Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Michelle Bachmann is the funniest woman in America. She just cracks me up. Please give her a camera and a microphone every day. Pleeeeeease! Times are hard and we need the comedy.

President of Cool

Congratulations to President Obama on reaching the 100-day milestone! It's been a wonderful ride, and I can't tell you how much I've relaxed since Bush and the Republicans left office. Don't you feel better, too?

Speaking of which, what the heck has happened to the GOP? As Obama's star has risen, they have almost completely collapsed. Now the Republican Party is at a level or ridicule you'd expect of, oh, I dunno...The Beverly Hillbillies.

I can't say it's been a perfect 100 days, and we all knows that it only gets harder from here on out. Don't let the Democrats' impending 60 Senate votes fool you. We are still in the midst of the worst challenges facing America in decades. But Barack Obama is the best person for the job.

Deep Thought

The pig flu virus is the fault of Porkulus. That and subliminal messages in 1980's heavy metal songs.

Why is Sarah Palin Still Around?

I blame Porkulus.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Photos - Warbirds (1990)

Warbirds is one of the very best showpiece games for the Atari Lynx. As you can see, both Epyx and Atari were very aggressive with pushing the 3D graphics capabilities of the Lynx, and this resulted in a number of very groundbreaking games that never failed to turn heads and impress gamers.

Multiplayer was another key element to many Lynx games. While the Gameboy included a link cable for head-to-head play, the Lynx could connect as many as 16 players at once. Most of these were four-player titles, except for Checkered Flag at six, and Slime World at 8.

In 1989 and 1990, this was another key innovation, completely unheard of. Online gaming was still in its infancy, and console games only allowed for head-to-head. Heck, I can't think of a single 4-player console game in the 1980s apart from Warlords on the Atari 2600. So you can see just how big a leap Epyx took with the Lynx.

Warbirds was really the first multiplayer deathmatch. There are no missions in the game, or training modes, or various locales. It's all about the combat, and it's clearly intended for four friends to go after each other. As a single-player games, this is one of the Lynx' very best titles; multiplayer sweeps you into another realm altogether.

The cruel irony is that the Lynx never sold enough for multiplayer to become an option for most gamers. I suppose we can always hop on Ebay and score enough Lynx handhelds and games, but, good heavens, that is a heavy investment. Sometimes I wonder why Infrogrames, which owns the Atari catalog, couldn't simply reissue these games on the PSP or DS. Better yet, just reissue the Lynx itself. They made a couple bucks off repackaged Atari 2600's. Why not the Lynx?

Photos - Electrocop (1989)

Some screenshots from Epyx' 1989 Lynx launch title, Electrocop. If I remember correctly, the game was originally titled Impossible Mission, which really makes more sense, since it plays very much like a 3D version of the action-adventure classic. No doubt Atari was responsible for the name change. They always had a way with bland, generic videogame titles, didn't they?

I've written about this game at least twice before in recent years, so it's no surprise this was a favorite game of mine. It was a fantastic thrill ride 20 years ago, an amazing display of 3D technicolor graphics and relentless tension. In 1989 and 1990, having an Atari Lynx was a thing of pride, a rare achievement. You wanted great games to impress all the other kids who had Gameboys. And they were surely impressed and amazed, every single one.

Greg Omi crafted a masterful three-dimensional landscape. There was nothing else remotely like it at the time, and I didn't anticipate that this was where games would later evolve. But I did imagine what 3D game worlds like this could be. Those dreams wouldn't be realized until Super Mario 64 and Tomb years later. And no handheld game could match Electrocop until the arrival of the Playstation Portable. Now that's visionary.

These screenshots were taken on the Handy emulator, which has a neat "lcd" mode that simulates the look of the Lynx screen. It's a rather cheap effect but it works nice, and captures the feel of these old handheld games. Without this filter, the graphics don't quite look the same. Enjoy!

Site Maintainence Update

Busy updating and heavily editing the tags here on this blog. I'll have the number of labels down to a smaller number, almost certainly less than a dozen. That should make it easier to find what you're looking for. And, of course, there is that search bar, which works very nicely.

I'll also be adding my older review essays from, just for the sake of having everything under one roof. I've toyed with doing the same thing at the Ghibli Blog, posting all of my old movie reviews directly on the site itself.

Sigh....this is definitely a long slog of a job. I've got over 1,000 posts to edit! All of this, naturally, cuts into the time spent on writing, but it's a worthy investment, I think.

Caught in a Mosh

The core of today's Republican Party is not conservative, or even republican, in the classic sense. Today's GOP is authoritarian. Their rise to power was based upon two Faustian bargains; first, with the southern segregationists who abandoned the Democratic Party, secondly with Christian fundamentalists. It is those two strains - Jim Crow and Jerry Falwell - that are the core of the GOP. Until that makeup changes, and there is a real change of power, Republicans will wander in the wilderness, becoming increasingly irrelevent.

That hard rightcore has doomed the Republican Party, lost in a morass of paranoia, fear and loathing, fueled by the likes of Limbaugh, Beck, Fox News, Dobson, etc. What is there left, but laughable conspiracy theories, stubborn denial of reality, racism, gays and abortion? And defending torture? Is this madness? Has the Party of Reagan become the Party of Torture?

This will only change once a new generation of Republicans challenges and expells this hardcore base. But how can you win any election by abandoning your own base? And there's the trap.

Arlen Specter Switches Parties

So Specter has finally made the jump to the Democrats' side. I can't say I'm surprised, since his remaining a Republican would mean certain defeat in the 2010 primary. Political survival pretty much forced his hand.

Once again, we see how the GOP's hard turn to the right continues to hurt them. After eight years of Bush/Cheney and control of the federal government, they have lost the White House, both houses of Congress, and now they have handed the Democrats their 60th Senate vote. At least the wingnuts will be happy; there's one less "Republican-In-Name-Only" to worry about. I've no idea how making your party smaller and smaller helps you to win elections, but I left that particular crazy train years ago.

The Pharisees of Our Time

The role of the "Priestly Class" is not to challenge the kings and the powerful, but to legitimize them. Thus endeth the lesson.

Rampage Deluxe and the Late EGM

I forget the original name to this Epyx game that was in development for the Atari Lynx. It was meant to be among their second wave of titles for the handheld. It was eventually renamed Rampage Deluxe, which was an obvious choice.

This screenshot comes from EGM #4, and to this day, this remains the only surviving piece of evidence that this game ever existed. Rampage would eventually emerge by Atari a couple years later, but it was an entirely different affair; instead of this lush, next-generation sequel, Lynx Rampage was a decent, if bland, port of the arcade game. It's really no contest. Rampage Deluxe looks a million times better. Ah, well, such are the mysteries of life and death.

And on that note, dear readers, I see that Electronic Gaming Monthly has finally died. EGM was always my favorite game magazine back in the day, and they always continued that punkish enthusiasm all the way through to the end. The original publisher was a high school dropout named Steve Harris, and he started EGM in Chicago with a crew dubbed the "U.S. National Video Game Team." It sounded cool at the time. In the end, Harris sold his fledgling empire to Ziff-Davis for untold millions. Not a bad way to play the America game.

A toast - to Rampage Deluxe, to Epyx, to the Lynx, and to Electronic Gaming Monthly. You belong to a begone era, and you will all be missed. Hopefully, in some parallel universe, God is a teenage boy who is really into videogames. You'll always have a home there.

Photos - California Games (1989)

Epyx's California Games became the pack-in game for the Atari Lynx when it launched in 1989.

Of the four events, only skateboarding is a miss. The other three events - BMX Bike, Surfing, Hacky Sack - continue to be far more addicting and fun than any reasonable adult should admit. I don't think I can write anything more about the game. It was a lot of fun on my Lynx 20 years ago, and it's a lot of fun running on the Handy emulator on my PC today.

Personally, I'd still rather play California Games on an actual Lynx. I've always wanted to see what multiplayer was like, and thanks to poor sales, hardly any Lynx owners ever got the chance to find out. Apparantly, you could knock the other surfers out of the water in Surfing. 4-Player surfing deathmatch?! How did we miss out on this?!

If you get yourself a Lynx from Ebay, be sure to get this game. You'll make all the other 30-somethings jealous.

Photos - Blue Lightning (1989)

Why was I snapping screenshots of Atari Lynx games this weekend? I think I was sorely tempted to post these onto the Ghibli Blog, and show them off. Every once in a while, I get the temptation to buy an Atari Lynx or two, and a series of games again.

2009 marks the 20th birthday of the Lynx. It was arguably Epyx's finest hour. Pity they were forced to sell out to Atari Corp. In the right hands, this handheld would have conquered the world. Nintendo's humble Gameboy couldn't even come close.

Blue Lightning is easily the best Afterburner clone that's ever been made. It was a fantastic show-off game for the Epyx/Atari handheld, boasting vivid color palette and amazing visual effects. It really was spectacular to see in its day, and there are still some moments, like the suicide canyon run, that have yet to be surpassed. Oh, good heavens, barreling through the canyon run with the afterburners

Killer app? Heck, Blue Lightning remains a killer app in 2009. Think about that for a minute.

Fixed the Layout

Whew! Not that anybody bothers to read this blog, which is understandable, since it's such a kitchen-sink type of blog. But in case you've wandered in from The Ghibli Blog, I changed the layout design for Videogames of the Damned as well. I went with the three-column style again, which is pretty important if I want to garner any attention to my writings on videogames and music and my rantings on current events.

Who knows? Maybe one of these days this blog will finally get some attention. Good lord, just how many blogs am I trying to write at once here? It's a full time job that never pays, kids. I must have some motivation to all of this....heh heh heh....

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

Madadayom suckers!!

D.U.N.G. on a Stick

Ha ha ha ha....good times. I really do think this nation has finally turned a corner. Where the politics of the right - Limbaugh, Fox News, the Gingrich crowd - were somewhat successful in the '90s, now they are openly mocked by all sides. We've always had

I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps the younger generation is simply more vocal about their politics now. We've long been a live-and-let-live crowd. But I think we're growing tired of a lot of the bullshit, and what once was a vague disconnected middle is coming down hard against the right. We really are looking at the end of Nixonland.

Oh, and I want to make cartoons like this one.

Minnesotans Want Coleman to Concede

I think Minnesotans are a pretty patient and stoic bunch, but now that Norm Coleman's trial contesting the election is over, that patience should be running out. Most want him to concede the election at last, and most want to see Franken finally admitted to the Senate.

Good news for us, if this nonsense is finally ended. Bad news for Coleman and the state GOP if they continue to drag this out. They will sputter along for the MN Supreme Court ruling, and the public will continue to grumble, but politely. But after that, if this isn't settled and Franken isn't seated, there will be trouble.

My own personal guess is that Pawlenty will put an end to this after the Supremes have had their say. If there's a public backlash over this, he'll be the first target.

Another Deep Thought

The Republican Party isn't very good at the whole street-protest thing. It's not unlike watching a middle-aged parent trying to be "hip" for his teenage kids.

That's what the kids like today, right? Why can't they just cut their hair, like Johnny Unitas? And what's wrong with polka? These doggone kids and their Atari cassettes!

Deep Thought

So, umm....I'm not seeing any of these tea bag people around. When are they supposed to show up?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

"Go Kill Liberals!"

I'm not a prophet for warning that cynical, paranoid, hateful rhetoric from the far right would lead to violence.  In a nation such as this, in the state of the economy we are in, with the propaganda we are hearing - an industry nurtured and grown by the Republican Party machine for a generation - violence will be inevitable.

I fear this is only the beginning.

Bankrupt the Bastards

File this under the "duh" column. I'm not firmly opposed to the US Drug War because I smoke cannibis or shoot needles in my arm. I'm firmly opposed to this stupid war because it is a catastrophic failure. In reality, all we are doing is subsidizing enormous criminal syndicates by guaranteeing enormous prices (and profits) for the drugs they manufacture and sell.

I have a better strategy for defeating the drug lords. Bankrupt them. Take the money out of the game, and you'll destroy their business empires out completely. Then they'll have to work at White Castle or Wal-Mart.

And isn't that the best punishment of all? :P

Guardian Endorses End to Drug War...and National Review?

Did I just imagine this, or did Andrew Stuttaford at NRO endorse the idea of ending the Drug War? Stranger things have happened, I guess.

Although, in all fairness, it was the late Bill Buckley who devoted an entire of National Review to arguments for legalizing and regulating illicit drugs. I remember reading that years ago, thinking this stupid and useless "war" would finally meet its end. Fat chance on that. But the more voices that arise throughout the political spectrum, the better.

Here's the Guardian UK article which started this whole discussion. Discuss.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Deep Thought

Has Michelle Bachmann always been clinically insane, or this just a recent thing?

I can't help but think that someone close to her suggested she could become a leader of the GOP, and this is why she's been on the teevee so much lately.  Which leads me to the other question on my mind:

Have the Republicans always been clinically insane, or is this just a recent thing?

I remember when there were adults in charge of that party.  Granted, I was 10 years old, but I do remember.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Another Antarctic Ice Shelf Collapse

Gee, it's a good thing global warming is a hoax. Right?

Metallica at the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame

I've never quite got the point to a rock hall of fame, but as long as there is one, it's great to see Metallica and Run DMC inducted. And as a longtime Metallica fan - now officially stretching to half my lifespan - it's a thrill to see Jason Newsted playing with them again. I have no idea if they have all made their peace with one another, healing the longstanding wounds that led to Jason's departure and Metallica's near breakup in 2001, but the fact that they can play together for one evening is very nice.

And, hey, for a band notorious for burying the bass guitar in their album mixes, it's a rush to see two bass players on stage. I wonder why more metal and rock bands don't use that? Most likely because the rhythm guitarists are essentially playing bass with their low strings. But spend some time with the Miles Davis fusion albums, and you'll come away with some good ideas.

Pity the YouTube videos are such low quality, but I'm hopeful that better versions will later emerge.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

South Park Still Rocks

Am I the only one who's completely amazed that South Park continues to be so good? If anything, it's become a better show over the years. Parker and Stone have a gift for scatalogical satire. Even The Simpsons in its prime was never as good.

These guys are the best bullshit detectors, period. I don't think anyone else on television today is even trying. And I think that's why South Park continues to stay fresh and relevant.

I may have to throw these clips onto the Ghibli blog, just for kicks.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Miles Davis - Agharta

Some nice screenshots of the vinyl lp versions of Miles Davis' Agharta. This is actually the Japanese release, which has a different cover from the American version. The live double-lp was actually the first of two concerts on the same day in February, 1975, in Japan. The afternoon concert became Agharta, and was released in the States in 1976. The evening concert became Pangaea, and was released only in Japan.

I don't know about you, but that really amazes me. Not only the fact that two monster albums are culled from the same venue, but from the very same day. This says something about Miles Davis' drive, his sheer mad pursuit of his musical vision and his damned stubborn determination to spread it to the masses. It's one thing to expect a live album from your last tour. But three double albums in less than two years? All while two more studio albums, both double albums, are released to the public?

For an artist who, by all appearances, had gone completely bonkers, Miles Davis sure had a lot to say. Right up until the end, he was desperately trying to get the word out. I wonder who his audience was by that time? Who was he aiming his music for? Perhaps nobody but himself. He had delved so far and explored so deep that nobody in his time could have understood.

In my mind, these final four albums of Miles fusion era - what I loosely call his "voodoo funk-metal" phase - are like time capsules. The Seventies Generation wasn't the true, intended audience. This heavy futuristic music wasn't meant for them. It might not even be meant for my generation. This music seems to direct itself to the future, still in the distance.

These four albums - Get Up With It, Dark Magus, Agharta, Pangaea - are waiting for a future date to be unleashed. Somewhere, in one of the major cities, there's going to be a group of 15, 16, 17-year-olds. And they're going to listen to these albums and get it. It's going to blow their minds clear open, and they're going to be the first ones to completely understand everything Miles Davis was about. It won't be like the '70s crowd, which was baffled and freaked out, or even my crowd, which can only grasp it in bits and parts. This part sounds like Radiohead, that part sounds like PE, that part sounds like Sonic Youth, yadda yadda.

When that day arrives, those kids are going to pick up instruments and start bands. And they're going to start a revolution. Trust me on this one. It's going to happen. It might even happen to you.

Miles Davis - Dark Magus

Short post this time. I'll try to force myself to write something longer later, so here's the short version now.

Dark Magus was released only in Japan in 1977, and is a live album from 1974 featuring the "Pete Cosey lineup" of Miles Davis' voodoo funk band. It was finally released in the US on compact disc a decade ago, and has never been seen here in its original vinyl. That happens to make it something of a collector's item among the turntable crowd. It also happens to be just about the hardest, heaviest assault of greasy tribal funk-meets-thrash-metal ever conceived.

It's another monster, running two hours long. It sounds phenomenal. It will rip the paint off your walls. This is the album Max Cavalera has been trying to make ever since Sepultura's Roots. Never has an album title fit so perfectly. Dark Magus, indeed.
It goes without saying, of course, that the album cover and gatefold look fantastic. Japanese design at its best. The Japanese kids got to rock out to this, and the American kids? Disco.

Miles Davis - Get Up With It

Some cool pics of the 1974 double-lp Get Up With It. This is the final studio album of the Miles Davis electric "fusion" era, and as such contains the heaviest, hardest, and wildest music of his career.

This wasn't conceived as a studio project per se, not in the sense that On the Corner was. Miles was rushing in and out of recording sessions with regularity throughout the '70s, and while the bulk of the album features the "Pete Cosey lineup" (that's the easiest way for me to remember this voodoo funk-metal period), some of the tracks are recorded a bit earlier.

No doubt, at the time, this gave the impression that the album was a collection of leftovers, like the numerous Miles Davis albums of the '70s like Directions and Circle in the Round and Water Babies. But like the 1974 release of Big Fun, which was composed of tracks recorded 1970-72, Get Up With It has a cohesion to its sound. To my ears, it sounds very much like a modern album. Okay, a '90s rock album. It's not my fault this decade's music was so terrible.

'90s rock was defined by a lot of experimentation, and it was common for the greats to jump across genres every couple of songs. It's not the musical brew of the late '60s, but more of a channel-surfing thing. Maybe everyone was just taking cues from Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Who knows? My favorite '90s albums - Soundgarden's Superunknown, Stone Temple Pilot's "Purple," Hole's Live Through This, Radiohead's The Bends and OK Computer, Metallica's Load & Re-Load - have that jukebox attitude. Get Up With It carries that very same vibe, and I think that's the reason why I love it so much.

The two epics, which fill sides 1 and 3, couldn't be more different in mood and texture. And the shorter songs range from boogy blues to trip-hop dance to dissonant noise. And yet it all feels so similar. There's a similar plan of attack from Miles and his bandmates, and to my mind it comes down to two things.

One, Miles on the keyboards. While piano and keyboards were always a staple, at this point Miles takes the keys himself, but he uses the instrument almost purely for assault. It's there to bludgeon you, shock you, to hit you upside the head until you're kissing canvas. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that Miles did little more than just punch the keyboard, or mash his forearm down for dissonant effect. Which brings us to...

Two, these songs are angry. Very angry. And very dark. That dark, violent side to Miles Davis was in full evidence on the 1970 landmark Bitches Brew, even though the spirit of the early fusion years was one of exhuberance and discovery. But genius does come with bits of madness, and it's that darker side that emerges. The move into fusion split the jazz world down the middle, and

When On the Corner dropped, the conflict just exploded, and the furious backlash over that album has become the stuff of legend. It's famously said that On the Corner baffled, frustrated, and angered the entire music world, and while I'm sure there were genuine fans who "got it," Miles disappointment was very real, and the music continued its angry, dark voodoo funk descent.

This isn't to say that Get Up With It is a dark or heavy album. There are so many moments of beauty to be discovered. But that's my own judgement, based on the music of my generation - hip-hop, punk, grunge, thrash metal. '70s Miles Davis was the heaviest cat on the planet. Today? He's just another one of us. Good Lord, the dissonant noise and chaos on some of these songs are enough to melt the walls. Certainly more than the hippie or disco kids were willing to handle.

Anyway, I'm rambling on here, as I often do when I'm still figuring things out. This is such an astonishingly deep and layered album that I find myself having to sit and reflect after playing each side (yeah, even when playing my digital needledrop copy). It's very difficult to play through start to finish, not because it's difficult listening, but because there's just so much to absorb. And I'm remembering different moments each time. That is the hallmark of a great album, a truly great album.

On the Corner is widely regarded as Miles Davis' most overlooked, least understood album, but I don't believe that holds anymore. I think Get Up With It holds that honor now. This final phase of Miles Davis' fusion era was pretty much dismissed out of hand. I don't think anyone but the diehard fans (whoever they were back then) and the truly brave were willing to give this album its proper due. And the younger generations, those of us who discovered Miles after his death, well, we're a bit backlogged at the moment. Do you know just how many albums this man released during his life? Do you have any idea how intimidating it is to wade through all of this?

Yes, Kind of Blue is the universal touchstone. In college, it was the default "jazz" album in everyone's CD collection. But just try to work your way past that without devoting several years as a music scholar. I don't think older folks appreciate this. When I told Marcee that my Miles Davis library had reached 25 albums, she was stunned. Then I told her I was only half-way finished.

So is that enough to write about for now? Good Lord, I've barely touched upon the music. Just wait until "Rated X" hits your ears. Does "techno/speed metal" even exist yet? There's probably a half-dozen new musical mutations on this album that have yet to be discovered by the rest of us. Whatever. That's enough for now. Just get your hands on the album, already. It's a monster.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Musings on Pangaea

Blastitude has a great write-up on Miles Davis' Pangaea. Enjoy.

I should point out the obvious, that it's damned hard to find anything about this period of Miles' career. It's getting easier, but it seems the younger voices are the only ones being heard. And even then, the voices are far and few between. These albums are still waiting to be discovered.

Miles Davis - Pangaea

In 1975, Miles Davis and his voodoo-fueled funk-metal band recorded two massive live albums from Japan. The double-lp Agartha is taken from the afternoon concert, while the double-lp Pangaea is taken from the evening show. These would become Miles' final recordings of the '1970s; crumbling health, illness, and the stress of fighting his decade-long electric "fusion" war forced him to finally retreat from public view. Miles Davis would not return to music until 1981, older and changed, and searching for new sounds yet again.

Agharta was released in the US in 1976, but Pangaea only appeared in Japan in 1977. This was fierce, heavy, dense music far ahead of its time. The sound of Miles' final electric band more closely resembles a Millenial funk-metal hybrid, with trip-hop and ambient leanings. Think about that for a moment. It's the year 2009, and we still haven't caught up to what the Miles Davis band was doing. But at least my generation, and the younger kids who grew up on Radiohead, Sonic Youth, Public Enemy and the Chili Peppers can understand the groove. The rock and jazz scene of the early '70s? Forget it. Not a chance.

Anyway, here are some photos of the rare vinyl lp version of Pangaea, which was released only in 1977 in Japan. It completes the quartet of Miles Davis funk-metal albums (and I'm really only using that term loosely, since the music roams across so many landscapes), that darkest, heaviest, and most dense period of Miles career. Thankfully, these albums are all available on CD, so everyone can discover the music for themselves. And it's bloody fantastic music, soulful, expressive, sorrowful, and very, very funky.

Miles Davis' heavy "voodoo hip-hop ambient jazz funk metal" period (whatever we call it...never before has the term "fusion" been so apt), which completes the second half of his electric era - Come Up Get It, Dark Magus, Agharta, Pangaea - remains his least-understood, largely due to the endless battles over the direction of his music from acoustic bop jazz into electric fusion. But this music was simply too far ahead of its time. While kids were busy absorbing Houses of the Holy and Exile on Main Street, Miles and his gang suddenly crash down your door with Public Enemy and Soulfly in tow. Good lord, the '70s was sloping its way into disco.

Today, I think the situation is much different. We're still catching up to the music that Miles discovered three decades ago, but we're a lot closer. And let's face it, kids. Our music is angry, really angry. Miles Davis angry.

In any case, the smartest thing any of us could do is to drop the four Miles Davis voodoo-funk albums into the hands of every musician and dj we find. Then just wait for the new bands to emerge from the streets. I think it's high time the Brittney clones on American Idol were swept away, don't you? Aren't we ready for the next revolution?