Friday, October 29, 2010

Superman: Red Son


What the... oh, that was awesome! This is what I thought upon reading this comic book. Superman: Red Son is perhaps one of the more preposterous and insane comics I've ever read, maintaining a perfect balance between humor and thoughtfulness. Basically, the comic book is based on a "What if?" scenario: what if Superman had landed in Soviet Russia and grown up in a Communist society. The result is both epic and hilarious, and I can definitely say that this story was a classic.
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Shenanigans in the Fatherland

Superman: Red Son is like a man who talks seriously about social dynamics while backflipping into a kiddie pool. Somehow, this story manages to provide an interesting and fairly rational viewpoint on what the effects of growing up with Communism would have had for Superman while simultaneously poking fun at the entire concept. The art of the comic is a perfect representation of this; there is a distinct cartoony feel that is both endearing and effectively illustrates the many different reactions of the characters to the oddball events. Batman's costume, for example, is impossible to take seriously. The Cossack-style hat just... isn't Batman, but it is there. And all you can do is stare at it in disbelief.

I find myself smiling as I write this because the experience of reading the book was akin to watching a really good movie intended for kids that touches on a number of adult themes. It felt intended for kids, in a way, because much of what happens happens in a Golden Age style. For those not familiar with this term, the Golden Age of Comics is the time period where superheroes first began; an era where they said, "Great Scott!", fought mutant gorillas, and villains stole cupcakes from babies. Superman: Red Son radiates this sort of feeling, yet somehow also manages to be intellectually interesting at the same time. I don't know how it pulled it off, but the effect is simply marvelous to behold.

What is more is that this isn't a story just about Superman. It encompasses the entire DC universe, so you get to see how figures such as Lex Luthor, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and more would have reacted to such a bizarre change in world events. Batman's parents are shot in the Soviet Union instead of America, so he actually becomes an antagonist with regard to opposing Superman's notions of order. Lex Luthor becomes the mastermind of America's attempts to level the playing field; he essentially is paid by the government to find out how to defeat Superman. Wonder Woman serves as a powerful diplomat for her Amazonian people, and serves as a neutral party that sways from side to side as events unfold. As one can tell from this description, the 'what if' world of Superman: Red Son is fully fleshed out and, for the most part, makes sense and is interesting to watch.
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Pride of the Soviet State

One thing that particularly interested me was the fact that Superman: Red Son addresses an intriguing possibility that I had yet to see addressed in any other comic. Essentially, it raises the question of, "What if Superman decided to rule the world?" In this comic, Superman, in short order, replaces Stalin as the leader of the Soviet state, and this expands to other members of the Warsaw Pact as well. He does this for reasons of morality; he thinks that he should use his powers to help people live happier. The end result is a grand utopia, but one that naturally comes with a number of systemic flaws.

One example is as follows. Superman decides that, to best save and defend people, he must respond to every single accident or threat as it happens. As a result, his conversations with people rarely last for more than a few minutes, and he is constantly busy zipping around the world solving problems. Part of what contributes to this is the fact that I've never seen Superman stronger; when Stalin is poisoned, Superman reads dozens of books on medicine, diagnoses the poison in question, and assigns a medical team to solve the problem; all of this in the span of a couple seconds. Similarly, when the first threat from America arises, he learns the English language en route to the trouble area; a trip of maybe fifteen seconds. But the consequence of this snappy, perpetual problem solving is that Superman becomes detached from humanity in a way similar to Dr. Manhattan of Watchmen, but not quite as extreme. This, in the end, contributes to one of the morals of the story; that Superman is not supposed to rule over the planet, and that he couldn't do it successfully even if he tried.
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Conclusion

All in all, I ended up really liking Superman: Red Son. I was completely mystified and cautious at first; seeing this crazy stuff happen induced some early wariness. But it grew on me fast, and I really ended up liking the art style, writing approaches, and different characterizations of these comic book figures in a Soviet dominated world.

I'd say my only caveat is that, on occasion, the Golden Age slapstick madness got a bit out of hand and was used to the point where it managed to go beyond my suspension of disbelief. But, as a whole, it turned out rather charming, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Superman: Red Son is alternately freaking awesome, goofy as all hell, and thought-provoking. And that is one heck of a blend!

9/10

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lex Luthor: Man of Steel


Lex Luthor: Man of Steel is a short comic book miniseries about the perspective of Lex Luthor, Superman's arch-enemy. It isn't often that you see spin-offs of popular stories that feature the point of view of the villain, but this is one of those.

For those not in the know, what makes Lex Luthor Superman's arch-enemy is the fact that he is a very powerful man; he is wealthy, influential, and incredibly intelligent. But, as he painfully realizes, he is just a man whereas Superman is something more. Lex Luthor's aspiration to be the leader of the world is one that is constantly rendered unimportant, merely by Superman's existence. For Lex Luthor can't really compete with the mythical figure of Superman; people place their hopes and dreams in Superman precisely because he is more than human. This struggle with what Lex Luthor wants to be versus what he can actually accomplish is one that defines his character, and this inner conflict is what causes him to hate Superman so passionately.
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The Defender of Humanity
"I can't beat you alone. But then, I'm not alone. There are six and a half billion of me... And only one of you."

Lex Luthor: Man of Steel goes into Luthor's perspective in immense detail. We see his efforts to serve humanity in a way that undercuts Superman. We hear Luthor's justifications for opposing him. And, most of all, we watch as Luthor's obsession becomes one that undermines his own lofty goals. This perception of Superman is one that manifests in the very art of the comic itself. Superman is powerful, disturbing, godlike, and inhuman. His eyes, when not glowing with a sinister scarlet flame, are shadowed and hidden from view. It is clear that this is what Luthor sees, not someone trying to do his best to serve humanity and its ideals but an alien usurper arbitrarily doing whatever he pleases. Luthor knows that he can't defeat Superman physically, so he tries to do so intellectually; Luthor tries to free the hearts and minds of humanity from a slavish devotion to a man who is not a man.

Luthor is a staunch believer in humanity's potential for growth and excellence. Many times throughout the comic, he muses upon why Superman's existence challenges this state of being. He explains to us how, with someone like Superman around, people grow complacent. Men and women look to Superman as a savior, a shield against danger and despair. But Luthor points out that this causes people to become content with this status quo; people believe that this is the pinnacle of human achievement, and they don't bother to progress beyond this point. Essentially, Luthor views Superman as a perpetually active safety net for humanity, one that makes people stop trying so hard and one that won't necessarily be around forever.

On top of this, Luthor is constantly aware of the fact that there is no way to control or trust Superman. If Superman were to decide that the best way to save people is to rule over them, then there would be no way to prevent him from doing so. Superman is one of the most powerful entities probably to ever exist in comics, and it is a rational concern that he could possibly snap and potentially destroy the world. Of course, everyone knows that Superman would never do that, but that is a belief based on trust and societal expectation. Luthor looks past this and sees an all-powerful alien being that could endanger everyone. Thus, to his eyes, he is the only sane man trying to stop a potential armaggedon. This is a belief that is based on a rational possibility, but it is one that can become incredibly self-centered. And this echoes itself in Luthor's personality.
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When you gaze into the Abyss...
"Superman is a name that we gave him, an attempt to humanize him – as pointless as naming a hurricane."

Part of what makes Lex Luthor: Man of Steel so interesting is Luthor's plans against Superman. Luthor plays a delicate and careful game, putting separate threads into motion to achieve his particular goal. He is a chessmaster, a manipulative genius. And, though he is always perceived as the villain, this is his story. You feel for him and you want him to succeed up until the very end. The problem here is that Luthor's obsessive goal in opposing Superman causes him to sacrifice every other principle and everything he cares for. It is both weirdly admirable and immensely disturbing that he goes so far. To put so much faith and willpower into any goal without compromise is interesting to watch, but it is a determination akin to blowing one's self up to send a political message; Luthor's story is one that draws you to him yet pushes you back.

The point here is that, as one would expect, Luthor goes as far as it takes to accomplish his goal. This includes using his immense wealth for blackmail, assassinations, you name it. But what is truly tragic is that, in the comic book, he totally annihilates his own personal relationships to do it. It is a process of self-destruction that is almost a lesson in the extremes of psychology and how it affects mankind. Needless to say, this book is a psychoanalysis of Lex Luthor and also a judgment on Superman himself, and it is good.
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Conclusion
"You would see a man who willingly denied himself happiness. Who chose to give up hope. For a world without a Superman."

While on the whole it was excellent, the comic book wasn't without its flaws. Some of Luthor's actions don't quite make sense and this serves to make the final execution of his master gambit a trifle hard to follow. I couldn't tell if it was a personal failing or a simple writing issue, but it impacted a pretty decent chunk of the story. Another thing is that the artistry jumps sharply in quality, up and down. Sometimes it looks beyond epic, and sometimes it looks like something the artist shat out under a deadline. Also, I found myself wishing it was longer; for a comic book miniseries it is pretty damn short. But I don't really consider that a failing. If anything, it is probably a compliment to the author's ability to sharply grasp my attention.

All in all, this was a memorable story that will stick with me as an intriguing character piece on one of the more interesting villains in comic book history.

8/10

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court

I really struggled with making this review approachable, so I apologize if it is still too intricate.

The Supreme Court has always been a theoretically interesting institution. Serving as the hand of American law and acting as one of the many checks and balances upon United States policy, the Supreme Court always feels distant, timeless, and wise. One pictures a high court of nine old men and women draped in the robes of office. One imagines the scales of Lady Justice along with the marble pillars before the court's hallowed halls. When it occurred to me how little I knew about the Supreme Court, I decided to do what I could to learn of it. Thus did my goal lead me to this book, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin.
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Two Decades of Judicial Upheaval

The book focuses primarily on the court's recent history. The past twenty years, to be precise. In this time period, we see faces change and disappear but, for the most part, the court retains the same group of justices for a record period of time. In reading this book, I discovered how politicized and, occasionally, polarized the justices can be, along with the immense influence presidents can wield in assigning a justice to the court. I learned how justices do their best to wait for a president they approve of before retiring, so as to be replaced by new justices who have similar beliefs, ideologies, and legal philosophies. In short, I pierced the mystique of the court, and was saddened by the truth. But I will touch on this later.

As a book, the flow occasionally becomes disjointed and can jump around wildly. Jeffrey Toobin's writing approach involves detailing one case after another. Tangents pop up constantly; he deviates into talking about each separate/new justice from time to time. He also likes mentioning, in detail, habits and nuances of the court, how justices are appointed, how their clerks work and interact, their lives outside of the court, etc. The result is a page-turner, but one that is sometimes hard to follow. I managed to attain an impressive knowledge of how the court works and who is in it, but the journey to get to this point had many twists and turns. At times, I wished that this book had more of a chronological order to it; the author tends to bring in stories and events that have some relevance to the overall timeline, but does so in a manner that can cause confusion.

One thing that is especially important to note about this book is the clear agenda of the author in writing it. The goal of the book is to highlight the influence of a far-reaching conservative agenda on judicial appointments. Essentially, the author explains how conservative movements and presidents have done their best to stack the Supreme Court in their favor so as to overturn gun controls, the right to abortions, immigration, separation of church and state, and others. At first, I was worried that this argument of the author's would dominate the book, lead to cherry-picking of facts, and render the book a useless propaganda piece. But, thankfully, this was avoided. The facts and cases showed flaws and extremes in both sides. And the argument was largely confined to the introduction and conclusion of the book, leaving the middle to illustrate an unbiased history of the past twenty years of the Supreme Court.
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The Loss of Stare Decisis

However, I did not quite agree with the author's point of view. The author wants me to believe that the conservatives are basically taking over the Supreme Court. To a certain extent, this is true; recent years have shown us that judicial decisions have taken on an increasingly conservative bent. But this is not unusual for the court. From the 1940s to the 1990s, the court was predominantly liberal in composition, and this worked out just fine. Civil rights were granted and defended. Cases were decided by precedent of law and rational argument. Politics, for the most part, stayed out of it, and the Supreme Court functioned brilliantly.

But, more recently, this has changed substantially. The key problem here, to my eyes, is that the justices more and more have been making their decisions without consideration for stare decisis, precedents created in law by the cases decided in the past. For example, Brown v. Board of Education establishes the precedent that racial segregation is inadmissible and unconstitutional. The recent case of Grutter v. Bollinger decided that affirmative action in universities was unconstitutional. Essentially, this decision created a bizarre paradox; universities can't segregate, yet they are not allowed to permit student selections based on race (the result is, sadly, universities that can become overwhelmingly white because of scores being higher on average among white applicants). This is but one example. Precedents are considered less important or binding now, even though the existence of precedents effectively defines the rule of law for the land.

Another problem is that justices are being appointed (particularly conservative judges) based on their strict adherence to ideology instead of devotion to the law. This leads to the indifference to stare decisis and polarizes the courts toward extremes. Prime among these is Clarence Thomas, a justice who believes explicity in conservative originalism, taking the Constitution literally instead of recognizing its status as a document created to last the ages and to adapt over time to fit the present. Time and time again, Thomas' views seemed destructive to the rational rule of law. An example comes to mind where he supported torture, saying that the Bush adminstration should be allowed to torture even more painfully and explicitly. He says in his brief (Baze v. Rees) that, in the late 1700s (the time of the Constitution) that anything short of being, "Hanged by the necks, not till you are dead; that you be severally taken down, while yet alive, and your bowels be taken out and burnt before your faces – that your head be then cut off, and your bodies cut in four quaters", should be permissible (the quote involves the penalty for treason in eighteenth-century England). This is clearly a belief not supported by the Constitution, yet it is still one that Thomas believes and voted on in an effort to decide laws that are held over us all.
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Conclusion

Basically, what disturbed me most about this book was learning of this recent disregard for stare decisis and the fact that the justices are becoming more politicized; they are affected by political trends and impressions far more than they have been in the past, losing their status as the branch that is the aloof, ethical heart of the government. They are becoming more conservative, it is true, but this is not without precedent. The issue is that presidents (I'm pointing at you in particular, Bush Jr.) have become far more interested in finding justices who believe wholeheartedly in their party instead of the rules of law, only appointing those who match up to beliefs on every level and who will be trusted to stick to them. This creates a Supreme Court that decides cases based more on personal opinion and ideology instead of legal precedents and judicial trends.

This book is definitely worth reading, and I fear that my description of it has been more intricate than I had hoped to make it. Dealing with the technicalities of law has that effect, and these precise points are similarly the language of the book itself.

One final note, though, would be that this book will make you energized and, occasionally, outraged. It can't be helped. The book delves into all the immensely polarizing and upsetting cases of the past two decades. Its effect, after all, caused me to write two preceding posts about gay marriage and evolution versus religion. What can I say? This book can get you pumped and it is a worthy and compelling read.

8.5/10

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dungeon Fighter Online


Dungeon Fighter Online is a free Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMO) that surprised me. I went into it with extremely low expectations; one of my friends effectively pressured me into it. I looked at it and I saw a snapshot of much of what I disliked about Japanese society manifested in a video game; scantily clad young girls fight in this game alongside incredibly emo-looking young men with predictably blinding white hair. I saw the gameplay and thought it looked boringly simple; it serves as a fighting side-scroller akin to what one would often see in the murky arcades of a decade ago. Basically, I went into it kicking and screaming although, until this moment, my friend doesn't even know I was so resistant to the idea of playing this game.

But, hey. I actually turned out liking it.
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The Magnificent Melee

Imagine, if you can, the game you played as a child. Imagine those games where you took control of incredibly buff men alongside lithe and dangerous kung fu fighters. Do you remember taking them through endless screens of rampant and violent combat? Do you remember sliding in those quarters as fast as you can, just so you could beat that accursed boss?

Dungeon Fighter Online takes this genre, long since past its prime, and perfects it into gloriousness. Not satisfied with this alone, it takes the game online where you can venture into dungeons with the entire rest of the world. Not yet finished, it taps into the richly detailed and completely preposterous artsiness of Japanese anime. Short teenage girls wield magical staves that spew pillars of fire and summon bizarrely cute demons from the ether. Skinny brooding men with light hair leap into the air and spray bullets in every direction, pausing every so often to pose stylistically. It looks like it comes straight out of a John Woo movie. You throw yourself into the fray; monsters of all shapes and sizes are hurled away from you in all directions. You walk, run, and fight through swamps, mountains, and cavernous depths. Striding through town, you feel half drag queen, half ultimate badass of the world.

Basically, Dungeon Fighter Online throws so much madness at you that you can't help but like it. It takes a grand refuge in audacity; when you see a priest beat a monster to paste with a massive, two-handed cross, you can't help laughing at the sight. The plot is threadbare, the character interaction near nonexistent. But you don't care. Instead, you gleefully and manfully charge into a two-story tall minotaur and suplex it into the next galaxy, scramble greedily for the loot, and scamper off into the next area with addictive haste.
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Skills and Flourishes

The gameplay of Dungeon Fighter Online is as simple as it is addicting. Beating the tar out of your resident unmentionables gives you experience, gaining a level allots skill points, and skill points can be assigned to a number of different moves and skillsets that vary widely from class to class and subclass to subclass. You get your quests from the main town, from all manner of bizarre creatures and people. These quests involve maintaining a certain amount of style points (not kidding), mastering techniques, clearing areas, and (the funniest) beating a certain zone within a certain amount of time. The timed missions, instead of being stressful and frustrating, for me embodied the spirit of the game. Under a time limit, you charge into the fray without reservations; in this chaos you really see the madcap combat play out, and you see your practiced skills shine gloriously.

This brings me to my next point. This is the most free and most casual MMO I have yet to encounter. It costs nothing to install it and play it. If there are microtransactions somewhere, I have yet to notice them or see them as integral to the game. The missions are also fast (3-10min long), wildy addicting, and with multiple variations and iterations to each separate zone (harder modes, more advanced enemies, etc). Creating a group, particularly with friends, to go out and kill enemies is very easy and very fast. The population of the game seems immense from what I have seen and, although each combat area is instanced and only available to those in the group, the game still somehow feels populated and active. The speediness of the missions means you don't spend very long away from people anyways, and there is no travel time involved. Endlessly varied items and drops reminiscent of Diablo II also keep you coming back for more.
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Conclusion

Dungeon Fighter Online comes highly recommended, although only if you are okay with the genre (side-scrolling beat-em-up) and artistic direction of the game (Japanese anime-esque). If not, then you might consider trying it anyways; I was highly skeptical of the lasting appeal of both concerns, yet I turned out liking it regardless.

My only caveats so far are that, based on my time so far, there is only one town and central gathering place for the players. This explains why it feels so populated, but also feels confined. Part of the appeal of an MMO is the opportunity to explore a vast and diverse world. One does this through the different combat missions, but it doesn't feel quite right that there is only one town within which you can see denizens of the world and walk amongst them. Also, the gameplay is fast and casual, but it gets old if you play it for too long at one time. Breaks between sessions is good because it allows one to think of new things to do in the combat gameplay.

To be fair, though, this game is free AND it is excellent. Most 'free' games have some sort of monetary hurdle you must overcome to truly make it work. Guild Wars you had to purchase in lump sum up front before you can enjoy the lack of a monthly fee. Lord of the Rings Online is only free up until around level 25. By contrast, at least as far as I have played it so far, Dungeon Fighter Online is absolutely free and makes little effort to trip you up with things that you have to/should buy to move onward. A great game, and one I'll be playing from time to time without any feeling that I have to play it in order to justify its presence on my computer. As it should be.

8.5/10

Monday, October 25, 2010

An Amateur Legal Perspective on Gay Marriage


I've been reading a book lately called The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. Within it is a history of the past twenty years of the Supreme Court, the personalities and approaches of its justices, and a play-by-play of every major decision the court has made in that time period. Upon reading it, I've been seeing legal perspectives, precedents and cases on dozens of different judicial decisions, and through it (and classes taken in college) I've been reminded of the laws of the country, and how they can be applied to issues today.

And then it occurred to me. According to what I've read, it looks to me that the act of gay marriage should be legally protected by our constitution. But I don't want to provoke or offend anyone. Consequently, I am writing this because the laws of the United States and the Constitution seem to indicate an inoffensive road to take that should be followed if only in respect for the laws of the land. The question is not whether you think it is right or not, but whether there is legal standing for it to exist. In this post, I plan to expand on this and explain how it is this is the case. And to see if my cooked-up amateur legal rationale actually makes sense.

Separation of Church and State

The traditional purpose for marriage (within America) has always been to officially unite a man and woman under God. This perception has applied within Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, etc. For centuries, this has been the case and has been formally recognized by the state as a valid union that is given legal benefits. One primary reason gay marriage has met such opposition is this tradition of marriage being between a man and a woman, as per religious writings and opinion.

However, the legal fact of the matter is that denying the same privilege and same legal benefits to a man+man or woman+woman creates a breach in the separation of church and state. As the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." By rendering benefits to the majority of religious unions versus the minority of those who want to marry on a homosexual basis, the United States is committing religious favoritism which is unconstitutional. Being picky over the moniker of "marriage" also looks unconstitutional on this basis as there is nothing in the Constitution suggesting that religious practices or ceremonies cannot be utilized uniquely for secular purposes.

Equal Protection Clause

The Equal Protection Clause is the part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution which states that, "No state shall... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." During the Civil Rights cases, this was also refined to focus on what is called the State Action Doctrine, which limits the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause only to acts done or sanctioned by the state. Under this clause and this doctrine, restricting gay marriage is unconstitutional as marriage is sanctioned and supported by the state, along with the legal benefits that are entailed.

The essence of this is that homosexuals are being discriminated against and their equal protection status is not being met. Consequently, maintaining this state of affairs is unconstitutional and should be addressed from a legal standpoint.

Right to Privacy

While, on the surface, citing this right seems more of a stretch than the other arguments, the truth is that it is just as valid as the others. The current trend is in allowing homosexuals to obtain 'civil unions', but not to allow marriage. It is arguable that segregating the two not only pokes the bees' nest of civil rights, but also attaches a social judgment that affects the lives of those homosexuals who do chose to utilize the civil union route. The result is enforced state stigmatization, or creating an environment where the family lives of homosexual couples are repeatedly interrupted and hindered. The fact of the matter is that being in a civil union raises far more questions than being married does; this can be seen in filling out legal paperwork, buying a house, adopted children going to school, etc. This stigmatized/complicated lifestyle is caused solely by government and state law, creating an impugned right to privacy that should not be maintained.

Conclusion

From my reading and research it seems clear that gay marriage should be as permissible as traditional marriage from a legal standpoint, if nothing else. But the fact of the matter is that traditional habits and religious opinions have stopped this from happening on a federally enforced level. What is odd is that, when approached in Supreme Court cases over the years, opposition to such a legalization has been based on opinion alone, in spite of legal precedents making it a necessity. Thus it seems that many of the justices who have been appointed to maintain the law of the land are, in fact, ignoring legal evidence in favor of their own personal and religious opinions.

And this is part of what has made my book about the Supreme Court so interesting to read. Most justices on the court make their judgments based on established law and legal precedents, but there are still some that gum up the process by making judgments based simply on their own opinions. This is not what they are appointed to do, so it makes me curious as to how they get away with it. I will have to look into what serves as checks and balances to the Supreme Court later.

But, for the present, the laws appear to be overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing gay marriage. I would be curious if anyone disagrees as to this assessment.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thoughts on Evolution and Religion


Recently I have participated in a number of discussions/arguments over religion, evolution, and the idea of God. Because I feel like it, I've decided to construct my thoughts on these matters in this blog post, recreating the argument from my perspective in order to try and assess holes in my own point of view on religion and life along with possibly encouraging discussion on the matter for a wider audience.
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Adaptation and Evolution

As most people know, evolution is a concept indicating that humans arose from lesser animal species over a process of hundreds of thousands of years. The key to this idea is adaptation. If you stick a human in a cave for a dozen years and then let him out, he will be visibly ill and hurt by the light of the sun; his body has changed to adapt to dark cavern conditions. Similarly, humans today are, on average, physically weaker than people who lived in ancient Rome or the Middle Ages. We no longer need to hunt or farm for food. We also don't have to walk or ride horses over vast distances; transportation no longer requires physical effort. These are examples of human adaptation, changes in our bodies over time to fit in and survive or regress when the changes are no longer needed. Evolution is merely adaptation over a much longer and greater scale.

For evolution is the concept that we are the grand result of our very distant ancestors. Essentially, it is the idea that we, originally, all came from single-celled organisms that evolved over time into fish and then into amphibians and then into bipeds, etc. While my examples may not be entirely accurate there, the core concept remains; that we are products of evolutionary changes on lesser, other species.

But this does not mean that evolution does not have holes to its logic. After all, even if all else is true, where did the single-celled organisms come from that we are shaped from? Perhaps they were created by God. Perhaps they were brought into being by some sort of Big Bang. Or maybe they were created by a pantheon of all-powerful entities whom we cannot comprehend.
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Religion and God

When I've entered into discussions about religion, those who are religious bring up a number of reasons behind why they believe in God, Jesus, Allah, etc. They state that the universe is full of things that are marvelous that we cannot comprehend. By simple virtue of the fact that we don't know why we are here or how we came into being in the first place, many of those whom I argued with believed that this was proof of God's existence. But I am dubious.

The reason I talked about evolution was because, out of all the explanations of how we got here, it makes the most rational sense. That is not to say it doesn't have a couple glaring holes, but I find it a good framework explanation for most questions on human origins. And I don't believe that evolution and the Big Bang theory are the explanation for everything; there are too many complicating factors for that; the concepts are not bulletproof facts. But they are a start, and it is from this foundation that I question others' beliefs in God.

This is not because I like to be a nosy prick, but because I seek a rational explanation for why people believe in him (and because it is fun to talk about). If it becomes logical to believe that God exists, then that will be that. If I hear evidence of him, then I will be converted. But the fact, for me, remains that there is too much uncertainty.
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The Space Hippo Theory

The problem that arises in these discussions is the fact that religious people have this unwavering faith in something specific that there is no proof behind. I concede that there is much that cannot be explained and that it is entirely likely that something greater than ourselves created the universe. Things are too complex and too multifaceted for there to be another reason. What keeps me agnostic is the fact that there is no specific indicator showing that it is the Christian God that created this universe. There is nothing to make the Big Bang theory any more or less valid than the idea of Zeus and the Greek pantheon having created humans as divine playthings. Odin and Thor could be out there participating in drinking challenges that drain distant planetary oceans. Perhaps we are experiencing global warming because an all-powerful immortal space hippo farted in our general direction; there are endless possibilities behind what created the universe, be it mundane or not.

And this is why I try to understand those who believe in God and try to assess why. Why is it that they choose to put all their belief into this God instead of another? What makes the Christian God any more valid or believable than the Big Bang Theory? Why can't they see the possibility of gassy space hippoes?
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Conclusion

Consequently, whenever someone says they believe absolutely in God just because they know it to be true, I worry a little. While I understand that belief in something greater than yourself induces a modicum of psychological comfort, I find it to be almost self-delusional to put that belief into something that, in all probability and given the infinite possibilities, does not exist. Citing the Bible or Q'uran or Torah as divine evidence does not work because it is just as likely that those were written by smart, well-meaning men and women who wanted to write a grand book that provided fictional stories on how to live life with purpose and morality. Because that possibility exists, complete belief in it is irrational.

But I do understand why people believe in these things, and I have no intention or desire to press my own beliefs on others. I merely seek to raise the question of why do you believe it? Is there any truth in that belief that I can learn from? Or, maybe, are you placing faith into something completely imaginary? Who knows? And that is why I can't believe in it. For now, I will look to evolution as a rational, if incomplete, explanation of my existence. Perhaps in time I will find someone or something that can convince me different.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Predators

Written by Joe the Revelator



Handshake-Arm-Wrestling and Cigar Stubbs:

Leading man Adrien Brody has covered a significant range in recent months; from humping alien creatures (see; Splice) to shooting them with an automatic shotgun. And his usual unassuming demeanor and quietly charming drawl have been transformed into that of a steely-eyed glass-gargling mercenary who would rather shave with a C-4 bomb than use a woman’s razor.

‘Predators’ takes us to a jungle planet where a game preserve has been established by the invisible killer aliens. They periodically import captured murderers and war veterans from around the world to pit them against intergalactic wolves and rampaging ficus plants, and to hunt down the survivors with the classic Predator arsenal; spears, lasers, knives, and fishnet body stockings.



Characters:

Not all of the humans are battle-hardened soldiers either. The predator’s only discrimination in homo-sapien homicidals is a high kill count. Freedom fighters, yakuza, mercs, gang enforcers, and thugs all grace the surface of the bloody jungle planet. Even a prison shiv artist and a serial killer make the grade, as well as a guest appearance by a schizophrenic recon soldier turned scavenger, played by Lawrence Fishburne. If a graphic novel emerges out of this installment of the franchise, as Dark Horse is wont to do, I expect to see a drunkard with an outstanding manslaughter record dropped onto the planet with a pickup truck and a case of Pabst.

The CGI graphics and scenery are outstanding, especially for a production that could have gotten away with so much less by using stock jungle scenery and effects. And the pace of the movie follows the same metronome as the first Predator. The buildup, conflicts, discovery, and final fight are so similar to the original in fact, that they reference Arnold’s epic struggle versus his own crab-face menace in a dialogue between the characters. Instead of detracting from the story this actually helps to enhance it, like holding up an old familiar blueprint and declaring loudly that you can do better.



After The Explosions:

When all is said and done and dead, Predators stands up as one of those movies that almost any guy can get behind. Things get ripped apart by miniguns, blown apart in fiery blasts, spiked, staked, and stabbed repeatedly. In my humble opinion Predators is what Predator 2 should have been, if only Hollywood hadn’t been obsessed with two things during that era of horror film; bringing terrifying monsters from the isolated wilderness to the inner city (Predator 2, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan) and Gary Busey.

The Pros and Cons of Merit Pay for Teachers


Another interesting education issue of our times is the argument over whether to change the pay of teachers in America's public schools. Our current system is one that gives teachers a steady increase of pay as they work longer. Essentially, this means that pay is based on seniority, where the teachers being paid the most are the ones who have worked as a teacher the longest.

The issue before us is whether to switch to a method of pay by merit. This would mean that, instead of receiving a flat pay rate no matter how hard you work, teachers would be paid based on their achievements in the classroom; extra pay would be allotted for raising a class's test scores, achieving impeccable attendance records, or working above and beyond the call of duty in staying after school to help children with tutorials or clubs.
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The Argument for Merit Pay

The rationale behind the change is that paying teachers what they have earned through hard work pushes teachers in two beneficial directions. It encourages teachers to work beyond the mininum in an effort to improve the learning of the students and it would help make the job more professional. In most lines of work, increased pay is given to those who put in exemplary work; this can be seen through bonuses and salary increases. But, with teachers, pulling 60+ hour weeks earns one nothing beyond the norm. This is not to say that money is required to motivate teachers to work hard, but it certainly helps to contribute to a better work ethic. With teacher pay as it is currently, teachers often have problems making ends meet; they often have to help pay for school supplies for their students out of their own pockets and their limited pay can create stress that can manifest itself in front of students. This results in many skilled teachers leaving the profession in search of less hassle and more monetary potential. Merit pay would help alleviate these problems.

Merit pay also serves to target one particular problem within the current system; the problem of the indifferent, sloppy, or uncaring teachers. With our system of seniority pay, terrible teachers are not financially affected by giving the bare mininum. An old teacher who has given up on trying gets paid more than a younger teacher who works their butt off and creates the best grades in the school. Similarly, with two teachers of equal pay, one can skate by with doing nothing beyond what is expected of them and still gets paid as much as the caring, positive teacher working twice as hard. Merit pay would turn this problem on its head as more attention would be paid to a class's grades, a teacher's work time, and the instructor's achievements. This would call attention to those who choose not to work that hard and they would, as a result, have to actually step up and do their jobs. Or endure low pay and the risk of termination.
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The Argument against Merit Pay

The main problem with merit pay is the question of how does one measure merit? What may be above average scores for one school may be mediocre scores for another. How does one make a universal merit pay system that can compensate for the social and economic differences between schools? If a merit pay system based on test scores were based on attaining higher or lower scores than the national average, then it creates a system where teachers who work at highly successful schools make bank and teachers who work with struggling schools get shafted. In both of those scenarios, what affects the scores are geographical, societal, and economic issues beyond a teacher's control.

This brings up another problem with merit pay. Basing it on test scores and grades alone ignores a host of factors that are out of the teacher's hands. If Calvin had a sleepless night because of loud neighbors or fighting parents, this will negatively affect his test score in a way that can't be affected by teacher effort. If Susie has a habit of acing worksheets and discussions but freezing up with the taking of tests, this would affect the teacher's merit pay even though Susie excels at everything else. If Hobbes skips class as a result of a horrible family life that has failed to engender an appreciation of schooling, would his absence be regarded as the teacher's failing? The sheer number of factors that can affect a student's attendance, grades, or test scores are mind boggling. And, somehow, merit pay would need to compensate for all of these factors to establish a system that does not punish or fail to reward teachers who are affected by concerns that they have no influence over.

Lastly, paying teachers based on merit would create an atmosphere of competition that would likely inhibit teamwork and cooperative solutions. Given that merit pay would naturally have limits that would give each school a contained pool of money to assign to teacher salaries, helping the new teacher next door with setting up the classroom merely speeds the process within which s/he would be affecting the money you get from your own work. Assisting a teacher with an after-school event of her making would arguably call attention to her success (and merit), which would raise her salary in a way likely to take away from your own. Basically, teachers would be finanically rewarded for undermining their colleagues, making themselves look brilliant, and making absurdly easy tests if they can get away with it.
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Conclusion

After this appraisal, it seems evident to me that merit pay for teachers is something that is theoretically excellent but practically impossible. But there is no question that the pay system needs some sort of change. Teacher's pay is minimal compared to other professions, the system has no protection against those who refuse to try, and gives no encouragement or recognition to those who work hard at education our next generation of workers.

While I am no expert, it seems that a rational way to address the problem would be to do three things. Give all teachers a blanket raise on the current seniority system so that the difficult work of being a teacher is recognized (and is more on the pay level of other professions). Allot a pool of money for bonuses that can be given to those who go above and beyond the call of duty. Create a group of administrators in each school whose job it is to look into each of the teachers on a monthly or semester basis so as to provide transparency, recognize excellence, monitor growth, and warn those who fail to make effort.

With this hypothetical system, the pay level of teachers would match those of other professions, reducing the brain drain where talented teachers move on to other jobs as they feel like their effort is not appreciated and does not match their pay. Bonuses would be given to those who work hard for the money, calling attention to those who need improvement. And the group of administrators would draw up a scoring system for each individual school that would affect the pay for the teachers in that particular school, avoiding the problem of a universal merit pay system. They would also put extra scrutiny upon teachers, making it so they have to earn this pay increase that they would be getting. And cooperation among teachers would continue unaffected, as these administrators would be in place to stop abuse of the system and greater pay would still be given to those who have worked the longest; a system that would be much fairer given the greater transparency.

Thoughts?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dragon Age: Origins


I tried to like Dragon Age: Origins. I really did. Hailed as Baldur's Gate II's spiritual successor, Dragon Age: Origins is a role-playing game that prides itself on being gritty, dark, and bloody. But it is a design choice that served only to alienate me over time, sadly derailing my interest in this new, complex, and vivid fantasy world.
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The Bloodbath

In an inexplicable effort to make a game that would gain the attentions of both RPG lovers and dirty frat boys, Bioware worked on creating what would become this behemoth. Unlike most of their games, they decided to emphasize the blood, sex, and violence above all. But, at the same time, they devoted their customary care toward making a living, breathing world with detailed complexity, along with similar themes carried over from every Bioware game.

The result is confused. Throughout the game, it is clear that the world is dark and gory. After battle, your character always looks like he strolled through a bloody butcher's shop. Every quest you go on involves trying to end some atrocity and often creating a situation just as shitty. Enemies are as grotesque as they are brutal, and you consequently have every interest in putting them down. Long story short, this game creates an immense crapsack world and has you interact with it in ways that make you wonder if you should have even bothered in the first place.

On the bright side, though, some of this design decision results in compelling moral choices that actually have consequences. In video games, it is often rare to see what happens after you complete a quest; what happens after I place that person on a throne or save that guy from death? But Dragon Age has a number of quests that do make you stop and think, "What should I do?" Given Bioware's history of creating simple black and white decisions, seeing questions that actually made me consider what to do for fear of the ramifications was refreshing and helped me get into the game, if only for a short while.

The problem was the fact that Dragon Age could not seem to decide what it wanted to do with the setting, plot, and characters. Many of your companions are relatively jovial and polite, willing to join you on your epic and dangerous quest on the drop of a hat. This had the unintended consequence of confusing me every time one of them opened their mouth. For, in a world where death and despair is everywhere, a snarky comment that made me laugh or smile caused me to question the entire tone of the game. Rescuing one companion from an endlessly recurring nightmare caused him to give me a winking nudge and to tell me not to tell the others, in much the same way Gimli says to Aragorn of Lord of the Rings, "Don't tell the elf!". Events like this elicited an ever-present feeling that I was playing a typical Bioware game with pretensions of something darker than it was capable of. Most of my travel time in the desolate regions involved my comrades taking comedic potshots at each other as they stepped through the sites of massacres.

I understand that comedy is needed for such a game, but Dragon Age approaches the different facets of its world and characters in a way that felt disjointed and made it difficult to become all that interested in the game's setting. The fact that the game's setting wasn't particularly gripping to begin with only exacerbated the problem.
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Dungeons and Dragons Lite

Unfortunately, the gameplay, while initially interesting, quickly became mundane and predictable. Like with the setting, Dragon Age tries too hard to be accessible to RPG novitiates. There are many skills and spells, but it is clear that only some are useful. Even if you want to use the others, you quickly realize that you don't have the power/stamina to use them all. Unlike the tactical strategerie of Baldur's Gate II, Dragon Age took that premise and dumbed it down so that all you have to do is march into battle and tap a button now and then. Interactivity is further limited by the fact that you only control one person at a time, with everyone else on autopilot. This caused the game to feel much more like an MMO than it should, involving little interaction or thought to defeat a monster, and thus chipping away at my resolve to play the game.

That is not to say that the game was too easy. I encountered a number of fights where I had to jump from one companion to the other in order to tell them to chug a potion before they got brutally murdered. But that was all that I had to do to win, and that didn't really endear me to the idea of tactical adjustments. Sadly, this game failed to do what Baldur's Gate II accomplished so many years ago. It failed to make me interested in each battle, preparing for every scenario, and contemplating the prime use and flexibility of every spell/skill in my hands.
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Conclusion

Though this is a negative review, I would point out that part of what Dragon Age: Origins aspires to do is admirable. The world is immensely detailed, the characters interesting, and feel of it occasionally seems to hint at some immense depth within it. But the sad fact is that the world of Dragon Age is warped, brutal, and dark in a way that is often predictable and uninteresting. While the characters help make you intrigued in their complexities and personalities, they do so in a way that jars with the rest of the game's world.

This game does deserve points for spending a great deal of time and effort on the effects of religion on the world of Dragon Age. Nowhere else have I seen a fictional temple/faith that seems so reminiscent of the story of Joan of Arc, actually prompting me to look into her life to compare similarities and differences between the two. Religion is predominant, but yet it is also relegated to the backstage, like much of Dragon Age's complex world-building. Too much of the game's world I learned through reading the optional 'codex'; the game itself went through often simplistic events and motions that would have engendered more interest if involved more skilfully with the world itself.

Thus it is that, through two awkward and unworkable dichotomies (dark environment vs cheery companions; complex backstory vs barely related simplistic events), Dragon Age: Origins undermines itself. The obsession with the brown and dark red color scheme along with too much blood and gore simply were final nails in the coffin.

6/10 – An impressively large world-building exercise that fails to hold interest in story or gameplay for very long.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Eye of the World


Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World is the first book of one of the most immense fantasy novel series I've ever encountered. Ranging around 700 pages per each book in what will be a fourteen book long series (currently at 12 books), I was a bit leery at the thought of starting such an epic task. But I did it, and it turned out to be pretty damn good.
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The Hero's Journey

The Eye of the World is very similar to JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Like Tolkien's epic, Robert Jordan's world is that of fantasy reminiscent of the Middle Ages plus smatterings of magic here and there. The story is about one young man, Rand Al'Thor, and the events that force him from his small farm into the vast unknown; the hero's journey into the dangers and wonders of the world at large. In this, Robert Jordan manages to do something great.

For Robert Jordan is the master of detail. It is very rare to find a series with as much detail as this, and most of it is incredibly effective at building our knowledge of the world and making us believe in it. Nowhere is this more evident than the beginning of the book, where the small town of Two Rivers is the setting, and where Robert Jordan impressed upon me a powerful feeling of realism and safety that is hard to comprehend, much less describe.

For Rand is a young man easy to empathize with, a man who loves his father, has friends who occasionally get him into trouble, and with a stout heart that gives him an inner strength that is too often taken for granted. Two Rivers is an idyll of sorts, yet one with faults and disadvantages. But this is a good thing. Unlike Tolkien's Shire, the Two Rivers seems far more real, and this helped me get more involved in what happens while Rand is there. Rand's own personal home within this town, his father Tam's farm, epitomizes this feeling of safety.

I think what did it for me was the author's excellent grasp of details. In one chapter, for example, in what would sound normally uninteresting, we follow Rand and his approach to the chores of the farm. He chops wood, hauls things around, goes inside to have dinner, to curl up by the fire with an old leatherbound book. The exhaustion and then comfort that Rand feels mirrors itself for the reader; a sense of safety permeates throughout. And this makes the events that follow all the more gripping.
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The Following Darkness

For trouble visits itself upon Rand, as it does upon every main character, and Robert Jordan proves incredibly skilled at creating an atmosphere of danger and importance to everything the characters do. Part of it lies in the attention devoted to the world's immense history, given to us in snippets and flashes of story that are merely the tip of the iceberg. Part of it lies in the details that surround each character, our ability to empathize with them and feel for them as they react to events much like we would. In The Eye of the World, just about every character is the everyman, the average Joe. And, consequently, their trials and travails become that much more personal and akin to our own feelings and perspectives.

One aspect of the book that appealed to me was this sense of immediacy and danger that followed everything the characters did. In Tolkien's famous work, it was relatively easy to become detached from the characters as they travel through a far more interesting and complex world. By contrast, Robert Jordan writes the book in a way that indicates world-building depth yet without sacrificing the reader's connection with the characters themselves. This is perhaps the book's greatest strength and one that I hope remains stalwart and true as the books stretch ever onward to the tens of thousands of pages.

However, the book is a bit dated, and this is definitely noticeable as one reads the book. The author's attention to detail initially put me off, and occasionally he devotes detail to things that really don't need it. For example, it is relatively common in this book for a character to be introduced with a description of a single personal quirk and then an inexplicably lengthy description of the character's clothes. Why the obsession with clothes, I don't know, but it was far too easy to gloss over these descriptions in search of more important facets of their manner and personality. Another peculiar facet of the book is the unusual depiction of just about every woman acting like a shrew. It is as if the author sought to portray strong women, but instead created abrasive women who desperately need to come to terms with reality. Not all the female characters are like this, but it easily affects the majority of them.
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Conclusion

The Eye of the World is a worthy fantasy novel that is a great spiritual successor to the Lord of the Rings. Like that classic, Robert Jordan's epic is about man's growth and courage against the imminent doom of encroaching evil. It is different enough to induce interest and similar enough to incur nostalgia and familiarity. There are similar themes: the danger of man's pride, the importance of friendship and trust, and the ability to find faith in times of dark need.

However, it is difficult to tell if the strengths and epic feel of this first book will be able to stretch onward across more than a dozen sequels. We will have to see. But, for now, this first book has impressed me and, aside from a few odd quirks and the occasional infodump of detail, is a worthy read and powerful addition to one's fantasy bookshelf.

8.5/10

Smallville - Season 1


The first season of Smallville focuses tightly on three main characters of the Superman universe, how they interact with each other, their personal victories and their failures. Those characters are Clark Kent, Lex Luthor, and Lana Lang. And their stories and personalities help make a show about a superhuman relatable and appealing.
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The Man in Superman

Possibly one of the most enthralling parts of Smallville is Clark Kent and his story. Unlike any comics I have read of Superman, the Clark Kent featured in this TV series is endlessly relatable. Essentially, he is a good person given extraordinary powers and, thanks to excellent parenting, has turned into a young man who is responsible, humble, and benevolent. In this season we see his high school years, how his relationships with his friends flourish, and how he approaches difficult moral decisions that we encounter in everyday life.

What is perhaps this series' greatest accomplishments is the fact that Clark, an inherently good person, is actually interesting to watch and easy to empathize with and aspire to. A common effect of fiction is that the villains often end up being more interesting than the heroes and, in this show, they have managed to do the impossible. I see in Clark aspects of myself, a true empathy. I also see aspects of myself and of life in Lex Luthor and Lana Lang as well, but to see it in Clark Kent, the man who will be Superman, I find that to be amazing. In the comics, Superman is often dull, two-dimensional, and a good but wooden character. To connect with his character in this way in this show is an unusual deviation from the norm, and I want to make sure to emphasize that and point this out.

Part of what makes this possible is the fact that, despite his goodness, he still has his failures. He may have powers beyond comprehension, but this doesn't mean he doesn't make mistakes. As one often sees in Smallville: Season 1, Clark has to overcome the same hurdles that we did when we were young; uncertainty of self, how to accomodate the feelings of others, the pain of unrequited love. Clark epitomizes the ideal of teenage innocence and benevolence, and yet does so in a way that gives him surprising depth.
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Ambiguity and Shadow

Lex Luthor is another complex character who helps make the show immensely engrossing to watch. In the comics, Lex Luthor is Superman's arch nemesis, a rich man with no powers of his own who opposes Superman because he believes that Superman holds back humanity's own potential for growth and adaptation. In Smallville, we see a Lex Luthor that hasn't been seen before, as Lex Luthor who meets and befriends a young Clark Kent despite differences of wealth and upbringing. It is an unlikely friendship that is as true as it is odd, and despite the fact that it never happened in the comics, in Smallville it seems to make all the sense in the world.

The foreknowledge that Lex Luthor will eventually become a villain actually serves to make Lex Luthor an incredibly interesting character. He is, in fact, my favorite part of the show, and a great deal of that has to be attributed to the fantastic acting by Michael Rosenbaum. Lex has a magnetic personality; he is clearly Machiavellian in thought and purpose. He is a leader. Yet, at this age (young like Clark), he is also dedicated to doing the right thing, even though this can often be at odds with his own business sense and the wishes of his Hobbesian father, Lionel Luthor. This makes for a conflict that is wholly intriguing to watch. Lex Luthor presents himself as confident, self-interested, suave, and powerful, but his actions give you the sense that he wants to do good for Clark and the town of Smallville, despite the fact that everyone regards him as a dangerous, power-hungry mirror of his father.

It is hard to convey how interesting it is to watch Lex Luthor. You get the sense that he is trying to do good, but that sense wars with the sinister feeling that he is doing it for some unseen insidious purpose. Or is he? It is one of the most intricate and engrossing characters I've ever seen in any story format.
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The Heart of Smallville

Lana Lang is an unexpected addition to Smallville's strengths. In the comics, Lana Lang is merely the first love interest of Superman, a love interest that is swiftly passed in favor of the similarly named Lois Lane in the city of Metropolis. In Smallville, I was impressed with how Lana was made into a fully fleshed out character; a young woman seeking her purpose in life. Even more so than Clark, Lana is the moral compass of the show. While, as with everything else, there are exceptions to this rule, Lana consistently seems to lead the way with regard to personal growth and maturity.

A number of themes surround her that often end up affecting the other characters as well. Through Lana we see the effects of popularity in high school, how that negatively affects those around her, and how being regarded as the most beautiful and most accomplished girl can, in fact, be not felt at all by the recepient of such judgments. Lana is these things, popular, accomplished, beautiful. But it is clear that not everything she touches turns to gold, and that she is not certain of herself. While at times the universe of Smallville can seem to revolve around her, oftentimes this is merely a slow illustration of her own doubts. It feels as if Lana's story is one that will spearhead the show into new territories. Her search for what to do with her life is one that is interesting to watch, and something that will undoubtedly have ramifications for the show as a whole.
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Conclusion

As mentioned in earlier posts, Smallville's strengths lie with its intricate character development and interactions. In this post I hoped to highlight some of those characters and how they make the show interesting.

As for the powers and the show's presentation, it is a bit more mixed. The developers' go-to way to keep Superman in check is often to just give every villain some powers related to kryptonite, Superman's weakness. So far, this is tolerable, but we'll see how long it will keep up. As for the show's presentation, it can occasionally feel quite 'emo' and very much like a teen drama. The show's theme song makes me want to projectile vomit at the walls, but I endure it as well as I can. But, for those skeptical, I would point out that it is an intelligent show with a lot of moral complexity, hidden references to the comics, and excellent dialogue among mature characters.

The question is whether you can overcome the occasional teeny feel and omnipresent nineties songs. If you can, then you should definitely check out this show (or at least Season 1) because it is amazing. If you can't, then grow a pair and get over yourself... but I will understand.

9/10