Pure Kojimism – A Death Stranding Analysis

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Death Stranding simultaneously contains more good and more bad than probably any other video game I have ever played.

Death Stranding’s basic setting and story pieces are epic, ambitious, utterly original, and wonderfully imagined. Many cutscenes are the best Kojima has ever directed. The atmosphere is grim, immersive, all-encompassing, and beautifully crafted, just like the game’s environment and music. Many characters are crisp, fun, and well-captured by real actors. The core gameplay is a revolution in fundamental game mechanics. I blasted through a 50-hour initial playthrough, put in another 20 hours to get all the trophies, and then replayed the whole story again in an additional 20 hours, and I was never bored.

Death Stranding’s plot is convoluted, confusing, both over-and-under explained, and lets down its incredible premise. The pacing is bad, with way too much happening at the beginning and end of the game and not enough happening in the vast middle. Many of its characters are dull or nonsensical. Plenty of dialogue is cringeworthy. The core gameplay is too easy, and barely evolves throughout the course of quite a long game.

That mixture of greatness and disaster is what makes Death Stranding so amazing. It’s a work of pure auteurism. Hideo Kojima is an eccentric genius with a touch for imaginative worlds and epic stories and big ideas executed in completely original ways, but he’s also a bad writer with some terrible storytelling instincts. There has been much speculation on how these two parts of Kojima were enhanced or hindered during the development of each Metal Gear game, but Death Stranding seems to be the ultimate personification of both at the same time… the best and worst Kojima has to offer in one package.

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96 hour No-Sleep Challenge

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On April 26, 2020, I woke up at 8:54 AM. My goal was to not sleep for the next 96 hours (four days).

 

Why Am I Doing This?

No real reason. I’m just curious to see if I am the willpower to succeed and how I’ll feel.

 

Rules

  1. The challenge begins when I wake up on April 26, 2020.
  2. I cannot sleep for 96 hours (initial)
    1. Eventually revised down to 72 hours
  3. I may use any means necessary to keep myself awake
  4. I must at least attempt to record how I’m feeling every 12 hours
  5. I may not receive direct help in staying awake from any other people

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An Attempt at Explaining, Blaming, and Being Very Slightly Sympathetic Toward Enron

File:Logo de Enron.svg

The audiobook of Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron caught my eye over a year ago, but I didn’t read it because it’s 22.5 hours long. I’m not a finance expert, and I figured if it only took 10 hours longer to understand the entire life of Napoleon, then maybe it wasn’t worth wading into limited liability special purpose entities, broadband capacity trading, and Tobashi schemes.

But I finally listened to Bethany McLane and Peter Elkind’s exploration of the largest bankruptcy in American history (at the time). Then I read a whole lot of wikipedia articles, read a whole bunch of news articles from the early 2000s, talked to Byrne Hobart for an hour, and now I am going to attempt to present a succinct, yet comprehensive summary of what Enron was and how it fell.

As cliché as it sounds, what makes the Enron scandal so fascinating is its bewildering complexity. As late as 2001, nobody outside of Enron could actually explain what Enron did. Sure, outsiders could summarize it as a “logistics company” or say it did “energy trading,” but even the most diligent analyst didn’t know half of what Enron was up to because… well, Enron didn’t report half of what it was doing.

But at the same time, nobody inside Enron could really explain what the company was doing either. Sure, the executives knew more than the analysts, but such a vast company with so many opaque moving parts simply cannot be comprehended by a single mortal man. This isn’t embellishment – that was basically the legal defense of much of the Enron executive team after the company’s downfall. Many executives didn’t try to argue their innocence so much as confuse the judge, jury, and everyone in the courtroom with byzantine accounting non-explanations. Enron’s CEO, Ken “Kenny Boy” Lay, claimed that he honestly couldn’t follow the machinations of his hand-picked COO and CFO as they bounced billions of dollars of Enron assets and debt between corporate accounts and quasi-shell investment funds owned by Enron executives and their families so as to artificially boost Enron’s credit rating. Who could?

Beyond the technical aspects, the Enron scandal was arguably just as morally complex. This was probably my biggest surprise when reading the book. I had only heard about Enron in passing on the news as the ultimate example of financial dishonesty, or as the apex of predatory capitalism, and all of that might be true… or maybe not. It’s hard to say. I’m wary of passing judgement not just with the benefit of hindsight, but the benefit of being outside the reality distortion field which undoubtedly engulfed Enron for the better part of a decade. Enron’s executives were no angels, but they weren’t entirely demons or scoundrels or fools or decent men put under unimaginable pressure… they were all of those at once.

I’ll frontload the disappointment: there are no easy answers or smoking guns with Enron. There was no one executive who obviously made a conscious choice to commit fraud (at least not on a large scale). There was no single financial maneuver or strategy which was blatantly illegal. There was no identifiable point-of-no-return. There were just lots of morally weak but clever individuals who did what they thought they had to, or were allowed to, or what would work out in the end… until it didn’t.

I’ll start my piece with a summary of Enron’s entire history, starting with the origins of its founder, all the way to its dramatic conclusion. Then I’ll explain how and why Enron fell in three parts:

  • Mid-Level Explanation – A condensed, digestible summary of the Enron scheme
  • Low-Level Explanation – A deep dive into the mechanics of the various sub-components of the Enron scheme
  • High-Level Explanation – An analysis of the legal and moral underpinnings of Enron’s scheme

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30 Day Carnivore Challenge

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From 3/16/2020 to 4/15/2020, I embarked on the carnivore diet. I didn’t have any specific motive or goal beyond curiosity to find out how the highly restrictive diet made me feel and to see whether I could do it. I will summarize my findings here.

 

Rules

1. I can only eat animal products, excluding dairy

  • Exceptions
    • Butter
      • Rationale – Animal product, similar nutritional composition to meat, crucial for boosting fat intake
    • Seasoning
      • Rationale – Little-to-no nutritional or caloric content, will greatly boost palatability and taste

2. I can only drink water

  • Water derivatives are allowed (ie. club soda)
  • Exception
    • Coffee
      • Rationale – Little-to-no nutritional or caloric content, worried about how ending caffeine consumption will interfere with dietary impact, I really like coffee

3. I eat until I’m full

4. I eat whenever I want

5. I record everything I eat

6. I measure my weight every night between 10-11PM

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The Taiwan Junket: A Story of Political Farce & Fools

Taiwan Flag

The following is a true story. It is based on notes taken from a conversation with a former state representative from a Midwestern state who I’ll refer to as John Smith. He has asked to remain anonymous.

It was the early-2000s. With 6 months left in his third term as a state representative, John Smith was a lame duck. Other legislators gave Smith sad little nods in the hallways, and the “watchers” – the lobbyists who sat in on every vote – stopped inviting him to comped dinners at fancy restaurants. Without an opening available in the state Senate, Smith knew his political career was over, at least for a while.

Smith had seen many of his colleagues come close to mental breakdowns when they finally left office. They couldn’t comprehend why strangers stopped taking their phone calls and laughing at their jokes. Their sense of identity and self-worth was tied up in their title and modicum of power over their fellow citizens. But Smith didn’t care about all that. He was a libertarian, though he wasn’t super open about it. He hated the political machinations which stole money from the people to be dolled out by the aristocracy of pull. Smith never tired of mocking the self-righteous, self-important elected officials who revel in power so petty that their own constituents don’t even know what they do.

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Against Dog Ownership

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I don’t know if I believe what I’ve written here. This isn’t a manifesto, it’s more like a bunch of random thoughts I can’t get out of my head. I could be convinced they’re all wrong, or that I’m not going far enough. I don’t hate dogs and I don’t hate dog owners, but part of me hates everything about dog ownership.

I grew up with a cat, but no dog. I have always liked animals, and thought dogs were particularly adorable with their playfulness and enthusiasm. But I never really understood what it meant to own a dog until just recently when I dog-sat a cockapoo for a family member.

I had seen this cockapoo a few times before and it was always just as happy and bounding as you’d expect any well-kept dog to be. When I arrived at the family member’s apartment, the dog jumped all over me and eagerly accepted my pets, even rolling over on its back to get some belly rubs. My family member told me that I’d have to feed the dog this expensive dry food with tasty treats on top, and that I’d have to walk her four times per day (which seemed excessive, but whatever), but that was about it. She was a great dog and would be easy to deal with.

The family member left the next morning and the cockapoo immediately fell into a depression. I say this as someone who is usually baffled when I hear that a dog is “anxious” or “eager” or “scared,” because honestly dogs always just look happy or sad to me. But even I could tell the cockapoo was miserable. She wouldn’t eat, she didn’t want to walk more than a block, she cried sporadically, and she slept pretty much every minute of the day I wasn’t taking her for four walks.

After two days of this, I texted my relative to ask what to do. In a massive block paragraph, she basically told me to cheer the dog up.

To which I thought – how the fuck do I do that?

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Trial of Golog

Trial of Golog is my first novel. It is not currently published.

The novel is set in a universe filled with a hierarchical society of divine entities that create and tinker with life as part of a grand project to maintain the existence of reality. The story follows two recently-created humans named “Cave” and “Sea,” who awaken separately in a seemingly deserted world. Each soon meets a glowing divine being which identifies itself as “Bright,” and informs its respective human that he/she is being put on trial by Golog, a god of seemingly infinite power. If the humans complete the trial successfully by demonstrating sufficient virtue and faith, they are promised eternal enlightenment. Cave and Sea try their best to comprehend their predicaments while navigating the trial, only to discover that other forces in the universe are attempting to interfere with the ordeal for their own ends.

The story deals with themes of creation, purpose, uncertainty, body horror, and information asymmetry. I intended for all characters to have only a partial understanding of the world they inhabit, and to be painfully aware of this fact as they strive to achieve their goals.

The first two chapters of Trial of Golog are posted here. If you’re interested in reading more, contact me by email.

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Everything You Need to Know About Napoleon Bonaparte

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Having finished the epic, all-encompassing biographical 33-hour audiobook, Napoleon: A Life, by Andrew Roberts, I knew I wanted to write something about it, but I wasn’t sure what. Napoleon Bonaparte had one of the most accomplished, divisive, big lives of any person in history, which reshaped the way we think about war, politics, revolution, culture, law, religion, and so much more in a mere 52 years. Any one of those elements could (and has) been isolated and made into a massive tome on its own.

So I just set out to describe and analyze all of the things I found most interesting about the man. This includes a summary of his entire life, his personality quirks, unusual events, driving beliefs, notable skills, and more. If there is an over-arching theme to be found, it’s my amazement at how an extraordinarily competent and risk-tolerant individual lived his life up to the greatest heights only to come tumbling back down to earth.

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Little Soldiers – Inside the Chinese Education System

Image result for chinese test takers

Note – Scott Alexander posted a “Review Review” of this piece on Slate Star Codex on January 22, 2020.

I’m a typical SSC reader when it comes to education. I love Scott’s graduation speech, I think Bryan Caplan is right, and I actively participate in our semi-regular tradition of talking about how much schools suck.

That’s why Lenora Chu’s Little Soldiers: An American Boy, A Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve was pure nightmare fuel for me. It’s a non-fiction account of an ethnically-Chinese, American-born woman following her multi-racial child through the Chinese school system in Shanghai. While we complain about our soft, liberal, decadent school experiences in America or Europe, tens of millions of Chinese kids are subjected to a school structure that seems purposefully designed to make everyone as miserable as humanly possible.

Or at least that was my take-away. Lenora Chu has a kinder perspective on the system. Mostly.

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Peep Show – The Most Realistic Portrayal of Evil Ever Made

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Peep Show, a British tv series running from 2003 to 2015, starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb as a pair of miserable, co-dependent roommates living in Croydon, London, is the most realistic portrayal of evil I have ever seen.

Admittedly, I’m using “evil” in an unorthodox way. Most people think of “evil” as being synonymous with “malicious” and “doing really, really bad things.” But I have a broader view of “evil.” I consider a thing to be evil if it creates bad outcomes not just out of malice, but instinct or carelessness.

By that standard, Peep Shows’s protagonists, Mark Corrigan and Jeremy “Jez” Usborne, are evil. They’re not evil in quite the way serial killers and murderous dictators are, nor in the exaggerated cartoony manner of other comedic anti-heroes like the characters on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Arrested Development, or Archer. Rather, Peep Show’s characters are evil in the scariest way possible – they’re realistically evil. They embody the worst, weakest, most destructive traits that every single individual knows exists inside of them to one degree or another. They are evil incarnate.

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