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Friday, 26 February 2016

What did the treaty of Rome ever do for us?

With apologies to my Non-British readers. Who will probably read little further than this, this is a post about the forthcoming in-out referendum on the EU that we will be having in Britain in a few months. Which for the British is more important than any other vote they have been asked to cast for about 30 years. In or out it's a major choice, and the tabloid press who are mostly right wing has firm anti-Europe views. So this is perhaps an attempt to redress a little of the balance. Basically, however, all I am asking is that if you're going to vote do so as an informed choice and read the argument for both sides, not the tabloid anti-Europe rhetoric and  jingoistic Europe bashing 

What follows was not actually written by me, but is a reproduction of a reproduction posted on Facebook, which itself is a reproduction of a letter to the guardian newspaper by Simon Sweeney referenced in Donnachadh McCarthy book 'The prostitute state' but in slight reference to a Monty Python sketch "What did the EU ever do for us?

Not much, apart from providing 57% of our trade;
structural funding to areas hit by industrial decline;
clean beaches and rivers;
cleaner air;
Lead-free petrol;
restrictions on landfill dumping;
a recycling culture;
cheaper mobile charges;
cheaper air travel;
improved consumer protection and food labelling;
a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives;
better product safety;
single market competition bringing quality improvements and better industrial performance;
break up of monopolies;
Europe-wide patent and copyright protection;
no paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market;
price transparency and removal of commission on currency exchanges across the eurozone;
freedom to travel, live and work across Europe;
funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad;
access to European health services;
labour protection and enhanced social welfare;
smoke-free workplaces;
equal pay legislation;
holiday entitlement;
the right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime;
strongest wildlife protection in the world;
improved animal welfare in food production;
EU-funded research and industrial collaboration;
EU representation in international forums;
bloc EEA negotiation at the WTO;
EU diplomatic efforts to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation treaty;
European arrest warrant;
cross border policing to combat human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling; counter-terrorism intelligence;
European civil and military co-operation in post-conflict zones in Europe and Africa;
support for democracy and human rights across Europe and beyond;
investment across Europe contributing to better living standards and educational, social and cultural capital.
All of this is nothing compared with its greatest achievements: the EU has for 60 years been the foundation of peace between European neighbours after centuries of bloodshed.
It furthermore assisted the extraordinary political, social and economic transformation of 13 former dictatorships, now EU members, since 1980.
Now the union faces major challenges brought on by neoliberal economic globalisation, and worsened by its own systemic weaknesses. It is taking measures to overcome these. We in the UK should reflect on whether our net contribution of £7bn out of total government expenditure of £695bn is good value. We must play a full part in enabling the union to be a force for good in a multi-polar global future.

Simon Sweeney,

Lecturer in international political economy, University of York"

Thursday, 25 February 2016

its not what you think it is ......

"Reality is not want you think it is, it's nothing more than a perception your mind is trained to accept. The truth? The truth is far greater than you could ever imagine. That flicker of movement in the corner of your eye. The shadows cast by nothing. A patch of darkness in the night which seems to move. The sounds in the lost hours that have no cause. A glimpse of faces in the abstracts of half-light. Catching your eye for a moment, and sending a shiver chilling down your spine. Raising the hairs on your neck in response to some long forgotten memories passed down through time from the caves of your ancestors.  Yet all these things are but a glimmer of a truth your mind will not, cannot accept, but is a truth all the same."

So I stumbled across this pretentious prose while throwing some OU files onto my kindle to read later. A small passage (there's about a page in all) that I wrote some time ago. The some time ago being, well I have no idea. The file says 2011, but that just the last time it was saved, or I read it then edited a bit, or when I put it on my kindle with some other files from one of my pc's. To be honest, you see, I have no idea when I wrote it, or where it was going, what it was part of, and if I had a wider plan of where I was taking this bit of work. 

It not alone, I have hard drives full of bits and bobs. Half-formed ideas that were played with then dropped, scraps of stories. Character sketches and dialogues. 

I normally know what they were about, where they fitted. I know if they were thrown away for something else, or morphed into another story. They are seldom just forgotten. 

And if they are forgotten they are seldom as intriguing as this one. Enticing may be a better word. This feels like a story waiting to be told. It also feels like the introduction to a story I have told. It would slip perfectly into The Passing Place as an introduction as part of a longer piece, or just that paragraph alone, a small opening paragraph to set  readers mind alive. To set them up for the ride they are about to take. 

But here is the thing, I know, with absolute certainty, that this was not my intent when I wrote it.  Which is not normally an issue. the passing place is full of bits of ideas that were written originally as something else but found a home there because it turned out that was where they belonged. 
This piece though feels different. yet at the same time, it feels right. 
I have no idea what it is about. What its story is, and I would have to write it to find out. 

I guess that is the writers curse. 
Sometimes there is a story you really want to read, but your the one who has to write it. 

As +Neil Gaiman  has been known to say the process of writing is more or less put one word in front of another then do it again.    I guess to find out what this is, I'll have to just do that and see where it takes me. 


Monday, 15 February 2016

Play like a girl, spit out the blood and carry on

There is a culture some parts of the gaming community of bullying and sexism, based on the simple, but entirely wrong, perception. That perception is that girls don't play video games well. More to the point the perception that they play, to be blunt, 'like girls.' Which is possibly the most idiotic insult imaginable.
Not only is it sexist, derisory to a huge community of female gamers, and says a great deal about the mentality of some male gamers, It's also ill informed. Not least because while female gamers may well 'play like girl' it is perhaps worth noting that girls can be very very good at video games, and quite often far better than the kind of gamers who use the words 'play like a girl' to describe someone.
This may seem like a minor issue after all boys have been deriding girls ability to play sports for generations, why should e-sports be any different…..
Well perhaps because we all should be better than that. In particular, perhaps the gamer community should be better than that. Gamers live in a  world of pixels, where skill is not measured by physical prowess, but by reaction times, the speed of thought, quickness with a mouse and keyboard or gamepad, skill and understand of game mechanics.
As a side note, I would invite any bloke who uses the phrase 'play like a girl' in real sports to type rugby girl into google and watch the video of the America Rugby 7 play who had her nose broken in a  tackle, got up, spat out the blood and played on. In exactly the way a premiership footballer wouldn't.

Gets up, spits out the blood, gets on with the game

But back to video games,
Gamers of the female gender face derision and abuse from their male counterparts.   Which it should be needless to say is unjustified on any level. Not just because a basic standard of decency ( yes I know this is the age of the internet and there is a culture of trolling brought about by the supposed anonymity of the internet that sometimes precluded any basic standards of decency), but mainly perhaps because girls can be and are often just as good or better than their male counterparts.

In my time as a gamer, I have come across and played with many female gamers. I ran a raiding guild in world of Warcraft for many years and the guilds girls were in some cased better players than the majority of the boys. They also tended to be more reliable, committed and willing to learn than the majority of the boys. Less likely to throw their toys out of the pram when things went wrong, and were seldom prima donna's like some of the men in the guild.
Trust me on this, when it comes to running a gamer guild and dealing with thirty of forty egos, the girls are a lot less hassle than the boys as a rule. Perhaps because they have had to deal with the crap of been a girl in what some players still see it as a boys world. Needless to say, the players in question are the boys.

The prevalent attitude is often as follows:-
When a male player is not very good at a game it's because he is a noob, or newbie or just a crap player.
When a female player is not very good at a game, it's because 'she a girl'.
The male newbie people will offer advice to ( even if it's not wanted ) because he can improve, after all, no one is a newbie forever.
The female player is patronised at best, after all, they will always be a girl…

If that’s not bad enough there are all the other minefields for the female gamer to negotiate are well known, the accusations of being a 40 year old man pretending to be a girl for scrumptious reasons ( often levelled at any girl gamer who just happens to be a better player than the one doing the accusing. Which is strange in itself, when you think about it.
What does it say when someone would rather they were being shown up by the mad skills of someone they are accusing of been some kind of pervert than face the horror that it may really be someone of the opposite gender. "Yes you have beaten me, and you're claiming to be a girl, but I know you are secretly some kind of pervert and have a dick so that’s alright."

It’s a culture that sadly runs through the gaming community as anyone who has followed #gamergate on any level will know. If you haven't then I suggest that you look it up at some point to see just how nasty it can get.  A controversy that ran through the industry when a female developer became the target for on-line trolling that started with games journalists and worked it's way down to the bottom.
It’s a controversy that is still running when SXSW a large games expo announced a panel to discuss gamergate called #savepoint . Stating it would  cover “the current social-political climate of the gaming community” and “the importance of ethical integrity in gaming journalism” it caused a storm on twitter and later SXSW announced the panel had been cancelled along with an anti-GamerGate panel titled “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” due to “numerous threats of on-site violence.”

When you have to cancel a panel because talking about issues of sexism in games leads to threats of violence then your industry has a deep rooted problem.

And here is the thing, it's all built on a fallacy, or perhaps that should be a phallic-y,,, I have played with gamers in the past who don't speak online because then people would realise they were a woman. I have heard surprise, and in some cases, shock, when they finally do speak because the player who everyone thought was awesome, who had been carrying the team and dragging us all along behind them turns out not to have a penis. I have also witnessed the change in attitude this can inspire. Some male players become suddenly very helpful ( for helpful read patronising ) offering advice and suggestions to the player who has been doing perfectly fine or just plain better than them for weeks. While others become hostile towards them, in little ways mostly, often feeling lied to somehow, that they were been deceived by the player who actually never once claimed to be male or denied being female because somehow the default gender in gaming is male. 

 This in an industry which way back in 2014 knew that 52% of gamers were female. Or perhaps as the Guardian put it at the time, didn't'.  It is however not that surprising that girls play games, or that about half the gaming community is female. This has been a planet-wide phenomena for about the last 40'000 years or so since mankind first started walking upright. Half of mankind aren't men, shocking I know. The other half have had the worst of the deal for most of those 40'000 years or so. So I suspect it comes as little news to them that the same old sexism they find in society generally is also there in the gamer society.

So no great shock here.
But perhaps it should be, perhaps in the world of gamers and the internet one half of the human race can finally grow up and accept that the other half is just as able as they are to make pixels dance, get a head shot on COD, heal a raid in wow, burn up as a pyro on TF2 or any other game you can think of.

Finally, I would add the following.
My son, (in many ways a better gamer than I) plays in a  competitive TF2 team that’s marching up the rankings. The team's leader and arguably best player is a girl called Kate.
A friend of mine called Cal has completed every achievement possible in both recent XCOM games and is probably on her way to doing the same in XCOM2. (if you have ever played any of the incarnations of X-Com you will know that just completing it on the easiest level is an achievement let alone doing iron man (iron girl) on impossible with only 4 soldiers…..)
The wow guild I ran had about 40% female players in its raid teams at its height when it was most successful.
And female rugby players spit out the blood and play on ….
'Play like a girl' should be high praise indeed, rather than an insult ….