Sunday, 28 June 2009

I really hate Twilight

Because I refuse on principle to do a blog on Michael Jackson; I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, this week’s blog comes to you in the form of a link to another blog by someone else entirely, in which is embedded a video made by yet another person. This video is made of win.

Here it is. It’s worth noting if you didn’t already realise that the guy is from Twilight and the chick is Buffy, in case that wasn’t obvious.

Those of you who know me will know all about my complete distain for Twilight, which is why I find this video so satisfying. If you haven’t seen (or read) Twilight then congratulations, you have so far managed to escape that appalling pile of bile. To fill you in, it’s about a girl who moves to live with her father in a small town in the north east USA. There she quickly befriends a variety of rather cliché and uninspiring characters that make up the teenage population of this overly blue town (as you can see from the video the film makers had some sort of blue fetish) She also encounters and is inexplicably attracted to a dark brooding asshole called Edward, who is also a vampire. Well he sparkles in the sunlight, and can run very fast, and can read people’s mind for some reason, and doesn’t kill people… he’s not a very good vampire; mostly he just broods because that’s supposed to be attractive in a guy. You can tell the target audience has low self-esteem. Anyway, somehow these two eventually hook up because nonchalance, stalking and borderline domestic abuse are all great ingredients for a functional and healthy relationship. The two emo lovebirds then start getting hunted by some real vampires (in that they kill people, although they still sparkle in the sunlight and tend to brood a fair bit) and we finally get some action rather than all the horrible, pointless drama which dominated the rest of the film.

Ok, so now you don’t need to watch it. As you can probably tell I really don’t like this film, mostly because it felt like it was written by a 14 year old girl. The characters are cliché, the plot is predictable, the setting is corny and the dialogue is painfully forced. The pacing is terrible; it’s over 2 hours long and you don’t even meet the antagonists until about half an hour until the end. Even then the action is rushed so we can get back to more soppy and terribly written teen drama and pathetic romance. It’s worrying that there are writers getting paid to churn out this crap and even more worrying that the film was a massive success.

Even the CGI and stunts were done badly. Normally bad films are slightly redeemed by the fact that they’re really well made; the recent Bond film had awesome special effects for example. However Twilight does even have this to fall back on; the stunts are obviously faked and the film is flooded with blue all the time. I literally can think of no redeeming features of the film apart from the occasional piece of nice scenery, but when I’m searching this hard I know I should just give up and accept that there is nothing good of any note about the film.

Which is why I found that video so entertaining; it took the piss out of a film I disliked intensely. There is a sequel coming out later this year, I may even watch it just so I can rant about how bad that was… or I may use that time doing something less painful like drilling holes in my fingertips with an electric drill. I hope you liked the video as much as I did, which you probably would have done had you seen the film, if you hadn’t then I hope you can appreciate it anyway.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Loosing my Marbles

This week the Acropolis Museum was unveiled in Athens, just below the site of the world famous Parthenon; one of the most famous buildings to survive from the Classical World. The museum cost £110 million and was built to provide Athens with a place the display the city’s rich history. It is no accident then that it is placed next to the Acropolis, the centrepiece of Ancient Athens. The main motivation for building the museum was to provide a place to display the Elgin Marbles and other statues which formerly adorned the Parthenon. These statues are currently held in the British Museum, having been brought there from Athens in the early 19th century.

The Elgin Marbles, named after the person who removed them from Athens and brought them to the British Museum, make up about 75 metres of the 160 metre frieze that decorated the interior of the Parthenon. This frieze has been recreated as the centre piece of the Acropolis Museum partly with the pieces which remained in Athens and partly with copies made of the pieces currently in London. It is the hope of the Greek authorities that the Elgin Marbles will be returned to Athens to be reunited with the rest of the frieze. They argue that it is a vital part of the Athenian heritage and was wrongful removed from the Parthenon. They believe that they have a right to possess them.

On the face of it this claim is simple enough; the marbles were originally made in Athens so they belong there. However by making this claim the Athenians make a claim about their own culture and heritage which is far bold than first appears. While Athens in name and geography is the same city as it was in the 4th century BC, it is very different culturally and socially; modern Athens is in no way the same city as Classical Athens. For a start modern Athens is the capital of a Greek state then never existed in the 4th century BC. At this time Greece was made up of a series of city-states more likely to fight each other than to cooperate. Even when threatened from outside they only cooperated for reasons of mutual self-interest, rather than any sense of national identity. The idea of a culturally and politically united Greek state was not even considered by the people’s of the day; it was a world of small city-states and large empires or leagues, not nation-states and united coalitions. Secondly the religion of ancient Athens was a polytheistic, anthropomorphic religion of sacrifices and frequent festivals. The gods were ever-present and took a concerted interest in the life of the citizens. This is far removed from the Orthodox Christian religion of Modern Athens, which can trace its roots back to a combination of Judaism and the philosophy of Plato. These two religions are so different that it is impossible to say that one is in any way the successor of the other. Finally Ancient Athens was the intellectual and cultural centre of the Mediterranean world for centuries, whereas modern Athens is the culturally and political capital of a poor, unimportant state in the south of the Balkans, one of the poorest areas of Europe. Modern Athenians can claim to link to ancient Athens beyond the geography. They are two completely different cities situated in the same place.

There is no reason therefore for the authorities at the Parthenon Museum to demand that the Marbles be returned to them because they simply don’t belong to them. They belong to a city and a culture far removed from the modern city. Given that the Parthenon was build by an imperialist power from the money taken from subject states, mostly unwillingly, ostensibly for their defence, London may be the more appropriate place for the Marbles. Beyond this cynicism the Parthenon represents the wider ideals of democracy and freedom embraced in 4th century Athens in what was comparatively one of the most progressive societies in history. These are ideals embraced the world over and as such the Marbles do not belong to anyone, but everyone. They represent the expressive freedom which allowed the artistic excellence which designed and build them to flourish. As such there is no doubt that they should be on display in their most accessible and complete form.

Regardless the current state of affair is unsatisfactory; the frieze exists in several different parts across the world. They should be complete, no matter where they are on display. Given that it is the birthplace of democracy, despite the sad and insignificant pretence of a city with delusions of grandeur which now squats in its place, the frieze should be on display in Athens, next to the Parthenon; the building which is and will always be the enduring symbol of democracy.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Not-So-British National Party

Earlier this week the results of the European elections were published and amid the utter collapse of the Labour vote countrywide the British National Party (BNP) managed to grab two seats in Yorkshire and the North East. The BNP are a political party which claims to represent the indigenous population of Britain and to that end wants no-one but these indigenous Britons to live here. This means that all ethnic minorities will have to go, no matter how long they have lived here and no immigrants will be allowed entry to the country. They claim that these non-Britons are stealing jobs which should go to British people and blame any unemployment on these foreigners.

Essentially the BNP appeals to the sense of a British National Identity in order to conceal what is little more than racism; they believe that certain people, based on their race, should have exclusive access to an island simply be virtue of the fact that people of the same race have lived their for centuries. Not only is this an absurd belief, it is also built on a complete misconception of the history of Britain. Britain is not and never has had one indigenous race of ‘Britons’. Even in prehistoric times when the country was populated by Celtic tribes, these tribes were not united politically or racial. There was no country of ‘Britain’; just a whole host of different tribes competing for dominance of small areas of the island. Under the Roman occupation Britain was just part of the greater empire which spanned Western Europe and most of the Mediterranean. Romans were integrating with the tribesmen whom they had conquered. After the Romans had left Britain, the island was occupied by again competing tribes of Germans which only united under Alfred the Great after the Viking invasion. This is seen as the founding of Britain as a nation, and even then it was a hodgepodge of Celts, Saxons, Romans, Angles and various other smaller yet still distinctive groups. The Norman invasion made the makeup of Britain Even more different given that it was now occupied by a foreign power. For a long time after the invasion the aristocracy of Britain all spoke French and indeed much of north east France was part of Britain, or rather Britain was part of north east France. Britain was not ‘united by a common language’ until long into its history. In fact it is hard to say when this happened given that it was more of a gradual integration than a cosmic shift. ‘Britons’ are a peculiar racial mix of Germans, Vikings, Romans, Celts and Normans. This ill defined boiling pot is wrongly perceived as ‘Britishness’; there is no such thing as a British Race.

Using this misconception of what it is to be ‘British’ leads the BNP to believe that this small group of islands belongs to this ‘British’ race. The entire history of the British Isles is one of invasion and integration; new peoples have invaded or settled and become part of the populace. They have become part of the ‘British’ race by virtue of the fact that they have lived here and integrated with the populace, sharing their culture and shaping our history. I see no difference between German tribesmen settling this island and Indian or Polish or African families moving here and settling. The BNP misconstrue the facts to help conceal their blatant racism. The reason they want to expel people who do not fit their ill defined conception of British is basic and irrational fear of foreigners. They alter their conception of history to justify this absurdity.

Not only is the pillar of their beliefs completely unfounded, their leader and many of its members are completely insane. Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP is quoted as calling a holocaust a ‘holohoax’, most of its members seem to think that Hitler was actually a pretty decent bloke and we could learn a lot from his policies. Some members even think that we would be better off living in Nazi Germany. This from a party which claims to fight for civil liberties. They don’t seem to have an issue with rape, but think that homosexuality is wrong. They believe in Corporal Punishment for petty criminals, they’re opposed to globalisation and believe in governmental control of large swaths of the economy. Is this starting to sounds at all like Iran to you? The BNP wants to reduce Britain to the level a fascist state which has one of the worst human rights records of any country on the planet. This goes contrary to the beliefs of almost all great British thinkers through time; like John Stuart Mill, John Locke and Adam Smith. So much for British values, but we’ve already established that the BNP ignored historical facts which do not sit with their racist bullshit.

Fortunately the BNP’s election success was not actually a result of many more people voting for the BNP; they only managed to gain 1.4% of the vote on the last European Election. However their success does mean that Nick Griffin and co will represent, at least in part, British interests in the European Parliament. Given that only 6.3% of us voted for them this is a disgrace. The BNP are a sorry part of British politics for whom only a small number of racist bigots vote. It is a sad reflection of the state of politics in this country that they are able to win seats to represent the people of Britain, whatever the colour. If you too think that the BNP are a disgrace to this country then I urge you in the strongest terms to sign this petition. It is to be delivered to the European parliament when Nick Griffin sits in his first parliament on 14th July. You can and should also join the facebook group 1,000,000 united against the BNP.

The BNP are a blight on the face of British politics. The best thing you can do to stop them from gaining any power is to vote at the next election (which will probably be next summer). Racist bigots will always be in the minority – less than 6.3% of the country actually agrees with Nick Griffin, but it was the fact that people did not vote that allowed them to enter the European Parliament. Do not let the loud mouthed minority of racists overpower the vast majority of reasonable, tolerant people. One vote every few years is all the say we get in our ‘democracy’ so use your vote wisely. While I have my own preferences, I do not mind of you vote for Labour, or the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats or any other party, but I strongly urge you, when Gordon Brown does call an election, to use your vote wisely and don’t allow the travesty of this weeks European Election repeat itself.

Sunday, 7 June 2009


This week saw the world’s biggest nerd-fest; E3 take place in Los Angeles. E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) is, as the name suggests, an exhibition for video game designers to launch their upcoming projects to the world. After last year’s disappointing series of sequels, E3 returned to form with some very juicy announcements from all three of the major console makers that are sure to give every video game nerd across the globe raging erections. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all announced new controllers for their respective consoles.

Given how much money the Wii has been raking in for Nintendo it was inevitable that the other console developers would want to tap into the market and they have taken the opportunity presented at E3 to do that. Sony announced a motion sensing camera, which seems to be rather limited compared to Microsoft’s Project Natal; a motion sensing device more accurate than anything produced previously. Microsoft claims that it can do voice and face recognition, and register movement to an accuracy that does to require a controller and allows the player to interact with characters on screen in a completely revolutionary way.

Of course Nintendo made claims about the Wii’s motion sensing capabilities which proved to be rather overoptimistic and because of that they’ve announced yet another accessory for the Wii that makes the control actually do what it’s supposed to do. We are now a few years down the line and the promotional videos show Project Natal working very well, but I can’t help but fear that the motion sensor will not live up to expectations.

I am also sceptical that the motion sensor will work with more hardcore games like Shooters and RPG’s. Clearly motion sensors make for a more realistic experience, which is great for sports games and such, but the whole point about video games is that you can take on the attributes of someone or something else and do things that you would not normally be able to do. There is no way that a game which centres on motion sensors can provide this experience. The hand-held controller remains the best way of playing hardcore games, so removing it can only really condemn Project Natal to a casual gamer’s gimmick. From an economic perspective this is no bad thing; the Wii has made massive profit for Nintendo by appealing to the casual gamer and Microsoft understandably wants to muscle in on that market. However Project Natal seems to be a break from the hardcore gaming demographic that has made the Xbox 360 so successful. Hopefully Microsoft will recognise that controllers are still the best way of playing most video games and continue to release games that do not depend solely on the motion sensor.

You would hope that the novelty of motion sensing will wear off eventually (although the continued success of the Wii demonstrates it’s continued popularity) and people will stop making ever more gimmicky games that have arbitrary features which are only there to make use of the motion sensor. Until then I guess we’ll continue to be bombarded with ever more realistic sports games. Inevitably people want games which effectively emulate how the sport is really played and this is probably where Project Natal’s real potential lies, until people start thinking outside the box and just going outside to play the sport in question for real. Rather than standing in front of your television posing like a sportsman you could just be outside doing the same thing, looked less ridiculous, burning more calories and getting more direct sunlight.

It remains to be seen just how effective Microsoft’s foray into motion sensor based video games will be. I can see Project Natal selling very well (although it will have to in order to make up all the money Microsoft and no doubt spend developing it), but I don’t think that full motion sensor based gaming without any controller is the way it will go. I can see better and better takes on what the Wii has already don’t being successful with both casual and hardcore gamers, but Project Natal really represents more of a gimmick which will work in the short term rather than that next generation of video game consoles. Nevertheless, with consoles now living in every household and videogames no longer being the reserve of nerd living in their parent’s basement, the casual gaming demographic will only grow, meaning that the major developers will have to pander to their desires to continue to compete. Fortunately that hardcore gaming market continues to be large enough that the major developers cannot ignore it; the increase in popularity of casual games will not spell the end of the hardcore gamer.