The Momentum of War: American Involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Note: This article was originally written for a university class on Eurasian politics and security. It discusses how the war’s momentum has changed from the Bush administration to the Obama administration. There’s more to explore and more complexities that have arisen since Trump was elected in 2016, but I’ve saved those for a later discussion.

American diplomat George Kennan warned that war tends to change momentum once it gets going, evolving from the initial purpose into something entirely different by the end.1 American involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be encompassed by that idea. What began as a desire to preserve and promote American values, exacerbated by an attack on American soil, has become a much more complicated entanglement with various interests and groups in the region. Furthermore, it has facilitated an “identity crisis” in Pakistan, which has led to a military state that the U.S. has had to contend with even while cooperating with it.1 For Afghanistan’s part, it has remained a country whose stability has often been neglected in favor of other states’ competing interests. While Afghanistan has served as the main stage of the conflict between American interests and al Qaeda, the Taliban, and later the Islamic State (ISIS), it has also developed into a proxy for Pakistan’s interests in the Kashmir insurgency and the U.S.’s interests in Iraq.

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Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

saintanythingI’ve been a fan of Sarah Dessen for a long time. I got into her books after watching How to Deal, which I honestly don’t remember much about except that it starred Mandy Moore and introduced me to The Flaming Lips. I liked it when I was 14, though, enough to go out and buy the two Sarah Dessen books it was based on—That Summer and Someone Like You.

Dessen’s books are often cited as essential contemporary YA. They follow teen girls who are usually going through a significant transition in their lives. Romance is involved, but it takes a backseat to the other major events, which lead to personal growth and often familial healing. 

Saint Anything follows this basic Dessen formula, but the details are what make it stand out against her other books—and other YA contemporaries as well. It’s sprinkled with pizza and lollipops, nighttime jaunts through the woods, a band that kept reminding me of Hep Alien from Gilmore Girls, and a group of best friends better than any best friends have ever bested. The plot digs deeper than most of Dessen’s previous books, confronting things like unwanted sexual attention. Its moments of conflict and reprieve are equally balanced, and the dialogue is interesting and believable. Through it all, Dessen weaves details that felt so natural that I kept being reminded of my own high school experience.

Bottom line: Saint Anything is Dessen’s most recent book and her magnum opus, with characters I wanted to hug and scenes I wanted to hide in. It’s going to be a tough one to follow.

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Playing Oxenfree as a Perfectionist

Also posted on Destructoid’s Community Blogs

Oxenfree is as good as they say, “they” being practically everyone who’s reviewed it so far, but it frustrated the hell out of me. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m here to argue that my frustration played a huge part in making my experience with the game enjoyable, an integral part of it, even.

See, I’m a perfectionist, a one-hundred percenter, if you will. I finished Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s campaign months ago, but I’m still going back to it to find those last few stray mosaic pieces and venture through the labyrinthine Deep Roads. I stopped at nothing until I found and shot down every damn dangly skull necklace in 2013’s Tomb Raider. I don’t know why I have this quirk. Perfectionists are usually equated with adjectives like “neat” or “tidy” or “anal retentive,” but in most areas of my life I can more accurately be described as “scatterbrained.” My desk is cluttered with books and probably important neglected documents that should be filed away somewhere. My bed hasn’t been made since I moved out of my parents house and forsook all expectations of my adulthood.

My frustration with Oxenfree didn’t lie in its collectibles, though, all of which I found easily, with minimal excess time spent happily scouring the island while listening to the trippy soundtrack. As I picked up Maggie Adler’s letters and tuned my radio to anomalies at rock piles, I contentedly thought to myself that this extra bit of effort was allowing Alex and Jonas to spend more time together, perhaps bonding in that way people bond when they don’t always have to talk, when simply being in each other’s presence is enough. Therein lies my frustration with Oxenfree—in Alex’s relationships, particularly with Jonas, and the way they culminate in the end. After everything I thought I had been building toward, the ending completely caught me off guard.

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Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

darkplacesI decided to check out Dark Places after loving Gone Girl and ended up loving it even more.

While I really enjoyed Gone Girl, I didn’t connect with its main characters the way I connected with Libby in Dark Places. Flynn’s characters are always deeply flawed, sometimes unlikable, which isn’t a bad thing and in fact is often what makes them interesting, but Gone Girl‘s Nick and Amy feel far removed from anyone I know in real life. Libby is not only easier to relate to, but her growth and development throughout the book are insanely well done.

In the beginning, she’s depressed and stagnant. She has floated through life aimlessly since she was seven, when her mother and two sisters were brutally murdered by an unknown killer who may or may not have been her older brother. For the most part, she’s avoided thinking about it, but as the story progresses and she begins to examine that night more closely, she finally finds purpose in unraveling the mystery behind the killings.

I adored her relationship with Lyle, which serves as the catalyst for piecing the remains of her life back together after being shattered by her family’s deaths. (I recently learned that he’s going to be played by Nicholas Hoult in the upcoming movie adaption, which I think is a spot-on casting choice.) I like that their relationship remains platonic and open to interpretation. What Libby needs above all else is a friend, and Lyle provides that for her at a time when she’s desperate for it.

Bottom line: Dark Places is as dark and morbid as you’d expect from a Gillian Flynn novel but with ten times more heart.

Initial Thoughts on Kentucky Route Zero: Acts I and II

Kentucky Route Zero is simply gorgeous. Its art style caught me at first glance, and its abstract story kept me buried after delving into it, but the whole thing is just so gorgeous it nearly moves me to tears.

Created by two-man studio Cardboard Computer, Kentucky Route Zero is a “magical realist adventure game” that uses geometric shapes, soft lighting, and eerie music to create a nighttime otherworld. You play mostly as beleaguered truck driver Conway, who makes deliveries for an antique store and is having trouble finding the last address on his route. The further down the road you go, the more you realize the address is probably only a metaphor for the end of Conway’s journey, the actual destination of which is much more complicated.

In fact, everything you encounter in the game could be a metaphor and is open to interpretation. It’s up to you to piece together the bits of story you pick up as you go along, while circumstances can easily twist and change at any moment. To get wherever it is he’s going, Conway travels a strange underground highway known as Route Zero, where all he encounters is filled with mystery and tinged with Americana.

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Now Bob Will Always Be My Neighbor

If you’ve never played any of the Animal Crossing games before, I’ll attempt to explain them for you:

They’re made by Nintendo and have become an integral part of the company’s image. Not quite on the same level as Mario, but close.

You start out with an adorable character that represents you and looks something like this:

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Your character then moves into a town, which looks something like this:

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…but of course bigger and full of houses, shops, a river, a beach, bugs and fish you can catch, trees you can shake that will sometimes reward you with money or punish you by sending a swarm of bees after you, random holes you can fall into if you’re not careful, etc. You can name both your character and your town whatever you want. My character is always my real-life nickname, Lys, and my town is always Mirage.

You also have fellow villagers, which are all adorable animals that speak gibberish and ask you to do random tasks for them because they are so adorable why would you refuse?

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Blackwell: A Captivating Adventure

Point-and-click adventures were the bread and butter of my earliest gaming experiences. I spent plenty of time killing zombies in Resident Evil and breaking boxes in Crash Bandicoot, but I’ve always been a lover of stories first and foremost, and adventure games are all about a good narrative. You could almost get away with calling them interactive novels if it weren’t for the fact that those are completely different things. Wadjet Eye Games’ Blackwell series is one of the more compelling stories I’ve run across in an adventure game, taking me back to my childhood days while tapping into the unavoidable existentialism of my adult life.

The Blackwell Bundle comprises four separate games: The Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell Unbound, The Blackwell Convergence, and The Blackwell Deception. They’re short on their own, but when played one after the other they feel like a full game, and it’s well worth it for the $14.99 price tag.

The overarching story’s main protagonist is Rosa Blackwell, who you take control of in all but Blackwell Unbound. Rosa is a writer living in New York City who discovers she’s also a Medium. She’s a kickass character, sharp and driven and brimming with sarcasm. She could be anyone at first glance, but she has a well of depth under the surface that’s impressive considering the modest length of these games.

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