Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Job Half Done in Libya

Back in March I wrote about the rebellion in Libya and the need for The West to take action. It’s time to do it again. This will not, however, simply be a repetition of what I said back then because, since March, western democracies, in particular European ones have been heavily involved in Libya, supporting the rebellion and helping to overthrow Gaddafi. In short, doing exactly what I, and many others, called for.

I regret that I’ve not mentioned the war at all in this blog since March, but there hasn’t been a lot worthy of comment: The West has actually done a pretty good job of using the right amount of military presence and generally leaving most of the fighting to the rebels. NATO has been very careful to keep its involvement to ‘protecting civilians’ and taking out important strategic sites through air strikes, rather than helping the rebels on the ground. Likewise other European nations have helped the rebels indirectly, but have not put troop on the ground.

The reason I’m comment on this conflict now is that the rebels took Tripoli, the capital of Libya, last week, a significant step towards winning the civil war. Gaddafi has been ousted from power and the war is largely over. While Gaddafi still has some support and the ability to strike back against the rebels, he can only really delay defeat. Only his capture remains as a significant milestone in the path to victory.

So it is time for The West to step in. Not in order to help capture Gaddafi, although that would not go amiss, but to help stabilise the country in the face of the regime change, to aid in the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure and to ensure that a free and fair election follows the defeat of Gaddafi’s forces.

War inevitably disrupts the infrastructure of a country, from disruption to the power supply to the destruction of roads and other means of transport. Rebuilding those link is really important to rebuilding Libya; there are already deep divisions between east and west (the rebellion started in the west and most of the pro-Gaddafi forces were based in the east) and if communications and transport between east and west are disrupted, that division will continue to grow. In order to establish political unity in a country already split by civil war, good infrastructure needs to be established.

More importantly, Libya faces a humanitarian crisis. In Tripoli alone, hospitals are under massive strain from the war-wounded, especially with many doctors having fled at the start of the war. With essentials like water and power disrupted, and people unwilling to leave the house to buy food, given that there is still some fighting in the city, there is a risk that the casualties of war will continue to rise, especially in the civilian population.

NATO’s reluctance to put solider on the ground and get heavily involved was admirable in the early stages of the conflict. It ensured that the war was a revolutionary one led by the Libyan people. That should continue and the hunt for Gaddafi should be led by the rebels, however, if NATO wants to continue to claim that it is protecting the citizens of Libya, then they don’t really have a choice; they have to step in and help the relieve effort.

This, of course, does not necessarily mean troops of the ground, but working with the UN and various international aid agencies to help facilitate giving aid to the Libyan people where they need it most. If fighting does intensify in Tripoli, it may become necessary to put troops on the ground in order to protect civilians, given the high concentration of them in Tripoli.

The West has generally done well to learn from the mistakes of Afghanistan and Iraq, in that they have not had a large presence on the ground in Libya and has generally kept out of the way. However they must continue to learn from past mistakes and work hard now that the war is almost over to ensure that Libya does not devolve into warring factions and destitution. The provision of aid to Iraq and Afghanistan was poor, mostly because troops have never really been in complete control. In Libya they need to ensure that aid gets to where it is needed and that it does not get too disrupted. This may even involve taking military action against pro-Gaddafi forces to force them out of heavily popularised areas, or at least to protect already liberated areas from further attacks. With any luck the rebel forces will be sufficient to do this, but NATO should not balk at putting some peacekeepers into Tripoli to maintain some level of order until the country can get itself back in its feet.

The war may well be all but won, but the peace that follows it might well be much harder to win than the war. The rebels have never been a particularly unified group, with Islamist and Berber factions, as well as a number of competing tribes, long time opponents of his regime and recent defectors. Opposition to Gaddafi is all that has held them together thus far and there are fears that his fall will cause the rebel movement to fall apart. The worst case scenario would be for Libya to fall into another civil war between competing factions, all vying for power. To prevent this requires strong leadership on the rebel’s part; someone who can hold them together long enough to establish a new political system based around democracy and elections.

The problem is that such a leader cannot appear to be a puppet of The West. He needs to be a Libyan leader, not a leader appointed by the UN. The West cannot be seen to be interfering, but can ill-afford to let Libya slide into a much more disastrous civil war. Some form of light touch diplomacy and careful supervision is needed to help establish a democracy in Libya without forcing the Libyan’s hand; this needs to come primarily from them.

There is one thing that The West can do that will help immeasurably; make funds available to the rebels in order to rebuild the country. Getting aid to where it needs to be, rebuilding the infrastructure and getting Libya back to some semblance of normality will require a lot of money that Libya simply does not have at the moment. The Libyan economy needs to get back on its feet and for that a large injection of money will be needed.  Obviously, with the state of the world economy as it is at the moment, such aid might prove hard to come by, but remember that Libya does has assets that were frozen in the early stages of the war. Getting access to those funds would go a long way to helped Libya get back on its feet.

As I said at the start if this post, it’s time for The West to take action in Libya. The first half of the job has been handled very well, but the second half may well be a much more daunting task. The West needs to ensure that the people of Libya get the aid they need now and also that the rebels set up the necessary infrastructure to facilitate an election. The Libyan state needs to be rebuilt from the ground upwards. This requires aid from The West, both in terms of money and also in terms of charity and aid work, but also needs to be led by the Libyans themselves. It will be a difficult balancing act and if handled badly, Libya could end up in a state of civil ear much like Afghanistan and Iraq are now, with a number of different factions fighting for power. The confidence of The West as international peacekeepers and world leaders in democracy cannot afford such a failure, and nor can Libya, which stands to set a bench mark for the rest of Africa to become much more stable democratic. I hope that in a few months time I will be able to write a blog post praising the aid effort and looking forward to a bright future for Africa.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Language, Sex, Violence, Other?

I’ve been thinking a bit recently (yes, I’m fine, thanks) about how we define ‘adult’ in terms of media. No, I’m not talking about porn, although I suppose that is part of the issue. What I mean is they way in which both consumers and writers perceive what is and is not ‘adult’ content. This comes mostly from watching the recent episodes of ‘Torchwood: Miracle Day’, a self-confessed ‘adult’ Dr Who spin off.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m really enjoying ‘Miracle Day’, but I have long been of the view that Russel T. Davis, the executive producer, creator and head writer of Torchwood, is not a good writer. He’s a fantastic plotter and producer, but his technical writing is not good at all. Torchwood has always been guilty of falling into the trap of trying too hard to be ‘adult’. There have often been sequences in the stories in which everyone stops for a sex break, or plots revolving around sex itself, usually dealt with in a very crude and unsophisticated way.

My argument is that such open, often very forward and explicit attitudes towards sex is not indicative of ‘adult’ content, but is instead rather juvenile. There is no need for half of the cast to go off and have sex midway through the episode; it often does not actually add anything to the storyline, or the characters. It’s gratuitous, immature and often quite silly. Hardly adult.

Sadly, video games are usually the worst contenders for this. The Gears of War games are almost always given ‘mature’ or 18+ ratings, even though the games have no real depth or sophistication, just gore and violence. They are not ‘mature’ games, they are quite obviously immature. Similarly the portray of characters, particularly women, as gender stereotypes can hardly be defined as ‘adult’. Femme Fetalle characters wearing next to nothing being highly sexualised and often consciously objectivised is not adult, it’s childish.

I want to make clear that I’m not really taking about rating systems, but the perception of what is ‘adult’ content. However I think the point that needs to be made is that giving content that is not at all adult the label of ‘mature’ gives the wrong impression about what we consider mature. This is especially true when you consider the fact that the rating system is almost always ignored by consumers once children get above the age of 13 or so. Believe me, I’ve worked with 13 year old kids, they know all the language, they’ve seen and the gore and they know what a pair of boobs look like. If we are trying to protect teens from such explicit content, we are failing, so in giving such contend the label of ‘adult’ we are actually giving a very unhealthy impression of what it means to be mature.

Of course, this begs the question of what does it mean to be adult? This is actually a very difficult thing to define. When we describe media as ‘adult’ or ‘mature’ we mean content appropriate for adults, or mature people. Of course it is perfectly possible for teenagers to be as mature as many adults, but I don’t really want to get into that. It very much depends on the individual, which makes life hard for legislators, hence why they tend to draw a line in the sand at age 18. There is a difference between what is appropriate for children, young adults and adults and writers have to delicately balance their content to accommodate for their target audience.

Some content, themes and ideas are simply not appropriate for teenagers or children. Sometimes because it’s too complex (not wishing to sound patronising) or too dark. Often it’s simply that it deals with matters that they have no interest in or experience of, so it simple isn’t interesting or relevant to them. We should not use language, sex and violence as a measuring stick for these things.

To return to the example of Torchwood I mentioned earlier, I think Torchwood actually does a fantastic job of being quite mature. The current series deals with a phenomenon wherein the entire human race becomes immortal and digs straight into the consequences of that. People living through excruciatingly painful injuries and suffering on with no visible end in sight, a character who actually wants to die, but can’t, the moral issues now that murder no longer exists. Beyond that main premise, we have individuals using the disastrous situation to their own advantages, the power of the mob and a corporate conspiracy to name a few of the other themes that surface. It’s pretty dark. It explores some of the more unpleasant sides of human nature and of society. It’s pretty adult. It is not made more adult by random, all-together-now sex montages. In fact, next to the maturity of the rest of the series, those sequences actually look horribly out of place and almost comic.

The series is quite clearly targeted at adults. It’s not that teens should not watch it, it’s just that there’s a pretty good chance such things would go over their heads, or that they would, quite frankly, get bored by it. It’s not appropriate for less mature people simply because it’s not targeted at them.

In much the same way, a middle aged character who is going through a midlife crisis, dealing with divorce, debt and stress, might appeal to adults who can actually relate to such problems, whereas teens, even people in their twenties, would probably find that incredibly dull because they cannot relate to it. It deals with issues which do not mean anything to them. It’s adult in its content because it appeals to adults, not because it has content deemed inappropriate for children.

‘Adult’ or ‘mature’ content should not be a byword for sex, violence and gore, but simple an indication of the target audience. It’s is a message that the content is not meant to appeal to younger viewers and will probably not interest them. This is what Torchwood was designed for; Dr Who that appeal to the adult audience. That would not change if you got rid of the sex.

Video Games as a medium would take a massive leap forward if it started acknowledging its audience as adult and started building games with real adult content, games that, while being appropriate for kids, would be more appealing to adults, not because of the gore or the two dimensional female eye-candy, but because of the complex and sophisticated themes and ideas conveyed. This is becoming increasingly relevant as older generations get into gaming and the generations which have grown up with games, get older.

There’s nothing wrong with gory video games, or unsophisticated video games designed to be pieces of escapism. Just as there is nothing wrong with television which embraces gore and sex. Sex, in particular, forms quite a major part of most people’s lives. It is relevant and, when appropriate, can be used in a mature way. However, we need to get away from the perception that, for something to be ‘adult’ or ‘gritty’ or ‘dark’, it needs to have gore and sex and violence. We need to stop using these things as bywords for adult content. We need to grow up about our perceptions of adulthood.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Type Triggers

Ok, so recently I’ve been doing some writing for a website called Type Triggers. The site publishes four, four words of fewer, ‘triggers’ for flash fiction, poems, musing, whatever you want to write, every day. You write it in under 300 words, and then publish it on the site for everyone and anyone to read. Awesome.

So far I’ve written 5 flash pieces that I thought I’d share with you. If you like them, feel free to head over to Type Triggers and read more of what I’ll be writing in the future, along with all the other wonderful writer who write there. You could even contribute your own piece.

Anyway, here are my contributions thus far, the Triggers are the titles. Enjoy.


He needed to shave.

He rubbed is coarse, sand-paper chin and grimaced. As his hand passed over his mouth, his smelled the acrid smell of whiskey on his breath. His exposed armpit allowed the stench of his body odor to flood his nostrils.

He needed to shave. He needed to do a lot of things, but inertia was just easier. It was hard to get exciting about shaving.

He stared into the eyes of a stranger in the bathroom mirror. Haggard eyes with tired, black circles around them. He grimaced at himself - at what he had become - and dark stubble shifted across the contours of his face.

Trembling hands reached for the cold razor. It heavy in his hand; a weighty, solid object. It felt good. He caressed the 'on' button with his thumb, feeling the shape of it, daring himself to press it, to feel the switch give in to the pressure of his action.

He stared at it. His savior, his redeemer. He hated it. He hated the idea of action, the idea of standing up to be shot down, again.

He looked back at himself in the mirror and realised that he hated what he saw even more.

The buzzing of the razor echoed around the bathroom like an angry wasp.

He needed to shave. He needed to do a lot of things.

Too Much Coffee

Daniel charged down the stairs, into the living room, over the sofa, around the tv (somehow not tripping over the web of wires connecting it to the wall), back out of the living room, into the kitchen, under the table, past the oven, out the back door, over the cat (who looked absolutely terrified), through my tulips, around, through, over and under the climbing frame, around the house, in the front door, back up the stairs and leaped onto his bed.

I knew it was only a matter of time before he got bored of mashing his face into the pillow and decided to try to continue his training for the Olympic around-my-house dash.

That was the day I discovered that, for a four year old, any amount of coffee was too much coffee.

Heading South

It was roadtrip time.

Every year we did this. When school broke up for the holidays and the rains arrived, we headed south. South. To where the summer is. My old man had a beach house on the Sunshine Coast. Beautiful. It would be barbies on the beach, surfing, playing cricket and drinking stubbies all summer long.

Before, it had always been mum, dad, me and maybe a few mates. But dad couldn't get time off this year because of the economy, so they'd said I could go without them. Brilliant. Just me and a couple of mates. Heading south. Away from the rains and the stinking heat.

We loaded our gear onto the back of my Ute and set off down the Pacific Highway. Roadtrip. Heading South. The first big storm of The Wet saw us off. That's what we call it up here; The Wet. 'Bandenyirrin' as the abbos call it. We had to learn about all that shit at school.

It was a great summer. Mum and Dad came down for a week around Christmas, but apart from that, it was just the three of us. Drinking, surfing, rooting the sheilas who wanted some summer love. Best summer of my life.

Until a week or so until we had to go home. Lochie came into the house one day, still dripping wet from the surf.

"Turn on the TV, mate," he said, "fucking Cyclone's hit up north. Destroyed half of Cairns!"

I turned on the shitty old TV and saw the pictures. Wind and rain smashing my home town to pieces. The swell had swept through the centre of town. The whole place was underwater.

I tried ringing mum and dad, but I couldn't get hold of them.

There was nothing I could do. I'd headed south.

In the Aftermath

In the aftermath of the apocalypse, I knew that just two things were true. That you were alive, and that I had to find you. I don't know how I knew you were alive, it was just inconceivable that you were not. Despite all the thousand and one inconceivable things that had happened to the world, despite all the things I did not know, that no-one knew, I knew you were alive and that I had to find you.

So I did. Well, I tried. I found my old camping pack from the ruins of my house and salvaged as much food and water as I could find. And I set off towards your house. I had to force myself not to run, not to try to sprint every step of the 100 miles.

I knew the way pretty well; I'd driven it a hundred times. It felt odd, walking down roads that I'd driven along only days before. It happens in a flash, A to B in minutes. I can get to the Motorway in quarter of an hour from my house. It took me most of the day to walk there.

I slept in the burnt out husks of cars, trying to ignore the stench of burnt, rotting flesh. I tried to ration food and water, but soon, I was thirsty. I tried doing some of the Bear Grylls stuff, but nothing works as well in real life as it does on the TV.

Tired, thirsty, stinking like death and sweat, I arrived at the ruins of your house. The one-and-a-bit walls and not even half a roof.

In the aftermath of the apocalypse, I know that just two things are true. That you are dead, and that I still have to find you.

So Vain

He was just so vain, my ex, so arrogant.

I remember when I first met him. He waltzed into the room, expecting all eyes to turn to him. He talked to me as though I already thought he was a god. There was a twinkle in his eyes that I'm sure meant he knew that I had already fallen head of heels in love with him. The thing is that he was right.

He used to spend more time getting ready to go out that I did. He'd stand in front of the mirror, prodding and pulling at his already perfect hair. That's all he seemed to care about; his own appearance. Sure he said 'you look lovely, tonight.' in that deep, sexy voice of his, but it always sounded like he was looking at a mirror.

Honestly, that whole time we were dating, I don't think he ever really saw me as anything more than something to make him look good; a pretty face on his arm, a nice young girl for him to tow along so that he could look complete.

Then he ended it. I wasn't needed anymore, surplus to requirement, thanks for coming, we've upgraded to a better model, we appreciate you wasting your time for us, don't let the door hit your ass on the way out, you gullible little slut as if you let yourself believe that vain piece of shit ever actually liked you you were kidding yourself this whole time and you know it men like that don't need girls like us they only need themselves the vain little fucks

God, how I miss him.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The King is Dead and Wasting Light

Earlier this year, two of my favourite bands released new albums: The Decemberists, everyone’s favourite Oklahoma-based indie-folk band; and The Foo Fighters, Nirvana’s bastard hard rock child. The albums are called The King is Dead and Wasting Light, one is brilliant, the other is uninspiring. Both of them lean quite heavily on the artist’s previous work.

So let’s start with the brilliant one. The King is Dead is The Decemberists’ 6th album. After the rather disappointingly absurd and over-the-top rock opera/musical sound track that was The Hazards of Love, their lasts album, released in 2009, The Decemberist have gone back to basics and released an album full of fun, folky, indie rock songs. Nothing extravagant, no songs over 6 minutes, just good, clean fun.

And it really is some outstanding fun. The first time I listened to this album, I was singing along, even though I had no idea what half the lyrics were. Fortunately I was alone at the time, so my dignity was left mostly intact. In any case, all ten song on the King is Dead are incredibly catchy and easy to listen to. Rox in the Box, Calamity Song and June Hymn in particular are really catchy.

The sound of the album is very indicative of The Decemberist’s early work. They musical and lyrical style is much more like their first two or three albums that their last two, which tend to have a slightly harder, more rocky sound. The King is Dead is incredibly folky and has the signature Decemberists nautical references. Some songs especially, like Down by the Water and All Rise would be particularly at home on Castaways and Cut-outs or Her Majesty, the Decemberists; the Decemberists’ first two albums.

Not all of the, however, would be at home on earlier albums. The King is Dead might borrow quite heavily from the early stylings of the Decemberists, but it is its own album with its own sound. It adds to what it borrows and develops it in a very natural and interesting way. Songs like Rox in the Box and This is Why we Fight are indicative of the sound of the albums. Lyrically pretty dark and actually quite rebellious, musically folky, but with some of the rock-and-roll feel of later Decemberists.

The Decemberists have clearly gone back to their roots with this album and it is almost the complete opposite of their previous album, which was very poorly received. But they’ve not just gone back to basics and written a rather bland album, they’ve really developed and explored their early sound and created a fantastic album. You all should go out and buy it, right now.

What you should not buy is Wasting Light by the Foo Fighters. Actually, that’s unfair. It’s not that bad, but there are better Foo Fighers’ albums. Wasting Light is their seventh studio album and is not unlike The King is Dead in that it borrow heavily from their previous work. However, while The Decemberists built on their previous work and made an album with its own unique sound, the Foo Fighters just made an album that sounds exactly like their previous work.

To be fair, the Foo Fighters never have been about innovation and exploration of their sound, they’ve always put making good rock songs ahead of making interesting ones and there are some excellent rock songs on this album. Rope and Walk are both fantastic songs and most of the album sounds pretty good. I wouldn’t have a problem with listening to any of the songs on their own, but the album doesn’t really feel like an album. It really feels like a collection of songs that didn’t make the cut for their earlier albums.

I suppose it is slightly unfair to hold the Foo Fighters up to standards to which they don’t really worry too much about. In terms of music, I value albums as works of art, rather than a way of presenting a collection of songs. An album is more than the sum of its parts; it needs to have a definitive sound that runs through the album. There doesn’t need to be a story per se, although the album is a decent story telling medium when used properly, it just need to hang together as a work of art, rather than a collection of works of art thrown together.

The thing is that the Foo Fighters have managed this with all their previous albums, in particular their more recent albums had a very definite sound to them. Wasting Light just feels like they’ve not really tried to create an album at all. It is little more than a collection of songs without anything hanging it together, so it’s not a terribly satisfying listen.

The main problem with the album, however, is not that it’s not really an album so to speak, but that it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The songs are all most certainly Foo Fighters songs, but they’re nothing different from what we find on all the other Foo Fighters albums. This album doesn’t do anything new with the sound. The Decemberists took inspiration from their previous work and built on that sound to makes something new, The Foo Fighters just took their previous work and remade it.

I said at the start that you shouldn’t buy Wasting Light. That’s a little harsh. If you like Foo Fighters, then it’s a good Foo Fighters’ album. If you not really a fan, or don’t really know them too well, there are far more cohesive Foo Fighters’ albums you can get. There are some fantastic songs on this album, but it’s most certainly not Foos at their best.

So two albums, one that might have jumped into my top ten list (the song Rox in the Box most certainly has) and one that fits nicely into the Foos Discography without really being terribly inspiring. These albums are, in some ways, pretty similar. They both borrow heavily from the back catalogues of both bands (and why not when both back catalogues are so damn good) and both contain some fantastic music. The King is Dead is a much better album for two reasons: firstly it feels like an album, not a collection of songs. It coheres in a way that Wasting Light doesn’t. Secondly, it builds on the Dacemberists’ back catalogue and develops its own unique sound, whereas Wasting Light just repeats everything Foo Fighters have done to date without adding to it. These are, I suppose, the things that differentiate between a very good album and a mediocre one.