james debate
james debate

Monday 20 October 2008

The Internet is a technology which has had a lot of promise over the years. The ability for seamless, easy and anonymous world wide communication between anyone and everyone, anywhere in the world has long held extremely apparent potential for bringing people together.

Every year it becomes even easier. First came chat rooms and instant messenger, then we all went to message boards and skype. Nowadays anyone with an internet connection can find a forum for extremely easy and uncensored discourse on anything in their minds on image boards like 4chan, websites like slashdot and social networking sites like Facebook. Websites like Wikileaks have struck a massive win for freedom of speech by allowing safe and uncensored dissemination of knowledge and documents from anyone.

It is in these websites and services that the true ideology of freedom and truth is alive and kicking. And it is here that the collective efforts of geeks and activists all over the world has spawned its own central identity. Young people are once again becoming more and more active in the world of politics and protest for what they believe in. It's like the 1960s, except with more lulz.

Groups like Anonymous have matured from a loose confederation of bored teenagers and hackers to fully fledged activists with a growing confidence that they CAN make a difference in the real world, that enough people standing together for a common belief, in this case the belief in freedom and truth, can make a difference. But the question is can they really?

To begin with, these protests remained in the same medium in which they originated, the internet. They started off small with protests against racism on website Habbo Hotel and moved onto fully fledged vigilantism, resulting in the tracking and eventual arrest of a very real pedophile.

More recently, online rallying has been moving on to even bigger stages. Thanks to the combined efforts of internet groups, we managed to Rick Roll the New York Mets during a live sporting event. Since then Anonymous has also pulled off the now famous hacking of Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's email account, on which she was reportedly hiding her corrupt goings on by conducting sensitive business on personal email accounts where no official watchdog would see it, as opposed to her official government email. Indeed since then a judge has decreed that the findings from her email account must be examined for wrongdoing. Score one massive win for the internet.

Indeed there is every reason to make the claim that should Barack Obama be elected President next month, this will be remembered as 'the President the Internet elected'. It is through websites like Facebook that Obama first reached out to a Nation's youth and mobilized a powerful and idealistic base. This has since become his strongest demographic which he has used to propel himself towards victory, and the major x-factor in his campaign, resulting in record turnout amongst young voters. I repeat: Barack Obama could well be called the first President elected by the internet.

But this isn't enough for the internet. Anonymous wants to bring down an entire 'religion'. Of course i use the term lightly. Calling the Church of Scientology a 'religion' is like calling Al Qaeda a group of 'freedom fighters', naive in the extreme. Sadly we may not be far off from a PC-gone-mad world where we refer to them as just that, after reading about a peaceful protester who was arrested for referring to Scientology as a 'cult'. Pure madness.

Probably the biggest mobilization of manpower has come in this pursuit, where Anonymous has amassed an unprecedented number of young protestors from all over the world to go protest outside Scientology buildings, protesting for the right to freedom of speech, protesting the financial exploitation of church members, and increasing awareness of the egregious violations of human rights committed by the church. In their eyes, the 'Church of Scientology', ironically, goes against everything that 'scientology' actually means (the study of truth).

These mass protests lead to what you see in the picture above ^ hundreds of young people standing up for what they believe in. And all in good spirit too; those attending one of these protests, exclusively peaceful and civilized in nature, will encounter kids singing phrases such as 'the cake is a lie' and playing rick astley on boom boxes pointed squarely at the scientology buildings. These people don't want to fight or cause trouble, but similarly they will not stand by and let things like this go on.

Initally there existed the problem of anonymity. On the internet this is not a problem for obvious reasons, but with people protesting against Scientology there are inevitably repercussions, including claims of protesters being stalked, harassed and threatened. It is for this reason that they don the Guy Fawkes mask, inspired by cult film V For Vendetta in which the mask is used for similar purposes, letting the people stand up for freedom against a totalitarian government. Indeed the movie seems to draw many parallels with these protests, so it is very fitting that such masks are used.

And so; much like the final scene of V for Vendetta, where the failed attempts of the few to bring about change inspire the actions of the masses to take up the cause; we see now the internet growing in strength, bringing together young and idealistic activists, with an influence that grows ever larger as time goes on. Yesterday it's habbo hotel, today it's the church of Scientology and tomorrow the White House... who knows where this brave new political entity will find itself in ten years time?
This is my question to you.

But with this question comes a warning. Throughout history we've seen political movements that start with the most honorable of intentions, such as freedom, liberty, equality, much in the same vein as what we're seeing amongst the online youth today. If we as a group ever do succeed in these aims we would do well to heed the lesson of past revolutionaries, such as the French and Russians, lest it lead to the inevitable corruption of power and success, and we become no better than the people we stand against today.
As it is said, you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

Well the show has finally made it's real debut. In fact there have been two episodes already and I have seen them both. Life on Mars is a somewhat risky remake of the absolutely sublime British original by the same name, and there has been a lot of critics bemoaning the decision to remake the series.

Many of you regular readers will remember my pained review of the absolute travesty that was the first pilot released back before the summer. Since then, my already pessimistic views on this remake were plunged to new depths, and it seemed highly unlikely that this show would last more than a few episodes, if it was ever broadcast at all, and certainly could never call itself fit to shine the shoes of its source material.

So believe me when I say that it is with a great sigh of relief that the final version of the show has come on leaps and bounds from the first one that was such an embarrassment. As a major fan of the original series it is very hard to write this without constantly referring back and comparing with the British version, which is not really fair to either show. I will try not to do this too often for the sake of the readers, who quite frankly would probably find it tedious of me.

I'll very briefly recap the general premise of the show for anyone who has never seen it and may wish to do so. Sam Tyler is a cop in present day New York who is in a car accident and wakes up in 1973. Surrounded by the politically incorrect and generally archaic police force of the era, Sam attempts to fight bad guys, 2008 style, whilst trying to figure out what has happened to him and how he can get back home. The Americans' first attempt at this was a disaster, how does this one fare:

To begin with, the Cast has had almost a complete overhaul. At first it seemed a strange decision to change everyone in the cast aside from Jason O'Mara, the actor who plays Sam Tyler in this version and was probably the worst of a very bad bunch of performances in the first pilot. Indeed I still have to say that he doesn't really look right for the part, but he certainly seems to be growing into it a bit, and the director has done a lot to make him look as much like John Simm (from the English version) as possible, most notably changing his hairdo so as to make him look smaller and less of a musclebound moron than he was in the first pilot.

It is also a delight to see the characters of Chris and Ray reintroduced into this iteration, who played a deceptively big part in the backstory and general ambience of the English original, so much so that they weren't deemed important enough for the first pilot. Here they make a comeback and look like they'll do the show proud (although Chris is far too handsome and competent looking to have the same effect as his British predecessor). Ray is bang on for the role, except he's perhaps not quite as repellent as he should be.

Annie is a big big improvement over the actress from the first pilot, who looked like such a modernized, confident feminist that she seemed an even bigger fish out of water than Sam Tyler. This new girl is still a bit too 'swimsuit model' attractive to really make the role credible and certainly doesn't carry the same entirely wholesome and real candor that her british counterpart Liz White had, but it is certainly an improvement.

Now on to the one and only Gene Hunt. This was certainly the hardest role to cast, as no one could ever hope to replace Philip Glenister's immortal performance in the original. However with Harvey Keitel they have done a far better job than frankly anyone could have imagine. The veteran tough guy actor of Mean Streets fame brings his own take to the role and carries it off with the brute force and unilateral confidence that is required of the role, whilst being a pretty good actor at the same time. The only issue is, one can't help but feel that at 69, Keitel may be a little bit too old to really look credible in the role. Watching him in a fistfight is like watching someone punch some poor old man (and then get the shit kicked out of him by said old man). Had Keitel been 10 - 20 years younger he'd have been perfect.

Thankfully the writing is also far better this time around. Really there's not much to say except that it's not as embarrassingly bad as it was before. It is perhaps a little heavy handed at times, but that's America for you. The humor and intelligence of the original certainly is present in small doses here, and very well adapted for the different culture and setting (the image of the world trade centre in particular is used to great effect). However it should be noted that the episodes so far have pretty much been carbon copies of the British original first two episodes. The real test will come when they start to write their own plots, which they will have to considering American seasons last 20 odd episodes compared to the 8 episodes in each of the British seasons of Life on Mars.

Further more the direction is certainly worthy of praise, with the pacing and artistic direction comparable with some of the best American tv shows, and a very well chosen soundtrack, well chosen for stylistic and mood related purposes. Again, I hate to keep mentioning the British show, but in this first episode there are a lot of camera shots that are really taken directly from the original, and some really feel a bit more flat here than they did before, which is a shame.

Overall I am very pleased with the improvement here and look froward to the next episodes with great optimism. It may not replace the original but it does an extremely capable job bringing it's own unique take to the premise, and in the end that is what will determine whether or not this show is a success for years to come.


song of the day: "Love is Noise" by "the Verve"
thing that makes me smile today: The official Church of Scientology's response to peaceful protests, claiming that they are part of a larger alien invasion force, whose warships are currently approaching Earth. Defeated, the 'Anonymous' group have confessed their crimes and even released design specs of their mighty warship, Longcat
pic of the day:
ephemeric anonymous scientology
Colin Powell
Free Speech

Henry Kissinger

Monday 13 October 2008

Another year has gone by, and that means we have another season of Fifa football games versus the competitor pro evolution soccer. Time was Pro Evolution was regarded as the clear victor, a paragon of footballing glory light years ahead of Fifa, a bloated, overfunded symbol of corporate greed, peddling an underproduced product. In recent years that idea has gone out the window. Few critics in the media still recognize pro evo as the top football game; EA has finally added some substance to all the glitz and glamour of their games whereas pro evo has largely stagnated in recent years. Especially the next gen versions, few people anywhere will claim that the next gen pro evo last year was better than fifa 08.

So now with another round coming up, Pro evo is fighting to regain its title, whereas Fifa looks to consolidate its position at the top and win over the remaining haters. So how is it then?
For the record, I played this game on the xbox 360 version.

To begin with the simple stuff, Fifa 09 excels in the same areas that Fifa always has. The presentation is second to none, with a kick ass soundtrack, top notch graphics and a generally impressive energy and atmosphere that in this department is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.

The package is extensive, with 500 teams, 30 leagues, and thousands of players, almost all of which have official kits and logos and the real names and faces. That is the biggest thing you get in fifa as opposed to pro evo, this exceptional layer of authenticity really does make a big difference when you play.

The real meat and potatoes for single player are the two different types of career mode, manager and be a pro. The former is your traditional fifa manager mode where you take a team and control them through the years in a bare bones manager style of game, signing players, dealing with the media and managing the team affairs. The latter is the brand new extension of the 'be a pro' mode from fifa 08, where you control one player on the pitch and attempt to play as a part of a team. In this mode you can take control of a real player, or design your own, and then play as them starting off in the club reserves and working your way into the first team and international team.

On top of this is an online multiplayer mode that is simply in another league from its competitors, featuring online leagues, club battle modes and online be a pro modes, all on EA Sports's sturdy and serviceable servers. Another new feature is Adidas live season, a service which updates player stats as the season goes on based on their current form in real life.

But while all this is well and good, what will really determine the success or failure of the game is the football itself.

In short, it's a massive improvement. The game is much more fluid than before, allowing some sexy one-touch football to be played. The physics is impressively accurate, giving the game a really authentic look and feel as players really do battle out there on the pitch. It all serves to create what is surely the most accurate videogame portrayal of football ever.

Further more there is a new tactics screen in team management which allows you to take a much more direct control over how your team plays.

However it is far from perfect. There are still far too many 'on-rails' moments where the in-game player moves independent of the human player's inputs. Far too often you will play a pass and be unable to move the receiving player into its path, instead losing the ball to a much more mobile computer controlled team. This was a major problem with fifa 08, one which was fixed in the euro 2008 game and one which i never saw even in the fifa 09 demo, so the fact that it's here in the final version of the game is mind boggling.

Also the commentary is still really annoying. Last season's iteration was notable for having repetitive commentary and of particular weirdness was its excessive fondness for certain bits of discussion about really pointless stuff, for example there were like eight different bits of dialogue describing how the ref decides how much added time there is and then tells the assistant ref, making a point of informing us that it was not the assistant manager who decided this. Well this year you will hear over and over again about how sideways tackles are fair as opposed to tackles from behind. This gets really annoying because the new foul system seems to depend entirely on what angle the tackle is made from as opposed to getting the man and not the ball, seemingly just so they can have an excuse to bring up their new favorite bit of dialogue. Again this is something I swear wasn't in the demo, so i don't know where it's come from.

On top of which the game is alarmingly prone to glitches. It's not enough to ruin the game but far more frequently than in previous games the ball will suddenly exhibit ridiculous physics or absurd computer controlled player movements, or insane ref decisions (twice in my time playing the game i've seen goals awarded for shots that went wide of the goal- i know it happened once recently in real life but come on).

Pro evo, you'll find, is a much less realistic affair, but one which is buckets of fun to play, so this all really comes down to a preference over what type of football game you want, arcadey fun or realism. It's a direct reversal over how the games used to be during the glory days of pro evo when it was known as the realistic one versus fifa's arcadey fare.

Fifa 09 is a very good effort, but there are still too many flaws in the football side of the game, especially since there were so few in euro 2008 and in the fifa 09 demo, i don't understand where they've come from all of a sudden!


John McCain has long since given up the right to call himself an honorable man in the eyes of the American people.

Don't get me wrong, he's a patriot and a hero and he has served us with distinction. However the real test of a man is how he acts when the chips are down and he knows he's done for. In this case John McCain has known for a while that this election was un-winnable for him. His response has been to adopt a 'win at all costs' attitude, and one which has seen him trade in his integrity and morals in a desperate attempt to score cheap points off of Barack Obama.

Simply turn your attention towards John McCain attempting to smear Obama's new education plan designed to protect against sexual predators, disgraceful. How about all this discussion about Obama's relationship with a respected professor who used to be a terrorist when Obama was 8 years old, and who also has also had as many dealings with Republicans?

With the biggest financial crisis in decades don't you think there are more important things to focus your campaign on? John McCain has had a devil of a time trying to explain why these rather tenuous smears are more relevant than the economy, foreign policy and health care. And it has left him in a worse position than he was before, with his honor and his reputation in tatters.

Just when you think it can't get any worse, however, the McCain/Palin campaign has hit all new lows this week. In a final act of desperation the campaign has turned to hate mongering.

In recent days, these campaign stops have become a source of racist intolerance, mind numbing claims of Obama being a terrorist and plain and simple violent threats.

All the while the Republican party has allowed this to go on, knowing that they can't officially condone it, whilst acknowledging the benefit of propagating hatred against your opponent. Worse still, Sarah Palin's inflammatory comments add fuel to the fire, prompting comparisons to George Wallace, a symbol of the hatred, intolerance and division that this campaign has come to rely on in such an appalling fashion.

The good news of McCain fans is, John McCain seems to have had enough. It has long been known that John McCain never really wanted Palin as his vice president and wanted Lieberman instead, until his party forced the VP pick. Now that relationship is more strained than ever before as McCain and Palin are locked in a power struggle in argument over how to run the campaign. It has transpired how furious Palin was over the decision to concede in Michigan, and now Palin, it seems, is largely responsible for the new hateful direction of the campaign as she looks to build her position for her future career, while John McCain has finally decided to take the high ground and demand respect and tolerance from his supporters. This has led to the aforementioned rift between the two.

So what can John McCain do? Well right now his campaign is a shambles, and a lot of that stems from the decision to pick Sarah Palin as his vice president, an ambitious, ignorant, arrogant woman with no discernable talent or positive quality, who has been mostly a source of embarrassment for what was, until then, a marginally respectable campaign.

The only decision John McCain has left to make is whether he wants to lose with dignity or dishonorably. It will completely destroy what remains of his campaign, but if he were to come out and publicly rebuke his running mate then at least he will regain a modicum of respect in the eyes of the American people, and be remembered for all the great things he has accomplished in his career, as opposed to all the terrible and sleazy things he has done in his presidential campaign.

song of the day: "HYPNTZ" by "Dan Black"
thing that makes me smile today: This 'funny cos its true' Sarah Palin Disney trailer.
pic of the day:
ephemeric election vote obama
President Obama
Fifa 09
Chelsea & Westminster

Senator Obama
PES 09
St. Peter's

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