Saturday, February 27, 2010

Game Review: "Batman-Arkham Asylum"

When I was young, I used to collect many different comics- X-Men, Superman, Silver Surfer, Spider-man, etc. Even though Batman didn't have the awesome superpowers the other heroes had, his use of technology, trained skills & the dark mood of the comics has made him one of the timeless comic brands.

Compelling Batman graphic novels like "Killing Joke" & "Dark Knight Returns" changed my perceptions of comic book stories as a kid & of the Batman character specifically. Heroes weren't necessarily morally righteous 'good guys' with clear moral boundaries.

In the spirit of this more complex view of the world of superheroes, Batman: Arkham Asylum delivers an experience as close to being the Dark Knight as technically possible. It is simply an outstanding game that captures every aspect of the twisted world of Batman & his villains.

The game trailer gives a good visual summary of the game:

I actually finished the game a few weeks ago, but I've been occasionally playing the dozen Challenge Mission levels that are unlocked. These are short levels where you either have to rack up points by beating up waves of enemies, or stealth missions where you have to defeat all the enemies & complete ambush objectives without being detected.

There are so many cool features in this game I don't even know where to start. The graphics are perfectly detailed & provide the dark mood you would expect to surround Batman while he's trapped in a old asylum full of evil lunatics.

The game fully covers all of Batman's abilities: physical superiority, intellectual detective work, & technological prowess. The way these are employed & work together really make you feel like a superhero- despite the very human vulnerability to gunfire that is ever present, which often forces you to stay in the shadows.

The most useful feature is Batman's 'Detective Vision' that allows you to basically switch on enhanced X-ray view of your surroundings. You can see the skeletal outlines of enemies through walls & obstacles, allowing you to create a preemptive strategy for how to take out enemies so you can proceed.

As you go through the game, you get all kinds of awesome gadgets. These are not only for offense, like different batarangs. There are also devices that allow you to reveal & explore parts of the extensive Arkham Island that were previously inaccessible.

Being Batman himself is awesome, but the familiar villains encountered often steal the show & make this game the roller coaster experience that it is. The Joker is voiced by Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker, like he is in the TV cartoons. This might seem a weird choice, but he is absolutely perfect.

The appearance of the game's many arch-villains are all actually perfect, in my opinion. The Joker though, is exactly how I would envision him, unlike the horrible 'disheveled hobo' appearance of Heath Ledger's Joker in "Batman: The Dark Knight" movie. Jack Nicholson & Heath Ledger's movie Joker characters both sucked.

Besides The Clown Prince of Evil, the other characters are also evil & deranged almost to the point of being intimidating. Fighting the enormous Bane, running frantically through the sewers to escape from Killer Croc, & trying to take out Ivy 's gigantic botanical assault are all crazy. There are also tons of references to other villains not shown, like The Penguin, hidden around the island. The villain that is a really surprising factor in the game, though, is The Scarecrow.

Scarecrow actually affects Batman's mind
, leading to several separate hallucinatory segments that uncover hidden horrors from the haunting memories of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Scarecrow himself then appears in a purely psychological realm as a menacing giant scanning the evil dreamscape for you.

This game is so great on so many levels that I can't say enough to praise it. It has to played to be appreciated, although the video gives a sense of the experience. There is endless amount of satisfaction to be gained from taking out your enemies directly and by stealth, finding all of the Riddlers scattered clues, & exploring the richly detailed island w/ its famed asylum as you hunt down the Joker.

This game is a giant among ever-improving superhero games, while not being tied to an existing movie franchise. In that respect, it is allowed to stand on its own as a unique telling of the Batman legend.

• The Monkey Buddha's official rating: 9.0

Uh-oh, looks like Batman: Arkham Asylum 2 is already coming.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Health Care Summit

While editing photos at work, I had the live CNN video feed in the background. I was listening to the political event of the week, the White House's televised Health Care Summit w/ Congress.
I'm a political geek so I listened the entire 6 hours while I was working in Photoshop today. Tonight, I've also been listening to the cable news analysis by CNN pundits & Chris Matthews. I even flipped through Fox News to hear opinions biased toward the Republican side. Of course, Fox was concerned with the views of such intellectual luminaries as human weasel Eric Cantor & The Snow Queen, Sarah Palin, complete with her Arctic backdrop visual.

Speaking of politics, I just switched on The Sarah Silverman Program, & she supporting a mayor named 'May Kadoody'. (Get it?)

"May Kadoody, for the children!"


I was interested in the whole thing, even if it was mostly hot air. At least it's hot air being blown on camera, where everyone is on the record. Nobody's mind was going to be drastically changed by this event, but it did do several important things.

First of all, it highlighted the basic difference in health care philosophy between Democrats, who believe medical treatment is more of a human right, vs. Republicans, who believe it is a corporate privilege.

The meeting also showed President Obama is a super-confident policy wonk whose grasp on the legislative details is outshined only by his clear command of his position. I am no Obama worshipper, but I still think he's The Man, especially compared to the relentless disaster that preceded him. Watching him skillfully, intelligently debate the facts & philosophy of very difficult issues, it's hard for me to get into the heads of people who think he's some kind of negative force. There is no really rational basis for anyone to think that a McCain/Palin presidency wouldn't be anything but a total apocalyptic disaster. John McCain's embarassing off-topic ramblings today & his scolding from a rightfully impatient Obama are painful indications how horribly mismanaged McCain's Republican presidency would be in a dreadful alternate reality.

I am under no delusions that a health care reform bill will definitely be passed or that it would be guaranteed to make a visible positive difference. From what I understand about the legislation, though, it seems to address many serious issues on some level. Unfortunately, the GOP are lockstep in being completely opposed to any meaningful progess because otherwise they would be admitting that 'Comrade' Obama and the nefarious 'Demon-crats' are not a tyrannical evil destroying America. Their politically-calculated hostililty toward The Left makes any substantial cooperation difficult, as President Obama has pointed out to them.

All in all, the Republicans are simply in their usual place - on the wrong side of history - and their complaints about cost & deficits are transparently hypocritical. The conservatives would have a point... if they didn't totally tank the economy w/ completely unfunded wars, prescription drug benefit, & tax cuts for the rich. The Dark One, the undying Dick Cheney, even said "Deficits don't matter," Right? The GOP's facetious concern for fiscal responsibility is ridiculous to anyone with their short-term memory intact.

This summit was a good move by Obama to flex his institutional muscle & put the differences between the political philosophies under the spotlight. Any time you put any number of Republican officials into a room with The Mack Daddy, Obama is going to stomp on them like cockroaches trying to scuttle from the sunlight. I think it's great, because the right wing has had the entire previous decade to terrorize America, so now it's the progressives' turn to forcefully pursue their ideological agenda. Obama needs to continually be the fearless leader of that effort.

The Daily Show of course had a look at the Health Care Summit that was very good:

Daily Show on CPAC... & Tracy Morgan!

The Daily Show has been on a roll lately.

The other night I was laughing out loud at segments about the Bizarro convention known as CPAC & the guru of political disinformation, Glenn Beck.

Comedy Centeral's video embed code is crap, so here are the links:

Daily Show:

Last night Jon Stewart had on one of the greatest interview guests ever, Tracy Morgan. I love when Tracy goes on Howard Stern because he is unfettered, unfiltered craziness. He just comes out with the funniest random nuggets of wackiness that I think are hilarious.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Christ of the Abyss

While I was doing a Google image search for a funny image to put at the bottom of my last post, I came across another thought-provoking ocean image:

"Il Cristo degli Abissi" was created by Guido Galletti after an idea of Italian swimmer / diver Duilio Marcante. The statue was placed near the spot where Dario Gonzatti died in 1947.

Ultimately, it is just a piece of cast bronze re-merging with nature. Like all art, the effects upon the viewer's mind is a completely subjective phenomenon.

For me, photos of these underwater sculptures are very powerful & evoke many thoughts-

• The transience of the human experience
• Life's mysterious all-consuming power
• The divine in both nature and man as a continuum
• Sacrifice of the Self as a transcendent experience
Turquoise is a very tranquil color

Visualizing the Ocean Depths

Wait, there's more....!


Being a very visually-oriented person, I am a sucker for interesting infographics.

The use of visual aids is vital to clearly understanding concepts beyond our immediate perceptions.

Neatorama had a link to this graphic showing the relative depths of the ocean, which are almost unfathomable.

Swimming & fishing in the ocean are some of my favorite things, but there always has to be a respect for the relatively unlimited power and size of the sea.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Birthday Wish

I am a man of few wants.

Simply being alive & having a creative career are blessings enough for me.

However, for my birthday there is something so extra-specially cool that anyone would be a fool not to want it. It caught my eye on an outrageous rap album cover I saw on the Chive.

What unattainable treasure could I possibly be wishing for?

That treasure would be - my own gangsta bear posse who could roll w/ me & always supply me with fresh fruit, cognac & fine cigars.


Ahhhhhhh, a man can dream, right?

Wade Davis: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters

I posted here before about one of my favorite speakers, ethnobotanist & anthropologist Wade Davis.

On The Teleomorph I saw a link to a speech of his covering a number of fascinating aspects of the human experience.

I listened to it while doing other stuff, but it's worthwhile to hear the whole hour-plus segment if you are at all interested in your heritage as a human being.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

'Amish Heater' Exposé

Recently I posted some entertaining advertisements that caught my eye while perusing the circular ads in the Sunday paper:

Fun with Sunday Circular Ads

The ads for the "Amish Fireplace" heater have become a continual source of amusement for me due to the gratuitous use of ridiculous Photoshop composites. (see below)

Last week my Dad brought home a copy of the Philadelphia Daily News with a front-page story looking into these paradoxical Amish electric heaters. My family had a field day with it at Sunday dinner.

Overall, it was fair & well-researched article that gives people a better idea what the product actually is. Kudos to the author for taking on the mystery of the Amish Fireplace:

"Heater's Amish Glow Just a Frame Job"

One thing that really cracked me up as I was reading the article was the photo of the owner behind the fireplace. The fireplace looks much bigger than it is because he is kneeling behind the 2 foot tall unit!!!! Brilliant!

Monday, February 15, 2010

"2012: End of the World?"

On I saw a link the other night to an awesome infographic concerning a continual interest of mine that has recently become a pop culture phenomenon.

The ancient Mayan culture of the area we call Central America today is a society that I find endlessly fascinating. We are actually living in a Renaissance of archaeological knowledge of the classical Maya, with new finds constantly being uncovered.

The Mayan people had an intricate understanding of the natural world and it's relationship to human modes of thought like astronomy & mathematics. They were masters of cosmic cycles & abstract concepts that have only recently been revived into the collective consciousness.

With all the mystery & intrigue about this unique culture being injected into the public discourse, there's bound to be misinformation being spread around. One of the most controversial theories regarding the ancient Maya is the idea that the end of their "Long Count" cosmic calendar reaches an end of an age in the year 2012 & could possibly result in global upheaval... or not.

Here my posts about:

The site Information is Beautiful created this exquisite graphic comparing perceptions & facts regarding what we know about the viability of the year 2012 has a specifically transformative experience:

Information is Beautiful
"2012: End of the World?

click for larger image

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Photography @ The Monkey Buddha Bazaar

I have uploaded some off my photography for new items in my Cafepress shop, The Monkey Buddha Bazaar.

There will also be more photos added to the section soon.

This is one I took of a reflecting pool at Longwood Gardens. I thought the various textures, silhouette in the water, & zen-like power of the circle make it an effective image:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Tao of the Internet

The Internet is definitely one of mankind's most transformational creations.

When I was young & relied on encyclopedias or libraries to search about specific topics, I knew there had to be a better way. It wasn't until I was in college around 2000 that web browsing really exploded into a ubiquitous phenomenon.

Since then, the Internet has become more than just a fact-finding tool. One of it's biggest current uses is social networking that connects people in effective new ways. In fact, the Internet might be the basic physical framework for a future universal mind that connects humanity in a deeper way:

The Internet as a Living Symbol
of Global Oneness

With the Internet's structural elements being improved continuously & mankind's endless pursuit of novelty, progress is inevitable. It is only a matter of time before new technologies produce increasingly unimaginable breakthrough experiences.

Google to Offer Fast Broadband
as Trial to Spur Providers

Bluebrain: Year One

The Dizzying Future
of Augmented Reality, Envisioned

Like all things, it is fairly certain that the sum digital repository of human knowledge that we call the Internet must eventually cease to exist. Whether all traces of mankind are wiped out in a catastrophe in 2012 or whether we can find a way to make our legacy last millions of years into the future & throughout the universe, it still probably can't last forever.

This article is a great illustration of the fragility of the digital infrastructure that has recorded so much of humanity's efforts & ideas:

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Sarah, Queen of the Teabaggers

I'm a political Independent & would never join a particular party.
Anyone who knows my views would probably lump me into the 'Liberal' category. I prefer the word 'Progressive' (even though infamous albino Glenn Beck is trying to make that a dirty word). Regardless, I think such broad labels usually have a tendency to distract the debate on any given issue.

is - ideally - problem solving for the benefit of society. In our crazy human world of myriad personalities & clashing ideologies, politics is actually a much more grotesque creature that is anything but pragmatic. Despite the obstructionism of Republicans & incompetence of Democrats in DC, the government isn't completely dysfunctional. There are still good Congresspeople trying to get things done.

People claiming that our government is falling to Marxists & Communist Liberals under Obama are pretty much hysterical. These are the same buffoons that gave Bush the benefit of the doubt while his neo-con cabal was bankrupting the nation morally & fiscally with unpaid wars and tax cuts, creating unprecedented federal bureaucracies, and undermining the institutional foundations of the country. Now one year of trying to clean up after the nearly decade-long catastrophic failure of Neo-conservatism, the Obama administration is suddenly guilty of The Fall of the Republic.

Now that my attempt at civil discourse is over & I've started indiscriminate name-calling, let me get to the reason I wrote this post. I'm about to prove this asswipe correct & just be plain condescending. It seems that a fringe of the 'conservative' political spectrum have recently been graced by the presence their Populi$t™ Queen- the insufferable Sarah Palin, whose $100,000 speaking fee screams out, "I'm you're average Joe Six-Pack!"

Although she spoke at the Teabagger convention, the general Tea Party movement is fairly widespread & diverse in their particular views. However, that fringe subset of American culture who adore Sarah Palin have a specific overall identity: Idiots, with a capital 'I'- as in "'I' am an idiot for thinking Sarah Palin can answer America's problems in any meaningful way."

Sarah, aka. "Moosilini", gave the national political scene plenty of material to work with this week. First of all, her beligerent speech was full of absolutely ridiculous political redmeat for her gathering of like-minded cretins. I wonder how Sarah would react to someone making that speech about a conservative President "during a time of war". Since she's the biggest partisan hypocrite in politics, she obviously would say something totally different in that case.

She also claimed in an interview that President Obama should start a war with Iran- because we are not doing enough to help our perpetual aid beneficiary, Israel. Both statements are obviously insane & not worthy of my time to comment.

The coup de grâce, however, was her notes that she was spotted with written on her palm. It was for her Q&A session- where she actually looked down at her hand to read items that should be embedded in that wacked-out brain of hers:

Cut -----


Lift Americas Spirits

Forget the predictable content of her scribblings... Who in their right mind writes notes on their hand when they're trying to be considered a serious political figure?!? This is just the latest antic that proves she's just a kook to everyone but her delusional followers.

I subject myself to reading comment boards on political websites of all viewpoints, although I almost never try to converse with the raving masses myself. Most of the discussions seem to be people calling each other Fascist Palin-drones & Socialist Obama-bots. It is particularly mind-boggling, though, how the special breed of doofuses vigorously defending Palin's honor can twist their brains to even defend this 'palm notes' silliness, even to the point of claiming that it makes her superior to Obama who "reads off a teleprompter." This kind of argument is a turd in the cesspool of political ignorance.

I imagine the backwards fools devoted to the Sarah Palin get a kick out of the negative reaction "Elitist" (intelligent) people have to her "Real American" (shitty) attitude. It's not that people like me are intimidated or threatened by her. The problem is more of the fact that she is encouraging an ignorant & regressive mindset among people whose rational faculties are barely functioning as it is. This creates a sideshow distracting from substantial policy debates. I'm more scared of the destructive effects of Teh Stupid among the voters than of Palin herself.

I'll let my hero & the genius of our generation, Stephen Colbert, have the last word on The Teabagging Queen:

Colbert Report:

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Monkey Movies

Saw this on Cynical-C. This is an early step to extending our collective awareness into the realms of other animals' perceptions.

Winter Blizzard #2

Well I just dug myself out of the 2nd blizzard so far this winter that dropped a couple feet of snow on the East Coast.

My Dad pulled up in his 4-wheel drive truck while I was out shoveling & tried to bust through the snow bank at the end of my driveway. I tried to warn him- he didn't make it far since the wall plowed from the highway was past his bumper! So, I just started by the road w/ all the heavy snow & worked my way back up my driveway to the fluffier stuff.

I actually like getting out in the quiet winter air & getting the workout. Also, getting snowed in gives me an excuse to sleep, play PS3 & generally lounge around.

Here's the view from my front door...

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Frontline: Digital Nation

I was watching this excellent episode of Frontline on PBS about the increasingly digitized society that is evolving around us.

Frontline: Digital Nation

All the electronic equipment & software we now use constantly are basically enhanced extensions of our nervous system. The amazing thing about humans is the ability to engineer external reality to solve almost any problem or task.

With electronic technology, though, it is almost a self-perpetuating phenomenon now that we have extended the activities of the mind beyond the confines of our own skulls. The energy of our individual thoughts are leaching out into physical reality like a slime mold oozing out into it's environment.

Compared to the rest of human history, the growth of human knowledge & experience is beyond exponential now. I feel fortunate to be able to witness such a supernova of ideas and creative thinking. The interesting thing is that while the digital mediums of storage and transmission are physical, like the brain, the actual information is still an abstraction- patterns of electronic signals represented from code that is further represented from endless 1's & 0's.

Our creative potentials & informational capacity seems to be surpassing the ability of our organic bodies to handle it all. This is happening simultaneously with the development of augmented reality & artificial neural networks. Biologically integrated computers might one day meld the seemingly opposing artifices we call the "natural" world & the "virtual" world.

Then what?

Leon Botha "Who am I?"

Boing Boing is one of my favorite websites because of the eclectic variety of items they post. There are alot of cool things I see that compel me to comment here.

There was recently a post about a group of white-trashy South African rappers. One of their wacked videos also feature apparently one of the oldest survivors of Progeria, which dramatically affects the appearance.

The 'raps' & whole 'shtick' of that group is pretty much crap, but an updated post linked to this video of the artist Leon Botha discussing philosophical concepts that is compelling, to say the least.

This was definitely a 'Moment of Zen' for me:

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Known Universe

On the great website Information Aesthetics I saw this mind-bending video by the Amercan Museum of Natural History. It is a virtual tour of The Known Universe. It is only in the macro-scale, however, - going from the Himalayas to the outer reaches of cosmic background radiation. I would recommend watching it in full screen HD if possible.

Anybody familiar with fractal images should recognize the similarity to natural forms on the wide scales shown in the video, especially in earths geography & coastlines.

This kind of visualization should give anyone a profound sense of wonder at our situation in this world.

To see reality in the proper perspective, we have to give up the idea of human existence being 'significant' versus 'insignificant'. Ideas like "nothing matters" and "life is a miracle" can both be true or false depending on your individual outlook & psyche.

Everything literally just 'is as it is'. Life is an eternal mystery that has no 'answer' or 'purpose' as defined by the human mind.

How to Report the News

I've seen this posted all over the place, but it's an excellent video that humorously deconstructs the cookie-cutter production of TV news segments.
In the defense of the news media, the format & technology has real constraints- so you can only be innovative to a point.

Of course, cable news is a much crazier creature than your local nightly news.
Probably the worst aspect of the 24-hour cable news is the "he said, she said" nature of most of the discussion. For example, I tend to agree with Keith Olbermann's politics, but his self-righteous ad hominem attacks are as obnoxious as his 'nemesis' Bill O'Reilly's on Fox. I appreciate intelligent opinion, but just calling people "Worse, Worser, & Worst Persons in the World" isn't news.

I do like to hear what different people have to say, although I take it all with a healthy dose of skepticism. The problem is that instead of using field experts, scientists, or public officials themselves- the "expertise" being tossed around are by people like Candy Crowley, Pat Buchanan, or Bill Kristol. I have never cared- nor will I ever care- what these people, among others, have to say.

To maintain a clear outlook, I try to expose myself to as many sources of information as possible. As soon as you say, "I only trust CNN," or 'I only watch Fox News." you've proved yourself to be an ignoramus. Speaking of which, I read comment threads about politics with idealistic Obama fanatics vs. rabid Obama haters and everything in between.

I have come to the conclusion that as long as we are not jacked into The Hive Mind that there will always be differences of opinion that cannot be resolved through reason or constructive engagement.

It's unfortunate, but we are, after all, basically just monkeys grunting at each other.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Barbara Micarelli (1845-1909)

My Dad has always told me & my siblings that we had a great-great-aunt who founded a religious order in Italy.

The only details he knew, though, was that her name was Barbara Micarelli, and she was born in Sulmona, Italy.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I can actually find websites dedicated to her memory and learn quite a bit about her life.

Barbara Micarelli was born on December 3, 1845 in Sulmona, Italy.

The order she founded in 1879, when she was 34 years old, was the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Infant Jesus.

Her "clear vision was to dedicate her whole life to the welfare of the poor, the orphans and the abandoned."

I've looked up information about her before out of curiosity, but I randomly came across a current news item that prompted me to post more information about her. Members of her congregation have just commemorated the centennial anniversary of her death:

History of the Present

I'm no longer the lone 'blogger' my family...

My brother Joe was a history major & has started a blog called History of the Present.

I think it's a great premise since the historical causes of current events are often overlooked for the immediate aspects of a situation.

was probably my most hated subject in school because of all the dates & memorization. It was just boring to me. Now I eat up knowledge about history with all it's personalities, stories, events, & places.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Post #666 - EVIL!

My Blogger homepage is telling me that this my 666th post since I started this blog in 2005.

What evil power could have helped me reach this diabolical benchmark... could it be Satan?!?!

Of course, everyone knows that society has actually submitted to using "The Mark of the Beast" in commerce decades ago & we're all doomed- Right?: