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A 55 min talk on Libya the war and the revolution:
Grand Theft Auto IV was released for two different video game consoles this week; the prior popularity and notoriety of the series means that its release merits the broadest kind of attention. As a cultural spectacle, in terms of written articles and television stories, the game’s debut was up there with the biggest movies, the most bestselling of bestselling books and Nielsen dominating television programs. This is an honor rarely accorded to a video game, but this is the second time in less than a year that it’s happened, Halo 3 received similar attention last September.
What makes the whole thing fascinating and absurd is that the game is a niche product, it is an extremely popular niche product, but it’s still just that. Anyone can go out and see a movie just as anyone can purchase a book or watch a television program. But games like Grand Theft Auto and Halo require something more from their customers and that makes them impossible for an outsider to really understand.
First and foremost is the obvious financial cost. The game retails for sixty dollars but in order to play it you also need to have a three hundred dollar (or more) video game console and a relatively recent television.
In addition to the finances there’s the fact that in order to really experience the game you need to be a somewhat competent video game player. That may seem like a quibble, but take someone who’s never (or only rarely) played a game that requires you to maneuver a character in a three dimensional environment and see what happens. It’s a difficult mental state in which to put yourself and plenty of people just don’t find enough appeal in it to make learning it worthwhile.
Compare that to something like a book or a television program. Any literate person can open a book and immediately know what to do. Any person, literate or otherwise, can sit in front of a screen and pay attention. But only a segment of the population can really get into any video game, much less one as complicated as Grand Theft Auto.
There are a lot of ways to render accounts or descriptions of the gameplay, video of someone else playing the game can be captured, or someone can play the game and then write an account of what it was like. But to really experience what the creators of the game intended one needs to be able to play the game, and for games as vast and varied as Grand Theft Auto that requires both a lot of time and a very specific skill set.
What that means is that any outside discussion of the game is rendered completely absurd. A common frame of reference is needed for any meaningful information about the game to pass from one party to another. Games like Halo and Grand Theft Auto are popular and lucrative enough to generate mainstream media attention, but with the exception of reviews (which serve the purpose of informing potential players whether or not the game in question is worth their time and money) any story or article about the game is telling a hopelessly incomplete tale to anyone who hasn’t spent some time in Liberty City or on a Halo ring.
Is Knocked Up sexist? Or is The Passion of the Christ anti-Semitic? There is no absolute answer, but you can gain all the information you need for an informed opinion by watching them. Is The Da Vinci Code anti-Catholic? All you need is an eighth grade reading level and a few spare hours to find out for yourself. The same cannot be said for Grand Theft Auto or any other large, complex video game. If you want to know what you’re talking or writing about you need to play the game (extensively); and if you haven’t done that then no one who has is going to take your opinions or conclusions at all seriously. Nor should they.
There was much hubbub a couple of weeks ago over an extremely dumb incident in Michigan. The facts are not in dispute and here they are. A guy took his seven year old son to a Detroit Tigers game. Not knowing that it contained alcohol, he bought his son a Mike’s Hard Lemonade at the concession stand. Security saw the kid drinking it, the cops showed up, the kid was taken to a hospital(!) and then placed in the custody of the state – away from his father and the rest of his family – for a couple of days. Eventually, and with the help of some very heavy lawyers from the University of Michigan (where the parents are professors), the boy was returned. The story made a few local papers and then became internet famous as various people decried the lunacy and stupidity of the authorities.
I’m not going to disagree with any of that, but let’s not kid ourselves here, this is how child protective services works: badly. The only reason that this particular story merited any kind of attention is because it was one of the rare instances where a respectable middle class family was caught in the trappings of the state’s bureaucracy. The scary part is that no one in this chain of events had the authority and the common sense to simply put a stop to it. Setting aside everything else what that tells us is that the system is stressed and broken. In this particular instance no serious harm was done. The family was mightily, and unjustly, inconvenienced but there aren’t any real lasting effects. What’s disturbing about this story is that it raises frightening questions about how the system deals with other, less able, families.
A child is wrongly taken and real harm is done because the parents lack the resources to ably contest it, or a child is rightfully removed from an abusive environment and placed in the care of an obviously sick bureaucracy, either way there’s no reason to believe that the right things are being done as often as possible.
This article from the New York Times two months ago is about the trouble the city has hiring and retaining child service workers and it highlights exactly what I’m talking about. According to the article the average caseworker in New York City lasts less than two years on the job, including five months of training. The work is so unpleasant and screwed up that the average caseworker is only able to carry on for a year and a half! The work is doubtless very stressful and very depressing (dealing with kids in awful situations has to be), but police officers and hospital workers have to deal with many of the same things and they last a lot longer than two years. That should tell us something.
While I’m sure there are differences between Michigan and New York, the rapid rate of personnel turnover goes a long way toward explaining something as preposterous as a child being confiscated over a harmless mistake at a baseball game. If the frontline people get replaced every two years it’s no wonder that no one had the confidence to just give the boy back to his father.
The inescapable conclusion is that the system is fucked and it’s going to stay that way until it gets sustained high level attention from political leaders and the public. Of course that isn’t going to happen anytime soon for exactly the same reason that the story out of Detroit was news. Middle class people aren’t often affected by the broken system; it’s a poor people problem. That “poor” is often synonymous with “not white” goes almost without saying.
Long established state bureaucracies generally only get serious attention in one of two ways, either they fail spectacularly or they start costing too much money. In the case of child services the spectacular failures are usually along the lines of the state ignoring egregious abuse that results in death. In this case the system failed without killing anyone and while the easy reflex is to point and laugh at dumb civil servants it doesn’t do any good. Those people are all well intentioned (who would be doing that work otherwise?), what they need is better support.
The blame is not on them, it is on the rest of us, for allowing the system to decay and for allowing the perpetual problems of children to fester – out of sight and out of mind.
Side note: This has nothing to do with the story at hand, but one of the articles linked above originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press. It is no longer available free on the Free Press website though; it has been moved to an archive and if you want to read it you’ve got to buy it. The WZZM (which is a television station on the other side of the state) link I used is still live though. Just another little example of the bind newspapers are in when it comes to on-line content.
“The Martin Prince you made a deal with no longer exists!” – Martin Prince
Why is John McCain running for President? It’s a deceptively tricky question. We know why Barack Obama is running for President, he wants to end the Iraq War and repair the damage Bush the Younger has done to the federal government. We know why George W. Bush ran for President in 2000, he wanted spend the budget surplus on tax cuts. We know why Bill Clinton ran for President in 1992, he wanted to get the economy going.
By contrast, we’re still not sure why Bob Dole ran for president in 1996, something about not liking Bill Clinton and it being his turn. Substituting Bush the Younger for Bill Clinton John Kerry ran for pretty much the same reasons in 2004 as Dole did in 1996. Al Gore ran for President because he was Bill Clinton’s Vice President but he never articulated much of a reason beyond keeping the White House Blue.
So, why is John McCain running for President? Because he wants to keep the White House Red and he wants to keep the Iraq War going. If there’s more to it than that he hasn’t done much of a job explaining it. Eight years ago John McCain ran for President, he did it because he thought Bush’s tax cuts were irresponsible and he didn’t think much of Bush personally. After Bush the Younger was in office McCain spent the next couple of years sulking, apparently very publicly. He flirted with becoming a Democrat in 2001 and did nothing to tamp down rampant speculation that he might be John Kerry’s running mate on some kind of half assed national unity ticket in 2004. After that election McCain sold himself down the river and began positioning himself for 2008.
Unfortunately for him 2004 was a very bad moment to begin a political realignment. At the time there were loud whispers of a “permanent Republican majority” and George W. Bush ruled the world. Those frightening notions have since been proved the height of foolishness but McCain’s journey was already underway. He cozied up to the right wingers who had previously despised him. He wrapped both arms around the War on Terror and George W. Bush. Now, eight years after he first set his sights on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he is his party’s standard bearer. He is their champion. And his timing couldn’t be worse.
All of this was on display earlier this week when McCain went on The Daily Show. The first part of the interview is McCain at his best. Jon Stewart, like many other media titans, has made a lot of bread off McCain in the past and McCain is comfortable with the format. They’re horsing around, joking about McCain having Secret Service protection now, quoting Chairman Mao and generally doing what talk show hosts and guests do. As they go to commercial Stewart says, “When we come back, you and I, pleasantries over; we enter the Octagon.”
You couldn’t sum it up any better. McCain is no longer a fun talk show host who can get away with saying unorthodox things because he’s a Senator for Life. Now he is a candidate for the presidency and the horseplay he’s so good at gets put away. The second segment of the interview starts with Stewart bringing up McCain’s tortured relationship with Bush the Younger and gets worse from there. Despite Stewart giving him plenty of opportunities to get out of it, McCain sticks by his slimy assertion that Hamas wants Barack Obama to be President. He repeats a macho-tough-guy talking point, that even he doesn’t seem to quite believe, about him being terrorists’ “worst nightmare”. And he finishes it off with a joking reference to The Office that’s literally scripted.
The likable McCain, the one from eight years ago who wasn’t a Republican robot, the one in whom independents and even Democrats found a lot to admire, is on display in the first segment. But that is not the McCain who is now running for President. That McCain is the one in the second Daily Show segment, the one who implies that Obama is a terrorist, who reads jokes he doesn’t understand off of index cards, whose only response to questions about Bush the Younger is to pretend to walk off stage.
That is the John McCain that Barack Obama is running against. That is the John McCain who will soon find his media friends turning on him. That is the John McCain of 2008. It is a sad transformation, but he has a lot of company. John McCain may be the last person ruined by George W. Bush. Let’s hope so.
Note: I am/have been traveling this weekend. I thought I’d try the new delayed posting feature on WordPress. If I haven’t screwed it up, then this post went up automatically at 6:00 am on Sunday. If I have screwed it up, then this post went up around 11:00 pm on Sunday when I got home and saw that it hadn’t updated.
Starting today Bush the Younger will spend the next five days traveling to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He’ll also meet with the leaders of Afghanistan and Jordan. No one seems to expect much of anything to come of the trip – not foreign policy experts, not pundits, not other world leaders – and the White House isn’t doing much to make anyone change their minds. There are no grand treaties to be signed; there are no stalemated negotiations which a President may be able to progress; there aren’t even any newly elected leaders to congratulate. The region is in terrible shape, far worse than it was when Bush the Younger took office, and the trip has no discernable purpose.
During this Administration the United States has seen its involvement all over the Middle East deepen and neither they nor us are better off for it. Just for kicks let’s take a quick look around the Middle East and see what’s happened in the last eight years, shall we?
Afghanistan – When Bush the Younger took office the civil war that had gone on in Afghanistan more or less uninterrupted since the Soviet invasion in 1979 had reached a relative stalemate along long established ethnic lines. The Taliban controlled most of the country and the Northern Alliance, a group of warlords aligned against the Taliban, had a small but relatively secure strip of the north. After the 2001 attacks in America, a NATO led coalition, working with the Northern Alliance, deposed the Taliban. It was hailed as a new dawn for a forgotten land.
The international community promised that Afghanistan would no longer be neglected. It wasn’t done out of sheer kindness though. Failed states, areas where no government held sway, were suddenly seen as threats to the existing international order on account of the fact that rogue, non-state groups could use them as secure bases of operation. Today, Hamid Karzai, the appointed and then elected leader of post-Taliban Afghanistan, is derisively referred to in the international community as the “Mayor of Kabul” because, get ready for it, much of Afghanistan is not under the control of any government. Oh yeah, and the Taliban is still a potent force within the country and their leader, Mullah Omar, remains at large.
Egypt/Jordan/Saudi Arabia – Even in a post comprised largely of simplifications this one is particularly gross, but since I’d like to keep this to less than 5,000 words I’ll just point out one thing. These countries have pro-western autocratic governments which have largely put off their own reckoning with their natural instability because the United States needs them to continue on their present course, no matter the future consequences.
Iran – In 2001 Iran, a theocratic democracy, had re-elected a relatively reform minded President and had, with the exception of suspicions about complicity in the Khobar Towers attack, enjoyed a relatively peaceful run of relations with its neighbors and the rest of the world.
Today Iran has considerably more economic influence thanks to record oil prices and has strengthened its hand in Iraq thanks to an American led overthrow of its implacable enemy and his replacement with Shiites long friendly to Tehran. The empty bluster which for so long has exclusively comprised our policy towards the Islamic Republic has allowed the government in Tehran to enjoy this newly enhanced international position while seeing its most hard line elements bolstered, its pro-Western reformers given a bad name, and a bombastic demagogue elected President.
In short, during the course of Bush the Younger’s presidency the government of Iran has become less friendly and more powerful. Bravo.
Iraq – This is, obviously, well covered ground, but it bears remembering that while Iraq was ruled by a murderous despot at the start of this Administration he was a weak murderous despot who was well contained and had, for more than a decade, respected the unwritten international rule that you’re allowed to do whatever you want to your own people as long as you don’t involve your neighbors.
Today the country is bogged down in a civil war that may end up tearing it apart, it is probably the most dangerous place on earth in terms of per capita violent deaths, it has spawned a refugee problem that burdens the entire region, and it has undergone violent multisided ethnic cleansing that will, when all is said and done, rank it right up there with Rwanda in 1994. American troops are direct participants in the civil war, to dubious benefit, and the war will - conservatively - end up costing two trillion dollars. Just a quick reminder, that’s two million million dollars.
Israel/Palestine – Again this is largely well covered ground, and we’ve got to be fair to Bush the Younger by remembering that the situation wasn’t exactly promising when he took office, the second Intifada was already four months old at the time. He did not step into a situation where peace was at hand and blow it up. However, in 2008 both sides are demonstrably further from their stated goals than they were in 2001.
Israel, whose stated goal is to be secure and at peace with its neighbors, is more vilified, both in the region and internationally, than it has likely ever been. Bush the Younger’s all but undisguised favoritism caused the Israeli government to get carried away with policies that have been disastrous. These include, but are not limited to, the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which has done nothing to improve the security situation; the bankrupting and crippling of the Palestinian Authority, which has resulted Hamas’ rise to power through legitimate democratic elections; and the 2006 war in Lebanon which failed to achieve its purpose, degraded Israel’s already low international reputation, and was positively catastrophic for the perception of Israeli military superiority.
The Palestinian’s stated goal, a viable and internationally recognized state, is no closer than Israel’s. Thanks to the callousness are carelessness of the Bush Administration’s policies the Palestinians are now not only required to bear tremendous humanitarian burdens, but they’ve also lost the ability to field a single government with the authority and legitimacy to negotiate credibly. As if that weren’t bad enough they are no longer even the most aggrieved people in the region. That unfortunate title, and much of the attention that comes with it, has been diverted to the Iraqis by way of American fiat.
The Israelis and Palestinians continue, together and with the full support of the United States, along their path of mutually reinforced misery.
Lebanon – A state one trumpeted by the Bush Administration as a success story – ignoring the fact that the Syrian withdrawal had almost nothing to do with American actions – has continued along its bumptious course of occasional violence and non-stop instability. It remains, as it has been since the Reagan Administration, almost completely impervious to American influence of any kind.
This is an incomplete picture and a simplification, but it’s also fair and accurate as far as it goes. While I could go on about the many other foreign policy fiascos of Bush the Younger it seemed only fair to limit myself to the countries and topics that will likely be on his agenda for his little trip. No American President can or should be expected to solve all the problems of any region, much less one as chronically chaotic as the Middle East, but at the very least we ought to expect that on the whole things aren’t worse at the end of an Administration than they were at the beginning. Alas, for this President that is an inescapable conclusion. He has taken a number of bad situations and made them worse, and while it is easy to dwell and focus on his preeminent failure in Iraq, it’s worth remembering that there are plenty of others as well.
From the middle of 2013 there are going to be rises in airport tax flying out of airports in Thailand and this could possibly have a knock on effect on tourism in the country. Would this dissuade some people from travelling to Thailand for a vacation?
Well in fact this is very doubtful and Thailand seems to be becoming more and more popular as a tourist destination for westerner’s from many different countries from Europe and also the US. The fact of the matter is that because of the how strong the currencies in the Western world are to the Thai Baht for example, an increase in the cost would still end up as quite a negligible figure for most average earners in Europe for example.
The fact is that if you were looking for a hotel Kamala Beach for example in Thailand, it would still cost you a mere fraction of the same quality that you would pay in Europe at a top holiday resort for example. This is one of the big pulls of traveling to somewhere like Thailand for tourists as you certainly get a lot of your buck or your pound that is for sure!
People can more than likely offset this cost quite easily anyway by shopping around a bit more for example. In my case I would just have a good look at travel agents in South London to find the one that is offering some special discounts or late bookings for example. With the advancements on the internet and money saving guides etc. finding these deals can really be very easy to be honest!
If someone asked me ten years ago if I ever thought that I would be using online dating sites in the quest to meet new partner I really would have thought they were totally mad to be honest, and worryingly this is exactly the position that I find myself in today! After a long term marriage break up I am now officially on the singles circuit and boy has it be an eye-opener.
I can see that the reason for the growth in these type of dating sites really is partly due to the fact that we all seem to be so busy these days, coupled with the fact that people now seem to use the internet for basically just about everything these days. I have so far met some quite interesting people and been out on quite a few dates which of course I did find quite difficult after being in a relationship for so many years.
I have to admit the whole process was made a lot easier after I started searching online for pick up artists that may be able to help me along the way. Up until about a year ago I didn’t even know what a pick up artist was to be honest but I now use her services for basically everything and she has even become a bit of a life coach for me as well which is great and has really transformed my life in a lot of areas.
In summary I would say that you really are never too old to get into dating and once you get your head round the whole internet dating thing, it really can be quite good fun and something that anyone that is single should perhaps explore!