Sunday, 28 October 2012

Norway Foreign Minister on Arctic exploitation

I really hope that the translation process has made this guy seem more hard core than he is. He flatly denies the special status of the Arctic in environmental terms and pays lip service to the need to manage it carefully if we are to avoid complete global melt down.

Here are some of his more controversial statements:

"The exploitation of Arctic resources will happen. It has always been our key policy to make sure that the rules are clear, both on who owns what and on how to exploit resources. The Arctic is not special in legal terms; it is just an ocean. The area is of course ecologically vulnerable. But it is possible to have responsible drilling."

"whilst the Antarctic is a continent, the Arctic is an ocean. And it is governed by the law of the sea. It is an area of opportunity."

I can't say I'm reassured. If the Arctic is not special in legal terms then we should probably do something about making it so rather than allowing it to be casually taken over by corporate interests.  

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Kill! Maim! Burn! (... and be nice to Pirates)

This is brilliant. Small developer reacts with a conciliatory and far sighted attitude that sharply contrasts with the usual shrill cries of the larger entertainment corporations with their melodramatic claims that piracy is undermining their hugely profitable industry and funding all those dastardly terrorists we hear about.

I've been playing Miami Hotline a lot over the last couple of days. It's a bit buggy at present but the developers are quickly remedying this and even so it is very addictive. You'll either love or hate the trippy and inconsistent approach to the game's backing story. However, if you are prepared to stomach the incredible levels of violence you should have a good time. I've started to think of it as the unofficial game of Tarantino's films, since it strongly resembles Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill in mood and style

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Musings on Looper

So I went to see 'Looper' last night and generally enjoyed it. I was expecting something more like Inception - heavy on the special effects and dramatic in scope and scale. However, it had a far darker and more sedate setting which reminded me of 'Cold Mountain' or 'Children of Men' as often as it engaged in the typical Hollywood fare of gun fights and stock characters.

Below are some, slightly spoiler-y, aspects of the film that I enjoyed:

1) Firearms - While it was an unexpectedly violent and sometimes disturbing film the use of guns was handled especially well. They were clearly restricted to criminal institutions and the occasional private owner rather than being as ubiquitous as they often are in dystopian and anarchic settings. When used they were extremely deadly. The target was usually blown away with a single shot and there was none of the usual lack of realism where protagonists continue to run around and fight despite multiple bullet wounds.

2) Suspension of Disbelief - Like the aforementioned Inception, the film expected you to accept one big unfamiliar idea that lacked plausibility. In Inception this was the technology that allowed intrusions into dreamer's minds while in Looper it was the use of time travel to dispose of criminal rivals. However, if you could stomach this the film's logic was largely consistent. While usually a stickler for logic in films I think this worked quite well and allows some real novelty in the creation of an interesting world and coherent scenarios.

But, to digress - were they seriously trying to tell us that time travel was the only conceivable way to kill people illegally in the future and that this was the only use that could be found for time travel? Or that if this was the case it would be used exclusively by criminals rather than by other institutions or individuals that saw utility in making people disappear? Despite mention of a future ban on the technology there wasn't even any indication that illicit use was strenuously policed.    

3) The Future - I liked how little information we were given about the future society from which the Loopers and Abe had come. This allows lots of speculation and prevented the setting from slowing down the movie. All we got was Abe's suggestion, reluctantly accepted by the older Joe, that China was a better destination than France and a few scattered details of the Rainmaker's criminal activities.

However, reading between the lines we can see that society must have undergone a big change from the dystopia of the 2040s. It seems unlikely that the disorganised society that the younger Joe lives in could have got its act together to invent time travel or to have instituted such strong restraints on the disposal of murdered bodies. However, the existence of the Looper system suggests that high levels of organised crime are common to both periods.

4) Time Travel - While others have criticised it, I enjoyed Looper's uncomplicated approach to paradox in time travel.The mechanics never got explained in detail and the film itself poked fun at the difficulties of understanding it but doing so made for an especially fast moving and fluid plot that could focus on characters (the kid's acting was brilliant and Gordon-Levitt put in a very strong performance) rather than getting lost in the complexities of a shifting timeline.

Ruthless Culture stirs up a hornet's nest

Controversial piece on where Science Fiction lost its way is available at Ruthless Culture. Broadly, Jonathan McCalmont claims that the genre has abandoned political engagement and become too infused with fantasy elements. Increasingly it is written in an abstract and fantastical manner rather than having any drive to engage with real world problems or potential alternatives to capitalism. He ties this in with the lack of non-white, non-male authors and the opportunities that fantastic science fiction offers for air brushing inconvenient and embarrassing  events in the history of the imperialist West.

I would disagree with this characterisation of the state of play. Political meanings can be drawn from even the most abstract or unrealistic text and some of the examples he quotes (especially Iain Banks and China Mieville) make some very obvious political comments in their works. Whether or not they should be more politically assertive as public figures is a different question and does not reflect on the quality of their writing.

Still I won't attempt a detailled rebuttal or commentary here. Read the thought-provoking piece and have a gander at the number of prominent authors who have replied to challenge it!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The dangers of mixing nuclear power and submarines

Maybe time for a rethink about the whole putting dangerous nuclear reactors in submarines idea? Germany and Japan have taken admirable steps in the direction of cutting down usage of civilian nuclear power but neither are nuclear states or are well known for their outgoing defence policies. If such prudent policies can be adopted in regards to civilian power use, which has the potential to be an economic and workable alternative to fossil fuels, then surely the US and British naval forces could give up the use of these submarines that simply allow for provocative militaristic posturing and risks environmental and diplomatic disaster?

Similarly the prevalence of the even more terrifying nuclear capable submarines is shown by this article in the American Naval War College Review journal which focusses on the ubiquity of such marine armaments in the deterrence policies of nuclear armed nations. A very interesting read about naval diplomacy between India and Pakistan, a simmering conflict that seems to have barely warranted any mainstream news coverage in recent years.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Being funny about buggy games

I read this on Rock Paper Shotgun, which had a few good jokes. However, its main purpose was to remind me of this article:

.... which is one of the funniest pieces of online game journalism ever.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Diary of a Space Age Bureaucrat Pt 3.6

 Zakalwe gasped as the fire sucked the last of the oxygen from the Sensor room. His skin was burned in several places and he didn't think he could stay upright for much longer. Flere was dead so he could expect no help. Still at least he had broadcast the mission logs to the Federation holdouts before abandoning the cockpit:

Things had started well. The Phlebus had arrived in an Engi sector and been instantly able to repair their hull damage at a mechanoid border Store, taking the time as well to sell the Fire Bombs that they no longer needed. However at their next jump they had come across a strong Rebel fighter. With three shields it had managed to wear down their hull and destroy valuable systems before they afflicted enough damage to cause it to surrender. Flere had become a casualty during the battle as a missile hit the corridor he was walking through on his way to the medical bay. The android had been sucked out of space with a silent scream. With the oxygen and medical bay down and fires in too many areas of the ship, Zakalwe had had little chance to single-handedly repair the damage.

He lapsed into unconsciousness as the last of the oxygen hissed out through a hull breach. It may have just been the light headedness but he could have sworn that a door had opened elsewhere on the ships. Perhaps a Rebel boarder had come to finish him off? It would be too much to hope that it could be a rescue mission – even in such a relatively safe area of space. Still, that was somebody else's problem. The captain knew no more as the Phlebus tumbled through the void, watched suspiciously by the crew of the battered Rebel rigger.    

(This is a game report taking a certain level of artistic license from the game 'FTL Faster than Light'. I'm flying a Zoltan cruiser, which I had the good fortune to unlock after only a couple of plays. Sad that this run had to come to an end but it didn't go too badly.)

Two lost pairs of Lederhosen and a scary Futurologist

Der Spiegel carries out an analysis of crime statistics during the Oktoberfest festivities. Somehow that is very, very German. Unfortunately violence and drunkenness seem to be up this year.

Why are technology worshippers always so politically naive? Not only does this guy get his dates wrong when he tries to do history - we had both telephones and automobiles by 1900, he also doesn't seem to have fully thought through many of his ideas:

1) "If you are a college student, you blink and you can see all the answers to the final examination by wearing your contact lenses. Artists will wave their hands in the air and create beautiful works of art. If you're an architect, you will see what you are creating and just move towers, two apartment buildings around as you construct things."

Works okay for the last two but if everybody has information at their finger tips why become a university student? Even for the others who is to say that modelling technology that advanced wouldn't turn everybody into an architect or an artist regardless of talent? Maybe he anticipates this but if so why does he not talk about the sociological changes it would bring?

2) We can get rid of death but overpopulation will not be a problem.

False analogy from current trends. There is a huge difference in the decision to not reproduce when we live for 80 years and resources are still finite and the same decision made by immortals who live in utopia. Also currently there is a large amount of cultural homogeneity in the developed world. Who can say whether other cultures would replicate the declining birth rate in a world of infinite resources.

3) "Eternal life does not violate the laws of physics"

Of course it does! Go off and read Isaac Asimov's 'The Last Question' you silly Futurologist!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Death of a great historian

Eric Hobsbawm has died earlier today at the age of 95. I'm sure most history students will have come across his brilliant books on the history of the Industrial Revolution and of the Twentieth century. Sad to see one of the last real Marxist intellectuals go -  especially one who was so eminently sensible and practical in his dissection of industrial developments that have so often been perceived through tinted lenses.