What You Know: Immigrants & Crime

What you know: People emigrate from Mexico to the USA seeking a better life. They do this legally and illegally, and while crime does occur, it happens among a small portion. This is a complex issue.

What you say: When Mexico sends their people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bring those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

The lesson: NEVER overestimate your marks; easy scapegoats and simplistic solutions are your friends. Redirect their anger towards convenient targets, stir up their racial and social prejudices, and you will rise to the top.

Christmas 1995: a review of Donkey Kong Country 2

Christmas as an adult, the same routine:

Mom: What do you want for Christmas?

Me: (long silence) I don’t know.

Why is this question so hard to answer now? Used to, it was easy. As a child my parents didn’t have to ask and at some point a transition happened, from telling them what I wanted for Christmas to being asked. From the primary concern in my life to an afterthought. From Super Nintendo games to…money?


I used to feel sorry for those kids who woke up to blue jeans under the tree. Last Christmas I thanked my sister for my new flannel shirt. It’s red and black.

It matches the one she bought my wife.

You can’t rank the best Christmases by looking too far past your childhood. Whenever the transition happens (and for me I suspect it happened after college, not counting the two years I spent in China. Those were special circumstances), it changes something fundamental in your life. It marks the drop, from childhood to adulthood, from playing SNES all day to “adulting”, the current phrase for people my generation pulled kicking and screaming from their long-term adolescence to the pleasures of paying bills, fighting traffic and raising kids.

My daughter’s five. Her wants are simple, and with each approaching Christmas I think back to my own Christmases. I want to make them as special for her as they were for me, and out of all the great Christmases, Christmas 1995 stands apart.

It came at the right time, in the heyday of 16-bit gaming. Gamepro was still publishing. The Nintendo 64 was still the Ultra 64, not delayed yet, and the PlayStation and Saturn had just come out. There was a particular window when Nintendo hadn’t abandoned the SNES and developers were still pushing the system to its limits while Resident Evil only existed in beta form. In other words, there were good Christmases to come, but 95 won in the presents department.

I had Killer InstinctYoshi’s Island and Donkey Kong Country 2 under the tree.

Rare had torched the gaming world the year before with Donkey Kong Country, billed as the first video game rendered with computer graphics. They had the hype machine going: DKC graced the cover of the December 1994 issue of Gamepro (the first issue my parents bought me), Nintendo Power subscribers received a promotional video hosted by a comedian who’s probably panhandling today. Nintendo pulled out all the stops to make sure the first Donkey Kong Country was the hot seller for Christmas 94.

Donkey Kong Country 2 had no video, but it graced the cover of Gamepro’s December 1995 issue. I’d hoped that would be the start of the trend, but 1996 brought us the Nintendo 64 and the SNES’s death tolls. Christmas 1995 did come at the right time.

Donkey Kong Country 2 earned rave reviews across the board, and on this occasion the reviewers are correct. Good sequels don’t repeat what the first ones did. They examine what the first one did, fill in the gaps, making improvements where needed while leaving what isn’t broken alone.

In Donkey Kong Country 2, Kaptain K. Rool has kidnapped Donkey Kong, locking him away in a castle at the top of Crocodile Isle. Your long climb up Crocodile Isle takes you through a variety of levels and locales. The first Donkey Kong Country had pirate ships and snow levels; Donkey Kong Country 2 ditches the snow levels for swamps, beehives and bramble.

With the success of the first game and Nintendo’s backing, Rare felt free to experiment. Donkey Kong Country 2 takes chances, not just in level design but in extras and sidequests. The bonus levels, a much-hyped feature that Gamepro swore would take players 80 hours to complete makes a return here. The difference is that in Donkey Kong Country 2 they mean something. Completing a bonus level nets you a Kremcoin. 15 Kremcoins gives you access to a Lost World level while all 75 lets you in the Lost World’s volcano, where the final boss, Kaptain K. Rool, is pissed and ready for a rematch.

Donkey Kong Country 2 also introduces DK Coins. They are hidden in the regular levels and are prizes for finishing bonus levels in the Lost World. Just as there is an incentive for collecting Kremcoins, your reward for collecting every DK Coin is the coveted 102% completion…and Cranky Kong’s approval as Diddy stands in 1st place in the video game hall of heroes, ahead of Link and Mario.

Diddy returns, this time as the hero. His partner is a female Kong named Dixie, prompting many an under the radar joke in mid-nineties gaming mags, Diddy has the same abilities as the last game while Dixie can use her ponytail to helicopter across pits and dangerous enemies. Together, the two monkeys can throw one another to access out-of-the-way areas, bonus levels and DK coins. Both of them are fairly weak, unable to destroy larger enemies.

The soundtrack is as imaginative as the levels. Each track complements the level, where it’s the Hothead Bop for the lava levels, the Bayou Boogie as you jump from tadpole to tadpole or Stickerbrush Symphony for the bramble levels. In the final Lost World level, you transform into Squawks the parrot, fighting against the wind. Stickerbrush Symphony roars in the background, sweeping you from your real life concerns into the life-or-death world of platform gaming.

1995 in video games. Changes we haven’t seen the likes of since. Think about it: Donkey Kong Country 2 came out the same year the 32-bit PlayStation and Saturn with the Nintendo 64 on the horizon. The last time “next-gen” meant a real change.

Rare understood this, and they could have made Donkey Kong Country 1.5 and called it a day. They didn’t. They pushed themselves, and their hard work and good timing made Christmas 1995 the best, enriching the lives of millions lucky enough to be kids in the heyday of 16-bit gaming.

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Siblings Day & Best Friends Day

It bothers me that more and more people are posting about Siblings and Best Friends Day on social media. Seems like a small thing, but that’s how it starts: a few posts, some messages and one day you’re an asshole because you didn’t send a card and buy a gift.

They’re bogus holidays, like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Days to honor your parents…instead of spending money one day a year, why not honor your parents in other ways? Lead a good life. Treat people well. Don’t lock them away when they’re old, take care of them.

Of course, you can’t take care of them if they’re a threat to themselves and others. If Dad’s brandishing the kitchen knife, then you’d better send him to a home.

Unless it’s time to cut the cake.

Book Passage of the Week – from Hold the Dark, by William Giraldi

I’m digging the prose in Hold the Dark, about an ailing old man who helps a grieving mother track down the wolf that killed her son in a remote Alaskan village.

He’d seen his daughter only once in the last three years, when she came home the morning after her mother’s stroke. Three crawling years. Life was not short, as people insisted on saying. He’d quit cigarettes and whiskey just before she was born. He wanted to be in health for her and knew then that ten years clipped from his life by drink and smoke were ten years too many. Now he knew those were the worthless years anyway, the silver decade of life, a once-wide vista shrunk to a keyhole. Not all silver shines. As of this morning he had plans to return to cigarettes and whiskey both. He regretted not buying them at the airport.

Never Heard of It

Today is my birthday, and last night my division had a farewell dinner for someone who’s going to Forecaster School. Nobody wants to hang out with their co-workers outside of work. For me it’s right at the bottom alongside Mandatory Fun with things I want to spend my limited free time doing.

And I mean limited free time. One can be forgiven for thinking that shore duty means you have more time to yourself and what you want to do, but our schedule nixes that idea. Right now we work six days in a row, off three days, on three nights, and off three more days before the cycle starts anew. We went from twelve hour days to six, but the trade-off is that we are there more days a month, and if there is something going on that requires all hands (uniform inspection, for instance), then that’s another day you won’t have. Combine that with any collateral duties (extra duties you aren’t compensated for) that take place on your off-days, the extra work and less manpower, and it’s no wonder some people are dropping chits to return to sea duty six months early.

The dinners themselves can be awkward affairs. Sometimes it depends on the choice of venue. In the Navy, we call the dinner a Hail and Farewell: you hail the new people aboard and say farewell to the people who are leaving. The trouble starts when not everyone shows up — the first three I went two, one guy just didn’t come — and it gets no better when you’re sitting around the table, wishing you were elsewhere. Nothing to talk about except work.

I’ve been to four so far in San Diego, and I’m happy to report this is the least awkward division I’ve ever worked with. For instance, we actually talk to each other. Isn’t it great how sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference?

Last night I skipped beer and stuck with water, and I ended up chatting with my co-worker’s son, who is 12.

Co-Worker’s Son: Do you like to play any online games?

Me: Not in a long time. When I was your age, I played this game called Starcraft.

Co-Worker’s Son: Never heard of it.

Oh man. I can’t think of a more appropriate way to ring in my 32nd birthday.

One benefit of joining the Navy: working with kids fresh out of high school means I have to stop bullshitting myself about my youth.