The 2017 general election (and stuff)

It’s taken me quite a while to work out exactly what I want to say in response to this unexpected event. And it really was unexpected. The day the election was called, I was travelling to visit my parents; when I left the house at 10 am or so everything was normal, and by the time my parents picked me up from the station about 2pm, their car radio had gone into “OMG, major news event, we’d better throw a million reporters at this one”-mode .

Truth be told, my instinctive reaction to the election was and is – “Well, I don’t really want to dignify that with a response.” Next to a series of Big Brother, a general election is the least dignified spectacle you will ever have to watch, and you can avoid Big Brother a lot more easily. Basically, thousands of people, many of them otherwise intelligent, spend six weeks or so running around like toddlers on a sugar rush, desperately trying to get public attention of any kind by pulling stunts so embarrassing people collecting money for a telethon would reject them, whilst mouthing insultingly simplistic sales pitches that even they can’t quite believe they’re mouthing. It’s like one of those low-rent shop openings where they hire some poor mug to dance around in a costume outside whilst a cheap PA system blares at you about the many bargains to be found within, except low-rent shop openings aren’t generally thought worthy of round-the-clock media coverage.

However, that’s ultimately an emotional reaction. So I have a distaste for people behaving like prats in public? So what? Is there any sort of intellectual justification for having those kind of feelings about something which is, after all, a central institution of democracy?

George Orwell once wrote that “often there is a seeming truce between the humanist and the religious believer, but in fact their attitudes cannot be reconciled: one must choose between this world and the next.” And the truth is that pretty much all of Britain’s political parties, in the modern age, are run by and for humanists on Orwell’s definition – people for whom the most important thing in life is, in practice, what happens in this world. Whether they actually formally wear that label or not (or even reject it), most politicians and political activists act as if this is true. Incidentally, I have no doubt that in doing that, they are representative of  most of the electorate; most people in general act as if this is true, including some who nominally have a religious faith.

Whilst it isn’t  remotely wrong to regard what happens in this life as important, once you start regarding it as the only important thing, it inevitably tends to lead politics in some unfortunate directions. The material well-being and economic prosperity of the electorate tends to become, not just an important thing in politics, but the only thing, because if all we have is this life, what is more important than our well-being during it? Having a wider vision for the future of society, having ideals, anything to do with the spiritual side of humanity, gets correspondingly downgraded.

And the result is elections where everything centres around “who gets the stuff?” Taxes, economic policy, health care, education, that’s what the debates about all those kinds of issues all really boil down to – “Old people? Kids? Poor people? The rich? Who should get the stuff?”. Even an issue like Brexit, which at root is a question of political principle about what kind of relationship the UK and the rest of Europe should be in, has become all about “who might lose some stuff when we leave?” and/or “was being in the EU really good for us? I mean, in terms of getting stuff? And did it stop us controlling immigrants, who might take our stuff?”

Hopefully, you’ve got the point: the overwhelming tone of general elections, just like that of politics in general, is both materialistic and all about voter self-interest. This has become the conventional wisdom; only the other day, I heard a BBC reporter say something to the effect of “well,what really determines elections is whether voters feel more prosperous as a result of the last X years”.

That’s something I’ve heard mentioned in more or less every election I can remember, and, if true, it’s a far more cynical view than anything I’ve expressed in this post. So is that all that matters in politics now – whether we think we’re getting adequate amounts of stuff? Incidentally, the same journalists who mention this are often the same ones who ponder on falling voter turnout and wonder “why people are increasingly disengaged from politics?” I dunno, maybe because you and the politicians treat us all like dumb cattle that only need to be provided with as much hay, straw and artificial food pellets as possible to stay content and supportive? Heaven forbid it, but maybe some of us are starting to get resentful about this, and, at heart, know what a limited view of humanity this is.

And is it surprising that, around the world, recent elections have led to success for fringe parties – populist right-wingers of various kinds, neo-Nazis and so on? After all, although they might use economic arguments (“Immigrants took our jobs!”), their fundamental appeal isn’t about material well-being, but feelings of national or cultural unity. Fascists have ideals (horrible ones) and understand the human spirit (its dark side). As someone once pointed out “I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, at least its an ethos.”

Conventional politics has become all about whether you, the voter, are better off with lower taxes and more money in your pocket or higher taxes and more schools. It’s stopped being an ethos and become a marketing exercise, and at root this is because, as a society, we’ve increasingly lost any religious beliefs we ever had, and so any belief in any ideals higher than material well-being.

One of the great ironies of this process is that the more militant opponents of organised religion in this country are invariably on the left in politics (conservative atheists tend to find it easier to accept religion as having value as a traditional institution whatever their personal views about it), and are often just the sort of people to bemoan the decline of the Labour Party or of socialism in general. My response to that would be “You cut down the tree you were sitting in: don’t blame anyone else when it falls and takes you down with it.”

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Book Review: Gung Ho!

It’s a 1998 book on management written in the form of fiction, by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles (Blanchard, with various collaborators, is behind the very successful One Minute Manager books). So how does this fit in with the whole idea of Macho Lit? Well:-

  1. It can’t be denied that, in spite of every effort to promote equality in the workplace, there’s still plenty of machismo in business.
  2. THE BOOK IS CALLED “GUNG HO!”! It even has an exclamation mark in the title!

To be fair to Blanchard and Bowles, they explicitly take their title from the original meaning of “gung ho”, the Chinese for “working together” adopted as a slogan in a unit of the US Marine Corps during World War II. Originally, the phrase didn’t have anything in particular to do with “bayonet charging the enemy whilst screaming “America!” at the top of your lungs”, which is more its association nowadays. I can only assume people decided everything the Marines did had to have something to do with fighting wars the Leeroy Jenkins way.

Anyway, “Gung Ho!” is the story of Peggy Sinclair, a rising star in an unnamed company who gets handed the poisoned chalice – being manager of Walton Works No. 2, its least efficient plant, which she soon realises she has to turn round in a matter of months to avoid closure. The one bright spot in the factory is the finishing department (what exactly they finish is never explained), headed by Native American Andy Longclaw. Unsurprisingly, Peggy asks Andy what he’s doing that everyone else isn’t, and the rest of the book is essentially Peggy learning Andy’s ideas on motivating your staff (the Gung Ho of the title) and applying them so successfully that after a few years everyone’s flying to Washington DC to get efficiency awards from the President. Then Andy dies, but fortunately the authors’ self-inserts are able to meet Peggy and get the untold story about the reason for all the success from her.

If this all sounds like rather a fairy tale, that’s because when you try to impart real world truths through fiction, fairy tales will tend to result. Fiction, in itself, isn’t evidence for anything. The writer decides in advance what he thinks the truth is and then makes the story show it to be true. Of course, there is a long history of using stories for educational purposes, and it has the advantage of keeping the audience interested and engaged. But at the end of the exercise, the writer still hasn’t proved his point; if you disagree, you’re probably one of those people who became an Objectivist solely because of reading “Atlas Shrugged” or “The Fountainhead,” and I admire your perseverance if nothing else.

It is a general weakness of management texts, especially the more popular ones, to rely heavily on anecdotal evidence to support their theories, still worse on anonymous anecdotal evidence (“In one company I heard about, this thing happened, which totally supports my ideas!”). “Gung Ho!” goes one better, and produces basically no evidence for whether Blanchard and Bowles’ theories on staff motivation work. You have to take that on trust. My personal view on that, to adapt an old joke, is “In God we trust. All others should prove it.”

Actually, this education-through-fiction approach has negative consequences for the fiction as well. For the story to work, we have to believe that Andy’s department has been the only efficient one in this factory, and indeed the most efficient in the whole company, for years, and no-one before Peggy has bothered to investigate why. Basically, it’s one of those plots that only works through everyone but the heroine being an idiot. Blanchard and Bowles try to make this convincing by making Andy’s Divisional Manager a fairly blatant racist who won’t admit his “Indian” subordinate’s achieving anything. This isn’t impossible, but even at the time the story’s set (some point in the ’80s), it’s unlikely someone that senior would display overt racism in front of his new boss, which he does. And anyway, how come no-one else in senior management or at Head Office has shown any interest? Do they not want to run a successful company?

It is very much to the authors’ credit that they make the central characters of a business book a woman (and apparently a single, childless woman) and a Native American, and they do make sincere efforts to avoid turning Andy into the dreaded “magical Red Indian” stereotype. Andy’s very much a modern man, has an MBA, and having just predicted the likely course of the weather, adds that his source is the local TV weather forecaster rather than “heap big medicine” or something. Unfortunately, you can’t really get around the stereotype when you have your Native American protagonist dispensing wisdom supposedly derived from his grandfather and talking about The Spirit of the Squirrel, The Way of the Beaver (huh, huh, they said “beaver”!) and The Gift of the Goose.

They also rather dodge around the question of why a single woman and a widowed man, apparently compatible in every other way, clearly liking each other, and spending lengthy periods in each others’ company, don’t develop any kind of romantic relationship. There’s sort of an implication that the tragic death of Andy’s wife and only child in an accident might have something to do with this, but that’s supposed to have happened twenty years or so before they met. Whilst I understand the concept of loyalty to your dead spouse, it is stretching plausibility to show someone being quite that loyal, and really stretching it to not mention the firestorm of gossip that would undoubtedly be stirred up in a small town if a couple of fairly prominent locals acted like this.

OK, you might not really want a romantic sub-plot in your business book, but it would have only cost a few sentences. It’s also possible that Blanchard and Bowles wanted to show that a man and a woman could be “just friends” or mentor and mentee without anything sexual happening, but I think you’d need to give your characters more background than they are able to in the space available in order to make that work.

So, that’s “Gung Ho!” for you. Do the authors’ theories of staff motivation, which basically boil down to “don’t be the micro-managing autocrat of a crew of bored wage slaves” work? Well, they sound nice on paper, but I honestly have to say I have no idea – as I said, fiction proves nothing. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read “The One Minute Golfer”, which Blanchard apparently also wrote. Whether I like it or not, I think I’m going to have to waste at least one minute of my life on things relating to golf, and it’ll be nice to get it all done at once.


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Book Review: “Strike Back” by Chris Ryan

It would be easy to say that the mere act of reviewing a novel based around a kidnapping by Middle Eastern terrorists seems to carry more weight today than it would have done before the events of Wednesday on Westminster Bridge. Easy, but false. No-one reads Chris Ryan’s novels for their profound political insights, and anyone trying to use this one from 2007 as a peg on which to hang their thoughts on terrorism probably hasn’t got much worth saying on the subject either. It’s entertainment – the real question is, does it entertain?

The answer is, yes it does, but at the price of straining  your suspension of disbelief to the limit and beyond. I don’t believe for a minute that the events of this book could take place, and whilst the same is true of any James Bond film or anything starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, to name just two, at least they usually involve protagonists with charm and good one-liners. Ryan’s hero, John Porter, is a gruff, macho cardboard cut-out and you could throw a pint glass across the bar of your nearest pub and be sure of hitting someone wittier. (Just make sure you say “I’m adding a touch of glass!” with an Austrian accent as they crash to the ground with their head split open).

One advantage “Strike Back” does have over “Wildfire” is a plot that keeps the hero at the centre of events throughout. Porter is an ex-SAS trooper whose life went to hell when he was involved in a hostage rescue in Lebanon in which three of his colleagues were killed, deaths which were blamed on his refusal to kill a Hezbollah child-soldier in the process. Seventeen years later, he’s washed out of the Army as a result of the hostility he got, divorced, alcoholic, and living on the streets of London. Hanging around a hotel where he gets casual work, he sees a TV news story about Katie Dartmouth, a Sky News reporter who Hezbollah kidnapped a few days ago and are threatening to behead on a live internet feed unless the British Government agree to withdraw from Iraq. Incidentally, “Strike Back” later became a TV series broadcast on Sky, which I do not think was a coincidence.

Porter realises that Hezbollah’s spokesman is, in fact, the same guy he didn’t kill seventeen years before, and realises he has a chance to put right what previously went wrong, not to mention make a pile of money for his still-loyal daughter and so make up for being such a crap dad. So he walks up to MI6 Headquarters on the other side of the Thames and tells them – “I used to be in the SAS, me, and I know that Hezbollah bloke. Pay me a ton of dosh and I’ll go to Lebanon and rescue Katie Dartmouth!” And, of course, they all shout “Hoorah!” and agree.

I’m exaggerating, of course, but not by much. The British Government agree to let a homeless, middle-aged drunk go over to Lebanon to act as their one-man army. In theory, Porter is going to try and negotiate her release, but nobody who’s ever read this sort of novel would doubt that he’ll end up kicking arse. Given the fairly weak offer he’s sent to make (“Let her go – you’ve already had loads of publicity! And we could have peace talks. Or, you know, just pay you a few million bucks”), really no-one in the novel can doubt it either. This makes about as much sense as sending me, a middle-aged, overweight man with a bad knee, out to defeat ISIS single handed. On the down-side, I was never in the SAS. On the up-side, I haven’t been drinking a bottle of vodka every day and sleeping rough for years.

To be fair, the novel does try and show some effort being put into improving Porter’s pitiful physical condition in the few days they have available, but it’s just implausible that this would be enough. He seems to be able to (mostly) keep sober through sheer willpower too. I really don’t think alcoholism is that easy to shake off, and a real Porter would probably have got no further than the airport duty-free before shooting off on another bender.

The political background is also pretty unbelievable. Hezbollah, being a Shia Muslim group backed by Iran, is supposed to be doing this at the behest of the Iranians to get the British out of Shia-dominated southern Iraq, so the Iranians can become the dominant political force there, much as actually happened in reality after we did withdraw. But if they want to achieve that, why not get the Iraqi Shia militants, who in real life pulled off a string of kidnappings and murders of Westerners in Iraq during the years around the novel’s publication, to kidnap a well-known reporter? Why involve Hezbollah at all, given that the latter were kind of busy at the time? In 2006, they were involved in fighting along the Lebanese-Israeli border that led to a second Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and by 2008 they were deep into facing off with the then Lebanese Government. Was 2007 just not crisis-ridden enough for everyone’s favourite armed fundamentalists (Minority Tradition of a Major Religion category)?

There’s also a very weird moment, which is made a plot point, when Hassan, the former child-soldier, grateful to Porter for saving his life, calls him an “amiat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun”, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and elsewhere. It is one of the oldest Islamist political and religious groups, and it does have a presence in Lebanon, but it’s a Sunni group and Hassan is (presumably) a Shia. No doubt they share many viewpoints, but then so do fundamentalist Protestant groups in the US and traditionalist Catholics, and you’d still think it was strange if some fictional right-wing militia guy started referring to the Society of Pius X like it was the gold standard of fundamentalist Christianity.

The novel is also no more accurate on British politics. The whole point of kidnapping Katie Dartmouth is the anti-Iraq War upsurge this causes in Britain. There are supposedly huge demonstrations in Trafalgar Square in favour of withdrawal if it saves her life, and the Government is at risk of falling. However:-

(a) Iraqi groups kidnapped and/or murdered a number of British people during the Iraq War, without causing Britain to withdraw from Iraq;

(b) Whilst there was an anti-war movement throughout the War, the real peak of popular mobilisation against it was before it started, in 2003 or so. And none of it stopped Tony Blair winning a third successive election victory in 2005.

(c) With all due respect to journalists, no journalist is quite famous enough to provoke that kind of public hysteria, especially not after only a few days of captivity. The one person in recent British history whose kidnapping would have been guaranteed to provoke this level of hysteria, Princess Diana, had been dead for 10 years by 2007.

Well, all plausibility be damned, Porter goes to Lebanon, and once the negotiations fail, he rescues Katie Dartmouth (from a secret underground base, too!). Again, in fairness to Ryan, he does at least make the inevitable one man army part more or less believable. It works out so in practice he only has to kill a few enemies, unlike Rambo mowing down hundreds. And he has help – although not much from Katie, who’s pretty much a damsel in distress with minimal characterisation. You’ll find it tough to care when she gets flogged with a rubber hose. Oh, and the big twist is that the obviously evil guy on the British side is as evil as you thought right from the start, nicely absolving Porter of responsibility for the mess in Lebanon.

Honestly, though, the most interesting thing about this novel might be what it shows you about Chris Ryan. John Porter more or less is Ryan, particularly with the back story of “involvement in a huge military cock-up in relation to which his account of things has been questioned.” And the main thing John Porter seems to show is that becoming an SAS trooper is a bit like signing up to a religious cult. You will keep the faith; no matter how badly they treat you, you will continue to believe in “the Regiment” as the greatest thing since sliced bread. You will hate junior officers, just because. In spite of being involved in complicated geo-political situations and actually being fairly well-informed about them, you won’t really reflect much on why they happen, or do much abstract thinking at all. Nor is there much worth doing outside the SAS. Once you fail there, you might as well end up on the streets. “Introverted and peculiar culture” hardly begins to describe it.

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Let’s go off-meds with Mike Cernovich!

I haven’t covered what’s going on in Mike Cernovich’s alt-reality for quite a while. This is partly because he is, like arsenic, best consumed in small doses, and partly also because, credit where credit’s due, he did turn out to be completely right about the American Presidential election. However, since that involves, for practical purposes, two parties, anyone has a fifty per cent chance of getting that right (and being American’s an advantage too), so I’m not getting impressed with his political punditry yet. If he’d correctly predicted the outcome of the Dutch election this week, I’d probably be asking him for racing tips and stock predictions right now.

Also, once his mission to get Trump elected was accomplished, his blog did seem to ease off a little on its signature epic bombast and outrageous inaccuracy. But, they do say you can’t keep a good man down, and here’s a link to one of his more recent posts.

“Everyone agrees that Trump is the most powerful man in world history.”

But of course. Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar, Genghis Khan, Philip II of Spain, Hitler, Stalin, all the forty-odd US Presidents before Trump, many of whom were more or less as powerful as he is – who the hell were all those guys compared to the Donald? Featherweights, says I.

“If you doubt this assertion, try reading a Twitter account omitting discussions of his latest doings.”

“You’ll probably find it doesn’t belong to one of the tediously opinionated airheads who dominate that social media platform, and hence is refreshingly readable! Or at least includes funny photos of cats. Also, Twitter is really important – because I’m all over it, of course!”

“People are gaining weight because of Trump. Jobs are being created.”

I will admit to having missed the speech in which the President declared “You know what the problem with America is? We’re all too damn skinny! What I want you people to do, like, right away, is get out there and start eating massive roast dinners three times a day!” A pity, really, but I’m going to have to suggest that this claim might just be total  bullshit.

The “jobs created” bit I assume refers to the mini-Stock Market boom since Trump’s election. However, once you’ve factored out the part of this that’s due to general economic conditions unconnected with anything he says he’ll do, taken into account the lag between “company becoming more valuable” and “company hiring more staff” and considered that a company’s share price increasing does not magically provide it with more real money with which to hire, I think you’d have a real problem proving Trump has created jobs. And Cernovich doesn’t even try proving it.

“These developments make complete sense to any student of philosophy.”

Well, they are bullshit, and the philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt did write a book On Bullshit, so they probably make complete sense to him…

“In Reality, Trump has far less power than we imagine…Symbolism is why Trump has power over the world…We do not live in Reality. We live in a socially constructed reality.”

This is all true, but there’s nothing unique to Trump in that. American Presidents, even at the height of the post-war American imperial age, have never been quite as powerful as they look. The US Constitution was deliberately written to limit the Presidency.

And it’s not that shocking or new an idea that reality is to some extent what we agree it is. However, what Cernovich is going to, rather sneakily, go on to do is to use this idea to justify his (and Trump’s) favoured tactic of pumping out as much bullshit as possible in the hope that it confuses everyone so much they stop asking questions. Hey, we live in a socially constructed reality, this isn’t outrageous behaviour at all!

“It’s endlessly amusing watching English majors struggle with the rise of Trump or even the rise of me.”

“Me! Me! Me! I mean, just in case you forgot who the really important person here is.”

“How can “big gorillas” win, they exclaim in between bites of cream cheese frosted cup cakes.”

“Lol@ those people with their fancy English degrees and their girly cup cakes!” This is Cernovich blatantly pandering to the section of his fanbase that consists of nerdy basement dwellers with terrible jobs, but by God they got engineering degrees, and that makes them superior to nerdy basement dwellers with bad jobs who got English degrees. The phrase “two bald men fighting over a comb” springs to mind.

Also notice that oh so subtle plug for the whole idiotic “Gorilla Mindset” thing. Seriously, who talks like that in real life?

“While discussions of alpha and beta grow tiresome, status is all around us.”

I’ll just pause to remind everyone that before Mikey C turned Danger and Play into, it promoted his ideas about being a success in life for men, and it still contains plenty of just such discussions.

Anyway, he goes on to talk about how the “fake news” media, as he thinks of them, still have status as compared to outlets like his website, but not for much longer, because he and others in social media have shown how they can set the agenda, set the news cycle and force them to talk about what he wants, so removing their status. This is what I mean about weaselling in a justification for bullshit artistry under the heading of ” it’s a socially constructed reality.”

Unsurprisingly, he includes a ton of self-congratulation about his success in persuading some of the media to talk about Hillary Clinton’s alleged health problems (in a just world, Cernovich would now look like an idiot if she doesn’t die for another 20 years, but no doubt either he or his claims on this subject will be long forgotten by the time that event arrives). Oh, and his eleventy billion subscribers on Twitter or whatever it is.

“Have you noticed that my writing rarely elaborates its concepts in detail? That’s a sign of social status.”

“My English teacher used to say it was a sign of bad writing and laziness, but who’s laughing now, Cupcake Boy!”

“Status is the power to decline explaining yourself.”

“If you are a shameless asshole, that is. I stand as one with the shameless assholes of this world!”

“It takes a deep education to write sharply.”

But any idiot can post things on the Internet. (Just read the rest of my blog).



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Video game review (?): Detention (spoilers)

The question mark in the title is there because the first thing I have to admit is this: I’ve never actually played this game, only watched it being played in someone else’s videos. How can you possibly review a game you’ve never played? Well, you can’t, really. Video games are made to be played. Part of the point of reviewing them is to tell other people who might play them what that experience is like, and I can’t do that here.

So this isn’t so much a true review as a record of my reaction to the story that Detention tells, and I’ll summarise that this way – this is the only video game I’ve ever seen whose story provoked an emotional reaction in me that wasn’t “well, that was pretty silly” or “well, that was OK, but it’s very derivative some movie or other I’ve already seen.” To me, it seemed both good and original, and combining those two is pretty unusual.

Of course, nothing is ever completely original. Detention is a survival horror game. For anyone who isn’t aware of the genre, the basic idea is that you play a character in some kind of horror scenario – zombies, monsters and so on – but minus the arsenal of weapons, limitless ammunition, hand-to-hand combat skills  and overriding objective of “blast the hell out of these things” that you get in the average video game where you encounter those things. You may have no weapons, or only limited weapons or ammunition. You usually aren’t some kind of highly trained badass either; more of a normal human being, and the point is more “avoid the monsters and survive” than  “shoot them and survive.”

Detention follows that template, up to a point. For most of the game, you’re playing Fang Ray Shin, a 17 year old Taiwanese girl in a 1960s school who (more or less) wakes up to find herself one of only two people in the school, everyone else having supposedly been evacuated because of a typhoon. She quickly finds that she can’t get away from the school and the other character mysteriously disappears. The game is you guiding her around the empty school buildings and slowly uncovering the truth behind what’s going on, whilst avoiding being killed by…well, I’m not quite sure what the things roaming the school are. A sort of cross between a ghost, a zombie and a vampire, I think (I’m not sure if their nature is intentionally kept a bit mysterious, or I just don’t know enough Taiwanese mythology).

The appearance of zombie-ghost-vampires clearly indicates that “the truth” here is a bit more than an oncoming typhoon, and eventually it emerges that actually, this isn’t your school so much as your personal hell. Ray betrayed people close to her to the authoritarian military government of 1960s Taiwan who were then executed or jailed, she committed suicide out of guilt and her reward is being stuck in this place. The player’s choices in the game either keep her stuck in that cycle or free her from it, although since “freedom” appears to mean “wandering the earth as a ghost forever” even the good ending isn’t all that great.

I think the biggest reason I reacted positively to the game was that, despite being a horror game, the scariest thing in it is not the monsters (although they are pretty creepy) or even the setting (although that’s arguably even creepier). The really scary thing is making a terrible decision and then never being able to alter its effects, just live with the consequences. Which after all, is the scariest thing in real life as well. It’s a very existentialist video game; Jean-Paul Sartre, who after all wrote a play about characters trapped in hell by their terrible decisions, would have approved.

The game’s also well written enough to make the central character sympathetic despite her treachery. She is given reasons for doing what she did and didn’t intend the results to be quite what they were. Indeed, overall, the characters are realistic and believable people living at a particular time in a particular place. And, I have to admit, if you started off describing any video game to me by saying “This was made in East Asia and the central character is a teenage girl” my immediate reaction would be “OK, are there bad anime cliches involved in it? Am I going to want to take a shower afterwards, because I’m supposed to regard the underage girl as a love interest or sex object or something?”

That isn’t true here. Ironically, the plot rests on an older character treating Ray as a love interest (and vice-versa), but given the consequences, you can hardly say it’s being approved of. And “Taiwan in the 60s” isn’t exactly a well-explored setting, in the West anyway. My knowledge of Taiwanese history was basically “Oh, the Chinese Nationalists went there after they’d lost the Civil War in 1949. Then it dropped right out of history because Communist China was the major world power and no British people were involved.” (History, as taught in British schools, generally regards things as important if they either involved British people or a major world power, preferably both, and even better if the major world power involved was Britain). So this is a game you can actually learn a little from, if you follow it up. That’s also not that common.

Thanks to Slowbeef, who did the Let’s Play I watched.


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Crappy holidays: Presidents’ Day

A US federal public holiday which fell on 20 February this year. Now, on one level, no public holiday can ever be that crappy – a day off work/school is a day off work/school, someone might bother to put some good stuff on TV, there’ll be sales on…

No, the problem with Presidents’ Day is not so much crappiness as, well, complete confusion as to what exactly is being commemorated. Naively, I assumed from the name it was a day to celebrate the Presidents of the United States of America (the historical figures, not the Nineties band), and I was all ready to point out “that’s superfluous, isn’t the Fourth of July more or less about them anyway? That’s American National Being Patriotic Day.”

However, it seems the story is more complicated than I thought. Breaking it down:-

  1. The federal holiday is still officially called “Washington’s Birthday,” because that’s what it was originally meant to celebrate, even though Washington was born on 22 February and the holiday falls between 15-21 February, so it’s never actually on his birthday.
  2. Because Abraham Lincoln was born on 12 February, some US states, perhaps virtue-signalling about how very right they were in the Civil War (or would have been, if only they’d existed at the time), took to celebrating it as “Washington and Lincolns’ Birthday” or as “Presidents’ Day” (i.e. those two Presidents only).
  3.  Some Southern states, presumably to show that how much they don’t care that they lost the Civil War (honest!), don’t seem to have it as a state holiday at all. Result – the world gets the impression that they not only hate Old Abe, but also George Washington, and are possibly pining for George III or something.
  4. A guy called Harold Stonebridge Fischer spent about 20 years from 1951 trying to persuade politicians to have a “Presidents’ Day” on 4 March to celebrate all the Presidents, but eventually got turned down when they decided it was just one holiday too many. Incidentally, Fischer lived in Compton, California (CA). I assume he didn’t believe “it’s Uzi up the ass if you don’t get paid” or even make much dollars on the First and Fifteenth, though. Maybe his campaign would have gone better if he had.
  5. However, Fischer won a moral victory, of sorts. Some states have their own 4 March holiday to celebrate the Presidents in general, an awful lot of Americans think that’s what the February holiday’s supposed to be for and certainly the “Presidents’ Day” label is the one generally applied, mostly because it’s what retailers running holiday sales have decided to go with.

I think the conclusion is “try and keep politics about as far away from your national holidays as you can, if you want to avoid total confusion setting in.” Say what you like about Jesus, the vast majority of people don’t seem to mind having a day off on His (non-)birthday.

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Crappy holidays:Singles Awareness Day

Looks like I’ve tapped a rich vein of material when it comes to “special days made up for questionable reasons.” Next up is Singles’ Awareness Day, which, as any fule kno, was celebrated on 15 February, the day after St Valentine’s Day. Unlike your average “Hallmark holiday”, there’s no-one who obviously makes money out of this one, so I can only assume it was invented by fearless fighters for the rights of single people  (surely the world’s lamest social activists).

Take that, oppressive social norms of romantic togetherness! You may have cheap-looking cards with hearts on them and low-quality chocs on your side, but we singles know where you live and we aren’t afraid to get mediaeval on your ass! Although that expression doesn’t really work here, since the real Middle Ages was pretty much a high point of getting married whether you liked it or not, not to mention the era when the ideal of romantic love really first emerged.

As a single person, I don’t really see the need for a day on which the world is made more aware of my status, which is really none of its business anyway. I find any notion of the unattached as an oppressed group frankly incredible. I mean who, in the advanced world anyway, loses their job over being single? You’re more likely to be more successful at it because you don’t have to keep ducking out to go home to the wife/husband/S.O. and kids. Who gets beaten up and killed over it? Having to “suffer” Valentine’s Day once a year? Is that something that anyone over the age of 16 is seriously bothered about? Really, the more you think about it, the more Singles’ Awareness Day becomes almost symbolic of “overindulged Westerners with far too much time on their hands behaving like big spoilt babies because they don’t have literally everything they might have.” And that’s something we already see far too much of.

I could write a book about my own romantic “history” (the most boring one in history, but still), but in the end the reasons I’m single would boil down to the usual mixture of bad decisions, bad luck, general laziness and, probably, not really wanting it hard enough. Of course, it cuts both ways and the truth is that I’ve clearly never inspired wild romantic desires in others. “I’m single by choice – not my choice” applies to me as much as all the other people who clearly think it’s a side-splitting meme. Very few people actually set out to be single from day one.

If you end up that way, though, you eventually come to accept it; the alternatives aren’t pretty. Just look at Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in 2014 because girls weren’t interested in him. According to his “manifesto”, only blondes need have applied – lucky them. On a less extreme level, there are all the many, many young men who whinge endlessly on the internet about being “Forever Alone” and sit around creating those side-splitting memes about their existential tragedy. Really, it’s a story of crazy emotional self-indulgence from beginning to end, and we shouldn’t enable its continuance with a fake holiday.

The whole idea of single people as some kind of unified group requiring that others be aware of their needs also promotes the fatally attractive idea for many – including me, sometimes – that what you really need to do in life is go out, find someone else’s prefabricated notion of an identity and, if it fits, wear it, because then you’ll know what you truly are and must do. You’re single? Well, then you should be doing this. You’re a black man? Well, you should act like that. You’re a genderfluid genderqueer from non-binary Bulgaria? I don’t believe you, but here’s the pronouns you should insist on anyway. But you can’t buy identity off the rack, made by someone else. You have to create it, and ultimately what you are doesn’t have a name, apart from your name. If you accept other people’s labels, hostile or sympathetic, you stop being the individual you are.

Famously, God’s self-description in the Bible is “I am what I am.” We’re supposed to be made in God’s image; maybe that’s what we should all be aiming for.

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