Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Class War? What Class War?

I'm amazed Mr Jones managed to keep a straight face for the photo.

He manages to simultaneously work in a claim that many parents who send their children to private schools make 'huge sacrifices' to do so while also accusing Labour of returning to 'Class War' by considering ending tax breaks (that favourite tool of oppression of revolutionary parties!).

Surely if anybody who is willing to sacrifice can make use of private school services then there is no 'class' here to be victimised. That argument only holds together if such schools really are over privileged havens for grooming the children of the rich.

Typical woolly-headed thinking from a defender of the establishment.

P.s. Happy New Year to one and all. Please consider not voting Conservative or UKIP as a potential new year's resolution.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Russia today, Britain tomorrow

Putin's economy is in a mess due mainly to his alienation of key trading partners in America and Europe (unless you subscribe to the fantasy that OPEC are keeping oil prices down as an early Christmas present to all the motorists and industrialists out there).

The British coalition government should be carefully taking notes. A departure from Europe would not piss the international community off as much as Russia's annexation of Crimea and blatant intervention in Ukraine but no amount of austerity scrimping will suffice if we too succeed in annoying our main trading partners.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Miliband forgot the economy!

So I tuned into Prime Minister's Question Time last weekend - mainly to see Cameron get the kicking he royally deserved for hiring a welfare minister who thinks that it is acceptable to indicate that the disabled may not be worth paying a minimum wage (

However, I was astonished to find that the Tories are still droning on about Miliband's accidential omission of mention of the deficit in his Manchester speech in late September. "I hope Ed remembers to attend the doctor's appointment for his sore throat" quips the intolerably smug Prime Minister in a show of mock sympathy for Miliband.

Insincere condolences are something that Britain has got used to under the Coalition. Perish the thought but some of us might even think we can afford to forget the economy every now and again rather than using austerity to justify a barrage of policies that keep the poor unsupported, vital national services privatised and growing numbers of young people excluded from adequately renumerative employments or affordable housing.

... but then such thinking goes against the austerity play book in an election where Cameron seems determined to pander to the privileged and/or UKIP supporters.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Lord Freud's slip

In before the newspaper cartoonists - now that's what you call a Freudian slip!

But seriously we didn't need one idiot minister to let us know how the government plans to treat the disabled if they win re-election. Their current moves to reduce benefits for all those who need them whether they are working or unemployed, disabled or fit, shows how little concern they have for such groups.    

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Of Tokyo and Foster Parents

Sadly I wasn't quite as thrilled with the second outing for the Peaky Blinders as I was with the action-packed return of the series.

Don't get me wrong - I am interested in Arthur's growing psychopathy and the fate of Polly's adopted children but I would have liked to see further developments in the Irish and London expansion elements of the plot. One growly meeting with Tom Hardy in a London distillery was pretty much all we got this time around (though kudos to the producers for featuring a Jewish gang that look like real 20th century immigrants rather than being exclusively Haredi with side curls).

Still this caveat is more personal taste than anything and I'm definitely looking froward to the next episode and (hopefully) a restored focus on Campbell's intrigue and brawling with Italian crime bosses.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Explosive start to the second series of Peaky Blinders

(Spoilers ahead - be warned)

Absolutely fucking fantastic first episode! The twist before the credits rolled dragged you in nice and fast and the promise of a simultaneous expansion into the vicious gang politics of 1920s London and the politics of the Irish civil war should ensure that the series remains fresh.

Admittedly it seemed a bit cheesy that both Grace and Campbell survived the shooting incident at the end of the first series. We hadn't previously been given any evidence that Grace was the sort of double agent that would fail to finish off a dangerous and ruthless opponent. However, when it means that we get another series of three great central characters facing off against each other you can hardly bemoan the methods.

All in all I'm not sure that this episode could have been bettered. Let's hope the series shapes up well after this early promise!

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Miliband jumps on bandwagon

Come on Miliband - I've defended you every time the newspapers have tried to present you as a clueless moron because the press always does that to any Labour leader who isn't actively pursuing right wing policies.

However, it's going to be hard to do so when you appear intent on jumping on the Conservative's 'goad the Scots into voting for independence' campaign. It might win a few votes in the more bumptious areas of Little England but basically it is up to Scotland whether they stay or go and antagonising them is only likely to push more towards a 'fuck England' attitude.

Scot-baiting is an even worse move for Labour than for the Conservatives as the left can actually expect considerable amounts of votes north of the border. The Conservatives have little to lose but Miliband risks killing the goose that lays the golden eggs and marginalising Scottish voters.  

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Welcome to a better Utopia

So I've finally finished watching the first series of Utopia and made a start on the second and I have to say that it represents a real step up in quality.

I did like the first series -which combined originality with a great cast of interesting characters and carefully skirted the line well between humour and horror. However, in getting you used to the distinctive style and ideas of the world of Utopia it adopted a fairly claustrophobic and samey plot. Once you got past who was betraying or misleading who at any one time it was simply a fugitive storyline with the same few characters becoming progressively more brutal in their efforts to stay out of the hands of the Network.

The first episode of series 2 shakes things up nicely by taking us back to the origins of Janus. The young Milner and Carvel, along with their unfortunate spouses, are a breath of fresh air after we have got used to following such a restricted group of characters. Definitely one to watch with Wikipedia on in the background though. Spotting the links between the actions of the Network and the real events of the 1970s is good fun and I always enjoy seeing British alternate history done well.

While I fully expect a return to the present day in future episodes it's nice to see the directors find their feet enough to take some risks with novel formats. Bring on the rest of the series!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Serious fraud office commits serious fraud

Look up irony in a dictionary some time and you may find a link to this article. Of course with the Tories traditional massaging of awkward statistics I doubt they will let this blatant rule bending persuade them that corporate and institutional tax avoidance may be more of an issue than those pesky benefit cheats.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Pope Francis vs Renton

I think the new (and generally fairly groovy) Pope Francis has been reading Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. Compare the Pope's speech to the International Drug Conference:

"I would reaffirm what I have stated on another occasion – no to every type of drug use. It is as simple as that … But to say this no, one has to say yes to life, yes to love, yes to others, yes to education, yes to greater job opportunities. If we say yes to all these things, there will be no room for illicit drugs, for alcohol abuse, for other forms of addiction."

With the infamous heroin justification speech delivered by Renton in Trainspotting:

“Choose a life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers... Choose DSY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit crushing game shows, stucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away in the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourself, choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that?”  

Notice a certain similarity in logical structures and theme?

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Redshirt Runthrough Rejecting Preferential Treatment (RRRPT Part 2)

As I explained in my last post I'm attempting to pursue a path through Redshirt where advancement comes from merit alone rather than schmoozing with the right people. Inevitably this will lead to social pariah status and eventual death but hey, you've got to stick by your principles right?

I booted the game and went through the limited character creation process selecting a male Human character wearing the reddest of shirts. However, 'Edgar Friday' as I named him, has a friendly smile and a slightly stylish hair do so I'm not entirely resigning myself to the predicted lack of social life yet.

As for the 'About Me' section. 'I HATE corruption!' seemed to fit the bill.

The first part of the game played pretty much as usual. As a lowly 'Transporter Accident Cleanup Technician' you are generally too busy finding those initial friends and working out where the cafeteria is to engage in too many career machinations.

The first aspiration I was given after making friends with Astra was to become the 'Transporter Accident Supervisor' which nicely meshed with my own plans. All went relatively smoothly - I had to throw somebody who had rejected my friend request to the slavering aliens on an away mission to save my own skin and had one minor cock up at work but I soon purchased the 'Venlithian Beach Resort poster' that raised my Assertiveness enough for promotion.

A beneficial side effect was a relationship request from a 'Hull Painter' named Jennifer Jepson who I had played a few games of chess/tennis with in a futile effort to raise Assertiveness cheaply. All in all a pretty promising start although it is early days yet!

Friday, 9 May 2014

Redshirt Runthrough Rejecting Preferential Treatment (RRRPT Part 1)

So it's a while since I've posted anything about computer games and I know that too many posts about history and politics can get a bit tedious (with the sole and major exception of anything with 'World War 2' in the title according to the site's viewing statistics).

So I tried Redshirt when it came out. Frankly it is mediocre at best. Some of the jokes are pretty funny the first time you see them and the grind is alleviated by your initial uncertainty about what the hell you are meant to be doing and the constant carrot of future promotions and relationships to work towards.

Recently I've got back into it and it has hit something of a sweet spot. I've played through twice and won both times through careerism and buying my way out respectively. Rather than seek one of the three other ways of winning, however, I plan to pursue a far more straight laced method.

Anybody who has played the game will know that the best way to get promoted is to be friends with (or even better to be sleeping with) one of the many tentacled aliens or gelatinous cubes who occupies a high ranking recruitment position. Instead of wasting valuable time meeting all requirements you can then merely focus on one aspect and trust to nepotism for the rest.

I'm rejecting this path for my next attempt. Instead I'll see how far I can get on merit alone (and whether this leads my social life to enter a catastrophic free fall). First chapter should be up shortly!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Labour take on the landlords

Positive noises from Labour on controlling the unfair renting market in Britain which helps ensure that the young and poor are increasingly edged out.

As for the Conservative response it is frankly unbelievable. "The only way to raise people's living standards is to grow the economy, cut people's taxes and create more jobs." says Grant Shapps. Can he really be so obtuse as to believe that every tax rise in history has had negative effects on the quality of life of the general population?

If so I assume he would also have opposed the formation of the NHS, taxation funded as it was, along with the inevitable tax rise that came with each of those patriotic British wars against foreign (and/or fascist) intervention that the Conservatives usually praise so much.

I guess he only really opposes tax rises when they are for the wrong reasons - such as reducing inequality or controlling market forces.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Extra-terrestrials and Vikings

Is it bad that as soon as I saw the headline I thought it would probably be about the rumoured cache of E.T. Extra-Terrestrial games in the desert?

In completely unrelated news, if you ever get a chance to go to Iceland then take it. A completely beautiful country that takes at least three days to even scratch the surface of. The food isn't as bad as rumoured and they advertise space ship game conventions prominently at the airport. Still can't decide if the people are rude and cold or polite and friendly though. We encountered both in our time there but generally everything was fantastic.

Needless to say an unforgettable experience and a genuine adventure.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Light at the end of the tunnel for Ukraine (Caution: May be a flamethrower)

Well this is good news to start a long bank holiday weekend! I was seriously worrying that Ukraine was teetering towards a messy Post-Soviet civil war.

Of course such an agreement relies on a certain amount of good will on all sides. Kiev has little incentive to decentralise or accommodate the desires of Easterners except to keep the Russians at bay while Putin is hardly the most straight-talking world leader (although he doesn't achieve the wide-ranging duplicity of certain American and British premiers).

However, behind the scenes there is going to be a huge amount of pressure to make a deal soon. Ukraine is a huge chunk of Europe and occupies a strategic position on the path of Russian gas and oil into the West. A civil war serves nobody's purposes even if it allows Russia to shows its nationalistic disapproval of the seeming unstoppable expansion of NATO and the EU into its territorial backyard.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

McCalmont rips apart Jackson's Smaug

"Peter Jackson is a terrible loss to the special effects profession and a terrible addition to that of professional film direction."

Ouch! Definitely worth a read if you like your film criticism insightful and acerbic.

I can't say that I rate Peter Jackson very highly as a director. I liked the original Lord of the Rings trilogy of films enough to keep watching but haven't experienced any desire to revisit them since.

Similarly I strongly agree that Jackson's decision to split the brilliantly concise action of the Hobbit across three films was a waste of good material. Ironically it matches Tolkien's own hubris in creating ever longer and more inaccessible fantasy epics as his career progressed. Fortunately he had the vision not to publish these literary monstrosities (a task that was left to his less restrained successors).

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Long time no blog ...

Apologies for the slight hiatus. I've recently moved house and am approaching some career exams - both of which have taken chunks out of my free time.

The aforementioned exams seem especially unfair as the gaming world has decided to release the two updates that I've been waiting for for months in my last seven days of revision. Specifically the Giants DLC for the intriguing 'Don't Starve' and the free (!!!) update to the glorious 'FTL'.

People who don't have tests coming out should invest now in these two brilliant games. I'll be chewing my fingernails until the 8th when I can try them out properly.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

25 years since the Soviets abandoned Afghanistan

An interesting article on Russia Today about the anniversary of this neglected (in the West) conflict. Some interesting statistics and a general absence of pro-Russia jingoism.

As usual however do not, for the love of Pete, go near the comment section.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Europe approaches Cuba while USA sulks

"Earlier this week, the European Union agreed to open negotiations aimed at restoring full relations with Cuba."

Well done to the EU - an overwhelmingly sensible bit of international diplomacy. Now if only the USA could forget their humiliating cock up at the Bay of Pigs and follow suit.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Who's afraid of the Union-man?

Ridiculous fear mongering by the media over this move to formalise joint membership of a union and the Labour party.

How can a move to involve ordinary people in politics be a bad thing? By making it up to the individual whether they want to opt in for joint voting privileges, the influence of those terrifying Union 'bosses' is if anything reduced further than in the current system.

Tories predictably jump on the bandwagon without digging into their own funding practices and the effect it has on their policy making (bedroom tax on those on benefits while rich take a tax break being an especially unjust example).

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Pratchett and the Politics of Fantasy

So I've had a few attempts already (See and at articulating my concerns about the worrying racist assumptions that seem to lurk behind much of Tolkien's fantasy and the genre that he created. The main problem I noticed was the separation of characters into mutually antagonistic races that are fundamentally distinct. Crude physical and social caricatures are used in place of more complex characterisation and certain 'races' are seen as fundamentally warlike and irredeemable. This creates worrying analogies with issues of racial relations and assimilation in the real world which seem to be increasingly a concern of the media and certain political groups.

Having set the boundaries of the debate I intend to consider a writer who pushes the boundaries of this debate in a comic fantasy format and introduces narratives of persecution and emancipation to the traditionally racialised landscapes of post-Tolkien fantasy.

Terry Pratchett is a fantastic author who, a few one-off novels aside, has mainly concentrated on the fantasy world of Discworld (a flat earth that drifts through space on the back of four elephants standing on the back of a giant turtle). He rejects the traditional seriousness of fantasy with the addition of funny jokes, an irreverent tone and anachronisms such as the introduction of the railway and PDA to a world that has barely developed beyond the Renaissance.

He is at his best when siding with the underdogs of the Discworld. Everybody I've discussed Discworld with has loved Rincewind, the terminally unlucky failed wizard, and in his more recent books he has attempted an alternate characterisation of the oft-demonised goblins and orcs that had been previously been absent from his books.

Thus he by-passes many of the concerns that I have raised in previous articles. His goblins are not the perennial villains of mainstream fantasy but an oppressed and persecuted race who turn out to have many talents when they are allowed to participate on equal terms. Pratchett turns the table by instead vilifying the opulent landowners who exploit them on plantations reminiscent of the 19th century Caribbean. Similarly Dwarves and Trolls are not distant races that live in glorious isolation and racial purity but large immigrant communities in the increasingly modern city of Ankh Morpork.    

However, while Discworld is an improvement on other fantasy series, I am wary of giving Pratchett an entirely clean bill. He rejects racial essentialism by focussing instead on a value-based, meritocratic approach to characterisation. We are frequently presented with heroic, striving characters such as Commander Vimes and Harry King who have overcome their origins through sheer bloody mindedness and hard work. Similarly the goblins and orcs are redeemed by their great capacity for learning and hard work when not being kicked around by oppressive racists.

The problem with this is that Pratchett has to emphasise the heroic characters and virtues of these paradigms by contrasting them with their more stupid and lazy contemporaries who could themselves get on just as well if they were just a little bit cannier and more dedicated.

This approach is preferable to a lazy xenophobia but does require a portrayal of the masses as basically worthless and flawed. In 'Unseen Academicals' he explicitly discusses the crab-pot theory that says that ghettoes of class and race are often self imposed. Those who strive for improvement are held back by the masses who are suspicious of those who try to better themselves.

Such a characterisation of poverty misidentifies the real causes of ghettoisation and disadvantage. Working hard and being smart is a good precondition for social advancement but is not always sufficient if the odds are consciously stacked against you by heartless markets or an elite that merely wishes to cement the status quo and restrict social mobility.

Nevertheless Discworld is a bold experiment in avoiding the traditional biases of fantasy. The commercial success of the series prove that it is as popular and well written as any other contemporary fantasy, While I don't entirely agree with Pratchett's meritocratic focus he has at least made a conscious effort to include narratives of cross-race cooperation and the possibility for those of any race/species to be an individual rather than simply a stereotyped member of that group.