Archive for March, 2010

The Problem with the Church

March 31, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m not going to rehash the entire history of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. That would be tedious, the issue I have is that of responsibility concerning the position of the Pontiff for this latest scandal.

It’s not really a new scandal, the news is that it just isn’t an American problem as what once was though several years ago. It now appears that the sexual abuse was not limited to this country but is at least also pervasive in Europe. That isn’t the scandal itself. The scandal is that the hierarchy knew about it and instead of doing something to punish the offenders simply shuffled them around from one place to another often times ignoring that the new place the offenders were going would just afford them new opportunities to continue their crimes. Exactly how high did the knowledge of it proceed?

When it was an American problem it was widely believed that there was a buffer between the decision to transfer and the Pope, at the time John Paul II. It was a well defended idea, John Paul II was believed to be on the fast track to sainthood as his work in Poland during the Nazi and Communist occupations was widely accepted as being noble. Those actions are not in dispute. My issue is that if you take that position with regard to the previous pope you can’t take it now.

Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, was the head of the office in charge of dealing with the allegations. He opted for maintaining secrecy rather than conducting trials. As it stands this means that between the allegations and Pope John Paul II, he was the buffer. I can accept this as it is rare for any problem to always reach the top of a hierarchy, no matter what its seriousness. If that is to be accepted then it means that between this Pope and the current scandal there is no wall.

If the church accepts that ultimately Pope Benedict is responsible for this, which I would like to hear arguments in favor of, then…well, there isn’t really anything that can be done but to accept responsibility. Given that the Vatican is both a worldwide religious organization and its own political entity no outside government can force it to pay for its crimes either punitively or criminally. They can only punish the offenders or restrict the access of those people to enter other countries.

Although the Pope has issued an apology to the Catholic citizens of Ireland, which in itself is unprecedented, this is not justice. In essence the apology is saying that while they are sorry for the victims they aren’t taking any measures to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. Yet I am at a loss to envision an acceptable solution that would satisfy the demands of justice. This type of problem isn’t easily overcome it will be interesting to see what the official solution will be.

Categories: current events, religion

Back at the Census

March 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Last time we left off with my census trials, I was doing GQV. Which is General Quarters Evaluation, this means that my job was to go to the various places in the area in which groups of unrelated people could live and figure out just what that hypothetical number was. This time it’s GQE, which is General Quarters Enumeration, and my task is to count the people that actually live there on the date of April 1st. April 1st being census day for the entire country.

In order to get a jump on things the Census Bureau has decreed that we must spend the first half of this week counting the uncountable, that is the homeless and transient that do not have a permanent residence listed in the canvassing done approximately one year ago. Today we visited a soup kitchen in order to get the information for those people.

In compliance with Title 13 of Federal Law I cannot reveal either the location of the kitchen nor any person that I interviewed. 

Having been raised in the suburbs the experience of homeless was foreign to me. My small town of Hamburg, didn’t really have homeless people. If we did, no one knew about it or they just didn’t talk about it. Charity collections didn’t address the local problem, the money went to city shelters or other countries. The idea of a person being homeless was abstract.

Having then lived twice in downtown city environments this all changed. There were numerous homeless people but they were local color. They were the crazy homeless, in Allentown there were a couple of note: such as “Shoeshine” who carried around an old fashioned boot black kit and bartered that for money. It was always curious why he wanted the money because within his area of operation were three places that offered food and shelter to persons in his situation (of course the most probable answer is drugs but I don’t know that for sure).

Today was my first visit to a soup kitchen, I was prepared for the antics of the homeless. People like “Shoeshine” tend to have psychological issues. For example, he used to scream at people who didn’t help him out. One evening he approached myself and a large group of people sitting on the patio of a bar asking if we needed a shine. Responding that none us did as we were wearing sandals he yelled “I know that!” If he did, why did he ask? Obviously he wasn’t altogether mentally.

A good number of my co-workers were nervous going in, most of them live in a semi-rural community and facing this stark reality is more of a shock than it would have been to me had I stayed isolated in the suburbs. One elderly man kept shaking his head in disdain. I don’t know what his thought process was, but empathy didn’t seem to be in there.

Most of the people that I and my partner tried to interview didn’t want to talk. The lower in the classes you go, typically the less amount of trust in the government that there is, it was understandable and the Census knows this giving us a guide to estimate the information that we need. If that isn’t possible we just mark down what we can and move on. Most of you have received your forms by now, so you know the little information that they actually need. In order to have a completed form, all we need is 3 answers to any of the first 5 questions.

Yet, this distrust of the government wasn’t the majority response. “Already did it at home” was. The kitchen didn’t just serve the homeless, in fact I would guess that the majority of the visitors there weren’t in that situation. They were the working poor. People with apartments who need to eat. After all, the parking lot at the kitchen was full, the clothes that people were wearing was shabby but they weren’t in rags. They also appeared to be clean and they weren’t carrying their entire worth with them.

The people visiting these places will no doubt get counted several times. As people proceed from one place to the next for their meals and we go from one place to the next to count them. Plus, the shelters were counted last night, and the places of congregation are to be counted tomorrow between 12am and 7am. In theory one person could be counted at least three times if the coincidence gods are feeling feisty. The odd thing is that if any other group was getting counted several times you would think that more money would go to them, but my cynicism doesn’t allow me to be that hopeful for this group of people.

Hopefully some good can come out of this, but it only goes so far. Primarily the whole operation is about Congressional districts and the number of Representatives each state gets, ultimately it’s up to the House to help these people with the funding they are allocated. No matter what the cause, these are the most ignored group in any society.

Categories: personal update

Decisions (The Twilight Walkthrough Pg. 140-152)

March 29, 2010 Leave a comment

This chapter is conspicuously long, I think that the editor of the book dropped the ball here because the tone and ‘plot’ of the chapter abruptly switch around pg. 142, I would have broken it off there but maybe the next chapter would have been too short? In either case all it means for us is that this entry may take longer than usual, I don’t know because as this is the first paragraph I haven’t written it yet.

Making decisions was the painful part for me, the part I agonized over,” isn’t this is the case for everyone? To remind the reader Bella has just had her faith struggle with whether or not Edward is a creature not human. She’s decided that no matter what he turns out to be she’s going to stick with him…obviously. Thomas Harris wrote in the book Hannibal that decisions aren’t made in momentus sequences. They are made almost instantly from the point where the decision is first pondered. Everything else is just posturing or fictional.

The whole reason Bella ducks into the forest to make a decision is for dramatic device. She knew all along whether or not she cared what Edward turned out to be. The only reason that anyone needs to indulge themselves in such activities is to back up the decision that they have already made. They need to convince themselves to do what they want to do, that isn’t making a decision that’s working up nerve. Harris’ detective in Florence at least confronted the idea of taking a bribe honestly.

That’s why Bella finishes her sojourn into the woods with this, “This decision was ridiculously easy to live with. Dangerously easy.”

“Dangerously”? I’m still trying to work around the progression of the story. When the last section ended Bella wasn’t positive what it was that Edward happens to be, so what is so dangerous about the decision? If you put yourself into her shoes, at this point the only thing you have decided is that you are going to stick with this guy (if he’ll have you, he is still ambivalent about that) even if he is possibly something other than human. Which, for Bella, is a hope shrouded in a fear.

So, living with her-hard-to-make-but-easy-to-deal-with-decision (wow just like Heidegger) she goes back to sketching out her Shakespeare paper for the English class we know nothing about. I mentioned before, and this will be the last time, but since English class isn’t the crux of the relationship between Bella and Edward it’s not important for us to know about it. The plot Meyer has established so far means that as far as the reader is concerned Forks HS, should contain a cafeteria, Biology, and Gym. Even gym is a stretch, but Bella’s clumsiness must pay off later since she’s stressed it so much. Bella’s homework should be Bio, and it should be about blood typing since that was the last time she was in class. Like the doomed fat guy pilot at the end of A New Hope, we need to stay on target.

The only point to mentioning English class is to show once again that Bella is smarter than anyone else in the school. This does become the running theme of the end of the chapter though, while emotionally she’s completely out of touch Bella is going to over compensate by lording her intellect over us the reader. She however must think we’re idiots. First off she’s at the school, early, by herself obviously trying to catch the Cullens coming in.

My homework was done—the product of a slow social life—…” This is just a flat lie. What more does she want in her social life? She’s the newest kid in the school, been invited to the dance by three different people, went to the beach party, and has a good deal of friends,* and sits at a reasonably popular table in the lunch hall. In prison terms, she’s part of a decent gang. She sits down to work on her trig and Mike comes to flirt with her.                                                   

No matter how much I try, I just can’t hate Mike. He’s wearing shorts and a rugby shirt because the temperature has spiked to 60, we call that early summer in the North. He speaks to her a little bit, they talk about English class. Even though it comes up again, and is now part of the super trite side plot involving Mike and Bella, it still should have been about, again Biology. Since Bella fainted and Mike carried her out of the room, it makes it seem like there is a legitimate connection between them even if Bella doesn’t think so. Plus it gives Mike a great opener, “here’s the notes/assignment you missed when you fainted…”She’s finished the Macbeth paper, Mike hasn’t started so he asks her the topic. Which, is groan inducing but here it is, “Whether Shakespeare’s treatment of female characters is misogynistic.”

Based on Macbeth!? Not get all Assistant Professorly on her but the only conclusion that she can really draw is “no.” The only female characters in Macbeth are the murderous then remorseful wife, the witches, and then Hecate. All of them pull the strings for the title character, I guess they’re the ultimate villains but the only point for Bella to be writing that paper is for the author to make the character a feminist. Which would be oddly contradictory for her since she spends all of her time pining over Edward and never once really asserting herself. Currently, she only defines her life by the guy she wants to date, I’ve known many feminists and I think they would consider her not among them. Though, if I were to be honest I would like to read that paper.

Bella turns Mike down, but instead of asserting herself she deflects, “Really Mike are you blind?” She tells Mike to go out with Jessica, and Mike seems perplexed. Apparently he hadn’t read the guide to women yet (it’s on my list), or he had, noticed that Jessica liked him but wanted Bella more. Never mind, that minor plot detail is now settled. Mike is with Jessica and Bella who is alpha ascendant in their group can go back to having no social life.

This is a two pronged section which has nothing to do with Bella’s confrontation with herself in the forest. The first is to deal with Mike once again showing that Bella is supremely intelligent. That, however, didn’t need to happen on its own. It could/should have taken place at the beach where it wouldn’t seem so out of place. Take it out and nothing changes. The second is to set up the trip to Port Angeles to buy dresses for the dance that she isn’t going to with the girls that aren’t her friends further establishing the utter lack of social life that she experiences.**

There’s an odd couple scenes with Charlie that I’m skipping discussion about now, but reserve the right to bring up later. It concerns their interaction as Bella acts like mother to him and it begins to progress beyond her advanced maturity.

She grabs a book, which is of course “The Collected Works of Jane Austen.” I tend to pick on English majors just because I’m in Philosophy but the women tend to fall into a stereotype that I just love to exploit. The biggest one is that they love love love Jane Austen, and it’s such a clichéd stereotype that I’m guessing that Bella has a collection of Buckowski right next to it.

Ultimately she decides after her second incursion into nature to go along with the girls to get the dresses. The motivating factor behind this is that she sees the Cullens aren’t back from their camping trip and she needs to get out of town to keep from looking for Edward all of the time. Feminist indeed.

*Not to her, because she must maintain the loner persona, but everyone else would think she was rather popular.

**Your sarcasm detectors should be in the red right now.

Healthcare Hypocrisy

March 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Vandalism for those that voted for the bill, is that what the reasonable/rational voters really want? The elections come in November that’s how you decide whether your officials are really representing you or someone else. Don’t scream about losing your country and your rights then go around using force in an attempt to scare representatives. It makes you at least as bad as what you are claiming they are going and at most much much worse than that.

All the fiery talk about losing the country, the rights being trampled on, etc. is setting up a very dangerous atmosphere in America. I’m reminded of the conservative attitudes and speeches in Israel just prior to Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination back in 1995, it wasn’t the Muslims or the Palestinians that were the most firebrand in their speeches. The discharging of firearms outside of Representative’s offices isn’t a political statement like that of Jefferson or Franklin it’s more akin to Mao’s famous maxim, “the bullet is stronger than the ballot.”

I guess my desire for consistency in American politics might as well die here and now, it’s the Teabaggers that killed it. Where were all of you screaming about Constitutional Rights when the previous administration pried into your cell phone records with no probable cause or warrant? Or the violation of Habeus Corpus rights when a person has merely been suspected of terrorism?

If you are so concerned with a person’s right to choose what they want for their own life then how is it that so many of you are so viscerally opposed to the legalization of gay marriage?

The act mandates that a person can stay on their parent’s insurance until the age of 26 and not be immediately kicked off at 21 whether or not they have a job. What is so wrong with at least trying to guarantee health coverage for people who more than likely will not be able to find a full time job in this economy? Or making insurance companies accountable for denying coverage for their own customers in the event that they get sick?

Of course the largest talk has been that of paying for it but no one was asking those questions when Bush cut taxes and waged two wars, a situation that no state in history has been precedent to.

The difference? That the democrats are in power and the GOP for as much as I disagree with them knows how to rally a cause. They are much more effective at it, else how is this even a debate?

Categories: current events, politics

A Clarification.

March 23, 2010 1 comment

Here is what I posted as my update on facebook yesterday: “Hypocrite: (N) Christians opposed to the new Healthcare plan because their taxes are going to poor people.”

Of the many objections that I have read/seen/heard about the healthcare reform act that was recently passed through the House of Representatives two really infuriate me. The above update (or quote but it seems odd to quote myself) was in response to a couple of things in combination. I formulated that sentiment many many months ago when the Democrats finally got their shit together enough to talk about at least the concept of a bill that was lacking many of the things that the president promised during his campaign, oddly enough the bill resembles McCain’s plan much more than Obama’s original plan.

The Right Wing has been the principle objectees, there are some of the Ron Paul liberals that make objections as well but no one really pays them any mind so I have been for the most part ignoring them. The Right Wing whose core are the Conservative Christians have made many objections to the plan. Their principle objection has been about cost. A fair objection since the country’s economy is still in decline. However I am a man of reason, and when I don’t understand something I turn to the experts or learn it myself. In this case, since economics bores me I listened to the experts. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has declared this bill to save the economy money in the long run. That’s the non-partisan budget office, their sole job is to make such estimations but that apparently isn’t good enough despite the fact that they have successfully predicted the outcomes of several plans in the previous administration.

My problem with this objection is to wonder where these people were when the previous president decide that he was going to cut taxes while at the same time conduct two wars? Or where were they when the medicare drug bill was passed in 2005 which opened up the “donut hole” for seniors in need of prescription drugs? Those two actions caused considerable damage to the economy yet now these people are claiming to be fiscal conservatives contrary to their chosen president who expanded the role of the federal government to the largest it has ever been.

That however, is still a legitimate concern. Perhaps this president is crossing some threshold that their ideological beliefs hold is too much. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on that one.

However, that objection despite my concerns with it, doesn’t infuriate me as much as the one in which I applied the “hypocrite” label to. Some people I know posted some objections to what I wrote. I consider them to be quite intelligent and not merely reactionary so I thought about what I had written and deemed that it needed some further explanation.

First off, just because you object to the bill and happen to be Christian does not mean you are hypocrite. I feel that this was the biggest source of confusion for the post. I wasn’t saying that, I reread the post and didn’t see that sentiment could be derived from the words alone but I would like to repeat it to remain absolutely precise.

This video has been making the rounds on youtube and perfectly expresses the sentiment that I wish to counter. About one minute in, a man in a red shirt with a black vest is screaming at the person sitting down, “no handouts.” His apparent objection is that a person should not receive healthcare unless they can pay for it (I also assume that he has no problem with employer provided healthcare either, I’m not that pedantic).

What I was saying yesterday is that if you share the screaming man’s objection as a reason for not wanting healthcare reform AND consider yourself to be a Christian it means that you are a hypocrite. Because of the Christian doctrine of charity to the poor it means that such social programs must be encouraged even if you personally lose money in the exchange. There are too many direct quotes from the New Testament out of the mouth of Jesus (Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22, etc.) to even consider the possibility of a gray area.

The concept of charity is central to Christian doctrine and I don’t understand how this can be the basis of their objection to the healthcare reform. I can’t think of any other label for people that on the one hand don’t want to see their taxes go up because of the bill and on the other believe themselves to be followers of a religion that preaches charity and kindness. Obviously the man ridiculing a sick person sitting on the street cannot consider himself a Christian, and obviously he is not representative of the majority of objections but he is part of them.

Brian was right, these people are ruining the image of the objection and are not helpful to the debate.

Categories: current events, politics

Doubt (Twilight Walkthrough Pg. 135-139)

March 22, 2010 Leave a comment

I wasn’t always an Atheist, my religiousness (religiosity?) could be considered Orthodox at one point, I was probably never so far that I could be considered fundamentalist, but since this is subjective memory ten years after the fact it’s really hard to tell. I do remember one day sitting in my parent’s house and a thought hit me, it hit me so hard I literally had to leave the house to work it out in my head.* Which brings me to today’s section which I feel is the most honest selection from the book so far, it’s also an example of the great writing that Meyer is capable of which makes me lament that it’s only four pages and inconsistent within as well. I mentioned in the first post that I would give credit where it’s due, that I wasn’t one of those people opposed to the book on some misguided principle. This is a good section in concept with some flaws in execution but so far it is easily my favorite.

Bella has finished doing her vampire research and has apparently come to the conclusion that Edward is a vampire. Frustrated (or something) she turns off the computer to sort out her thoughts and flees into the forest of Washington. Why? Because she’s angry and what she’s doing, “Through my irritation, I felt overwhelming embarrassment. It was all so stupid I was sitting in my room, researching vampires.

This is the most honest she’s been so far. She’s told us how smart she is then proceeded to act entirely contrary to that assertion. Yes, this is stupid. A kid, whom she knew from back when, told her a vampire story, she completely bought it and now she realizes that maybe this isn’t the most rational response. The best part of this is that she’s embarrassed for herself without any other prying eyes or social atmosphere. All alone she begins to come to the realization that Edward could just be a normal person because certainly vampires do not really exist.

She retreats into the forest along a trail because, “my sense of direction was hopeless.”

Sigh, yet another example of her telling us how useless and helpless she really is. It’s frustrating to read sentences like this especially now when she is actually asserting that intelligence we’ve been expecting but never experiencing. Meyer, does a good job describing the setting. She’s either been in the Northwest forest or really done her research here because for a person who has spent some time among the trees her words really put me there. Anyone who has followed foot paths through the woods knows that Meyer has it pefectly. An example, “The trail wound deeper and deeper into the forest, mostly East as far as I could tell. It snaked around the Sitka spruces and the hemlocks, the yews and the maples.

All that’s really missing is Bella stumbling over fallen branches and tree roots.

Sitting down on a fallen timber, careful to keep her raincoat to cover her butt from the wet wood she contemplates the recent knowledge, “I forced myself to focus on the two most vital-questions I had to answer, but I did so unwillingly. First, I had to decide if it was possible that what Jacob had said about the Cullens could be true.

As an atheist I criticize religion and religious people for many things. One thing that I don’t dare touch are passages like this, the struggle with doubt. Reading those visceral confrontations that are entirely internal are fascinating because they try to communicate that “a ha” moment by describing the incredible doubt as it clashes with a wholly new realization. The personal reflections of C.S. Lewis or Augustine and their conversions are amazing. The struggle between the worldview that once was versus what it is going to be is what Bella is going through right now. I can’t think of one example of secular writing that comes close to those two men.

Bella explains that Jacob’s story is completely absurd and silly. This is all true, the idea that the kid she has a crush is much much older than he appears, and that their father whom she saw at the hospital is centuries old…that’s simply foolish. She almost gets there too, I would have liked it more if she questioned whether she was following the evidence or merely indulging in wishful thinking but that’s nit picky. I don’t know how this scene could be filmed as internal struggles are the hardest to make known on celluloid.

As she struggles with faith versus reason, reason almost wins but then she comes to a completely erroneous conclusion, “There was no rational explanation for how I was alive at the moment.

Well, Bella, the fact is that there is a completely rational explanation. It’s tough to make this criticism because we know that in the long run she is right. Her perception of the accident was factual, but the important thing is that she can’t know that. The simple explanation is that she was wrong about where Edward was standing. The evidence for this is that no one else in the parking lot, who witnessed the whole thing, noticed the incredible speed that she posits must have occurred for her to be alive. It’s unreasonable for her to hold on to her theory with the grip of a zealot in light of this fact. Especially in this scene where she’s supposedly going through her own personal Cartesian doubt experiment.

She takes a breath and then lists the properties of Edward so far: the speed, strength, shifting eye color. All purely subjective to her and perhaps that is the whole point of her feigned superior intelligence in the beginning of the book. Although I feel that it is wrong because no one else notices any of this, maybe her intelligence is the reason that only she does. It’s a stretch but I’m trying to help out the author here because I like the section so much. Also with the deftness of a Creationist trying to shoehorn science into supporting their view she brings up other evidence that also supports the “Vampire hypothesis.”

One by one here they are:
1: “Along with never eating,” this is mentioned several times. It is odd, especially for the Cullens. Why don’t they bring empty plastic bins. In my high school you could have skipped the lunch room for the library or claim some odd religious/health dietary restriction that compel them to not eat at school. The Cullens are just stupid for this, which does bring us to the question of why they are in high school to begin with.

2: “the disturbing grace with which they moved.”
Other than the stark attractiveness of the group this isn’t really mentioned, and nothing in the vampire literature/cinema portrays this, I don’t think it proves anything.

3: “And the way he sometimes spoke, with unfamiliar cadences and phrases that better fit the style of a turn-of-the-century novel that that of a twenty-first-century classroom.” My biggest problem here is that there has been no evidence of this, this is the fault of the writer. Meyer hasn’t given us any of this 19th century dialogue to bring it up is just cheating the audience.

4: “He skipped class the day we’d done blood typing.” So? He skipped class, and said that it was good to do so once in awhile. This is hindsight evidence and wouldn’t hold up in court at all.

5: “He hadn’t said no to the beach trip till he heard where we were going…” Actually, no this isn’t the case at all. He said that he wasn’t invited and Mike certainly hadn’t done so. Bella invited him, but Edward explained that he probably wouldn’t be welcome because Mike didn’t like him. False evidence.
Therefore: “Whether it be Jacob’s cold ones or my own super hero theory, Edward Cullen was not…human.” The conclusion falls apart, she can’t know this and her theory isn’t worth entertaining. It only enlightens us that the book was written during the influx of superhero movies in the early millennium.

Accepting the conclusion she now has to realize what to do with it. Leaving Edward crosses her mind but she decides against it. Because she loves him? No. But because even if he is a monster, “he’d done nothing to hurt me so far.” Good idea, and the words of every potential victim. It’s true with a caveat, he’d done nothing to hurt her physically although he has threatened her and forced his will on her, but it’s not physical so I guess we’re ok.

“Now that I knew–if I knew–I could do nothing about my frightening secret. Because when I thought of him, of his voice, his hypnotic eyes, the magnetic force of his personality, I wanted nothing more than to be with him right now.” It should probably read “right then” but this is again the most honest we’ve seen Bella. It’s not about the excuse of him not hurting her, she’s willing to overlook all of her objections because of her infatuation. It’s honest, and at least in honesty she’s sympathetic. To bad given who Edward is, that delusion is going to be trouble.

*The thought (which I know I have to mention) was what one does to stay interested during infinity. I reasoned that life is tolerable in a way, because we know it ends, but afterlife does not. It still shakes me once in awhile.

Episodes from Liberty City: The Ballad of Gay Tony

March 22, 2010 Leave a comment

It begins with a bank robbery, a bank robbery that you committed in the GTA IV as Niko Bellic. On the floor of the bank trying to talk a man out of being hero before he is gunned down by a sociopathic Irish gangster was a man named Luis Lopez, only you as Bellic couldn’t have known who he was.

In fact you couldn’t have known many things about the hispanic man laying on the floor waiting out the bank robbery so he could call his boss to tell him that the deposit wasn’t going to get made that day. You couldn’t know that his boss, Anthony “Gay Tony” Prince was the biggest nightclub owner in Liberty during the 80s. If you had, he would have made a good hostage as Bellic and the McRearys could have gotten in on what every other criminal enterprise in Liberty was doing. It seems that Gay Tony’s ballad is going to be one of tragedy.

Luis Lopez, is the main character in one of the more unique experiences that I have played in my many years of game playing. The plot centers around you as Lopez, a former corner boy drug dealer, as he attends to the chores of his boss “Gay Tony.” Tony has fallen on hard times in the recent economic troubles, that coupled with addictions to drugs, rent boys, and a certain level of lifestyle means that he has gotten his enterprise in some serious trouble. All of which Lopez has to clean up. The story intertwines several times with the characters of Nico Bellic and Johnny Klebitz, especially concerning the diamond heist from GTA IV, in that now the fate of the Russian diamonds is finally revealed (as the money was taken by The Lost). 

Two features of the plot stand out: the first is that in every previous Grand Theft Auto game the main character is always starting out with nothing. Whether it be a former gangsta from the inner city returning home, a Slavic immigrant, or a mafiosa trying to infiltrate the drug fueled 80s Vice City; each character had to work to get both money, weapons, and good vehicles. Being the protege of Tony, Lopez has access to the best of everything almost immediately. This changes the game in that like the main character Lopez, the player can get a little cocksure knowing the the FP-90 submachine gun (the P-90 for you COD 4 fans) seriously outweighs the 9mm and shotguns of the other criminals. No longer are the initial chases done in badly damaged cars as Lopez starts off driving the very best that Liberty has to offer.

This also changes the missions. No more busting the heads of petty corner dealers, one of the first things you must attend to is the extortion of a rich boy who is tied to a golfcart. Tony and Lopez deal at the top, because Tony owes the crime bosses money that he used to fuel his habits and keep his clubs open. The characters that Lopez meets and works for are more colorful and odd than any GTA players is used to at the beginning of a game.

The other aspect is that unlike “The Lost and the Damned” this game treats you to actual sympathetic characters who haven’t made the best choices in life but are doing their best to scratch their way out of the large holes that they have dug themselves into. Tony Prince is a fallen king, it’s implied that he once ruled the nightlife of Liberty in the 80s and is now reduced to watching the corporations move in as his empire is whittled down to two nightclubs: Maisonette 9 and Hercules. I’m reminded of Sam Rothstein’s narration at the end of Casino, it might be cleaner and less corrupt but Liberty needs Tony.

While Tony’s addictions are an endless plight, Lopez is a genuinely concerned partner with him who knows that his role is to keep the both of them alive and afloat. Lopez is loyal to his friend, because Tony saved him from the life of drug dealing that has swallowed most of the Dominicans-Americans in Aldernay. Lopez is out of place in his old neighborhood as he is viewed as a downtown yuppie by most and Tony’s lover by others. The funny thing is, that the jobs he used to do as a kid aren’t that much different from those that he must do now for the very elite of Liberty society. The only difference is how much firepower one can bring to the party.

Along the way you work for Russian antagonist Ray Bulgarin, the owner of the diamonds from all three games, the Ancelotti crime family (you kidnapped their daughter as Nico Bellic), and my personal favorite Yusuf Amir, whom you tried to “help” under the orders of Playboy X previously. Amir is one of my favorite characters because he is drunk on the money that his Dubai father provides him with. He’s supposed to spend it on real estate development but instead burns through it on hookers, drugs, and solid gold…everything. It’s no coincidence that the soundtrack possesses “Arab Money” by Busta Rhymes and that it is always playing when Amir is around. He makes you steal an attack helicopter, a tank, and a subway car (he subsequently has the chopper gold plated).

While this is a GTA game the side activities get more interesting as well. The game reintroduces the parachute from GTA: San Andreas and gives you several locations to jump from and land on specific targets which is fun but frustrating, it also introduces iron man races which take place in the air, water, and by land. These are more fun than the street races were previously but if you can gain the lead by the time you hit land the race is pretty much over. There’s a dance mini game that I haven’t finished yet, my coordination isn’t that good but it is pretty addictive. And for the character related missions, there is cage fighting which is plagued by the control issues present in all GTA games, drug deals where Lopez helps some of his pals from the neighborhood, and the club management.

Working at the club is easy, it’s basically standing around and then approaching a situation which a cut scene resolves. Doing a couple of these results in trysts with the office manager that while they aren’t graphic go beyond the lame “hot coffee” controversy from San Andreas. The drug missions are easy as well, too easy but the reward system grants much needed weapons at Lopez’s house something that the two previous installments were lacking.

All in all The Ballad of Gay Tony is much better than the biker saga of The Lost and the Damned. The characters are just as flawed but have more likable traits that make the player want to see them succeed. It’s too bad that this is the last foray into Liberty City until Rockstar publishes the next game which will take place in an entirely new location. If only all DLC could be this good.

Categories: reviews, video game review