Wednesday, 10 August 2016

True Bible Stories

I
And Jesus spake unto them, saying: ‘yea, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed.’
And Peter was like: ‘really? Cool. How so?’
And Jesus said: ‘… oh, ah… you guys normally just accept things like this without question. It’s kind of why I like keeping you around.’
And Peter looked at his watch.
And Jesus said: ‘uh… well, it’s small… but a whole lot bigger on the inside.’
And verily someone cried: ‘that’s from Doctor Who.’
And Jesus went: ‘um… I mean, it’s good in casseroles…’ and he pulled out his wand and said ZAP! (for he liked to do his own sound effects), and all the people gathered present were transformed unto pigs, but not in a cool way like in Transformers. And verily, all the pigs that had been gathered there were transformed unto men, and Jesus frowned at his wand and spake unto it, saying ‘huh. Well that wasn’t supposed to happen. Better get this thing checked out.’

II
And Jesus spake unto the crowd, saying: ‘do unto others, as you would have done unto you.’
And a voice from the back cried: ‘what about if I am a total masochist?’
And Jesus saith unto the voice: ‘God dammit Larry, why do you always gotta interrupt my big speeches. All the gravitas has been lost now.’
To this Larry replied: ‘then how come we’re not all floating off into space?’
And thus Jesus was miffed, and he pointed a finger at Larry. ‘One more crack outta you, and I’ll boop you straight to hell.’
So Larry held up his hands in that way Neil DeGrasse Tyson does when he encounters a badass. But when Jesus turned away to resume his pontification, Larry didst whisper to the guy next to him, ‘you know, I was the guy who came up with that whole Jeebus thing.’
And the guy saith: ‘No. Way.’
And Larry saith back: ‘Way. But I don’t get no credit for it at all.’
And Jeebus Jesus, who, being a superhero, had super hearing, was all ‘I knew it’, and booped Larry to hell, accompanied by one of those flashes that Q made on Star Trek: The Next Generation, which made for an odd audio-visual combination. It also made Larry wonder if Q could beat Jesus in a fight.
Before he had time to articulate this thought, Larry appeared in hell and was all: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’, in a brilliant piece of dramatic foreshadowing.
And Jesus didst Q-flash/boop into hell and turned his brow heavy upon Larry, and spake, saying: ‘what the hell, man? First you mess with my name, which is blasphemous bee-tee-dubya, and then you steal my lines?’
And Larry replied unto the Lord: ‘Dude, what’s up with this whole hell thing? Seems a bit excessive, no? Eternal suffering for a few wise cracks?’
And Jesus said: ‘Hey, I didn’t build this place.’ And he drew a breath and cried, ‘Daaaaaaaddd!’
And God, who also utilised the flashboop method of transportation, appeared unto them in the very midst of hell. And he spake: ‘What? I’m right in the middle of dinner.’
And thus Larry came to wonder why God would need to make dinner, but he decided to stick with one major theological question for the time being. And when Jesus shrugged and pointed at Larry, saying, my friend has a question about hell, Larry didst flash Jesus the stink eye, and then he began, thus: ‘I mean, I was just wondering, sir… that is… doesn’t the whole concept of hell seem a bit excessive to you?’
And God was like, ‘what do you mean?’
And Larry says: ‘well, for starters all I did was crack a few jokes, and now I have a demon ready to insert a hot poker into various parts of me for all eternity. At worst I deserve a good talking to, maybe a night in jail. But let’s say I’d done something really bad, the worst person ever, and I’d enslaved the entire human race in perpetuity, condemning it to generations of suffering and torment until our sun explodes and kills us all. Suppose all that was done, even then, all the pain I created will fade; All sin is finite, since human life is finite. Thus, an eternal punishment lacks all proportion, even for the most grievous of crimes.’
And God saith: ‘sins are also sins against the creator, unmoved and eternal.’
And Larry said: ‘would it help if I told you to chillax? There’s no need to be angry all the time.’
And Jesus looked at Larry nervously, and shook his head. So Larry changed tack: ‘Look, this place clearly violates the Eighth Amendment.’
And God boomed: ‘YOU DARE TO QUESTION ME AND MY CREATION?’
And Larry quavered; but then, realising he was already in hell, decided to press on, saying: ‘Yes, that’s about the size of it.’
And God said: ‘Ok, good. Just wanted to be sure. Sometimes I’m a little hard of hearing.’
And Larry replied thus: ‘Oh…’
And Jesus said: ‘Dad, he’s the one who came up with that whole Jeebus thing.’
And God was all: ‘Hahahahahahaha! That was hilario! Here is your reward, my child.’ And he booped Larry out of hell and sent him to Detroit instead. Then, turning to his son/self, he spake once more, saying: ‘Dude, you can’t just send people to hell like that, even if they do really annoy you.’
And Jesus gazed upon the glory of his father/self, and said: ‘Whaaaaat? Isn’t that the total point of this place? You do it all the time.’
And God replied: ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’
And Jesus, remembering that he was due to be crucified in about two weeks’ time, said: ‘I guess you’ll want to ground me for a couple weeks.’
And God saith unto Jesus: ‘Nice try, wise guy… let’s try a month.’
Thus Jesus was all: ‘Oh, no…’ and promptly flashbooped off to his room to play Arkham Asylum for a month, and develop a serious case of gamer’s thumb. And, seeing the future, he realised two things: the first was that he had just prevented Christianity (and the other religion that everyone’s too scared to make jokes about) from ever occurring, thus saving the world (and himself) more pain and suffering than it could imagine - and so the prophecy was fulfilled. And the second thing was that by thus avoiding the Dark Ages, he’d sped up the invention of cool things like Playstation and the iPod by at least 500 years.

III
And Moses said unto Pharaoh: ‘Let my people goooooooo!’
And Pharaoh was like: ‘Nah. I need them to build all my cool shit. Otherwise I’ll have to pay Polish guys to do it, and while they’re cheap, they aint cheaper than free.’
As Moses was all: ‘Ah, come oooooooooonnn. I’ll let you have my stick that turns into a snake.’
And Pharaoh spake thus: ‘What happened to your beautiful sing-song voice? This one’s all whiny and annoying.’
And Moses replied unto Pharaoh, shrugging: ‘I’ve been hanging out with Gilbert Gottfried a lot.’
And Pharaoh spake: ‘Well, quit hassling me, or I’ll have you crucified. And that really hurts.’
To which Moses replieth: ‘Wait, what? They don’t do that in Egypt. Do they?’
And Pharaoh was like: ‘I’m Pharaoh, bitch, I do what I want.’
And Moses didst mumble: ‘More like Pharaoh Fawcett.’ But fortunately for him Pharaoh had lost interest, and was busy playing an early version of Tetris with real bricks, and slaves to move them around.
And so Moses left the palace and his people remained where they were. But the people had really good lawyers, and so they unionised and negotiated much better rates (better being anything more than zero per hour), i.e. two carrots and a small bag of wheat per day (which doesn’t sound like much, but in those days it was enough to buy your whole weekly shop, and have money left over for a day at the races and a bag of penny sweets). And they also claused it thus: that in any movies made about the time, all the main characters must be played by popular white actors rather than ‘ethnics’, as this increases ‘audience engagement’ and is good for the brand.
And thus, due to spiralling labour costs, Pharaoh was forced to reduce to scope of his building plans and lay off several thousand local workers, causing much damage to the economy and the local tourism industry, not to mention a lot of resentment between the Jews and Gentiles ever since. And indeed many Jews have since moved that the word Gentile be changed, since the way they have been treated has been far from gentile, on many occasions.

IV
Verily God didst flashboop Larry back into hell, saying unto him: ‘were you serious when you said all that stuff about hell?’
And Larry looked around him and thought unto himself, well, at least I aint in Detroit any more. And he replied unto God: ‘Totes.’
And God was like: ‘Ok, well, what do you think I should do?’
And Larry spake unto the Lord, saying: ‘man, how the fuck I know? Aint you s’posed to be omnipotent and stuff?’
And God saith: ‘It goes in and out. Besides, I don’t pay as much attention to you humans as people seem to think. I have other things going on in my life, you know.’
And, sensing that what God really wanted was a little rant, Larry said: ‘Tell me about it.’
And God was all: ‘I know right. You know I didn’t even create most of you myself? That’s right, I outsourced it. That turned out to be a mistake. Why do you think there’s so much substandard work?’
And Larry wondered if he himself was one of the substandard ones, but said nothing.
Thus God continued: ‘Honestly, you little bastards are so demanding. So much of what you ask for is the most petty crap.’ And verily God spake in a whiny voice. ‘”Save my cat, Lord. Help me win this football game.” Jesus. You wonder why I tune it out most of the time.’
And Larry was like: ‘I hear ya. But still, you want my opinion about hell, it’s still a bit much, no? A bit OTT? Why don’t you maybe have like a room, boring and dark, where all people get to do is sit and listen to Enya for a thousand years.’
And God saith unto Larry: ‘We already have that in heaven. It’s where I go when I’m super wired. Man, I fucking love a bit of Enya from time to time. Really glad I created her myself.’
And Larry spake, saying: ‘Oh…’
And God went on, as was his wont and his privilege: ‘I will consider some changes. Thanks for listening, Larry. Now I will send you home to Detroit.’
And Larry said: ‘I’m not actually from Detroit.’
And God said: ‘Oh, sorry… like I said, not always paying attention.’
Thus Larry thought, and he replieth unto the Lord: ‘I’m from an island that was destroyed in the Great Flood, known as Katrina. It was beautiful, tropical, full of booze and weed and beautiful women who wanted nothing more than to satisfy my every whim.’ And he sighed. ‘Alas alack. My home is no more.’
And God took pity unto Larry, saying: ‘My bad.’ And he snapped his fingers dramatically, saying: ‘It is remade.’
And Larry was all: ‘Really? Sweet! Thanks dude, you’re the best.’
And God was like: ‘I know.’
And Larry replied unto God: ‘Stop by any time for a chat,’ even though he meant it not.
And God said: ‘I might just do that.’
And verily he flashbooped Larry away to his new home.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Alternatives to Penalties

Having watched a few penalty shootouts at the recent Euro tournament, and having heard the same arguments for and against such a method of deciding who goes through to the next round, I have a few suggestions for alternatives which could be employed for that purpose, while still retaining a sense of the drama and spirit of football which we all know and love.
  1. Ball slap: The first item on my list might be one of the most controversial (that is, if I had enough of a following to be able to generate controversy). The idea is, after full time, you place the ball in the centre circle, and the players take their positions. The referee then slaps each player in the balls with force, moving from the goalkeeper, through defenders, midfielders, and then strikers. Once each player has been slapped, play begins. If, after ten minutes, the scores are still level, the procedure is repeated. If at any time, more than two players from the same team refuse to participate, that team automatically loses the game.
  2. Regular remove: This idea is more sensible than the first, but maybe less fun to watch. Extra time starts, and after five minutes a player from each team is nominated by the manager of the opposite team, to be removed from the field. This continues every five minutes until someone scores.
  3. Coin flip remove: similar to the idea in number two, this involves removing players from the field. The difference is that the referee would flip a coin every five minutes, with heads corresponding to one team and tails to the other. Whichever way the coin lands, the manager of that team nominates one player to be removed from the field. This continues until someone scores.
  4. Keepy-upy: Each manager chooses five players to play keepy-upy. The winning team is the one whose team member has the most touches. In the event of a tie, the two players who are tied face off until one wins.
  5. Call it a draw (final only): If neither team has insufficient motivation or skill to win a final, the trophy is cut in half, and they each get half a winner’s medal. The record books will forever record their efforts as ‘pretty good, I guess.’
  6. Soccer AM crossbar challenge: If you haven’t seen it, the crossbar challenge from the TV show Soccer AM is exactly what it sounds like. The ball is placed in the centre circle, and each player attempts to kick the ball so that it hits the bar. The first five players make an attempt, and if the scores are tied after this, the rest of the team go, with first player to succeed winning the game for their team.
  7. Fans join in: In this scenario, fans are drawn at random from the crowd, and replace the players on the pitch, in a manner similar to that of the regular remove. This continues until all the players have been replaced with fans, or until someone scores.
  8. Manager challenge: The managers of the teams take the field, one on each goal line. The referee places the ball in the centre circle and blows the whistle. The first manager to score, wins the game for their team.
  9. Yo mamma fight: Zinedine Zidane is brought on to the field. The players line up and each get to insult his mother or sister once. The winning team is the first one whose player gets Zidane to head butt them.


Ok, so these are some of my ideas for alternatives to penalties. Feel free to let me know what you think, or suggest your own. Kia kaha.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Notes on a Shambles

Since absolutely no one is fed up of hearing what every man and his canine thinks about the recent referendum, I have decided to drop in my 2p worth. (It was about £1 worth, but the currency has since devalued.)

Firstly, to my European friends: sorry about this shit. We’re not all racist twats. My own feelings on this run to bitterness and disappointment. I feel ashamed of the place I have called home for so long, but optimistic at much of what I have heard from Londoners and others since the result was announced.

Secondly, to my friends and family who voted leave: sorry for implying you’re a racist twat. I’m sure some of you aren’t, and are doing what you think is best. But to those of you who are embracing the Xenophobia Warrior Princess vibe, well, fuck you. Not only is your position illogical, it’s breaking up the band, Yoko.

I was at a lecture at the LSE a few months ago, which was focused on the consequences of immigration, based on data from long-term studies in the UK and elsewhere. Interestingly enough, the conclusion was that immigration overall has but a tiny (positive or negative) effect on the economy of the country concerned; that is, results are negligible. That is, nothing to be worried about.

The lecturer pointed out that the main reason people from the EU want to come to the UK (or indeed, other places) is because the economy is doing well. Therefore, he added, if you want to stop immigration, all you have to do is destroy the economy. It was a joke at the time, but now it seems like some kind of cruel prediction.

See, in the days since the vote, the pound dropped to a thirty-one year low, the country’s credit outlook has been downgraded from ‘stable’ to ‘negative’, the UK’s economy dropped below France’s in the world rankings, and the value of a UK passport decreased significantly. And this isn’t including the billions of pounds which were pulled out of the country before the vote even happened.

While all this was happening, figures from the Leave campaign, like Farage and Johnson, all came out to tell us that (surprise) the things they’d promised probably weren’t viable after all. I am used to politicians breaking promises, but the efficiency with which it occurred this time must break some kind of record.

Funnily enough, the £350 million figure splashed across the side of that big red bus has always been untrue. The number was something closer to £120 million, and of course doesn’t take into account all the benefits we got for being a member, as well as the fact that it will cost approximately that much to access the single market. As well as requiring concessions (notably on free movement of peoples) over which we will no longer have any say.

Also occurring was a renewed push for a united Ireland (in and of itself, not necessarily a bad thing) and another push for a referendum on Scottish independence. Since all the areas in Scotland voted to remain, they must feel particularly shafted right now, and I can’t see any way another referendum there wouldn’t spell the end of the UK as we know it. It seems like taking the country back means taking it all the way back to 1707. And I cannot blame our northern cousins in the slightest.

Boris Johnson is our version of Donald Trump. Besides the obvious similarities of ugly mugs with bad hair, they’re both looking to enact disastrous policy based on xenophobia and outright lies. ‘Take back control’, should probably just have been worded ‘make Britain Great again’.

Figures have also been quoted around the difference in the way people voted, given their age. Put simply, the younger you were, the more likely you were to vote remain. It’s hard not to feel like this vote has been a betrayal of the youngest by their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, people pining for a past which will never come again (and which, to be honest, probably wasn’t all that great anyway). The future of the nation have been denied the future they so clearly wanted. Other interesting parallels include the fact that areas with high immigration voted to remain, perhaps seeing the benefits it can bring, and that the more highly-educated someone was, the more likely they were to vote remain. Draw your own conclusions.

There are already movements in place: the idea that London could secede from the rest of England (though this seems like a pipe dream, it’s not the worst idea I’ve heard), the petition calling for a second referendum, which is nearing three million signatures (based on the idea, not enshrined in EU law, that the majority should have to be at least 60% and turnout 75% for the result to count), and calls from David Lammy MP and others to simply ignore the result, given that the result is not legally-binding. The Lib-Dems, in a genius piece of promotion, have promised to keep the UK in the EU if the Brexit triggers a general election.

While I do think that such a momentous decision should require more than 51.9% of the vote in order to be enacted, I wish the rules for such would have been stated when the referendum was announced. In terms of actually dismissing the result, while I am not normally in favour of ignoring the will of the people, in this case that there would indeed be valid reasons to do so.

  1. The monstrous amount of misinformation provided (and subsequently admitted) to the public during campaigning. Decisions founded in ignorance should not shape the future of the nation.
  2. The aforementioned slim majority.
  3. The fact that if sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds would have been allowed to vote, the result would have been different. The future of the country belongs to the young, and it’s fair that we give them a say in it.
  4. The disastrous consequences already occurring, as well as those to come, both for the economy and stability of the country, and for the future of the UK (not to mention the EU) as a whole.

Sometimes the people are wrong. I hate to say it but, sometimes democracy fails.

Now, a lot of this may sound like sore-loser talk, and I can understand that accusation. ‘We won,’ they say, ‘so let’s get over it and move on’. Funnily enough, this from a group of people who still moan about the ‘hand of god’. I think though, that to concede defeat and move on would be a mistake. There’s too much at stake, for people inside the UK and out, for Britons who voted and those who were too young to be allowed to, or able to. If the Brexit happens, it hurts us all. Maybe we can prevent that, and if there’s a chance we can, then we damn well need to give it a try.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Glorified G

Here’s the topic on everyone’s lips of late: gun control. Having had the good fortune to live in two countries where gun laws are relatively strong and sensible (that is, New Zealand and the United Kingdom), it might seem at first that I have nothing useful to say about gun control. However, I can dodge this argument by stating that anyone who has an interest in avoiding seeing their fellow humans murdered by legally-obtained weapons ought to have something useful to add to the argument.

I am talking, of course, about the most recent mass shooting in the US, in Orlando, FL. At this time it may be useful to throw around some statistics. The BBC has an interesting article stating that there were ‘372 mass shootings in the US in 2015, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker, which catalogues such incidents’. It provides comparisons with the UK, Canada and Australia for relatively recent gun homicide rates, and quotes another source, which says that ‘So many people die annually from gunfire in the US that the death toll between 1968 and 2011 eclipses all wars ever fought by the country. According to research by Politifact, there were about 1.4 million firearm deaths in that period, compared with 1.2 million US deaths in every conflict from the War of Independence to Iraq.’

Thing is, though, even though Pulse was the latest (and bloodiest) in a string of mass shootings going back for years, other websites can be found holding data which seem to suggest that per capita rates are higher in parts of Europe than in the US. Whether or not this is true, to me is in some sense immaterial. After all, police forces don’t respond to victims of burglary by saying, ‘well, look at that other city, they have much worse rates of theft’, and if they did, the victims would probably reply, ‘who cares? I need you to solve the problems we have in this city, right now.’ So, the following thoughts can be applied to many countries equally.

Having said that, the US still stands out as having much worse gun crime than comparable Western nations, and I don’t think that the stats can really mask this fact for long. Also, the US has some of the more, shall I say, interesting arguments against gun control that I have heard. Then there is the fact that, when even the most modest proposals for reform are put forward, they are twisted, misquoted, and torn down with such vigour that no change is possible. Even though there seems to be public support for ideas like a gun sale database, or preventing people with mental illness from buying guns, any reforms are blocked in Congress. A cynical man might suspect that for the will of the people to be so openly defied, for the people to be so rashly endangered, either the relevant politicians are stubborn, stupid, or have another motivation altogether for the way they behave.

Omar Mateen, the man who pledged allegiance to Isis (or, as I like to call them, Daeshbags), before the attack, was very possibly a closeted homosexual whose religious beliefs caused him to hate himself and those who lived the life he secretly desired but could not bring himself to embrace. It seems that those at the club were deliberately targeted because of their sexuality, and the club was a place Mateen had visited previously. His homophobia is framed within the larger narrative of intolerance promoted by the religious ideology the attacker pledged allegiance to before the attack.

Certainly Mateen was known to the FBI, although he was not deemed a threat. It might be logical, though, to prevent such persons from having access to automatic weaponry.

Add to this the sickening behaviour of religious persons in the US who have praised the shooters’ actions, and you see why the issue of gun control is even more urgent in such a country. The man who may be President also took the chance to say a nonsensical ‘I told you so,’ exploiting the horrors of the moment. (Fortunately most Americans seem to disapprove of his response.)

There is information suggesting that most gun deaths in the US are accidental, and many involve children. This is another place where you would think people might pause to think it may not, in fact, be worth having guns in the home after all, no matter how well-secured they are.

I also dislike the argument that people are generally safer with more guns around. This follows no logic that I can find, except maybe in the event of alien invasion or zombie apocalypse (though if either of these happen, the NRA will be too busy fighting to yell ‘I told you so!’). To take the most extreme situation, if no one in a country has a gun, then no one in that country can be killed by a gun.
If guns are limited to law enforcement officials and the army, then, again, it means citizens are much less likely to be shot illegally (discounting for a moment the issue of skin colour). Of course, the US is a country flooded with guns, and many argue that in such a situation, where criminals will not follow gun laws anyway, they are safer and more protected from said criminals if they themselves are armed. I can see their line of thinking, but if someone breaks into your house in the middle of the night while you’re sleeping, are you really going to have time to get to your well-secured gun? And if you are, are you then able to engage in a Lethal Weapon style shootout with armed robbers without some collateral damage, or with your children in the house?

Another issue is the sheer type of weaponry available. There is an argument for allowing responsible gun owners to have hand guns, hunting rifles, and shot guns for clay pigeon shooting, but why on earth would they ever need an AK-47 or Sig Sauer assault rifle? What kind of deer are they hunting?

One of the biggest obstacles to change is the Second Amendment, which states ‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’ To me, the phrase ‘well regulated Militia’ denotes both the need for good regulation, and the need for guns to be held by a body or organisation for a particular purpose (such as civil defence) rather than simply held by whoever wants one at the time. Still, much ink and many hours have been devoted to this argument, and I am not going to solve it here.

Finally, I have been told that the people need guns should they ever need to stand up to the government. In response to that, I would simply say, the government of the US has machines that can kill you from a hundred miles away, at the press of a button. They have (arguably) the most well-equipped and well-trained army in the world. If they want to get you, your small arms stash will not stop them.

Now, it is not, and probably never will be my place to decide on US law, or even to vote on who should run the country. Thing is, as I mentioned, these shootings are a human problem as well as an American problem, and therefore I find it helpful (if not necessarily effective) to think about what could be done to solve it. The power, though, is with the people with the votes, the people in the position to make changes. The question for them is, what if it’s your child’s school next? Or your sibling’s workplace that suffers a mass shooting? And sadly, at the moment, the real question is: how long until the next one?

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Brexit or Bremain?


As the debate about leaving the EU or staying in rumbles on, one thing becomes readily apparent: the lack of real information with which to make an informed choice. It’s true that we know what life is like inside the EU now, and that, for all the rhetoric, we have no idea what life will be like outside the EU if we leave; and although this, in and of itself, it not a reason to vote remain, it does provide a good starting point for examining how things might go. This truth is, things could be much better in some ways, and much worse in others, and I don’t feel like we get a lot of the best information about these scenarios.
One caveat before continuing: the below are just my general views and thoughts. As mentioned, a lot of the ‘information’ provided to us is guesswork, and so I will do the best I can with what I have.
Ok, two caveats: my views on the EU will be clear by the end of this post. I don’t claim an impartial or unbiased view, and I am setting out to express how I feel about various points.

Immigration
The hot button issue for Brexit campaigners is immigration. One issue I have with all the focus on immigration is that it’s not really the most problematic, expensive, or serious issue facing the country, although it is often portrayed that way. That aside, I think it’s fair to say that several truths emerge from the debate around immigration:

  1. The UK is a relatively small country, and, given the current stretches being applied to public services, can only afford a modest amount of immigration.
  2. Immigration places burdens on the welfare state; abuses of which are often highlighted and do need to be curtailed.
  3. The majority of people who come to live and work in the UK from the EU pay more in tax than they take out, and this will only increase when new restrictions on claims to public funds come into place.
  4. UK citizens have benefitted from being able to live and work in EU countries. It’s unclear exactly what would happen if we leave, but there is the distinct possibility of large numbers of retired Brits having to return home, people who by and large contribute less to the economy than EU citizens of working age.
  5. The UK already has a different agreement to the rest of the EU when it comes to immigration, including exclusion from the Schengen free movement principle, and an opt-out of an otherwise compulsory acceptance of refugees.
  6. There also seems to be a conflation (though this is just based on people I have spoken with) of the problems of non-EU immigration with EU ones. Leaving the EU will have no direct effect on policies about people from non-EU nations.
  7. Leaving the EU won’t deter illegal migrants from trying to come here. Remaining in the EU allows greater collaboration with other members (particularly France) on how best to control and curtail dangerous and illegal migration.

Science
The majority of scientists in the UK wish to remain in the EU (source), and have warned that leaving could have a disastrous effect on funding and research. This seems logical to me, given the inherently collaborative nature of scientific research; even in this age of electronic communication, face to face association is invaluable. The importance of such research in a world dealing with challenges as diverse as climate change and the growing resistance of bacteria to any form of antibiotic cannot be underestimated.
And I know this argument may be simplistic, but if Stephen Hawking, one of the cleverest people alive, thinks remaining is a good idea, that’s something to take into consideration.

The NHS
Differing opinions have been offered on whether the NHS would be worse or better off if we remain in the EU, but I think the argument that money sent to Brussels could be channelled back into the NHS is overly simplistic, and ignores the benefits which accrue from such payments (the price of food and other commodities, the effect on wages and workers’ rights, investment in services, and so on). It’s also the case that many of the doctor and nurse positions are currently filled by EU workers, who will have to be replaced in the event of a Brexit. This task isn’t impossible, but I haven’t heard any explanation yet as to where those workers will come from, and if immigration isn’t a solution, what is?
In addition, UK citizens abroad benefit from access to European health services through the use of the EHIC card. This is a valuable safety net when travelling.

Trade and the economy
The effect a Brexit would have on the economy is not known. Speculation abounds. It does seem likely that import and export deals would have to be renegotiated, both with the EU and EU trading partners, and that tariffs would follow. This is not a good thing for British trade in either direction. 61% of small business exports go to the EU; they are our major trading partner.
Again, there isn’t a consensus on what the effect on jobs, taxes, spending cuts and so on. Economists have come out arguing for either position. I am not savvy enough with the details to really know which way things will go, but it seems that no one else is either. On balance, I think that the risk to the economy is higher if we leave than if we stay, and the weakening pound suggests that uncertainty about the future is damaging to the economy in and of itself.

Sovereignty
A YouGov poll indicates that support for the EU is higher in Scotland and Wales than in England. This is not surprising given that these countries are used to being the junior member in an alliance of nations. They are used to seeing their sovereignty diminished for the greater good of the alliance. Perhaps the English have yet to understand that teamwork requires compromise, that balancing local needs against the needs of the many is not always an act than can be achieved to everyone’s complete satisfaction. Perhaps the way that Scotland and Wales think of England is the way that many English think of the EU.
I also saw a poll which said that the younger you are, the more likely you are to be in favour of Bremaining. This gives me hope. I like the idea that integration and tolerance will become the norm, that in fifty years, people will think of Europeans as allies and cousins, to be worked with towards common goals, rather than viewed with suspicion.

The EU is often lamented as a production machine for regulations, but much of the regulation it produces is to the benefit of Brits, as well as other Europeans. Cheaper cellphone coverage and air travel, protections for workers under employment law, protections for human beings in line with the human rights act, environmental regulations to reduce emissions, invest in renewables and protect wildlife, the list goes on. Being in the EU enables Britain to help fight climate change, tackle international criminal networks and humanitarian crises, fosters military co-operation, thus reducing the strain on our armed forces, and keeps commodity prices low. Add to that the influence of the bloc in world affairs, an influence the UK benefits from despite her different currency, and you have a pretty good list of reasons to Bremain.
The EU is a success story, and it has managed to take countries which were at each other’s throats less than a century earlier, and turn them into allies between which war is now unthinkable. This is progress by any definition. Of course, the UK was not part of this initial arrangement, and so views the EU from a different perspective - that of a trading partner. This view is not inherently wrong, but shapes the expectations we have for what the EU is and should be.
It’s also true that the EU is not without problems, unnecessary expenditure and red tape. Abuse of welfare systems and NHS tourism are valid concerns. No human institution is free of problems. It is my personal feeling that the world is becoming smaller, more connected all the time. It is also my feeling that this trend is positive: collaboration and cooperation among nations draw us together, and help us form common purposes and solve problems which may otherwise seem insurmountable. To withdraw from this union would be a reversal of a great achievement, a step towards isolation in a world where such a thing is impractical, a highlighting of differences when what is needed is an expression of solidarity. The essence of the Brexit is the politics of fear and division, and I cannot believe that such politics will ever be the right way to proceed.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Batman vs Superman

Of course, SPOILERS follow.

Ok, so, here goes my second film review. Having seen the film twice now, I feel I am ready to work my way through it. Perhaps I should do this for any film I review, since at the second viewing I often find myself more relaxed and able to take everything in. In any case, before I get into it, I want to make a statement: if you know me, you know I am far more of a Batman fan than a Superman one. I won’t go to deeply into the reasons here; suffice it to say that I just feel that Superman is often not an interesting character. So, this may have coloured my impressions slightly.

I’ll start with some objections to the film that I have read, and then talk about some of the things that I liked.

One of the common ones, and my least favourite, is that the film isn’t funny enough. I knew going in that it was going to be a more serious film than other contemporary super hero blockbusters, influenced by the style Nolan became famous for in his trilogy. I am okay with this. I think that Batman as a character lends himself well to that world, and doesn’t need to be played for laughs. I’m prepared to sink into the seedy underbelly of Gotham. After all, it’s why Batman exists. Superman, on the other hand: I can see why Superfans are less loving of the darker take on the Man of Steel, but I think it’s a logical one to take if the ‘realism’ of what would happen in a world containing such men is to be explored. That’s what DC set out to do, and it makes for a lot of thoughtful cinema.

(NB: if it’s humour you want, the Lego Batman film, due out next year, looks like it could be just the ticket. And don’t mention the Suicide Squad reshoots. Grrr.)

Another objection, which I have touched on above, is that the film is not a true representation of the characters. While the Batman in the film is very close to some of the interpretations in comic form that I have read, I can see that, again, Superman is less so. However, I don’t think the way that they have gone about interpreting the character is inauthentic. The examination of the pair again comes from a desire to explore the way that having these events, powers, and abilities play out in ‘real life’ would affect the men and women involved. And of course, the characters themselves are always evolving, always there to be reimagined and reworked. In this sense, I feel that the movie does a good job.

Kevin Smith commented that the movie had no heart, later saying that the heart was to be found in the viewer of the movie. Now, when it comes to comics and movies, Kevin knows his shit, but it’s hard to define heart in an objective way. I think perhaps he meant that the movie didn’t pull you in, in an emotional sense, didn’t really connect you to the characters. I am not so sure about this. I have never really felt connected to Superman, but I felt for him in this film, in the sense that emotionally and mentally, he is a normal man, but the expectations on him are so large because of his physical powers. Even when he tries to do the right thing, he is criticised. And he has to control himself every day, all the time, while subject to taunts and vitriol, because the slightest flash of anger could kill.

I also understood Bruce Wayne’s point of view, his sense of fatigue after years of fighting crime, losing friends, seeing good men go bad; he sees a new threat, so immensely dangerous and powerful, and he is compelled to act. His anger, his motivation, is understandable, and so is the fact that by the end of the film, he sees Clark Kent for what he is: a man struggling with the responsibility he’s been given. The friendship and understanding between these two men is at the core of the Justice League, which of course this movie leads into.

I’ll comment on the JL tie-ins here, because I know some people felt they were shoehorned, that the movie was trying too hard, packing too much in. That the footage of the other characters was little more than an advert. I disagree with this. I think the tie in to the LexCorp research is logical, and fits with what we saw of Lex Luthor. It was a nice little teaser to the stand-alone movies. Admittedly, DC has been forced to play catch up when it comes to the JL movies, but I feel like as long as they focus on the core of their characters without worrying too much about what Marvel are doing, they’ll do a good job.

The Knightmare sequence, which it has been suggested may be a timeboom rather than a dream, I thought was excellent. The action was good and visually, it worked. It tied in with Bruce’s fears about Superman, while hinting at worse things to come. Sure, if it hadn’t been in the movie, it wouldn’t have made much difference to the storyline, but I like the aesthetic and the foreshadowing of bigger, badder things to come.

In terms of the acting, Henry Cavill was solid, and I really liked Eisenberg’s turn as Lex Luthor. Amy Adams made me like Lois Lane more than I usually do, and Jeremy Irons might just be my favourite Alfred so far. Gal Gadot was excellent as Wonder Woman (and as Diana Prince); she managed to convey the confidence and cool of a woman who’s seen it all and then some, showing determination and even amusement in the fight with Doomsday. It’s good to see a strong female superhero.

Now, I was one of those who bitched and whined when I heard about the decision to cast Affleck as Batman, and I have to say, I was wrong. After thinking about it, post rant, I realised I’d been wrong before, about Bale, about Ledger, and so I scaled back the nerd rage and decided to give the man a chance. And he didn’t disappoint. I really like the way he captured the anger and intensity of a Batman who’s right in the grey area between hero and desperado. I liked the batsuit, too, and the way he moved when wearing it.

Doomsday as a character is not really worth saying much about. He is a gigantic monster, a foil for the big three to rally against. He served his purpose well enough, roaring and spitting lightning. As for the death of Supes: I get that it was needed, I get that it shows the true nature of the threat, it ties in to the comic, and it provides a focal point for the rallying of the Justice League. At the same time, it was hard to feel too sad, because we all know he’s coming back. However, perhaps the manner of his return will be important in a future movie. Let’s wait and see.

One thing I didn’t like about the film was trailer fatigue. We saw way too much in the trailers, and there weren’t too many surprises held back. There weren’t many wow moments. This is a shame. It would have been a good idea to keep Doomsday or even Wonder Woman a secret; as it was, there weren’t many moments when I went ‘whoa’, or ‘that was totally unexpected and cool’. The bomb in the wheelchair was perhaps the biggest one.

I was also worried about seeing Batman’s origin again, but it tied in well with the later connection to Martha Kent, and the thing that made Bruce see Clark as a man. I think this made sense in the context of the development of the relationship between the two, which I have touched on already.

The action sequences were good. The movie was Batman-heavy in that regard, which is a plus in my book. The Batmobile chase scene was exciting and inventive, and even addressed a key weakness of the car raised in The Dark Knight. The warehouse scene was excellent, without a doubt one of the best Batman action sequences seen on film, and the type of thing I love. The ruthlessness and brutality of Batman, along with his innovative and relentless fighting style, were fantastic. The battle between the heroes and Doomsday was good, as much as for seeing Wonder Woman in action as for anything else. Batman diving around trying to avoid being squashed was also kind of funny. The title bout was good, quite well done given the ultimate problem of any fight between the two, but I did feel it could have been more grandiose. Maybe I was expecting it to be too much like The Dark Knight Returns, which is a great comic, and a definite inspiration, but not the sum total of what the movie was aiming to be.

So, overall, how do I rate this film? It’s hard to know how well it will stand up over time, but I can see myself watching it again once every few years. I wasn’t blown away, but I did enjoy it, and I like the action, the aesthetics, and the way it sets up for things to come. Therefore, I give it a 7 out of 10.


Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Great Flag Debate


Today the results of the New Zealand flag referendum were released, and we’ve opted to stay with the current flag, for the time being at least. I say ‘we’, but to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t permitted to vote. I applied to vote, but I’ve been living out of the country for too long for my opinion to be valid, it seems. Not long enough to avoid being chased for debt, but long enough not to be allowed to have a say in this important matter. But that’s another story.
In any case, the flag remains the same. Had I been able to vote, I would have chosen – well, you’ll see my thoughts if you keep reading, which I assume is why you’re here.
The arguments for and against changing the flag (at least the ones I heard) were as below, along with a few other relevant points:
  1. It looks like a beach towel. I never really liked this argument, and honestly it could be applied equally to either flag. As you can put literally any image on a beach towel, I found this to be a pointless thing to say.
  2. Our flag looks too much like Australia’s flag. True, although depending on how you define it, ours has been around longer, so maybe theirs is the one that should change. I find it strange, though, that we should consider such an important thing as changing the flag in relation to how we are perceived by others. What I mean is, why does it matter if our flag looks like Australia’s? Any self-respecting kiwi should have learned to identify the flag in their youth, and outsiders are going to compare us to Australia no matter how our flags look.
  3. We want the flag to be individual. Again, our flag isn’t ‘unique’ enough. I don’t really get the obsession with being different from everyone else. Poland and Monaco have basically the same flag, and you don’t see them getting bent out of shape about it. Just google ‘flags that look similar’ to find other examples.
  4. John’s Key’s personal crusade: let’s face it, he wanted to change the flag, so he could be known as the man who changed the flag. It would distract so well from all the terrible decisions he’d made while in office, and leave him some kind of legacy beyond hair pulling. As has been pointed out, though, the money could have been better spent. I’m not against spending money on issues like these when the time is right, but the time was not right, and Key failed (or refused) to see that.
  5. The Silver Fern: let’s put the silver fern on the flag. Another aspect championed by Mr Key, to the extent that most of the shortlisted designs had the fern on them. I get that most of us love the All Blacks, but they (and other sporting teams) don’t represent the interests of the entire country. We’re about more than sport. And I get that the fern is a plant which doesn’t grow anywhere else, but so is rangiora.
  6. Getting rid of the Union Jack: New Zealanders are fiercely independent, and despite that fact that we’re still part of the Commonwealth, and have to have our laws signed off by a Governor General, many of us dislike being thought of as a British colony. I don’t think that this historical (and current) connection is a bad thing, and I don’t think it can be erased simply by changing the flag. That kind of change must come in law, and an alteration to our national ensign is a bit like papering over a deeper crack. To my mind, the removal of the Union Jack would be more appropriate when NZ finally becomes a republic and/or leaves the influence of the Queen behind. This takes me to my next point.
  7. The timing was wrong. For me, as I said, the flag change should happen when NZ becomes truly independent (which I believe is inevitable). Countries change their flags after moments of great turmoil and upheaval. South Africa changed theirs to help the country move past the horrors of apartheid. Rwanda changed theirs after the 1994 genocide. Were we supposed to change ours because we didn’t like the way it looked?
  8. I think at the root of the flag argument is the fact that New Zealand is a young country, still struggling with its own identity, still trying to define itself and be represented on the world stage. But that’s also why I think we should wait to change the flag. We don’t appear to know ourselves well enough yet to be able to devise a meaningful flag. I don’t mean that disrespectfully, just that we’ve yet to fully define our own path, set our own agenda, even integrate our own peoples. We can’t even decide to call ourselves all New Zealanders without reference to whether we’re Maori or non-Maori. It’s no bad thing to wait until we are more unified and collected as a people to decide on our national symbols.
  9. Let’s be honest, many of us didn’t take it seriously. Laser Kiwi, anyone?
  10. World Wars, and all that. One of the most common comments I saw was that somebody’s grandfather fought and/or died for the flag. I have to say, while I understand people’s feelings of respect and honour towards those who went to war for us, let’s be honest, they didn’t do it for the flag. They did it for the people they loved, the country they loved, or out of a sense of duty. In fact, a lot of men still considered themselves to be a part of Britain, and went to fight for her unhesitatingly during the first and second world wars. So it’s hard to say that they were thinking of the national colours rather than their wives and families when they stepped on to foreign soil with rifles in their hands. Of course, I don’t really know what they were thinking, but I know what I would have thought if it were me. I don’t think it’s disrespectful to those men to want to have a flag which represents our national identity; that freedom of expression is one of the very things they fought for.

To sum up, my principal objection to the flag change was that the timing was wrong. The flag should be changed when the country becomes fully its own, and when we have a better idea of who we are as a people. I also think it was a costly exercise, started for the wrong reasons. I have no doubt that the flag will change one day, and I have no objection to this. But we’re stuck with old four-starred Jack for now, and I’m just fine with that.