Wednesday, July 26, 2017

GAMING

Why Mass Effect: Andromeda is not my fav

The Mass Effect trilogy is some of the best gaming I've experienced to date. The story, the gameplay, the cinematics - all were impressive. I was thus understandably excited for the new title from the ME universe to be released earlier this year.

Despite some familiar and enjoyable bits, Mass Effect: Andromeda was overall a letdown for me. Many of the things that disappointed me were the same ones that didn't work for me in Dragon Age: Inquisition (the third title in that series, also created by BioWare). It used to be, in earlier installments, you would meet a character with a problem and he or she would explain what was going on and what you might consider doing about it; similarly, you might encounter a situation in progress and choose how to act in response. These would initiate a new quest.

Mass Effect 2 hosts a fun and colorful crew
(although Commander Shepherd was a
woman in my playthrough)
FemShep as "designed"
by another player





Morrigan from Dragon Age. You do NOT
want to cross this mage.
The Hawke family from Dragon Age II

In ME:A and DA:I, instead you just read a lot (and I mean a LOT) of letters/notices/journal entries/e-mail/data pads, usually found just lying around. There were so many of these to peruse that I eventually would just skip the reading altogether, knowing that once I selected the writing in whatever form, the quest would automatically pop up in my active missions. The new entry would tell me where to go and what to do, but I would have no idea WHY. Sure, reading each and every example of writing I found in the game would enlighten me, but there was just so darn many of them it became tedious. Thus, I was further removed and less engaged in the story.

Additionally, ME:A has an awful lot of combat. I stuck with it and played the game for a while, hoping I would become more invested the further I got, but with all the fighting (and fighting the same enemy types over and over) and the busy work, it was hard to keep hanging on to the hope I had pinned on the narrative pulling it all together. Which is really too bad, because it could still be a pretty epic story.



Le sigh. I guess I am just in the minority when it comes to what I like in my video games, especially since one of my favorite genres is still the point-and-click adventure. You know, the inventory-based ones where the story introduces quandries you have to puzzle your way through? Ah, the days when Sierra and LucasArts were at the height of their game!


Good ole King's Quest!


The Monkey Island series -
still one of the best!






And as good as the Gabriel Knight series was overall...
...let's just forget that whole attempt at FMV
(full motion video) in the 90s, shall we?

Those games have gone by the wayside over the past many years (they still get developed, but the quantity and quality have taken a hit since popularity and demand have plummeted), but not all is list since I do still enjoy other types. Such as the early installments of Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Quantic Dream also puts out popular titles that I tend to enjoy. I hope they don't take the same route as BioWare with future games (come on folks, don't let me down with Detroit: Become Human!)

Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit, as it was known
everywhere besides the U.S.) by Quantic Dream

If I do decide to tackle ME:A again someday, perhaps I should preface it with a replay of Jade Empire as a palate cleanse. Plenty of combat there, but boy was I hooked! What happened since then?!


Jade Empire
Gosh, that was a good game! 


Friday, July 21, 2017

Hello. It's been a while. How have you been?

Myself, I've been better. Depression and anxiety have made real bitches of themselves in my life this past year. And a few physical health concerns as well. (Who gets primary hypertension in their early thirties? Whose retinal blood vessels randomly spring a leak, causing a small area of permanent vision loss? This lady, that's who.)

I'll show you in the inside of my left eyeball if you show me yours...


But I'm in a bit of a better place right now, I think primarily because of the summer weather - the sunshine helps improve mood in general, but also allows me more opportunities (or, I suppose, the will) to get outside and get active.

(Shout out to one other thing that helped see me through the winter: Jenny Lawson's blog and her book, You Are Here:

An Owner's Manual for Dangerous Minds.
Also a coloring book with perforated pages.)
(Can I place the first parenthesis at the beginning of the sentence, then the close it off at the end of a picture caption? BAM, I just did, deal with it!)

Physical activity has never been a priority in my life. Of course I'm aware of the many benefits, but with my favorite activities being reading and playing video games, I just never found the willpower to get out and do more. Until now.

One of the perks of my job is that I am always moving around. I purchased a Fitbit Charge 2 with some of my birthday money this past May, and I'm often clocking in 3-5 miles a day at work alone. Right there I have one advantage I would be missing if I worked a desk job.

The Fitbit has also helped keep me motivated to try to hit my daily goals as far as steps taken and active minutes, as well as water and calorie intake. I take my dog for more walks (she's certainly not complaining!) I walk to the library instead of driving - it is 0.5 miles from my house and it LITERALLY never occurred to me before that I could easily walk there. On rainy days I occasionally stop over at my parents' house to use their treadmill while listening to the Sword & Laser podcast or an audiobook. Recently I have even taken the next step and started going for runs - albeit, very short runs during which I feel like I just might have to collapse and call my husband to tell him to come find me on the side of the road somewhere in our neighborhood.

My library is puuuurdy - and within easy walking distance


Another thing that helps when I'm feeling down: my children! I suppose there's actually a double-edged sword there, when they constantly ask me to play with them and sometimes it's all I can do to get out of bed. (Over the winter when the depression was worse, I spent an exorbitant amount of time in bed and felt guilty about it, my counselor suggested I could think of it this way: it's okay if there are times in my children's lives when I'm just a quiet, loving presence.) But seeing them happy and delivering them new experiences and hopefully fond memories helps put a smile on my face.

I think we may have achieved some of that a couple of weeks ago when we rented a camp at Sylvan Beach along with my parents for a week. The camp's yard opened directly onto the beach, where the boys played in the sand while I read in the sun, and we all waded into the waters of Oneida Lake. There was a firepit in the yard and we spent one evening roasting marshmallows and lighting sparklers. We had missed the 4th of July festivities, which had happened to week before, but the people at the camp next to ours set off some of their own fireworks, giving us an impromptu but fun show. We went on the rides at Sylvan Beach's amusement park, and visited the nearby Fort Rickey Children's Discovery Zoo. And of course we made a few trips out for ice cream.

Our deer friend at Fort Rickey Children's Discovery Zoo.
Dat pose, doe! (Credit for the latter pun goes to
Ian "Rocketsoup" Hooman)

Impromptu fireworks show!














The good life.

My older son dreams of being a YouTuber. I wish we could help him meet that goal of his, but my husband says our current system wouldn't support that kind of thing. Maybe some day.

In addition to working on my fitness, mental and physical, I still make plenty of time for reading. (Not so much writing, because...well, when I'm depressed I just don't have it in me.) I have joined in with two online book clubs through Goodreads.com. One is Vaginal Fantasy, the hosts of which are Felicia Day, Veronica Belmont, Bonnie Burton and Kiala Kazebee. This group reads mainly fantasy novels with romance elements (the sexier the better). At the end of the month there is a live Google Hangout get together to discuss everyone's thoughts on the book.

The second book club also features Veronica Belmont, along with Tom Merritt, and is called The Sword and Laser. Here we alternate between reading fantasy and science fiction novels. There is usually a weekly podcast that, in addition to talk about the current book, delivers news from the worlds of sci-fi and fantasy.

As far as video games, I have to say I haven't been playing much of them lately. I was excited for Mass Effect:Andromeda, but bored with it quickly - it seemed like too much combat and not enough story to see us through all the busy work. I also played a nice, creepy little point-and-click adventure game titled Goetia.



Other than that, most of my video game experience these days probably comes from watching Ryon Day's Twitch streams. He tries to stream once a week, and I like to catch it live because it's also a chance to "hang out" with a bunch of online buddies, the same core group who usually tune in to watch. A wonderful community called Team Hooman has sprung up from fans of Felicia Day and her brother Ryon. I sometimes catch Felicia's Twitch streams too, but since she's a celebrity, the chat is flooded with comments, making it less likely that any one message will get noticed. Either way, both Days are hilarious, and seem like all-around Grade A folks.

Yes, I have an autographed head shot of Felicia Day.
No, I did not get it in person; it came with a book I
pre-ordered, written by an acquaintance of hers

I do hope to feel up to writing again some day. Until then, you can find me reading, participating in online book clubs, watching Day Twitch streams, or collapsed on the side of the road-I mean working on my fitness. Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 12, 2015

The German Shepherd Dog

And now for something completely different - my newfound obsession with the German Shepherd Dog.

The German Shepherd Dog's history began in 1899 with the vision of a man named Max von Stephanitz. His goal for the breed was a working dog whose appearance would be secondary to his or her ability. The dog should be intelligent, reliable, firm of nerve, and above all must be able to WORK!

This work can include herding, tracking, aiding in law enforcement, and personal protection. The dogs must have the body and the temperament needed to get the job done without being skittish or overly aggressive. Many German Shepherd Dogs today can be expected to excel in obedience, agility, tracking, search and rescue, and protection - this last includes bitework that comes with an unquestionable expectation for the dog to release a bite on command. Also desirable in today's world is a reliable "off-switch," enabling the dog to make full use of his or her drive when at work, but then "turn it off" and be a conscientious companion in the home.

Over time there came to be a discrepancy between working line German Shepherds and show line German Shepherds; the latter were bred for a specific look favored in the show ring, such as a sloping topline and severe rear angulation, physical characteristics that may negatively affect a dog's ability to work. This is often the case with today's American show line German Shepherds; along with the above-mentioned characteristics, they tend to be lighter and narrower, and have a wider gait than their European counterparts. These are beautiful dogs that still share many of the features of their working line brethren, but not likely to have the same level of working ability.

American show line German Shepherd

West German show line German Shepherds have been tailored for a specific look to a certain degree, too, BUT they are also required to pass at least the first level of working trials before being registered and allowed to breed. This proof of the ability to work usually comes through obtaining a title in Schutzhund, a three-part program that tests the dog's abilities in obedience, tracking and protection work. These dogs must also pass an endurance test that requires him or her to trot for 20km. Lastly, they have to pass testing of the hips to ensure they won't pass on genes for hip dysplasia. Only then is a dog or bitch allowed to breed.

West German show line German Shepherd

American show line German Shepherds are also expected to have their hips and elbows certified before being bred, which is accomplished with x-rays of the joints after the animal has reached 2 years of age. One way to help distinguish between a "backyard breeder" from a reputable one is whether or not the sires and dams have had their joints certified by the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.)

These show line dogs bred in the U.S. won't usually have working titles, but conformation showing titles (championship, etc) are a good thing to obtain before breeding an animal. This is a form of proof that the parents have desirable conformation and temperament to pass on to offspring, keeping to the breed standard.

Working line dogs differ from show dogs in that their ability to work has been kept the main focus of their breeding, rather than an emphasis on appearance. Breeders of these dogs work with them to obtain working titles through programs such as Schutzhund or IPO (which is very similar but uses international standards). These titles prove the dog's ability to work (by way of their stamina, endurance, nerves, and drives) before allowing them to contribute to another generation of German Shepherd Dogs.

Seeing titles in a puppy's pedigree is all well and good, but a breeder of working line German Shepherds who does not title their own sires and dams is missing a rather important piece of the picture.

A working line German Shepherd Dog

Working line German Shepherds Dogs mostly trace their lineage to DDR (East German), Czech, or West German origins. They tend to come in a wider array of colors. In addition to the black and tan and black and red common in American and West German show lines, you'll often see solid black, bicolor, and a variety of sable German Shepherds in the working lines.

Black sable coloring

Bicolor

Reputable breeders of the German Shepherd Dog should be aiming to better the breed by adhering to the standards set by the breed club. The wording differs somewhat in the standards set forth by the American Kennel Club and its European counterparts.

AKC German Shepherd Dog Breed Standard:

The first impression of a good German Shepherd Dog is that of a strong, agile, well muscled animal, alert and full of life. It is well balanced, with harmonious development of the forequarter and hindquarter. The dog is longer than tall, deep-bodied, and presents an outline of smooth curves rather than angles. It looks substantial and not spindly, giving the impression, both at rest and in motion, of muscular fitness and nimbleness without any look of clumsiness or soft living. The ideal dog is stamped with a look of quality and nobility - difficult to define, but unmistakable when present. Secondary sex characteristics are strongly marked, and every animal gives a definite impression of masculinity or femininity, according to its sex.

Temperament - the German Shepherd is fearless but not hostile. He exudes self-confidence and a certain aloofness. He will stand his ground when strangers approach and accept kind overtures, although he is not overeager to make friends with new people. A shy, anxious, or aggressive dog is to be penalized. The character must be incorruptible. (Kennel Club standard uses the terms steady of nerve, loyal, and tractable.)

Size - For males, the height measured from the ground the to highest point of the shoulder blade should be between 24 and 26 inches. For females, 22 to 24 inches. Weight for males should fall between 66 to 88 lbs, and for the female, 49 to 71 lbs. NOTE: A breeder who markets their dogs by advertising that the sire weighs in at 130lbs is NOT ADHERING to the breed standard!

Color - Strong, rich colors are preferred. Pale, washed-out colors and blues or livers are serious faults. White dogs are disqualified in AKC conformation showing. (Admirers of white German Shepherd Dogs started their own club that allows showing of these dogs).

The head is noble, cleanly chiseled, strong without coarseness, but above all not fine, and in proportion to the body. The head of the male is distinctly masculine, and that of the bitch distinctly feminine. The expression keen, intelligent and composed. Eyes of medium size, almond shaped, set a little obliquely and not protruding. The color is as dark as possible. Ears are moderately pointed, in proportion to the skull, open toward the front, and carried erect when at attention, the ideal carriage being one in which the center lines of the ears, viewed from the front, are parallel to each other and perpendicular to the ground. 

The neck is strong and muscular, clean-cut and relatively long, proportionate in size to the head and without loose folds of skin. When the dog is at attention or excited, the head is raised and the neck carried high; otherwise typical carriage of the head is forward rather than up and but little higher than the top of the shoulders, particularly in motion. Topline- The withers are higher than and sloping into the level back. The back is straight, very strongly developed without sag or roach, and relatively short. The whole structure of the body gives an impression of depth and solidity without bulkiness.

The shoulder blades are long and obliquely angled, laid on flat and not placed forward. The upper arm joins the shoulder blade at about a right angle. Both the upper arm and the shoulder blade are well muscled. The forelegs, viewed from all sides, are straight and the bone oval rather than round.

The ideal dog has a double coat of medium length. The outer coat should be as dense as possible, hair straight, harsh and lying close to the body. A slightly wavy outer coat, often of wiry texture, is permissible. The head, including the inner ear and foreface, and the legs and paws are covered with short hair, and the neck with longer and thicker hair. The rear of the forelegs and hind legs has somewhat longer hair extending to the pastern and hock, respectively.

The whole assembly of the thigh, viewed from the side, is broad, with both upper and lower thigh well muscled, forming as nearly as possible a right angle. The upper thigh bone parallels the shoulder blade while the lower thigh bone parallels the upper arm. The metatarsus (the unit between the hock joint and the foot) is short, strong and tightly articulated.


To be continued...

Monday, June 8, 2015

Bittersweet Dreams Are Made of This

My sister was my very best friend. She passed away 4 years ago and even now it seems I dream about her every night.

It may just be that I am more likely to notice and remember the nights I dream of her, but even if that's the case, I sure do dream about her an awful lot.

Sometimes this is a joyous thing. It's like having the opportunity to hang out with her again, even if we now spend our time together protecting giant (and I mean GIANT) spiders from mall cops with dubious intentions.

Every now and again my sleeping mind recognizes that she is dead and it's as if she is communicating with me in light of that fact, commiserating with me about how sad it is to be separated, or showing me glimpses of some fantastical afterlife and assuring me I'll join her there some day, but that the time for that has not yet come (a belief to which, sadly, in the waking world I do not subscribe.)

More often though, the dreams that acknowledge she has died are chilling. These I wake from unnerved, but also enormously saddened.

She spent 26 days in the ICU before succumbing to what ailed her. As her condition worsened, we faced new steps in attempting to manage the illness and treat her, and I remember when she first died the initial feeling was that this was just a new obstacle to overcome. Okay, now what are the treatment options for her death? How can we overcome this next hurdle? It took some time for the constant panicky adrenaline rush of her decline to wear off and to realize there was nothing more to be done. It was over.

Some of my dreams are fueled by this idea. She is dead, so now what's our next step to help her get better?

Many times her "death" is represented in my sleeping mind as her being in bed, back in her old bedroom in our childhood home. The room is always dark, we have to be ever so cautious and quiet around her so as not to disturb her. Sometimes her body only appears there at nighttime. Sometimes I crawl into her bed at night, anxious, knowing that after I drift off to sleep I will wake with a start in the dark of night to find her in the room with me. This can be a happy thing, but also frightening because she is not always the only thing to break through the veil between worlds at that hour.

Other times the dreamtime logic insists that she lives again only when I sleep, and so it's a happy and exciting occasion to bring her back in my dreams, although bittersweet in the knowledge that as soon as I wake, she will be gone again.

One of the scariest scenarios for me is the one where she has come back to life, in a manner, but is changed. She knows her family but feels nothing for us, she seems an entirely different person. Even then we are very protective of her in her "condition" (aka dead, returned to us on loan, a fleeting opportunity to be with her again even if she is not the same as she was in life.) Those dreams, when she no longer cares for me, are heartbreaking.

For some reason I have many, many dreams in which the house my sister lived in at the time of her death is a sprawling mansion filled with magic but also haunted by some great evil. I go there to try to encounter her again, but the horrible presence lurks there as well, and my sister's spirit fears it as much as I do.

Just today I experienced sleep paralysis. You know, when you're aware that you are half-asleep but can make no move, nor bring yourself fully awake? But my mutinous mind was convinced that my sister had returned as some malevolent spirit and was possessing me, not allowing me any control over my own body, bringing me to insanity. I worried for all my loved ones, who would not know why I would rise from bed as a completely changed, deranged person.

I don't know why I dream of her returning with a totally different personality or as some dark presence. But whether it's one of those dreams, or one where I get to briefly spend time with her as sisters or continue the never ending struggle to "cure" her from her death, to this day I still wake up crying. Four and a half years later.

I hope tonight will be one of the nights where we just hang out and do nonsensical dream things. That would be nice, spiders and all.

My sister in the year before her death. She went to the Otasaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown, NY for a weekend-long event with the folks from the SyFy show Ghosthunters. She won the chance to have this light-painted photo (of ghosts attempting to communicate) done with two of the shows regulars, Amy and Britt of TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Death by Lethal Injection

Executions by lethal injection are currently on hold as the Supreme Court reviews the current process to assess whether it is constitutional, or f it might be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

Lethal injection in the United States has historically involved using a cocktail of three drugs. First a sedative is administered, followed by a paralytic, and then the potassium chloride that will stop the heart.

The idea is that the person to be executed would first be rendered unconscious (by a drug which in a large enough dose could also completely stop any breathing, causing death by itself), then paralyzed before their heart is stopped. Concerns have risen, however, that the very short-acting anesthesia might very well wear off while the person is still alive, leaving them aware of everything happening but unable to express any suffering. They cannot take a breath while paralyzed, and the potassium chloride causes a severe burning sensation when it goes into the veins.

The process may have other bumps along the way. After taking the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, doctors cannot actively participate in an execution other than to pronounce the person dead afterwards. The people actually performing the acts involved in lethal injection, and those planning it, do not necessarily have the experience necessary to understand how it all works and make sure it goes off without a hitch. Apparently the same dose of medications are always used, regardless of the weight of the person to be executed, and just last year there was a case where the IV was not correctly inserted into the vein, but entered the tissue instead. This led to a death row inmate groaning and writhing on the gurney for 43 minutes before finally dying of a heart attack.

If the Supreme Court decides this process is unconstitutional, it does not mean the death penalty itself will be outlawed. Another way would simply have to be found to go about it. As it is, there is a single drug method of lethal injection that would avoid some of the problems of the three drug option. Then of course there is the electric chair, which is still an option for the implementation of the death penalty in many states. Some states have even discussed the possibility of bringing back firing squads.

If the death penalty itself is still deemed constitutional, the Supreme Court will not disallow it, only insist there be further efforts to find the most humane method possible. In my personal opinion, this would mean by lethal injection of a single drug. A large dose of one barbiturate, such as veterinarians use to euthanize family pets, would render the person unconscious (without question - no paralytic to mask awareness) before causing respiratory arrest and suppressing cardiac activity. Alternatively, a large dose of narcotic would prevent discomfort while stopping the person's respiratory drive.

An unpleasant topic, for sure, but an important one. There are currently more than 3,000 people on death row in the U.S. Death itself is the punishment the courts have found appropriate for these people, and causing them unnecessary suffering during the process is not the aim.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Death Penalty

There are things that have me doing a lot of thinking lately. I've had the urge to put my thoughts down in some format, put them out there for discussion. So I said to myself, "Self, what about addressing them in that blog where you used to post about random subjects that fascinate you, the one you haven't done anything with in a very long time?" To which I responded, "That's not a bad idea, Self."

One of the topics that has been on my mind is the death penalty. My general feeling has always been that I was okay with the worst of the worst being sentenced to death, and I never had much reason to consider the subject any further. However, with recent events in the news, I've examined my feelings more closely. I wanted to try to unravel exactly why I feel the death penalty is appropriate in some situations and not in others. I'll attempt to articulate my thoughts here.

The crime in question would have to be an atrocious one if the death penalty is on the table in the first place. Why do I feel that the perpetrators of some heinous crimes should be put to death, while others shouldn't? The best way I can think of explaining it has to do with the person's true nature, what really resides in their heart of hearts.

For example, consider someone who wields a blade in his or her own hand and inflicts brutal and stomach-turning damage to another human being. This person shows no misgivings about his or her actions, and in fact probably revels in the savagery, either because he or she believes it to be justified, or because there is something just plain wrong in this person's brain chemistry that allows them to delight in cruelty.

In my personal opinion, I am okay with such a person receiving the death penalty. There is something fundamentally wrong with this person. They need to experience the consequences of their actions through punishment, and they need to be kept away from the rest of society to protect others from them. This could be achieved through imprisonment alone, but if the convicted person was sentenced to death, I would not find myself overly troubled by this. I would think the world might be better off without their influence on it, or in it.

On the other hand, I believe it is possible that an essentially good person can be swayed by corrupt and vile ideology. A decent person can become indoctrinated by malicious credo; this is especially likely to happen when one's religion is involved. Most of what people understand about their religion, if they have one, is taught to them by other people-humans with human failings. These others may include their own interpretations when they preach, putting a spin on the information they impart. But part of being faithful might mean not questioning the 'truths' as they are told to you. The most convincing arguments are those that threaten eternal damnation should you not wholeheartedly submit to them.

So say a more or less good person absorbs the rhetoric they hear, even though it may include the hateful and the ignorant. A person born amidst such a mindset, surrounded by it in day to to day life, living among a society in which a good chunk of people take it to heart, will likely internalize these teachings and may never be able or willing to separate themselves from it. But if the indoctrination happens later in life, the mindful, those able to reason with themselves, maintain the potential for realizing where their line of thought went wrong and to reject the ideology they once embraced.

The indoctrination often includes dehumanizing some group of people, even if it's as broad as anyone who believes differently. It teaches its disciples to think in terms of US versus THEM. THEY are now, inherently and without conscious thought, seen as less than human. This makes it easier to commit acts of atrocity against them. Someone might consider him or herself a good person who would never knowingly hurt someone-but when it comes to them, well they don't really count, do they?

Think of Nazi Germany. Was everyone involved a psychopath? Or were they just taken in by one, exposed to his poisonous rhetoric?

Our decent person who has assimilated the hateful dogma now commits a crime against other living beings. Instead of thrusting a blade into another person's chest, however, they transport a weapon to a scene and leave it there, initiating the attack itself from some distance away. The crime is just as heinous, the results as tragic. However, the human mind may have allowed this person to distance him or herself from the crime emotionally as well as physically, letting them continue on living unperturbed, feeling as though they were not as involved in the atrocity as our other criminal. The one who committed the act with their own hands at their victim's throats.

Both crimes are equally reprehensible, and both perpetrators need to face the consequences of their actions, but to my mind the person who was able to plunge the blade in with their own hand and feel nothing but justification, reveling in the barbarism, is a more fundamentally screwed up individual. Get that person out of here!

The other attacker. He needs to be punished for his crimes as well. However...

If he had internalized a philosophy that convinced him utterly that his actions were justified

and these teachings had turned his victims from human beings into something other, into simply a message or a cause

and he committed the act in such a way that allowed his mind to construct a barrier separating him emotionally from his actions and the damage he inflicted

and the fact that he had not been exposed to, or had not adopted, the depraved ideology until a time later in life after he had already demonstrated himself to otherwise be a good and decent person, allowing for the definite possibility for him to realize his error and honestly feel REMORSE for his actions...

I think it fitting for that person to receive a sentence of life in prison. I can believe that a fundamentally good person can take the wrong path and commit a heinous crime. I think that person needs to be punished. But if there is hope that he or she could shed the corrupting influence, reject it and feel true remorse, then spending a lifetime in prison allows them that opportunity. One of the objectives of prison is rehabilitation; in this case, not so that the prisoner can fit back in as a valuable and productive member of society after being released from prison, but to give them the chance to have that change of heart. If that change happens, think of the moral suffering that would engulf that person. Staying in prison and a lifetime of regret are punishment, and in this case, perhaps more appropriate than death.

Monday, April 14, 2014

TwinLit

A great many of my favorite stories involve twins in one manner or another. For whatever reason, they must just make for a compelling tale.

One of my all-time favorite books is The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy.



Estha and Rahel are two-egg twins from Ayemenem in Kerala, India. The death of a family member brings them back there in 1993 after being separated for 24 years. Estha no longer speaks, Rahel's own damage is not as obvious but just as grievous. The book brings us back to the summer of 1969, when the twins were seven years old. This was when their cousin from England came for a visit, and also when their mother had an illicit love affair with an Untouchable. Thus begins the telling of events that led to their family being torn apart.

One of the devices Roy employs that I really enjoy is capitalizing words that seem of great import to children. I have long hoped she would write another novel, but all of her other work seems to be political/social nonfiction.

Here are some quotes from The God of Small Things:

“And the air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside.”

“This was the trouble with families. Like invidious doctors, they knew just where it hurt.”

"Only that once again they broke the Love Laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.”

“As Estha stirred the thick jam he thought Two Thoughts and the Two Thoughts he thought were these:
a) Anything can happen to anyone.
and
b) It is best to be prepared.”

“If he touched her, he couldn't talk to her, if he loved her he couldn't leave, if he spoke he couldn't listen, if he fought he couldn't win.”



Another favorite of mine is The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.



This is a gothic suspense novel, a "ghost story" in an unorthodox way. There may not be an actual ghost, but the story is full of haunting. A famous novelist who is notorious for not revealing anything about her past or personal life hires an amateur biographer to finally hear her story. She tells about growing up with her twin sister, and the dark family secrets that shaped their lives. The twins were Emmeline March, so complacent she was generally assumed to be mentally retarded to a degree, and Adeline March, angry and violent. And of course there is the haunting...

The name of the book stems from the fact that the authoress has penned a book of short stories entitled Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. Intriguingly, it only holds twelve stories. Her own story is the thirteenth.

I also strongly recommend this novel to all other book lovers. Perhaps these quotes will help explain why:

“All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping through the cracks of another. Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes -- characters even -- caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.”

“There are too many books in the world to read in a single lifetime; you have to draw the line somewhere.”

And then there is this little gem of a disclaimer:

“Once upon a time there was a fairy godmother, but the rest of the time there was none. This story is about one of those other times.” 



This next book does not have to with twins, exactly, but rather with a pair of people cloned through magical means. This is Imajica, by Clive Barker. Many of you may know him as a master of horror, the mind who birthed such movies as Hellraiser and Lord of Illusions. And though there are always elements of horror in his novels, the ones that I love are the more fantastical ones that are filled with wonder, rather than just fearful things and gore. Examples of these are Galilee, Weaveworld, Sacrament, and of course Imajica.



This omnibus actually consists of two books, The Fifth Dominion and The Reconciliation. The world is actually composed of five dominions, and ours, the fifth, was cut off from the rest long ago. We (at least most of us) have since lost all knowledge that any of the others exist.

Gentle and Judith live in our world. Gentle's memory only goes back a few years, each successive period becoming fuzzy and fading as time goes on. He meets Judith, even though it turns out they knew each other once long, long ago. When he meets someone else from his forgotten past, he is reintroduced to his own history. He travels to the other dominions, where he makes the discovery that the man ruling them, the Autarch, is a sadistic clone of himself. His mad wife is identical to Judith.

It turns out that long ago Gentle attempted to work magic to make a copy of Judith, because he and another man were both in love with her. Things went wrong (all because he couldn't keep it in his pants) and a duplicate of himself was made as well. (P.S. Gentle and the crazy queen lady are the originals, Sartori the Autarch and Judith are the copies. Real Judith went cray-cray, must be from all the dudes loving her all the time).

Gentle learns that every 200 years there is the opportunity to reconcile Earth with the other dominions, and when he himself made the attempt long ago, things went horribly wrong and a lot of people were hurt. He blamed himself, and thus ordered his friend to wipe his memory so he didn't have to deal with his grief and shame. Now he will try to set things right.

Another cool aspect of the story is the whole god thing. God inhabits the First Dominion. There were goddesses too, but he didn't like sharing power, so he had them all imprisoned or put out of action one way or another. Interestingly, he is actually one of the antagonists of this story.

“Study nothing except in the knowledge that you already knew it. Worship nothing except in adoration of your true self. And fear nothing except in the certainty that you are your enemy's begetter and its only hope of healing.”

“Fuck Heaven. I haven't gotten Earth sorted out yet.”



Then there is Wally Lamb's I Know This Much is True.


Dominick Birdsey's identical twin brother Thomas suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. One day Thomas cuts off his own hand in a public library, acting in sacrificial protest and believing doing so will stop war in the Middle East. The story revolves around the hardships involved in a life of loving someone who is mentally ill.

“I am not a smart man, particularly, but one day, at long last, I stumbled from the dark woods of my own, and my family's, and my country's past, holding in my hands these truths: that love grows from the rich loam of forgiveness; that mongrels make good dogs; that the evidence of God exists in the roundness of things. This much, at least, I've figured out. I know this much is true.”

“But what are our stories if not the mirrors we hold up to our fears?”

“So, you are not so much interested in exploring your feelings about Joy's betrayal. Or the failure of your relationship. You are merely giving me a tour of the museum.'
'The museum? ... I don't follow you.'
'Your museum of pain. Your sanctuary of justifiable indignation.'
'I, uh...'
'We all superintend such a place, I suppose,' she said, 'although some of us are more painstaking curators than others. That is the category in which I would certainly put you, Dominick. You are a meticulous steward of the pain and injustices people have visited upon you.”



The above are some of my most favoritest books ever. Now I'd like to talk about a movie. However, pointing out the fact that involves twins will spoil it for anyone who has not seen it before. It's several years old now, and how can you know if it's one you haven't seen yet until I reveal the name, at which point I've already ruined the surprise for you? Still, I feel the need to include a
                                                 SPOILER ALERT!




I really enjoyed the movie The Prestige, starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, and Scarlett Johansson. Oh, and David Bowie as Nikola Tesla :)



This movie tells the story about two stage magicians who have a deadly rivalry with one another that spans years. How far are they willing to go? And at what cost?

"Now you're looking for the secret. But you won't find it because of course, you're not really looking. You don't really want to work it out. You want to be fooled."


"Are you watching closely?"


"Nothing is impossible, Mr. Angier. What you want is simply expensive."


"I apologize for leaving without saying goodbye, but I seem to have outstayed my welcome in Colorado. The truly extraordinary is not permitted in science and industry. Perhaps you'll find more luck in your field, where people are happy to be mystified. You will find what you are looking for in this box. Alley has written you a thorough set of instructions. I add only one suggestion on using the machine: destroy it. Drop it to the bottom of the deepest ocean. Such a thing will bring you only misery."



This last one is a video game. Again, however, revealing that its story revolves around twins is a
                                                     SPOILER AERT!






Beyond: Two Souls is an 'interactive drama action-adventure video game' developed by Quantic Dream. The same group responsible for some of my other absolute favorite video games, Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain. These are all more like interactive movies, and your choices and actions affect the outcome of the story.





The game uses motion capture, so that the characters you see on screen look and move exactly like the actors portraying them. This one stars Ellen Page (from Juno) and Willem Defoe, among others.



 The results are stunning.




And the story...well, it's pretty darn amazing.

Her whole life, Jodie Holmes has had a spirit-like entity linked to her. Aiden cannot roam to far from his human host, they are well and truly bound. Through him, Jodie can manipulate objects without touching them and can even possess other people. She is raised in the government's Department of Paranormal Activity, where she is studied vigorously. Two of the doctors become like father figures to her.



Little girl Jodie draws a picture of Aiden for the doctors. They ask if he hurts her or other people. She says no, but he is mad sometimes, because he doesn't know why he's stuck here like this.

The story is told in a nonlinear fashion, but throughout the game you get to play as Jodie at many different ages and points in her life, including as a child living in a research facility and an angsty teenager. As a teen, one of the scientists a the DPA invites Jodie to her daughter's birthday party, to get her out and about with other normal kids. The others tease her mercilessly, are awful to her, and end up locking her in a small closet under the stairs. But Jodie has Aiden to help her. And this is where you get to choose how Jodie handles the situation. You switch to playing Aiden (did I forget to mention that you control him during the game, too?), at which point you can have him just free Jodie and then go home with your tail tucked between your legs...or you can teach those little shitheads a lesson. For instance, through Aiden you can lock all the windows and doors, hurl furniture at the teens, and set that place on FIRE! Bwahaha!

As a young adult, Jodie is forcibly recruited to the CIA, where she learns to kick some serious butt. You know, for the times when having Aiden throw police cruisers through the air gets old.




She gets sent on a mission in war torn Somalia. After successfully killing her target, she learns that the CIA has lied to her in order to gain her cooperation in their pursuits. Angry, she abandons them and runs away, warning them that anyone who comes after her will be killed. (And thus begins the tossing of police cruisers.)

During her time on the run, Jodie faces moments of desperation and dejection. I've read that there are actually a couple of instances where you can choose to have her kill herself, but then the game ends, and what fun is that?

Jodie contemplates ending it all while in a warzone in Somalia


She meets many wonderful people while on the run, like the little group of other homeless people who let her hang with them.




Or the Navajo family who lets her stay on in exchange for her helping out on the ranch.



This seems like a good time to point out that, if you so choose, you can have Jodie enter a romantic relationship (or two) during the game. Your main two options are Jay, the older Navajo son, and Ryan, fellow CIA agent.

With Jay at breakfast on the ranch. How do you like your eggs? Fertilized, please!

Also good to note, there will come a time when Jodie and Ryan get captured and tortured...



and if you choose to hold your tongue instead of giving in when they threaten Ryan...


This is what you see later in the game:

I love you, arrrrrrgh!
Anywho, I'll try to wrap this up even though I am tempted to describe every amazing thing about this game. Willem Defoe misses his dead wife and daughter and finally goes all crazy and drops the membrane between this world and "the beyond," unleashing Big Bad Things into the world. Only Jodie and Aiden can stop it. When she reaches a place between worlds, Jodie finally learns the truth - that Aiden is, in fact, her twin brother who was stillborn. His soul has been tied to her ever since. At this point you can decide if Jodie returns to the land of the living, or goes to join the spirits beyond, including Aiden and any characters who may have died in your playthrough of the game. (And there are several who can live or die, depending on your actions and choices in the game.) The catch is that if you go back to life, Jodie immediately notices that she can no longer sense Aiden; he is gone. Very sad :(

After struggling for a while with everything that has happened to her, everything she has done, and the fact that her life has been changed irrevocably, you can choose what Jodie decides to do at that point. If you started the romances, she can choose to go be with Ryan, or with Jay. She can choose to strike out alone, making a new life for herself, by herself. Or you can choose to go help raise that homeless chick's baby you delivered in the crack den that one time...

No matter which ending you choose, Jodie gets a message through one means or another. In my game I chose to be with Ryan, and when he and Jodie go sailing to a deserted island, Jodie suddenly sees letters appearing in the sand before her: "STILL HERE." So even though she can't feel him anymore, her twin brother she has been bonded with since birth/death is still with her. Aw :)

On that note, I'll leave this post with some more pictures. Because I love this game. In case you couldn't tell.

Poor little Jodie sees dead people, and they want her to pass on messages





"Are you still mad at me?" "Too cold to be mad."

heehee