Month: August 2013

Private Prisons

I wrote something yesterday that forumgoer Mothra referred to as "a Thad mic drop", so I figured it might be a good idea to repost here. For posterity and stuff.

Mothra had brought up the Kids for Cash scandal, which has been in the news recently due to the Third Circuit's rejection of Mark Ciavarella's appeal.

The short version of the story is that two judges accepted bribes from the owner of a private juvenile detention center, in exchange for sending as many children there as possible.

I'm not a religious man, so when I say that there is a special place reserved in Hell for them, what I actually mean is "a minimum-security prison".

Anyhow, here's what I wrote yesterday; originally posted on Brontoforumus.

There are a lot of industries I hate. A lot I see as hopelessly, incurably corrupt, as industries whose very function is to profit from human suffering.

Health insurance. Investment banking. Oil and coal. Weapons. Newscorp.

But the private prison industry is the very worst.

The very proposition of creating a profit incentive for putting people in prison and keeping them there is one that should result in only two reactions: laughter that the notion is farcical; disgust at the realization that people are serious about it.

Have I mentioned the private prison lobby's role in crafting SB1070 lately? Because here, let me just link this again:

Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law, by Laura Sullivan, NPR, 2010.

Inca Roads Solo

More George Duke, this from 1973; uploaded by Steve Sparx.

(Actually George isn't the only one to solo; Ruth Underwood and Bruce Fowler get some time to shine in there too.)

Final Fantasy Prequels I'd Actually Like to See

R^2's excellent Let's Play Final Fantasy 4 Advance thread over at Brontoforumus has veered onto the topic of The After Years and its general wretchedness. I've never played it -- but yeah, it sure seems like a terrible idea, on principle.

And I get to thinking, what Final Fantasy same-world sequels are any good?

For my money, FF12 and Revenant Wings don't count -- that's a case of an established setting being worked into a numbered FF game, not a numbered FF game's setting being reused per se.

FF10-2 was pretty neat, partially because it was the first and partially because it was so utterly different from FF10 proper, in tone, plot, and gameplay.

And the only FF7 sequel worth a damn is Crisis Core.

I think a lot of that is because it has the good sense not to take itself as goddamn seriously as most everything in the FF7 universe -- but I think it's also because it's a prequel. FF7 has an ending. An ending whose appeal comes from its ambiguity. Setting games (or movies) after the ending misses the point. Badly.

So with FF4. FF4 puts a fucking bow on things. Everybody gets to be a king or queen. Even Yang, for no reason whatsoever.

How the fuck do you top that? You don't.

Most Final Fantasys have an ending that's pretty, well, final. (There's an ongoing fanboy talking point that that's why they're called "Final" and that's why you should stop making jokes about "Dur hur how can they be final if there's thirteen of 'em?" That's stupid fanboy talk. But you really should stop making that joke.)

But you know what? Plenty of them come with perfectly good backstories to play with, and ripe ground for prequels.

Let's start with FF5 and the Warriors of Dawn. You could play as a young Galuf, and Butz's dad, and...look, I forget the other two guys' names. The point of FF5 isn't really its plot, it's the jobs system. I'd be happy to play a game with an earlier war with Exdeath, revisiting some familiar locations and characters a la Dragon Quest 3.

And then there's FF6 and the War of the Magi. The backstory's dashed off in a few lines of exposition in-game, but it's got loads of potential -- three gods begin fighting, they mutate humans into magic users, other humans hunt the magic users to take their powers, and it leads to an all-out apocalyptic battle that rends the world asunder and ultimately wipes magic off the map and sends technology back to the Stone Age.

Given the timeline and the established power of the Warring Triad, the world wouldn't need to bear any kind of resemblance to FF6. (Though, hm -- maybe the map could start out looking one way and, after being torn asunder by the Triad, look like the World of Balance. Dramatic irony!)

And the final candidate I'd like to share is Final Fantasy 3. 3 has an even more barebones story than 5 (and isn't as good a game), but it has one idea in its backstory that could make for a wonderfully warped take on the traditional story.

3 relies on the D&D trope of Good and Evil existing in balance to one another, and the idea that if one becomes too strong, the other will rise to defeat it. Final Fantasy 3 has a world subject to the influence of a creeping evil -- and so the Crystals create four Warriors of Light.

But, it's clearly established in the backstory that the reverse happened a few hundred years before: Good got too strong, and the Crystals created four Warriors of Dark to restore the balance.

I'd love to play a game that does the Final Fantasy formula in reverse: burn villages, breed monsters, awaken ancient evils, start an evil empire and slowly take over the world.

I guess it would be kinda like the first half-hour of Final Fantasy 4, if Cecil had a much higher degree of job satisfaction.

Brazilian Love Affair/Echidna's Arf

More George Duke -- I may stay on a George Duke kick for awhile. (Which probably isn't so different from usual, I suppose -- I post plenty of George Duke anyway.)

Most of this isn't Zappa, but the bit of Arf at the end is.

Uploaded by juntos.


I watched Life of Pi tonight.

At one point, I turned to my wife and said, "In the formula, that's what's know as the All Is Lost Moment. Guess that means we're in Act 3 now."

I read an article recently called Save the Movie!, by Peter Suderman of Slate. It's about Save the Cat!, the 2005 screenwriting book by Blake Snyder which defined the formula that seemingly every successful American film since has followed, on down to explaining why Joker and Khan both have such a penchant for gloating at their captors from jail cells.

I really enjoyed Life of Pi. I think it's a great film. But it came with plenty of déjà vu. Hell, it wasn't even the only 2013 film that featured an orphan, a storm, lifeboats, a confrontation with terrifying beasts, and magical realism, and received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay.

But formula's not bad, not inherently. Particularly in a story like Life of Pi which is itself about storytelling.

I don't have any problem with Joseph Campbell, either. Well, I mean, his writing gets pretty didactic, but he was a man who loved stories and loved taking them apart and seeing what made them tick and what the great ones had in common.

I do hate the extent to which his work was taken as an instruction manual instead of simple academic deconstruction, though. Which is pretty much how I feel about Watchmen (and how, not for nothin', Alan Moore himself feels about Watchmen) -- a perfectly good, interesting, insightful work that far too many people decided was a mathematical formula.

Which I suppose leads into some sort of irritating movie reviewer's wordplay about Pi. Fill that in for yourself, I guess.


Stumbled across an old CRT TV today. Looks good -- 20", flat screen, surprisingly lightweight, even has component inputs, which I've never actually seen on a tube TV before.

It'd be the perfect TV for retro gaming, if not for the pinch at the top of the screen. Looks like it had a run-in with a magnet.

Seems like it should be modern enough to degauss itself, so I'm doing the thing of turning it on for a minute and then unplugging it for a half-hour and seeing if that'll eventually fix it. But I'm guessing the previous owner probably already tried that. In the meantime, I can't tell if it even reads the A/V jacks, because I can't read the channel number in the corner of the screen as that's right where the picture pinches down to nothing.

I think it'll probably end up at Goodwill and become Somebody Else's Problem and I'll just stick with the inferior-but-actually-working 20" CRT I've already got. Debating, in the meantime, whether I should throw $10 down to get a degaussing coil on eBay, or just try and use a refrigerator magnet. They say using a fridge magnet will almost certainly just make things worse -- but what the hell, the set's already not in working condition; it's not like "worse" is a meaningful distinction at this point.

Sure seems to be spitting out one hell of a static charge, though. I had it on next to my chair for a minute and I can still feel the pressure on my ears.


Last year on Jack Kirby's birthday, I covered Kirby4Heroes, his granddaughter Jillian's fundraiser for the Hero Initiative, a charity for down-on-their-luck comics creators.

Well, this year's Kirby Day is a few weeks off yet, but the young Ms. Kirby has just unveiled the Kirby4Heroes Facebook Page, and has more work coming up.

Readers of this site will know that I don't really do the Facebook thing, but statistically speaking you probably do, so go Like and Share and whatever it is you kids do. And even if you don't have a Facebook account, you can still take a gander at some great family photos on the site -- spanning Jack and Roz's entire lives.

And if you've got a few bucks to spare for the Hero Initiative, please do. Remember the sad stories of guys like Robert Washington -- it's a tough damn business, and its brightest stars seldom get the recognition or thanks they deserve -- and fair wages are rarer still.

Thanks, Jack. And thanks as well to Jillian.

Outside Now

Cover by Two Apple Tobacco, Vancouver, 2012; uploaded by the band.