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Saturday 30 April 2016

Phase Two

Recently I have been reading the IDW run of the Transformers comics.

They're a marked improvement on any of the old comics, or the TV series, movies, anything really. The art style jumps around a bit over its ten-year-plus publication but that's fine, in all honesty. These are beings that change their forms on a regular basis. The best part? The story.

The story is wonderful. It adds depth to existing characters that were perhaps not so well developed - Skids and Wheelie getting full backstories. It gives a new angle to already developed characters - Prowl becoming an ultimate manipulator, Thundercracker an impassioned scientist. More than anything, it gives structure to the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons.

The Decepticons in particular have a very specific way in which they overtake worlds, a six-phase engagement strategy. It begins with Phase 1, which is infiltration and information-gathering, and proceeds all the way to Phase 6 - absolute world-shattering genocide.

Phase 2 is the particular phase of interest, to this blog; as it details misinformation, manipulation, and the usage of such methods to undermine the stability of the world in question.

It's through these campaigns that the Decepticons seek to bring war to a world without ever firing a shot. It is from the ashes of this war that the warmongers themselves make their own killing - they are seasoned by four million years of civil war, they know how to kill and they know how to win.

Taking a look at the current political landscape of this country, I believe we are in Tory Phase 2.

Have you noticed how, all of a sudden, there's a lot of shit-talking and shit-stirring going on?

Accusations of antisemitism. Members of a left-wing party being treated like terrorists. Doctors painted like greedy idle scumbags. Refugees and foreigners typecast as the traditional enemies of the rich.

The thing is, it works, doesn't it? I have no doubt that every single person who reads this blog knows at least one person who will claim with confidence any of the media spin stories that are profligate in the current climate. They won't question, they won't do anything of the sort. They'll just repeat Sun headlines, even the ones that contradict each other, with the same fervent and endless faith displayed in the Vatican.

It works, because these people either 1) believe the shit-storm stories over the actual circumstances of our country being torn apart and thus vote for those tearing it apart or 2) don't vote at all because they can't see the truth for the trees.

They're All The Same. We hear it all the time, despite there being a literal archive and catalogue of every way in which they are different. Name an MP and you can look up their voting record, in detail or in abstract. Find something you are passionate about and you can find which parties voted for, voted against, or abstained on. A good website for this is mySociety.

Do you see a doctor regularly? You can find out how your local MP or any other member of parliament voted for the NHS. Do you believe fitness and sports are important? You can see which parties voted to protect such things. Do you think the poor get an easy ride? You can see who agrees with you, and who voted to cut support for the elderly and disabled.

The difference between the Decepticons and Parliament is that Parliament has records. Decepticons can vanish in spaceships, whereas parliamentarians simply can't. What they do is a matter of historical record, and it is they who are accountable to us, not the other way around.

So while the public talk about whether or not a left-leaning politician has indeed made this or that comment about Hitler, we can find out the truth. We can find out what is being done to us, to our country, and we can find it out in real time.

All we need to do is put in two minute's effort.

All the Tories want us to do is not do that.

Don't give them the satisfaction.

Wednesday 20 April 2016

What Doesn't Kill Me

Fair warning, folks; what follows deals with mental health issues - specifically my own. Yet more specifically, depression, anxiety, and suicide. If these things upset you, or if they make you uncomfortable - either due to their nature or their relevance in my life - then I'd suggest looking elsewhere.

Here would be a good start. It's pretty awesome.

Everyone still reading...we okay? We okay to get real serious?

Okay, now...

For full disclosure: when I was in college at age 18, way back in 2001, I tried to kill myself.

It didn't take, obviously. Partway through the process I ruined a couple of perfectly good towels and called an ambulance.

There's a few reasons I did this. None of them were good enough. None of them are justifications. At the time, though - at the time they were all that mattered. That's how it always seems, when you're at that point. Nothing else is visible. Your world becomes a very dark tunnel.

It took a long time to recover. Not physically - now I have two very fine scars that are basically invisible unless you know what to look for. Mentally. I had suffered from significant anxiety problems beforehand, and they only got worse; for years, I pretty much sequestered myself away in my room, only emerging briefly every now and then. To compliment this, for as long as I knew how to assess myself and my feelings, I have suffered from depression.

The accepted wisdom is that if you think of committing suicide, then you really ought to get help immediately. I confide in you, dear reader, that this would be impossible for me; because however briefly, ever since I did it once, I have thought about it regularly.

Does this affect how I live my life day-to-day? Well no, not especially. Nowhere near as much as my physical health (which long-time readers will know is pretty fucked, and not just because I'm fat). It's just a thing, that pops up in the back of my skull every now and then. For me it's as much a part of life as that urge to slap someone for being rude, or to shout at someone for doing something stupid, or to buy something I clearly can't really afford just because it looks neat.

Human beings are animals, and animals have urges. One way in which we can be better people is to not give in to the urges we feel. The urge to immediately strike back when wronged, or to hurt others when we are hurt, or to pursue a brief insubstantial high in exchange for a long-term low. I'm not saying that the life of an ascetic is a good one - but as I often say, moderation in all things (including moderation).

If you look at life this way...then the call to end it, no matter how soft, is another harmful urge to be controlled. We all face shadows and darkness, and we all have mechanisms to cope with it. Some mechanisms are better than others - harmful in and of their own right - but the important thing is that we don't give in.

Here's where I could spout any number of insipid platitudes that I've seen all across social media, but honestly - that's not very me, is it? That's not very me at all.

In truth the reason it is important is simply because life is here to be lived. There's no purpose outside of that which we give ourselves - and my purpose is to keep going. Happiness happens. I have felt it, I have seen it, and I believe in it. Happiness makes it worthwhile. Some days are easy, and some days are hard - but I never regret surviving the day I almost didn't.

Between then and now I have grown so much. I've seen so much of the good (and bad) side of life. I've met people that have changed me, almost always for the better. I've seen things, read things, heard things that have made every day worth it. I've seen my favourite bands play live, I've seen the sun rise over mountains and the stars over a desert. The days that have seemed the worst have ended up containing moments of utter joy, crystalline and near-perfect, embedded in the shit of mediocrity.

It's hard to remember that. A lot of the time. I only see it right now because I am making the deliberate and concerted effort; that doesn't mean it isn't there, always there, waiting in between the shadows.

All of this was prompted because a friend of mine posted something the other night; a picture that stated simply, "I am glad that you survived".

I'm glad I survived, too.

Saturday 16 April 2016

Quantum Flake

What the hell has happened with modern games?

Stepping away from my previous blog about Ubisoft not finishing games before they are released, so often, we find that the games aren't so much unfinished as...crap. Like crap in ways that it would be easy to not be crap in.

 Take the hotly-tipped premium triple-A title from Remedy Entertainment, Quantum Break.

Now I must admit that I haven't played more than two hours of this game. I freely admit this, so take everything I say with a pinch of salt, It is absolute trash.

The writing. Oh lord, the writing. The story is garbage. I've seen better attempts to touch on time travel and manipulation in the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror. I might forgive that if any of the lines explaining aforementioned time travel shennanigans sounded halfway convincing - which they don't. At the very beginning of the game, literally three minutes in, we are expected to believe that the main character's old college roomie has made a machine that traps a micro black hole and uses it to bend time? And creates a LITERAL Time Tunnel? Yes, like that old cartoon which shows in the background in Twelve Monkies? Like the old TV series? A Time Tunnel.

Only it wasn't meant to be the main character you play (Woodplank 1) who was meant to be helping here. It was meant to be main character's brother (Woodplank 2), who is lamentably depicted by Dominic Monaghan, an otherwise thoroughly competent actor. You know it's a bad idea but you have to go along with it, because the guy who wants to continue with his self-admitted highly illegal and utterly FUCKING BATSHIT science experiment (Woodplank 3) wants you to, and that's how you progress in the game.

You get your time-manipulation powers because the dingus that contains a micro black hole breaks and sprays time everywhere. You will get used to hearing the word time. It keeps getting thrown around in case you forget where the powers come from - though honestly they are so generic and forgettable that perhaps the word's repetition is actually necessary.

Okay so terrible story aside - let's focus on gameplay.

It's a third person shooting/action game with cover mechanics. Now, what happens with a game with cover mechanics? You find waist-high walls all over the place and take cover behind them. It's the done thing. Walk up to cover, hit the button, and -

Wait, there's no button? You just walk close enough and hope your character realises he has to duck. The character that went to college with a man that (while seemingly entirely lacking any personality) possesses the kind of genius that can build a miniature black hole in a college laboratory, sometimes fails to duck when being shot at.

What is cover? That is an interesting ask. Well, that wall over there is. These shelves, maybe. Dunno about that thing. You find out by walking up and hoping. If you're low on health, and it turns out that your chosen bit of scenery doesn't tick the mystical Cover box, then you're pretty much boned. Absolutely inexcusable.

The gunplay itself feels...sloppy. Hard to tell where you are shooting, if you're scoring hits - aside from the instant slowmo you get when you clear the last dude from a room. Yes, every time. Yes, it becomes grating after the third time. No, you can't stop it.

This, by the way, is how you play the game. There's some puzzly parts, which involve the use of your time powers.

Ah yes. The time powers. Basically take the generic abilities of any third-person character and slap the word "time" in front, and there you have it - which is basically also how they came up with the plot. The amount of times in the first half hour that you are told that time is going to break, or time is breaking, or time is ending - the word literally starts to lose any sort of meaning. It becomes a drinking game. Every time you hear the word time - take a shot. You'll be fucked up before you even meet Woodplank 4.

All of this...I could perhaps bear. I could perhaps forgive, and play for longer, to see if the issues evened themselves out...

...if it weren't for the "episodes".

The game is arranged into different acts and parts, much like a Shakespeare play. In between each act, the player receives the dubious honour of deciding the main antagonist's course of action - an example being how the standard evil company (like a substandard version of Umbrella) should handle its most recent escapade in time travel related bollocks. Should it spin some kind of PR story to make Woodplank 1 out to be a criminal, and be nice to the students who witnessed their literal breaking of the law? Or should it murder them, and...something something hand wave?

You pick one...and then you get to sit through twenty minutes of the most tedious television you can imagine, detailing the consequences of your decision (vaguely) through the medium of half a dozen characters you simply don't care about. Several of those involved in this are accomplished and talented individuals - so one has to assume that the woodenness and staleness comes from the scriptwriting and direction.

So it's an early-2000 era PS2 game with shonky controls that forces you to watch a bad Netflix series in between each chunk, from the middle.

That's the excuse for a triple A game.

For the amount I paid for it, I bought Enter The Gungeon, Hyper Light Drifter and Factorio. Each of those has held my interest for significantly longer. Each of them is actually fun to play. Hyper Light Drifter has better characters, despite none of them being able to speak, and a better story, despite it all being conveyed to you through weird feverish visions. Enter The Gungeon is a top-down Isaac-style shooter that has better cover mechanics than Quantum Break. How does this happen?

Easy. Spend more on advertising than development.

Don't buy this game. It's rancid dog shit.

Friday 8 April 2016

The Panama Cabal

If you aren't sure what the Panama Papers are, haven't heard the name Mossack Fonseca or aren't sure why David Cameron is being questioned a lot about his taxes in the last few days, then I might suggest putting this blog down for a minute and taking a gander at whatever news site you think appropriate.

Was anyone actually surprised that this was happening?

Did anyone truly not suspect, at all, that there were companies set up exclusively to ensure that very rich people could dodge taxes in quasi-legal ways?

Nobody should be surprised. Surprised that there is actual paperwork and evidence, yes - but unless you're a buffoon, then you can't think it's never happened.

Isn't that fact in itself a damning indictment of this entire farce?

Nobody wants to pay taxes. Everyone wants to benefit from what those taxes pay for, of course. Everyone wants to eat the lobster, nobody wants to foot the bill. That's just the nature of humanity. We're greedy creatures at heart, and in a society and system that determines success by possessing both Things and Way-To-Get-Things, any means of getting Things without losing Way-To-Get-Things is going to be exploited to the maximum.

There is a bottom rate at the cost of living in any given country. A pure minimum, which is the basest essentials. Anything above and beyond this particular rate, well, here come the taxes. You go shopping, you pay tax. You rent or own, you pay tax. You contribute directly to the welfare of the entirety of society. At least - that is how it is meant to work.
Those on benefits - the people commonly painted as the bad guys whenever the boys from Eton roll out their media machine - spend damn near everything they receive in ways that make it back to the government via tax or otherwise bolster the economy. If what they buy isn't taxed, then it is paid to a shop or corporation that is in itself taxed based on its income. In a way, benefits are an almost guaranteed investment made by a government to itself.

The wealthier you are, though, the more opportunities there are for you to not contribute at all. Churches don't after all. Some companies just choose not to, and when asked about it, offer an insulting paltry sum as a way of indicating they've read the papers and know that people don't like them. Offshore accounts exist. They've existed for a long, long time, and they exist so that the rich can make their money and then keep it to themselves.

Why should anyone else benefit from their hard-earned cash after all? I mean, they earned it all fair and square, right? They earned it working hard just like all of us did, and so they shouldn't have to pay any of it to anyone -

- except for the fact that everyone else pays. The person that shined your shoes this morning pays. The taxi driver pays. The waiter pays, tip or not. The little people in your life all pay. They pay for things that you use, like roads and police and infrastructure and education. They pay and you don't.

You put your money in some account in some foreign nation that by virtue of paperwork means you don't have to pay tax on it, and in doing so, you become the freeloader. Even by HMRC's most conservative estimate in 2012, tax avoidance cost the public four times more than benefit fraud. There are bad apples in both barrels, but the tax barrel is worth a lot more, and those apples stink to high heaven.

And here comes the Panama Papers. Unmasking legions of wealthy individuals twisting the system to further line pockets already stuffed full while the rest of us continue to scrape by. There's been resignations and fall-downs already. Iceland's PM suffered a very public tearing-down.

So now, in this time of austerity, in this time of belts being tightened and people being told to make do with what they have, in this time of us all being in it together, we find out that not only is the Prime Minister deeply implicated in tax avoidance, but several other members of the government could be as well, including the Chancellor, who actually has stakes in a business that in itself doesn't pay tax.

What happens here, you ask?


Nothing, because we're good calves, and we'll just keep eating the grass and getting nice and fat.

In another era, this would have been a powder keg. Protests would have become riots and streets would have burned, and perhaps, rightly so. The anger at the government for hurting all of us so very deeply and in such a hypocritical would be a fire so hot the asphalt would melt.

But no. Today everyone shrugs and murmurs about things that don't matter and just go on with their lives. It's easier for us that way. We can absolve guilt with such incredible ease, all the tools have been handed to us for generations. Before the baby boomers even knew who they were, the language and theory behind apathy and denial had set in.

So those that contribute will be painted as leeches, and those that steal will be painted as heroes, and we will just keep on eating it up until we're happy as pigs in shit.

You know what happens to pigs?

The people that own them butcher them for profit.

Time and again, you have been fucking warned.

Forgive the anger, but it's been a bad year.

Saturday 2 April 2016

Chip Off The Old Block

Who here remembers Thatcher?

Now I can't say as I do, but my parents do - distinctly. They lived through that era. They saw what it did to the country. My mother was lucky enough to have an office job, while my dad saw jobs literally vanish.

Now - who here remembers Cameron?

Just the other night I was thinking, and I started to see more and more similarities between the two of them. Or at least, between their respective terms as Prime Minister. Let's take a look at a couple.

Both of them were tough on Europe, or at least tried to be; "No, No, No," the iron lady was famed for saying in 1988, and - until recently - Cameron has touted a staunchly cynical angle (which he backs off from anytime UKIP become too popular).

They both had a habit of helping the wealthiest echelons of society, as well. Thatcher was a strong proponent of trickle-down policies - Reaganomics - that doubled the share of England's income for the top 1% of earners (7% to 14%), and the most recent round of tax breaks and economic legerdemain has helped the rich out a lot more than the poor in Cameron's government.

Wars; Syria and Falklands. Executed differently, approached differently, but equally distant. Equally draining and pointless to us, too. Posturing. Sabre-rattling. Like a reality TV star claiming they've slept with someone famous just to stay relevant in a world that doesn't need or want them.

Both of them studied at Oxford - Thatcher left with a bachelors in Chemistry, and Cameron with Philosophy, Politics and Economics (which was for some reason upgraded to a Masters for no apparent reason).

Their differences, however; they are interesting in and of themselves.

Cameron's only ever had one Chancellor, and that is George Osborne - a man with less economics education than your average twelve-year-old. (As a twelve-year-old I had precious little money of my own so I had to learn to save, a problem that Georgie Porgie has never had, probably.) Meanwhile, two of Thatcher's three Chancellors had educational backgrounds in economics, and one actually worked with money in the banking sector. That's right. John Major was boring because he knew a LOT about money.

Another key difference is that while we are reminded daily of the apparent threat of terrorism, it was Thatcher who was actually targetted by a terrorist attack. Five people died in the Brighton hotel bombing in 1984. Yet more laws are passed today than in 1984 curtailing people's freedoms in the name of fighting said terrorism than ever were under the hostilities of the IRA.

Where does this lead me, I hear you ask?

Both of them sold out our industry.

We all know the old story of the miner's strike. It was cheaper for Thatcher to import German coal than it was for us to produce it ourselves, so - rather than bite the bullet and do right by the workers of the country - things went due south, very fast. So while the financial sector was enjoying something of a boom, your average person was seeing their real earnings vanish - if they had a job at all.

Right now the same thing is happening with our steel. It's easier and cheaper to let it go, and to let the workers bear the brunt, in an economy whose growth is a fart in the breeze. Even despite the increase in minimum wage, even despite the reduction in taxes for most - the cost of living is on the increase, and isn't getting any better.

What does this mean? Probably that it's still going to get worse before it gets better, people. If Cameron's little mob intends on following in the Iron Lady's foosteps, then it's us lower ninety per cent of earners that are going to suffer the most. Some folks just never learned the lessons from the past, and unfortunately, those folks are currently dictating economic policy.

Bet you won't vote for this same shower of bastards NEXT time.