Friday, December 31, 2010

Split Second and driving games in general

I really should love driving games. I love cars and I love driving. And with Split Second, I certainly love blowing up the landscape and destroying my enemies. But I've never finished a driving game. I've never even gotten close. Which I would say is "weird" because I seem to have about average twitch, which one might infer would mean that I can finish the average game, or at least get close to finishing the average game. But the truth is that some kinds of video games are niche games and consistently demand more from players until players of average ability are left far, far behind. Driving games, which hale back to simulationist games trying to create a perfect vehicular physics and then to statistically model professional race car drivers . . . which they have now succeeded at pretty adeptly. However, as a result, the people who are "into" driving games are pretty dedicated.

Some of the problem, for me, is the fine motion involved. Modern controllers are fairly delicate but their range of motion is tiny. Theoretically, you can turn the steering of the little video car to various degrees, but for me? When charged with adrenalin, functionally my fine motion is "turning as hard as I can", "accelerating as hard as I can" and "braking as hard as I can". I'm jamming the buttons and hitting the stick. The games, uniformly in my experience, are about fine control and delicate maneuvering -- something I find utterly impossible with the actual PS3 controller. And, of course, is quite a bit different than how I normally drive. Delicate control is pretty second nature in a car because, y'know, otherwise you die.

So, Split Second went from "the best game ever made" into "holy shit, this is hard" in a couple of hours. I've had similar experiences with other driving games. Regardless of the reason, driving games, even arcade driving games, are extremely unforgiving, usually possessing nothing like difficulty settings or adaptive play. The pressure of the game is mere to make your opponents much, much better than you are (and, usually, to have them focus on destroying you while, more or less, leaving each other alone). It makes them, as a group, almost unplayable by anyone but the extremely dedicated.

Or, y'know, maybe people who buy $150 controllers to make the experience more natural and realistic. Maybe playing a game like that with a steering wheel is useful. But for the time being, well, I enjoyed the experience of Split Second insofar as I played it. I would have liked to have been able to play more of it, but the parts I did play were just crazy fun.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Joan Crawford vs. Charlize Theron

This article isn't specifically about the two actresses -- in art, there isn't a lot of versus, or at least I don't think there should be. This article is more about me and my reaction to actresses. In particular, I generally have greater regard for actresses before, say, the seventies than I do modern actresses in a way that I don't feel about modern actors. I don't hesitate to say that Russell Crowe is the equal, as an actor, as, say, Humphrey Bogart. I do, however, hesitate to say Charlize Theron is the equal to Joan Crawford. I realized the reason why, or at least part of the reason, while watching Crawford's The Damned Don't Cry -- the difference is Aeon Flux.

In particular, Joan Crawford never made Aeon Flux, whereas it one of the defining roles of Charlize Theron's career. There's a big generality here, too, and that's the important difference -- Joan Crawford never has the opportunity to be in Aeon Flux.

Looking at Theron's acting abilities, I don't think it's far to say she's an inferior actress to Crawford. And, certainly, not every movie Crawford did was a masterpiece . . . but in every movie Crawford was in, the quality of her acting mattered. Whereas, Charlize Theron and other actresses like her in this regard (notably Angelina Jolie) are in dismal action movies -- movies that no amount of acting skill can meaningfully improve. Theron's skill as an actress was simply irrelevant to the quality of Aeon Flux, much in the same way it's difficult to imagine Ed Norton being able to improve, say, Schwartzenegger's Last Action Hero.

Nowadays, marque actresses are capable of sabotaging their acting careers with awful movies -- but there is another difference, here, that we must acknowledge. Male actors can become stars through action movies. Female actors become stars because of their acting and then make terrible action movies. So what happens is . . . we see Girl, Interrupted and go, "Wow, Jolie can act" and then Jolie makes Tomb Raider and we wince. Whereas, with actors, we often see Mad Max and then, when watching The Year of Living Dangerously, we go, "Oh, maybe Mel Gibson can act."

But, for actor who has built their career on nuanced performances (a category that includes almost all actresses), an action movie is a sucker's bet. Most action movies make their stars look at least slightly and quite often very ridiculous and there's nothing that an actor's ability can do about it. Not only can you see it in Theron or Jolie's career, you can see it with Nick Cage's career. I admire the man's dedication to geekery and if you go back to the early days of his career (you know, everything before Leaving Las Vegas), he's a fine actor. He still is a fine actor -- he plays every ridiculous comic book action role he's been in with the same straight intensity that he brings to his more "serious" projects. It's just that with most of them, it doesn't matter. No amount of acting skill could save Ghost Rider. No amount of acting skill could save National Treasure. They're inherently absurd roles and they make him look inherently absurd. He's been in so many silly movies at this point, it's hard to remember Adaption or Leaving Las Vegas.

This is worse for women, because of sexism. To which I've fallen prey again. It's good that actresses are able to get the same sort of lousy action movies that have built men's careers for decades. But when comparing past actresses to current ones, I've allowed those bad movies to influence me past the point of reason because of the sexism inherent in living in a world dominated by men.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

MMA vs Football is like the circus vs. grad school

I was reading this article by a fella named Luke Thomas about MMA's status as spectacle more than a sport. I developed some comments.

The UFC, fairly publicly, looks to pro wrestling as its business model. People read a lot more into that than the UFC intends. Both have publicly viewed TV shows to capture public attention and then you have big pay-per-view events to capture dollars, both aggressively market their fighters. That's where the similarity ends, but when anyone learns that the UFC is modeled off of "pro wrestling" they start to think the kind of sports entertainment of the WWE.

In Japan, the connection is even closer. One of the early MMA promotions, Pancrase, was started by Japanese pro wrestlers who wondered who would actually win if they were to fight with wrestling-style rules. Several legendary MMA fighters -- Masakatsu Funaki, Ken Shamrock, Minoru Suzuki -- came from the Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Group before they were MMA fighters. Pro wrestling and MMA have a lot of overlap. That's just a fact.

There's a lot of history there, too. In very short, even legitimate sports fights trace themselves back to circus hucksters in fighting sideshows and those circus hucksters became the first fight promoters. With wrestling, since wrestling is sort of dull to watch, they had to spice it up and eventually it got to where it is today. With boxing, well, it is exciting and they never got rid of the legitimate competition . . . but they kept the circus sideshow promotion style.

Other professional sports developed from academic traditions arising in the 19th century. The one line history here is that in the 19th century, rich people were getting fat and weak so they introduced athletics into school curriculum. All the big non-combat professional sports in the US -- baseball, football, basketball, tennis and even ice hockey -- arise out of school curriculum. While schools do have one combat sport, wrestling, freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling are not viable sports for a professional business model (a trait shared by many other academic athletics contests, of course).

So, what I see is that you have professional sports arising from two different places. One of those places is colleges and private schools in the late 19th century and the other is, quite literally, circuses. This leads me to believe that there is an elephant in the room and that elephant's name is "class". Most professional sports are conceptually "high class". Combat sports are the entertainment of low class peons.

Which is where this animosity about fighting sports comes from. People will say it's because of the brutality . . . which I think is a very interesting term. The sport is disliked because the intent of the sport is violent, whereas the injuries in football -- which is an injury prone sport, you hardly finish a pro or even college game without someone being taken off in a stretcher -- or, for heaven's sake, skiing are considered not as significant because they lack that idea of brutality.

I find myself thinking that the concept of brutality, itself, is invested with tremendous class significance. I could talk, historically, about brutality, but I won't. I'll just bring up that no one thinks it brutal for people to hire other people to do jobs that are physically hazardous, from mining to meat packing. The most dangerous job in America is lumberjack. Most jobs could be made much, much safer than they are, but that would cost money . . . I think that cold assessment of money that condemns a large number of people, every year, to agonizing injuries or death is incredibly brutal. Far more brutal than two guys who, basically, love their jobs going out and hitting each other. Sure, they might get injured, but that's true in many, many jobs. It's true in many, many past times and many, many sports.

So I find that condemning a sport as brutal not based on the injuries that people get performing the sport but, instead, on the idea that the sport is a fighting sport is a kind of witty argument used to cover up classism. The problem isn't that it's brutal, but that it's close class . . . it's vulgar. Which puts it in a piece of the way the rich and powerful have always viewed the poor and weak -- we speak wrong, our music is noise, our art is ugly, nothing we can do is right. Even though, to our ears, our speech is poetry, our music reveals our hearts and our art glorious. No, no, it's wrong because it doesn't conform to the standards set by rich people and learned in academic environments. Rock, country and rap will never be classical music, in the same way fighting sports aren't "pure sports" but a vulgar spectacle.

It's simply not about whether MMA is or is not a sport. It's that MMA isn't the kind of sport the "right people" do, it isn't a sport by rich people for rich people, it doesn't hail from a safe academic tradition, it doesn't abide by their rules of what is "proper". It abides by a different logic, the logic of people who see evidence all around that life is a struggle and sometimes fighting is necessary. Fighting sports come from people who don't have presumptions of safety and security.

(I might also so they're also pretty terrifying sports because they constantly remind the rich and powerful what will happen if "they" fight "us". That the working class finds it really easy to find an endless stream of tough guys, that the violence upon which their society depends is not done by themselves, but by proxies in the working class who are much, much better at it than they'll ever be.)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Smashing Machine is a racist piece of emotionally manipulative garbage

The Smashing Machine was one of the first documentaries about mixed martial arts, being a slice of life from one of the earlier fighters in MMA, Mark Kerr. Kerr was a multi-time winner of UFC tournaments and was one of the early stars of MMA. At one time, he could make a credible case for being the toughest guy in the world. The movie is critically acclaimed, I guess because critics like blatant emotional manipulation and racism.

I understand that MMA isn't for everyone. They find it brutal, ugly, whatever. And there is a certain element of brutality in it, particularly in the UFC early days and in vale tudo competitions (which is MMA's mean older brother, a Brazilian style-vs-style competition with minimal rules even). But the movie never makes an argument in any sense of the word. It never says, "MMA and vale tudo are brutal sports where people get injured". What the movie did do is . . . every time it showed an MMA competition it played music straight from a horror movie -- a jangling, discordant music. The movie further manipulated the fighting scenes to be high contrast and oversaturated, creating a harsh and ugly glare to everything -- like in the Matrix movies when they scene is set in an official building with that green light washing everything out. Actual MMA events, on the other hand, look nothing like what you see in the movie. There is no discordant music, there is no lurid lighting. Yet, the documentary takes the stand that it's merely presenting the information with neutrality (there are no voice overs, no interviewers, nothing to make a person think they're not witnessing these things straight out of life) when, instead, it's being highly manipulative, using colors and sounds designed to sway judgment in a particular direction. And I find that dishonest.

I find it dishonest because American MMA is reasonably safe. It's safer than boxing, it's safer than pro wrestling, it's safer than football, it's safer than ice hockey, it's safer than surfing, it's safer than skydiving. If the movie was against MMA and presented an argument, I might disagree with it but that's all. It didn't even emphasize the ugliness -- the blood and wounds -- it manipulated the images to make them more horrible than they, in fact, were. Instead of presenting an argument, it's just manipulates emotions, instead.

The movie also showed, or seemed to show, that all MMA fighters were living miserable lives, even though they mostly only interview two of them -- Mark Kerr and Mark "the Hammer" Coleman, another early MMA fighter.

It is my understanding that most pro fighters really love their job. Like artists, you never have a lack of people who are willing to fight professionally. No matter how poorly you pay them or how poorly you treat them, the fighters will always show up. I understand that people might think that fighters loving what they do is not sufficient to allow it in society. People love heroin, after all, and any one of a number of self-destructive activities that we don't allow people to engage in. I grasp that. But, in general, like artists and other exploited professions, the people in those professions love them. However, you can't really context that the fighters don't love to fight. Almost all of them really, really do.

In The Smashing Machine, even victory brings no pleasure. Mark Coleman, after winning the first Pride FC Grand Prix, is shown with the bent around his waist, in his dressing room looking sad. Was that sadness or . . . er, physical exhaustion, since Coleman had just fought three fights in one night. But even in victory, there was no pleasure, just unending pain and suffering. Again, it is my understanding that professional fighters love their work. While it is certainly emotional for them, well, that's part of why they like it. Yet, the movie takes pains to show that there is simply no joy in these men, ground down by their miserable lives.

The movie also touched on Kerr's drug problems. Somewhere along the line, he picked up a morphine habit. The movie attempts to place this entirely on the brutality of MMA. After a fight, Kerr would need something to help him with the pain. Except . . . content-wise, well, Kerr never says that. And, indeed, it sorta seems like his junkie alcoholic girlfriend might be part of his problem with drugs. But the un-subtle subtext of the movie is happy to lay that on the feet of MMA, too.

Even with the brutality and injuries, there's a lot of manipulation. Near the end, when Kerr is knocked out of the Pride FC Grand Prix, the movie treats a stitch on his chin like it's some sort of major operation, taking a long time and causing considerable pain and stress. The truth is, four stitches in your chin is something that's handled in a couple of minutes. I've been stitched. It's no big deal. It isn't some grueling affair. But, hey, the movie can't wait to just rub it in, again, to the discordant sounds of their nightmare soundtrack that MMA is a horrible, ugly, brutal thing where there is no joy.

But that wasn't the worst. The worst is the depiction of the Japanese.

The movie takes place during Kerr's stint in the Pride FC, a Japanese MMA promotion. The Japanese are also filmed in the oversaturated, grainy style of the film and what is emphasized is their, well, inscrutability. The Japanese promoters come off as inscrutable Orientals. It is hard for me to emphasize how strongly I feel that, and Adrienne agrees (and indeed pointed it out to me). The way they're filmed also makes them seem ugly. The naked racism is pretty shocking. The inscrutable, ugly Orientals with their wily ways taking advantage of a clean cut American kid. I don't know that it was intentional, but someone should have gone, "Guys, are we really comfortable portraying Japanese people as ugly and inscrutable?"

I'm certainly not saying that you couldn't criticize Pride FC. Almost all sports organizations are shady and take advantage of athletes; fight organizations more than most. I've heard MMA professionals say that Pride treated its fighters "like cattle". But, again, the film wasn't about facts. It made no arguments. It just showed a bunch of green tinted, ugly Orientals manipulating what should have been, and would have been without their nasty interference, a clean cut all-American boy. It abjured facts for nasty, hateful images and if there was any bearing to fact, it was entirely a coincidence.

I mean, wow, I don't know the last time I saw a movie this manipulative. Without coming out against MMA, it depicts it as a place of literal horror that leads to lasting injuries, drug abuse and systematic humiliation. While doing so, it paints the Japanese with the brush of racist caricature. It's a pretty nasty piece of work. Fuck this movie.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster -- a movie about steroids

I just watched Bigger, Stronger, Faster which is about steroid use in America. I really liked it. The guy who made the movie, Chris Bell, is an amateur weightlifter who wanted to go pro but never managed to break through.

I've heard the movie is nuanced about steroids. No, that's not it. The movie is mostly pro-steroids -- or pro-choice in regards to steroids. Bell, himself, took steroids briefly but was uncomfortable with the moral issues and stopped . . . but both of his brothers took and continue to take steroids.

The movie lays it out pretty clearly: no drugs are safe, but steroids are amongst the safest there are. Most of what is said by steroids in the press and by the government are lies designed to scare people away from steroids. There is simply no scientific information that makes steroids more dangerous than ibuprofen or vitamin C. Additionally, the benefits for using steroids far and away outweigh the side-effects, generally.

By far and away, the most interesting parts of the movie, for me, were the deconstruction of the idea of "cheating" in the United States. The go-to guy for this, in the movie, is Arnold Schwartzenegger. Here's this guy whose whole career was launched by steroids. Yet, he's also the guy who has repeatedly said that through hard work you can do anything. But I doubt anyone doubts that if Arnold hadn't roided up early and often, he would not been governor of California. No Mr. Universe at 19, no movie career, no movie career, no popularity to sneak in a quick novelty governorship.

The movie also says things I've said about training -- about how high-tech training in the US will, for instance, duplicate the effects of illegal drugs. The case he used was the production of red blood cells. The movie lists four ways to improve your red blood cell count, and thus your endurance: sleeping in a hypobaric chamber, training at the US Olympic training center six thousand feet above sea level, blood doping and taking a drug that just increases your red blood cell count. Two of them are "legal" and two aren't, but they all do the same thing. Clearly, I agree with this and go quite a bit farther.

There is also a great scene where he talks about how drugs are used in other areas to enhance performance. Beta blockers are apparently used by a lot of musicians to stop stage fright. One of the people flat out said that if not for beta blockers they wouldn't be able to perform . . . while also identifying steroids as cheating whereas beta blockers used in auditions is not. Also mentioned was Adderall used by students to study longer and more efficiently . . . which is pretty much exactly what anabolic steroids do for your muscles, they let you work out harder and more efficiently. So, why are steroids bad and Adderall just another thing that's prescribed? Why are steroids different than beta blockers?

Obviously, I'm pretty sympathetic towards this point of view. The view the US has on drugs is pretty crazy . . . and it's crazy all over, too. Steroids is cheating, whereas merely submitting to the tyranny of nature, where some are strong and some are not, is okay? I don't buy that. I've never bought that. Why should anyone? Isn't the function of medical science to improve our health and well-being . . . a necessarily subjective standard?

The idea seems to be "if it's not broke, don't fix it". But that's crazy. It's not that you're not alright with being who you are, it's that there's also nothing wrong with wanting to change and improve yourself. And it's definitely wrong to demand that others behave as you behave -- how much less sensible is it, then, to bow to some arbitrary happenstance of nature?

Additionally, we use technology all the time to change ourselves. That's what medical science does. There are lots of things out there that are just horrible for us -- broken legs are natural, cancer is natural, congestive heart failure is natural, but we don't hesitate to use medical science to stop what is "natural" from occurring in those situations. Likewise, we are all for certain uses of science and technology for improving oneself, things like the extremely high tech diets professional athletes use these days. Oh, sure, it's of dubious if that works, but people are comfortable if it does work (I say it's dubious if it works because in high level sports, some people seriously think that nearly 100% of the athletes use performance enhancing drugs, so all that talk about the efficacy of high-tech nutrition and supplements might be the cover to justify the incredible performance of top level athletes when the truth it is it's mostly steroids, growth hormones and amphetamines). But if you "go too far", you're seen as deviating from "nature" and that's . . . bad? I don't think so and the movie doesn't think so, either, or at least it gives people the choice to decide.

In general, I thought it was a good movie. The narrator was charming in a natural, unpretentious way and he handled the difficult subject with sensitivity, humor and occasionally a little bravery (such as when his mother, in particular, condemned steroids but was then incredibly proud of her son for bench pressing 705 pounds . . . whereas her non-steroided son benched about 170 pounds less). I also more or less agree with Bell, so that helps, of course.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Anthony Pettis wins the World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight belt and isn't human

I didn't think I was going to write about World Extreme Cagefighting 53. But Anthony Pettis really impressed me, again. I was impressed by his badass au batido strike but I think this one is even better.

At the end of the fifth, he bounces off a wall and kicks Ben Henderson for real. It's not the sort of thing you expect to see in mixed martial arts and I doubt anyone by Anthony Pettis and a few other people are going to ever master that kind of flamboyance, but it's really pretty incredible to see happen:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Obamacare justly dies

Ah, so much for having to wait for amendments to kill health care. U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson said that the provision that required Americans to buy private health insurance isn't covered under the commerce clause.

First, thank goodness someone said it. Second, I have, myself, remarked about how it is unique in US law to require, without stipulation, that Americans give money straight to private companies. If allowed to pass without incident, it would be one of the foundations of a real corporate state. Rather than the government levying taxation and fees to provide services, it would simply order Americans to patronize a particular industry. The closest thing we've got to that, now, is the need in most states to get private insurance coverage to drive a vehicle on public roads -- but even so, if you own a car you don't need insurance, if you have a driver's licence you don't need insurance, and you don't need to do either. I'm not real fond of car insurance laws, but I understand the historical background and how these laws were put into place during a time when cars weren't seen as absolutely vital . . . and, indeed, even today they're not vital. But a uniform law requiring Americans to feed money into business, basically without exception? *whistles* That's crazy.

Of course, this will go to the Supreme Court, which will kill it. And rightly so. Any possible good would be more than undone by the legal precedent of requiring US citizens to support industry through legislation. Additionally, of course, it wouldn't have worked. Giving an industry a captive audience doesn't drive prices down. Even in the bizarre logic of capitalism, for capitalism to work requires people to have a choice and one of those choices is traditionally not to buy -- it is incumbent on the business to provide goods and services people think are worthwhile. I actually can't think of a position other than outright corporate rule that would favor a law requiring people to support an industry . . . particularly bizarre given the notorious corruption of that business. I don't find myself mourning the passing of a law that was brazen in its illegality and, furthermore, was a bad idea.

Now, perhaps, we can get around to actually getting universal single payer health care for all Americans as possessed by the citizens of every industrialized nation on earth and quite a few non-industrialized nations. For crying out loud, if Mexico can afford it, the US can.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My thoughts on the 9/11 first responders bill's failure

I don't often talk about politics these days, but I feel the urge to say something about the failure of the 9/11 first responders bill. I don't much, well, care about it. It's not that I don't think that 9/11 first responders shouldn't get health care and other social services. I do. But I think that way about all Americans. I don't think first responders or soldiers or whomever are somehow "special Americans" -- indeed, I think that sort of reasoning, which I feel permeates American society, is aristocratic and, quite frankly, illegal given it's strictly illegal to give extra rights to select groups of Americans. Why should a policeman or firefighter who were at 9/11, and suffers, be given more than a firefighter or a policeman who suffers because of their labor who wasn't at 9/11, just because they got smoke inhalation in San Francisco or Duluth? And why should a firefighter or a policeman who suffers because of injuries sustained on their job get consideration that a construction worker or teacher doesn't get? Not only does it make no sense to me, I also think it's strictly against the legal principles of the US where we're all supposed to have the same rights and freedoms under the law.

The bill's existence is merely a political ploy. It's a Christmas bill, they make 'em up every year, something that doesn't cost very much but also has no real effect, but it can be paraded as a sign of the basic benevolence of the government. Something to feel good about during Christmas. Sure, there might still be forty-five million uninsured Americans, a number that is still increasing despite the "health care bill" being passed (major provisions of which don't go into effect until 2014 and thus have three years, yet, to be watered down, probably in amendments to other bills that will treat the dismantling of any benevolent provisions of the health care bill, which stinks on its own, as compromise) and official unemployment is still almost 10% (while total unemployment is something like 17%, including people who have been unemployed so long that they're not counted in the statistics anymore or have just given up looking for work), but, hey, it'd feel good to get better insurance and unemployment benefits for a couple thousand people. It's just not a big deal.

I don't like those kinds of feel good symbols used to mask far greater suffering, so I'm not for the bill. I'm not precisely against it, either, every little bit helps, but I don't think it's a very good bill. Health care in America can't be solved by laws like this and it would much easier, efficient, moral and benevolent to just give everyone the kind of social services the rest of the industrialized world takes for granted.

However, man, wow, the arrogance of the Republicans is at least as great as the incompetence of the Democrats. I'm very nearly the only guy in America who doesn't think that this bill is a big deal, so to me this is so clearly just theater. To hold up this bill because the top two percent of income earners in America will have their taxes increased by three percent is just a bone-headed move. No one is liking the Republicans for doing this, except the top 2% of the people in income distribution.

I, of course, love stuff like this. Not that 9/11 first responders are getting the shaft. That sucks. What I love about it is how it so clearly and plainly exposes the masters behind the politicians. That Republicans are willing to make themselves look like the Grinch who stole Christmas for the richest people in the world, but unlike the Whos, disaster relief workers suffering some terrible black lung won't be singing around the town square. Right now, a bunch of people who voted Republican -- that swing vote demographic that carried the Republicans into power in the House and gave them big boosts in the Senate and in state houses all across America -- they're feeling a little screwed. When 2012 comes around, they're going to think back to this election and they're going to remember how the Republicans repaid their support with arrogance and spitefulness a mere month after the election. It shows that the Republicans are just downright openly working for rich people, that the interests of rich people are worth more than the health of fire fighters and disaster relief workers. That's just ballsy. Stupid, but ballsy.

It's also refreshingly honest. That's really going to be the Bush legacy, the stripping off of the conservative politicians' masks. Bush really mainstreamed a level of overtly working for business that we've never seen in the US. Even as late as the Reagan administration you saw the Republicans compromising with Democrats, but now you've got these forty-two Senators absolutely refusing to budge even in the face of a bill that's America's sweetheart. Y'know, so the richest people in the world don't have to pay a bit more in taxation.

(The part of me that things the modern democratic experiment is on the verge of total ruin is feeling a bit confirmed, too. The government dynamic is a lot like a dysfunctional family. GOP Daddy and his greedy, mean friends abuse the national family in an orgy of destructive legislation aimed at an anarcho-capitalist state, and when it goes too far, Democratic Mommy comes along and kisses everything better while Daddy promises that it won't happen again, and as soon as Mommy is gone, Daddy's back on the bottle with his nasty friends tearing the place up. Mommy, of course, refuses to get out of this dysfunctional and abusive relationship, no matter how badly Daddy treats her. I've seen the cycle since Nixon, the whole country getting dragged further and further each time towards openly corporate rule.)

It's all of a piece with the rest of the financial news. It'll take decades for unemployment to get back to "normal", if it ever will, and banks -- who are largely responsible for this mess in the first place -- are making record profits in large part because of the bailout money. Well, the bailout worked . . . for banks. Not so well for the millions of people who continue to be unemployed because of the arrogance of the financial elite . . . the same people for whom the Republicans are scrooging the 9/11 first responders.

It's just amazing, it really is.

That said, there will probably be backlash. It's too soon for that kind of heartless grandstanding. The financial crisis might be over on corporate ledgers, but in actual US households it's still alive and kicking. Unemployment is nearly 10% and underemployment is somewhere around 25%. A quarter of people who would really, really like more work either can't get it or can't get enough. Wages are in freefall. It's been years since most people got a raise and it's been longer, yet, since the raises people got kept up with inflation. To starve government programs of cash -- and given the timing of this, it very much looks to Americans like the Republicans are giving the finger to disaster relief workers of 9/11 so billionaires can get tax cuts -- so openly for the benefit of the very rich is too soon. It makes the Republican Senators look like heartless bastards and it feels like an insult (both of which are, of course, true). It makes them look like they're bought and sold by rich people (also true).

As a result, in 2012? Don't expect Obama to get shown the door. Now, everything Obama fails to do will be laid at the feet of arrogant, bullying Republicans. And because of their incredible, ill-timed, heartless arrogance, it's going to look more-or-less true even though, y'know, the Democrats don't need any help to fuck things up. (Seriously. This confrontation should have taken place two years ago when the Democrats had control of, y'know, the House, Senate and administration -- they should have tried to bull through bills and provoked a confrontation with the Republicans from the onset, to demonstrate the extent to which the Republicans are unwilling to compromise and are willing to hurt the American people for the interests of their masters. But the timid Democrats were, of course, unwilling to provoke that kind of confrontation and because they looked weak and ineffectual, the lost big in the 2010 elections.) But in 2012, people will remember the arrogance and spite of the Republicans the same way they remembered the wishy-washy bloodless Democrats from 2008 to 2010.

The smart move for the Republicans should have been to play the good guy until 2012. Then, if they get the Presidency, pull out the stops for the two years they're likely to have parliamentary dominance and the administration. The kind of political grandstanding they're doing, now, isn't going to win them any races in 2012, though, and will likely strengthen the Obama administration considerably in 2012.

So, that's my take on this political theater. I find the bill more-or-less irrelevant, but it's a stupid move to vote it down because you want to see very rich people get richer in a time when many American families are suffering financially.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Anderson Silva's fighters vs. Georges St-Pierre's fighters

There's bitter MMA acrimony over whether Georges St-Pierre or Anderson Silva is the best pound for pound fighter in the world. The essence of the argument is that Anderson Silva is really good at ending fights.

Now, having seen every fight in the UFC that both men have fought, I'm actually a little mystified that GSP hasn't finished more of his guys. You look at the faces of Koscheck or Fitch and . . . they've definitely been in a fight. Their faces are mashed up. You just watch the fights and it's clear that GSP is hitting his foes with just brutal blows. Greg Jackson said that GSP was hitting Koscheck so hard with the jab that Koscheck was being knocked out of range of GSP's cross. And the blows were precise, a large number of them seeming to fall square on the temple or jaw. And the beating GSP gave to Fitch was worse. How did he not finish those fights?

Some of it is just that . . . the guys GSP fights are just less likely to be finished than the guys Silva has fought. Here's how it breaks down. I am counting only fights that they've done as champions in the UFC. Silva has done three fights that weren't championship fights during his reign as UFC middleweight champion, one of them catchweight because his opponent didn't make weight at middleweight and two fights as a light heavyweight. I'm counting them though even if you eliminate them it doesn't much change the basic truth, here.

The guys that Silva fought as while UFC champion or in a championship fight get submitted on average of 2.5 knockouts each and 2.7 submissions, each. The guys that GSP has fought while UFC champion or in a championship fight have an average of 1.7 submissions and KOs each. GSP's opponents are 32% less likely to be knocked our or submitted.

GSP's opponents also have a better win-loss ratio. Silva's fighters average 2.9 wins for every loss. GSP's? 3.4 wins for every loss. So, not only do they get submitted less often when they do lose, they just win more often -- about 15% more.

I've maintained for some time that the welterweights are, in generally, just better than the middleweights and it is apparently quite objectively true. The guys GSP opponents win more often and they get finished less often.

During his championship tenure, Silva has finished a fairly staggering 10 of his 12 fights. GSP a somewhat less impressive 4 out of 8. But I think if you factor the little issue that GSP's opponents are better fighters less liable to be caught in a KO or submission, that statistical discrepancy disappears entirely.

But I'm clearly a GSP fanboy, hehe. Though I love Anderson Silva, too. It's so hard to choose! But I think GSP is currently a better fighter. He has dominated his fights in a way that Silva's last three title defenses were not dominated. He was unwilling to press to engage Thales Leites, he refused to engage Demian Maia in the last two rounds, and he was pounded by Chael Sonnen through four and a half rounds. That is in stark contrast to GSP's destruction of Josh Koscheck, Thiago Alves and Dan Hardy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fixing decisions in MMA -- fire the judges

I was looking at FightMetric.com, briefly, and I'm now wondering why judges exist at all. Seriously.

I play a lot of games, as people know, not just video games that I talk about but also role-playing games offline. My education is in philosophy. I think I have a pretty good idea of what "fair" is. Roughly speaking in the context of a game, fair is a set of rules that is clear and explicit, understood by all the parties in question, designed to test the traits the people in the game wish to see tested. Right now, MMA judging is mostly a black box. Judges, if they have to discuss their decisions at all, do so behind closed doors with their superior . . . who might not, themselves, be able to accurately judge a fight. What you need to make this fair is a system where everyone understands, from the beginning, what they're getting into.

In particular, I think "scoring points" should be non-metaphorical. You'd start with a survey of fights to create a scoring metric. There are already organizations out there that count blows, their power, their location, takedowns and attempts, submissions and attempts, knockdowns, reversals, dominate positions, all that. In such a system, to determine the winner for a given round, you'd just plug the numbers into the formula. The other side would spit out the winner of the round and the number of points in the ten point must system. Give a margin of error, additionally, and if the fight falls inside that margin of error, call the round a draw, and rules for if the fight is a draw that, y'know, whoever has the most points overall wins unless that also falls within the margin of error, at which case the fight is considered a draw.

The rules would, of course, be slightly arbitrary, as are all rules. How do you really compare a takedown with a jab? But right now, it's almost totally arbitrary. The judge just . . . sorta decides. The fighters, themselves, have no idea what the judges are looking for -- some like boxers, some like wrestlers, some like submission fighters. But in a point based system, it'd just be out there. If you wanted to win on points, you'd know what you had to do to score points and deny your opponent the opportunity to score points. Sure, you might be going for a knockout or submission and, y'know, fuck points, but in those fights that went to decision, the criteria of the decision would be clear from the outset.

(The points could be manipulated, of course, to create the fights that people want to see. Fighters not doing enough takedowns to make people happy? Make a good slam worth more points. Stuff like that.)

The judges that MMA has now? They're okay at doing the obvious fights, but who isn't? You don't need to be a subtle aficionado of MMA to know that GSP beat Koscheck. You do need to be a subtle aficionado for stuff like the Rampage Jackson vs. Dragon Machida fight. A clear points based system would mostly remove doubt. Only in the most rarefied cases would the scoring be debatable because, by design, fights within the margin of error would be called draws. Just acknowledge that a small number are going to be too close to call. That would be, I think, much better than relying on arbitrary decisions made behind closed doors.

For a while, you could do them both and see how the judges compare to the system based on objective fight metrics. I'd be a thousand dollars that the fans and fighters would massively prefer the system based on fight metrics because of it's clarity and relative objectivity.

Why Koscheck lost and why George St- Pierre didn't knock Koscheck out

Why Koscheck lost and why George St- Pierre didn't knock Koscheck out

Josk Koscheck lost, in part, because of the American Kickboxing Academy. AKA is really good at taking wrestlers -- Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Cain Velasquez -- and turning them into really good MMA fighters by teaching them boxing and kickboxing. But that's it. So in the fight against GSP, Koscheck was the same fighter who fought Daley, who fought Alves, who fought Thiago. Everyone knew what Koscheck would do -- he would try to keep off the ground and try to set up the overhand right hook. That's exactly what he did, largey succeeding with the first and utterly failing with the second. AKA has taught everything it has to teach to Koscheck, Fitch and probably Velasquez at this point. But because they're a "family", Koscheck, Fitch, Velasquez and the rest will probably stay there, stagnating. Never trust a family you have to pay.

I'm not precisely attacking AKA. They've obviously got a lot of great fighters down there. They're really good at turning wrestlers into MMA fighters. But they all fight alike, really. Fitch and Koscheck are more or less indistinguishable and Velasquez is built on that same mold. Koscheck has definitely reached the point where he's not learning anything new. Everyone know what he was going to do against GSP and that's what he did. On the flip side of things, no one knew what GSP was going to do. It was a mystery. Unsurprisingly, since GSP was able to plan for exactly what Koscheck did and Koscheck wasn't able to plan for what GSP was going to do, GSP won.

Koscheck, and almost certainly Fitch and Velasquez, too, need to train somewhere else. It would probably be a fine idea to keep AKA as their main camp, but they're all getting to be rather predictable as fighters. Go down to New Mexico and train with Greg Jackson, go down to the Black House and train with Silva and Noguiera. (And that touches on the whole "team" thing, too. Koscheck and Fitch have already said they won't fight each other, even if the belt was on the line. Switching camp to camp would make sense insofar that it would allow them to diversify their experiences, but if they're going to take the attitude that they're not going to fight their teammates it would further limit their options. Which I find a bit insane. It is also an interesting way to see how martial arts styles develop but that's for another article.)

Which leaves us with why Georges St-Pierre didn't knock Koscheck out. While it's true that GSP has a fantastic defense, and that was certainly true in his fight against Koscheck, who barely touched GSP, GSP isn't precisely a defensive fighter. He's happy to bring the fight to the other guy. But it's been a while since he finished a fight. Because he has a level of activity that you never see with Lyoto Machida, and his defense is as good as Machida's, well, probably better, it's hard to call GSP's fights boring . . . except insofar that a fighter as skilled as GSP basically has no competition. You look at the guys he's fought, but was unable to finish, and you can tell that GSP was landing serious blows against Koscheck. (Indeed, and I'll mention it as an aside, part of the reason GSP might not have knocked out Koscheck is because he made a squishy spot. Y'know. In Koscheck's skull.)

But, he hasn't finished a fight in a while. Why can't he knock guys like Fitch, Koscheck and Alves out? Sure, some of it is definitely because these guys are really amazing fighters, but there's got to be more to it than that, right?

The short answer is knees. GSP has brutal knees and one of his top trainers is one of the best muay Thai guys in the world but GSP almost never goes for standing knee strikes. His stand-up game is almost entirely Kyukushin karate. He's got some kicks, he's got some directs, all very linear and from the outside. What he doesn't have are the tools capable of really knocking someone out in one blow. I suspect the easiest way to make GSP a knockout artist is to train him in knees. He's already great at controlling the clinch. Give him some knees, give him some elbows. GSP, listen to me, use that nasty muay Thai stuff.

Since GSP trains in Brazil, and I think this would definitely be going out his comfort zone, instead of training in Brazilian jiu jitsu, stop instead at Chute Boxe Academy. Chute Boxe has produced some of the greatest knock out artists in MMA -- Shogun Rua, Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, and they do it with their knees. I know these guys have a level of violence you GSP isn't entirely comfortable with; if there's a brutal mean thug in MMA from Brazil, the odds are he's a Chute Boxe guy. But, for crying out loud, they can finish fights like no one else. And even if he doesn't go to Chute Boxe, he needs to go somewhere to get that training.

Or, at least, learn hooks and uppercuts. I think that knees would be better for GSP. He's already got the power in them and he's got a great clinch, fantastic balance and explosive power. But if not knees, though, then uppercuts and hooks. He also had a fair bit of precision and if he learned to drive uppercuts into guys jaws, he'd knock them out, not just down. For while it's true that GSP has no weaknesses, he has not yet acquired all strengths. I believe he's aware of this and he's been very disappointed in himself that he hasn't been able to finish his last several opponents, and one of the key things missing from his toolbox is one shot knockout power.

GSP is in a nearly unique position of having latitude to really experiment in the ring. He hasn't lost a round in 35 rounds. So, against Jake Shields, he could either throw caution to the wind and try to KO Shields in the first and second, confident that if he hadn't he could revert to his old style and beat him that way . . . or do the first three rounds his old style and use four and five to throw knees and inside uppercuts from the clinch. He's got a latitude with experimentation utterly lacking in lesser fighters. He should use it, I think.

(I suppose it's also possible that even the greatly skilled GSP is simply at the end of his formidable talent -- that this is basically the best GSP that we'll ever see. Y'know, merely the best in the world. But I think he can go further. I think with a little work he could make his offense at least as great as his defense.)

Knees, Georges, listen to me, knees.

And STILL the UFC welterweight champion of the world!

Georges St-Pierre fucked up Josh Koscheck. GSP did not manage to do a dominating ground and pound and brutally punish Koscheck. GSP punished Koscheck on his feet for daring to set foot in Canada. Koscheck was able to top most of GSP's takedowns, until the fifth when GSP could toss him down at will, and proved slippery to handle on the ground. On the other hand, GSP easily defended against Koscheck's takedowns. Which meant that the fight was a stand-up battle. GSP brought the pain. Koscheck's face looked Rocky Balboa after Apollo Creed was done with him.

As I said before, Koscheck's punching consists of a good set-up left followed by an overhand right hook. I knew this and so did everyone else in the world, including GSP. So every time Koscheck came in, GSP hit with a jab like an iron bar. He through some crosses and hooks that landed, too, but the story was GSP's explosive right jab and his perfect defense. Koscheck barely touched GSP. Fight Metric's data is a tally of GSP's dominance. GSP landed 136 strikes and 110 of them were significant while Koscheck landed only 30 with 15 of them significant.

The other side of the story is that GSP couldn't finish Koscheck off. Koscheck has a hard head and the welterweight division in the UFC has some of the best fighters in the world. I would have liked to see Koscheck get knocked out -- something only managed once, so far, by the hard hitting Paulo Thiago, which was a little surprising since he managed to tough out the harder hitting Thaigo Alves. Without a doubt, Koscheck has a good chin and a lot of heart.

That said, St-Pierre punished Koscheck. His jab was like a gunshot to Koscheck's eye. By the end of the fight, the eye was swollen totally shut and he was flinching away from his corner guys trying to tend to it. After the fight, it was found GSP had broken Koscheck's orbital bone and there was an air pocket behind the eye. He was driven to Boston for surgery; he couldn't fly because the rapid pressure changes might further injure the eye. So . . . I guess I definitely got the punishment I wanted. GSP broke Koscheck's skull.

Still, he didn't "finish" Koscheck. But part of why GSP is such a great champion is because he has such great people to fight against. The welterweight division -- which includes most of the fighters who are of "average" height -- is the toughest in the world, I think. So GSP's lack of finishing against welterweights must be contextualized in that light; Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo just don't have the brutal competition that GSP faces at welterweight (both middleweight were Silva fights and featherweight where Aldo fights have only 1 "best pound-per-pound fighter each in the top ten; welterweight has three and those three are generally ranked higher than lightweight's three). Middleweight's #1 contender is Chael Sonnen -- a solid fighter but no one is going to confuse his 25-11-1 record with "amongst the best in the world" and from there the bottom drops out fast. Yushin Okami is #3 at middleweight . . . really? And featherweight drops off equally fast. I'm not saying that Anderson Silva isn't an amazing fighter. He is. I'm not saying Jose Aldo isn't an amazing fighter. He is. I'm just saying that they don't face the stacked opposition of a GSP, where the two and three guys in the weight class are also top ten pound-for-pound fighters. You look at the precision striking that GSP used against Koscheck, it was as good as anything Anderson Silva ever did, it's just GSP is fighting much better guys. Koscheck is one of those better guys.

After the fight, Koscheck took the trash talk down. He flatly said he had talked the trash to boost the hype, he thanked Montreal and said GSP was the "best pound-for-pound fighter in the world". I hope he likes the bigger paycheck the hype caused, because not once did GSP and Koscheck touch gloves respectfully and GSP blasted apart Koscheck's skull. I hope his paycheck keeps him warm in the hospital. I found myself distinctly unimpressed that after he got his ass kicked he was suddenly "respectful". Like his behavior in The Ultimate Fighter towards Brad Tate, it follows the classic bully pattern. Someone stands up to the bully and he backs down. It doesn't mean the bully isn't a bully. GSP was completely respectful, praising Koscheck and even asking the Montreal audience to give the guy a break. GSP comes off as a decent guy even after following up his crushing victories over Koscheck in The Ultimate Fighter with a literally skull breaking victory in the octagon.

I suspect this is it for Koscheck's title pretensions. He'll still be able to make money as a fighter, but the odds of him getting another title shot are pretty low. GSP dominated him. GSP barely broke a sweat in the fight and it's the second time GSP beat Koscheck easily. I don't know how this is going to effect Koscheck's rankings, he was beaten by the best in the world in a fight everyone figured he'd lose, anyway, but he's 33 and there are a bunch of guys who are going to get a shot at GSP before Koscheck could possibly hope to get a third rematch, a rematch for which there would be basically zero interest given their now well established relative skills: GSP wears the Viking hat, Koscheck is the bitch. Koscheck would be in line after Jake Shields, Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, Martin Kampmann and whoever else might come up. Those four fights, alone, will take two and a half years to do, which means, realistically, Koscheck would be 36 by the time he got to fight GSP, again. (Koscheck's best hope is, realistically, that GSP moves up to welterweight, which would definitely throw him back into the contender mix.) Assuming the UFC would even care to put Koscheck up against GSP, again, after GSP brutally dominated Kosheck in their last two fights and assuming that Koscheck is even a contender, then. I'm sure that Koscheck will want to fight, again, but he's going to be sidelined for a long time because of this. If the UFC follows its normal procedure, they'll put him on a mandatory 180 day suspension and then he'll have to be cleared with a CAT scan. Brock Lesnar broke Heath Herring's orbital bone and Herring still hasn't returned to fighting after 2 years. It's possible GSP has retired Koscheck, so those extra pay-per-view buys better be able to keep him warm at night because his next paycheck might be a long way away.

Elsewise in UFC 124, Stephan Struve handily defeated Sean McCorkle about four minutes into the first round. After a near submission by McCorkle via kimura (a kind of figure four armbar) on the ground, Struve was able to reverse into a full mount and ground and pound McCorkle. It'll probably be the last we see of McCorkle in the UFC. McCorkle's submission victory over an past-his-prime and never-really-that-good Mark Hunt will now be contextualized as "pure luck" or "irrelevant". The mystery wasn't that McCorkle beat Hunt, but that Hunt was allowed in the UFC. Apparently, Dana White liked Struve's performance and is ready to move the 22 year old Dutchman up to contender status. Struve was also extremely gracious in victory. I like Struve. I don't know if he's championship material, yet, but he's twenty-two years old. He's got good heart and good skills and the time to turn them into great skills. And heaven knows the UFC heavyweight division needs new guys.

In his fight against the skilled John Howard, Thiago Alves proved he's still a top guy. He utterly dominated the fight and broke his two fight losing streak. Granted, that "losing streak" was the both the champ, Georges St-Pierre, and the number one contender, Jon Fitch, so losing to two best guys in your division isn't precisely humiliating . . . but in the Fitch fight, Alves didn't make weight and didn't perform well, probably because he messed himself trying to make weight. But Alves apparently has a new diet and made weight easily and he looked his old self with crisp punches, brutal leg kicks and rock solid takedown defense. I like Alves and I'm glad he was able to bounce back from his losses to GSP and Fitch, and especially the shadow that was cast over him because of his fight with Fitch. I'd like to see a Alves vs. Fitch rematch at some point, see what Alves can do when he's not lethargic from a bad cut.

Which pretty much clears up all my strong feelings about UFC 124. It was a good card. I hope to see more Jim Miller (who won with a nasty kneebar against a skilled BJJ fighter and whom Dana White says is now "on his radar") and Mark Bocek (who had a wicked submission via a triangle that he started from the mount and then spun it over to cinch up the choke; I'm really happy to see more Brazilian jiu jitsu fighters being aggressive and not relying on people fighting them in the closed guard).

But . . . now to obsess about the Anderson Silva/Vitor Belfort fight. Brazilian on Brazilian action, oh, yeah, bab-ee. As far as it goes, I find myself increasingly on Belfort's side. Silva's last few fights have been pretty underwhelming. I know he had a hurt rib when he fought Chael Sonnen and lucked out to get the win, and you can attribute his poor showing to that injury, but before that his performance against Demain Maia, basically refusing to engage in the last two rounds because he knew he'd won the first three, makes me doubt his will to win. I am suspecting Vitor Belfort might sort that out -- will we see the Silva who knocked out Forrest Griffin easily or the Silva who ran from Demian Maia? In terms of personality, Silva is also something of a cipher. He is respectful, but he mostly shuns the spotlight, I feel. Belfort, I believe, is still hungry for the title and heaven knows he has brutal knockout skills, winning four of his last five fights by knockout. He has wins over tough guys like Rich Franklin, Wanderlei Silva and Randy Couture. We'll see.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Alan Wake not enough to keep me A.Wake. Get it?

About halfway through the second chapter of Alan Wake, I decided I'd had enough. I got the game because I thought it would be a psychological thriller, for reals, at least as real as, say, Hard Rain. What I got is an annoying rail shooter.

I like a good rail shooter, don't get me wrong. But what Alan Wake has in common with an increasingly high number of shooters is lack of an enemy radar. Some people might say that an enemy radar is unrealistic or takes away from immersion. You know what else takes away from immersion? Lack of stereoscopic hearing and peripheral vision. In the real world, you in fact have a number of cues from the environment when someone is coming up behind you with an ax. As a result, I think games that both don't have a radar and base their gameplay around enemies pouncing you from all directions as faulty game design. At no point with a video game should the game be designed around weaknesses in the interface (in this case, the fact the game is 2D and will be heard without stereoscopic sound), and a game that has enemies appear behind you while at the same time depriving you any meaningful cues that you're about to get hit with an ax is using the interface against you. It's a cheap way to make a game more difficult and I don't like it. I like my interfaces to work with me, not against me.

The game also had spawning enemies without having spawning resources. While it wasn't particularly a problem when I stopped, it would, I'm sure, eventually become a problem. It should be basic game design -- if your enemies spawn, so should bullets.

But the real reason I quit the game, which will be the bulk of this post, is because the plot elements of the game stank to high heaven. There are going to be considerable spoilers from this point out.

The first really big problem is that Alan Wake is an idiot. He's totally that guy who, in horror movies, you say, "Don't go out alone" and who always goes out alone. Except he's your character and because the game includes no choices whatsoever, you have to do the stupid things that you know are stupid. And when you bill your game as being "psychological horror", you've got an obligation to the audience not to be stupid. When psychological horror works, it works in part because we can see ourselves having made those same decisions, that we can imagine a reasonable person making such decisions.

The hero has a dream and that dream seems to be real, including darkness zombies that appear out of nowhere and a light that is suspiciously like many people's interpretation of the Christian god. When his wife, who is completely helpless, of course, with the additional enforced helplessness of having a crippling phobia of the dark (ugh), vanishes, he tries to find her . . . though when he speaks to the police he learns the place where his wife vanished does not exist.

See, that would bring me up full stop and I think pretty much every reasonable person out there -- when your internal narrative has places that don't physically, objectively exist. When your wife vanishes from the place that doesn't exist, an intelligent, sane person would start to consider things in a very particular way. Either your worldview is totally wrong and the universe is fulled with supernatural events or you'd have to consider the very real possibility that you're deeply insane. In the first place, if you become convinced of your sanity and the existence of supernatural events, then you should reasonably and logically proceed from that understanding. Your wife is in the hands of supernatural beings, or perhaps is an illusion or supernatural manifestation of some kind.

Or you say you're insane and realize that you can't help your wife. You're crazy. "Doing something" would be a crazy something and you shouldn't do it, you should institutionalize yourself immediately.

Of course, there is supernatural stuff in the world . . . at which point is stops being "psychological horror" and becomes "supernatural horror". And only slightly "horror", really, because, y'know, it's really an action game, so it's more like dark modern fantasy. The character never seems to make this jump, though, that he's now in a world of magic -- that the world has, in fact, always been magic and he has simply been ignorant to this fundamental truth. So, y'know, maybe the worst idea to follow would be to dance to the strings of your supernatural puppeteer who has kidnapped your wife.

This also makes sense from a purely criminology point of view. Kidnappers want something. As far as I got, Alan never bothered to ask what the kidnapper was or what the kidnapper wanted. In short, he was an idiot. His wife is being held prisoner by supernatural creatures and he doesn't ask a single bloody question of himself or anyone else in the game. (I am given to understand that he eventually does ask questions, when an Explainer makes herself clearly known. More bad writing. If you need an Explainer to explain your plot, you need to do a rewrite.)

He was an idiot who didn't even get properly equipped. The idiot, for instance, knows that darkness damages his foes and enough light holds them entirely at bay. So, he never once stops and gets an industrial strength flashlight, relying on the flashlight from the glove box of his car. While, of course, it would be unlikely for a small town to have a 5000 dollar battery operated searchlight on the shelves, since they're next to a state park, they would have a camp store where one could get . . . elaborate lightage, including lamps that are really, really bright in a radius and very large, intense flashlights. Not to mention he could also get a gun a little more macho than a .32 revolver at the local gun shop.

Additionally, he might want to bring his friend along. Another set of hands, another big ass flashlight and another gun. Or, y'know, the fuckin' cops who might believe you a little more when you can demonstrate the existence of the supernatural. They absolutely do have ten thousand dollar portable searchlights and paramilitary weaponry. I mean, come on, the kidnapper says to you not to talk to the cops you ignore them. Yeah, maybe if there is a supernatural force involved, that force might magically know. But even then . . . so? Maybe doing the bidding of monsters is a bad idea, y'know? He never considers that following the advice of a monster is a bad idea.

This might come off as being a little big "boy gaming". Y'know, that "real people" would not actually do that. I guess that depends on the real people. I consider myself a real person and, amongst my friends, I'm actually the pacifist of the bunch. I have several friends who have several of these things just hanging around their house and a number of them wouldn't even imagine visiting a state park without a couple of guns and they'd definitely arrive with a lot of light sources. Indeed, I'd arrive with more light sources than these guys.

But the disturbing thing is . . . this is simply never discussed. The "psychological horror" element seems to be the character is an idiot who does what monsters tell him, even though he knows they're monsters. You can't even say that the fear and terror of his wife being in their hands drives him to irrational decisions -- he is very calm. Indeed, far, far calmer than I find plausible from this wimpy writer guy who has not, who admits he'd never shot a gun before, and yet seems comfortable and capable of gunning down multiple attackers in a world turned topsy-turvy because of all the, y'know, monsters and magic. The character just makes no kind of sense.

He's also a jerk. He's a writer who hasn't written anything in two years, even though he's otherwise a national best seller. When they go off to the woods together, his wife gives him a manual typewriter to encourage him to write. (As a writer, I was definitely, "WTF?" A manual typewriter? Really? Not, y'know, a Macbook Air? It was another one of those poorly scripted moments that took me out of the story. I understand it was an homage to Kubrick and Stephen King and The Shining, but the book was written in a time where many writers still did write with typewriters. Y'know. Decades ago.) He freaks out, bites off her head completely out of proportion to her "offense" -- which was a well-meaning attempt to be helpful. I believe it was meant to demonstrate that Alan Wake was sensitive about not being able to write. But it came off like he kicks puppies in the nutsack. He verbally and physically bullied his wife and stormed out into the dark, knowing her crippling phobia would prevent her from following him.

When his friend, after a week incommunicado, comes down to check up on Alan and his wife, that guy gets treated with the same sensitivity -- which is to say, none. Alan is a jerk. So, not only is he an idiot he also has no human emotions. By this time, the psychological horror angle is in absolute tatters. Yet, that's why I got the game. If I had known it was really just another horror shooter, I wouldn't have bothered. I find horror shooters insipid. It's evil . . . that you can shoot! Seriously, you're going to go with that for your plot? Shootable evil? I understand that video games are a bad format to discuss teleological questions, but it's not like there's someone making them do it. Really, it's okay to make the enemy something that could plausibly be beaten with a gun. Or, y'know, in your game of psychological horror make it about, I dunno, psychological horror. Start with putting a character with accessible human emotions into the game, even just one would have been nice.

The plot is also juvenile. I think it's an indictment of video games that their reviewers are so debased as to give a plot that starts off with saving the helpless woman a passing grade. That is, in and of itself, a terribly, horribly hackneyed plot. Great. Another helpless girl to save. Whatever. Unsurprisingly, the plot under that plot is the incredibly predictable "the world needs to be saved" plot. Which is the plot of something like eighty percent of video games. So the game slides from the clich├ęd to utterly, remorselessly predictable. Of course, video game reviewers and most video game players have painfully debased ideas on what constitutes a "good story". Almost none of them realize that an infinite procession of games about saving the game world from ultimate evil simply cannot be called "creative".

The plot was also a pastiche of things much better than in. In particular, many of the salient features of the plot seem lifted fairly wholesale from John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness (but also The Shining, The Dark Half and old school World of Darkness that I could see in my limited play of the game). Reading the plot summary strengthened this idea quite dramatically. It's always a bad idea to remind someone of a good movie in your bad game.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Predictions on GSP vs. Koscheck and Sean McCorkle is a trollin' dork

The fight is tomorrow. I'm sure that by Monday I'll have some after fight report. But the only fight I'm really invested in, on the whole card, is GSP vs. Koscheck. Well, actually, I'm also pretty interested in Struve vs. McCorkle. But first GSP and Kos.

I've seen most of the pro fights by both fighters. They've also fought before and it was an interesting match to watch a second time. GSP, on two cards, lost the first round -- it was a reasonably close first round with Koscheck seeming to have a very slight upper hand in standing striking and Koscheck ended the round taking down GSP, but the middle of the round was GSP. On my scorecard, I gave the round to GSP but I can see how someone else would give it to Koscheck. The next two rounds were all GSP, the second round almost frighteningly so. The fight, as a whole, was dominated by GSP.

The first with Koscheck in their first fight was the last time GSP lost a round. I'm sure the UFC commentators will go on at considerable length about how Koscheck has grown as a fighter and that's certainly true. They will probably focus less on how much GSP has grown during the same time, which is at least as much and quite possibly even more, it's just that we have trouble wrapping our heads around how good GSP has improved because he's always been so good.

Subsequently, both fighters have fought about the same number of fights. GSP, in his fights since Koscheck is 6-0. Koscheck, since losing to GSP, is 6-2. GSP has been generally fighting better fighters because, well, he's the champ, including dominating Thaigo Alves in Alves' title shot . . . a fighter who dominated Koscheck in their fight, almost knocking him out pretty much every round. Then Koscheck was knocked out by Paulo Thiago. Paulo Thiago hasn't gotten a title shot and might never. He's on the line of deserving one -- which is to say, quite possibly not a worthwhile opponent for GSP. And he clobbered Koscheck.

Four of Koscheck's last six victories have been stoppages, whereas GSP has only managed to stop three of his six. The difference is, again, in the quality of the fighters. Koscheck stopped Yoshiyuki Yoshida, Dustin Hazelett and Frank Trigg by KO or TKO. Yoshida and Hazelett will never be confused for championship material and Frank Trigg was in his late thirties when he fought Koscheck. Koscheck submitted Anthony Johnson who, again, will not be terribly confused with a top contender. Meanwhile, in his last six fights, GSP stopped UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes (generally thought to be the greatest UFC welterweight of all time with the possible exception of GSP) with an armbar, former welterweight champion Matt Serra with brutal knees to the body and BJ Penn, former lightweight and welterweight champion, with a corner submission because, y'know, they had to get Penn to the hospital after the savage ground and pound GSP gave to him. GSP has been stopping Hall of Famers and former champions, Koscheck guys who are too old to be in title contention and, well, no-bodies.

So, "who's going to win" isn't a particularly hard analysis. GSP has fought better guys and dominated them. Koscheck has lost to, granted, world-class Thiago Alves and the not-quite-world-class Paulo Thiago, and the general quality of his fights have been less than GSP. Not to mention that GSP has beaten Koscheck before. So we shouldn't be talking about if GSP is going to win but how GSP is going to win, because Koscheck's chances appear to be slim. For him to win would require a lucky punch or an unexpected injury on GSP's part. But, realistically, we should be talking about how GSP is going to win.

The safe money is that GSP will win like he won last time -- by dominating Koscheck on the ground. Even Koscheck has said that GSP will "probably take me down". Then, of course, he said he has some "tricks", but the truth is that Koscheck isn't a tricky fighter. He wins in two ways -- taking the guy to the mat and dominating them with his superior wrestling skills (an option he doesn't realistically have with GSP) or using his left to set up a right overhand hook haymaker while throwing caution to the wind. But . . . tricks? No. Every fight Koscheck has won he has won either by wrestling dominance (often, as most recently with Semtex Daley, with the old lay and pray technique or using his wrestling to achieve a good ground and pound or get a rear naked choke) or throwing a couple of bombs and hope the other guy walks into them. He's not a complex fighter nor a particularly intelligent one.

GSP is . . . a complex fighter. After Penn's corner threw in the towel, GSP talked about his strategy was to get Penn to the ground and . . . I dunno, do some crazy wrestling pressure points thing to force blood up into Penn's shoulders to stifle the effectiveness of his punches. It was crazy that this was part of his plan, but it makes sense considering Penn's knockout power. And every time he fights, he's got a plan. So in his first fight with Koscheck, the first thing GSP did was a takedown to "take him out of his comfort zone", because GSP had noticed that Koscheck had never fought from the bottom. It worked. Koscheck, afterward, was pretty surprised that GSP went after his wrestling and attributes the loss to the fact that he had been so focused on stand-up fighting and the presumption of his superior wrestling that he didn't imagine GSP might attack him in that way. Which is why I can't just say the Penn "plan" is bullshit -- GSP does things other people don't even imagine doing. He's the kind of fighter that makes you realize what a kung fu master is, that there's this thing he does that transcends the physical into some crazy realm of combat psychology and physiology that's just universes above "throwing a good overhand right hook". So, I wouldn't actually bet that Koscheck has too many tricks but I would bet GSP has some pretty good ones.

Taken together, I think that GSP will notice something I noticed when watching Koscheck's fights. The thing I noticed is . . . Koscheck has never seriously been kneed by anyone. I heard rumors on the Internet -- ha, I know! -- that GSP has been practicing a lot of muay Thai. And on Countdown to UFC 124, they spent a lot of time focusing on GSP's muay Thai coach.

GSP already has good knees. He's stopped fights by kneeing downed opponents in the body, including the tough Matt Serra. He has thrown standing knees, too, but he isn't an artist with them like an Anderson Silva or Wanderlei Silva (no relation; Silva is the Brazilian "Smith", apparently, and it's coincidence they both like knees) -- but GSP's got all the traits. He's got great balance, he's got great grappling, and he's great at transitioning from striking to grappling. His legs are already like pneumatic pistons. So, I'm hoping for the plum clinch and down goes Koscheck's head and up comes GSP's knee in a highlight reel facial obliteration that leaves Koscheck soaked in blood and asking where he is in the ambulance.

If not that, I hope GSP just ground and pounds the guy, like he did to Jon Fitch and that is the safe bet -- Fitch is a better MMA wrestler than Koscheck and it stands to reason if GSP did it to Fitch he can do it to Koscheck. I want it drawn out and painful. I want Koscheck to understand the totality of his domination. I want him to realize that he will always be the inferior fighter. Failing that, a good Cro-kick that puts Koscheck's head in orbit would be nice.

And then I want to forget about Josh Koscheck. He'll have gotten his shot, which I admit he deserves, and afterward he can go back to being a respectable but not particularly noteworthy fighter in the autumn years of his career. I even hope he has the brains to stop before he becomes a circus sideshow act like Ken Shamrock and Chuck Liddell (and where Tito Ortiz is on the cusp of being).

Okay, now about Stephan Struve and Sean McCorkle. I don't particularly know either fighter very well, though I've seen both of them fight. They're pretty good. I'm not sure either of them is in top contender status, yet, but they both could be in the not too distant future . . . and, quite frankly, the UFC's heavyweight ranks are pretty thin right now and they need to find guys to fight Frank Mir, Brock Lesnar, Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez. You can't really have a league with those four guys fighting each other, even assuming that Lesnar wants to fight (which I have heard is in question), so it's more like three and a half guys, and Mir and Lesnar have already fought twice and Lesnar and Velasquez once. So, sure, the UFC needs to get their heavyweights up to speed and Struve and McCorkle are prospects for contender status (tho' neither of them will, I think, make it). But they're not marquee fighters right now and neither one of them has caught my particular attention so while I'm interested in the fight, it's a little abstract, as in the sense that I hope it's a good, tough fight.

But, apparently, McCorkle is a trolling asshole trash talking master of disturbing proportions. In particular, he's the first MMA fighter to really take the trash talking to social networking sites. On TV and in front of people, well, you've at least kinna sorta gotta behave. You start spewing obscenities, they'll just focus the camera away from you. Not to mention, that kind of verbal assault is cause in some states for the other guy to kick your ass and claim fighting words.

As anyone who has spent any time on the Internet knows, none of that is true there. McCorkle is the first MMA fighter who is also a reasonably diligent and skillful Internet troll. Yikes. I figure most of the people reading this have an idea what's coming next, where I'm going to quote McCorkle talking about Struve. Such as:

The only thing Stefan Struve has ever finished in his whole life is "another guy off".

Or: Stefan Struve was once arrested for impersonating a cocksucker.

Or: Stefan Struve pees sitting down.

So, yeah, really respectful. Needless to say, I'm on Struve's side and, to be fair, he's slightly favored to win, so it won't be a shock if he does.

Kirby's Epic Yarn vs. Alan Wake -- FIGHT!

I just finished playing Kirby's Epic Yarn, which is a weapons grade adorable side scrolling platformer, and started playing Alan Wakem which is supposed to be a game of psychological horror but the first bit has play like a Resident Evil-style shooter. The transition is pretty brutal.

Kirby games are beginner's and children's games. They're good games, even great games, but they're not designed to be hard. As a result, they're often very fun in a low pressure way. Indeed, they're reminders that you don't really need a lot of complexity to make a game fun. And Nintendo is, as always, the master of platformers. The game is short on complexity and difficulty, but long on creativity.

Alan Wake, at least the shooter parts, remind me of some of the cliches I dislike most about shooter games and why, increasingly, I avoid a game that's primarily a shooter. Especially horror shooters. The game has limited ammunition, making it possible your only recourse is to dodge wildly and hope your foes don't hack you down. It has enemies that spawn in the most inconvenient places, meaning the designers confuse "annoying" with "exciting". And then there's the flashlight. A modern flashlight can be expected to run a dozen hours or so. This one eeks out a minute, tops. This is one gaming cliche that needs to be stamped out of existence. I've played in games where the character's suit is nuclear powered by the flashlight lasts a few seconds. I understand the reason why they do it, but it has reached the point of an overused cliche and a crutch. When I'm playing a video game and I'm given a gimmicky flashlight, all I'm thinking about is how flashlights aren't even vaguely like that and how it'd be a nice change of pace to get one that works.

I've also just gotten to the point where I'm frustrated by "horror games" where the horror can be shot in the head. The game opens up with a quotation from Stephen King about how unanswered questions are the ones that stay with us the longest. Well, shooting doods with a gun doesn't really address that. Maybe the rest of the game does, I dunno, but I do know that I would really like to see a new kind of horror game, a stealth game and a platformer (both of them actually fairly obvious, if you think about it -- foes that you have to avoid either through athletics or sneakiness) or a role-playing game (also obvious, horror tabletop role-playing games being the third kind invented, after fantasy and sci-fi), anything that isn't just another shooter! In the end, almost all horror shooters are just an excuse to make a really hard shooter. (I've heard Alan Wake isn't particularly difficult, but that's certainly generally true about horror shooters.)

THIS IS THE FACE OF EVIL!Part of the reason I'm already unsure about this game is because Kirby's Epic Yarn was so totally the antithesis of Alan Wake. Rather than boring us with dialog that is already forced and acting that is already stilted, with a plot that makes a person grind their teeth at the cliches -- looking for the lost girlfriend, really? though I'm also aware most video games audiences are inured to plots of that pedestrian mediocrity though there are hints of one of video games' greater stupidities, saving the world, might also be in the offing -- Kirby's Epic Yarn is light, fast and enjoyable with a minimalistic control scheme that gets a person into the game immediately while creating clever levels that you enjoy playing and a beautiful art direction. Did I mention the cute? The game is so cute that your primarily "enemies" are so adorable it's hard to hurt them. When disarmed, easily done, their sole "attack" consists of flumphing towards Kirby, which knocks him back a little. You have to be a kitten crushing chicken rapist to want to hurt the Waddle Dees, pictured left. Kirby's Epic Yarn reminds us it's actually pretty easy to make a really fun game. It doesn't need a lot of gimmicks or a complex control scheme, just some solid art and music direction and some clever game design. Alan Wake reminds me that state-of-the-art game design refers to polygons per second, not creativity.

Maybe I'm being harsh on a game that I've played for forty minutes. And maybe it's nostalgia that makes me crown Kirby's Epic Yarn with such laurels. But going from a game that was immediately engaging and intuitive to play into yet another complex control schemed horror shooter stripped my gears pretty hard.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tito Ortiz is the person Josh Koscheck wants to be

I recently watched season 3 of The Ultimate Fighter with coaches Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. Hitherto, I had thought Ortiz to be a giant asshole and, frankly, he sorta is a giant asshole, but he's a good coach and a surprisingly sensitive guy. In one of the early episodes, one of the fighters was crying and Ortiz was saying how it was OK to cry, that Ortiz cried himself, that everyone has feelings, that MMA is an emotional sport. Ortiz coached the fighters in TUF so well, not just contentiously in the sense of being there and working hard with them, but also in the sense of being there for them emotionally during what was a trying time for them, that it made me reevaluate him as a person.

Josh Koscheck was on season 12 of TUF as one of the coaches and it just reinforced the idea he was a shallow, thoughtless asshole. It was Adrienne who said that Josh Koscheck wants to be Tito Ortiz when he grows up.

It's true! Everything that Koscheck wants to be, Ortiz is already an intensification of that. So, during Countdown to UFC 124, Koscheck talked about how hard it was to grow up in Waynesburg, PA, because he was mixed race. Hey! Tito Ortiz is also mixed race, growing up in Huntington Beach, CA, where . . . his family was sometimes homeless and he was mixed up in gangs. So, kids picked on Josh for being mixed race but Ortiz was homeless and in in gangs. So, in the realms of hardluck backstories, Koscheck's is pretty lame compared to Ortiz.

Both of them are wrestlers who went into MMA. To give Koscheck his due, he was a really great college wrestler with an amazing record. Once they got into MMA, their careers took similar paths except . . . Ortiz was a champion for three and a half undefeated years. Oh, sure, nowadays, after all kinds of back surgeries, Ortiz is a shadow of the fighter he once was, but not too long ago, Ortiz was the best. Maybe Koscheck will beat GSP -- lightning could strike, the bookies odds are hovering around 4 to 1 against Koscheck -- but it is vanishingly unlikely that Koscheck will ever have the kind of success at MMA that Ortiz has had. (Koscheck is 33. His title shot Saturday is likely to be the only title shot he ever gets, he's sort of hit his peak and this is it for him. If he loses, the UFC welterweight division is stacked with great fighters. He'll go to the end of a very long line, it'll be four or more years before he has the chance to fight for the belt, again, and the odds that a 37 year old guy can fight at that level are small . . . at least, without chemical assistance.)

It is also difficult to compare their MMA careers outside the metric of Ortiz's multi-year championship winning streak. Ortiz did his best fighting between 1997 and 2005, when MMA was still in its infancy in the US. There were no MMA coaches, nothing but some guys in their local gyms trying to figure things out. Ortiz figured out not just the basic elements of US MMA -- submission wrestling plus kickboxing -- but he was one of the first guys to put it all together. He didn't hit and then wrestle, he used strikes to open up takedowns, he used takedown attempts to open up strikes, he flowed from one to the other as one complete unit. Nowadays, Koscheck does that, too, lots of guys in MMA do that, but Ortiz helped to invent that style of fighting. Koscheck fights like Ortiz, a style that Ortiz . . . kinna invented. Koscheck will leave no lasting impressions on MMA. He's a good fighter but when he's gone, we will forget him.

They're also guys who revel in playing the heel. Except one of them is a goddamn master of it and it's not Koscheck. Koscheck's idea of playing the heel is to make fun of Georges St-Pierre's sometimes halting English. WTF? Really? You're going to make fun of the guy who speaks, like, three times as many languages as you, really, Josh? Tito Ortiz, on the other hand, after defeating Guy Mezger put on a T-shirt, right there in the ring, that said, "Gay Mezger is my bitch". On another occasion, his shirt said, "I just fucked you in the ass". Needless to say, people freaked the hell right out about that. They did things like cut away from Tito so they wouldn't show the shirts, they talked endlessly about the deep and bitter rivalries created by Ortiz -- particularly with Ken Shamrock and the whole Lion's Den (Shamrock's MMA training camp). I don't know that Koscheck has managed to create even one real rivalry. I think he's tried with GSP, but he selected the wrong target, then, on so many different levels and it has failed utterly. Everyone knows, win or lose, GSP will get over Koscheck. He won't be frothing at the mouth and screaming obscenities, something Ortiz could get people to do with regularity.

There are also little things, too. Like Ortiz has mastered the look that people give when they want to fight. If you've ever been in a punk club, you'll see people with this certain . . . look. It is an advertizement that he wants to fight. He used it to freak out Ken Shamrock all the time. He'd also do that twitch towards guys like he was going to do something . . . but he wouldn't. Koscheck has nothing like that. He tries to play it off like he's Mr. Cool but it comes off like Mr. Douchebag -- Koscheck has the exact same smirk as George W. Bush.

Even their fight winning signature moves . . . Koscheck just runs around and flexes and roars in a predictable way. Ortiz would turn to the losing corner and with loose hipped cocky pantomime, draw his six-shooters and gun 'em down. Then he'd mime digging a grave and pulling the other person into it. Ortiz projected a suave toughness and cockiness that was just universes ahead of anything Koscheck can do. The hell of it is, Ortiz would have the crowd on his side. It's been a while since Koscheck had that.

And then there's their women. It's not particularly surprising when an elite athlete has an arm candy girlfriend, but Ortiz has twins with Jenna Jameson. Now, I'm not what you'd call porn savvy but even I know who she is. Josh Koscheck's girlfriend was Holly Madison. You'll probably have to use Google on that one, but she looses the dignity war with a porn star, shall we say.

So, they're both mixed race guys with troubled backgrounds, except one of them is a lot more troubled and wins in the hardluck case. One of them is a giant of MMA who bestrode the earth like a colossus and is a big part of the sport's current popularity. One of them is has achieved a rare mastery of being the trash talking heel. One of them is dating the woman who brought pornography into the mainstream, the other dates someone who is even more socially irrelevant than that. I can only conclude that Ortiz is what Koscheck wants to be . . . and is failing to be.

Hell, they're even mixed race guys who dye their hair blond. Except Tito did it first.

(AND, here's the hell of it, Ortiz is also one of those "give back to the community" guys who has worked with at risk youth in Huntington Beach to keep them away from gangs. Ortiz has this whole other life that Koscheck can't begin to touch.)

Nam Phan vs. Leonard Garcia and what to do about lousy MMA judges

Nam Phan beat Leonard Garcia, easily and obviously, to everyone but the judges. It's not precisely a secret that the Nevada State Athletics Comission doesn't take MMA seriously. The judges stink. The lousy call on the Phan-Garcia fight highlights that fact. Joe Rogan has openly criticized the judges and asked for a letter writing campaign.

Yeah, Joe, good plan. Email letter writing campaigns are so known for their massive effectiveness. The NSAC will dump the letters into the trash, especially considering a large number of them will be profanity-laced incoherent rants. Just read the comments section of any MMA board. These people, as a rule, are not going to write nuanced, subtle letters about the inadequacies of the NSAC judging of MMA, pointing out the randomness, lack of visible criteria for selection judges and lack of transparency and accountability in the judging process. They're gonna be, "Fuck you for robbing Phan!" Many won't even be that coherent. It won't take many incomprehensible, bitter, ugly rants to invalidate the whole process.

I read somewhere, suggested sarcastically, that perhaps the fighters should picket the NSAC. That's actually a pretty damn good idea. Las Vegas is very bad-press-phobic and a bunch of MMA fighters do business in LV and I'm sure that the sports books can't be happy with the number of irrational judging decisions in MMA (which discourages people to bet on bouts) . . . so getting Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture down at the NSAC demanding action might actually work, because they'd bring press and the press would be bad for the gaming industry.

Rogan, and others, are swift to point out that the UFC has nothing to do with the NSAC. Which is kinna sorta true but is an evasive answer. Sure, the UFC doesn't control the NSAC, but to say a multi-billion dollar organization is politically powerless is idiotic. Not to mention, like I mentioned before, casinos can't be real happy with all the bad calls in MMA. Sure, some fights are going to be hard to judge, but when the judges can't even call the easy ones, it keeps people away from the sports books. So you could probably get some casino clout behind it, too.

And, of course, there is absolutely nothing that keeps the UFC in Las Vegas. Sure, there'd be some expense to move to, say, California (where the MMA judges are generally better and the criteria more transparent) or another state that has better judges. But even if the UFC didn't want to pack and and go down to San Diego or LA or Miami or wherever, there is also no compelling reason to do events in Las Vegas. Sure, it's convenient because guys like Dana White just have to roll out of bed and go down to a casino venue or whatever, but it's not inevitable and the extra expense of doing more shows on the road will be made up, in the long run, by greater visibility.

So, no, the UFC is not at the mercy of the NSAC. The UFC has been there for ten years. You'd think, by now, they might take this industry seriously. If they don't . . . why stay?

My guess at what will happen? Basically nothing. The UFC uses Nevada judges for events all over the world where there are no local judges. That's not particularly a damning indictment of the NSAC by the UFC. And the UFC president, Dana White, likes to tell fighters "not to leave it in the hands of the judges". In his evil genius mind, the unpredictability of the judges might motivate fighters to end fights before the final bell. You don't leave it in the hands of the judges because they SUCK, which is probably as good a motivating tool as fight night bonuses. Certainly the NSAC isn't going to bow to the pressure of some guys sending in emails because Joe Rogan asked them to do so.

The winning strategy to get this to change is the fighters. If you could get high profile fighters to make it an issue, to bring bad press and bring up corruption and/or incompetence regarding the NSAC, something they could do on their own and since a bunch of them live in Las Vegas already it wouldn't even be particularly hard for them to do, they could probably force the NSAC to make the necessary changes. Las Vegas hates that kind of negative publicity. It reminds people that Las Vegas isn't a "safe" town, that not only are casinos stacking the odds against gamblers they're not even content with the bad odds and are willing to do anything to keep people's money. Which is true, but casinos hate it when people get reminded of it, and in this issue it's actually in their best interest to improve the quality of judging (tampering with judges is a crude technique that modern casinos don't need). But that probably won't happen because fighters are kind of trained to be, in the public eye, nothing but meat. It is almost impossible to find out anything about fighters other than fighting, no matter how many interviews they have done, or specials or reports. They're defined as "fighters" and, publicly, they're discouraged from being anything else.