First impressions on the Black Ops III Beta.

Explosions! Big vehicles! Ridiculous outfits! Must be Call of Duty time!

Explosions! Big vehicles! Ridiculous outfits! Must be Call of Duty time!

It’s almost time for the next iteration in the Call of Duty franchise and this year Treyarch is up to bat. I wasn’t sure I’d get into the beta because on the consoles you had to preorder the game to get in so I assumed the same would be true for the PC and I don’t preorder because I’ve been getting review copies for the past several years. As it turns out, Treyarch decided to open the PS4 beta up to everyone before it came to an end and on the PC if you had bought any of the last three CoD titles then you qualified for the beta on that platform. In short, getting into the beta for Black Ops III was way easier than anyone expected. The beta was released on Tuesday evening (I considered it a birthday present) so I downloaded it and got a couple of games in before bed. Then I spent a good chunk of last night playing it and now I think I have a pretty good feeling of what it’ll be like even though it’s currently a beta.

At first the game was surprisingly ugly until I figured out that it had set all of the graphics options to their lowest levels by default. I don’t know if it does this for everyone or it was just that unimpressed with my gaming rig, but a few adjustments here and there and I got it looking halfway decent while still maintaining a 50 – 75 frames per second performance. The default keybindings move some of the more important ones (such as weapon switching) to new spots leading to some confusion when you try to bring up your secondary by pressing the 1 key and nothing happens because it’s now the X key. So I had to spend some time remapping some of the keys. Once you get things a little closer to what you’re used to you’ll find that, yep, it feels like another Call of Duty game. That is to say, despite some new trappings and some new abilities, the basic gameplay feels about the same as what you’re used to if you’re a fan of the series.

Which isn’t to say that nothing’s changed. Like Sledgehammer Games’ Advanced Warfare, BO3 has revamped the movement system in the game bringing unlimited sprint, boost assisted jumps, swimming, and wall-running ala Titanfall. It’s also now possible to fire your gun at all times whether you’re in the water, mantling a wall, or wall-running. I won’t get into my opinions on this just yet — that’ll come later when I review the release version — but it definitely makes the game more run and gun than it used to be.

The one opinion I will share right now is that the thing I was most worried about, the addition of “specialists” with a bonus ability/weapon they can activate every so often, doesn’t seem to be as disruptive as I thought it was going to be. Yes, the abilities/weapons are very powerful, but so far they seem to only be available two to four times in any given match. Here’s some gameplay footage I captured of one my my better rounds to give you an idea of what it’s like:

At the moment I’m definitely intrigued. It helps that the folks at Treyarch are much more responsive to fans who play on the PC than Sledgehammer Games was. Not only are they doing a beta on the PC, but the lead developer is on Twitter soliciting feedback and answering questions. I couldn’t get anyone from SG to answer any questions before or after AW was released. The PC version of AW was plagued with problems and SG did little to address them and as a result the player count dropped dramatically within the first two weeks of the game’s release. I still play it occasionally, but it’s one of the few CoD titles that hasn’t held my interest. I’m actually playing more Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops 1 than I am Advanced Warfare these days. I don’t know yet that BO3 will be my new favorite, but it’s already doing better than AW.

 

John Oliver takes on Televangelists by setting up his own church.

A lot of people assume that, as an atheist, I have a problem with folks believing in God and going to church. The truth is so long as you’re not hurting anyone else or passing laws based solely on what you think your God wants, I generally don’t give a shit if you spend your Sundays dressed in uncomfortable clothes at your local church taking communion or speaking in tongues or whatever other silly rituals your particular belief system engages in. I spend my Sundays doing laundry and playing video games so it’s not like I’m being all that much more productive. Do I think your beliefs are stupid and a waste of time and money? Yes, yes I do, but if it makes you happy and keeps you from climbing a clock tower with a high powered rifle then you go right ahead and keep on believin’.

That said, there’s one part of Christianity that I have a big problem with and that’s the Televangelists. Particularly those who push the concept of Prosperity Theology or, as it’s more commonly known, Prosperity Gospel. To skeptics and many other Christians it’s often referred to as Greed-Based Theology. For those not familiar with this particular variation of Christianity, prepare to have your skin crawl:

If it weren’t for the religious trappings these guys would be referred to as con-artists and would be liable for all manner of legal trouble, both civil and criminal. Yet wrap it all up in the shroud of Jesus and it becomes perfectly legal. The IRS, already hated by most people, won’t even glance in the direction of most of these “churches” for fear of bringing down the wrath of the righteous.

My cynical side tells me that if there are people so stupid that they can’t see this nonsense for the scam it is then they deserve to be fleeced by the wolves in sheep’s clothing, but my better nature gets angry that these, often desperate, people are having their faith taken advantage of. This is also why I have problems with the whole concept of spiritual faith. When you can believe something is true with no actual evidence to support that belief then you’re ripe for plucking by those who would manipulate that faith. It bothers me that those who can least afford it are often the ones who get most sucked into these scams.

Which brings us back to John Oliver who it appears is attempting not so much to shut down these churches as prod the IRS into scrutinizing them more closely. I’m already of the opinion that all churches should be taxed just like the rest of us, but it’d be nice if the IRS at least looked into the ones who are flagrantly abusing their flocks to amass great amounts of wealth. If there aren’t any laws in place to regulate this sort of thing, then perhaps it’s high time we had some.

The claim that the Civil War wasn’t over slavery is false.

The recent brouhaha over the Confederate flag after the mass shooting by Dylan Roof of black members of a Charleston church brought out a lot of old arguments about the Civil War by folks defending the flag. The most common of which is the claim that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. A claim that is clearly wrong to anyone who has spent much time studying American history.

In a (possibly vain) attempt to settle the matter, the folks at Prager University enlisted the aid of Colonel Ty Seidule, Professor of History at the United States Military Academy at West Point, to speak on the topic:

That explanation is simple and concise and is something you can share with your crazy right-wing uncle the next time he starts ranting about slavery not being the reason the Civil War happened. It probably won’t convince him because those folks tend to be immune to reality, but at least you can save some typing.

Updated to add: This video should be particularly persuasive to Conservatives given that Prager University is the brainchild of Conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager. So this isn’t the work of one of us wussy liberals, but of one of your own.

Cuddles finds the Christmas bows.

Our orange tabby cat, Cuddles, is very playful and surprisingly smart. He knows where we keep all his favorite toys and he’ll often seek them out to bring to us when he wants to play. One of his all-time favorite things to play with are the bows that go on gifts. Anne did some tidying up of the computer room yesterday and made the mistake of letting cuddles see where she put a few stray bows and ribbon.

This is the result:

Cuddles love of gift bows is so deep that we often find a ton of them under the couch when we move it to clean. In fact, when the movers picked up the couch to carry it out to the truck back when we moved at the end of May we found a ton of bows that Cuddles had shoved under it. Not only that, but there was a tear in the in fabric cover under the couch that had collected quite a few of the bows so as the guys carried the couch out the door and to the truck they left a trail of Christmas bows behind them like some weird variation on Hansel and Gretel. It was still dropping bows as they carried it into the new apartment. I don’t know if we managed to get all of them out of it.

Pat Robertson tells viewer to try to get atheist grandkid enrolled in Christian school.

Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and its signature show The 700 Club, has a long record of saying douchey things. So much so that I rarely comment on them anymore, but this one was particularly aggravating.

In a segment where he replies to letters from viewers he responds to one from a grandmother concerned that her grandkid is being raised as an atheist by his father so she’s seeking Pat’s advice on what to do about it. Pat’s idea? Try to get the kid away from the atheist parent and into a Christian school or a vacation Bible school.

Christians pitch a fit everytime Richard Dawkins says that he feels parents shouldn’t force their religion on their kids, but I’ve never heard Dawkins suggest that someone should actively try to get a child away from a parent intent on indoctrinating them. If he had you’d never hear the end of it.

If you’re going to argue that Christians, or members of any other faith, should have the right to raise their kids in their faith then the same should be true for atheists. Pat Robertson should’ve told that grandmother to mind her own business, but that would’ve been only fair. He’s not interested in fair, he’s only concerned with spreading Christianity as far as he can before he kicks the bucket because he thinks it’ll earn him extra whipped cream on his Sundaes in heaven or something. He also knows that if you can hook ’em when they’re young they’re more likely to stay with it as adults. To many Christians children are like Pokemon: Gotta catch ’em all.

 

Today Disneyland is 60 years old.

On July 17th, 1955 the gates to Disneyland first opened to throngs of waiting people. The event was covered by ABC with an hour long special that amounted to a massive commercial for Disney’s new venture. That special is available in its entirety on YouTube:

This was 12 years before I was born and it’s fascinating to look back and see how it was covered at the time. Seeing Ronald Reagan show up not as a politician, but as an actor, is really weird.

The park cost Disney $17 million to build (about $151 million in today’s dollars). An amazing amount of money at the time, but the park quickly turned a profit and continues to do so today. Average yearly attendance these days is 14 million people spending around $3 billion while they’re there. Not bad for a 60 year old amusement park. It helps that the park has been expanded and attractions refreshed several times over the years giving folks a reason to come back. I’ve never been to Disneyland myself, but I have been to Walt Disney World in Florida which is only 4 years younger than I am.

Anyway, I thought the ABC special made for interesting viewing so I thought I’d share it here.

Clever girl.

 

Christian Pastor has the cure for AIDS.

Baptist Pastor Steven Anderson wonders why we’re wasting so much money on research to find a cure for AIDS when he already knows how we can have an AIDS-free world by Christmas. It’s really quite simple and he found it right there in the Bible. Kill all the gays. No gays, no AIDS.

No, he really said that:

And Christians sometimes wonder why so many folks think they’re the bad guys.

This isn’t the first time Anderson has said something like this — I’m sure I’ve blogged about him before — so this isn’t really news, but it’s important to remind folks that there are people like him out there saying things like this. His brain is so damaged he thinks this simplistic (if horrible) approach would work. Apparently ignorant of the fact that you don’t have to be gay, or even sexually active, to contract AIDS.

I have no doubt that should Anderson’s dreams of a Christian Theocracy in America ever come to pass that he would have no trouble sleeping at night after following through on his suggested solution. Too much religion will make you crazy and Anderson’s a good example of that fact.

The latest trailer for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has hit the net.

And suddenly I’m 9 years-old all over again. For all I know the movie might be as bad as the prequels, but for the moment I couldn’t be more excited.

John Oliver interview with Edward Snowden.

John Oliver has been knocking it out of the park ever since he left The Daily Show to start his own comedy news show on HBO. Last Week Tonight manages to both entertain and inform and, in some ways, is a better show than TDS. Best of all, HBO and Oliver makes full length segments of the show available on YouTube so you don’t have to pay for HBO to see it.

Each week Oliver picks a topic and does a deep dive on it and this week he’s tackling surveillance and Section 215 of the Patriot Act and how we’re not having the debate we should be about the NSA and domestic spying. It’s a great segment, but it’s even better because he managed to score an interview with the man who arguably made it possible to have this debate, Edward Snowden, and he doesn’t pull any punches with his questions:

Once again I have to marvel at how a comedy news program manages to do better journalism than the supposed news channels. It also breaks things down into a context that is not only funny, but which the average person can comprehend.

As Oliver points out, part of the reason we’re not having this debate is because the subject matter is so highly technical and hard to understand for most folks. It’s doesn’t help that too many people barely pay attention to what’s going on around them. Ask them who Taylor Swift is and they can recite lyrics from her latest single, but ask who Edward Snowden is and too many don’t have a clue. These programs need to be seriously revised and given more transparency, but that’s not going to happen so long as we don’t bother to talk about them.

Finally, this gives me a chance to make use of this:

Would've been funnier back when it was still winter, but fuck it.

Would’ve been funnier back when it was still winter, but fuck it.