Saturday, 23 July 2016

To blame or not to blame...

So it is a little while since I've blogged. In the interim my initial flush of excitement around the EU referendum (suddenly everybody wants to talk about politics!) has been replaced by the dawning realisation that the older and generally richer (in property and wealth security rather than in cash or status) classes who are largely unaffected by migration in their rural havens have elected to leave the EU at the almost certain future expense of the younger and more financially insecure sections of society that actually live in cities and thus encounter people from abroad daily. The irony of this is eclipsed by the fact that a Tory wheeze to net a few more voters has blown up in their collective faces to the extent where the grizzled survivors of their messy leadership contest are left enforcing policies that they have no faith in and would have far rather avoided.

The press have of course scurried to find somebody to blame. It is Cameron's fault, Johnson's fault, the EU's fault or even, bizarrely, Labour's fault for not stopping the Conservatives from appeasing their xenophobic fringe. Saner voices have presented a countervailing argument that we must pull together and accept the result (no second referendum) because what is done is done and further scapegoating is unproductive.

I'm broadly in sympathy with the second argument. Why waste time lambasting the Brexiteers who scuttled for cover as soon as they saw that they might have to follow through on their ridiculous lies. They have already absented themselves from affairs or been marginalised by the Remain-lite politicans who have taken the reins of government. The gutter press have their victory but it is hard to see them profiting from a full blown recession.

However, this doesn't mean that those who voted Remain should take the result lying down. A thin majority in a referendum that held no legislative binding power does not give the Tories carte blanche to cut the link between us and our main trading partners. A compromise must and should be found to allow us to remain in the EU or to secure the best economic deal with them possible. No concessions should be made to those who want to seize an opportunity to slash migration. Migrants help the economy and free movement is one of the central tenets of modern Europe. The bombastic campaign of the referendum was not the place to hold such a delicate debate about the type of society we want to be and until a General Election is won by a party openly campaigning on an anti-migration basis we should not allow a closed Britain to be sneaked in by the back door during a time of crisis and uncertainty.  

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Star Wars as Homeric Legend

Just come across this article from 1999 which lays out some of the problems I have with the shallowness of the Star Wars films.

The author lays it on a bit thick occasionally. He makes the obvious case that Vader is an unjustly redeemed monster and then abruptly lumps Yoda and Obi Wan in with him for the heinous crime of being a bit vague and mystical. Similarly the tone of the article shifts rapidly from rational to demagogue as you approach the conclusion.

However, the aristocratic division of the galaxy between Jedi and Sith champions is a solid way of summing up the Resistance vs Empire background of the original trilogy. Perhaps Boba Fett and the other bounty hunters were so popular because they weren't dull yet nigh-omnipotent heroes or villains. They could create human stories and even when they were fighting for the wrong side you felt a bit sorry for them when they were eaten by a Sarlaac or witnessed their father being decapitated in front of them.

If anything the franchise has got more individual-centric since the article was written. Holding a democratic position of power is a status applied only to tangential love interests such as Amidala while the main characters hold their position by virtue of their supernatural powers, genes and strategic command of violence. By the Force Awakens Disney barely even bothered with the traditional galactic politics of the series. We are entirely preoccupied by the travails of Finn and Rey. They may have rags to riches/redemption story lines but they only qualify for them by virtue of their nascent connection to the Force.

Still it may be that such a reading is too deep. Jedi can be seen as superheroes or demigods in space but equally they epitomise the fairy tale trope of the lost prince who must regain his rightful place in society. George Lucas was only ever really writing romantic origin myths for a new century.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

... Except that nobody get their legs broken

What utter tripe from the Culture Secretary (who apparently believes that free is just another term for socialist).

Adblocking does threaten the business model of online newspapers and probably harms music and dvd sales. However, a large majority of the content available on the internet is provided by unpaid volunteers doing it for the fun of it or by organisations that have more sensible business models than simply beaming visuals at your unwilling eyeballs.

Many of the organisations that do make heavy use of advertising have slightly dubious claims to the propriety of their output anyway. Why should Youtube profit from copyrighted content that has been uploaded by a user? Similarly by what right (except for 'deal with the devil' terms and conditions) does Facebook harvest user details for personalised advertising hints?

More innovative internet entities go in one of two directions. The first is to keep it specialised, loyal and thus supported. Sites like Wikipedia and Board Game Geek sustain inherently useful communities that can be replied upon to put in a couple of quid whenever in a fundraiser comes round. Even freeloaders are likely to share the ethos and interests of the community and will help to create content that keeps the community vibrant and attractive. This approach is unlikely to be attractive to investors and shareholders.

Alternatively the more confident commercial operations can set up subscription models in the fashion of the Economist and Murdoch's evil (but savvy) empire. You don't have to sign up. The BBC will happily provide you with news for free. However, if you do you get access in a convenient way for an arranged fee.

John Whittingdale should read his job title and encourage such canny emergent strategies for internet management. Sticking his thumb in the dyke and griping about adblockers won't change things unless he is willing to back it up with tough legislation.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Around the World in 108 Days....

As usual I'm late to the party in finally getting around to playing this 2014 gem.

A slightly cyberpunk twist on the familiar story sees you play as Passepartout in an effort to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days or less. After aborting an initial Russia route I have just completed my first game. From the title of the post you can probably guess that Fogg lost his wager this time round.

The main delays in my journey were an arrest in Vladivostok, a sad lack of funds that left Passepartout and Fogg sleeping rough for two nights in Hong Kong and two diversions when ships/aircraft decided to head off in the wrong direction (I eventually countered the first by masterminding a mutiny among the sailors).

High points were escaping from the Sultan's haram dressed as a dancing girl, meeting James Montgomery in his countervailing journey around the world and breezing up the African coast flush with trade cash while being informed about the activities of the anti-slaver West Africa Squadron of the Royal Navy.

In short this is a masterpiece. I suspect I bypassed at least half of the available cities and left mysteries behind in a number that I did visit (what the hell were all those opticians and gun-makers in Dubrovnik on about?). The tone is pitch perfect throughout allowing you to develop a real character for Passepartout and enjoy the ride even if victory seems unlikely.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

How old is atheism?

Disclaimer: I have not actually read this book so am being snide about it solely on the basis of the Guardian article (a risky proposition given the general level of understanding in newspaper book reviews).

The argument does however seem to be lacking in nuance. Of course there were atheists in Ancient Greece. The intellectual proclivities of the pre-Roman Conquest Greeks are well documented and in some cases philosophers even received the backing of powerful tyrants with one eye on their reputations.  As Paul Kennedy has argued in his examination of the rise of Europe from the 16th century, political pluralism is always a boost to thinkers since they can easily migrate away from central authorities that clamp down on originality to freer polities.

Spotting the kernels of modern ideas is a common pursuit of scholars of the ancient world. Just do a google search on fascism and Plato or on the musings of Democritus on atomic structure. However, without an overarching theory of how these ideas developed towards the modern day they merely highlight the intellectual curiosity of the society that they arose in rather than telling us anything interesting about the ideas themselves.

Further there is no mention of the common tactic of accusing rivals of atheism as a form of propaganda. In large swathes of the world atheist has been a term of abuse and discrimination for centuries. Even in Ancient Greece we are informed that one of the charges brought against Socrates at his trial was impiety. Christian thinkers lined up after the fall of the Roman Empire to exclude atheists from their models of just societies and to condemn them to hell or purgatory for their lack of belief.

Thus it is hard to distinguish genuine atheism from its use as a term of opprobrium. Openly stated atheism could have lethal consequences in Christendom and much of the Arabic world. Searching for signs and double meanings hidden in the works of great writers who may have harboured doubts is liable to lead only to false pattern finding.

Long story short, atheism has almost certainly existed throughout world history but it is difficult to locate solid evidence for its continuity and influence outside of a few already well-documented examples.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Isaac: Rebirth

Just completed the newbie campaign on Isaac: Rebirth on my second run through. I'm just that good (and got a beneficial deal from the devil on infected baby sidekick and black hearts).

Although to be honest the fact that I bought it along with the original which I've logged about twenty hours in the last few weeks might have something to do with it as well!

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Osborne's brother struck off I guess bullying and screwing over the vulnerable runs in the family then.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Video games as a return to nature

Some interesting points here about the use of video games to push the familiar 'Arcadia' view of the moral superiority of village life over modern city life. They have had to cherry pick their examples of course. As a medium for the young to early middle aged video games often glamorise the high tech and modern (think Halo, Portal or Elite).

However, it would have been nice to see the author consider some examples outside of the comfort zone epitomised by Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing. FPSs and RPGs especially often reverse this trope with the rural and frontier zones being dangerous and enemy-ridden while the towns and cities are relatively restful areas of safety, companionship and resupply.

Other games are more schizophrenic about the worth of city and rural life. You could write whole articles about the crumbling, plague ridden cityscape of Dishonored, which nevertheless is a place of substantial beauty and mystery, or the opportunities that Assassin's Creed offers for competent players while retaining pitfalls for those who are too unsubtle.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

A brilliant Sherlock special for 2016

This is an absolute gift. Treat yourself if you haven't done so already.

It's a pitch perfect case of Sherlock does the Arabian Nights with a few guest appearances from Moriarty playing Banquo's ghost. Preposterous but one of those occasions where that is kind of the point.

... and yes, I'm aware how pretentious that all sounds. There is a reason why I'm posting this on an unread blog rather than on Facebook!

But seriously, watch it.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Elite (and more dangerous than thou)

So Elite Dangerous.

Anybody who follows the computer gaming world will know that there has been some controversy over the decision to release (fairly massive) updates and content in expansion blocks that cost almost as much as the original game.

Personally I think this is a storm in a teacup. Frontier Developments have managed to produce a space simulator with ambition that may eventually rival EVE Online without going down the subscription route. So long as they continue to support the game the cost is worth it even for those who bought it for full whack originally.

It is something of a moot point for me since I picked the game up in one of the many recent £10.00 sales and don't plan to upgrade until Horizons is similarly cheap (or required to play the game).

Putting that elephant in the room to one side, my initial experience of the game was patchy. I put up with the initial frustration of having to watch a youtube video to learn how to do anything as my dad had the original game when I was a kid and I know that the difficulty of docking and managing craft systems was part of its nostalgic charm. You're not a proper Elite player until you've wrapped a couple of ships round the docking towers.

The first few courier missions I did had a certain satisfaction to them as the constant repetition of basic gameplay tasks quickly makes you at least semi-proficient. I then spent my small savings on mining equipment. This was a mistake.

No disrespect meant to any miners out there but it was so dull that I wanted to saw my own arms off with a chisel. Chipping elements from the asteroids and managing the hopper is fine if not especially fun. However, the lining up of your craft to pick up ore in your scoop is a nightmare. A 'Freelancer'-esque tractor beam would have made it bearable. As it was I was put off the game for a couple of weeks.

Thankfully when I returned a fellow miner became infuriated by my ineffectual pawing at one of his space rocks and performed the interstellar combat equivalent of beating me to death with a nearby boulder. I didn't even consider paying to reclaim the equipment from my mining Sidewinder and took a new off the shelf model.

After a serendipitous combination of slave-running and multi-part spy courier missions I had the money to buy a new craft. I considered but skipped past the more spacious Hauler and Adder models and went straight for a combat Viper. This was not a mistake.

Bounty hunting is easily my favourite part of the game so far. I've collected three or four bounties now, including the coveted Anaconda kill. I've also had two exciting near-deaths; limping into port with an empty fuel tank and a shattered canopy respectively. On the latter occasion I zoomed through the access port with a minute on the asphyxiation clock shouting 'They must have a system for this!' at the screen before I discovered that the hangar bays are kept oxygenated.  

It also helps that bounties are crazy lucrative. I imagine I'll be up to a Cobra within a couple of days and then the universe will be my salty, aquatic delicacy of choice!