Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Five Greatest Ass-Kickings in Military History

Counting Down the Five Most Horrifically, Hilariously One-Sided Beat-downs in the History of Human Warfare


Obviously, I’m a huge history nerd. I mean, a big one. Of all the social sciences out there, I reckon history is my favorite, based on the central fact that, if you can understand historical events and movements, you can pretty much make sense out of everything else going on in the modern world. That’s not to say that stuff like philosophy, psychology or sociology aren’t important or beneficial for complete understandings of the human condition (because, clearly, they are), but if you wanted to simply comprehend the current direction of humanity, history, and history alone, gives you just enough insight to make heads and tails of the world you are experiencing.

That, and history is, additionally, pretty goddamn entertaining, too. We all like to think we know the grand narratives of history, but once you really get into the meat of matters - I mean, do some serious, heavy duty, getting’-sweat-on-the pages research - you come to a sudden epiphany about the Hegelian concept of history: namely, the fact that this stuff is some of the most hilariously, absurdly violent shit the human mind could ever dream up.

A lot of times, history plays out like the blackest comedy we as a species could fathom. For example, very few people are aware that the Castro brothers and Uncle Che staged their bloody Cuban revolution only after renting a boat from an elderly Floridian, nor are most people aware that the French kicked off the Vietnam War after they challenged what they thought was an unarmed Viet Cong to a valley showdown (the VC, by the way, decided to show up lugging Chinese heavy artillery through the hillside, which we can only assume led to the French forces attempting to hastily retreat in what must have resembled something out of a Jerry Lewis movie.)

While modern history gives us plenty of such examples of morosely humorous absurdity, it doesn’t have shit on the sort of military debacles that transpired prior to the French and American Revolutions. Throughout history, there have been military beat downs so hilariously one-sided - almost always initiated by incredibly backhanded tactics, of course - that you can’t help but laugh at the brazen treachery of it all.

We tend to reflect on military history as this glorious, vaunted system of honor and valor - but as we will soon see, a lot of times, that stuff gets thrown out the window in favor of school yard bully and pro wrestling bad guy tactics that, much to our shock as modern spectators, weren’t just effective, but monumentally, decisively so.

There have been tons of one-sided military drubbings in history, from the battle of Thermopylae all the way up to the U.S. invasion of Grenada, but the battles we’re discussing today aren’t just monumental ass-kickings, they are, without question, the absolute most awe-inspiring, all out mass battlefield annihilations in all of history. These aren’t just the equivalents of 12-0 footy routes, or 72-0 pigskin blowouts, these things are the historical equivalent of the Detroit Red Wings flying down to Illinois, beating the Blackhawks 30 goals to nothing, and then setting half of Chicago on fire, or the Atlanta Braves blanking the Phillies to the tune of 20 runs, culminating with Chipper Jones taking a dump inside the Liberty Bell.

Simply put, these are the most amazing, awesome and horrifically hilarious all-out ass-kickings in military history, proving once and for all that in the figurative battlefield of life, things like “honor” and “humility” pretty much always take a backseat to ruthless displays of both human cruelty and cunning.
NUMBER FIVE
The Battle of Yamen
(March 19, 1279)


Military Lesson Learned: Man, is it ever easy to defeat an entire navy, pending they're all puking from dysentery while you pretend to have a rave. 

It kind of goes without saying, but the head honchos of the Mongol Empire were some of the nastiest sons-of-bitches that ever lived. The Yuan Dynasty, which ruled over China up until the middle of the 14th century, were certainly worthy of their Mongol ancestry, as the Battle of Yamen – which officially ended the Song Dynasty of China in one afternoon of mass murder, exploding boats and the 13th century version of break-dancing – proves once and for all that you do not mess with people that claim the Khans as their forerunners.

At the time of the battle, The Song Dynasty was pretty much effed and hard before the fighting even began. Rather than do battle with the invading Yuan horde, the Song Court decided to just up and leave their capital city and turn the entire government into a wayfaring naval society off the coast of Guangdong. The fact that their reigning head of state was a nine-year-old probably didn’t help their chances against the Mongolians, either.

One fateful day in 1279, however, Zhang Hongfan decided to pay an unexpected visit to the Song Dynasty’s “Waterworld”-like community, which lead to Zang Shijie doing the only reasonable thing a military commander could do in such a situation: he ordered his troops to immediately burn down everything they had before the Mongols got a chance to.

Shijie, quite aware that his troops were ready to haul – err, steer ass – as quick as they could then ordered his troops to form a 1,000 warship convoy, with the emperor’s ship placed dead in the center, pretty much making the thing a bright, glowing red bull’s eye for the Mongol navy.

Although the Song merchants held off the initial Mongol attack, Hongfan’s naval blockade ensured that that Shijie’s troops would eventually run out of resources – and when they did, they resorted to drinking seawater, thus turning the entire naval force into a squad of diarrhea-stricken sitting ducks.

Hongfan than split his naval reserves into four squadrons, with three of the units completely flanking the Song armada. Then, in what may very well be one of the most awesome displays of psychological warfare ever, the Hongfan navy started playing festival music, lulling the Song into thinking that the Mongols were bored/drunk out of their minds, and thus, easy pickings. And then, in what had to have been one of the most hilariously horrific moments ever, a sizable army of Yuan troops leapt out of some strategically placed cloths as soon as Shijie’s troops initiated an attack.

Completely encircled, the Mongols then closed in on the Song’s convoy, and the rout, it was on. The end result? According to the Book of Song, a week afterward, the bay of Guangdong was choked with literally hundreds of thousands of corpses. The truly amazing feat wasn’t the fact that the Yuan slew so many damned people (easily 100,000 in one afternoon of battling, at the absolute least), but the fact that they managed to do so while absurdly disadvantaged: with only about 50 or so warships with no more than 20,000 people, the Mongols decimated more than 1,000 ships, completely obliterating a largely untrained combatant force of at least 200,000 people.

NUMBER FOUR
The Battle of Kulikovo
(September 08, 1380)


Military Lesson Learned: If you ever want to ward off a Mongol attack, just dress up your king in non-king-ish regalia, and the rout is on.

Alas, as every dog has its day, so doth every Mongolian. The Battle of Kulikovo is a historically important battle for several reasons, but most notably, because it spelled the beginning of the end of the "Golden Horde," while additionally serving as the vital first step to all of them Slavic principalities merging into what would ultimately become Russia (which, I hear, played a pretty important role in shaping 20th century history.) 

The Battle of Kulikovo is not only a major historic battle (signifying both the symbolic formation of the Russian Empire and the symbolic fall of the Mongols), but also one of the most balls-out super-heavyweight-battles in all of Eurasian lore. By the time the battle officially concluded, a good one-third of Dmitri Ivanovich’s troops (consisting mostly of warriors pulled from the numerous principalities of the pre-unified Russian countryside) were dead as shit, but in the process, they managed to basically wipe out the entire Golden Horde, uh, horde facing them, as before sundown on Sept. 8, 1380, the Don River was choked and clogged with at least 100,000 dead Mongol soldiers…no small feat, mind you, considering the Mongolians outnumbered the pre-Russians by a margin of at least 2-to-1

The Mongol-Russian hostilities began several decades earlier, when Golden Horde splintering resulted in the formation of independent, non-Mongol tribes in what is now modern day Russia. The Mongols, already on the decline as far as international influence was concerned, decided to stage a surprise siege of Moscow by sending Golden Horde general Mamai into the territory. The problem is, the dude camped outside Moscow for almost TWO YEARS waiting for a large enough Mongol army to join him, following the Tatar army getting their ass kicked at the Battle of Vozha in 1378. Not surprisingly, at some time during the waiting period, the leaders of the Moscow Duchy sort of noticed the inordinate number of troops just hanging out across the river...and thus, one fateful September morn, the unified Russian ranks decided to stage a surprise attack of their own. 

As customary, the battle began with the “champions” of both sides doing battle (with the Russians sending in, of all people, a monk to challenge the Mongolian ass-kicker extraordinaire Temir-murza), which resulted in a surprising double-death that nicely set the tempo for out and out bloodletting for the rest of the afternoon. 

The Russians were successful against the Mongols for two primary reasons; first off, they pulled one of the greatest low-budget battle tactic moves of all-time by dressing up Ivanovich as your standard, run of the mill-looking knight, with the Golden Horde chasing after some unfortunate peasant pretending to be the head general for most of the fighting. They followed that up with a double-pronged flank attack, which left the Horde completely encircled and completely S.O.L…and if you’ve ever played any of those “Total War” games on a PC, you know exactly what happens next. 

When it was all said and done, a good 20,000 Russian and Lithuanian forerunners had bitten the dust, at the expense of a Tataro-Mongolian body count at least five times as heavy. Needless to say, that was the last time the Golden Horde ever went camping alongside the Ugra River….

NUMBER THREE
The Battle of Chibi 
(Winter, 208-209 A.D.)  


Military Lesson Learned: If your military opponent offers you several ships worth of "priceless treasures," and said ships sort of look like they're on fire as they come hurdling towards you, odds are, those boats probably don't contain treasure.

Historically, the Battle of Chibi symbolizes the death of the Han Dynasty and the birth of the Three Kingdoms age in China – unless, of course, we’ve all been lied to by a series of niche-market Super Nintendo games. Admittedly, we’re not really 100 percent sure what went down at the Battle of Chibi – occasionally referred to as the Battle of Red Cliffs – outside of the fact that it involved lots and lots of people dying somewhere close to the southern end of the Yangtze River a long, long time ago.

This much, however, we do know. At the beginning of the third century, China was split into three major provinces, with these guys named Sun Quan and Liu Bei running competing (but not combative) territories in the south, and this dude named Cao Cao ruling the northern plains with an iron fist…when he wasn’t writing limericks about turtles, of course.

After Cao Cao declared himself the Imperial Chancellor of Han in 308 A.D. (which is sort of like naming yourself “Master of the Universe” in the modern day), he decided that then was the time to unify his empire with the two provinces to the south…and by unify, I really mean “kill the shit out of.”

In a move right out of a James Bond movie, Cao Cao decided to “formerly” declare war against Sun Quan by sending a letter promising 800,000 troops at his doorstep in the not-too-distant future…to which Quan allegedly responded to by chopping his desk in half with a sword and declaring that anyone that even thought about surrendering would likewise get equally katana-ed. Shortly thereafter, Quan sent a good 20,000 troops to link up with Liu Bei’s armies in preparation for an all-out donnybrook against Cao Cao’s massive army – an army, by the way, which was really only about a quarter of the size Cao said it was in his letter to Quan. And if that wasn’t enough, almost one half of Cao’s standing military consisted of captured southern Chinese troops. Shockingly, this was a strategic oversight that Cao never seemed to mull prior to starting his campaign, which, of course, was destined to be an absolutely monumental failure from the start.

The battle (which went on for months, by the way), began with Sun-Liu troops engaging Cao’s troops…who, as fate would have it, had been marched into absolute fatigue by their leader, and thusly about as effective in battle as teats on a boar. Following a quick retreat, Sun-Liu strategist Huang Gai capitalized by sending Cao Cao a fake surrender letter, promising the northern leader boats and boats of treasures as a sign of graceful defeat. Of course, those boats were actually the third century equivalent of suicide bombs, as the Sun-Liu troops followed behind the decoy ships, which were then set ablaze and shoved right into Cao Cao’s armada. Much confusion (and even more people being broiled alive) followed suit, along with yet another Cao Cao retreat.

The retreat ultimately proved to be Cao Cao’sundoing, as his troops got caught in a ferocious rain storm that completely impeded their attempts to advance the Huarong Road. Doused in mud and festering with disease, the Cao forces were basically eradicated before they even made it to Jiangling. The end result?  The Sun-Liu brigade of no more than 50,000 troops absolutely decimated Cao’s 200,000 man plus forces, killing at least 100,000 of them over the course of just a few months.

NUMBER TWO
The Battle of Fei River
(November, 383 A.D.)


Military Lesson Learned: Never EVER let a captured head of state go free so he can tell his countrymen that he has been captured, because odds are, he'll probably tell his military or something to attack you instead. 

Nobody does civil war quite like the Chinese, and the Battle of Fei River remains one of the most important – as well as amazingly one-sided – battles in all of history.

In 4th century China, the country was divided by two warring regimes, the Former Qin Dynasty in the north and the Jin Dynasty in the south. The Former Qin Dynasty was led by this guy named Fu Jian, who was one of those types that always felt the need to display his superiority by brute force. As such, he ultimately decided that the south needed to be absorbed into his empire, and plans were made to do battle with the smaller, albeit scrappier, Jin Dynasty in the spring of 383 A.D.

Although Fu’s troops were larger than those in the south, they were also poorly trained. Fu, in a statement that seems to encapsulate the failings of thousands of cocky military strategists, once remarked “My army is so huge that if all the men throw their whips into the Yangtze, its flow will be stopped.” The Jin troops, actually aware that they would be fighting in their own territory, quickly arranged for a quick advance-and-retreat model, which would not only lead to a decisive victory for the boys from the South, but led to one of the most monumental ass-beatings in the history of classical military warfare.

After Jin forces captured Shouyang in October of 383, Fu made the disastrous decision to free the captured Jin official Zhu Xu so he called go tell a fellow high ranking official to surrender. The thing is, instead of telling him to throw in the towel, Zhu told him that not all of Fu’s troops had yet to advance, thus giving the Jin troops an easy opportunity to stage a surprise counter attack back in Shouyang. When Fu ultimately made it into Shouyang, he made the fatal assumption that the Jin Dynasty troops were just as large as his, leading to a completely unnecessary strategic retooling that basically guaranteed his own ass-pounding.

Despite being told by his generals to not do it, Fu authorized his troops to make a fateful trip down the Fei River, were his ships were routinely ambushed by Jin forces. Zhu, a military genius a good 1,800 years ahead of his time, decided to bribe a number of Former Qin officials to disobey orders, culminating with Zhou just saying that the Qin had been defeated, and spreading the propaganda around China until the Former Qin troops and officials actually believed it. In other words? Zhu conquered a nearly one million man strong army, using what is tantamount to the Jedi Mind Trick.

With the Former Qin troops in absolute disarray, Zhu authorized an offensive that wiped out almost 80 percent of the standing Fu forces…which led to the Former Qin Dynasty absolutely imploding and falling into a civil war, while Zhu – the P.O.W. turned courier turned god of war – went on to have the greatest prestige imaginable attached to his namesake, with a long running “Dynasty Warriors” character being named in his honor.

The Drive-In Totals on this one? According to Jin Shu records, a humble force of no more than 80,000 Jin troops killed, at rough estimate, about 700,000 of the almost 900,000 invading Qin warriors.

Whether or not the real-life Zhu, at any point in battle screamed "I'm starting to work up an appetite!", however, has yet to be verified by historians.

 NUMBER ONE
The Battle of Salsu
(612 A.D.)


Military Lesson Learned: If you notice that the river you crossed to get into enemy territory is now missing, and you see several guys with axes standing atop a recently constructed dam...well, now's a good time to start doggy paddling.

There have been battles in history with fatter body counts than the Battle of Salsu. There have been battles that, qualitatively and quantitatively, were far more important, disastrous, and monumental, too. However, as an example of one force simply beating the dog snot out of its opposition, there is no denying this: the Battle of Salsu is, unquestionably, the single greatest ass-kicking in the history of human warfare...that is, if it actually took place, which, yeah, a lot of people are sort of skeptical about

The battle began with Chinese Emperor Yangdi of the Sui Dynasty attacking the Korean stronghold of Goguryeo, sending over a million troops to raze the countryside. The expertly trained Koreans managed to hold off the invading Chinese, even after Yangdi sent more than 300,000 soldiers into the capital city of Pyongyang. There, General Eulji Mundeok staved off months of Sui attacks, ultimately pushing the Chinese back into the countryside. Mundeok’s forces then managed to send the Sui attackers all the way back to the Salsu River, where the groundwork for the most amazing ass-kicking in military history was soon to be plotted by the Goguryeons.

Mundeok’s plan was deceptively simple, yet undeniably effective. You see, before the Chinese were able to retreat across the Salsu, he decided to dam up the river. For some reason, the Sui forces didn’t ask any questions as to where that one river they crossed to get into the country went, perhaps because they were too preoccupied with hauling ass out of Korea. And as soon as the Sui troops got halfway across the river basin, take a wild guess what Mundeok did to that dam he constructed? Go ahead, guess.

As a result, thousands upon thousands of Sui forces were drowned, and the unlucky few that managed to survive were soon assailed by Goguryeon troops from every conceivable direction, with the Chinese being chased all the way back to the Liaodong Peninusla.

Clearly, the Battle of Salsu was a decisive victory for the Goguryeons, who completely defeated the demoralized Chinese soon thereafter. The Sui Dynasty never really recovered from that fateful excursion, with the empire subsequently being replaced by the Tang Dynasty in short order.
Nobody is really certain how many Korean troops fought in the Battle of Salsu, but we’re pretty sure it was a lot less than the Chinese numbers. To quantify the sheer blistering the Sui troops received on their collective buttocks, take this downright unreal statistic into consideration: of the 300,000 plus Chinese troops that went into Pyongyang, only about 2,000 of them allegedly managed to survive beyond the Battle of Salsu.

And that, my friends, is THE definition of “a straight-up ass kicking” if I’ve ever heard one...regardless if the battle actually turned out the way most historians recollect it. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Gay Rights, Wrong Ideals?

The Excesses - And Potential Dangers - Of The "War On Homophobia" 


[WARNING: I can tell already that a lot of you are going to think this article is apologetic towards homophobes, or even encouraging homophobia. That, obviously, is not the intent of the article, but rather to discuss some logical inconsistencies within the arguments of many hardcore “gay-rights” proponents, particularly on the issue of “hate speech.” If this is too much for you to handle, here’s a link to play Mega Man 3 instead – a good day to you. –Thnx, Mgmt.]

Back in the third grade, I had to sit out of recess once because I called some kid - a fellow male student, by the way - on the playground a “lesbian.” Since this was before the days of the Internet, I really had no idea what a “lesbian” was, just that I heard it on the news a lot and figured it had to be something negative as a result. I mean, Peter Jennings was always going on and on about “layoffs” and “trade embargoes,” so I figured if anything was talked about on the evening news, it probably had to have some sort of detrimental or harmful ring to it. Hell, I just as easily could have called my playmate a “beneficiary of NAFTA” after he threw a dirt clod at me, and I never would’ve known the difference.

According to a lot of people these days, however, such a remark, even if uttered by someone that had no idea what the complexities of the term entailed, would be considered a “homophobic attack.” In fact, a lot of the pre-college culture I experienced would be labeled “homophobic”, with some of the more extremist gay rights folks saying that my milieu was a living, breathing hate-crime morning, noon and night. What’s even more amazing to me is that kids of this generation are able to detect an aura of “bigotry” and “discrimination” that, for the life of me, I never knew we were guilty of.

For example, I had no idea that my pop cultural oeuvre - at the time, a goulash of the most low-culture things you can think of - was really a festering bin of hatred. When Korn and Eminem - back when both were relevant and/or gave a shit about what they were doing - dropped the terms “homo” in their lyrics, I didn’t know that, by proxy, I was guilty of supporting an oppressive, hetero-normative hierarchy. Nor was I aware that the crude chants often overheard at pro hockey and pro wrestling events in my youth - specifically, the fan favorite “(insert disliked figure here) takes it up the ass” - was actually a means of subjugating an entire subgroup of the U.S. populace. This entire time, I just thought that I was giving Claude Lemieux and Shane “The Franchise” Douglas a hard time, when all the while, I was really propagating an institutionalized hegemony that devalued my fellow man. The fact that I found Eddie Murphy’s jokes about AIDS in “Delirious” amusing when I was 13 is the modern day moral equivalent to being a closeted SS officer, I imagine.

I bring up all of the above aspects of my youth culture because they have all been criticized by the generation ahead of me for being homophobic. According to myriad YouTube users, the lyrics of Limp Bizkit, the rowdiness of late 90s’ sporting events and virtually all forms of stand-up comedy up until 1991 were all blatantly anti-gay, and the theoretical amusement we procured from such media is comparable to all of the old white guys that used to get their giggles watching minstrel shows and D.W. Griffith movies. 

To them, its absolutely unimaginable that we couldn’t have seen such displays as inherently discriminatory, and it’s super-duper-mega-unimaginable that we can’t see them as such in hindsight today. And if you even look like you’re to be an apologist about the pop culture of twenty years ago, even in the remotest, you might just get ran out of town by people holding pitchforks and torches.

“Homophobia” is the new social blight, the same way “racism” was the cultural albatross up until fairly recently in American discourse. Alike “racism,” I think it’s pretty clear that nobody is a big fan of “homophobia,” and, most certainly, nobody wants it to be used as a component that skews political or social decision making within our culture. Nobody, repeat, NOBODY in the United States wants “institutionalized homophobia.” Even the most hardcore of the hardcore, your Fred Phelps types and the like, aren’t necessarily vouching for the institutional disempowering of gays and lesbians. They may say a lot of heavy-handed stuff pertaining to their religious beliefs, but they’re not lobbying to keep gays out of political office, or even for social impositions. They don’t want gays out of public schools, and they don’t want gays to have to use separate bathrooms - they may not like ‘em, but they’re not really trying to get them factored out of the general social system, either.

As far as the modern gay rights movement goes, the only two institutional blockades I can think of involve gay marriage and adoption, which are two social obstructions almost guaranteed to be knocked down by legal proceedings within the next 20 years. You could argue the whole “don’t ask, don’t tell” thing, but seeing as how that isn’t a general imposition on American society (for example, your sexual orientation can’t be used as an element for your hiring as a bank officer, a non-bat-shit-crazy-university professor, or the President of the United States), I really wouldn’t deem it as a cultural restriction. At this juncture, the term “gay liberation” is a complete and utter oxymoron, as there really isn’t an institutional inhibition for said gays and lesbians to surmount.

A lot of gay rights crusaders like to compare the GLBTQABCLMNOP movement to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, although it’s kind of apparent that the cultural restrictions placed on blacks during that time-frame was considerably harsher than anything most gays and lesbians have had to overcome. Whereas the Civil Rights movement was mostly about equal representation in society, the gay rights movement of the early '90s to today has, generally, been a quest for equal recognition and acceptance - a completely different struggle, because a lot of gay hardliners want not only changes to social policies, but a change to social thinking itself.

The things blacks were fighting for during the Civil Rights era - access to education, employment and the guarantee that they won’t be denied institutional rights like voting and municipal services - are all things that gays and lesbians have had in America since, well, forever. The things gays and lesbians seem to be fighting against nowadays aren’t institutional barriers, but rather, individualistic displays of homophobia, be it perceived or perfectly blunt. The problem here is quite obvious - while blacks wanted infrastructural changes to policies and social services, gays want across-the-board toleration and acceptance from the culture in its totality, with the added incentive of protection from criticism from individual members of that cultural milieu. The hardcore gay rights advocates aren’t just fighting against “homophobia” - an intangible, subjective term, lest we forget - but the complete eradication of whatever it is that “homophobia” entails. This is a “goal” that is not only incredibly naive and unrealistic, but ultimately, one that is far more harmful to the social well-being of both hetero and homosexuals than ANYTHING you’ll hear the Pat Robertsons and Dr. Lauras of the world spout out of their ironically sphincter-shaped oral cavities.

For the most part, it’s the gays and not the hetero-normative detractors that are the ones vouching for separatism, in the form of reductionistic social enclaves that eliminate “perceived” homophobia by getting rid of all non-homosexual ideologies - and the more extreme circumstances, influences - whatsoever. The term “gay” today means something more than a sexual preference, it indicates a certain counter-cultural stasis, complete with its own tracts, texts and experiences that are specifically homosexual. In every major city in America, there’s at least one “gay district” in town, in which the sociological constituency is overwhelmingly homosexual - they have gay bookstores, they have gay movie theaters, they have gay bars, everything a “normal” community would have, only with the prefix “gay-” welded onto it. The inherent “gayness” takes precedence over all other qualities to such a degree that the element of sexual orientation - the thing that the gays want the hetero-normative detractors within society to totally ignore - becomes not only the central aspect of one’s life, but the utmost qualifier of his or her being.

Remember, these “gay enclaves” aren’t examples of social subjugation, as nobody forced the gays within the community to group together and live as an individual subsystem. Rather, it was a conscious, structured decision by local gays themselves to socially transform an area into an idealistic utopia, if only for a few blocks. Of course, some critics would say that this self-selected isolation was reactionary to the “general” homophobia of society, and as such, is a preemptive means of avoiding “homophobic” sentiment and influences. Not surprisingly, this has led to the comparable phenomenon of privately funded “gay high schools” cropping up amongst the more liberal hinterlands of the United States - in essence, the literal and not just figurative endorsement of social segregation by those that claim to be “oppressed” by a largely “unavoidable” hetero-normative culture.

A recent Rolling Stone article brought up the story of a small town in which a rash of teenage suicides plagued the community. Over a fairly small length of time, nine students (of which four were “outed” homosexuals) killed themselves, with many gay advocates claiming that homophobic bullying and the institutional inability for the schools to address homophobia were the chief drivers of their suicides. Scientifically, it’s not really a sound assumption, since a majority of the students that killed themselves during the time-frame were reportedly quite heterosexual. Nor does that assumption take into consideration socioeconomic factors (far and away the most important physical and mental determiners of one’s behavior, and certainly more influential than sexual preference, religion or race combined), or even the notion of suicide clustering, a freak social phenomenon in which teenagers respond to traumatic exposure to death by causing their own deaths as reactionary statements (which means, for all intents and purposes, “Heathers” is probably the most sociologically-accurate teen movie ever made.)

The danger here is really obvious; per the gay rights proponents, one of those essential rights is the right to “not by offended or criticized,” which is a right allotted to a grand total of nobody else in society. Many, many advocacy groups are trying to turn these suicide rashes into a social imperative, with the assumption that unless drastic, precautionary measures are taken to insure that gay students will not experience anything “offensive or critical” in regards to their gayness, the cultural and academic milieu is at fault for their deaths.

This, of course, brings us to the topic of “hate speech regulation,” an Orwellian construct advocated by hardliner gay activists that stands out as perhaps the most daunting civic obstruction of our time. To the hardliner gays, their perceived right to avoid indignation is so great (and apparently, centric only to them) that formal abridgement of the civil rights of others is worth sacrificing. In other words, they feel as if the freedoms of others HAS to be eliminated for them to fully enjoy their freedoms, an idealistically-sharpened dagger pointed right at the very heart of our First Amendment convictions.

Sure, it’s easy to target extremist homophobes like Fred Phelps and his merry clan of Kansan fundamentalists, but the extremists on the other side of the pasture never seem to get the ink that the unabashed gay-haters get. What of iconic lesbian writer Valeria Solanas, who once said that heterosexual culture is an oppressive regime that must be destroyed in order for everybody that’s a non-heterosexual, Caucasian male to live complete lives? Seeing as how she put a bullet in Andy Warhol, it stands to reason that she’s done more damage to the homosexual community than ANYBODY she accused of promoting a hetero-normative hegemony. And what about the feminist organizations of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that harassed women for bringing their male infants to rallies and vigils? For that matter, what about the radical lesbian contingents that have publicly declared their desire to genetically phase out males from the human gene pool? Last time I checked, hatred isn’t a one way street - logically, if “homophobia” exists (and is worth restricting free expression to keep in check or prevent), then is it really that far-fetched a consideration to say that comparable free expression restrictions should be implemented to curtail a perceived “hetero-phobia?”

The locus of gay activism in the modern era is almost wholly dependent on a Marxist impression of perceived oppression. You really can’t use the term “gay rights” or “gay awareness”, since gays are most certainly entitled to virtually all social services that “straights” are guaranteed (marriage and adoption currently notwithstanding) nor is it really acceptable to say that gays have been culturally marginalized via systematic under representation (the popularity of Lady Gaga and “Glee” clearly contradicts this - in fact, it’s becoming increasingly rare to find a contemporary television or film offering that doesn’t have a “queer” angle to some extent.) In this, the only thing gays and lesbians have to fight for is the unobtainable aspiration of a persecution-less social milieu, which by proxy, becomes a “battle” against the more extreme homophobes and a perceived threat from the hetero-normative majority, whom they gays and lesbians fear are working against them based on longstanding, although unstated, political or religious grounds. And what do the socio-politically bellicose do in the absence of true battles?

They just make one up, of course. With perceived homophobia in check, why not go after perceived historical homophobia next? That way, they can adjudicate the blameless of today very-much-to-blame for contemporary “injustice” based on retroactive cultural milieus and whatever faint connections the individual in question has to such long-gone structures. In a quest for perpetual victimization, you just have to go on a good old fashioned witch hunt every now and then - a rather shameful way to maintain group pride, don’t you think?

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Closing of the American Mind?

In 1986, Some Guy That's Dead Now Said That "Liberal Education" Was The Reason America's Youth Was/Is So Stupid. Twenty Five Years Later, Does Allan Bloom's Argument Still Stand Up? [SPOILER: No, It Doesn't.]

 

A few years back, this guy named Mark Bauerlein wrote a book slamming Generation Y kids called “The Dumbest Generation.” According to Bauerlein, ours is a generation overly dependent on technology, incapable of critically assessing anything and ultimately intellectually corrupted by a consumer culture that’s turned us into nothing more than a bunch of mush-headed 20-something children.

It’s a stinging indictment, no doubt, until you realize that, a good twenty years prior, some old fogy named Allan Bloom wrote a similarly scathing treatise slamming Mark Bauerlein's generation called “The Closing of the American Mind.” I think it stands within reason to assume that, a good twenty years down the line, we’ll probably be penning similar tracts, decrying the waywardness and general vapidity of our own offspring, as well.

I recently read Bloom’s monumental 1986 offering, and I feel conflicted about its contents. Granted, there are indeed some yummy nuggets and glistening pearls within “The Closing of the American Mind,” but if you’re looking for the indictment of how liberal education has failed the youth of today (and by today, I mean when “Aliens” and “The Fly” were originally given theatrical runs), I’d say you’d have to look elsewhere for your fill.

A major problem observable from the outset with Bloom’s book, and this is a similar problem I encountered with Francis Fukuyama’s take on post humanism, is that the author never really gets into the nitty-gritty of what the book is supposed to be about. Let me save you some time here and advise you to check out the first one hundred pages of the book and the last fifty, because the other two hundred are completely needless and inconsequential to Bloom’s argument. Unless you really, really want to hear some dude yammer on and on about “The Republic” and how psychiatry has co-opted the philosophical concept of “the self,” you definitely need to steer clear of the middle sections of Bloom’s offering.

Bloom is clearly a bitter old prick, this stalwart at Cornell that never really got over the social tsunamis of the 1960s. The gist of his argument is that, in that decade, the student body was given too much power in determining the university’s policies and course structuring, which ultimately led to a deluge of counter cultural interests taking higher education “hostage.” Per Bloom, the 1960s ushered in an era in which the only universal philosophic beliefs college students held were moral relativism and the desire for equality, with the idea of personal values replacing a continuum of good and evil.

How meta: "The Closing of the American Mind"...closed.

If that argument sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it was a subject addressed in two of the 20th century’s most important anti-relativist tracts, C.S. Lewis’ “The Abolition of Man” and Richard Weaver’s “Ideas Have Consequences.” Needless to say, Bloom’s book doesn’t really improve upon the general statements included in those monumental tracts, nor does it really introduce any new proposals of any kind, for that matter. If you wanted to condense the book into a Twitter update, just saying that Bloom “thinks the kids of today are stupid and academia is at fault for not being like it was twenty years prior despite a wave of unavoidable social changes” is a pretty economic way of summarizing the entire shebang.

It’s sort of funny that Bloom often goes after sociologists and psychologists for not practicing what they preach, but when he says that “philosophizing is a solitary quest” early in the offering, it seems to shot his entire argument right in its big, fat absolutist foot. For one, isn’t that sort of a relativist stance there, in a book essentially about the ills of relativism? Additionally, if philosophizing is indeed something that can’t be “taught” in a traditional classroom setting, then why in the hell does Bloom even bother decrying higher education when that’s not what he, by his own admission, considers the primary venue for individual philosophical development?

Bloom’s book tackles a lot of predictable subjects (sexual liberation, feminism, ethnocentrism, etc.) and champions a lot of predictable ideals (natural rights, Pascalian reasoning, most of the thinkers of the Enlightenment, so on and so forth). The first quarter of the book, in which he rails against the philosophical underpinnings of 1980s culture, is easily the best part of the book, and really, the only part of the work that offers up anything worth skimming. Reading Bloom ramble on an on about how American education is being sabotaged by the three headed Cerberus of Mick Jagger, the dissolution of the nuclear family and affirmative action is your classic “angry-old-white-guy” rant bullshit, and he even messes up and drops some notes that might actually sound like well-thought out criticisms here and there. I for one, have never considered Disneyland to be an Americanized version of the Weimar Republic, but after hearing crazy old codger Bloom decry it as such, it’s one of those ideas that will probably never leave my head from hereon out.

I’ll be several shades of damned if Bloom doesn’t touch upon some pretty poignant ideas here and there, namely modern academia’s leanings towards group politics over individual rights and a lot of the inherent hypocrisy surround the logic of the environmental movement. Where he knocks the ball out of the park however, is when he just comes out and says what we all know to be true about higher education, primarily the fact that students are saddled with too many pointless courses unrelated to their career-goals, and especially when he says that, for all of the highfalutin ideals colleges like to celebrate, the only reason anyone is there in the first place is to procure a better life than what they had before enrolling. A crazy idea, I know - that kids go to college not because they want to be socially conscious individuals, but because they don’t want to be poor and have to work at Wal-Mart for the rest of their lives. Such preposterous thinking.

According to an elitist, full-tenured liberal education professor, elitist, full-tenured liberal education is at the root of America's intellectual decline. Wait a minute...

Of course, for every reasonable idea Bloom mulls, he counteracts that with about a dozen or so really stupid ones. He decries the social sciences and humanities for valuing “creativity” over “virtue” and “industriousness,” and dismisses deconstructionism because, according to him, it’s “interpretation without text,” and therefore, invalid. He chides American kids for their “non-culture,” but decides to criticize American education for adopting Germanic influences (Freud, Marx, Weber, Nietzsche, etc.) in order to establish social science curricula (and to make it a triple Lindy of illogicality, Bloom spends a good half of the book going on and on about how great and worthwhile the influence of the Socratic thinkers was.)

However, the biggest problem with the book - and it’s a problem SO massive that it ultimately kills the entire tract - is that Bloom thinks our educational system would improve if we had a unified, nationalized text that served as our across-the-board cultural guidebook. Bloom argues that the works of Kant and Rousseau were so crucial to the academic development of Germany and France that, as American thinkers, we ought to pick something from our literary past and use it as a revered, educational text, too. Clearly, there are A LOT of problems with this idea, the most obvious being what do you pick as America’s foremost philosophical doctrine? Never mind the fact that vaunting a singular text is just about the most anti-academic thing imaginable (as Richie Dawkins said recently on the lingering Rushdie controversy, true scholars research more than one book), let alone the fact that it’s a recipe for cerebral standardization that would just quell individual philosophical development even more than it is now. Also, some stuff about Mao’s Red Guards, the Hitler Youth and pick-a-flavor of religious fanaticism - having one go to book is bound to result in some, ahem, cultural troubles. And to think - for a good portion of the book, Bloom has the chutzpah to claim that liberal education is a form of promoting “no fault choices” and “a tyranny of the majority.”

At the end of the day, you know what you’re getting into with “The Closing of the American Mind.” If you’re expecting a rant against liberal bias in higher education, however, you’re going to be sorely disappointed, and if you’re looking for a comprehensive indictment of the structuration of the American educational system, you’re going to be just as let down.

There are some valid points in Bloom’s book, but be forewarned that the parts here definitely do not condense into a palatable whole.

Well, relatively speaking, of course.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Playstation Vita Launch Lineup

A Review of EVERY Day One Retail Release on the PS Vita


The Playstation Vita - Sony’s successor to the successful but not that successful Playstation Portable - officially drops in North America today, and with it, 21 retail launch titles that range from ass-kicking to downright craptastic. 

On the surface, the PS Vita launch looks pretty solid, but what launch title games are really worth your hard-earned moolah (and conversely, which ones should you steer clear from?) 

As a public service, I’ve decided to do mini-reviews for all TWENTY-ONE PS Vita games currently available for retail on the newly released system; as such, you’ll know which games are worth purchasing, which ones are worth picking up a couple of months down the line when the price drops, and which ones you shouldn’t even bother looking at through the in-store Plexiglas (hint: it probably stars Michael Jackson in it.) 

Anyhoo, here’s my day one buyer’s guide for all would-be PS Vita owners. We’re ranking these games on a scale from 1 to 10, with a 10 being absolutely life-changing and 1 being absolutely life-destroying; clearly, nothing you’ll see on day one comes close to reaching either of those poles, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few great and really, really good games to be found on sale today (and on the opposite end of the spectrum, a few that are very, very lackluster and sub-par, too.) 

So, what are you early adopters in store for? Here’s my (somewhat) comprehensive and (extremely) opinionated look at the complete slate of first-run Playstation Vita offerings, in no particular order (well, except alphabetically, of course.)

 Army Corps of Hell


Now here's a game I really wanted to like more than I did. Heck, who in their right mind can't get behind a game that's essentially a hyper-gory reiteration of "Pikmin?"  

The problem is, while "Army Corps of Hell" has a lot of panache (and a really, really stupid name), it definitely lacks...ahem, guts...when it comes to game design. Ultimately, the title just sort of morphs into a very "Dynasty Warriors"-like experience, and while the "Patapon" inspired attempts to bring a little strategy to the hacking and slashing is mildly inspired, at the end of the day, the title just doesn't have enough going for it to make it a reasonable purchase.

SCORE: 5/10

   Asphalt Injection


Yeah, it's not really all that surprising to find out that this one is just a little lacking under the hood. 

"Asphalt Injection" (seriously, who's in charge of naming these things?) looks pretty damn good for a handheld racer, but it definitely hits more than a few snags when it comes to the game play department. It's clear that the game has aspirations of being a "Burnout" / "Need for Speed" type arcade racer, but outside of some nice blurring effects, this one stalls out before it even makes it a few feet from the starting line.

SCORE: 4/10

BEN10 GALACTIC RACING


What is it with handheld console launches and formulaic racing games?

"Ben10 Galactic Racing" is a title clearly attempting to ape the more successful elements of "Mario Kart" and "Twisted Metal," but at the end of the day, it's not even good enough to qualify as a potent "Vigilante 8" successor. That, and the graphics are noticeably underpowered here, more closely resembling a 3DS port than a "built from the ground up" PSVITA offering. At first glance, you would think this is just another rushed out title hoping to capitalize on a fairly popular license...and at the end of the day, you'd be exactly right.

SCORE: 4/10

Blazblue: Continuum Shift EXTEND


Well, it's good to see that there isn't an overemphasis on fighting games in the day and age of next wave handheld systems, huh? 

Anyhoo, "Blazblue" is a pretty good game, and one that's even a potential purchase for hardcore fighting game enthusiasts. There are a TON of fighters to choose from, the graphics and sound are absolutely amazing (the frame rate is TRULY impressive here) and there's so much to unlock that you'll probably be able to play the game for a solid year without getting bored with its contents. The downside, however, is that the multiplayer aspect is a little lacking (and by lacking, I mean lag-tastic) and if you're wondering how you're supposed to juggle combos and pull off split second six-direction attacks with just four face buttons...that makes two of us.

SCORE: 7/10 

Dungeon Hunter Alliance


Admittedly, I've never really been a fan of dungeon crawlers, so I'm not the most unbiased source here. That said, there's a lot of negative things that can be said about "Dungeon Hunter Alliance," regardless if you're a fan of the subgenre or not. 

To begin with, the graphics are a tad underwhelming, and the gameplay - not really surprisingly - is quite repetitive. Furthermore, the analog stick controls or shockingly sticky, making movement (and especially attacking enemies) a major pain in the sphincter. If you've ever wanted to play the Facebook version of "Gauntlet Legends," I suppose this will do you - although, for the life of me, I could never understand why anybody would have such an itch to begin with.

SCORE: 5/10 

Dynasty Warriors Next


You know, I never thought there were enough "Dynasty Warriors" games on the market, so consider me thrilled and then some to see this not-at-all done-to-death franchise carried over to the PS-Vita. 

Really, you don't need me to tell you what to expect here: you create a character, fight waves and waves of enemies, and keep tapping the "X" button until you have a blister on your thumb the size of a peanut M&M. The graphics are remarkable, but the staid gameplay is anything but; for hardcore "Dynasty Warrior" fanatics only.

SCORE: 5/10

F1 2011


First off, if you're not a fan of CodeMasters' long lineage of kick-ass sim racers (going back to the days of Colin McRae on the PS1), you're probably a horrible human being. If you're a racing fanatic (and especially a Formula One nutso), then "F1 2011" is a title that ought to be at the top of your list when it comes to Day Uno launch games onf the VITA. 

The graphics are top-notch, the game play is very satisfying (although the analog controls are a little slippery at first) and the career mode - while not as in-depth as a "Gran Turismo" / "Forza Motorsport" -like offering - is still pretty deep and engaging. The multiplayer is decent, but once again, lag is a serious issue going into head-to-head races; ultimately, "F1 2011" is a possible buy for racing game fans, but most likely just an enjoyable weekend play for everybody else.

SCORE: 7/10

FIFA Soccer


If I had to go with just ONE launch game to take home with your VITA, THIS is the title I'd vouch for. 

Granted, being a soccer nut like me is a huge incentive to pick up the title, but even if you aren't a huge footy fan, I would still consider this to be the most impressive game available on the PS VITA, and the one that I think would give the average gamer the most long-term bang for his or her buck. The visuals here are stunning, and the gameplay is absolutely engaging AND addictive - it's just about the closet we've yet come to a full-fledged, next-gen sports game appearing on a handheld, and it's DEFINITELY something that will keep you glued to your new portable well after the UEFA finals. Man, I can't WAIT to see what EA can do with Madden and their NHL series on this thing!

SCORE: 9/10 

Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational


Awesome...another cartoony, arcade "sports" sim that brings absolutely nothing new to the table. 

OK, there are some positives about the game, but the moderately enjoyable gameplay is marred by a litany of problems, including some lackluster graphics, horrendously grating voice acting and an overly complicated menu system that makes just changing your shoe color way more demanding and draining than it should be. Granted, it's a playable title, but it's definitely not something that I think would have long term appeal for most new PS VITA owners.

SCORE: 5/10

Little Deviants


Now here's a game that makes full use of all of these additions to the PS VITA, like the touch screen and touch pad on the back of the system. The problem? Neither of them really add to the game itself, unfortunately. 

"Little Deviants" is a very simple game, consisting of a number of mini-games that bear mild resemblances to other popular "casual games," including a litany of Augmented Reality offerings on the 3DS and especially a certain monkey-themed puzzle title from Sega ("Shenmue," of course.) There's some mild amusement to be found, but none of it is really sustained for more than a few hours. I'd say this is nothing more than a glorified tech demo, but then again, I've actually played some glorified tech demos that were, unlike this one, actually sort of fun.

SCORE: 5/10

Lumines Electronic Symphony


Puzzle games have been standards for portable system launches since the days of "Tetris" and monochrome Game Boy screens. For that matter, a lot of people considered the original "Lumines" to be the killer app for Sony's first foray into handheld gaming. That said, while "Electronic Symphony" has a lot of positives going for it, it's also a game that has a couple of things working against it, ultimately making it a playable title, but probably not a buyable one. 

While the block dropping gameplay is as fun as ever, the gimmick - the whole techno-rave soundtrack thing - has become pretty old hat, and the developers of the game take far too few risks with the tried-and-true gameplay. "Lumines" is still a visual trip to play, but so little things have changed between this and the original game that you have to wonder what the point of this re-release is, anyway. If you haven't experienced "Lumines," you're probably better off just playing the original, because this "update" doesn't even attempt to change the recipe at all.

SCORE: 6/10 

Michael Jackson: The Experience


Far and away the WORST game available on launch day, and a title I wouldn't suggest even for the world's biggest MJ fan (and for that person, I would suggest "therapy" instead of picking up an overpriced re-release on a new handheld, anyway.)

Did you ever play "Elite Beat Agents" on the DS? Well, this game is sort of like that, except a.) the music is WAY worse, and b.) the touch screen controls don't work half the time you tap the system. So in addition to crappy graphics, repetitive (almost broken) gameplay and music that sounds like it's coming out of a speaker covered in Baconnaise, the title also has inordinately lengthy load times; if you're looking for the system's reverse magnum opus, I think we've found it right here.

SCORE: 3/10 

ModNation Racers: Road Trip


Hey! Who's up for a crappy "Mario Kart" rip-off with graphics substandard to most Wii offerings? 

"ModNation" is definitely one of the weaker games on the PS VITA on day one, and a game that I would ONLY suggest for parents with children that are easily, easily entertained (and they'd probably enjoy chewing on the game box more than they would actually playing it, for that matter.) The gameplay is stilted, the customization options are boring, and there's really nothing new here that you haven't already experienced in WAY better games a good half a decade ago. Is there a reason to give this game a fair shake? None that I can think of, honestly.

SCORE: 4/10 
Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus


OK, OK, so we've played "Ninja Gaiden" a few times before. OK, we've played it countless times before, on several different platforms. The fact remains, however, that despite being an almost ten year old offering, "Ninja Gaiden" is still one of our generation's greatest action titles, and a classic game made even more kick ass with this extras-riddled PS VITA re-release.

If you've never played "Ninja Gaiden" before, here's a heads up: this thing is HARD. As in, ridiculously, absurdly, stupidly difficult, but it's definitely WORTH the migraines it'll give you during the first couple of playthroughs. Granted there are still some graphical hiccups to be found here and there, but all of the added features (not to mention the fact that, hey, it's portable "Ninja Gaiden") makes this a game WELL worth picking up, pending you have a thing for games that kick ass (especially your own.)

SCORE: 8/10
Rayman Origins


"Rayman Origins" is a really fun platforming game that, while not really on par with the better Mario and Sonic offerings, is still a game worth a try, even if you think you are too old/cool for the material. 

"Origins" is a pretty faithful port of the PS3/XB360 title, and the controls are smooth and fluid. Granted, there isn't too much of a challenge to be found here, but there's more than enough unlockables and secret passage ways to explore that it ought to keep you playing for a few months. The touchscreen controls and other superfluous features really detract from an otherwise solid hop-and-bop adventure - it may not be a purchase right now, but when it comes down in price, I'd vouch for the aggregate gamer to give it a look-see.

SCORE: 7/10 

Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen


Didja' grow up in the late 1990s? If so, you may recall a PS1-era game called "Tenchu," an early "stealth-action" title that allowed you to play as a homicidal ninja that killed people with, among other things, poison clumps of rice. Well, "Shinobido 2" is something of a spiritual successor to that game, although it comes with an absolutely massive caveat: the controls, in a word, blow

The problem with the game is that it utilizes way too much touchscreen stuff, which not only makes the game slower, but ridiculously stilted, as well, since you'll be stopping time and time again to set up an attack when just hitting the "X" button would have sufficed. "Shinobido 2" had the potential to be a decent game, but the horrendous control scheme absolutely cripples any fun that could've...and should've...been there in the first place.

SCORE: 5/10

Touch My Katamari


When the first Katamari game made it stateside in 2004, it was a cult hit, primarily due to its extremely out-there game play and even kookier presentation. Now, almost ten years down the road, the myriad "Katamari" games have turned the once unusual formula into a pretty predictable experience, and not surprisingly, the PS VITA debut for the franchise is anything but innovative. 

The dual analog control scheme works just fine here, but the graphics are disappointing, to say the least. While there's still some fun to be had with the title - if nothing else, you can enjoy it just for its soundtrack - the formula has gotten pretty stale at this point. If you've never played a "Katamari" game before, you'll probably enjoy the initial experience, but for people that have, there's pretty much nothing here that you haven't already played before...and most likely, in a better overall package.

SCORE: 6/10 

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3


Yeah, yeah, you can complain about the lengthy load times and the static backgrounds, but at the end of the day, "Ultimate Marvel vs. Campcom 3" is just way too fun for any PS VITA owner to pass up. 

The game is, for the most part, a fairly faithful port of the PS3/XB360 game, albeit with a few graphical downgrades. The cast is absolutely enormous, and the frenzied game play (sweetened by some excellent multiplayer set-ups) is everything you'd want out of a button masher. Additionally, there is a metric ton of stuff to unlock, and the promise of perpetual network updates ensures that this is one portable title you'll be playing for a LONG time to come. It ain't perfect, but if you're looking for something that will give you months of action, this is one launch day offering you shouldn't skip out on.

SCORE: 8/10 

Uncharted: Golden Abyss


"Uncharted" is one of the prettiest handheld games ever made, and even if the game is subject to a few problematic spots - namely, all of those pointless "touch screen" mini-games that just slow down the action and exploration sequences you WANT to play - there's still so much to the package that it would be fairly unwise for the new PS VITA owner to pass on this one. 

As far as single player experiences go, this is probably the best the PS VITA has to offer on day one, even if the title itself is a little on the short side. Pretty much everything you loved about the PS3 series can be found in this shrunk down offering - the cinematic stylings, the stealth heroics, even the impressive physics engine - so I suppose you can forgive whatever shortcomings arise out of the experience. Obviously, it wouldn't be my first pick pending you were looking for some multiplayer activity, but if you're just trying to find a game that will give you a couple of hours of intense (and solo) downtime, this is probably your dia primera pick right here.

SCORE: 8/10


Virtua Tennis 4: Wold Tour



Admittedly, tennis has never been my (or really, anybody's) favorite sport, but it certainly lends itself quite well to video gaming - which is why all these years later, "Pong" is still an enjoyable and accessible game to just about anybody. 

"Virtua Tennis" is a really simple game, churched up with some completely needless touchscreen controls. The reality is, the game becomes a lot more fun and easier to play when you turn off the damn feature altogether, making this really nothing more than a slightly prettier PSP re-iteration. Granted, it's still pretty fun, but it's not worth going out of your way to experience, unless you're the world's biggest tennis enthusiast or something...which, yeah, you probably aren't.

SCORE: 6/10

wipEout 2048


A lot of people are going to overlook "wipEout 2048," and not just because it's last in line alphabetically. That's a shame, really, because it's one of the better games you'll find on the console for day one - and it certainly lays some groundwork down for some impressive games ahead of us, if absolutely nothing else. 

"wipEout," of course, is basically a high-resolution "F-Zero" (in fact, this is probably better than any of the "F-Zero" games Nintendo has ever released.) While fast, fun and furious, the game is pretty stunted by a lack of customization and too few track options, not to mention some courses that are EXTREMELY difficult. Furthermore, the load times are really long, and the multiplayer options are nowhere near as robust as you would have hoped for. All in all, "wipEout 2048" isn't the super-impressive technological juggernaut it could have been, but it's still a very entertaining game...I'm definitely looking forward to how a next-gen "Burnout" would look and and play on the VITA, that is for sure.

SCORE: 7/10


Well, now that you know what launch day games are great, really good, OK, and pretty blah, I guess my final duty is to give a brief prediction of how this newfangled PS Vita will fare in the extremely glutted handheld, mobile device market. 

For starters, it’s looking pretty clear that the PS Vita is following firmly in the footsteps of its PSP forerunner, providing gamers with outstanding sports, racing and compilation titles here and down the line; as these are areas where Nintendo’s handhelds have traditionally faltered, you can see where Sony thinks they can get a foothold here. 

The problem now is, the graphical distance between the 3DS (which, by the way, already has a pretty damn solid library) and the PS Vita is nowhere near as vast as the chasm between the DS and the PSP. Granted, the multifunctional nature of the Vita gives it an obvious utilitarian advantage over Nintendo’s competing handheld, but the exact same thing can be said of the PSP. Clearly, having a technological edge over the DS wasn’t enough to carry the PSP over its rival, and unless some major shakeups occur over the next few months, it doesn’t look like the Vita is going to be able to overtake the 3DS based on strength of technology alone. 

Even so, the graphical capabilities and multifunctional technological aspects of the Vita could give it a crucial tiebreaker over the 3DS, especially as it appeals to more mobile, non-hardcore gaming audiences like college kids and high schoolers, who are more about Facebooking and YouTubing than SHMUPING and dungeon crawling. Pending the Vita gets some of the more “hardcore” appealing licenses like “Call of Duty” and the “Batman” titles on the system - with a non-laggy online component, of course - the Vita may very well shape up to be a worthy contender to Mario’s handheld throne. 

Ultimately, it is WAY too early to predict the PS Vita’s fate at this juncture - but as far as first impressions go, I think it’s made a pretty damned notable one today.