New Music’s Always Nice

Really brief post today, simply because I’ve been wracking my brain for topics, and all I can think is that I got some new music this week, and all I really want to do is listen to it over and over (my approach to music typically consists of completely immersing myself in whatever the latest thing is that I’ve decided I like enough to own, and then I listen to only that ad nauseum for weeks or months on end) instead of thinking about other things that might be interesting to discuss on the interwebz.  “But Jason, why don’t you just write about the music you’re listening to?” you probably didn’t ask.  Well, I’ve done that in the past, on a couple of occasions, but they were instances where the music was tied into a particular idea I was mulling over.  The first time was about the defunct band 19 Action News, and that was because they have a concept album that tells the story of a near-future Earth where a meteor’s about to hit the planet; it’s a really good album that explores a lot of facets of the human experience when faced with an extinction event (also, it’s a pretty wry liberal fairy tale where all the rich people who could afford to buy passage off of Earth end up colliding with the meteor on their way to Mars, breaking the meteor up into small enough chunks that will disintegrate on entry and leaving the rest of humanity perfectly safe).  The second time was about my rather feverish preoccupation with Mumford & Sons’ first album Sigh No More, which I listened to exclusively for over a month straight back when I was wrestling with all my hangups about white evangelical Christianity (Mumford & Sons, being a band that enjoys lots of literary allusion in their lyrics, is rife with imagery that evokes both ideas about faith and failed romance; there’s a reason I called it my breakup album for evangelicalism).

The other important thing about both of those posts was that I was also coming to them after spending a lot of time with their respective playlists.  Songs are way more compact than other narratives that I like to think about, and they typically demand multiple exposures before I’m able to form any coherent thoughts about them beyond “Dur, I like the way this sounds.”  That’s the case with my current musical fascination, since I’ve only been listening to it for a week.

Cover of Ceremonials. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

Therefore, please excuse any incoherence.

Anyway, let’s get to the gushy part.  I bought Florence + The Machine’s second album Ceremonials, and aside from the occasional podcast, it’s all I’ve been listening to for about four days now.  This wasn’t a totally blind purchase; like with Mumford & Sons, I discovered this band after spending much time on Pandora listening to a channel built around Of Monsters & Men.  Being the proud owner of a shiny new iPod after Christmas (thanks Mom and Dad!) and armed with a bit of iTunes credit, I decided that I did like their sound enough to invest in an album.

I think it was a pretty good choice.

My early impressions of the album go something like this: the instrumentation’s incredibly lush (it reminds me a little of Death Cab for Cutie at their most decadent, but every song is infused with a kind of urgency that I don’t always get from Death Cab), Florence Welch’s vocals are remarkably rich, and the lyrics are suitably complex.  Also, the album’s single biggest recurring motif (to me, anyway) is the conflation between romance and faith, which tickles all my intellectual buttons.  I can’t say much more than that about the individual songs themselves since I’m still getting to know them (except for “Bedroom Hymns,” both the shortest track and the most intense in the set, which is, as you might guess, about sex being a religious experience; it’s not necessarily an original idea, but it’s a really good song, and its theme really resonates with all the thinking I’ve been doing about Saga lately), but I hope I can give some more in depth thoughts in the future once I’ve gotten to know the lyrics in and out.

So yeah, that’s what I’m listening to right now.  I suppose I might have been able to say all that in a bit less than seven hundred words, but you know how it goes; you set out to write something short, and it blows up, and when you want to write a really long piece you can’t get a hundred words.

What’s everyone else listening to at the moment?

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Revisiting Final Fantasy VII (Part 28)

So Cloud’s rejoined the rest of us in the land of the nominally sane and the Huge Materia are safely stowed away in Cosmo Canyon’s observatory where they can uselessly collect dust for the remainder of the life of the planet (even with all of my diligent materia leveling, I still couldn’t get a complete set of mastered materia to turn into Master Materia, a single materia that can be equipped to give all of the skills associated with either magic, summons, or battle commands on a single character).  Clearly, I have further endangered the planet in my useless quest for knowledge when perhaps that materia nuke that Shinra was planning on throwing at Meteor might have worked when fully powered (these are the lies I think Cloud and friends tell themselves so they can sleep better at night with the end of the world looming).

We’re at the darkest hour now, with Meteor threatening to strike in only two weeks, when things really go south for Shinra.

Rufus Shinra and the Turks. From left to right...

Rufus Shinra and the Turks. From left to right: Elena, Tseng, Rufus, Rude and Reno (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the Huge Materia no longer an option for a power source, Shinra comes up with the brilliant plan to relocate Junon’s gigantic cannon to Midgar, where it can be powered by the seven remaining reactors, and the big gun can be pointed at the Northern Crater.

Surely nothing can go wrong with this plan.

Unfortunately for Shinra and their massive egos, the Diamond WEAPON decides that an artificial WMD that draws its energy from the planet (which is totally different from an organic WMD that was created by the planet) is the largest detectable threat to Gaia, and attacks Midgar.

Yeah, I think the planet might have self-loathing issues.  Also, the writers are really laying it on thick here that humans might be a real danger to the planet, since our resident sage Bugenhagen explains to the party just after they all go to visit Aerith’s grave the Ancient City that Holy (the ultimate White magic, intended to protect the planet from all hostile forces) was successfully summoned by Aerith before her death, but Sephiroth’s blocking its activation, and there’s a good chance that since it’s a spell designed to protect the planet from anything that could do it serious harm, that humanity may be wiped out along with Meteor.

This was pretty heady stuff back in the day for a video game.  Plenty of sci-fi stories before Final Fantasy VII have suggested that humanity’s actually a blight on the earth, but to suggest that the end of this story, in a genre that up to this point pretty much always revolved around successfully saving the world (and by extension, humanity), might involve saving the world at the cost of the human race was a big deal.  Our heroes, being heroes, accept this in rather stoic fashion, but I can totally see all the average citizens of the world utterly despairing over this news.  What’s the point of stopping Meteor if people are going to be killed by Holy instead?

Of course, we’re following the adventure of a bunch of ecoterrorists, so they make the noble decision that even if humanity is doomed either way, it’s better to do what they can to protect the planet.

For all my ribbing of our heroes, I do think this decision is genuinely heroic.

Anyway, WEAPON attacks Midgar, and lots of people die, including Rufus (except no, because Advent Children).  Despite the heavy casualties, Shinra manage to fire off a single shot from the newly dubbed Sister Ray (except when Tifa escaped from Junon after waking from her coma, we saw pretty clearly that this name had already been stamped on the barrel of the canon, so clearly Shinra’s head of weapons development Scarlet was already planning to use this name for a while), which pierces Diamond WEAPON, killing it, and passes on to the Northern Crater, where it destroys Sephiroth’s barrier.

This would be the opportune time for everyone to go after Sephiroth, but first we find that Professor Hojo’s gone crazy and is planning on firing the cannon again so that Sephiroth can absorb the blast’s Mako energy.

There’s a dramatic air drop into Midgar, and Cloud and friends rush to stop Hojo before he causes a meltdown that could blow the city up.  Along the way, we encounter the Turks for the last time (who, in a rather touching nod to that one time everyone worked together, the player can choose not to fight one last time if the Wutai sidequest has been completed) as well as Scarlet and the head of Shinra’s military division Heidegger, who have decided a crisis like the imminent explosion of the city’s reactors is a good opportunity to seize power (they’re both kind of idiots, but they make really dangerous weapons).

When the party confronts Hojo (protip: if you bring Vincent along for this segment, he has some choice words for Hojo, who was the one who experimented on Vincent and turned him into everyone’s favorite immortal brooding vampire) he confesses that he is Sephiroth’s father (I kind of forgot that that’s a plot point that doesn’t get revealed until so late in the game, so sorry to anyone who was bothered by that spoiler way back when I first introduced Vincent).

Anyhow, we kill Hojo and all his genetic horrors, and Midgar is safe once again (for about two weeks).  With all the immediate crises resolved, it’s finally time to head into the Northern Crater and face off with Sephiroth once and for all (until the inevitable sequels).

Revisiting Final Fantasy VII (Part 25)

I’m kind of sailing through the game at this point (things really pick up from here on out), so I’ll be skimming over stuff a bit here.

After Cloud goes bonkers, Tifa and friends escape from the Northern Crater with the help of Rufus and the rest of Shinra, who take them captive (naturally).  Tifa hits her head in the commotion following Sephiroth’s summoning Meteor and the WEAPONs being unleashed on the world to wreak havoc (fun fact: the WEAPONs are actually supposed to be protecting the planet from Sephiroth, but since he encased himself inside a magical barrier, they don’t realize that they just left the spot where their target was, so now they’re just going to rampage for funzies), so she winds up in a coma for a week.

Meteor FFVII

Final Fantasy Wiki says Meteor’s a little smaller than Gaia’s moon, but it sure doesn’t look like it to me. Who thought it would be a good idea to be able to summon a giant rock to hit the planet anyway? (Image credit: finalfantasy.wikia.com)

When she awakes, Barret informs her that Meteor’s looming overhead (shouldn’t that thing be affecting the planet’s tides or something?) and Rufus plans on executing them as a scapegoat to keep the huddled masses from panicking over the end of the world.

This is probably a weak point in Final Fantasy VII‘s plot, because I think it’s highly unlikely that everyone in the world would be appeased by knowing that the people they think caused the apocalypse died a few weeks before the rest of them.  I mean, when you look at the size of Meteor (it’s so massive that it looks to be about two to three times bigger than Earth’s moon) you have to realize that when it hits the planet everyone is toast.  Even if people happen to be nowhere near the impact site, they’ll freeze to death with the huge dust cloud that gets kicked up and blots out the sun (also, there’s the whole magic lifestream thingy where Sephiroth’s going to basically suck the planet dry like a vampire so he can become a god, if you want a less technical explanation for why everyone’s doomed).  It just seems to me that Rufus is going to a lot of trouble to maintain order for the remaining few weeks that the world’s going to be around.

Of course, I should keep in mind that Shinra’s supposed to be an evil corporation, so sometimes they don’t have to have a good reason to do what they do (also, this is a plot point I always forget about, but Shinra’s doing their best to blow Meteor up or kill Sephiroth or something, so maybe they’re working from the assumption that they’ll save the world somehow and need some good will from the populace).

Anywho, Tifa and Barret get rescued in the nick of time by Cait Sith and Yuffie of all people, who take them to the hijacked airship, the Highwind.  We find out quickly that the crew defected from Shinra after they met Cid, who impressed them so much with his magnificent leadership qualities that they decided he would make a better captain than anyone from Shinra.

Following this daring escape, everyone rallies around Tifa, who’s dead set on going to find Cloud (don’t worry, this next bit actually doesn’t take long at all).  In the meantime, the player’s just celebrating because we just got our airship, and the entire map is open to us now.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 7/31/13

Only one day of summer left!

Comics

1. XmenXpert is compiling his top ten favorite X-Men stories ever published.  As someone who has read all the stories he mentions here, I think he’s generally made some very good recommendations for anyone who wants to hit some key parts of the canon that aren’t as famous as the Dark Phoenix Saga (though that one’s a pretty big deal, and might be in his top five).

2. Evan Narcisse posted a really good personal essay about a dream he had relating to his experience as a black nerd.  Also, he mentions multiple writers for Deadpool (the good ones), which I thought was nifty.

Movies

1. I keep telling myself that I’m not going to get my hopes up for X-Men: Days of Future Past, but then they throw out some sleek marketing like the Trask Industries website, and I start to think, “Maybe they’ll do it right this time.”  Everyone may laugh at me when the film falls flat on its face next year.

2. And to go along with that, is there actually a coming filmpocalypse where a bunch of big-budget films are going to flop all right in a row, signaling the end of the summer blockbuster as we know it?  And should this go under movies or end of the world?

3. If you haven’t yet, go see Pacific Rim.  You will not be disappointed.  Also, here’s the film’s trailer with sounds from Godzilla overlaid if you want a more authentic kaiju experience.

Gaming

1. I usually like seeing video game graffiti.  Also, apparently, I’ve only played games mentioned in this article that happen to have really good graffiti.  I am missing out on so much.

Feminism

1. At What’s Left of the Left? Matthew Vickery posted yesterday about his experiences with a highly misogynist MC at a trivia night in a pub local to Glasgow, England (Update: In a fit of poor reporting on my part, I forgot that the UK includes more than just England, and that Glasgow is actually located in the northern part of the island; apologies from an ignorant American who doesn’t know his international geography).  Most recently it sounds like the pub apologized for the incident, but according to Vickery’s report, this is not the first time they’ve had entertainment with this bent.  It’s an appalling thing, and I can’t do anything on my side of the pond other than spread the story.  If you live in that area, please take this information into consideration when you go looking for evening entertainment.

2. At Bodycrimes, we get a post on the hijab and variations thereof as they relate to modesty culture.  The essential point is that no matter what women choose to wear, it won’t stop some men from fetishizing that clothing if they’re of the bent that wants to objectify women.  More succinctly, the problem of sexual harassment belongs with the person doing the gazing, not with the person being gazed at.

3. At Defeating the Dragons, ForgedImagination posts a very personal piece.  I spent a couple hours this morning following her link trails to get all the parts of this story; it’s heartbreaking, but it’s well worth anyone’s time to read.  Check it out.

The End of the World

I might as well just start posting a separate section for this stuff…

1. Rachael has written a fantastically funny drabble about the topic of asteroids on collision courses with Earth.  Read it, love it, pray to God that he’s not going to steal her idea.

2. At 300 Stories we get a short piece about a woman who has an unfortunate trip home from work.  I think it signals the start of the apocalypse, but I could be biased.

3. So, Earth’s eventually going to dry up into a superheated husk, just like Venus.  Fortunately, that apocalypse is a loooooooong way off.  Though the ways we might prevent it down the line are pretty amazing.

4. Negative zip codes: I want to not go there.

Religion

1. Morgan Guyton’s posted his thoughts on the state of the Methodist clergy and the difficulty with asking educated pastors to commit to “bi-vocational ministry.”  As a layperson, this is an issue I wasn’t very familiar with, but it sounds like something that’s really rough.  I can relate to some extent as an educator, except that I have the luxury of a full-time job, even if it is only for ten months out of the year.

2. I just started following the blog of a friend of mine whose insights have consistently impressed me.  Here’s a link to his latest post about his goals for the upcoming academic year.

3. A few days ago I wrote in response to a post by Richard Beck discussing the narrowing of liberal ideology.  Beck posted a follow-up to his observations that explain how he jumped from yuppie organic parents to liberals failing to care about the rest of society, which is quite good.  Also from Beck, a video that discusses wealth inequality in America.  I feel poorer than normal now.

Science

1. Pictures of the Sun!

2. Lab grown meat!  That’s going to be served as hamburger!  Really expensive hamburger!

3. A guy and his family, while on vacation, caught, killed, and ate a rare hexapus.  He was very sorry after he realized what he’d done.  At least they look happy in the picture.

Cover of "Them! (Snap Case)"

Cover of Them! (Snap Case)

4. Bugs would be crazy scary if they weren’t so small.  So naturally, someone decided to take a bunch of high resolution, magnified photos of ants being ants.  I’m just wondering now how long it takes for Hollywood to realize they could really do a bang-up remake of Them!.

5. Until you stop to actually try to contemplate what the shape of the Universe is, you probably just figure it’s some weird amorphous blob.  But without boundaries.  Or something.  Complex maths make my head hurt, but they’re always fun to think about when you have some ibuprofen handy.

6. To complement the shape of the Universe, here’s some thoughts on the concept of infinity.

7. Dropping down to a less cosmic scale, here’s a couple of gifs that show the Earth going through its annual cycle of seasons.  It’s rather hypnotic.

8. Good job, NASA.  Politicians, what are you thinking?

Current Events

1. I thought this was a pretty good article examining some of the problems that the liberal side of the political spectrum have in laying a claim to “family values.”  Towards the end, the writer makes a point that while liberals tend to point toward economic factors for social ills and conservatives tend to point toward cultural ones, the truth is that it’s more likely a mixture of all of the above.

2. So, if you’ve ever wondered what happens when you click on those really shady sidebar ads that claim to hold “one weird trick” for doing something that’s too good to be true, then read this article.  Someone at Slate got editorial approval to find out exactly what, and the results are… not surprising at all.

The Turtle Abuse Must Stop!

1. Seriously, China, I don’t know why you have so many people who mistreat their pet turtles, but just stop it.

Cool Pictures

1. So, there are these mythical plants called mandrakes that resemble little people.  Here’s a bunch of pictures of a radish that looks like a little running person.  Coincidence?  Yeah, probably.

2. So, there are apparently houses all over the world that have really, really thin profiles.  They’re like nail houses, except they don’t stand out.

3. Japan likes to make things in public spaces interesting.  I guess that makes sense.  These mailboxes are definitely interesting.

And that’s it from my little corner of the internet!

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 7/24/13

It’s been a few days since the last one, and the internet waits for no woman (or man; the internet’s quite equal opportunity in its impatience).

Fun Pictures

1. So there are these things called “nail houses.”  Apparently if you’ve ever seen Up then you’ll be familiar with the concept.  A construction company buys up a bunch of land for development, but one person acts as a holdout and refuses to sell.  Nail houses are the last buildings standing in the way of new developments.  And apparently they happen a lot in China.

2. Japan has a thriving hospitality industry that revolves around these places called “love hotels.”  They’re kind of seedy, but at the same time, the interior design that goes into the rooms is phenomenally weird.  Also, apparently the rooms can sometimes be bigger than what you get in a respectable Japanese hotel for a cheaper rate.  You just have to be prepared to hear some strange things going on in your neighbors’ rooms.

Gaming

1. I played Persona 3 and Persona 4 a couple years ago.  They’re wonderful little JRPGs that are set in a near future Japan.  The gameplay’s a combination of dungeon crawling and dating simulation, and they are fantastic.  I have to say, my interest is a little piqued by this trailer for the Persona 3 movie, just because I thought the stories for both games were great, but it can be a major grind playing through about a hundred hours just to relive a good story.  Also, don’t be freaked out by the guns; that’s just how the characters summon their fighting demons (otherwise known as Personas).

2. I mentioned Earthbound in my last link round up, and I’m going to do it again here.  This game is really worth checking out if you’re into JRPGs.  This time I found an interview with the guy who was in charge of localizing the game for American release back in 1995.  It’s really interesting, and he gives you a sense of the quirky sort of humor that you’ll find in the game.

Why Was Anyone Recording This?

1. In Russia, someone with a dashboard camera recorded the explosion of a truck carrying a bunch of what look like propane tanks on the highway.  No one was hurt, which is great.  But I still have to ask, why would you just be recording your commute like that?  Does this stuff happen so often in Russia that people just expect it and have begun keeping ongoing documentation of their mundane lives in the hopes of seeing something extraordinary?  And where can I see those videos?

White Board Science

1. Because I’m a sucker for anything that’s explained with a white board, and because advances in medical knowledge should always be celebrated, here’s a video explaining the hypothesis that’s asserted in a recent research study looking at the possibility of a link between an HIV infected person’s gut microbiome and the progression of HIV towards AIDS.  It’s a very new study, and the researchers even say that it needs to be corroborated, but it may lead to some interesting avenues of treatment for HIV infected patients.

Bill Nye

Bill Nye (Photo credit: eschipul)

2. I know everyone thinks I have an obsession with the end of the world by asteroid, but I swear it’s not the case.  This stuff just always catches my eye is all.  Also, this video features the inimitable Bill Nye talking about laser bees.

Scientific Art

1. So there’s this guy who works with a machine that destabilizes electrons.  In his spare time, he uses this machine to create art.  It looks like lightning bolts caught in plastic.  Check out the link for some examples and an explanation of how it works.

Gross Science

1. If you find highly detailed images of insects disturbing, then you probably shouldn’t watch this video.  A German scientist has spent several years developing technology that allowed him to take extremely high resolution images of bugs and plants with an electron microscope and put those images together in motion video.  The results are really nifty.

Plain Old Science

1. Researchers in Norway accidentally created a material that has an absurdly high rate of adsorption.  Yes, with a d.  This stuff is kind of a big deal.

2. Also, a new kind of bacteria has been discovered that looks like it has very promising applications in regards to fighting off anthrax and MRSA.  Any kind of drug based on the bacteria is still several years away from being developed, but this is a really big deal, as MRSA’s an extremely dangerous infection that likes to proliferate in hospitals.

Religion

1. It’s been a while since I mentioned Richard Beck, so I thought I’d include this just so you guys don’t think I’ve lost interest in his blog.  He posted a very good rumination on the meaning of humility, and pointed out that because of the way a lot of English versions of the Bible translate Philippians 2:3 we tend to misunderstand what sanctified humility looks like.  Go read it; you’ll like it.

2. From Rachel Held Evans (she’s back from vacation; yay!) we get this guest post by Christena Cleveland on privilege and how we might make headway towards giving attention to the experiences of people who don’t share our own.

Current Affairs

1. I already wrote all I’m inclined to write about the Trayvon Martin shooting, so I won’t add anything here, but I did come across this article by William Saletan that I think is a useful guide for proceeding with any more conversations about racism in America.

2. Georgia Tech is piloting an online Master’s program for its computer science degree.  I just wish it were a Bachelor’s, because I would seriously consider going for that in my free time (not because I have any desire to be a programmer; I just like affordable, quality education… and I secretly wish I were a programmer).

Movies

1. Timur Bekmambetov should be best known for his insane film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  That movie features the secret history of America’s 16th president as he fought to end slavery because it was secretly a huge cattle market for the vampires who owned all the southern plantations.  The guy who directed that is going to be producing an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz that promises to be more insane than Sharknado.

2. From DrFrood at Froodian Pseudoanalysis, a treatment of Man of Steel 2 that explains exactly why Superman and Batman are going to be fighting.

People are Awesome

1. In Japan, a bunch of commuters combined their strength to tip a railway car enough that a woman who was trapped under the car could escape.

Feminism

1. Via John Scalzi, a nifty anthem for women everywhere who don’t need to present their nerd bona fides all the time.

2. From Bodycrimes, an interesting piece reflecting on the financial cost of going through weight loss and gain.

3. Forgedimagination over at Defeating the Dragons has an ongoing series where she’s reading through a book called Fascinating Womanhood and critiquing the ideology of the writer.  In this post she breaks down why it’s insulting to suggest that women must put their men first in all situations because men are fragile creatures who can’t handle not being the center of attention.

Comics

1. So Comic Con was last week in San Diego.  Lots of cool stuff was going on, but I came across this video and it entertained me because it features a Deadpool cosplayer doing what Deadpool does best when he’s not being an offensive manchild.  Also, the costumes on display in the video are really good.  It’s fun to see people enjoying their hobbies in what looks like a very warm community.

2. And also from Comic Con, a fun video showing off some people showing off their cosplay.  Though I’m not really into the cosplay thing, I do appreciate seeing people who put so much care into their hobby.  Also, seeing folks in motion in their costumes really brings out the amount of care they put into it.  I haven’t been to a con in several years, but cosplay watching is always a fun activity.

Fiction

1. From a blog I recently started following, here’s a flash fiction about (wait for it) the end of the world.  Hey, at least it’s not an asteroid!

And that’s it from my little corner of the internet.