People have a love of categorizing, especially when it comes to religion and belief systems. Part of me has always felt that this is a bit of sociological phrenology: marking the borders between, say, Anabaptists and Pentecostalists. Or the difference between the various “Catholic” churches that don’t recognize the Pope (they usually term him the Bishop of Rome), or don’t believe in transubstantiation but believe in purgatory, and so on and so forth. As someone who was raised Catholic Christian, it’s second nature to know that there are “others” out there who don’t share your beliefs or have an incorrect or wrong belief, though similar to yours. I grew up with friends who went to the Church of God, and while we never had any major theological discussions, it always struck me as weird that I was going to heaven and they, emphatically, were not.
Part of me has always been worried that the moment you put an abstract label on a concrete someone or something, you stop thinking about it and considering it. It’s easier to simply mark this person as “gay” or this person as “absent-minded” or that particular person as “Christian” and that person as “atheist” and to draw conclusions from that. People don’t spend a lot of time to ask some of the perennial questions that should come up when you are considering the differences between people: what is estranging us, or uniting us here? What is the inherent difference between this person, a Christian, and this person, a Lutheran (hint: probably nothing related to eternal salvation or damnation)? What are the bigger, broader forces at work that are affecting or impacting these people? That are affecting my thinking about this? Who benefits? That last question in particular is important. Who benefits by saying that people from the Church of God won’t go to heaven, and people from the Catholic Church will?
A friend of mine recently posted this on Facebook:
Being a follower of Christ is not exclusive to being American. We are not better than other people and are not Gods favorite. If your church could not transplant into a different country and still have the same message (serve,love,give) you may want to check who you are serving and who you’ve put your faith in.
As someone who doesn’t believe in god, an afterlife, or any form of explainable supernatural phenomenon, I read her post and thought about it critically.
I feel the same call to serve, love, and give. Maybe “call” isn’t the right word, but I was raised to know that the talents I was born with are to be used for the betterment of mankind. I won’t toot my own horn and give examples, but stop and think during the day and determine if what you’re doing matters. To whom, and why? Is this something that the next generation will be pleased you did, or something that will help people everywhere? What did you contribute this year that will have a lasting, sustainable impact that’s positive to everyone?
Set up a compost in your yard. Start recycling. That drunk homeless guy on the street?–point him in the direction of a shelter. Participate in your city council, your school PTA, take jury duty with pride. Vote–and take time to read what candidates are saying and what they are thinking. Volunteer at the soup kitchen. Donate to Goodwill. Put stuff on Craigslist for free.
Just because I feel my beliefs are “right” doesn’t make me superior to others. I’ve thought long and hard about my beliefs, and the reason I strongly disassociate with “militant atheists” is that I don’t believe I should question other people’s personal choices on their belief systems. Do I think they’re wrong? Yes, I do, and I base it on my logical, empirical experience of the world. Do I have misconceptions, misunderstandings, mistakes about the world? I sure do, because my understanding (and man’s understanding) of the world we live in is very limited. Does religion offer all the answers to provide for a comfortable life? Yes, it does–just as much as I feel atheism does. If it gets you through the day, and permits you to serve, love, and give, then we’re on the same page and we serve the same masters.
But there are people who feel their beliefs are right, are superior to others, and do not serve, love, and give. They actively work to line their own pockets while espousing a credo of love. They do not seek to understand the people around them, and instead assign them unthinking categories like “sinner”, “gay”, “Muslim”, “pro-choice”, “illegal immigrant”. They work to limit the rights of other human beings around them, to prevent their voice from being heard, from helping them when they are at their absolute lowest. In all honesty, I think the most threatening thing to American Christians today is not Muslims, it’s not ex-KGB Orthodox Christians, it’s not drones, it’s not the IRS, it’s not gay marriage: it’s a friendly, helpful atheist who is willing to make people realize that doubts are OK, they are great to be explored, and that you can in some cases do just as much if not more good without organized religion.
Beware worshiping something–anything, really–beyond the ineffable human values. In the month of May, I am reminded of David Foster Wallace’s graduation speech “This is Water”, which describes how dangerous it is to unthinkingly worship something:
Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship – be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning in life – then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already – it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. Worship power – you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. (Emphasis mine. To see the full, wonderful speech, check it out here.).
Worship the people next to you. Worship their acts of selflessness, of giving, of helpfulness, of loving, serving, and giving. Mention them in your prayers, or if you’re like me, remember what they did and emulate it in their honor. Remove all the categories that you have from your thought–what else is this but the pantheon of ignorance?–and instead start treating people like people.
Taften recently threatened to watch the movie Eat, Pray, Love with me. I dislike this book because the person took their journey inwards, trying to find out who they were. If Taften were to vanish, if my family all disappeared today, I would do my best to put time into local and regional help. I personally don’t think I would find any better answers in Italy, Bali, Indonesia, anywhere. One can love, serve and give anywhere, but why not start with the places that are most familiar and most recognizable to you? You may have a harder job removing the thick, rose-colored lenses that you have in place with all the misconceptions you have about life around you…but once they are gone and you’ve initiated the habit of thinking critically about the world, they are usually gone for good.
Why is it that there is an explosion of absolutely stunning, 3D-enabled, panoramic movies in the past 10, maybe 20 years? I think that movies have become more spectacular in their look and their sound by leaps and bounds in the past two decades. I think this is attributed to two major things: designers and technology.
Oblivion is absolutely gorgeous to look at. The design of the sets, the technology the characters use, the post-apocalyptic Earth, all of it is visual detail that your brain just drinks in. It has both scenes of stunning beauty and high-powered action that show off the chops that modern-day movie technology can make. There are seamless transitions from the broad, scene-establishing shots to the wonderfully simple yet detailed costumes. The end-movie space shots are particularly beautiful as well.
Movie designers are essentially the painting and drawing artists of a century ago. “Real” art no longer pays as well as designing a movie or a video game or a marketing campaign, so it stands to reason that the most talented and expansive artists (the ones capable of defining a whole vision, refining it, making it both beautiful and accessible) will be the ones who get the jobs. Instead of painting a picture or gambling that your work will be noticed (hint: it won’t be) then you might as well nab a job doing something creative and work against that. Oblivion had excellent visual elements and design.
While in the past the complaint that designers ramped up against technology was very true–ever seen the original rotoscoped Lord of the Rings?–nowadays technology can permit nearly any scene to be crafted. There have been excellent displays online of what some real television and HBO show sets look like, and they are 95% green-screen. While this does this eliminate the cost of prop-building and set-making for moviemakers, it adds the cost of offloading a lot of the movie to the hands of the designers. If anything, it permits a more consistent and well-themed presentation from being executed.
So there you have it: the reasons as to why Oblivion is an absolutely gorgeous movie. It’s not just beautiful buy itself, but rather it is an example of how the movie industry will likely continue to make movies going forward. But there’s a downside to all of this: your ears.
Writing and executing a good, original movie idea is just as difficult (if not moreso) than it was 10-20 years ago. Simply having the idea is a difficult topic: don’t believe me? There are thousands, if not millions, of scripts out there right now that would probably make an Academy Award movie right now. But why gamble on those scripts when instead you can execute a movie that essentially is the same as Ice Age (I’m looking at you, The Croods) or really expresses the same concepts as Dances with Wolves (Avatar) or essentially capitalizes on something that a competitor has, obviously, determined will be a profitable movie? It’s a safer bet than trying an unknown, untried script from a nobody writer.
Take Damon Lindelof for example. I’ve complained about his horrific writing before. His writing is pathetic, deeply flawed, and attempts to show drama with the most mundane ‘twists’. I simply refuse to see movies or shows written by him any longer (which is unfortunate, as he worked on Star Trek: Into Darkness), he’s definitely gone through an M. Night Shyamalan shift, where what was before (admittedly, a cliched) stylish is now simply shoddy work. But he’s an industry insider: his movies are profitable, he has a decent fan base (Lost). For all those deadhead MBAs managing Hollywood right now, his work is a safer bet than the untried work of an unknown writer.
If anything, now there’s cross-theming and adapting for certain markets and rewriting for universality and political correctness. Even a script that would win awards needs to be modified, edited, reviewed, and ultimately reviewed again and again and again until there’s little of the original ‘soul’ of the work left. Usually this was good–especially in the days when directors had more say in how their movies were executed–but committees of executives and creative directors have muddied the waters until now there’s really no single creative command for the execution of a movie. Charisma and influence aside, and some movie studios excepted, of course: but in general it’s safe to say that you no longer should have an expectation for a movie to be well-written.
Ultimately, Oblivion isn’t really worth commenting on besides it being an example of major movie industry trends. It’s gorgeous but the script is absolutely drivel.
It’s so sad that even an original idea like Oblivion can be turned into the money-making, intellect-weakening, stomach-churning shitfest that it was.
My partner and I, Taften, read books to each other. It started off originally as a way for us to share literature with each other that was very important–books are important to both of us–but now it’s become a war of attrition. Taften absolutely hates reading anything J.R.R. Tolkien, and I hate reading anything from his favorite author–Stephenie Meyer. After nearly two years of being together, however, I realized the other weekend that the only other author besides Tolkien whose works I have explored in their entirety is now Stephenie Meyer. How depressing.
This realization came about when we finished reading The Host. The Host (recently made into a movie) is Meyer’s take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Written in the midst of her work on the Twilight series, it tells the story of humans resisting against an inexorable alien invasion of creatures called souls, parasitic, fluorescent aliens that implant themselves onto our brain and spine. But despite that fairly interesting description of the novel, Meyer has turned it into one of her more boring stories.
Like her take on vampires and werewolves, the parasitic invading aliens are castrated to be kind, generous, trusting, and more humane than even humans. They care for the environment, they are repulsed by violence, they are endlessly polite, and they have an egalitarian society. Furthermore they consistently put the value of other lives above theirs, they are shown to be weak and ineffectual conquerors of a planet, and finally are not intelligent enough to understand that human beings are fully sentient creatures. Disregarding the problems about how such a creature could evolve on any planet, I question the way they could have successfully invaded the planet. If a species has no concept of lying or of being deceitful, then how could they possibly fool us and “sneak onto the planet”? The main character, Wanderer, practically jumps at any opportunity to kill herself off (and she is one of the few of her species that can breed).
Beyond the aliens, Meyer seems most capable of reducing even interesting human characters to elementary steretoypes. Eccentric Uncle Jeb is perhaps the only character that I felt has sufficient depth by trying to understand the situation with Wanderer, but everyone else boils down to “supportive” and “somewhat antagonizing, and exhibiting traits of sociopaths”. The entire human resistance community is protrayed as being paranoid, fearful, cowardly, murderous, and torturous. There’s one telling scene in the book, where two soul-infected humans are playing with their all-human child. The human resistance community will die out–it’s inevitable from a numbers perspective–and instead the next generation raised by the souls will likely be the next ‘real’ uninfected humans. I hope that’s how the series plays out, at least.
All in all, The Host is a story about what Earth would be like if it was invaded by aliens supremely interested in love triangles. I don’t recommend either the book or the movie, unless you’re already a fan of Meyer’s and enjoy the melodrama that she is capable of raising around even the most basic of things, like eating bread or taking a bath.
I warn you, this is going to be super geeky. A lot of my free time lately has been spent playing Hackmaster DND. Hackmaster is old-school style Dungeons and Dragons, with merciless, conflicting rules and a rulebook that’s complex enough to require several pages of errata.
I am playing Maltrimble, an evil cleric whose goal is to sacrifice as many people as possible to the whims of his master, the God of Death. We’ve had 4 sessions so far, and each has been incredibly fun and satisfying (despite some bumps along the way). Part of our task in playing this game was to build out a character background and to explain our character’s motivations and story. Here’s Maltrimble’s Story. Many thanks to Josie Bigler, the man behind Broc, who collaborated on this story with me in the dialogue parts.
Time crawled. The lightning, arcing from the caster’s fingertips, bloomed like an iridescent flower in the darkness of the dungeon. Why had he been first in the line? He acutely felt the metal all across his body, the new armor he had bought in town.
He remembered Ai’s warning, his refusal to heal him and his promise to make him suffer for as long as he could, until he repented his wicked ways, recanted his belief in the God of Death. He hadn’t even snorted, had accepted the cleric’s help, with hate burning in his heart. He remembered his master, the man who had saved him from the pile of bodies. He remembered Broc, the simpleton, and remembered his proud words, meaningless now, in the glow of the lightning bolt, his death.
He felt is strike his right shoulder, arc onto his helmet. He smelled burning flesh; his face was burning.
His face was burning.
It felt like burning embers were laid against the side of his face. His skin burned, the bone burned, the infection burned, and he walked the path of flame from his scalp down to the edge of his jaw. How could his imagination still work? He saw the black oily smoke that came from his face, the dim flame, and amidst them, he saw the faces of his family. He saw the images of the things from his home–who knew that everything, even the pottery, could burn in a home?–and he saw the images of the creatures that had done this to him. He saw his family, either alive and burning, or corpses and burning, reach out from his own rotten flesh for his help.
At the foot of his roughly hewn bed, amidst the sheets, he saw a skeletal hand in an iron ring. Some times it was carved into the wood; sometimes it seemed to be a real hand. One time it was his father’s hand, briefly, clutching for his scimitar. And he thought his heart would break if he saw that image again. His mind and heart would burn with the savagery inflicted on his face. The scimitar was his father’s relic of a foregone time, when he had met his wife in the sands of the south.
In the sands of the north, the dunes surrounded by pines, was where the fire in his face had been lit. Someone came in and looked at the green, nauseating bandages around his face. They did not change them.
The town was nearly 500 men. A logging camp had it been in previous days, but the trade for the furred animals that lived in burrows in the dunes instead had brought this town some semblance of permanency. It had a small apothecary, an inn, an two churches dedicated to some of the lesser good gods. It did not have a graveyard, as of yet.
When They had come, it had been with an almost slow mundanity. The town did not have a guard, and did not have even a militia. But the villagers were immediately instilled with a feeling of deep fear. They could tell their enemy was organized and prepared not for looting or pillaging, but for murder. None would live out the day.
Three gnomes sat on tall ponies, one in black, one in blue, one in red. Their somber tone and businesslike manner showed that these were professionals, no simple band of brigands. The half-orc soldiers, or mercenaries, or thugs, operated in a seemingly intelligent manner. They were grouped in threes, all well-armed and armored. They went door to door, slaying as they went, and the houses they left blazed with light, even in mid-day.
What had brought Them here? Had some trade they had been involved with not gone well? Had an insult from one of the townsmen been brought to them or their employer? The townspeople knew, with an innate sense, that there would be no vengeance or revenge for the destruction of their town. Fur-trappers, loggermen, a few itinerant clerics would be the ones who knew of this, and they had no god and no one to watch over them.
Seventh house on the right. The elven wreath on the door for fall: berries, golden leaves, smooth bare driftwood, incense. The door burst asunder and they came in. In a second, he saw it all: his father deftly grabbing his scimitar and bringing it down on one of the half-orc’s hands, wielding a bloody mace, before he himself staggered, a crossbow bolt suddenly shaft-deep in his chest. Another second, and the half-orc with the maimed hand brought his mace down on his father’s chest. In a way he didn’t think could happen, his chest collapsed, like the kind of crusty bread they would make. His father’s face opened–his eyes, his mouth, even his nostrils, in a silent scream.
Then he screamed. And then he saw the mace, saw the blur of it, felt a droplet of blood strike his face first–and then it hit him. It crushed the side of his skull and his jaw. And then he was on the floor, and felt gushing liquid warmth all over his neck, his head, his hair.
He looked across the floor to his father’s face. He sat there, soundless, not breathing, not moving. His hand clutched for his scimitar.
He would never see another expression on his father’s face again. It would be frozen that way, when he died 2 minutes later.
“They did not even burn the bodies.” The man wryly said, as only someone used to death could.
The others were silent, looking across the bloody, pulped pile, laid on the dunes. Some of the younger ones were eager, even anxious. The man who had just spoken now fell silent, in time to hear one of the apprentices whisper “Beautiful…” Even here, at the heart of death and decay, the subtle power exchanges and elbowing for favor did not end.
He did not feel angry or dismayed at this. He believed this was natural, and that such conflict in the end would strengthen their apprentices. Or get them killed.
Dismounting from his black steed, he pulled a jug of oil and matches from his saddlebags. He approached the pile, as one of the other elder clerics began the chant of Grawdying, to consecrate the dead to his possession and to bless the bodies in the gift of their souls to him.
The first splash of black oil, cold in the autumn morning, brought forth a gasp from the ghastly pile. Against the oozing black liquid, two bright eyes opened widely. Even the elder cleric, who had seen thousands of dead in all manner of death, natural and abhorrent, froze in his place. Weakly, slowly, the corpse began to move.
Thoughts raced. Undeath here already, not even three days after the town had been butchered? Or had this man somehow survived, not claimed by Grawdying, laying amidst the slain as blood, excrement, and flies ran across them?
But this was no man. With the faintest of gestures, he sloughed off the dead bodies. It was apparent he had nearly dug his way through the stack of the dead from the middle. He was covered in all manner of filth, and blood, and the oil on his face now washed away from of the grime. It was a broken face, inflamed and bloody, the jawbone protruding from the right side. The child seemed that much more broken, given the elven perfection of his face. The chant ceased as the other elders caught on; the young ones were silent.
The mouth worked soundlessly, at first, and them built to a howl of rage, indignation, fear, hatred. He raised the scimitar in a clear sign of defense, but he couldn’t lift it higher than his waist for his powerlessness. And he knew that this scream was a question, an interrogation. It begged and withered for knowledge–not comfort, not fear, but for the very information that it needed so that the world would once again make sense.
He recognized this feeling, from his own past, as kindred. He stepped forward, answering the child. “You found glory.”
The fire has long since gone out. His face, marred by hand of half-orc. and by order of gnome, stares out at him from mirrors and still water, accusing him. Accusing him of surviving.
By day he works the fields, or hauls in water, or performs any one of a dozen menial chores. They observe their works in silence; he is told that children even younger than him live in silence here at the monastery. At night, they teach him the ways of Grawdying: tending to the mausoleums, or walking through the great mounds around their walled, ensorcelled fortress. They tell him, his zealous devotion to his god may even bring him to the great Necropolis some day, to the council of liches and vampires who preside over the great feasts of Grawdying in the east.
Was this the direction he would go? Would he go back north, to the ashes of his town, to where they burned the bodies of all the men and women and children he had known? Would he seek out the surgeons and clerics in the west to repair his shattered face?–when he had asked how he would get better, everyone had laughed and said Grawdying toyed with him. No healing would come to him. The one filthy bandage they used quickly became useless when the infection oozed from the wound in his face.
The first and last thing he saw every day was the iron ring and skeletal hand etched roughly into the wood of his bed. Even in direct sunlight from the tall windows, it caught the shadows in its deep grooves, promised small secrets. At night, when his tired body awoke him, or he dreamt of fire in the north, he saw it move, obscenely, in small scary movements. It would flex, it would tap its fingers, and sometimes it would reach for a scimitar.
“You’re a cleric that can’t heal huh? That seems pretty odd. But I guess I’m a warrior and I can’t use a shield too well. Can all clerics control the Undead like you did back there? I won’t lie, I don’t much like the Undead they make the hairs on my knuckles stand up like wheat on the first harvest of the year. You thirsty?”
Broc offers a waterskin in the direction of Maltremble.
Maltrimble looks disdainfully at the water skin, but ultimately accept an it and drinks from it.
“I actually can heal. I have been trained to use my god’s power to cure wounds, but I do not agree with it. The Dead God would be angry that I had denied him a sacrifice.”
Maltrimble pauses sagely.
“I can make exceptions in extreme cases only. Where a greater sacrifice could be gained to his glory.”
“I don’t much like the Gods. They’re always asking for sacrifices, gold, and everything else under the sun. Why? If they’re all powerful why do they need that stuff and give so little in return,” Broc seems to stare off a little as he continues his rant.
“They allow murder, theft, rape, war, and everything else. Some of them even condone such behavior, why do we mere mortals bow down to such Tyrants? Even if they are all powerful why do they need our prayers? Or are they just that arrogant and demented they enjoy hearing people beg?” Broc shakes his head and smiles at Maltremble.
“Sorry ’bout that mister. That was rude of me to go on like that. You worship the Dead God? I suppose that’s why you’re with us then. . . We sure do kill a lot of people.” Broc says with remorse.
“I don’t much like men, elves, dwarves…” Maltrimble says, capping the water skin and handing it back. “The Gods are powerful, and wise, but they are easier to understand than mortals. More singular in purpose and will.”
Maltrimble touches the closed wound on his arm that the Other Cleric had healed. “A good god would have healed me in whole, regardless of my actions or beliefs. But this cleric prolonged my life to torture me, to make me suffer. Its complicated. His power and will are weak.”
“The Gods were here before us. But before us, they were as capricious as us. They fought a great war, which killed many of the gods, and nearly destroyed the world itself. When mortals came, our actions defined the Gods–birth, rape, honor, war, murder, even the elements we feel–they are acts whose power defines the Gods.”
“Death is natural. The body is intended to fail, to be killed, to be destroyed. We only hasten that process. Every creature who contends with us, and dies, is testament to his glory.”
“Now I have spoken too much, and I bore you.”
Broc puts away the waterskin.
“But what’s the point of life if you quicken dea–” Broc stops mid-sentence.
“Ah you’re right. This stuff is for the thinkers, which everyone else reminds me I am not.” Broc gestures to the back of the cave where the rest of the party is asleep when he says ‘everyone else’.”
“That was not very nice, and certainly hypocritical, of Ai to not heal you. I reckon I agree with that much.” Broc remains silent for a little bit, and plays with some rocks on the ground for a bit before he says,
“You know I wish I was a farmer, like my great grand pappy. He was pretty important, or so I’m told. People often think being a farmer is a dishonorable profession. I like to think of them like the Sun. They give and sustain life with hardly anything asked in return. Without the farmers where would we be?”
Broc looks over at Maltrimble to try and read his expression.
“I forgot you’re a quiet one. That’s OK I suppose.”
“No farmer could make enough food to sustain life forever. Even the soil refuses to grow life, after so long, even with the best stewardship. But there is life beyond death–and not the crude fashionings like those creatures we encountered in the moat house.”
Maltrimble gives a wide smile, more like a leer with his hideous face, and you feel a palpable chill. You know he is referencing undead creatures like Liches.
“We shall face them someday. And like the others, I will learn their secrets, overturn their rotted minds, and make them mine.”
“Sleep now, Broc. Tomorrow’s need will be sterner. Tomorrow we enter the temple.”
But Maltrimble is looking over at Ai’s pack as he says this. Inside are the healing potions that Ai refused to give him, to restore him to health.
Broc hauled Maltrimble’s body as quickly as he could down the hall. The smell of burnt flesh, of ionized gas, of the gluey dampness of Molly’s Web spell, filled the air.
He looked down on his face, knowing that Maltrimble would have something to say about his own death. Something proud, something bold. But instead, his face is frozen in a rictus of fear, an splotchy red weal across his flesh, a blackened scorch mark on his mail.
Would it be the last expression he would ever see on his face?
I am writing this recipe as it cooks in the oven. It is completely experimental and I have no clue how it is going to turn out. This is going to be a very imprecise recipe, but it is already smelling, like, the entire block up with beer cheese and butternut squash and I am *incredibly* hungry.
- Hunk of Muenster cheese
- Hunk of sharp cheddar cheese (Boxing Day Cheddar)
- Bottle of Fat Tire beer
- Parmesan cheese
- A small butternut squash, or in my case, a large one cut in half, diced
- A box of medium shell macaroni
- Oregano, to taste
- Rosemary, to taste
- Marjoram, to taste
- Salt, a dash
1. OK, go ahead and heat the oven to 375. Now crack open the Fat Tire because it’s Wednesday and wow, Fat Tire is delicious everytime. While the oven is heating up, dice the small butternut squash, and throw it in with enough water to cover it mostly, the oregano, rosemary and marjoram. Cook this at medium-high heat until the squash is tender. At the same time, boil a pot of water and throw the medium shells in with a dash of salt.
2. Once the noodles are done, strain them and set them aside in a bowl. Once the squash is done, go ahead and mash it up while in the bowl still, and then combine it with the noodles. At this stage it should look vaguely appetizing.
3. Now, take more water and flour and make a roux in whatever free pot you have available. This part needs continuous stirring to stop checking Facebook. Add in some milk until it is starting to foam and grow, now add in the beer and the cheese (again, stirring continuously) until it is a good cheese sauce. It should smell like you want to bathe your entire body in it.
4. Your bottle of Fat Tire should be gone by now, so crack open a second one.
5. Once the cheese sauce has simmered down a bit (10 minutes on high, stirring the entire time), take the squash/macaroni mixture and mix it all together, still on high heat. Now take it and put it in a baking pan, putting a layer of Parmesan cheese on top (not a thick layer, just enough for flavor). Now put an aluminum covering on it and throw it in the oven.
6. About 15 minutes later, take the aluminum covering off and let the top with the Parmesan get nice and brown. Take it out, serve it to your family/partner who has NOT helped and assign them dishes instead, because I used, like, all my dishes to cook this.
It’s well known, even at my office, that I made this post here a few months ago. My co-worker Brandon consistently ribs me when it’s brought up at work that I’m still a “total fanboi”, despite my pledge a few months ago to stop playing. I did stop playing for a bit–almost all of summer had me only playing low-key things–but with Tuesday night I was back in full swing, questing and dungeon’ing away.
So, yes, I am playing World of Warcraft again. But even less than a week into the Mists of Pandaria expansion, I am feeling like my concerns about the game were unfounded, and furthermore MoP was made a lot more attractive by the failures of Diablo 3 (that, in my defense, were not apparent until I’d hit maximum level and started the item farming game). Let’s recap my thoughts from a few months ago and see how they’ve turned out.
Cataclysm, in my opinion, failed to deliver on the “epic level” of the story that it said it would be, because the ground-level storytelling was lacking and the lore itself was convoluted.
Mount Hyjal is burning after an attack from Raganaros and Deathwing! Well…why? What exactly does Ragnaros have against the World Tree and the druids? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to resurrect him at Blackrock Mountain? Also, if this is the big bad here, why exactly am I saving these bear cubs via trampoline? Quests like these don’t make sense, especially after we’re doing it in the badass loot we got from killing the Lich King. It was a major disconnect from a story standpoint, and while this is just one example, there are other points where I felt like
Cataclysm has a lot of loose ends. What happens in the Abyssal Maw, and what happens to Neptulon? Why did Deathwing go on this rampage in the first place, and who is the shadowy N’Zoth character behind him? What happens to Lillian Voss (granted we find this out in MoP)? And the end of Cataclysm has a pretty big game changer with the Dragon Aspects–why did this happen? It was fairly unexpected and made little sense. To me it seemed like it was just a very obvious retcon to the dragons and their powers, and a pretty strong “you’re on your own” implication to the coming storylines.
Already in Pandaria I feel like the lore is much more fleshed out. As a Horde player, you build an army from the ground up in every region and combat the Alliance (granted, I play PvE, so not directly). There are consistent bad guys whose motivations and means are clear, the characters are fleshed-out fully and range from both funny to dark and serious, and finally it’s an absolutely gorgeous game. The quests are crafted so as to lead you in a linear progression from point A to B, but there are many alternatives and diversions you can take on the way to B.
I’ll admit, pandas as playable or interact-able characters did not excite me, nor did anything Asian-themed in general just get me revved up to play. Maybe this represents my own prejudices, but I think it was more closely related to how “non-fantasy” this felt like it was going to be of an expansion.
I was deeply worried that the pandas would be a copy of Kung Fu Panda, representing basic Asian stereotypes and themes in general. They do, to a limited extent, but I can almost see the design meetings happening where the lead designers said “No Jack Black”. The characters are fully fleshed out, and are not neccessarily friendly Asian pandas. They deeply resent our intrusion into their homeland and rightfully blame us for upsetting the balance and using Pandaria as a proxy war for the conflict between the Alliance and the Horde. The wiser elements of their cultures attempt to both placate and balance the demands of both factions, and I think that this story is seen very well in Jade Forest, Kun-Lai Summit and Dread Wastes.
All in all, it might even be said that Blizzard is doing a better job right now at striking out in new territory than in trying to rehash the stories that already have been laid out. This is an interesting point to consider, especially in light of their Project Titan development and the way that Diablo 3 has gone. Diablo 3 necessitates an entirely other blog post, but suffice to say that I think Pandaria is even more epic, with better storytelling and better options, design and layout, than their three previous expansions. I say continue to bring on the new stuff and let’s see what happens.
In all fairness I should point out that I still haven’t learned a musical instrument, but I am using my gym membership and my house has had a decent amount of work done to it this summer.
The inclusion of Pet Battles, a large selection of daily quests, Raid Finder, Scenarios, Challenge Mode, and reducing the difficulty of dungeons and heroic-level dungeons means WoW is less grindy than it ever has been. Yes, there are still points of the game where you’ll need to grind your fingers away to get that unique piece of equipment or to really excel at gold Challenge mode, but it’s easier to get a “quick fix”of WoW than ever before. This is a major step up for Warcraft and means I have time to raid if I want to, time to just play a scenario or two if I want to, and my boyfriend won’t be eating just mac ‘n cheese if I do.
More to come as I continue playing. But I’m having a good time, and I like how stress-free I am about the situation. It’s not a gear race at this point, I’m not going to do heroic-mode raids, there’s no need to absolutely get this piece of gear (though I do still want Dragonwrath desperately).
Succinctly and easily summarizes why I, too, am voting NO for the marriage amendment as well as the voter ID law in the 2012 election. Also, check out his music–a favorite in my work and driving playlists.
…Gotye himself goes and makes a mashup and/or unintentional collaboration video of all the Youtube covers of “Somebody That I Used To Know” (which are prolific). Maybe I can teach myself to play this on the guitar?
While in Chicago I spent a day at the marvelous Art Institute and had a blast there. The works were simply stunning, and the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit was huge and overflowing with his works. It was fascinating to see nearly 40 years of art from a single artist, and see the growth and transition between his works.
I’ve been watching Danielle Ate the Sandwich for a few years now, and have had the chance to see her live at a couple of fringe, Twin Cities coffee houses and whatnot. Her talent was obvious at the beginning and I was pleased to donate to her Kickstarter recently. Her new album, Like a King, was an immediate buy for me. Love her work, her flair for understated comedy, and her love of all things folk, 1920′s, and iconic Americana.