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I Live In A Backwards Country

I’ve come to realise that I currently live in a rather backwards country.

You might think that’s a rather crazy thing to say. I live in the United Kingdom, after all, which is not particularly known for being backwards. In fact, it’s often considered to be an example of a progressive, civilised society.

But the devil is in the details.

There’s the issue of the rather spectacular lack of democracy here in the UK. The political system is set up in such a way that it guarantees the perpetual power of a small political elite. The wishes of the electorate have nothing to do with it – it’s all about keeping those in power, in power.

And of course we shouldn’t forget that the UK is, in fact, still a theocratic monarchy. There’s no constitution as such, the Queen is the undisputed head of state, and the Church of England is the country’s official state religion. Unelected clergymen sit in the House of Lords, and there’s no strict separation of church and state.

And then we have the existing law that denies prisoners the right to vote. The EU Human Rights Commission deemed this to be against international law, but the UK still intends to adhere to this practice: anyone that’s in prison, regardless of what crime they’ve been convicted of, does not get the right to vote in elections. (The concession that prisoners with sentences less than 4 years getting the right to vote is still illegal and, considering the rather steep sentencing common in the UK courts, fairly meaningless.)

You might think that denying prisoners the right to vote is an acceptable practice, but you need to look at it in its proper context. The right to vote is a most basic human right that every adult should have in a democracy.

Countries who deny basic human rights to parts of their population are generally considered to be undemocratic, unfair, dictatorial, and sometimes even evil.

Denying prisoners the right to vote is denying them a vital basic human right. In essence, the UK is saying that it considers prisoners to be lesser citizens, unworthy to be accorded the same rights as those not convicted of a crime. Convicted criminals are considered to have forfeited their human rights for at least the duration of their sentence.

This is a slippery slope indeed. The right to vote is but one basic human right. When you start considering prisoners lesser human beings, you could end up denying them even more human rights and separating them from society altogether. All in the name of ‘public safety’ of course.

You already see the effects of the vilification of prisoners in the UK media. Tabloid papers are eager to demonise all convicted criminals, using all kinds of horrendous language to portray them as despicable and evil creatures instead of human beings like you and me.

But criminals are just humans. They’re not aliens. They don’t think differently than you or I. They aren’t any different. Heck, some things I’ve done in my teens are illegal and could have landed me in prison. I’m very uncomfortable with the idea that these common adolescent errors would have marked me for life as an outsider, a lesser human being, a deviant.

Prison sentences are part of the justice system and should serve a dual purpose: deterrents against committing crimes, and rehabilitation for convicts. Research has proven that prisons fail spectacularly at both of these goals. What remains is a third purpose, one that the tabloid media seem to think is prisons’ only purpose: punishment.

But punishment has no place in a modern, civilised society. ‘An eye for an eye’ is a medieval frame of mind, one that I hoped we’d abandoned by now. Alas, it appears we haven’t.

The Morgan-Watts Crysis

What do you get when you take one of my favourite FPS games, and then throw in not one but two of my favourite authors – both of whom produce material that’s firmly on the gritty, violent and thought-provoking side of the Sci-Fi spectrum – and mix it up thoroughly?

You get this: Crysis 2

Sequel to the superb Crysis, this game is scripted by the indomitable Richard Morgan – known for his Takeshi Kovacs novels and the genre-defying The Steel Remains – and has an accompanying adaptation novel written by the unparalleled Peter Watts – author of the amazing and mind-blowing Blindsight, arguably the best science fiction novel of the past decade.

I’m afraid to get too hyped up about it, because we are talking EA and they have a knack for not living up to expectations and/or ruining games with great potential, but the involvement of these two authors can only be good for the final product.

Morgan’s violence, mood-setting and grittiness mixed up with Watts’ science, plotbuilding, attention to detail, and existential angst should – in theory – add up to something very special indeed. We’ll keep a close eye on this game, that’s for sure.

Peter Watts and Richard Morgan flanking a Crysis nano-soldier
Peter Watts and Richard Morgan flanking a Crysis nano-soldier

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  • Filed under: books, gaming, sci-fi
  • There is a lot I want to write about WikiLeaks and the current scandals surrounding it, but professor John Naughton has done a superb job of capturing nearly all of what I want to say anyway – and much more eloquently than I ever could – in this excellent opinion piece in the Guardian:

    Live with the WikiLeakable world or shut down the net. It’s your choice

    “On 21 January, secretary of state Hillary Clinton made a landmark speech about internet freedom, in Washington DC, which many people welcomed and most interpreted as a rebuke to China for its alleged cyberattack on Google. ‘Information has never been so free,’ declared Clinton. ‘Even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable.’

    She went on to relate how, during his visit to China in November 2009, Barack Obama had ‘defended the right of people to freely access information, and said that the more freely information flows the stronger societies become. He spoke about how access to information helps citizens to hold their governments accountable, generates new ideas, and encourages creativity.’ Given what we now know, that Clinton speech reads like a satirical masterpiece.”

    Please go and read the whole piece. There’s one more thing I want to add to it: The governments under threat here – the USA, Sweden, the UK, and others – are trying to twist and distort the public debate in to one about Julian Assange.

    Whatever character flaws Assange might have, it is not his person that should be the focus. Whatever he has or has not done is a side-show, mostly irrelevant to the real issue: we are being lied to on a massive scale. Almost everything we are being told by our elected politicians is a lie.

    That is the real issue, and that is exactly what is now being hidden under this mountain of trumped-up scandal reporting on Julian Assange. Don’t let the corporate media shift the debate away from what really matters: not Assange’s sex life, but the lies and distortions we are being spoon-fed by our politicians.

    Our freedom and the very foundation of our democratic society are at stake.

    Fight to Save the World Wide Web

    In December 1990 Tim Berners-Lee launched what would become the World Wide Web. That means that next month the web will be 20 years old.

    For this 20th anniversary, Tim Berners-Lee has written an impassioned defence of the web in the December issue of Scientific American. He celebrates the web’s success but also warns of the dangers that are now threatening all that has made the web so successful:

    “The Web as we know it, however, is being threatened in different ways. Some of its most successful inhabitants have begun to chip away at its principles. Large social-networking sites are walling off information posted by their users from the rest of the Web. Wireless Internet providers are being tempted to slow traffic to sites with which they have not made deals. Governments-totalitarian and democratic alike-are monitoring people‚Äôs online habits, endangering important human rights.”

    He is, of course, entirely right. The web is being threatened. Facebook is essentially a walled garden – what goes on within is nearly invisible to the rest of the web. Apple’s iPads and iPhones give you a filtered, appified version of the web to play with, thus limiting your freedom. Governments block certain websites and ISPs throttle your bandwidth when you download stuff.

    All of these things stand in direct opposition of what made the web so great: it’s an open, standardised, non-proprietary, free platform that is accessible to all.

    If we allow the web to become compartmentalised, filtered, and censored, we will lose that which made it so special in the first place. We will, essentially, lose some of the freedom the web gave us in the first place.

    “Why should you care? Because the Web is yours. It is a public resource on which you, your business, your community and your government depend. The Web is also vital to democracy, a communications channel that makes possible a continuous worldwide conversation. The Web is now more critical to free speech than any other medium. It brings principles established in the U.S. Constitution, the British Magna Carta and other important documents into the network age: freedom from being snooped on, filtered, censored and disconnected.”

    What can you do to help save the web? Support net neutrality. Don’t buy products from companies that want to force-feed you an appified and filtered web experience. Delete your Facebook profile and start a personal blog instead. Donate to your local digital freedom organisation, such as EFF, the Open Rights Group, and Bits of Freedom.

    Don’t let corporate and government interests take the web away from us. The web is worth fighting for.

    PowNed is a new Dutch broadcaster that aims itself at a right-wing audience and intends to break the “left-wing monopoly on news”.

    I’ve watched a couple of episodes of their news programme (courtesy of Uitzending Gemist) and it’s a typical brand of Fox News-esque political gossip, smear-campaigns, and misrepresentation – i.e. it’s not news, it’s right-wing propaganda.

    What PowNed does manage to reveal is a deeper and more disturbing trend: a growing disconnect between the ideologies of the right-wing political spectrum and the world that we live in.

    PowNed and Fox News share the claim that they wants to serve as a counter-balance to a mainstream media in their respective countries that they see as increasingly left-wing. There is a nugget of truth at the core of this – the news coming out of MSNBC and any news programme produced by the VARA should be understood within their contexts as organisations with left-wing political affiliations.

    But the criticism levied by Fox and PowNed goes beyond these obviously left-wing broadcasters. They seem to claim that all news that is not reported through their own lens of right-wing distortion is inherently left-wing. Every news organisation, from CNN to AP, from the NOS to Reuters, is apparently tainted with a left-wing political agenda.

    In other words, Fox News and PowNed seem to believe that reality itself has a left-wing bias.

    This is, of course, utter nonsense. But it is very revealing, in that this demonstrates the level of disconnect between the right-wing ideologies so vocally espoused by Fox and PowNed and what is actually happening in the real world.

    It appears that the people behind Fox and PowNed live in a separate reality from ours. A dumbed-down, simplistic reality where the free market is a cure-all for society’s ills, where lower taxes will fix all economic woes, where the poor deserve to be poor, where man-made climate change isn’t real, and where immigrants are inherently evil.

    Fox and PowNed aren’t singular entities. They thrive on the support of the right-wing demographic – Republicans and Tea Partiers in the USA, and VVD and PVV voters in the Netherlands. The ideas broadcast by Fox and PowNed are shared by these people, which form a growing segment of both countries’ population.

    And that is a very dangerous and disturbing trend.

    When one person discards reality in favour of their own delusional view of the world, it’s called insanity. When a million people do it, it’s called right-wing politics.

    I have a confession to make: I cheat in games.

    I’ve never played Crysis without the God Mode on. I use a third-party trainer in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to make sure I never run out of ammo. Without the unlimited health trainer for Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Athena I’d never have been able to finish the game.

    And more recently I’ve used a trainer to make my escapade in to Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty a bit easier and more enjoyable.

    Apparently, I wasn’t supposed to do that. Blizzard has recently banned over 5000 Battle.net accounts for cheating in Starcraft 2.

    Now here we have to make an important distinction: cheating in single-player games vs cheating in multi-player games.

    In multi-player games you’re going up against other players. It’s your skill against theirs, your tactical decisions versus theirs. A level playing field is paramount here. You need to know that when you win or lose, you do so by the merits of your own skills and those of your opponents – not because of any cheat.

    So cheating in multi-player is a big no-no. I’ve never cheated in any multi-player game, and I never will. Cheating in multi-player is morally wrong.

    But in single-player, you’re just playing against the computer. You’re not hindering anyone else’s enjoyment of the game. You’re just playing the single-player game how you want to. And I believe that is your right. You paid for that game, and you have the right to do with it whatever you want. And using cheats are a great way to enhance your enjoyment of the game – they’ve sure helped me out on some tough levels.

    Blizzard, however, disagrees with that notion. Blizzard thinks that cheating in single-player is on par with cheating in multi-player. Blizzard believes that cheaters in single-player games deserve to be entirely banned from playing the game.

    That is, of course, an utterly ridiculous notion.

    In single-player, no one is affected when you cheat. No one else’s gameplay is influenced in any way. The only thing you’re doing when using cheats in single-player is make the game a bit easier for yourself.

    There are millions of entirely valid reasons why people cheat in single-player games. Perhaps they’re stuck for time and really want to finish that level before they have to go to bed early for a big day at work tomorrow. Perhaps they’re not as quick as the average 12-year old button-masher and need a little edge when faced with that enormous Zerg horde. Perhaps they just want to focus more on enjoying the storyline and focus less on getting through those tough levels.

    Whatever the reasons, players should be allowed to cheat in single-player. In fact, many games (Blizzard’s included) come with built-in cheats for exactly this reason.

    The players being banned from Starcraft 2 are those that use third-party trainers, tools that exist outside of the game. Apparently using Blizzard’s own cheats is fine, but using third-party trainers is not. I’ll leave the technical distinctions between the two out of this already lengthy blog post (hint: it’s got to do with single-player achievements), but suffice to say that I believe Blizzard is being more than a little hypocritical here.

    In fact, I think Blizzard is utterly, totally, and irrevocably wrong here.

    It’s my game. I paid for this game. I own it. I will play it exactly how I damn well want to. And if you want to stop me, fine.

    Next time I won’t pay for the game – instead I’ll just download a hacked copy off of a P2P network. Next time you, Blizzard, won’t get a fucking penny from me. I will avail myself of an illegal copy, which will allow me to play the single-player game exactly how I want to play it.

    I don’t care about achievements, I don’t care about multi-player either. I just want to play games in the way that I enjoy playing them. And you, Blizzard, have overstepped the line with your latest mass-ban. You’ve gone too far. You’re hard at work alienating a large portion of your user base, and by doing so you’re actively harming yourself and your entire industry.

    P.S. I haven’t been banned from SC2, but it’s likely that I will at some point in the future. I actually hope that I will – I think I may have a strong legal case against Blizzard if they ban me. I may know a few lawyers who’d be more than willing to take up such a high-profile case….

  • 1 Comment
  • Filed under: gaming, propaganda, video
  • An Unwilling 147

    I love snooker. It’s a game that combines great skill with tactical insights & planning. Dutch TV rarely shows any snooker, but fortunately the BBC’s coverage of it is extensive.

    One of the game’s giants is Ronnie O’Sullivan. A temperamental, unpredictable player, he is nonetheless one of the all-time greats. Today he found himself a permanent spot in the snooker history books when he scored his tenth televised 147 maximum break in typical O’Sullivan style.

    In what can only be described as a typical demonstration of his antics, he pots one red and one black and then asks the referee if the tournament grants a special prize for a 147 maximum break. The answer is no, the tournament only gives a £4000 prize to the highest break of the tournament, not a special 147-prize.

    Ronnie then goes on to clear the table, closing in on that insanely difficult 147 break, but stops after he pots the pink. He figures that, since there’s no special prize for a 147, there’s no need for him to make one.

    But the referee urges him on, and Ronnie finally does pot the last black and scores his tenth televised 147 – the highest amount of any professional snooker player ever.

    Love him or hate him, Ronnie O’Sullivan brings a certain flair and unpredictability to the game that you can’t help but admire.

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  • Filed under: sports, video
  • Adamus

     Adamus
    Adamus is the online identity of Barry Adams. A Dutchman living in Northern Ireland, Barry / Adamus is an internet fanatic, skeptic, technophile, gamer, and geek.

    On this personal blog he provides his unpolished view of the world and its insanities.

    Identity 2.0

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