Monday, August 31, 2009

Its raining rain!

Apparently its really warm in Southampton. Sigh. Bets on whether I'll see the sun once this week?

I foolishly didn't bring an umbrella here...


Sunday, August 30, 2009


So, I am in Glasgow. I have journeyed a long way to get here, having to go to Luton airport, which, to be brutally honest, is somewhat of a hole (yay for no seats in the gates! It may just be easyjet I suppose.) I also traveled by easyjet, who
I have avoided for quite a while, and its easy to remember why. Having to pay extra to check in luggage, and their stupid "pick your seat system" is appalingly stupid (I hate it when that happens at the cinema too. It encourages queueing, which is just bloody ridiculous).

One of the worst ways to be introduced to a city is to get a bus from an airport. Inevitably airports are built near the ugliest parts of the city, which was the case in Prague as well, meaning you get a rather unfair first look of wherever you are. I suspect the city is quite pretty, but as it is pouring down with rain I had to walk with my head bowed most of the way. The university provided minimal information about getting to the residences I am in, which are half an hour away from the bus stop I got off at, confusingly placed near(ish) the botanical gardens. Not a fun walk to do while lugging a suitcase, being wet and generally irritable.

Still, I am in my rather nice room now, and have had a shower. I'd be super happy if I knew I was getting fed... sadly this is not the case. I shall have to forage for myself. Yay.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Thoughts on the Path.

The Path, as mentioned before, is one of the games that came with an indie pack I purchased a while ago. It is very consciously art as a game. The challenges that exist in a gamist sense are mostly about exploring the world, and finding everything there is to find, and as such aren't particularly interesting in of themselves. The game instead is an exploration of 6 girls of varying ages heading towards their grandmothers house.

If they remain on the path, nothing much will happen, and the game will say you have failed. Instead one should head into the path, where you will discover many interesting things. The girl you control will interact with objects when she gets near, if you let go of control, a very interesting and effective idea. When you finally do get to the house, every movement you make leads you forwards, towards the inevitable conclusion.

Its all interesting stuff, and I have no issue dealing with the issues it raises, but I am finding the game far too frustrating to play. The game runs incredibly slowly, despite being not particularly graphically intensive, and while sometimes this is deliberate, sometimes its just the game being buggy. Being lost in the forest and searching for clues can be interesting, but often becomes frustrating, as its hard to see where you are going, and running around identical scenery isn't that fun. Its a pity, because I would like to explore the themes this game raises, but the design is so poor it utterly puts me off from doing so.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Amusing and disturbing

Check out this edited advert by Microsoft. The Polish cannot deal with a photo of a black man, apparently, so why not just replace him?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Phone lock

I've really got to do something about locking my phone. While it is effective in preventing me from accidentally dialling someone, it is less useful when someone phones me. One of the features of locking one's phone is is someone calls then you can still answer them without unlocking it. Of course, if the buttons for answering your phone are fairly large, there's a significant chance it might answer itself, and worse, might even then hang itself up. Not only is this confusing for the person on the other end (who may well think they've been snubbed), it also won't register as a missed call, and the person won't be able to leave a message. Bad news all round...

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Indie Pack of Joy

I recently purchased an indie pack from Steam, which contained three notable games, The Path, World of Goo, and Braid. The latter two are rather joyous puzzle games, while the former is an art game. I haven't played the Path much yet, as I think it requires time spent thinking about it, and it also may be super depressing.

I can, however, recommend both World of Goo and Braid.

Braid is a clever little puzzling platformer, with the main character having the ability to time travel. Each world that you travel through has its own shtick, with everyone moving in reverse time to you in one world, and time travelling in different directions depending on which way you are facing. Its intelligent stuff, and for the most part the puzzles are fairly intuitive. Sadly this isn't always the case, and there are some frustrating puzzles that really don't make much sense without a guide.

The game also suffers from a leetle bit of pretension, and while the overarching plot is interesting when explained, it doesn't really mesh with the gameplay at all, other than in a VERY metaphorical sense. One of the advantages of that is that you can utterly ignore the plot, so its not all bad. One example of pretension is that the official guide for Braid asks you not to look up a guide. I cannot imagine anything more designed to make me look up guides... There is a difference between knowing the solution to a puzzle and executing it, and some of the puzzles become irritating when you know exactly what you need to do, but are having trouble executing that.

World of Goo, on the other hand, is an absolutely joyous experience. The plot does not take itself seriously at all, and integrates into the gameplay in a loving and ridiculous manner. The game is based around goo balls that can be used to build structures, which you use to get from one place to another. The genius comes from the sheer variety of challenges and different goo balls that enliven gameplay. The game is gorgeous to look at for all its 2d sensibility, and rarely drags.

The puzzles are well designed, and clever, using a combination of physics and whimsy to guide you along. They are very rarely irritating, the main frustration coming, as with braid, from execution. While executing the solution is usually not hard, after playing braid with its ability to rewind it can be annoying to get quite far and realise you're not going to succeed and have to start again. The game does give time bugs that let you take back a few moves, but I'm not sure how much would be lost by providing the player with a near infinite supply of them rather than the handful you get.

Both games were a joy to play, but if you were to pick just one, I'd go for World of Goo

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Monday, August 24, 2009


Oh my I love podcasts. My initial reason for wanting an ipod was music, but I found that day by day, I tired of hearing the same songs, and wanted something new. Hence, ipods. I started simple, with the friday night comedy podcast from radio 4, and the adam and joe show, and soon broadened myself out.

I now listen to:

Phill and Phil's perfect 10
Collins and Herring
Kermode on radio 2
film spotting
av talk
av hatecast
rock paper shotgun
pc gamer

and of course, the excellent Answer me this, my favourite of them all. Answer Me this is definitely the one I would recommend if you were to listen to only one. It features two londoners answering questions from the general public in an amusing an entertaining fashion. Its an extremely affable experience, often hilarious, and always charming. Its also entirely free, with a massive back log of episodes to listen to.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

On A-levels

Rather than engage in the tiresome argument (are exams getting proportionally easier each year? Wouldn't this imply a systematic year on year change of the exams to create better standards, which surely would lead to a huge scandal if shown to be true? Oops, I just got engaged), Ill point to this amusing blog, which points out that newspapers do love to take photos of young ladies with A-levels...


If I could change language

I'd make it's the possessive and its the abbreviation. Or I'd make both it's and trust the reader to discern which I mean from context. Where it wasn't obvious the writer could just write "it is".


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Who would win a fight between....

A contentious question, especially on the internet. No matter the subject, you will find supporters either way. Batman versus Superman was the first debate of real contention I encountered. The amateur, of course, picks Superman, who after all possesses many powers that Bruce Wayne does not. However, this fails to note history, and the fact that Batman is always prepared. This argument can continue on for many pages.

There are websites devoted to battles between star trek and star wars (the answer is wars, simply because star trek cares slightly about physics, and star wars does not), where information is carefully considered and compared in a manner that greatly disturbs.

A vs questions is important to set up carefully. Putting Chuck Norris against a wimpy opponent like skeletor is a mistake, for example (roundhouse kick to the face!) I would certainly argue that the Bear vs Shark issue is one that is not particularly balanced- surely the shark would have the advantage against the bear, too deep in the water too move?

So, for your delight and deliberation, heres some vs.

Chuck Norris vs Jack Bauer

Jesus vs Santa Claus

Abraham Lincoln vs Churchill

Blackadder vs House

Optimus Prime vs the Terminator

Mary Poppins vs Alice (of wonderland fame)

Peter Pan vs Jack Sparrow

Bill Gates vs Thomas Edison

...thats probably enough for now


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bear vs Shark

I hated this book midway through reading it. A satire of the easiest targets, pointing out that some aspects of our culture are rather empty, it is written in a stream of conciousness which is clearly meant to reflect the nature of the characters lives. It has barely any plot, and doesn't seem to care about the characters we have. It thinks far too highly of its own intellect...

Except it kind of doesn't. Its actually readable despite all of that, and while the satire is frustrating, the surrealness and silliness that often crops up is welcome, and began to warm me to the book just about when I decided to give up on it. Its got an occasional pythonesque humour, and seems to be at its best when it is not trying to make a point. It takes the time out to have quizzes about bears and sharks, with answers provided in later chapters, then characters who have nothing to do with the narrative (such as it is) arguing about whether the question counts.

I expected to hate this book, and come away with nothing but a rant to give about, but instead I have a recommendation to give instead. Don't take it too seriously, and enjoy it for what it is, a fairly silly piece of work.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Iron Man (contains spoilers)

So I watched Iron Man last night, and quite enjoyed it. Robert Downey Jr was the main reason, and the bits in the suit weren't exactly particularly exciting- they were pretty much staple, especially the last boss fight. Still, enjoyable enough stuff.

My main issue with the film is with the villain. It turns out (its obvious literally from the start), that his good friend Obadiah is behind everything, even trying to have him killed. Rigggght... why?

First of all, Obadiah is inexplicably trading with people the US are fighting. Bearing in mind the massive amount of money that a contract from the US would give the company, this seems weird. I dislike most weapon companies because they tend not to discern about their customers, in that they will sell weapons to oppressive regimes who will use it on their own people. I can't imagine them selling weapons to active opponents of our country though. Even if they did, I imagine they'd be smart enough TO TAKE THE LABELS OFF THE WEAPONRY. I mean seriously, I know a brand is important, but thats a bit of a give away, no?

Second of all, Obadiah wants to kill Tony Stark. Why? Stark barely interferes with the company, and continually produces more and more nasty weapons that help Obadiah make more money. Yes, Stark may have controlling interest, but he just doesn't seem like he has much of a clue about what his company is doing. Killing him seems counter-intuitive.

Finally, Obadiah has a handle on the tech in Iron Man's suit, and is making some. He decides he needs to reverse engineer the tech powering it by nicking Stark's heart. Fine, he'd probably get away with it too, if, 5 minutes ago, he wasn't aware that Pepper had just left the building with evidence of him selling to America's interests. So now he has a super suit, but his company will be destroyed... He really doesn't seem to think this through, and why he doesn't attack Pepper first doesn't really make much sense. Indeed, his final act of bloody revenge seems to be motivated more by the films need for a show down than any particular logic.

Oh well...

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Great works and popcorn enjoyment

There is clearly a difference between, say, Citizen Kane and Pirates of the Caribbean. The latter has very little to say, and is not really about the art of cinema, while the former is of course considered one of the finest examples of it. Does this make Pirates an unworthy film? Its less openly intelligent, less admitting of its influences and what themes it might possess are rather paper thin. However, it is also extremely fun, gripping, and an enjoyable ride.

The same can be applied to Dan Brown's works. The man is not a genius of fiction. He is not a terribly good writer from a technical point of view, and the experience of reading his books are, perhaps, empty. But do creative media always have to provide nothing but artistic merit? Must they develop themes that inform us on the human condition, or can they simply entertain?

I think people need to stand up for escapism every now and then. Retreating from mundanity into a world of heroes and villains, of adventure and excitement, is a nice thing to do now and then, and is ultimately the main appeal of Brown's work. In fact, he's rather good at it. The chapter structure, the silly and enjoyable characters, a fast paced story that unravels a mystery (no matter how ludicrous, when viewed from a distance). These all engage you with this fantasy world that he has created, and allows you to escape from the current one.

There is, of course, good escapism and bad escapism- popcorn films and books can just be too bad, technically and emotionally, to engage- see Ghost Rider for an example of this. Perhaps Dan Brown could write a little better and thus engage those who might want to escape, but are put off by poor sentence construction, or showing and not telling occasionally. The naysayers might have better luck if they tried to fight on those grounds, rather than pointing out that Brown has no artistic merit. We know, we don't care. You might be able to argue that there are much better examples of escapist literature: this is true, there is. Most people do not engage here, however, as I suspect they'd have to admit that for what he's doing, Brown is pretty good. He certainly engaged me, anyway

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Friday, August 14, 2009

The Daily Mail is truly an organ of hate

The Daily Mail is a hateful little example of a newspaper. The opinions spewed by the writers are poorly researched, and only barely attempt to cover up the prejudices espoused by their writers. Here's an example of the UTTER hypocrisy of the newspaper. In Ireland, it is campaigning for the cervical cancer jab. In England it is campaigning against it. Astonishing it.

The reason I am currently targeting the Daily Mail is I noticed one had been left on the table while I was eating lunch. I opened out of morbid curiosity, to read this little hateful example. You can see clearly what he thinks of people with gender issues in this piece, as indeed the tasteful cartoon portrarys, no matter his claims. What a horrible little man.

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Missing out

One thing I see people all the time is decide arbitrary dating limitations on themselves.

"I could never," mister/mrs hypothetical declaims, "date someone who was not a gamer/atheist/christian/sports fan/ feminist/ conservative/ dancer", or of course

"I could never date someone who WAS a conservative/gamer/atheist/christian/dancer"

Now these examples are picked out of a hat, and are of varying importance to any particular person. If something about a person is truly going to cause you large enough woes that you do not believe you can ever conduct a relationship with them, then fair enough, but, in general, I believe people are more complex than that. We all probably have a list of traits we'd like an ideal partner to have, and there are probably a few people of the world who meet all these. But there are several issues here:

1.There are a lot of people who will meet almost all of the criteria you can think of, who you are excluding for one reason. This is sad, because you may well be very happy with these people.

2.You are probably AWFUL at working out your dating criteria.

If you make a list of things you would want in a partner, and stick to it, you are restricting yourself from finding people who might surprise you, who might match you in ways you had never expected, who might open your mind to possibilities you assumed you could never be interested in. People are fascinating, wonderful creatures, and judging them by one aspect of their personality is usually a bad idea.

My wife is neither a gamer, an atheist, nor a mathematician, three criteria I could naively set myself for a "perfect" partner. Yet we meet on many other, more important levels, and where we do differ, we are able to find unexpected common ground that we would not have noticed if we had not have looked. She can share parts of life with me I had no appreciation of before meeting her, and I can share certain parts of my life with her. And also bore her to tears by explaining mathematics, but that's another story...

My point in life is that things are rarely simple as a binary set of criteria you require someone to fulfil, and if you open yourself to more possibilities, you may well find yourself surprised.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I've stumbled across a lovely blog, which collects the stupidity from the "Have your Say" section on bbc news (what always depressed me about them is that they are the moderated comments)

I like this comments- its rather hard to tell if its serious or not

" comment by pagar
Well done, Neil. It’s about time someone highlighted the issues around Health and Safety in the bedroom.

With the teenage pregnancy rate, the Aids epidemic, genital warts etc, it is clear the vast sums of money the Government are spending on telling us how to have sex safely is not working. It would seem that many people can never be trusted to know what’s good for them. Especially after binge drinking.

Surely it is time to make the act of having sex without a condom a criminal offence. This would eliminate STD’s at a stroke and in time would help to solve the problem of over population. (Those wishing to procreate would have to apply for a “bareback licence” from their local authority renewable after a year and priced at say £50 to cover the admin).

Repeat offenders could have CCTV installed in their bedrooms and/or have their genitals electronically tagged.

So what I am saying is, Neil, once you’ve successfully clamped down on the Californian porn industry, there’s a big job to do at home."


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Gotta love the daily mail

I'm gonna write more about this ludicrous paper, but this article amuses. See this for an excellent satire...

The quotes for the daily mail article are disturbing. One choice comment:

"This is the reason this country is in the state that it is.
Because of feminism... This woman is an idiot, can she not realise it is people like her have broke-up the family unit . children have no respect for their famillies or other people, and girls are the worst these days for violence.

Now can we please remove this lot freaks with their so-called ideology NOW and give this country back to the people of this land."

Harriet Harman

So Harriet Harman made the reasonable assertion that we'd be better off if our leadership had a mixture of women and men. She was then attacked for hating men. And having a feminist agenda. Frankly, if this is the media's response to such a reasonable observation, I'm rather pleased theres someone in government with a feminist agenda.


Monday, August 10, 2009

harry potter and the deathly hallows (spoilerrific!)

Re-reading this book really makes me like it a lot more. The first read through was accompanied by shock, certainly, with the death of characters coming fast and think, and evoking real emotion. Yet sadly the first time round the book also had to deal with the weight of expectation. There were certain scenes I had wanted (a proper showdown with Snape, for example), that never occurred, or occurred differently to how I imagined, that jarred me.

Reading again though, this book is absolutely lovely. The emotional moments are still strong, and the tying together of the plot is wonderful. One of the cleverest parts of the book are the revelations about Dumbledore's past. This was something I had never thought about, but made complete sense- Harry not only loses his guardian figures, but realises they were never perfect- see his father and Sirius before hand. It is also made clear that Dumbledore's clinging to secrecy was something ingrained within him, and not necessarily very wise, which is nice, as while his plan is convoluted, the reasons for this become plain: Dumbledore just doesn't trust everyone enough.

Yes, the book still has weaknesses. The epilogue is made of saccharine, and is actually a little frustratingly inconclusive for a "ten years later" story, but it does do several things nicely- first of all, Harry now has a family, which is EXACTLY what he always craved (there was discontent among certain fans that apparently all Harry cares about is breeding. To get focused on this ignores Harry's background, and his want, always to not be alone), and secondly we finally get to see Slytherin not being the evil house anymore. The book does spend too long in the bloody forest, but it is necessary.

The book will certainly work well in film. There are endles set pieces, each being terribly inventive, with the final wonder of the battle of Hogwarts. I look forward to it.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Exciting discoveries made by a PhD student

1. Glaring at your work does not make it easier
2. Browsing the internet does not make work go away
3. Complaining about your work does not solve any problems
4. Wikipedia browsing... sometimes helps. But not when making ridiculous edits..
5. This probably won't help either...

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

google hits

I just noticed that I got a hit because I mentioned Kerri Kendall in this blog. Considering I don't even know who she is, this is good work. I clearly should mention random celebrities more frequently!


The internet can make you smarter

The internet is often a ridiculous place. There are websites full of people angry about something that happened 30 years ago in first edition D&D. There are people who argue about whether Balrog's have wings. There are massive bits of fandom that collectively ignore continuity- a lot of Harry Potter fanfic writers, for example, hated the epilogue of the final book, because it took away their license to play around with the characters. There are still forums full of people arguing about which series of Buffy was the worst. There is even a forum for Flat Earth believers (although its mostly full of people who spend their time debunking the theory).

I love this. Even on these ridiculous topics, I get to learn more. By spending time browsing random forums and blogs, I get information on debates that would never even have occured to me, and thats a lot of fun. Also, however, I've also gained useful information. My knowledge of polyamorous relationships has broadened greatly thanks to the net, along with an appreciation that relationships of many different kinds and colours exist, and exist happily.

My knowledge of feminism, vegetarianism, and racism have all broadened thanks to the internet. Reading blogs by feminists, people (mostly women), who have thought long and hard about these topics, and are more informed than I can be. These are concepts I would have encountered through other means, but perhaps not in such depth, and its made me think, and hopefully made me a better person.

My knowledge of types of politics I never really accepted has grown- libertarians, who I still tend to disagree with strongly, are all over the net, and have a fairly strong presence in the US. They're not really in existence in the UK, at least not in a strongly defined sense. I've heard the conservatives argue against taxes, but not in a particularly intellectual manner, as I've encountered more than once.

Even certain web comics have made me think about how I act in relationships. Something positive, for example, made me think hard about the idea of the "nice guy" syndrome, a concept that I had clung to that I now realise really does not hold that much water. Other comics have been plain good, some have been plain bad, and other websites have helped give me tools to distinguish between them.

I don't really have a conclusion I'm heading for with this essay, other than to say that the internet possesses a fantastic ability to amaze and educate if you let it, and escape from checking facebook every 5 minutes...

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

I am not qualified to be a British citizen.

So I stumbled across a link on metafilter to the British citizenship test immigrants have to take. I managed 50%. Apparently being a good citizen means knowing a bunch of recent government legislation. Who knew? Luckily I'm not alone...

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Warwick castle and British weather

On saturday Alice and I went to Warwick castle, to meet up with my family. Showing an optimism that was clearly foolish, we had decided to have a picnic. Well, there's nothing like a good old fashioned picnic in the rain, eh? Amazingly a wasp managed to come and bother us, clearly more brave than its comrades, but as we were next to a pancake stand, it was lured away by that instead.

Warwick castle is a fun place, although heavily family oriented- disappointingly, it turned out the sword battle I was looking forward to was staged! In all seriousness, they could have done something a bit more impressive than taking turns hitting each other's shields, but I guess it would cost more to have some trained professionals doing real moves...

We also walked the walls, at precisely the time when the rain became the heaviest it had all day. This was... interesting, especially in the bits where there was no light and the spiral stairs were covered in water... theres a law suit waiting to happen! I also had a go at shooting arrows at one point, managing to prove that I was a lot less competent than Alice. I suspect the trick is to aim in the direction the people who are giving the arrows point you in, as they're probably a bit more experienced than you are.

Still, a fun day all in all, and it ended with a ball of fire being thrown by a trebuchet, which is always good.


Monday, August 03, 2009

I'm pretty sure this government are doing their best to take away any reason for me to vote for them

Part of me still feels like a natural Labour supporter. The underlying ideology that supports the majority of the Labour party is something I believe in, and I certainly do not trust the conservatives to do a better job. One thing this current version of the Labour party have been terrible at, however, is any form of liberalism. While having codified human rights by opting in to the European conventions were a great step forward, since 9/11 the government have tried, and succeeded, to impose many illiberal polices. These include holding people without trial, dramatic increase of the surveillance society, and the reduction of the right to protest. The latter is a significant one, and now is apparently linked in with immigration.

This story talks about immigrants "earning the right" to be citizens of this country. The notion in of itself is not necessarily utterly abhorrent: if we are going to control immigration, then it probably does make sense to prefer people who are more likely to "contribute" to society more. Unfortunately this is not the only benchmark the government is choosing to use. More and more a focus has been on being a "good" citizen, a rather nasty tabloid pleasing policy, with the idea of an oath of allegiance, and now, penalties for taking part in legitimate protest. The only way taking part in legitimate protest would demonstrate that a person was not a good fit for our country would be if we DIDN'T live in a fricking democracy. Protest is GOOD, it is healthy for democracy, people SHOULD express their differing opinions, the notion that you are a good British person if you agree with the government utterly ignores history, nor the nature of most citizens of this nation.

This government despises protest and differing opinions, and refuses to acknowledge that it might be incorrect occasionally. It has been in power too long, and has assumed this is the natural order. It is not, it is better for a party to be in opposition, than to sacrifice its principles to lead. The labour party needs some time in the wilderness, frankly, so it can reassess it's priorities.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Obama on race

You may have heard of this story in the US, where a black professor was hassled by the police in his own home and then arrested. The exact details are unclear, although it does seem unlikely that a white professor would have had the same treatment. I'm not going to go into it in too many details, but this certainly seems to be the story as writ. Obama made a comment that the police had acted stupidly, and that this may have been a race thing.

Apparently, this is a bad thing, and has caused much anger at the President, who apologised, and said he misspoke. So, the president of the united states can be black... as long as he joins in with the white majority in the US who pretend racism doesn't exist? The idea of a post-racial president is intensely stupid, and while I can understand people not wanting to elect a president who dealt with nothing but race, forbidding the president from suggesting there might be a problem of racism is pushing it too far.

There is obviously a problem of racism in the US, as indeed there is in pretty much most countries, for historic and economic reasons. Segregation really did not end that long ago, and pretending it did not is absurd. There have been some people claiming Obama hates white people, these people disturbingly get air time, when there is no doubt to my mind that they are hateful people. Its disturbing.

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