Friday, April 30, 2010

Electoral change and Immigration

A hateful moment last night. David Cameron will be or next prime minister. Unlike some lunatics on the left, I don't think that this is avoidable. Theres a very, very small chance that the lib dems will garner enough support to break through. Theres an even smaller chance that Labour are going to reverse everyone's dislike of GB. The notion of a third place labour party ruling in coalition is absolutely absurd, and it really speaks of the arrogance that many labour voters have gathered. The country can't have one government for a sustained period of time, and while I'm not happy about the prospect of a conservative government, at least it will be in a hung parliament.

Of course, the conservatives have given little evidence that they've changed, and have given me two main reasons to still be fearful about their government.[note, actually looking through their manifesto in detail gives me countless reasons to dislike them. They really are still the same old party...]

1- Cameron and his party are obsessed with maintaining the current electoral system, despite obvious evidence that we need a change. Its almost guaranteed that Labour will get less votes than the lib dems, yet get more seats this election. Thats absurd. If Cameron gains enough power, however, I don't think he'll support electoral reform.

2-Immigration. Last night both the conservative and Labour party spouted hateful, pandering nonsense. And they wonder why the BNP is doing better. Fearmongering is not a sensible political tactic. Lets look at the lib dem's policies, shall we?

"Immediately reintroduce exit checks at all ports and airports."
"Secure Britain’s borders by giving a National Border Force
police powers."
"Introduce a regional points-based system to ensure that migrants
can work only where they are needed. We need to enforce any immigration system through rigorous checks on businesses and a crackdown on rogue employers who profit from illegal labour."
"Prioritise deportation efforts on criminals, people-traffi ckers and
other high-priority cases. We will let law-abiding families earn
citizenship. We will allow people who have been in Britain without
the correct papers for ten years, but speak English, have a clean
record and want to live here long-term to earn their citizenship.
This route to citizenship will not apply to people arriving after 2010."

They also have excellent things to say on asylum seekers, as we do not treat them terribly well right now.

So, the lib dems plan is

A-making sure that anymore illegal immigration is kept to an absolute minimum
B-Dealing with illegal immigrants in this country so that we can actually make a profit from them, rather than keeping them in the shadows.

If Cameron is correct about his 600,000 figure, then NOT doing this is far worse, because then we have 600,000 people draining the system. Illegal immigrants will not pay tax, and will not have fair wages, thus damaging our economy. Deporting 600,000 people would be impossibly difficult, and ridiculously counter productive.

So the lib dems are saying "been here 10 years? Speak decent English? Want to join the system? Good, well you can, but you have to pay taxes."

That is brilliant.

Note that this policy is a one time measure. It would not extend past 2010, so anyone claiming that this will lead to a rise in illegal immigration is just lying.

Gah. In a world with any sense and decency, every party would be adopting this sodding policy, rather than attempting to smear Clegg for it.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Aspiration, and why 50% at university isn't as mad as it seems

One of the biggest obstacles to creating real equality in this country is that children have parents. Inheritance is an oft loved target of the redistributer- taxing inheritance (or, as the conservatives ludicrously call it, the "death tax") is inherently redistributive and metriocratic- being lucky enough to have rich parents really has no connection to your skills or drive. Yet this isn't actually a massive cause of inequality.

The main issue is that people with better educated and better off parents are going to be better off. They will have a financial safety net that other children do not have, which will allow them to study more, take masters courses, excetera. Perhaps more importantly, they will be driven to succeed. The reason people go to Eton isn't just because of the contacts, or excellent teaching standard, its also because of an instilled belief that said graduates CAN do anything they like, which really is invaluable. Its certainly possible for anyone to succeed (financially), although much more difficult for some- aspiration is part of the motivating force that will lead people to change.

Now we can't really cut out most of this inequality: I don't see a solution that isn't absolutely horrifying. What we can do is ensure that children do have as much educational support as possible. So decent schools with inspirational teachers, and the ability to get to university if they want to go. And this is where the governments 50% target is important. Yes, its arbitary, and meaningless, and also tied to an increase in fees, but it does underline a goal to get people who do not have parents that attended university attending university. There is an issue there, in that there should be other routes of aspiration- apprenticeship courses and so on, but I do think the government supported those too.

The thing about privelege is its subtle and unthinking. The reason people get angry at feminists, or when the are accused of being racist (hint, we are probably all racist to some extent, and probably say and do racist things occasionally), is that we don't notice the privelege we have. The aspiration we get from knowing that our parents, and people similar to us, have succeeded, will help us succeed in turn.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why I will be voting liberal democrat

I consider myself a progressive, liberal person. I have socialistic tendencies, with a strong blend of pragmatism. I prefer not to think in absolutes, and am willing to compromise to get a result. Pragmatism is a good philosophy to take, and I think many of the left ARE pragmatic. The reason prison rehabilitation is important is not because the left love criminals, its because we are aware that said criminals will be RELEASED from prison one day, and we'd quite like them to come out reformed rather than just as bad as they entered.

I would always have described myself as a Labour voter, but Labour has failed me more than once. They came into power on a massive electoral mandate, yet were simply not bold enough. They have played to the crowd far too many times, and are in the pocket of industry and media influence. Labour has had some good affects during their time in power- the NHS simply would not exist without them, and there IS peace in Northern Ireland.

But lets look at their failures. They started reforming the house of lords, but failed to show the political will to finish it, leaving it arguably worse than it started. They reneged on their MANIFESTO promise not to introduce top up fees, and did so anyway. They went into a war with demonstrably false premises, supporting the US unnecessarily. Despite introducing the Human Rights Act (clearly a good thing, and I don't trust the conservatives wanting to replace it), they went on to reduce civil liberties more than ever, using 9/11 as an excuse to pass draconian laws just as bad as the Patriot act, and are probably complicit in torture in foreign nations.

They have become accustomed to government, and were so afraid of losing it that they hung onto Gordon Brown even though he is nationally disliked. They continued the economic policies of Thatcher, leading to the crisis that we are living through, and show no evidence that they will change their attitude (sadly, theres no party that will do this that much, but lib dems get the closest).

They passed the Digital Economy Bill, a terrible piece of legislation that was clearly created with the music industry and no-one else in mind. They have helped create an incredibly unequal position between us and America. They are not scrapping trident, a weapon system that will not help us in ANY way shape or form (bear in mind that trident is designed as a retaliatory strike weapon. i.e. if Britain is annihalated by nuclear war, we can annihilate another country. Yay? Iran and North Korea will never possess the capability to do such a thing, and if China wants to hurt us then its going to be the US that protects us).

The liberal democrats have policies that would make things fairer. They would give us back our civil liberties. They would cap donations, and reform politics to proportional representation (although to STV, which I may rant about later. Still, its better than FPTP), they would even phase out tuition fees. They are willing to issue policies that make SENSE. Policies based on evidence rather than headline grabbing, on sensible, liberal ideas. I'm not happy with their whole manifesto. I think they pander too much on immigration, and I think they could go further on their drugs policies, but for a party that actually promises real change, a government with some sense for once, I would love to see the liberal democrats in charge.

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Friday, April 23, 2010


This is, in my humble opinion, the film that Watchmen should have been. Yes, its nothing particularly like the film or the comic, but in a way Kick-Ass graps what the comic is about a lot more firmly than the film of Watchmen did. Superheroes have been in need of a decent satire. They have had parody- see Mystery Men for that, but a satire is a bit more subtle and interesting.

Kick-Ass has a lot going on. Its about a geeky guy discovering girls, about a boy trying to be a man, trying to make a difference. Its about an old cop taking revenge. Its about a young girl who's had her childhood stolen. Its about a relationship as messed up as the one found in Leon. Its even about one childs desperation for the approval of his father. And its also about some funny and kinetic action scenes.

For the most part it succeeds in balancing all these- the plot moves along fairly pacily (it drags a tiny bit to begin with, but its forgivable), with a blending of the surreal and the realistic- a kid tries to dress up as a superhero, but soon discovers why its not a good idea. The only real misstep in the blending of these elements was the conclusion: I felt like the main characters motivations were a bit weak to take part in the conclusion, he simply hadn't grown up enough.

There has been some kerfuffle about Hitgirl in this film. First of all- her story is a tragedy, and we know its a tragedy, but nothing simple is happening here. Nicholas Cage plays Big Daddy well, and its clear he has affection for her, even as he destroys her life. The film knows this, but also knows quite how cool she looks when fighting bad guys. The scenes are simultaneously a comment on comic book action, and just plain awesome.

As for the notion, suggested by some, that she is a "paedophiles fantasy"... well she's not that sexualised. At one point she does wear a school uniform.. but shes an 11 year old girl! Her super hero outfit is in no way sexy, she does not strike sexy poses... She certainly participates in violence, but the film addresses that- at no point is she sexualised. Its certainly possible a person with a deranged mind might find something there, but are we to cut out 12 year old girls from films on the possibility that people might be aroused?

I'd definitely recommend seeing Kick-Ass, its a splendid film, and well worth your time.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Gaming, an artform?

Ah, what the hell, I'll throw my hat into the ring. Lets work with wikipedia's definition:

"Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions."

From this we got most art. There is a slight issue with this definition, in that it includes what we might call "low art": excitement is an emotion easily elicited from films we might not want to call art. So for the purposes of this discussion we need to be able to elecit more than simply excitement to qualify our work as art.

So, next, what makes a video game? This is an important distinction, as, if films can be art, then we could just put the godfather in and make the player press A occasionally. That really wouldn't be a game. So for our video game to succesfully be art AND a game:

-it must require input from the player, which can affect the events that occur- either a simple success/failure or something more varied
-it must require some level of skill from the player
-The game elements must have some impact on the artistic message

I hope that our gentle reader that something that satisfies this is a video game that is art.

So, for a simple example, lets say we play out an opening scene of a game, and, depending on the actions we choose, we then watch a short film depicting the consequences. There, i've just created a small piece of art. It still qualifies (loosely) as a game- to get all the potential consequences I would have to try different, perhaps unexpected things, which would force me to think laterally- basically an adventure game. Its video game art because our actions are having an effect on the narrative, we are seeing consequences from what we are doing. For an example of this see air pressure, a simple game that plays with our knowledge of the form to present a story that is a little more complex than we think.

It has to be said that games generally speaking DO detract from art. Braid might be an artistic look at the effect of the time, but most of the time you'll be swearing repeatedly trying to complete a really bloody hard puzzle. Thats fun, and al good, but I'm not convinced that experience has anything to do with art. Final fantasy might be considered a piece of art, but I'd argue that what it is is art intertwined with game- the game part has no influence on the story, the true art that you are experiencing, so you are basically playing a game to be rewarded with art. Most games that qualify unreservedly as art in my mind tend to be smaller, lower scale, and have their gamist parts integrated into the gameplay- the Path is another example of this.

Does it matter that most games aren't art? Not really- I don't think most games should strive for that, because a lot of what makes games fun is disconnected from art in a way that they can't be joined. In a funny way Ebert is a little right- I don't think most games will every be art, but his ignorance of the form means that he misses all those games that clearly ARE art.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Why spoilers matter

(I have a sense that I might have said this before, but never mind).

I was reading Sandman: The Kindly Ones recently. At the start of the book a prologue spoils the end. It then belittles the reader, claiming that the end was obvious, and they should have seen it coming. Well. While the ending made perfect sense, it wasn't the only ending that would have done so, and to know it was coming DID detract from the experience.

Listen, books and films, narratives of all kind, aren't ruined by being spoiled. There is still something to be had from experiencing the narrative no mattter how much you know, otherwise we'd never watch that thing again. Nevertheless, experiencing narrative for the first ever time is something that cannot be replicated. The joy of discovery, astonishment at twists and turns, even if they were narratively sign posted- just because something was likely to happen does not mean it will. Authors do change their minds as their stories go in an unexpected direction.

So spoiling does take a little from that- just because it was probable that a certain character might die, we did not know when, how, or who, and to have that taken away from us is a pity. I was fortunate enough to be unspoilt for planet of the apes, for an example of something its practically impossible to see without having being spoilt for, and it DID improve my experience.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Why not donate?

There is more to democracy than voting. Outside of an election, you can lobby and write to your mp, join marches, enter debates, get involved in both local and national democracy. Our ability to alter this nation is only as weak as our will to commit to making a difference.

During an election, its a bit different, especially in this one. There are a lot of floating voters around, dissatisfied with the current government, mistrustful of the conservatives, and not convinced by the lib dems. Maybe thats you- well the record of each party, their consistency, their members voting promises, and their manifestos are all available. Get educated- I guarentee there is a side you will favour. For those of you who want a party in power, there is voting and campaigning. But there is also donation. If you are a steadfast green party member in a safe conservative seat, theres not a great deal of a point mounting much of a campaign.

But if you're that involved, why not donate? Your funding could help the party you support campaign in consituencies it can win, and increase the chance that there will be a sitting member of your party, even if not in the constituency you are in.This is especially true for the smaller parties- the conservatives have an overwhelming funding advantage this election (I wonder if they'll cap election donations...), but smaller parties are forced to focus on specific consituencies. Political funding has stopped being about support from members, but merely courting the most wealthy. We can stop that. If you believe in a party, then vote with both your wallet and your.. uh... writing hand.

To put my money where my mouth is, I donated 10 pounds to the liberal democrats. More on this later.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Dancing on a tightrope

I am positively overjoyed to see the liberal democrats doing well. They will not, of course, form the next government, but if they gain sufficient momentum they may be a part of it, and hopefully push this country into some form of electoral reform.

I do wonder how permanent the liberal democrats support is, however. A you gov poll gives them actually leading, but we discover as we scroll down that on several policies they support, most people are opposed. A lot of people are sadly reactionary in this country, so when they see a proposal to ban penal sentences less than 6 months they are instinctively opposed. Same with an amnesty for 1 million illegal immigrants who have been present in the UK for over ten years.

Both these policies are excellent ideas, by the way. We have a serious problem in this country with politicans talking tough talk on drugs and crime rather than making policies based on facts and pragmatism. We KNOW prison doesn't work- the reoffence rate is absurdly high, but rather than sensibly thinking of ways to reduce this, we spout out about more policemen, more prisons, longer sentences. If we're going to let people out of jails, then its probably for the best that we encourage them NOT to reoffend, yes? Rehabilitation is not a wishy washy liberal goal, its a pragmatic goal which aims to see less crimes on our streets. There will be a hard core of criminality, this I am sure of, but we don't need to write off everyone, and we need to realise that the vast majority of prisoners will be coming out of prison at some point.

The second policy is just as sensible. If there are a bunch of illegal immigrants working in this country, we could either

a)spend a fortune attempting to get rid of them, causing untold distress and doing nothing to help our economy
b)make them citizens, meaning that we then TAX their income, AND stop employers from getting round charging less than the minimum wage.

These arguments are sensible, pragmatic, and the right thing to do. I am very glad that the liberal democrats are willing to make those pledges. I worry, however, that the television debates are not a good place to defend them. The leaders have a minute each to defend their policies, and its much easier to focus on crowd pleasers (more police on the street), than genuine reform which might make a difference.

so Nick Clegg's goal will be to offend as few people as possible, as all must leaders must do. Trying to make radical, yet sensible arguments during an election is probably suicie- theres no chance that it will win many votes. The time to make the argument is possibly AFTER an election, ridiculously enough.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

leaders debate

I watched this with some interest, not so much as to from my political opinions, but to see if it might shape others. The specific set of skills required to take part in a television debate are not equivalent to those needed to govern the country, and while most people have praised the debate, I do worry that it could trivialise politics.

That said, the level of the debate was fairly healthy and interesting, and went at a reasonable pace. All of the leaders did pretty well, the biggest losers probably being itv, who's opening graphic was god awful, with the show starting late, and Allastair Stewart being a clunky host (more than once cutting people off far too early, and not giving politicans a chance to respond to points the others made: his cutting between leaders seemed moderately insane at times).

There were no big mistakes from the leaders, other than Clegg repeating Cameron's assertion about 4000 pages being sent to schools each year (there were a few smirks in the audience at that) without realising it. (note.. is this that bad? What are these pages? Over a year thats not all that much, and these could just be health and safety things...)

So Clegg did best, and he always was going to- he represented an alternative to the others, and they did their best to ignore him, probably thinking attacking would be counter-productive. The lib dems stood to gain from last night- most people will now know what Clegg looks like, and have an idea what the lib dems stand for. They will probably have a misguided idea of what Cameron stands for (the conservatives policies do not match their current rhetoric...), who could have done better (for the love of god Dave, stop thanking people). Brown could have been awful, but I felt like he came off pretty well- not enough to change opinions, I suspect, but to remind people that he is a fairly substantial politican, and not some ogre. He will poll the worst simply because most people do not like him.

I have many posts to write on politics in the coming week or so, so you can view that statement with the dread or joy that you think it deserves.

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Multiple occupancy

Alice and I currently live in a converted building. Originally a rather massive victorian households, it has been changed into 4 flats. Is this a bad thing? I know that many cities have made quite an issue about areas getting ruined by being converted to rent, bringing property values down. Another fear, of course, is students. Students can ruin properties; there are properties that I do not think anyone would rent unless they were students, who tend to have lower standards. Students also bring finance into an area, for example- I was often amused by local complaints about students ruining an area back in Bath, and while students can be terribly obnoxious, students tend to have a lot of spending power that they bring to an area which would probably decay otherwise.

One major issue with opposing multiple occupancy buildings is that you are discriminating against the young and the poor. The older generation all have mortgages, but getting on the property ladder in the first place involves a massive investment, especially with 90% mortgages- 10% of a property's value is not an inconsiderable sum, and without any aid from relatives, probably impossible without a consierable effort in making savings on the part of the people attempting to get such a thing. This generational discrimination is a dangerous thing, because it helps reinforce inequality- those who have parents that can pay their way are better off, espeically if there aren't enough places to rent. Many places in the UK are protected, thanks to the green belt, listed buildings, excetera, meaning that opportunities for new flats are actually quite rare. We can't have it all sometimes. We can't preserve our green spaces, our buildings, and expand. We certainly can't lower property prices while preserving property prices, as seems to be the stated goal of most politicians.

I'm sure that when I'm old and have a mortgage, I may well feel differently. I'm not sure I'll be right. I'm not sure I'm right now, but I like to think its a little less open and shut than some might be inclined to suppose.

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