2011 Blog

Job Creation

It's been a while since the last update! Not for lack of anything to write about, more that I've just beeen lazy. Here's something that caught my interest enough to make me want to share it: The good old lark of trickle down economics.

Now, this notion has been so completely discredited that you;d think nobody would have anything to do with it any more, but some people still push the idea that giving rich people more money is somehow the best way to get money into the hands of the poor. The argument of course beoing that rich people are job creators, wealth generators.

But of course it doesn't work that way. Rich people didn't get where they are by producing anything, they got there by taking more than than their fair share at the expense of someone else.

That in itself is fine. There's always a degree of that going on, the world isn't fair, and we won't ever have a state of affairs in which people are always be nice to each other. But some behaviour has effects so destructive to the group that the benefit to the individual cannot be justified. This is why we don't allow murder or Droit du seigneur.

The poor financial regulation that allows individuals to benefit from the destruction of others is a current example of unjustifiable behaviour. So too are tax breaks for the rich at the cost of everyone else.

But don't take my word for it. Read up on what entrepreneur and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer has to say on the subject. Go on, click.

Anzac Biscuits

I've been making a batch of Anzac biscuits every week for some years now. They make such a good snack food I've given up crisps, which is kind of amazing. I've been meaning to write up the recipe for some time, and I've finally gotten around to it. Woo hoo!

Well, that's about it. They'll be hot and soft when they come out, so let them sit and cool for a bit before muching into them. Enjoy!

Long Live Mothers

For any readers that might give a hoot, my dear old mum has in the space of a few weeks had a tumor removed, endured a nasty heart attack, and undergone heart surgury. Despite all this she is still not dead, and is doing about as well as one could hope. With luck, she'll continue to be not dead for a long time yet.

Thank you, that is all.

US Debt, part 2

Well, a deal was done on the debt and it's pretty awful for everyone concerned. Except perhaps for rich people too old to live long enough to see the result in coming decades. But hey, they can always move to the Bahamas, right?

The deal promises to keep things as they are, with tax cuts to the rich and no change on lucrative government contracts. What cuts there are are from projected future increases in expenditure, which is so ridiculous it's funny.

US Debt

Well, there's a whole lot of partisan politics going on while US lawmakers debate the extension of the US debt limit, which is soon going to hit the current 14.3 trillion limit. An amazing amount of money. I'm no economic expert, nor am I a member of any political party. According to many that means I have no understanding of the facts of the matter, and they may be right. regardless, I'm going to make some observations and maybe even a prediction or two.

Conservatives want the debt ceiling raised, preferably removed, and taxes on the wealthy abolished. These measures would help the conservative goal, which is to gather all possible wealth into the smallest possible number of hands. They argue that the debt should therefore be paid by cutting off government spending. At least, cutting the items that the wealthy don't need. Welfare, education, that kind of thing.

Progressives don't really exist in the US, but for the purposes of this argument I'll consider the Democrats to be progressives. The Democrats want to see the wealthy paying the same tax rates as the rest of the population.

Now, here's the thing. The conservatives are banking on the progressives caving in at the last moment. This is usually a fair bet, because the progressives actually care about the country and the people in it while the conservatives care only for the wealthy.

This time around, the gamble may not work. It may well be that the progressives will decide that continuing to cave to extreme right wing demands will ltimartely do more damage than defaulting on the debt.

At least, that's what I'd like to see. A real policy showdown.

What we'll end up getting is a short term stop-gap measure, a continuation of business as usual, and everyone blaming everyone else for the lack of a proper solution. As a result, the US will circle yet closer to the drain.

It's been a while the world changed. If nothing else, it'll be interesting.

Duke Nukem Forever

It's been fourteen years, and Duke Nukem Forever is finally out for the PC and Xbox 360! Quite a long wait for those of us who were looking forward to it way back in the twentieth century. Is it worth the wait?

Well no, of course it isn't. It's just a game after all. But is it a great game?

Ummm... No, not really. Not surprising I suppose, given the fact it was never really finished. It was quickly glued together and thrown out the door after time and money ran out. Gearbox was handed what there was, and they threw out the sketchy bits, stitched together the reasonable bits, and made a linear shooter out of it. It's got some nice interactivity, some great humour, some mediocre humour, and not much else.

In all, it's a pretty average game. Not great, not awful. Just a game. Though of course some will regard it as a complete load of rubbish, because it's not their kind of game. That's taste for you. Gears of War had plenty of fans and strong sales, but I can't stand it. Different tastes, is all.

To my mind, there are two significant problems with the published Duke Nukem Forever. The first is linear gameplay on maps that I suspect were originally designed for non-linear gameplay. This makes it difficult to know where you are meant to go next, and go there you must.

The second issue is loading. It loads a lot. On the PC that's not so much of an issue, but on the five year old Xbox 360 it makes for a lot of waiting. Too many polygons, a common flaw in modern games because customers pay too much attention to graphics.

We'll never know what the true Duke Nukem Forever would have been like, but it would have been... better. More importantly, it would have been released many years ago.

Now... When the heck will Deus Ex 3 and Thief 4 be released?

1967 Borders

For decades, Israel's plan for peace has consieted of keeping the most recent land it took, fencing off the people it has evicted from that land, and expecting the arab nations to put up with it. Unsurprisingly, this approach hasn't worked out too well.

It seems to me that neither side is blameless in the whole Israel/Palestine mess. Too many fanatics on both sides will kill to ensure their side gets everything and the other side gets nothing... Which of course is an impossible outcome. Hence we get ongoing violence.

Peace is not impossible, mind you. Anwar El Sadat managed to achieve it between Irael and Egypt in 1979, before being assassinated for his efforts. The peace he died for has lasted three decades and still looks good.

Hence, it's rather a statement of the obvious when Obama stated that peace in the region should start with the 1967 pre-war border, with negotiated land swaps. This has of course earned him the ire of the other bunch of extremists, who are just as likely to assassinate people for talking peace.

Obama's speech is the first sign of sense in a long time. Israel may no longer be able to count on the US blindly supporting Israel in the UN, and that might prompt some self-examination.

...and maybe not. But if nothing else, it's good to hear someone in power pointing out the elephant in the room.

Obama > Osama

Well, well. Apparantly Osama Bin Laden is dead. I had expected he would die of old age, his ashes scattered in the mountains of Afganistan or something. Go figure.

In the USA, the news has apparantly been greeted by much cheering and flag waving. That strikes me as... unseemly, at best. It's understandable at an animalistic level, considering that the man played a strong role in the murder of several thousand US citizens. But how would the US react if George Dubya was killed and Iraq cheered? He certainly caused enough deaths there. Cheering the killing of a human seems to depend not so much on what they did to deserve it, but on who's getting killed and who's doing the killing.

Myself, I figure that any killing should be met with a heavy heart. Killing people can't always be avoided, but neither is something we should celebrate. For Bin Laden, I believe we should at least feel sorrow. He was a man with immense drive and wonderful potential. Unfortunately he embraced a cause, lost his judgement and balance, and ended up doing great harm instead of great good. Such a waste! I'd have preferred to see him arrested and charged, but his choice of deadly force in resisting that left only one way to stop him.

Many politicians are saying Bin Laden has finally been brought to justice, but it's more accurate to say he's been stopped. Justice would have involved an impartial court. He fled from justice, and even murdered people to avoid it. He wanted to continue doing is best to kill as many civilians as possible. Bin Laden didn't care about people, only for his cause. Like many, he needed an enemy to blame for whatever went wrong with the world. The communists, the capitalists, the jews, the blacks, the whites, liberals, whoever.

But as much harm as Bin Laden did, as long as I hear hooting and cheering at the news of his death I feel sickened. We can be be better than that.

Portal 2

It's Easter. Yay! I therefore have time for a further quick update. The operative term here being quick.

Portal 2 is out, and it's brilliant. Hilarious, fun, and no flaws at all. Never once did I get stuck or frustrated. I simply got plenty of fun puzzles, really engaging dialogue, plus plenty of backstory which is something I was hankering for after Portal 1.

It has also managed to change forever the way I think about potatoes, which is pretty cool.

Assassins Creed Brotherhood

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is a game I am less than enchanted with. It has the kind of flaws that make me yell at the screen. That might be forgiven if the plot were any good, but the plot was been well and truly lost somewhere behind the desperate and clumsy attempt to craft a story. If you're the kind of person who likes the Grand Theft Auto series, you'd like this game. It has that open sandbox thing hapenning. If on the other hand you want something to care about in your games, a few decent characters for example, you'd probably best give this title a skip.

Honestly, being the third game in the series (or is that game two and a half? It's hard to tell) you'd think the user interface would be solid by now. But far too many times, camera control was taken away from me and forced to a fixed, jaunty angle that made control incredibly frustrating. At other times, Ezio jumped at a completely different angle than the one I was facing. Cutscenes sometimes ended with Ezio in a new and unfamiliar position, with no time to gather bearings and orientation before an action sequence started. The addition of timed puzzles/challenges at points multiplies the frustrations.

For me, this will likely be the last in the series. It's been three games, and I really don't care what happens to Desmond, the Templar, or any of the characters at all. Only the British researcher guy has any depth, and I can't even remember his name.

I think the only reason I managed to stick with the series this far was the sense of stepping back in history. Admittedly, it's hardly an accurate portrayal, but still educational in some ways. This time it's just more fourteenth century Italy. Admittedly, I did get to wander around Rome... But a thousand years too late for it to be interesting.

Firefox 4.0

I've been a Firefox user for more winters than I care to recollect, but I must say that version 3.5 and 3.6 seemed to be losing the plot. They certainly sped up lots of sites, but they also made some others much slower. Now that Firefox 4.0 has now been officially released I'm a happy chappy, because it sure seems to have solved those issues in a big way.

Between you and me? It's brilliant, I recommend it! Download it from Mozilla. Or don't, if you prefer. Keep on using Opera, or Internet Explorer if you don't value your privacy. Or if you're feeling particularly retro and masochistic, try out Netscape 2 or Mosaic. (Those old browsers may well still work on a modern operating system!)

Pew Pew

Well, well. The UN has gathered it's collective wits and mandated some air express deliveries to Libya. UN action within a timeframe of weeks is something of a miracle. Not the miracle I would have picked if I'd been given the choice... A cure for cancer or a stop to rampant overpopulation would be on my list, but beggers can't be picky. At this stage it's not exactly clear how this will affect Libya in the long run, or the world in general. The idea is the no-fly zone will result in fewer civilian deaths and gerenally less suffering overall. If Gadaffi can't bomb his own people any more, maybe he'll behave a little more reasonably.

And maybe he won't.

There is some speculation that he'll try his hand at terrorism and assasination. It certainly seems he has experience in that area. Strangely, it may work out for the best in the long run if he did something that extreme. It would make him an international criminal and justify UN and international action against him. He'd also be making it clear that terrorism is just another crime that can be committed by anyone, and it should be treated as such. Not by declaring war on it, and suspending all the best laws we have. An international court with laws fairly applied to all could handle the matter. What a wonderful dream!

Back here in the real world, I expect a mess for some time yet. Uncertainty is life, after all.

In other news, Portal 2 is due out next month. Order it now and you can save a few dollars.

Rumble

The recent Japanese Earthquake is nasty stuff indeed. It appears that nuclear power plants are not built as well as Tokyo's Godzilla-resistant high rise buildings, and because of that the survivors can't tell if they should still be panicing or not. It must be hard enough dealing with one or two major disasters without a third following them up.

The entire disaster has been a godsend for Gadaffi, who now has a free hand to do whatever he wants while the world is distracted by the death and destruction in Japan. I suspect he's going to be in office for a long time yet, unfortunately. Not that imposing a no-fly zone is a simple matter. It does involve blowing things up and killing people, which is usually not something that makes the world a better place. I guess anyone with an all-female bodyguard contingent must at least add character to the planet.

In cheerier news, American McGee's Alice is definitely coming back in Alice: Madness Returns. A game I'm looking forward to as much as Portal 2.

New World Order

The Middle East is changing, and as this is probably the most significant political change the world has seen since the Russians realised Communism was bankrupting them. (The United States hasn't yet realised that unchecked Capitalism does the same thing)

I find the revoloutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to be particularly interesting because they've been dictatorships for a good three or four decades. The people seem to have decided they've had enough, and I can't help but wonder why.

Not that I think it's great to live under a dictatorship supported by an abusive police state. But why rebel now? And why so suddenly? Horrifyingly enough, I can;t help but wonder of George Dubya may actually have been on to something with that whole thing about invading Iraq to spread democracy. Not quite the way he meant to, mind you. George could have done better simply by buying the country. I'd say Saddam would have happily accepted a few hundred billion and a peaceful retirement, and in exchange a pile of cash and several hundred thousand deaths could have been avoided.

Maybe it's the fact that the USA is packing up and going home. It is no longer a nation that can inspire great fear by rattling a sabre. The war in Iraq and the Wall Street bailout has been paid with money the US doesn't have, and the US military is exhausted. No more liberating invasions, and no more US power supporting dictatorships of convenience.

But whatever the reason or reasons, I find it remarkably inspiring to see so much accomplished with so little bloodshed. The cynic in me is seriously impressed. Hopefully the Egyption military will resist the temptation to become a dictatorship itself. they seem reasonable at the moment. Libya's Gadaffi on the other hand, seems to be doing all he can to ratchet up the bloodshed. That can't possibly go well for him. His own ambasadors have called for him to be ousted, and they wouldn't be doing that if there was any chance he could remain in power. If Gadaffi keeps this up, he'll either follow Nicolae Ceau┼čescu into an early grave, or find himself tried for crimes against humanity. How Libya itself will fare seems to be a matter for conjecture.

So I say well done! to the people of the Middle East. And I wish you all good fortune, while hoping fervently that you won't need it.

Why am I so interested in the importance of sound leadership? I don't know. But I did write a good book about it.

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is a Brit who writes some pretty good stuff, in numerous forms. Novel, comic books, films... I particularly liked American Gods. He's earned himself a mention by having the good sense to regognise when he's wrong and admit it.

Specifically, he's come from a position of hatred and loathing for what he saw as rampant piracy and disregard for coyright through a good deal of personal experience to a rather more informed and enlightened perspective. A shared file is not the same thing as a lost sale, and rather than reducing sale it tends to increase them. Listen to his blurb over at wimp.com for the specifics, together with some impressive details from his own experiences.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

For somebody who's not into horror novels or horror movies, I certainly do seem to enjoy a good horror game. When I can find one, that is. The good ones seem to have the number 2 in the name, like system Shock 2, Resident Evil 2, and Silent Hill 2. Amnesia: The Dark Descent is noteworthy for being a good horror game that doesn;t have a number 2 in the name, but since it's the second game created by Frictional Games the lack of a number 2 could be seen as part of the gaming industry's recent aversion to putting numbers on games. I think the theory is marketing doesn't want to scare off customers who haven't bought the previous games, but the end result is poor people like me end up looking at titles like Tomb Raider: Chronicles, Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, Tomb Raider: Legend, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, and Tomb Raider: Underworld, and desperately trying to remember what order they are supposed to be in. (Hint: It doesn't matter because all these games have crappy plots anyway. Except maybe for Anniversay, a remake that retains some of that original's panache.) And now Eidos is rebooting the series in an attempt to resurrect the franchise they have so completely screwed up by making a new Tomb Raider game called.... Tomb Raider. Yep, the exact same title as the original game. It's as bad as the movie industry, you have to add the year of release to all your games to keep track of the silly things...

Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes. A horror game, and a good one. Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Available on Steam for the PC, fairly cheap, somewhat stressful to play in that it scares several kinds of crap out of you. The kind of scary where you have no weapons, darkness is an ally and an enemy, and even looking at the nasties is taking a risk. Worth checking out if you want a nice scary distraction from whatever else you're up to. It even has a reasonable plot!

Bad Attitudes

Greetings, humans and 'bots! It's 2011, so that means it's time for a fresh blog page and some suitable rambling on my behalf, if I can come up with anything I think worthy of your time.

As it happens, I have one of those linky things to share with you. The blog of Jerome Doolittle, over at BadAttitudes.com. He's a wonderfully cynical old fellow, who makes for interesting reading. He updates his blog pretty often, generally with interesting observations about American politics. One of his more recent musings recounts the tireless work performed by the head of Chase National Bank during World War 2, who did all he could to simultaneously keep the US out of the war while perpetuating the conflict as long as possible. This kind of historical perspective one should bear in mind today, where the financial sector's practice of privatizating profits and nationalizing debt is jeaporadizing the survival of the nation state. Or at least, trivial things like education, health care, and other itms of public infrastructure that mere citizens depend on for quality of life.