Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Social Network and the necessity of truth

The Social Network is a terrific film. Its a film about the quest for power, and the corruption inherent in it. Its beauty is in its refusal to assign motivations. Other than its final shot, which seemed a little too simple to me, it never allows you to guess exactly what Mark Zuckerberg's motivations are, and merely provides potential answers. His actions seem confusing and contradictory, and thats the inherent beauty in it. The writing is, as you might expect, splendid, seeing as it is Aaron Sorkin doing the work. It is definitely a film one should see.

There has been, however, some controversy over pasts of the film. Elements, at least, are supposedly complete works of fiction. This can bother some, but it really should only bother you if you are looking for something that the film is not. The Social Network is not a documentary, it is a film based on a real life story, and as such isn't trying to give an insight into the real life Mark Zuckerberg, but rather the fictional one the film creates. No doubt there are similarities there, but one cannot really inform the other. The important question to ask is whether the character they create is fascinating, and that is certainly the case.

I can see why one might be off put by a documentary that deliberately misleads, because there is a sense of betrayal there, and perhaps certain film goers are leaving the Social Network thinking that they've learnt something about the creation of Facebook. They have, but probably not what they think they have. Citizen Kane is no less interesting for being a work of fiction, and neither is this.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

A typical roleplaying session

Frequently during any roleplaying rules book there will be an example of play. I've often found these quite unrealistic, so I've decided to create my own

GM:Right, so last session
P1:Hey, did anyone see lost last night?
P2:No I'm waiting for it to come out on DVD, so don't say anything
p3:Man, I hate that show
P1:Well I won't spoil anything, but Hurley... lets just say Hurley is changed forever.
P2:Will you shut up!
P3:Urgh, what kind of name is Hurley anyway?
P1:And there was this really funny moment whe-
P1:Fine, did anyone see Futurama?
P3:Oh yeah, that was hilarious
GM:So, last session you met Baron Vondelsnit
P1:The pirate
GM:No... Vondelsnit wasn't the pirate. That was Darkclaw
P2:Was he the one who stole that golden statue?
GM:No.. there wasn't a golden statue. You met Vondelsnit at the tavern
P1:Oh hey, thats where I got drunk and dueled that elf
P2:Yeah, that was awesome, then didn't we just leave?
GM:No... You met Vondelsnit, who informed you of the Prince's plan to start a war by having the princess kidnapped.
P3:I don't remember a prince or a princess?
GM:Well you haven't met them yet, but the Baron told you about them. Anyway, the Baron told you of the Prince's plot, and entrusted you with stopping the Prince's plans before they came to fruition.
P2:Oh thats right, and then we got the golden statue, right?
GM:there... was never a golden statue
P1:Oh hey, that reminds me of in Indiana Jones when he gets that statue by switching weights. I've always kind of thought that those traps wouldn't have worked because they had been there so long
P3:Well they're pretty mechanical
GM:I love those films. Best one gotta be Last Crusade.
P1:Are you nuts? Raiders is easily superior
P3:I always kinda liked Temple of Doom.
P1&GM:You are nuts....
GM:So uh, yeah, anyway, you were going to stop the prince, you went to talk to the duke, who turned out to be in on the plan and set his dogs on you, and we ended the session before the combat started. So if everyone can roll me initiative.
P3:Wait, we're in combat
GM:Yes, with the dogs.
P3:Do we not get a chance to react or anything
GM:YES, but you did that last session
P3:I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have let myself got put in this situation, I've got animal training 5.
GM:It doesn't matter, you don't have any time to train them
P3:Do I not get a roll?
GM...fine, roll at -100 penalty
P3:K... Yup, I succeed.
GM:What? I... fine, you talk down the dogs, the Duke looks pretty impressed
P3:Wait, theres a Duke here?

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I hate this government. I disagree with its policies on cutting, and believe we should be raising more income via taxation. I don't believe all these cuts will lead to long term growth- cutting transport and science are short sighted in particular. Worse yet, the government is engaging in social experimentation on a grand scale with things like the free schools, which will lead to more segregation (thanks to faith schools in all probability making up a good proportion of them), and haven't been very well tested at all. Its radical, and I'd rather like the Conservatives to be conservative with a small c too.

But getting angry at the lib dems seems to miss the point. Its easy to forget that funding helps one get elected. The conservatives are always more well funded than both Labour and the liberal democrats, because the majority of political funding currently comes from either wealthy donors or large organisations such as the unions. So if the liberal democrats had refused coalition with the conservatives (who did, after all, have the largest parliamentary representation), seeing as coalition with Labour was pretty much sabotaged (and probably would have failed), they would have forced the conservatives to rule as a minortiy govt. Well the cons would then probably announce a new election fairly sharpish, as ruling in minority rarely lasts, and then, being the only party with any funding, and good media support (seriously, their media support is currently astonishing. Labour has been pretty much abandoned for now), they would have managed a much larger majority. Arguably as well, the country DID need some strong govt during that time- while the crisis was never as bad as some made out, it wasn't non-existent.

So the lib dems got into government, and as a result affected some change- they certainly pushed for stronger civil liberties, and while they have failed on some counts, theres no doubt they have an influence. Not an all powerful influence, and certainly a lesser one. but thats how it should be. This is how coalition government WORKS. I don't like the conservatives, but they have the largest parliamentary representation, much larger than the lib dems, so they get the lions share of power.

Whats more, under any electoral reform, which practically every lib dem is in favour of, this is exactly what one would expect to happen. If we do get more proportional representation, then we will have more coalition. Thats inevitable.

I'm not saying I'm not going to disagree with the coalition, or indeed the lib dems, or be disappointed or worried by changes being made, but I'm not going to stop supporting the party just yet. Its much harder to support a party in government than in opposition, after all.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

The lovely bones

So why didn't I love the Lovely Bones? I know I caused some controversy by stating such on the book of face, so I had better justify myself.

This book actually made me angry. I wanted to hurl it across the room as it continued, although I must admit most of my frustration is devoted towards the later parts of the book. So lets begin with the positive.

The idea of the Lovely Bones, a dissection of a family's grief from the perspective of the girl who has just been killed, is a powerful and an interesting one, and is initially well done. The unsentimental yet disturbing description of Suzie's death certainly draws one in, and the initial grief suffered by the family is certainly moving, and feels realistic.

But then... well then it gets a little bit silly. The plot, such as it is, meanders somewhat. There is a subplot based around the catching of Suzie's killer, which failed to grip me. The main issue I had was that the father used his magic dad sense to divine who the killer was (yes kids, its the creepy guy who lives down the end of the road!), and is so convinced of his correctness that he gets angry at the police for not believing him. I know, he is racked with grief and is thus not acting rationally, but it is extrordinarily frustrating that in his irrationality he is UTTERLY correct. If the police were to ignore due process and base their decisions on dadfu then they'd stop the murderer from killing many more. Its annoying- it seems like the point should be that he is acting irrationally and needs to let go, but its completely undercut by the father being correct in his absurdity.

The plot jumps in time quite frequently, and rarely sticks to characters long enough for you to get to know them- you get a feeling for the fathers grief, but little else about him as a person. Susie's mother gets a bit more time, but theres a sense of detachment even with the most well drawn characters, as the narration is all done by Suzie, who is only really interested in things that affect her. There are several characters who feel honestly pointless- Ruth and Ray Singh, respectively an arty girl who becomes obsessed with Suzie, and the only guy she ever kissed, barely have any point in the story, apart from a really disturbing end sequence I'll get to later. Ruana, Ray's mother, has a couple of sections about her, which feel even more useless. To be honest, even Susie's sister, Lindsey, isn't well drawn enough (she is apparently awesome at everything).

The book spends quite a bit of time with Mr Harvey, Susie's killer. Initially this makes a certain amount of sense, as there is a slight tension implying that he might be caught, although his motivations are tedious and obvious. Later on, however, he really becomes secondary to the narrative, and a final bit of 'tension' involving him and Lindsey feels unnecessary.

Of course, my main issue is with Susie, and the depiction of heaven. Heaven, is, apparently, an incredibly bland place where nothing much happens and everyone gets to come (the version of religion this book ascribes to is probably a kind of spiritualism at best), including, presumably, Mr Harvey, although thats not completely clear. Susie spends her time moping and watching her relatives, at some points willing them to die, and apparently feels all tingly every time someone thinks about her. Ruth is considered a hero for remembering all the dead, who, despite being in heaven, are apparently desperate to have the living wreck their lives by obsessing over those who have gone.

And theres the rub. Death is a horrible thing to deal with, especially in such a horrific manner as Susie's death, but the healthy thing to do is to move on. Thats not easy, and thats what (in my opinion) the book should be about. Remembrance, but not obsession. Instead Susie seems to egg on the characters into remembering her, in a manner I found most frustrating. Yes, towards the end there is an acknolwedgment that people will move on, but its simply not evident in the rest of the text.

I will end this rant by moving into spoiler territory, so please don't read any further if you've yet to read the book, and still have interest in doing so.

Towards the end of the book Susie manages to swap places with Ruth (a lesbian) so she can have sex with Ray Singh (the boy who kissed her), some 7 years after her death. Apparently Ray has failed to move on so much that he's willing to have sex with this weird possession, and its genuinely disturbing. Only post coitus does Susie attempt to contact her family, which is what one might hope she'd do. I suppose the idea is that she has never grown up, and this activity allows her to do so, but I found it a bit distressing to be honest, and feel like Susie's epiphany (if you can call it that) could have come in any number of different ways. As it is, this just feels a little nasty, to be honest.

Oh, and Mr Harvey? Killed by a magic icicle... Sigh

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