Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Friday, November 29, 2013

Southfield Police Citizen Observer Crime Bulletin November 18-24, 2013

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Magic Primer: Mana, Land and Color

Okay I explained what I consider to be the boring stuff  last time. I'm writing this somewhat assuming that you either know the game or read the last one. Anyway, on to the more interesting stuff.

Mana is Magic the Gathering's resource management system. Just about everything you can do in the game takes mana.

So let's get started

Mana Generally
So if your a gamer and you've ever played the wizard you probably know what mana basically is. For the uninitiated mana is basically the magical energy required to cast spells. The more powerful the spell the more mana it takes to cast.

I'll explain it more in a second, but generally the game expects you to have one mana for each turn. For instance on turn one the game expects you to have one mana and on turn two, two mana. In other words the game developers expect a spell cast at three mana to be able to be played roughly on turn three.

Okay again something I'm going to deal with later but there are seven different types of cards and land are one. There are a couple of different ways to get mana but by far the most common is tapping land.  You can play one land per turn, which stays on the field as a permanent, and, whenever you use a land to get mana you tap it.

An Aside on Tapping
You tap other things, but I'm going to talk about creatures in another post.  To tap a card you turn it on it side. Cards untap at the beginning of your turn, so generally they can only tap, and do the things that require them to tap once per turn. Cards often have abilities that require you tap them, denote by a little bendy arrow thingy.

Most lands have them except basic lands which are really really important and I will get to them in a second. 

Basic Land
So as I explained previously your only allowed to have four of any one card in your deck except basic land. Basic land is probably the most common way of generating mana so you will probably want to put a lot in your deck. The general rule on land is that it should consist of 1/3 of your deck if you want to draw it reliably. 

Anyway there are five types of basic lands and each generates a different color of mana. I will talk color in a sec, but anyway.

Islands generate blue mana.
Swamps generate black mana.
Mountains generate red mana.
Forests generate green mana.
And Plains generate white mana. 

Tapping a basic land generates one mana of it's corresponding color. Since your allowed to play one land per turn you generally have an amount of mana roughly the equivalent to the turn it is. And I just repeated myself. 

One thing to note is that mana only sticks around during the phase it was generated. 

Non-Basic Land
While especially if your a new player you'll probably be playing mostly with basic land there are also non basic lands. Lands that aren't the previous five I mentioned. Most of these have abilities that differ from the main five. The most common of these is the ability to choose between two colors of mana. And I will get to color in a second. 

Land Tutoring
There are also cards that will let you search for a card in your library and put it either in your hand or on the battlefield. The can fix colors or accelerate mana and I will talk about that next. 

Mana Cost
At the left hand corner of most cards except land there will be symbols denoting the cards mana cost, or how much mana it takes to play the card. 

Those are the symbols for each of the 5 colors.  Also the spell may require generic mana denoted by a circle with a number. Generic mana may be of any color color. For instance Grizzly Bears costs one green mana and one mana of any color to play. 

Mana Curve
Alright let's get complicated. A major part of deck building is mastering the mana curve. In a way a spells mana cost represents the turn it's most likely you will be able to play it. Keeping this in mind players will build their decks predicting what they will likely be able to play and when. For instance if you have deck made up of expensive spells costing lots of mana you won't be able to play those spells until later in the game, and if all your spells are too expensive you may lose the game before you have the mana to use them.

Mana/Power Ratio
Also players judging what makes a card good try to study it's Mana/Ratio or how mana efficient compared to other cards. For instance a good card from a while back is Watchwolf. Generally the developers design creatures (later) so they have 1 power per mana, but Watchwolf costs 2 mana and has three power being pretty efficent. (Okay Kalonian Tusker is probably even better, but I have a soft spot for for good old trusty Watchwolf.)

Mana Resource Trade off
One way to judge the mana efficency is by comparing mana to other resources in the game, like damage, card draws, and even mana itself. One of the greatest cards in the game ever was Black Lotus, which allowed for a trade of three mana for zero mana.

By the way apart from being banned it's also out of print making it ridiculously valuable, with Star City Games posting a hypothetical price tag of 5 grand.

Alternative Sources of Mana
While most of the mana you get especially in the early game will come from land there are other ways of getting it. Accelerating your mana is a good way to play really powerful cards before people expect you to. For instance one of my favorite cards is Birds of Paradise. It has the capacity to move my plans forward by a turn.

As I've said there are five colors of mana, blue, white, red, black and green. Each spell is considered the color of the mana used to pay for it. Why is this important? Well because each color has strenghs and weaknesses associated with it. Or put another way game mechanics tend to be associated with individual colors.

For instance drawing cards is a blue mechanic. While other colors may be able to do it, there are less cards that can in those other colors and they will probably be less mana efficent than blue cards.

Also these mechanics combine into quasi game play philosophies. For instance red has a lot of spells giving short term gains in exchange for long term opportunity, and is considered the rash color of passion.

Note: I might as well get this out of the way now because otherwise talking about game mechanics will be impossible. Often times there will be cards that do similar things, until Wizards of the Coast grants these things a keyword, players often refer to them by the card most associated with them. For instance when I say pacifism effects I am referring to effects similar to the one on the card Pacifism. In short if I say something and you don't know what I mean chances are the card I linked to will give you a clue.

Here is a quick run down

Philosophy: Nature and Growth
Basic Land: Forest
Magic 2014 Planeswalker: Garruk Wildspeaker  (The Huntsman)
Game Mechanics Most Associated: Mana Acceleration, Mana Efficiency, Creatures, Creature Tokens, Creature Buffs, Creature SupportTrample and Overrun Effects (Yeah since green's thing is mostly creatures and I haven't explained creatures yet this probably sounds Greek), Land Tutoring
Game Mechanics Least Associated: Creature Removal, Flying and Evasion Abilities (Laterz),
Creature Types (I will explain it later I promise): Elves, Beasts, Warriors

Green is the color associated growth and in terms of game mechanics this means mana and creatures. I will get to creatures later though. On the downside green is also the most straight foward color. There just aren't that many tricks.  You know that scene at the end the Firefly pilot where Mal tells Simon, "If I come at you you'll know and you'll be armed".  That's green. It gets the most conventionally powerful creatures but they are conventional. There are a few combat tricks but other than that green comes right up the middle.

Philosophy: Justice
Basic Land: Plains
Magic 2014 Planeswalker: Ajani Goldmane (The Healer)
Game Mechanics Most Associated: Mass Creature Destruction, Flying, Life Gain, Destroying Attacking Creatures, Tapping Other Players Creatures, Defensive Creatures, White Weenie, First StrikeTithing effects, Pacifism Effects, Lifelink, Damage Prevention, Protection Effects,
Game Mechanics Least Associated: Direct Damage
Creature Types: Soldiers, Clerics, Knights, Angels, Birds (I really like Suntail Hawk)

White is the color of justice. It wants to control stuff, so it gets lots of cards that can destroy or limit creatures, but those cards tend to be defensive. White cards tends to rely on the other player acting against you.  Except for white weenie. White is the master of the judo flip. Using other's power and momentum against them.

Also white gets a lot of weak but mana efficient creatures. More colloquially known as weenies. While other players gear up for power moves white may have already beaten them.

Philosophy: Knowledge and Guile
Basic Land: Island
Magic 2014 Planeswalker: Jace Beleren (The Mindsculpter)
Game Mechanics Most Associated: Extra Turns, Card Drawing, Counter Spells, Mill Stone Effects, Boomerang  Effects, Copying Spells, Redirecting Spells, Theft, Artifact Support
Game Mechanics Least Associated: Direct Damage(at least in newer cards), Creatures and Creature Support
Creature Types: RoguesWizards, Merfolk, Krakens, Leviathans, and Other Sea Monsters

Blue is the color of magic and knowledge. It often gets cards that manipulate the underlying systems of the game.  For instance counters can undo stop actions before they even take place. Also since the hand and the library represent the mind in the game blue also gets spells that effect those. That said like white, blue is a defensive color, having few cards that win the game well through conventional means i.e. dropping life points from twenty to zero.  Blue uses it's tricks to stall and frustrate until the few punches it can land can knock out the opposition.

Philosophy: Reckless Ambition
Basic Land: Swamp
2014 Planeswalker: Liliana Vess (The Villainess )
Game Mechanics Most Associated: Creature Destruction, Discard, Sacrificing, Zombification, Siphoning/Extort, Life Link, Fear/Intimidate, Dark Ritual Effects, Tutoring
Game Mechanics Least Associated:Okay I had a block and I'll describe why.
Creature Types: Assassins, Vampires, Zombies, Wizards, Horrors, Demons

Black generally is a color that will break taboos for the sake of power. This means it is the best color at killing creatures and  bringing back the dead, and destroying the mind (Discard). Also it is known for actively hurting itself in pursuit of power. Because of that I would say black is probably the most flexible color because it can do most of the stuff the other colors can if the player is willing to take a penalty. Case in point for a Phyrexian Arena and Greed are some of the best draw spells in the game even though drawing is usually a blue mechanic.

Also note black isn't evil. It's nuanced. Though its current mascot is pretty damn evil.

On the other hand Chainer was a pretty chill dude, at least until you did something to piss him off and  those guys had it coming. They tried to Uriah him!

And while crazy as all hell Braids wasn't half bad either. Sorin is close to a saint... as far as vampires go.

And as for white being the "good" color, well Gideon might be humble now after The Conflux but when introduced he was a bit of self-righteous prick. I mean he tried to kill Chandra... before she knew how roast his ass back. Which brings me to red.

Philosophy: Reckless Passion and Impatience
Basic Land: Mountain
2014 Planeswalker: Chandra Nalaar (The New Fire Chick)
Game Mechanics Most Associate: Direct Damage, Aggro and Goblin Rush, Haste, Firebreathing, Offensive Creatures, Short term theft,
Game Mechanics Least Associated: Lifegain, Damage Prevention, Draw
Creature Types: Goblins, Dragons, Giants, Warriors, Barbarians

Red's thing is the short term. Most red mechanics and cards are about doing stuff now without regard to the later game. As such red cards tend to be very resource inefficient in the long term. Direct damage for instance can do damage much sooner than most creatures but creatures in the long term can deal more damage.

Also there is the whole drawing thing.  Who needs to draw if you'll win the game by the time your hand is empty?

That said red is best color at speed. Besting even white for the amount of sheer damage it can do in the first few turns.  Things even out by the mid game though. If you can survive the first assault against red you have a chance.

Artifacts and Colorless
Artifacts are a card type. I will get to them later, but generally their defining feature is that they are colorless and their mana costs can be paid for with any type of mana, allowing all colors to have access to some abilities.


It's not uncommon, especially since Magic is coming out of a multicolor set to have cards that contain more than one color in their mana cost.

I don't want to get into hybrid mana but it's mana that can be paid with one mana of either of the symbols.

Multicolor cards are considered harder to play and also can blend the strengths of their colors. Speaking of which it also isn't uncommon for players to play with more than one color in their deck to cover their weaknesses, though it's generally suggested that new players stick to two.

Southfield City Council November 25, 2013 Regular City Council Meeting

Regular City Council Meeting held by the Southfield City Council on November 25, 2013
Topics Include

  • The Development of the Former St. Bede Property Near Southfield Rd and Twelve Mile Rd
  • The Purchase of Helmets and Fitness Equipment for the Fire Department
  • A Menorah Lighting Ceremony on November 27, 2013
  • Welcome of Pace Academy

An agenda and related documents can be found here.

Fire Chief Keith Rowley and City Council Discuss The Recent Providence Tower Fire

On Sunday November 24, 2013 at roughly 1 am a fire broke out at Providence Tower, an apartment complex in Southfield, Michigan. At a City Council meeting the following day Fire Chief Keith Rowley, City Administrator James Scharret, Homeland Security and Emergency Managment Director Bill Johns and Southfield City Council discuss the fire.

Southfield November 25, 2013 Special City Council Meeting

Special Committee of the Whole Meeting held by the Southfield City Council on November 25, 2013
Topics Include
  • An Application for the State's SAW infrastructure grant
  • An update regarding the allocation of police human resources and staffing adjustments
  • Compliance With Health Insurance Laws
  • The Oakland County Hazard Mitigation Plan
  • Information Regarding An Apartment Fire at Providence Tower
An agenda and related documents can be found at here.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Writer's Block Again

Enough with the rot.
I need a thought.
What have I got?

Write Write.
It's almost in sight.
Right. Right?

Come on Miles.
There is plenty going down on the Mile.
Crack old files. 
Check out the dial
or use some of your famous guile.

I got nothin'.
Finger's aren't jumpin'
There's no key thumping.

This is sad
It aint never hit this bad.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Lefty's Defense of The Republican Party

I really don't like revealing my political ideology. I have aspirations of political reporting, and that requires at the very least an ability to be open-minded and fair. Just because I disagree with you does not mean that I am right and you are wrong. We have elections to determine collective action in the eventuality of disagreement and dissent. But me and my dad, a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat do the political back and forth and even though I consider myself generally a lefty I tend to defend the Republican Party.

And all of this leads to me spending quite a bit of brain power trying to reconcile the schisms in my political beliefs. At least right now that is the most interesting thing I have to write about in these post-election doldrums, at least until I figure how to cover the Senatorial and Congressional races coming next year.

If pushed I would say I'm a left leaning libertarian. People should be left alone to do what they will until or unless it hurts other folk.

After a great deal of ponderance my definition of "hurting people" means the infringement on the natural rights of life, limb, property, association, thought and liberty.

Even though I'm a lefty the Republican promises of small government appeal to me, the modern hippie who doesn't trust the man farther than he can throw him. But and this is the kicker I also see the government as the custodian of the rights I just described.

I am an African-American and am keenly aware that the right to property has been used to keep my people in bondage, and arguments of liberty not to associate with my kind were used to deprive children of educational resources to better their odds in a world set against them. The government guaranteed and continues to guarantee my ability to advance my own interests and exercise my will without fear, my right to liberty.

The Republican party has a reputation for being racially insensitive. And honestly it is true, but that insensitivity is not born out of malice, but rather disagreement. For to many, a government, the creator and enforcer of law,  the enforcer of "thou shall" can not bestow or even guarantee liberty. They trust not the government to protect their interests.

And I can't blame them.

This is the same government that declared of my race.

"They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit."
Majority U.S. Supreme Court Opinion of Scott v Sandford  
Written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney

Despite my reservations of having such a government, that for so long denied my people's rights, hold them in stewardship, I must say that there is many a time when an individual can not defend himself. Times where without a higher authority looking after his interests he would be coerced, robbed, imprisoned, mutilated, or even killed. 

Furthermore in order for such an individual to defend himself and advance his own interests he must have the tools and resources to do so. Knowledge of the law for instance, granted through proper communal education. How can one defend the rights laid forth in the constitution if one does not know of the rights laid forth in the constitution?

I disagree with the Republican Party. But as a whole the party is not evil, or stupid. They just have conviction.

Conviction that any institution as powerful as the United States Government will eventually abuse that power. I fully agree. But that power can also be used as a tool to let those who know not of a world where their determination sets the course of their lives, become the rudder for the fist time. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Southfield 2013 Inauguration/November 18, 2013 City Council Meeting

On November 18, 2013 newly elected officials of Southfield, Michigan were sworn into office.  Breifly following, a City Council meeting was held to elect Council officers, president and president pro-tem for the next year.

Note: Well I can't hide from the fact that I only partially know "The National Anthem" anymore. At least it wasn't "Lift Every Voice and Sing" or "The Lord's Prayer". You know what I'm just going to have to make a list of stuff I should memorize. I need to work on the "Venetian and the Turk" and "Because it is my name." speeches as well.  And of course there is the St. Crispen's Day Speech.

Of course the writer has not the tongue for oratory, or song. No my gifts lie elsewhere. Leave me to my pen and let the sweet voices ring elsewhere, for mine lies in the script.  Though perhaps if my true verse is to be heard it must be heard. Is not rhetoric not for the ear instead of the eye?  Oh cut it with the purple Miles. You need to work on your public speaking and you know it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Magic Primer: Anatomy Of the Board and Anatomy of a Turn

So most of the point of this blog is to talk about any damn thing that's on my head. And since I got back into Magic a lot of my brain space is being devoted to that. I have some interesting ideas on stuff to write but I also know that a lot of people who read this don't play and are going to think I'm nuts so I'm reviving my dead Magic Primers.

There is a lot of fun stuff to talk about, color, card types, deck archetypes, combat, the stack  but all of that depends on knowing the kind of boring stuff about turn structure so let's talk about that and while I'm at it the board.

That said until I get to that fun stuff I am mostly paraphrasing from

a.) The Rule Book
b.) This Article

Also before I get started let me describe the first rule of magic, there are no rules. Or rather all rules have exceptions. Why? Because if the text on a card contradicts the rules, and a lot of them do, the card wins. I could go through every exception but that would drive me nuts so yeah there is always a card somewhere that would alter the game in a way where things don't work as expected. Point is the word generally should be running though your mind at all times.

Also let's talk about cards for a sec before I go into nomenclature. For the most part (it gets complicated and I don't have time to explain the difference between permanents, lands, and spells right now) cards are referred to as spells when you play them you cast them.

Board Structure 
So technically the board in magic is divided into zones. Nobody refers to stuff that way but whatevz. There all just places where cards go.

The Library/Your Deck
In terms of flavor your deck represents your mind or at least long term memory, containing every spell you could cast in the game. The game starts with each player having a deck with a minimum of 60 cards with no more of four of the same card except lands (card type and mana laterz).

Because the probability of drawing any specific card goes down the more cards you have in your deck most players stick with that minimum.  Though I've been known to rock 1400 cards decks on occasion.

Also the rules state if you must draw a card but can't because there are no cards in your library you lose. Using this as a strategy is called milling and no not right now.

Your Hand
When the game starts players draw seven cards and draw an additional one at the beginning of each of their turns. The cards represent stuff you can do. Your options. In terms of the game's flavor, your short term memory and the stuff in your head you have immediate access to.

The Stack
The stack is going to get it's own post, but it's basically a system regarding what happens when more than one thing is going on at around the same time. Oh screw it. When you play a spell or ability (not now) it goes on the stack. Each opponent gets an opportunity to respond to it unless you declare you retain your priority (will be explained later) in order to do something else, in which case then each player gets an opportunity to respond to it. Effects on the stack then resolve one at a time starting with the most recent.

Okay in English. Every time you do something the game gives everybody else the chance to do something before your something happens and explaining this coherently is going to take another post, moving on.

The Battlefield 
I will explain it more when I get to card types. A good number of spells go to the graveyard (just wait two seconds) after they resolve from the stack. Some stuff doesn't. Instead they go to the battlefield where they stick around until... stuff happens. These cards are called permanents for this reason. The battlefield is what we think of when we say "the board". It's the place where stuff happens.

The Graveyard
When a spell resolves, a permanent dies or is destroyed it goes to the graveyard.
Because of this the graveyard is a record of the game.

Anyway, the graveyard in terms of flavor is kind like well a graveyard. The place stuff goes after it's dead.

That is how the game normally works, but it is "generally" way easier to get stuff from the graveyard to the battlefield than your library to your hand to the battlefield. You will go up against a reanimation deck eventually. Dredge is the bane of everyone's existence. One turn K.O. How the hell is that right.

Explain it later Miles.

Exile Zone
So permanents are powerful and so since the beginning the game had stuff that could put them from the battlefield to the graveyard.  But the game also had plenty of ways to bring them back. So eventually cards starting having "remove x from game" to permanently kill stuff.  And then Wizards started playing with that idea. So now dead ain't dead.  Anyway exile is basically just a place to set aside cards almost like a second graveyard except they only go there when a spell or ability says they do.

First Turn Stuff
The first turn is weird so let me explain stuff that happens in it.

Who's on first?
So the first thing is figuring out who goes first. Players flip a coin or roll a dice and the person who wins that gets the option to go first. It's there choice. If they do go first they don't draw a card at the beginning of their first turn.

Pistols at Dawn
After that each player draws seven cards from the top of their deck.

Uh can I get a do over?
Each player then gets the opportunity to mulligan. That is shuffle thier hand back in to thier deck and then draw one less card. You can do this as many times as you want, but after a while getting smaller and smaller hands diminishes the advantage of getting that perfect hand.  After each mulligan the other players also get an opportunity to do so.

Beginning Phase
And after that we get to the game proper.  The beginning step serves largely as housekeeping to within reason reset stuff. Starting with untapping.

To talk about why untapping is important and what tapping is I would need to talk about combat and mana, And I don't want to right now, but yeah, the first thing is untap any tapped permanents you control.

Most of the time nothing will happen during the up keep, but if a card needs something to happen at the beginning of a turn it will normally say, "at the beginning of your upkeep" Also its the first time your opponents can do something after you've untapped your cards.  Trickity trick trick.

The player whose turn it is gets to draw one card at the beginning to their turn.

Main Phase I
I swear I will talk more about the main phase when I talk about cards types but your main phase is so dubbed because it is the point in the game where you have the most options, being able to play all seven different card types, planeswalkers, lands, creatures, enchantments, sorceries, instants, and artifacts.Though you can only play one land per turn. (Laterz)

Too complicated getting it's own post. Long story short creatures fight.

Main Phase II
Same deal as Mainphase I

Ending Phase

End Step
It's like upkeep except for the end of your turn

Clean Up
The maximum hand size in the game is seven cards, this is enforced by having players who end thier turn with more than seven cards in thier hand discard cards until they have seven remaining.

Joy those were the boring bits so now I am free to talk about the more interesting stuff.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Southfield November 12, 2013 City Council Meeting

City Council Meeting held November 12, 2013 for Southfield Michigan
Topics Include

  • A Liquor License Request
  • The Leasing of an Unmarked Police Surveillance Vehicle The Cost of Which Will be Reimbursed to the City by U.S. Secret Service
  • A Request to Modify Deed Restrictions on a Property on Southfield and Edwards Street. The property owner has been having difficulty marketing the property due to a deed restriction that limits commercial use. He and his attorney are trying to lift the deed restriction through a voluntary process that would require 2/3 of the lot owners in his subdivision to be in favor of it. Because the City owns an apartment building in the subdivision Council has three votes in the matter. During the meeting Council decided to delay its decision so that it could observe other stakeholders and gain input from residents in the area.
  • The Appointment of a New Deputy City Attorney, Nita Murray-Grier
  • The Reclassification of Dawn King from City Attorney I to City Attorney II Due to the Duties She Has Been Performing Since the Passing of Former City Attorney Jack Beras
  • Discussion Of The City's December Tree Lighting Ceremonies as well as a Chanukah Celebration In Late November

An agenda and related documents can be found here.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Movie Review: Oz, The Great and Powerful

So that was interesting.

 So I like Oz. The Great and Powerful, but most of what I like about it is metatexual. The movie runs on dramatic irony.

See ultimately the plot is run by the three witches, Oz serving as finger that could tip the scale in their larger conflict. True to form Oz is the least interesting aspect of his named movie, being an impotent two bit huckster.

No the interesting bit is watching Oscar interact with the witches. Why? Because we the audience know that these are the same three witches by different names in The Wizard of Oz. And we also know that at any given time there's a 2/3 chance he's talking to an evil one.  So what's going to happen when that shoe drops?

And that's where I feel the movie drops the ball. While the eventual battle is engaging I'm not invested enough in it after the big reveal. That said I haven't heard Mila Kunis scream like that since the stupidity of Kelso.

There isn't really much going on in the movie for me other than the whose who question.

Beyond that the movie doesn't really explain well enough why their fighting over the emerald throne for me to really care. I mean yes power, glory and revenge are plausible, then again I never really got why everyone hated the The Wicked Witch  of the West in the first one. I don't condone revenge killings but without her stoking fires Dorthy would have gotten  (did get) away with cold blooded murder or at least manslaughter. You would think Glinda, would hold her at least a little accountable for killing her sister but nah, s'all good. Everybody hated her anyway. You go girl.


Well then. No justice no peace! Go forth my pretties. Fly! Fly! Da Da Da Duh Da- Da Da Da Duh Da Duuuu

Heck you could make a more plausible argument that this whole thing was a decades long gambit so Glinda could be the only witch standing.

Anyway, motivations have always been wierd and in this movie our Wicked Witch of the East remains a cipher. Back up she murdered her father. Wait. What? Why? How? When? Nobody noticed it was her? Huh. That's a lot of questions I wish I had answers to. That's a mystery deserving of a Tin Man.

That said seeing the whole ignore the man behind the curtain thing with all it's spectacle again was fun. And it's also nice to see that rather than cop out and resolve this thing they left it right where they should. All three witches still plotting against each other.

The Plan is Coming Together Quite Nicely

So against my better judgement, I broke my Magic hiatus. I was jonesin' too bad.  So after a few days here are my thoughts. Keep in mind these are limited to what I've seen and I've only been back a few days.

  • Boros Elite is a solid one drop for white. It's not going to go down in history as one of the best one drops ever. But the problem with one drops is most of them aren't very good anyway. By a turn or two after you play them they are generally worthless on the board. Boros Elite has midgame if not late game applications that make it okay. Not great but better than most of the stuff I've seen so far.
  • Assemble the Legion is nuts. Innistrad Block was all about the creatures and so whenever I did play I would play control decks. That is still my mindset especially with Azorius giving me all those tools I needed a win condition that would stick on the board when I wiped it, and Assemble the Legion is it. I can Supreme Verdict all day long and still have guys to beat you with. 
  • Also as a "sit back and let my opponent hit himself in the head" win condition extort ain't half bad either. I'm trying to construct a control deck and I'm sort of bleeding colors so it is really nice to have Blind Obedience that I can put into my white decks. It has a low mana cost and isn't a creature.
  • In that vein I need to build a deck around Guttersnipe and Young Pyromancer.  
  • That said if I really want to screw it and play with what I want Chromatic Lantern is a godsend. 
  • Everything I've seen of Thassa God of the Sea is beast. She's too rich for my blood but in most of the games I've played against her she crushes. 
  • I haven't seen too much of it but monstrosity looks like it has some potential. 
  • While I like both the art and idea of heroic creatures, they don't have enough buffs to support them in a deck right now.    
  • Well Dissolve is strictly better than Cancel. Not a lot to say there other than that. 
  • I have yet to find a good new blue one mana cantrip. For the last few years I took them for granted, which kind of goes back to my one drop problem.
  • Nobody seems to really be playing planeswalkers and that is weird because it was their crazy insane prices that made me stop playing in the first place. 
  • That said crazy insane prices are still a thing. 
And all of this is has been brought to you by a guy staring at a screen for two days trying to put together a standard control deck that can hit back without creatures or at least creature spells. 

Screw it. Boros Deck Wins.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

MovieBob and Death of the Author

Okay so on this week's The Big Picture, MovieBob uses Ender's Game as a jumping off point for a discussion about objectivity in film criticism.

Okay that sentence requires you to have a lot of background knowledge to understand so here goes.

  1. I like watching The Big Picture, a web show where The Escapist's resident film critic, MovieBob talks about "anything he wants". Literally in the his first episode that's how he describes his show. "A show where I just get up on my soapbox and say whatever I want about whatever random nerdy thing I is on my mind on the moment." That said any random nerdy thing on his mind usually turns out to be pretty damn interesting.  
  2. Ender's Game, a recently released in theatres, is based on a book, that is often considered a classic of modern sci-fi up there with Neuromancer, but was written by a guy who is also known for his homophobic views. 
  3. Most of the buzz around the movie hasn't actually been about the movie, but rather various protest and boycott movements surrounding it.
  4. In his actual review of the MovieBob spent a good chunk of time not describing the movie itself, but trying to deal with the reality that it was impossible to only talk about the movie itself. 
  5. And that gets us up to date on my opening paragraph. 
As usual I felt that the discussion was interesting and for lack of a better word good. But I also felt that Movie Bob failed to mention two things that are sort of important when having this discussion.

  1. Objectivity in Journalism
  2. Death of the Author Theory
Let's Go

Objectivity in Journalism
Up until recently if you were reading a film review chances are you were reading it in a newspaper. Case in point,  Roger Ebert's stuff was published in the Chicago Sun-Times.  And in a way film critics saw themselves as consumer reporters telling the the public if a product in this case movies was worth their money. Movie Bob does talk about this view in describing consumer criticism, but one point I feel he failed to observe is that the concept of objectivity fell in line with the journalistic culture most of these critics found themselves in. 

I'm not going to talk about journalistic objectivity here because I already did that.  But long story short I have very complicated views on the subject. 

“So much for Objective Journalism. Don't bother to look for it here--not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.”
Hunter S. Thompson

One thesis that I however will put forth that I haven't before is that journalistic objectivity was an outgrowth of post-WWI cynicism. Most of the time when I talk about it I point to the Hutchin's Commission as the codifier of journalistic objectivity. But after giving it some thought I really do think we have the lost generation to thank for that one.

Which is my transition to the artsy fartsy world of literary criticism.

The Death of the Author
So this is what made me write this post all that other stuff was just flotsam and jetsam in my head. I feel you can't talk about objectivity in film criticism without talking about the Death of the AuthorTheory. I hate the author is dead theory, but that's not my point here.

In order to have a constructive discussion on objective criticism you kind of have to talk about it. If you were taking a film or lit criticism class I would make you read "The Death of the Author", the damn essay that kicked this all off. But most of the essays I had to read in my lit classes were oddly structured and very purple.

So instead I'll give three case studies.

The Crucible

Here goes. I love The Crucible. If you pinned me down and made me name a play I like it is that one. In most English or for theatre classes there will be a long diatribe about it's context. It is an extended metaphor about McCarthyism.

End of the play speaks directly to the playwright, Arthur Miller's experiences, paralleling his later experiences when was called before congress to testify against others who had attended communist meetings.

"I speak of my own sins. I cannot judge another. I have not the tongue for it." He was convicted of contempt.

Anyway in this case the external knowledge of the author's life adds weight and meaning to the work. We the audience know he's not talking about literal witch trails, but metaphorical ones that had a real impact on he and his friends's lives.

Tolkien and the One Ring
Yeah things are going to get a little essayie around here. Alright so I am a Tolkien fan. I haven't read the Silmarillion. But the quest of the ring is emotionally powerful.

Kiss my ass Henry V.

Anyway. Tolkien would always be asked what does the one ring mean. And one day he came up with a brilliant reply.

I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.
J.R.R. Tolkien

Short answer the ring means whatever you want it to. I think the point Tolkien was trying to make is it is often the interpretation of a text that creates emotional resonance with the audience. And who is the author to mess with that. If a story means something to you because of an interpretation that differs than what the author intended but is reasonable and meaningful who is the author to tell you you are wrong. 

And this how I understand the Death of the Author theory. If a kid from the 60's finds meaning in the one ring being allegorical to nuclear weapons even though the text was written before the Manhattan Project (I was wrong. While, The Hobbit was published in 1937 Lord of the Rings was published in 1954 well after Fat Man and Little Boy were dropped.) why should that reading of the text be automatically discredited?

Nuclear non-proliferation treaties are a bitch.

Fahrenheit 451 is about TV
Chances are you're thinking Fahrenheit 451 is about censorship and free speech and stuff.  Ha ha ha. Nope all the book burning was actually about book burning. Sort of. Ray Bradbury felt that the picture box was dumbing down society but making it uninterested in reading.

And he got justifiably miffed  when a UCLA class lectured him about the meanings of a book he wrote. 

The Point
So in my lit classes Death of The Author was god. Any theory you posited had to be found within the text and only within the text.  So students then would go hunting for anything no matter how inconsequential to justify their reading of the text. And that made some really loopy stuff going down that I think actually hurts criticism. It does literature a disservice when you force students, the custodians of our cultural future to write nonsensical tripe in an attempt to pass.

On the other hand everything in fiction is constructed. Everything is a choice the author had to make and it is useful to question those choices and not just accept them blindly. Death of the Author shouldn't be God, but rather a tool, helping us to better understand how we as humans and writers, think, communicate, and construct arguments.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Southfield Unofficial Election Results As of 10:15 pm 11/5/2013

Results Obtained From Oakland County Elections Division Website
City Council
Myron Frasier  | 18.30 %
Kenson Siver   | 17.16 %
Joan Seymour  | 15.96 %
Donald F. Fracassi | 15.14%
Lloyd Crews    | 11.61%
Michael Ari Mandelbaum |11.09%
Sunsaria Baldwin | 10.63 %

Millage Renewal 
Yes | 73.10 %
No  | 26.90 %

Monday, November 4, 2013

Movie Review: Election

Okay so it's the day before election day and I oddly enough became invested in it so time to smack myself out of it with cynicism and black humor.

So on the surface Election sounds inconsequential telling the story of a high school election. And it would be if not for three things.

  1. The characters are all full of themselves and all could be described as tools.  
  2. They all take turns narrating so we the audience know exactly how delusional they are.
  3. Two of the characters take something that by all rights should be pretty meaningless (seriously no school ever grants the student council real power), and blow it up because of their own vices (see number one.)
Our male lead, Jim McAllister is played by Mathew Broderick. He's a teacher who absolutely loathes one of his students. 

Okay disclaimer this movie has a pedophilia plot that I will not touch with a 10 foot pole and in most viewings I ignore it completely because ew.  I will describe it briefly because all though the character won't admit it, it does serve as a motivation for some of his actions. The short of it is a friend of his had a thing with said student, was fired (it was before Penn State) and divorced, and he has some resentment over it. This is all back story happening about a year or two prior two the eponymous "election". It's also implied he has his own se... 10 foot pole. 

What makes him and his character interesting is he can't bring himself to admit that that is part of why he does a lot of what he does even though it's obvious to the audience. 

What makes this movie intriguing is that rather than making the student, Tracy Flick, played by Reese Witherspoon, a sympathetic victim, she is a self entitled let's go with tool.  Again the movie goes out of the way to get in her head so we see exactly how entitled and arrogant she is.  The movie takes bit to pull the switcharoo on her, mostly in explaining both her and McAllister's back-story but it's not long before it gets there.

The plot starts as Tracy is running unopposed for class president. Hating her guts, and rationalizing it out as nobody should run unopposed, McAllister encourages Paul Metzler to run against her. Part of me wants to say that the older Metler is probably the only "good" character in this thing except he is too dumb to realize when he's being used. And that's the point of most of his narration, a generally good guy who unlike the audience isn't savvy enough to realize all the other characters are jerks, and are using him in their own schemes. In a way that making him just as bad as them.

Up until now what linked all the characters was an inability and deal with the harsh truth of thier worlds.

If McAllister had it in him to just admit, "Hey I don't like this person" the plot probably woudn't happen. That and there is that unhappy sex life of his. 

Tracy views herself as a paragon and can't deal with her own vices. Reese is playing Flick as a non-violent sociopath.

And Paul is naivety incarnate. You need a mope to help you with your nefarious plan. Paul is your man. Oh God I've been in election mode too long. 

Except Tammy Metzler. Who has issues but is self aware enough that both the entire school and I was behind her.  She knows why she's running. Sibling rivalry, a bad break up, and sexual identity issues. Tammy's female ex uses Paul's happy place as a way to get back at her when Tammy starts to show affection openly.

Out of all of them Tammy is the only character who is upfront about to not really caring about the election itself telling the electorate not to vote. 

On the one hand everybody should... bbla bla bala use your bladie bla. Every vote bla bla bla bla (Electoral college, gerrymandering, soft money, media polarization, decline of investigative and local journalism,)

On the other when your choices are an impotent douche and a powerless turd whoppdee frickin' do.

And if I go any further with plot I'll start talking about the point where all the self-delusions start breaking down and things get real.  And well that is the fun part.  I am an evil evil bastard. Eh black comedy. I really have been meaning to do a review of Drop Dead Gorgeous.

All of that said the comeuppance parts are hilarious.  Karma is a bitch.

Okay look I have a very twisted sense humor, but if a movie where a guy has extramarital sex in front of a baby is too much for you you might want to pass on this one.

But on the other hand if you can imagine God as Bugs playing piano give this one a try.

You know I think he wanted Adam to eat that apple. Munch. Munch. Kaboom!

So You Want To Rip On My Town Huh?

So two of my designated wheelhouses are the internet and my hometown.  The Detroit Free Press ran an article about recent attempts to revitalize the city. And It was a good article. I wish it would have been a little bit more indepth, but I've long ago made my peace with the fact that as a suburb we're probably not going to get as much ink as Detroit proper.

Nope, what made me want to claw my eyes out is the bile spewed forth in the comments section. On the one hand I've done my fair share of  Southfield bashing myself, but not only do I live here I was born here and with a few brief college intermissions have made this my home since birth.  On the third hand it's the internet and people will act like asshats on the internet. Don't feed the dragon Miles. It will eat you, then spit out your bones, then teabag them while calling you names that ...

Okay despite all of that the comments do bring up some interesting ideas and thoughts I've been having for a while so here goes.

  1. Okay every now and again you'll hear me go off about racism. Hell, I did it at four in the morning two days ago but I feel that a larger predjuidice people have is socio-economic. People know how to check racism but not classicism. Classism offends me just about as much as racism, but I have a harder time explaining why it offends me or pointing to specific behaviors and opinions that I believe are classist so I don't hit it as hard, but I really need to start because this shit is starting to piss me the hell off.  Or put another way, if your primary problem with Southfield, or Detroit for that matter is that you don't like the people I would have words with thee. 
  2. Yeah up until this article I always believed the "we need better marketing" comments I'd hear in council were bunk. The roads are crap, the test scores could be better, and this town has no night life. Whenever someone would say we "need to tell our story," I felt that it was distracting from larger issues like unemployment, the aforementioned roads, and urban development. I... ach spew garggleee .... was chahkahhh...wrong. Start rolling out the commercials. Just don't use crap music in them. 
  3. How realistic are the plans for redevelopment? Make no mistake I want a downtown. But and this deserves a post in and of itself there are political realities. A lot of people don't want the city to do the things it would need to do in order for a downtown to be viable. The me of three years ago would moon them, but a house is the largest investment a person is likely to make and is it really all that unreasonable for them to not want the circumstances of that investment to change? Qu'est-il arrivĂ© aux tison? Life is about to get complicated. 
  4. I'm am constantly trying to bridge the reality of living my life with the reality my political ideologies. I do blame suburbs including my hometown from draining businesses and residents from Detroit proper. How do I bridge that belief with my strong desire to be able to hop a bus and get a quick slice for lunch? I have no clue but it's something that rattles around in my head. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Late Night Thoughts on Planet of The Apes

Note: Once again these are just my late night musings. It's been a very long time since I've seen either Planet of the Apes.

I'm going around the river bend on this one as well I suppose. About a week ago I went on a bit of a Disney-fest and it made me ask the question what is my favorite Disney movie. Haven't got a clue. Ask me next Thursday. But the first movie I ever went to see more than once in a theatre is The Lion King and the second is Burton's Planet of the Apes.

Nominally lambasted as one of the worst remakes of all time I actually dug it the first time I saw it. And oddly enough I still do. Being the young blood I am I saw the remake first. The first one is one of the best examples of post The Time Machine pre Star Wars science fiction films out there.

On it's own merits I still like the Burton film, but I understand how the baggage of the original saddled it, like most Burton remakes it tells basically the same story in almost an unrecognizable way.

Bright Eyes
Perhaps the biggest difference is that the original tells a smaller and more intimate story about one man trying to survive in a world that laughs at all of his preconceptions. While the original does philosophize a bit about the larger implications of Taylor's arrival in the third act the plot itself is mostly about Taylor trying to survive and maintain a sense of self in a world where man's, let alone, the white man's, presupposed superiority is no longer a given.

In the 2001 version that's not really the point. Oh sure our protagonist will give some lip service to how loopy everything is, but by the beginning of the second act his quest to leave ape planet has been waylaid by a group of escapees, by the third act becoming more about upsetting the ape social order than anything else.

And I have to admit the original was smarter. See the apes assumed that since the future humans couldn't speak their language they didn't have the capacity for thought thereby making them lower beings. Re-read the fourth paragraph.

In the remake it's not really all that well established why humans are treated so badly. As the resident black guy sci-fi guy over here, the idea that societies tend to devolve into tribalistic racist clusterfucks without constitutionally guaranteed rights for minorities, both in the racial and democratic sense, is kind of where my head has always been but in universe it's not all that well explained, other than maybe generations of ape superiority propaganda.

Anyway the 2001 movie is bigger in scale, established early on that the events of the film don't just affect Leo. I'd even go so far as to say the movie isn't really about him. He's a catalyst and not much more. In the first movie the implication that man was once more advanced than really does nothing more than advance it's anti-racist message about prejudiced assumptions and provide a late in the game plot twist, I'm getting to Dr. Z. but the remake makes the "the humans were once on top and can be again" thing the plot. Nipping the growing sense of pride and species based nationalism in the bud before a full on revolution can occur.

And yes I suppose you can say that plot is cliched but hey I was 13, and  hadn't seen Stargate, Star Wars, or Dune yet.

And an army of chimps charging an exploding rocket engine sold me. Yes that was the scene that kept bringing me back.

And I can see how a lot of people get annoyed that the story focuses so much on Leo when ostensibly this is not his story. He kick starts events and in a way resolves them, at the end of the day he has the least meaningful change. It's everybody else who has to deal with the whole humans demanding better treatment thing, heck he leaves Ape planet more or less a ruin when he's through.

The General and The Doctor

As far as hammy villians go I love General Thade. Dude is nucking futs. And he is literally a stupider Dr. Zaius. And I mean that in a good way. At the end of the day Zaius was portrayed as a well-intentioned extremist.

"I believe his wisdom must walk hand and hand with his idiocy." Couldn't agree with the doc more.

He takes no pleasure in opposing Taylor, but does so for two reasons. The first is that ape society, not unlike western society for a good chunk of history was based on the presumption of ape(white) superiority, and chaos would ensue if that presumption was brought into question. And yeah that provided the basis of a number of arguments on why both integration and emancipation were bad ideas. By the way it should be patiently obvious I have a passionate disagreement with those arguments but I will concede reconstruction and post-MLK's death 60's were kind of turbulent.

For new institutions to arise often the old and peculiar ones must be ripped apart.

Again for a movie with guys in monkey masks the first movie was deceptively clever and relevant.

The second is his own bias against man and god I don't know which hat to where. Greg the misanthrope, or Greg the social crusader. Oh screw it I'll do both. Hypocrisy thy name is Zaius.

I love Andromeda.

I like to think of it as a Star Trek AU. Andromeda's Klingons are a race of genetically engineered ubermenschs called the Nietzscheans who lay the rest of the remnates of humanity on Earth under their boot heels. My favorite character of the series Seamus Harper who carries a seething hatred of the bastards points out something.

"I grew up on earth I lived through Nietzschean raids,  and Magog attacks and famines and plagues and you know what? The Nietzscheans were the worst."
"Because they were so strong?"
"No. Because when push comes to shove they're human and nobody beats us humans at plain old nastiness."

Beneath all their superior posturing nietzscheans are humans and humans are assholes. No matter what it is damn near a universal constant.

Anyway my point is at the end of the day no matter who's spouting it, cultural and racial superiority is crap, because if you qualify as people you suck. At least the Athenians were being honest when they said "the strong do what they will and the week suffer what they must" rather than the usual clap trap I read in European and yes American justifications for imperialism and national self interest at the expense of everybody else. And yes I am pissed about the NSA.

Anyway where was I? Oh yeah. Thade. He's basically Zaius without the pretense or the brains and with an army.  He's a genocidal maniac, who wants to destroy all humans. Sure he waters down the message of people intellectually confronting their own biases but at 13 I thought a monkey swinging from a chandler in a rage was funny. Seriously though that scene demonstrated how intimidating and insane he was a character. Imagine getting a glimpse of one of Hitler's legendary rages.

This post got national socialist party real quick. Move on Miles.

Okay my point is that Zaius represents intellectualism of racism, for instance using science as evidence of racial inferiority, while Thade on other hand represents unquestioned hatred and sadism. He is anger incarnate.

I have to be honest the upon retrospect I gave the remake a bit of slack for it's higher production values. In terms of lighting and cinematography it looks pretty slick compared to the original but that being said narratively there is some weird stuff in the remake.

On almost every viewing I skip the first 15 minutes. I said said earlier it's not really Leo's story, but the movie spends a long time trying to set up a character which doesn't exist. Leo's arc is about him learning not to be such a bastard to the apes, and yes that message regarding animal cruelty was in the original, but I always felt that it was more so an allegory regarding race relations.  Especially since the original didn't actually deal with real apes.

In the remake a lot of that stuff felt out of place narratively with all the other stuff going...
You know what? This is starting to turn into a real review and I haven't seen either movie in years so I'm going to shut up now.

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