioned stat grinding so that you can win fights more easily, pass stat tests, and thereby penetrate deeper into the labyrinth. And I think the game is well-balanced in this regard.

The stats themselves are worth mention. There are the usual Attack/Defense/HP, but there are also three special stats that make the game much less grindy. Brawn increases the chance that you will insta-kill an enemy, taking you straight to the reward message. Wits increases the chance that you will get a proper reward from winning a combat. By default, a combat earns you perhaps 1-20 Deben, the currency. There is a chance to get a “reward”, however, in which case you either win about 100 Deben or a stat increase. Since increasing a stat costs 100 Deben, Brawn increases the chance you’ll zip through the next combat without risk, while Wits helps you gear up to survive future encounters. Both are very helpful in decreasing the sense of unfun grinding. There is also Agility, to help when a pickpocket tries to relieve you of your consumables.

But the main fun comes in being clever. The game makes it very clear within the first few rooms that you should pay careful attention to the graphics, crude though they might be. Paying attention will allow you to get through rooms, discover hidden passages, solve puzzles, and find caches of goodies. Thinking about the rules of the game is also necessary to solve the game completely: there is a list of artifacts that are hidden within the Pyramid, and getting each requires a different method. Admittedly, I felt the need to look two or three of them up, but all were achieved in ways I could be reasonably expected to try.

Although combat may be monotonous, the environment is not. As might be expected, the Pyramid is divided into several sections, each with their own visual scheme and background music. Individual rooms often have their own environmental hazard, such as one screen with several blacked-out hallways to choose from to get from the west entrance to the east exit, each hallway containing increasingly dangerous enemies as well as statues to bump into. The enemy sprites are entertaining, ranging from “scary” to “freaky” to occasionally funny.

The descriptions of items and surroundings are also welcome, often supplying some indirect world-building to expand upon how strange the game’s world is to us. I mean, really, ancient Egypt and space travel.

Replay value exists, but is limited unless you’re really into the game, as the game itself is about the right length for feeling like I’d gotten a full experience out of it. The special “permanent power-ups” I alluded to above are probably the main attraction in this regard. (I found a knife that boosted my crit rate, as well as a shield that blocked most enemy crits. Those were pretty sweet.) Three classes cause you to start with different levels of stats, but you should be able to eventually grind all your stats to whatever level you need them. Mainly, I would guess their effect is that different early areas are accessible earlier or later based on what class you take. The end of the game, as an Internet FAQ makes clear, varies depending on several factors, so that adds some replay value, as one tries to get better (or simply different) results.

It’s free and it only takes up a few MB, so if you like this sort of game, I recommend giving it a shot. It’s no world-shattering experience, but it is well-designed on all counts, and worth killing some time with. For me, it’s the sort of game I play through once and enjoy, then leave untouched until an idle afternoon years later, when I remember it and think “Hey, I enjoyed it that one time, why not give it another go.”

MST3K 11×13: Christmas Insanity III: It’s Italy’s Turn

“Can’t believe this is in the Bible!”

The movie: The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t, an import that should have been seized by Customs

Now, I don’t consider myself a MST3K buff. I’ve probably watched less than half of the episodes. But I will still say it: I’ve seen the previous two Christmas MSTs, I’ve seen a lot of other episodes, this season included, but this is the first one I’ve seen where I genuinely wondered about the sanity of the people behind the movie.

This is not a logical movie. This is not an illogical movie. Somehow, it exists in a universe separate from logic. It creates, drops, ignores, and distorts its trite storylines and tropes at will. Nobody ever suggests the lawyer try to collect on his bills. In fact, the lawyer ignores his practice to work as a janitor, to earn enough money to pay that rent that’s so outrageous that less than a month’s pay for a janitor and mall Santa in a tiny department store are enough to pay it off. Nobody comments on the idea that someone could buy the North Pole from the Inuit, or out from under Santa, or . . . you get the idea. Mrs. Claus refers to her husband in private as “Santa”, which I guess is standard in these movies but makes just as much sense as referring to your spouse as “CEO” or “Mayor”. The little boy in the snow at the end talks exactly like a 40-year-old man. And on and on.

The intro animation is cute, even if the accompanying song isn’t all that. The Prune song is just, wow. The actors desperately try to make something out of a nothing song there. I got a strong Gene Wilder vibe from the head elf in this bit, go figure.

One thing the movie has going for it is the Dickens-level names . . . except how are we supposed to take a lawyer named Whipple seriously?

As for our riffing heroes and villains, everyone seems to be gelling now. The inventions and host segments are typically just okay, but well-executed, and everyone is their character rather than playing their character. It’s great.

The riffing falls into the category of consistently solid with some highlights. Ragging on the movie’s faults is balanced with more creative input. I, too, am beginning to understand this whole “broke lawyer” thing. And I hope that the lyrics to “Good King Wencelaus” are more easily found online today than when I went looking some years ago.

Push the button: It doesn’t match SC or SCCtM for spectacle, but this is insane and funny enough to go into the Christmas rotation with them both (my favorite is Santa Claus). The host segments just tend to be a little weak.

Next up: the last episode of this season! Will they finish with a bang or a whimper? And when will Netflix announce Season 12?!