22 November 2013

On Video Game Tactics as an Old Man

In honour of the new Xbox’s release this coming morning, I dug out an old blog post I never finished writing, and thought I'd chuck a rough version of it up here.

I have become quite addicted of late to the hand picked articles over at Longform, and today I read a great article about Obama’s actions in Libya, which it got me thinking, of all things, about how I play video games.

The article is a profile of United States president Barack Obama, in which the author seeks to explain Obama's leadership style through an analysis of a few key moments in the first half of his presidency. Its main focus is on the very public decision for the United States to intervene militarily in Libya. However it intersperses this with another angle of the presidents approach toward tackling complex situations by discussing his strategy going into the weekly game of basketball he organises with other members of his government.
In the lead up to the article proper, the writer goes over Obama's explanation of how his style of play has had to change over the years as his abilities reflected his age. One paragraph in particular stuck in my mind:
“What happens is, as I get older, the chances I’m going to play well go down. When I was 30 there was, like, a one-in-two chance. By the time I was 40 it was more like one in three or one in four.” He used to focus on personal achievement, but as he can no longer achieve so much personally, he’s switched to trying to figure out how to make his team win. In his decline he’s maintaining his relevance and sense of purpose.
This line of thinking reminds me of how I play games like Halo or Battlefield. In particular why I like playing team oriented games, rather than the helter skelter frenzy of a free for all.
Let me explain.
Though I may not be that aged yet (It seems that as the average gamers age has increased each year, so has mine; so things work out nicely), I nevertheless do feel that there is an immense advantage for the youth when it comes to playing video games. First of all, they have more time to play. I remember fondly spending hours and hours with friends perfecting every possible circuit in games like Super Mario Kart, or stealthily stalking opponents on GoldenEye, to the point that tense stalemates ran into hours of rigging proximity mines, or sniping the sharp edged polygons of a crouched individual, trying their best to remain in the small shadow profile we had each mentally mapped.
We've come a long way baby
In addition to this extra training time, the younger gaming population is also able to capitalise on their apparent quicker reflexes, and as a result, an uncanny ability to hone their aim when compared to mine.
Now I have never been much of a long distance fighter as it is (give me a shotgun and melee any day), but I can still sense the disparity in aim, and thus accuracy, when a battle gets going.
So a while ago I decided that I would not let this asymmetry get me down. Whatever I may now lack in youthful spry, I can more than make up for in guile, strategy and determination.
I may not be able to stroll through a battlefield picking off my enemies with uncanny headshots as my opponents often do. However these days when I burst on stage I can assure you that, though I tend to go down in a hail of bullets, when my charge is complete and the dust has settled, the opposing team is well aware of it, and generally worse for wear because of it.

There is no I in team, and thus there should be no ego on the battlefield. More often than not I notice younger gamers tend to be glory hogs, they go for the highest score for themselves, regardless of the team's situation. They grab whatever weapon they desire, and assert that they are the best at whatever endeavour they are undertaking.
More often than not this comes to mind..
I pick team based games because I like the strategy. I like looking at what is happening in a game, and figuring out the best plan of attack to turn the tide in my teams favour. Perhaps someone needs suppressive fire, or maybe just a charge into the open to distract the other side. Either way these actions are rarely major points getterson their own, but add up these plays as an overall game plan, and you soon find yourself rising to the top of your teams leaderboard, and aiding the overall probability of a victory.

This is the kind of maneuvering that doesn't see as appealing from a single player point of view. But harrying one's opponents is just as important as taking them out, or capturing the flag.

They always say know your enemy, and what enemy truly hits home more than one’s own weaknesses? At the end of the day it is about knowing your own limitations, and accepting that though the playing field is not even, the bumps and troughs it provides can just as easily substitute for cover as they do for hindrance.

Coming full circle this whole thing reminds me of my own days playing basketball.
I remember the emphasis always on who got the baskets, especially as our coach’s son was the tallest, and thus the officially sanctioned team strategy was ‘throw it to Matt’
After games my mum would always compliment me on my movements on the court.
“You're always where you need to be”, she would say; “they just don’t pass it the way they should”.

These days at least I know where I need to be, and the initiative is on me to make the most of this position.

Twas the Night Before Xbox….

I have that giddy feeling that I associate with memories of waiting up for Christmas, or my birthday to come. That odd moment when you seem to be distanced somewhat for the reality of the world, and look at it from some third person view. Excitement flows through your veins. Tomorrow is coming; the event you’re waiting from is almost here. Other worries empty from your mind, and your thoughts are consumed by that one slowly shrinking time period between now, and when the big moment finally comes.

Tomorrow I get my new Xbox One.

These days however I can also notice a slight twinge of pessimism seeping in. My adult mind can't sustain the same childlike idealistic view of the future. I keep on thinking about what will go wrong. About how the moment I am looking forward to will never come as smoothly as I imagine it, nor will its eventuation truly match my expectation. 
Perhaps it will pull a next generation version of the red ring of death, or maybe the games will have sold out. Best not to get too carried away and to stay realistic I think to myself.

But all that being said, I still feel like a kid on Christmas eve.

For years I have been fortunate enough to live my life slightly below the average gamers age. I am just over 29 years old, and the average gamer is around 32. So as I have grown, and the gaming world has grown around me, I was always at the cusp of the ‘right’ age to capitalise on games. When I was young, there were simple games. They slowly got more complex as my mind followed suit. As I became more mature, so to did game content.
Yet I can't help notice that this is a trend which cannot be kept up forever. Gamers will continuously be added to the lower end of the age spectrum with far fewer taking up controllers on the higher one. One day the number of gamers younger than me will outnumber those older and I will find myself on the opposite end of the burgeoning wave of new gaming experience.

But at the end of the day that isn’t really anything to complain about.

So here I am, waiting. Waiting for my new Xbox.

21 July 2013

A Response to Christians Who Oppose Gay Marriage and Gay Parents

I recently wrote a response to this letter printed in The Courier. They rang me around an hour later to get permission to print it with my name attached, I agreed, and with any luck it will be in Mondays edition of our local newspaper.
Below is a copy of what i wrote, but I would also like to point out today one of the replies i found on the Courier's website from one of the regular contributors as i think it is well worth a read to try and understand the psyche of some of those on the opposing team.
But first, my response letter.
“Won’t somebody please think of the children!”
I write in response to Brendan Keogh’s letter ‘Same-sex relationships damaging for children’, in which the author outlines reasons why gays should not be allowed to marry, or adopt.
To quote Mr Keogh, he believes that ‘Marriage is a legal and social institution with a biological foundation, which helps to bind a male to his mate for stability and for the children they might have’.
Note the sterile descriptions about how marriage is about ‘binding’ a male to his mate, note the specific gender mentioned, and note the complete absence of love, emotions, or commitment; things which I believe are much more vital to a healthy marriage and family life than mere biological compatibility.
The author claims that evidence supporting the view that same-sex parents can successfully raise healthy children is ‘shallow and biased’, yet offers no corollary evidence to support their claim that same-sex couples raising a child is ‘unnatural and damaging to them [the child]’. There are assertions yes; but no evidence.
According to the author, the role of a mother in raising a child is ‘the emotional security of the bonding touch and feeding’, whereas a father is required to ‘firmly model’ the child into adulthood. Such clear cut gender roles are not an intrinsic part of being a parent. There is no reason why a father cannot offer emotional security, and bond with their child during feeding. Nor is there anything stopping a mother from helping guide their child into adulthood. Asserting such roles is simply a throwback to the days when mothers stayed home to clean the house while men went off to bring home the bacon.
Any argument about a child being robbed of their biological identity falls flat when you look at the multitude of families out there that raise adopted children, or are comprised of single parents, and are able to produce perfectly well-adjusted individuals.
The author’s clear aversion to same sex relationships in general is evident in the language they use, calling their mutual love an ‘unnatural satisfaction’.
This appeal to natural law however is no more than a veiled appeal to religious values. If we are to accept natural law as a governing factor in who can raise children, then sterile couples would be banned from adoption. Yet point out that homosexual coupling is prevalent throughout the natural world, and suddenly natural law is relegated to the sidelines.
Again we see the opponents of homosexual marriage and adoption sinking further into malaise as they try and justify their outdated views. No longer willing to attack the unions directly, they now seek to reduce the argument to sterile biological terms, and relegate marriage to an institution solely derived for the act of procreation and child rearing.
Never is love mentioned in this argument. Not the love that parents feel for their children, which is a necessity to raising a child, nor the love between two people who are committed to entering into a marriage together.
Opponents of same sex couples can no longer sway public opinion by simply pointing out how offended their sensibilities are by the existence of such people, so now they are reduced to echoing Maude Flanders perennial cry of “Won’t somebody please think of the children!” in the hope that appealing to peoples innate sense of responsibility toward children will blind them to the obvious flaws in their arguments.
To grow up as a healthy and well-adjusted person you don’t need a male and female to raise you; you need parents who love you.
I'm pretty happy with that response. And responding seems to be the main way that i ever get the motivation to send anything into The Courier, which is guess isn't a bad thing.
But then last night i was checking the comments on this article, which were assuring in their general disagreement with the authors thesis, until i stumbled upon this reply:
Thanks Brendan, well said. It's very sad that so many confuse love with lust. Looking at same-sex relationships today , some think it's keeping up with the times. If they went into history, they would know that it's all been done before. The best thing to do, is to live morally with Love. If you truly love your children, you will give them a Mum & Dad that are married.
People like to rubbish the Churches of any denomination if they can't get what they want out of it. Why is it that Christians always get the blame for all bad? True Christians are devastated, seeing how obscene some have become. They are not judging you, but are sad for such behaviour. The children raised by same-sexes, may not be bad, but they don't know how to live morally, they only know self-gratification, and their minds are tainted with this. Real Happiness, is doing it Right!
It is cliche Christian fundamentalist claptrap, from the bad grammar, to the randomly capitalised initials, and from the hypocritical theme (we aren't judging you; but here are my judgements of your behaviour...), to the smug sense of moral authority. But the one line that really sent my blood boiling was this one:
The children raised by same-sexes, may not be bad, but they don't know how to live morally, they only know self-gratification, and their minds are tainted with this.

Really? People can say this in today's day and age, and not feel as if they are on the wrong side of not only history, but also decency?
One of the best parts of being an atheist and confronting these people (albeit online and in no direct way) is that i don't mind pointing out that i am judging them. I judge her words as phenomenally offensive. I judge her to be an insensitive person, for suggesting that homosexual people don't know love from lust, or that they are only choosing a lifestyle for the sake of 'keeping up with the times'.
Rest assured, I dont think my judgement comes from anything but my own opinions, but I am willing to put my argument to the test against hers, and i figure that if one can put a rigorous argument together of their own accord, rather than referring to some ancient text, then surely there is merit in this?

Anyway, thats my little rant over; what do you all think?

03 July 2013

Shapeshifter trumps Werewolf; Every Time

True Blood, I am still trying to enjoy you. Really I am; even after the massive letdown that was last season. And I must say, so far this season has been looking quite positive; focusing on what used to make the show good (the conflict of everyday troubles with supernatural oddities), rather than getting too bogged down in the freaky stuff (Fairy interpretive dance, possessive witches, weird goat shaman thing and so on).

But one thing I haven’t been enjoying is the annoying turn in Alcide’s character, and the conflict this has produced with Sam. Especially when the fight between Sam (shapeshifter) and Alcide (werewolf) was such a lacklustre event. This is even more disappointing considering last season True Blood illustrated just how formidable Sam’s shapeshifting powers can be in a fight.
For those not in the know; that is a man shapeshifting into a fly,  flying into someone's mouth, and then turning back into a human. Brilliant!
So when Alcide and his biker/werewolf gang turned up and started a biff, I couldn’t help but think that it should have turned out this way:
Artwork courtesy of my boredom at work

Blue whale wins every time.

20 June 2013

Bernardi Doesn't Get It: On Same Sex Marriage and Polygamy

Sigh, more dreck from a Liberal Party member.

Liberal Senator, and Tony Abbott's former personal parliamentary secretary, Cory Bernardi is again defending his comments regarding a spurious link between homosexual marriage, polygamous marriage and even bestiality.
A cursory Google search shows that Cory likes to have his photo taken with books, but finds it hard to keep his eyes on the page
Clearly not fazed by the public backlash at his original equivocation of these relationships, Bernardi now believes that a petition being organised in support of polygamous relationships vindicates his earlier remarks.
"I stand on the record and say, well I was right,"
This from the same man whose internal logic insists that loving someone of the same sex can be easily correlated to having sex with an animal:
"Bestiality, of course it was an extreme example, but once again it's linked to the radical agenda of the Greens Party,"
He calls it an extreme example, but still seriously thinks it a valid one, and what’s more asserts an untenable link to Green Party policy.
Regarding the question of homosexual marriage Bernardi had this to say:
"I think there should be alarm . . . If you're going to re-define a word to satisfy demands of a minority then you're going to face continuing demands in that space.''
The thing he fails to take into account is that it isn’t a minority that is demanding this right; it is the majority!
Yes, the subset of the population that is gay is a minority; but the subset that wants gay marriage to be made legal is a majority. I firmly believe that gays should be able to marry if they choose to, even though I myself am not gay, and would thus never benefit directly from the ability to do so. So while I am not a part of the minority being denied rights, I am a part of the majority that believes this should be rectified.
Those who are arguing for polygamous relationships to be given the same right however do not have the backing of the majority of Australians. They are both a minority in this sense, and also in the obvious sense that the majority of Australians are not tempted to take multiple spouses (we assume).
I'll just leave this here
This is the fundamental difference that needs to be addressed in dealing with fallacious arguments like Mr Bernardi’s. We are not seeking to affirm rights for minorities because they demand them, but rather because the majority recognise these inherent rights. You don’t have to share in a minority’s reality in order to agree with their position. And when the majority of the population believes that these rights should be recognised, it is not kowtowing to the minority; it is the will of the majority.

What’s worse is that setting up ones position based solely on the ‘slippery slope’ argument fails to take into account any differences between propositions. It simply asserts that if you allow one thing, then you must allow others. The same argument was dragged out in opposition to mixed marriages, and no doubt many of those who employed it in the past would feel as vindicated of their bigoted beliefs due to the push for gay marriage coming after mixed race marriages, as Bernardi does when facing polygamy today.

But just because one thing can lead to another, does not mean it must. And what’s more, just because one thing is allowed, does not mean all subsequent things must also be permitted.
The strength of the slippery slope argument rests solely on its ability to prove a link between these subsequent propositions. In this sense, Bernardi and others fail miserably.
There are fundamental differences between allowing gay marriage, and allowing polygamous marriage. One requires a fundamental change to the marriage code, and associated laws, the other does not.
It is not hard to substitute a husband and husband, or a wife and a wife, for a husband and wife in our legal system. It is fundamentally the same thing; recognising a relationship between two individuals. Indeed much of our legal system now accepts the role of same sex relationships in one form or another. Adding a third party to the affair however would require a whole new set of rules to deal with the ambiguity or asymmetry of a multi-partnered relationship, whether it be sorting out inheritance, defining guardianship and so on.

All this being said, I myself don’t have any major objections to polygamous relationships, I just don’t think them very practical, or stable. If I was to be proven wrong, and shown that people could make such an arrangement work harmoniously, then more power to them.

But at the end of the day these two arguments are separate arguments, linked only by the fact that they both deal with relationships and marriage, but not linked in any fundamental way that would demand both be recognised should either ‘cross the line’ into law.

Thanks for reading,

22 May 2013

Thoughts on the Imminent Xbox

The new Xbox is set to be announced tomorrow. Or today I guess, as it is in the United States that things will take place. But it is tomorrow for us, at 3:00 a.m. Microsoft is set to announce what can only be the latest generation of their gaming console; and I am pumped!

It is odd to realise that a central part of my entertainment is still being provided by a piece of tech that is around 8 years old. Eight years! Think about it; eight years ago, there was no such thing as an iPhone.

Sure, I guess now it is a sign of our times that we think new technology must be purchased the instant it debuts, and old technology shunted to the kerb; but 8 years seems a phenomenal time to still be using the same bit of tech.  Especially when you consider how much the experience has advanced over the years.
Just look at this comparison of Oblivion and Skyrim; same machine, same game series, wildly different experience.

Now, if I were to expect the same things of, say, my mobile phone, I would want my old 2005 era Nokia to be able to fill the boots of my current iPhone 4s. That means storing the whole discographies of my favourite bands, letting me watch my favourite shows and movies, connecting with family and friends, taking high definition photos, listening to voice commands and downloading thousands of amazing apps. Or at least instead offering me a fraction of this experience as the older Xbox did compared to the current.
Instead I would have been relying on this:
State of the art
Earlier today a couple of friends and I were musing over the difference that the console itself has gone through over its almost decade on this earth. There were the ugly ‘blades’ that were out gateway to the Xbox dashboard, or its initial inability to play media stored on an external hard drive (or even in such common formats as avi or xvid).
Check out the theme; so mid-2000's
Its older than Facebook, than Youtube (pretty much), and than Android.
Whats more mind bending from my point of view is its older than my son! Hell, its even older than my career (if you can call it that). 8 years ago, when it was finally time to upgrade from my humble old Xbox to the newly released Xbox 360, life was very different for me. For starters I had to scrape together money and ask for my mums help in being able to afford the thing! At least now I wont have to do that. Instead I will scrape together money and get my wife's help in budgeting this into our family’s expenses. Oh times how they change.
Debt remains debt it appears.
There was no financial crisis when Xbox 360 appeared. Few people could tell you what sub-prime even meant, and if pushed, I would have grasped at straws by mentioning Autobot hierarchy.
I guess as a lesser Prime he could be considered a 'sub-prime'...
There was a lot of hype around the new console, it managed to live up to much of its potential, but other parts of the state of the art machine have long since lost their relevance. Has anyone seriously been buying faceplates for their machines over the years? I did’t think so.
Thought this one is certainly worth investing in
The wait seemed to go on forever. I remember receiving my hideous blue faceplate in the mail a week before the console itself arrived on our shores, as well as a DVD of gameplay, and videos showing what the graphical user interface would look like. Watching it over and over as I dreamt of the amazing future that included things like, wait for it, wireless controllers!

It is also worth pointing out that the console I finally obtained on that day isn’t the same one I have today, though it is practically the same beast. Us Aussies had to deal with the crap end of Microsoft's roll out, first of all having our machines delayed when demand exceeded supply, and those Xbox 360s which had been destined for the land down under were appropriated by other interests. Then to add salt to the wound, the machines we got were more prone to suffer death via red ring. I had paid an extra $50 for the ability to swap any malfunctioning equipment with EB Games, and it was a decision that more than paid for itself (though note literally of course).
Within a week of getting my Xbox, it was dead. I replaced it in a day, and all was well. Until two weeks later, when the red ring fairy visited again and shut me down once more. Luckily third time was the charm, and the machine that hums and expels copious amounts of heat into my living room today is the same one that replaced the second try all those years ago.
Repeat screenings available...
One last thought.
I know sometimes it can be tedious to hear parents relate all their experience through the prism of parenthood; but I cant help feel that this next transition from seventh generation console to eighth will be an amazing thing to watch my son go through. During the previous transition between Xboxes he went from two disjointed human cells, all the way up to a cogent, sentient awesome little man. 
With a god damn green belt!
I remember playing Oblivion while he sat in a bouncer next to me, struggling to tell the difference between the world around him, and the fingers at the end of his hand. I remember introducing him to the world of gaming, and watching as he marvelled at the ability to shape events happening on a television screen with the press of a button.
When he was only two years old I would tentatively play Grand Theft Auto 4 with him on my lap (ensuring I obeyed the speed rules and caused no pedestrian harm), and was amused when he berated me for not putting on a helmet while I drove my motorbike around Liberty City.
If we can expect the same useful life out of this next console, then it will be the year 2021 when we next have to fork out a large sum of money and send it Bill Gates way. My son would be 15 years old on that day, in Year Ten, and living in a world who's fads and pastimes haven’t even been invented yet. Most likely he will play games between then and now that in some way will shape his life, his growth and who knows what else. He will experience movies and television shows that will stay with him forever. Through this conduit so much of our culture and knowledge will be available to him, in a way to shape who he is; and the thought of that really gets me excited.
Bring it on Redmond!


29 April 2013

Thoughts on The Economic Consequences of the Peace, by John Maynard Keynes

A while back I read the above mentioned book (get it online for free!) and wrote down some of my thoughts as I went along (though not in a structured or coherent manner). Here they are for anyone who is interested, and even for those who are not.

I had heard of John Maynard Keynes before; by which I mean I had read his name in passing many times, from many sources. But I didn’t know that much about the man, what the eponymous form of Keynesian Economics described; what’s more I didn’t even know how to say his name! (I still don’t)
Shockingly graphs like this have not helped
But the man seemed remarkably prescient in deducing how events would come to pass in the world, particularly when he adopted a tone of pessimism.

When discussing the role of the embryonic League of Nations, he is sceptical of its ultimate effectiveness, and in his analysis hits upon many points which could arguably be applied to the faults inherent in todays United Nations.
“But the League will operate, say its supporters, by its influence on the public opinion of the world, and the view of the majority will carry decisive weight in practice, even though constitutionally it is of no effect. Let us pray that this be so. Yet the League in the hands of the trained European diplomatist may become an unequalled instrument for obstruction and delay. The revision of Treaties is entrusted primarily, not to the Council, which meets frequently, but to the Assembly, which will meet more rarely and must become, as any one with an experience of large Inter-Ally Conferences must know, an unwieldy polyglot debating society in which the greatest resolution and the best management may fail altogether to bring issues to a head against an opposition in favor of the status quo.”
Being written prior to World War II, it is also interesting to note the language used when referring to the war itself.
I was previously interested to learn that World War I was called the First World War long before there was a second to compare it to. I had always as a child accepted the two as a combined set forming a part of our history. A view further reinforced during later years when you learn a bit more about the conflicts, in particular how linked they were. Then noticing more memorials around town (old British Empire colonies have more World War I memorials than they do World War II), the title of the Great War embedded in my mind that this was the name given before it was revealed that history had more in store.
However the true genesis of the term First World War isn’t one of comparing events, but rather of defining events. It was the ‘first’ world war. Not the first in a series, but the first ever to come to pass. Many hoped it would be the only (hence the sadly defunct moniker; The War to End All Wars), but at the time it was considered momentous that the whole worlds focus could be turned toward conflict (even though it really wasn’t the whole world anyway).
Though i guess it was pretty close (axis in orange, allies in green)
But anyway, back to the more direct point.
I was interested to note that Keynes at times refers to the First World War as a European world war (or European civil war). Whether or not he believes this to be the case isn’t certain, however he makes it clear that this is what the French government (in particular their Prime Minister Clemenceau) believed the conflict to be. Clemenceau saw the war as a continuation of European civil wars, a pattern which had transpired in the past (there is a lot of reference to the war of 1870, in which Germany defeated France), and was destined to continue in the future. As such the French leader was determined to break Germany’s backbone, in order to ensure that its victory, which he considered as but one in a long line of battles, would be more lasting.
Strange to think that such actions wishing to prevent Germany’s future victories over France more likely fuelled on their ultimate defeat in World War II.

Reading this analysis, one can’t help but feel that Germany’s ultimate breaking of the treaty, and subsequent resurgence, was all but a certainty given the strains it was put under. This isn’t to say that Hitler’s rise was foreseeable, or justified. But when one considers that the nation of Germany was left with the choice of either surrendering any foreseeable surplus or profit for a generation, or else breaking the treaty; what population wouldn’t choose the later? The fact that such animosity had been created between Germany and her captors only helped to foster an environment where the more unsavoury members of society could more easily hoist their views and remain within the scope of public thought.

With the full weight of historical events such as the great depression, and World War II, falling just shy of this account, one can’t help but view everything that Keynes talks about through this odd prism of foresight.
Keynes predicts the malaise about to grip the world’s economy. He sees the inherent problems within the League of Nations, and understands that if the treaty of Versailles isn’t altered, that the consequences would not only be dire for Germany, but for Europe, and perhaps the world as a whole.
Indeed, his arguments were so persuasive that they affected public opinion both in England and the United States.
The English public began to think of the Treaty’s terms as a sort of Carthaginian Peace, and felt that Germany had been hard done by. Such sentiments would later go on to help establish the ill-informed policy of appeasement adopted by Chamberlain in the lead up to World War II.

Again it is odd to think that measures made with seemingly good intentions can lead to such horrible consequences. First a French desire to avoid future defeat at the hands of Germany brings about a future French defeat, and then a British desire to atone to Germany for their harsh treatment allows Germany to commit crimes more horrible than it was originally being chastised for.

Closing off his chapter on Europe after the Treaty, Keynes foresees the economic turmoil that would give birth too Nazism:
“Economic privation proceeds by easy stages, and so long as men suffer it patiently the outside world cares little. Physical efficiency and resistance to disease slowly diminish, but life proceeds somehow, until the limit of human endurance is reached at last and counsels of despair and madness stir the sufferers from the lethargy which precedes the crisis. Then man shakes himself, and the bonds of custom are loosed. The power of ideas is sovereign, and he listens to whatever instruction of hope, illusion, or revenge is carried to him on the air”
“But who can say how much is endurable, or in what direction men will seek at last to escape from their misfortunes?”
You can almost hear the jackboots.

Similarly as reading a text written in the period between last centuries two major conflicts inevitably leads one to view the writing in a light it was not exactly mean to be read in, I can’t help but apply some of the writings to one of this centuries budding defining events; the rise of China.
True there is not much said in Keynes work about China, nor is China’s current economic growth something that is only confined to the 21st century, but nevertheless I found this passage bringing images of China to mind when I read it:
“The great events of history are often due to secular changes in the growth of population and other fundamental economic causes, which, escaping by their gradual character the notice of contemporary observers, are attributed to the follies of statesmen or the fanaticism of atheists.”
Chinas rise has always seemed to me to be a simple matter of demographics. When you have 20% of the world’s population within your borders, you can’t be held down forever. And though its ‘rise’ seems to have caught a few people off guard, it definitely seems to have accomplished this through a gradual nature.

Then there were passages which evoked similar descriptions of the world as it appears to some today:
“Europe was so organized socially and economically as to secure the maximum accumulation of capital. While there was some continuous improvement in the daily conditions of life of the mass of the population, Society was so framed as to throw a great part of the increased income into the control of the class least likely to consume it. The new rich of the nineteenth century were not brought up to large expenditures, and preferred the power which investment gave them to the pleasures of immediate consumption. In fact, it was precisely the inequality of the distribution of wealth which made possible those vast accumulations of fixed wealth and of capital improvements which distinguished that age from all others. Herein lay, in fact, the main justification of the Capitalist System. If the rich had spent their new wealth on their own enjoyments, the world would long ago have found such a régime intolerable. But like bees they saved and accumulated, not less to the advantage of the whole community because they themselves held narrower ends in prospect.”
Is this accumulation of wealth by small percentages what lead to the great depression, and what is now worrying people in places like America?

I also found it interesting how Keynes talks of the American President’s inability to hold his own during chamber debates. I have often heard people in the United States bemoan their politician’s lack of ability in this regard, especially when compared to politicians accustomed to the Westminster System, or equivalent, where their ability is forged in the crucible of question time. This perhaps is why Americans were so impressed with Gillard’s recent flaying of Abbots sexism.
I couldn't resist
I also enjoyed a few quotes I figured were worth repeating here.
“Thus this remarkable system depended for its growth on a double bluff or deception. On the one hand the labouring classes accepted from ignorance or powerlessness, or were compelled, persuaded, or cajoled by custom, convention, authority, and the well-established order of Society into accepting, a situation in which they could call their own very little of the cake that they and Nature and the capitalists were co-operating to produce. And on the other hand the capitalist classes were allowed to call the best part of the cake theirs and were theoretically free to consume it, on the tacit underlying condition that they consumed very little of it in practice. The duty of "saving" became nine-tenths of virtue and the growth of the cake the object of true religion. There grew round the non-consumption of the cake all those instincts of puritanism which in other ages has withdrawn itself from the world and has neglected the arts of production as well as those of enjoyment. And so the cake increased; but to what end was not clearly contemplated. Individuals would be exhorted not so much to abstain as to defer, and to cultivate the pleasures of security and anticipation. Saving was for old age or for your children; but this was only in theory,—the virtue of the cake was that it was never to be consumed, neither by you nor by your children after you.”
The cake is real.
“As lately as 1890 Europe had a population three times that of North and South America added together”
When talking of rhetoric and the art of argument, Keynes offers this interesting bit of insight:
“A moment often arrives when substantial victory is yours if by some slight appearance of a concession you can save the face of the opposition or conciliate them by a restatement of your proposal helpful to them and not injurious to anything essential to yourself.”
I just found it interesting.
 “In fact, here, as elsewhere, political considerations cut disastrously across economic. In a régime of Free Trade and free economic intercourse it would be of little consequence that iron lay on one side of a political frontier, and labor, coal, and blast furnaces on the other. But as it is, men have devised ways to impoverish themselves and one another; and prefer collective animosities to individual happiness”
Also, billions are referred to by Keynes as ‘milliards’. Nice

Well that’s pretty much all I have to say. Has anyone else read this, and if so, what were your thoughts?

Marriage Should Be Based On Love, Not Procreation: A Rant

The opinion section of my local newspaper, The Courier, has been heating up a lot lately with arguments regarding marriage equality. One post in particular set my argumentative mind a flurry, so I penned the below response. It didn’t make it into the Letters to the Editor section (there seems to have been a plethora of responses printed, so I am using that excuse to explain why mine slipped through the gaps), so I figured I’d post it here, with a couple of annotations:

I write in reply to Father Bernard McGrath’s letter (Misguided Sympathies Destroying Marriages), in which he tries to define marriage based on the ability to procreate alone.
 The author states that marriage is a personal and public institution for the good of society, and I agree with him. He then goes on to explain exactly why same sex partnerships should be excluded from this institution, and why he believes this is a fair outcome. This is where our views diverge.
 Father Bernard’s arguments start to get tenuous very early on.
First he states that marriage is a law of nature, separate from religious and state laws, failing perhaps to realise that same sex relationships are likewise a part of nature. He goes on to highlight the procreative nature of marriage, in that it is intended for the creation of babies, but then seeks to give a pass to those who are unwilling to reproduce, by asserting that they ‘give witness’ to what he believes to be the ultimate purpose of marriage; again procreation.
 [Note:I believe that this witnessing he refers to is simply the fact that married couples have sex. Why he doesn’t believe that same sex couple ‘witness’ in a very similar way is again left unanswered]
 Now I don’t come to this argument devoid of my own views and beliefs; I am an atheist to the bone, and a happily married man. However I would argue that rather than basing the institution of marriage (something the Father and I both believe to be for the good of society) on the mere act of procreation, we should instead focus on what makes marriage, and the union it represents, truly important to our society: love.
 I married my wife not so that we could procreate (after all, we had successfully achieved this prior), but rather because I love her with all my heart, and wish to spend the rest of my life with her. This is the form of love and devotion that I believe we as a society should celebrate with the title of marriage; not just the act of procreation. After all, many people choose not to procreate, and many more still are unable to procreate. I would challenge Father Bernard to explain to me how a married same sex couple adopting a child would be functionally any different than an infertile married couple adopting one of their own.
 Father Bernard’s arguments belie his conservative and outdated views when he seeks to explain that equality isn’t as simple as some ‘misguided’ advocates think. He states “After all, a man cannot be a mother nor a woman a father, so they can never be absolutely equal”, but fails to realise that both of these things are in effect equal; both are parents. Instead he champions the woefully outdated rhetoric of ‘same but different’.
 In another  telling line the author laments the fact that if same sex marriage were permitted then marriage would no longer be centred around our ability to procreate, but rather it would exist as ‘something primarily centred on the desires and emotions of adults’.
Yes it would; and for most people out there I would argue that this is what marriage currently means for them. It is an expression of their desires and their emotions; of their feelings toward those they love. Ask someone why they got married, or want to get married, and I guarantee that the vast majority will mention the word ‘love’ before they do the impersonal term ‘procreate’.
 Let Christians have Christian marriages by all means, but don’t seek to ban others from expressing their love because it hurts your own personal definition of marriage. After all, those who want to marry for procreative means are free to do so, and allowing gays and non-Christian heterosexuals to marry for love isn’t going to hamper anyone’s desire to go forth and multiply.
 At the end of the day we are not even arguing about the legitimacy of same sex relationships anymore; as a society we accept this as normal. However in a vain attempt to exclude same sex couple from their exclusive club, we instead find ourselves arguing about trivial definitions. Above I have outlined a brief argument as to why marriage should be defined by love, whereas the opposition seems to think it should be based on the act of procreation. My proposal would include both subsets, the opposition’s seeks to exclude a group of people simply because they can’t procreate. Which seems fairer?
 Mathew Morton

Again, I can’t help but note the apparent dissonance  expressed by opponent of gay marriage, and how I believe Australians on average view the institution. So rarely is the word love even used by these opponents that you begin to wonder if this is a conscious effort. Have they realised that they have lost the battle as to whether homosexual love is genuine love, and thus want to distance the act of marriage from this altogether?

Then there is this lovely little gem written by Courier regular Anniemee in response to a Doctors comment that marriage is a social institution, free to change and reflect society’s views about love:

“Well Dr Robert Watson, that is the most stupid comment I've ever read. I don't agree with much Fr B McGrath says, as I'm not a Catholic, but as far as life is concerned 'Marriage' is about procreation! AND it's great that we can choose the love of our life who we want to procreate with in this country.
I love my neighbour, but I will not procreate with him. I love my children, but will not procreate with them.
What an uneducated nonsense you spout here. What are you thinking? You need to go a little further than your own distorted mind to find the answer. It sounds like you are in a same sex relationship and are looking to justify this in your own conscience. Hey, I love my Dog too, perhaps we should all marry the pets we love. Please Courier, print this for the Doctor.”

All this mind you in response to this brief comment:
“FR Bernard McGrath states (The Courier, April 16) that marriage is based in the 'natural order of procreation'.
I suggest that marriage is a social construct that has been created by humans. As we created the construct, therefore we can change it. Love is love and it should be at the heart of any marriage.”

Again, I was compelled to respond, and you can see that response at the website if you have nothing better to do, however I think it worth noting the truly warped way that gay marriage is being opposed in these forums.
Here again we find someone arguing actively that love has nothing to do with marriage, only the act of procreation is paramount. Sure you can love your spouse, but if you aren’t willing to procreate with them, then you have no business marrying them. Indeed this commenter fails to make any distinction between the love she has for animals and neighbours, and the love she has for a spouse, beyond the act of procreation.
In her view the only difference between the relationship she has with a dog, versus that of a husband, is that she can procreate with one, and not the other.
There seems an obvious dishonesty in these arguments. I don’t doubt for a second that those arguing for marriage basis in procreation would also argue that the love they have for their spouse, and the relationship it forms, is quantitatively different to other forms of love and relationship. This unique relationship and love is what marriage should symbolise, not the intersection of love and procreative viability.
Rant complete

04 March 2013

Breaking the Drought

I have not posted in a while, and when that happens, I tend to want to start things with a somewhat interesting or significant post. This is not happening tonight however. I have a sore toe, and that is all this post is about. Just my sore toe.
But hey; its not like that isn't worth knowing is it? I mean, isn't that what Bob Marley and Jack Daniel died from? Kind of anyway......
Think about it.
MM out.