Batman: Arkham Asylum on PC (9/10)

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I’m still waiting for that Wonder Twins game, but in the meantime this will do. After Arkham City this does seem less grand, but it still is more-or-less the same fantastic game. The fluid fighting system is just as good as I remembered it was in the sequel. Even the mindless Riddler trinket hunting works here. There is a wandering story about The Joker and super-henchmen that doesn’t really amount to much. But who really cares. When the game mechanics work this well, I’m fine with a second rate plot.

The Podcast Report

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Today is supposedly International Podcast Day. Well, let’s celebrate this phony-baloney holiday by taking a look at some of the podcasts that I’ve been listening to lately. I feel like this list will change as time goes by so I wanted to document it here for future reference. These are in no particular order so here goes.

The Fifth Column – This is probably the most recent show that I have started listening to. In it Kmele Foster, Michael Moynihan and Matt Welch review the week’s news from a mostly libertarian perspective. I’ve tried a few libertarian podcasts in the past and most, like the Tom Woods Show, were just simply lame. The Fifth Column manages to be extremely informative, entertaining, and, dare I say, hip.

Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast – The strength of each episode depends on the guest and their willingness to talk dirt on old-time Hollywood actors or to play along with Gilbert’s over-the-top niche impressions. The show can sometimes descend into the hosts just saying “I remember that movie” and not much else but overall it’s entertaining week after week.

The Red Eye Podcast – There have been three incarnations of this podcast. All three have been loosely based around the cast of Fox News’ Red Eye chatting about the goings-on around the show. The first version was Greg Gutfeld, Bill Shulz and Andy Levy and it was usually specific to that night’s show and the topics they were going to cover. Then after a hiatus, it reemerged with Bill Shulz, Tommy O’Connor and Lauren Sivan. I loved that version (I think at this point they called the show, Not Live). Not Live was much more focused on pop culture and celebrity happenings and it was awesome. That show vanished, then all of the sudden, it returned this year with Andy Levy, Tom Shillue, Ben Kissel and Tim Dimond (the current Red Eye writing team). They avoid politics  and it’s much more like a short, funny, free form conversation about random topics. This might be my favorite podcast these days.

No Agenda – I started listening to this after I heard John C. Dvorak was banned from TWIT (a podcast I gave up on years ago when it became evident that it would only be about phones and apps). The show consists of Dvorak and Adam Curry (of Headbangers’ Ball fame… oh, and he invented podcasting) “deconstructing” the news. They play clips from various news outlets and then talk about how the stories are either slanted, planted or just plain stupid. There can be some great insight here, but I feel the two are just a little too cynical for my tastes. In the words of Sigmund Freud, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” In their universe, every story is a front for some external power when, in reality, the sloppy reportage is more a result of the fact that everyone is horrible at their job (and lazy). I tune out when they start drifting into Alex Jones territory, but still, they have a 70-80% success rate… if that’s even a thing.

The Bryan Callen Show – Hosted by comedian Bryan Callen along with Hunter Maats, this is almost more of a self-help podcast. There is lots of talk of the neuroscience, behavior, personal improvement and a dash of politics. Maats does most of the brainy commentary (and punctuates every proclamation with an annoying, “Right?”) while Callen provides humor and an everyman’s perspective.

EconTalk – Russ Robert’s long-running economics podcast is a treasure trove of insight and knowledge. Every once and a while the conversation is over my head but I have learned quite a bit about markets, statistics, and intellectual bias from the always skeptical Roberts and his guests.

The Open Apple Podcast – A monthly podcast about the Apple ][ computer that’s both heavy on nostalgia and current projects that push the limits of that ancient computing platform.

Lastly, here are a couple podcasts that I will still occasionally listen to but are gradually fading out of rotation for whatever reasons: Penn’s Sunday School, still don’t mind it but I guess some of the recent weight-loss talk has not been entertaining for me. Race Wars, Kurt and Sherrod are great, but it can be a bit much when there are half a dozen people in the room all talking at once. Getting On With James Urbaniak, entertaining short stories read by the voice of Dr. Venture… the episodes have stopped so this one may be over.

Political Word Trends

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The current presidential election cycle has made Facebook insufferable these days. As the various screeds flow across my feed from people who would normally be reasonable friends, I am noticing what I am calling, “political word trends.” Out-of-the-blue people start using the exact same words to describe something with which they have a political beef. I know this is essentially the same thing as talking points (like when every Democratic operative on the planet described Hillary “powering through” her illness), but what I am seeing is just a little more subtle.

I first noticed this when, over the course of a few unrelated discussion threads, libertarianism came up and, in addition to the usual “they hate firemen” arguments, someone would refer to libertarians as “children.” Maybe there was a huge write up in The Nation that used this term? I don’t know. It just seemed odd that it suddenly appeared 3 or 4 times without any prompting. Next, I began to hear the term “ghouls” used over and over to describe pro-gun advocates. Again, maybe John Oliver had a witty diatribe about these “ghouls” but this seemed weirdly coincidental to me. Or maybe I’m just jealous that I am not being invited to all the hip parties. Instead I sulk at home with like a ghoulish child. I will keep my eyes open for more. Stay tuned.

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood on PC (6/10)

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I enjoyed the original Call of Juarez and its spin-off, Gunslinger, but this one didn’t really grab me. It tries to mix things up by letting you play each level as one of two characters, Ray or Thomas. But, in the end, it’s still just a very standard shooter with bland environments and no real weapon variety. I guess learning Ray’s backstory (this is a prequel) was interesting and there was a real attempt to craft some genuine character development. Otherwise, it was just so-so to me.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel on PC (8/10)

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Okay, here’s another Borderlands sequel. Actually, this is more of a large expansion pack to Borderlands 2’using the same engine and most of the same mechanics. The only new additions are the low-gravity environments and oxygen management. Admittedly, the ability to jump hundreds of feet into the air is pretty fun and opens up many of the levels, but, in the end, it’s still the same old game: run towards the map marker and shoot anything that gets in your way. Your reward is more guns and a mediocre story (unlike the excellent Tales from the Borderlands). Woo hoo. But really, the point here is that you are supposed to experience this mediocrity with friends and, as I begrudgingly have to admit, this is the best co-op game play experience out there these days. In the future, I would love to see more actual team-based tasks. You know, one guy holds the door while the other takes point or whatever military squads do when the aren’t practicing the Harlem Shake.