All entries for June 2007

June 15, 2007

You think the English have drinking troubles?

Writing about web page

UK researchers estimated that half of all deaths in working age men in the country are due to hazardous drinking.


June 11, 2007

Manchester alienates Game Developers

Writing about web page

Resistance Fall of ManIt's rare to see English settings in computer games. It's even rarer to see them in flagship games for new consoles. When the PS3 was launched, the only game really worth buying was Resistance: Fall of Man. Its setting? England. War is raging against alien foes and Americans are trying to aid their British comrades. It features some beautiful scenery (nothing quite matching Gears of War unfortunately), including Manchester Cathedral.

Manchester has been trying for years to enhance its image. I remember when I was in Manchester (picking up a Chinese Visa) that a taxi driver spent ten minutes speaking with pride about how his city was now really being put on the map. Old Trafford was no longer the main reason to head to Manchester. The city centre has been renewed. The station is beautiful. New stadia  have been built. The city is eager to shed its reputation for gang-violence and entice national and international visitors.

So how does Manchester respond to a game featuring Manchester Cathedral? Like this:

(The Church of England) said the letter would make four demands:

    • An apology for using the cathedral

    • Withdrawal of the game, or modification of the section of the game to remove the cathedral interior

    • Sony to make a substantial donation from the games' profits allowing the cathedral's education department to target more effectively those aged 18 to 30

    • Sony to support other groups in Manchester fighting against gun crime.

    Community groups and MPs have expressed support for the Church's stance against the game, which has sold more than one million copies so far.

    Sony said it would contact the cathedral authorities on Monday "to understand their concerns in more detail"

    I've emphasised the part which state games sales. The vast majority of those who've purchased the game are Americans or other non-British folk and I'd hazard a guess that for many of them this will be the first they've heard of Manchester. Given that average American geographical knowledge is severely lacking, most Americans will take American Football over "Soccer" any day of the week and that Americans make up a sizeable portion of our yearly tourist numbers, I would have imagined that Manchester would jump at the chance to have a beautiful (albeit half-destroyed) view of the city propagated. But no. Apparently Sony might be under threat of legal action from the Church of England. And if that happens, good luck finding game developers willing to use England as a backdrop. 

    A Church of England "Source" in another article, offered this opinion:

    One Church source told me: "If this computer game had been set in a mosque, you can be sure there would have been more of a public outcry.

    This man has clearly never played the majority of recent US War games. In the Backstab Battlefield 2 (X-box 360) Map, I can use a helicopter to launch missiles directed at Arabs/Americans holding the flag at a Mosque. I can kill those people inside a mosque. In CSS Dust I can hide in mosque-like buildings and then pounce on "Terrorists" with a shotgun. And yet there are plenty of other games that use Church imagery and mythos that do not incur the Church's wrath.

    This is not a game that criticises the Church. It uses the beautiful imagery as the backdrop of a fictional conflict. The Church should be proud of its rendered Cathedral instead of threatening Sony. It should also be encouraging interest in Manchester city instead of scaring companies away. 

    June 05, 2007

    Why pick on Israel? Because its actions are wrong.

    Writing about web page

    Boycott IsraelIn yesterday's Independent the comments section had a neat little article entitled: "Why pick on Israel? Because its actions are wrong" by Steven Rose.  It essentially responds to three issues currently dominating discourse on the proposed academic boycott of Israeli universities:

    1) How can you boycott academia? What about Academic freedom?

    2) Why pick on Israel? Why don't push for action over Darfur, Tibet or Iran?

    3) It is antisemitic. 

    Anyone familiar with Dershowitz will have heard these arguments time and again in debates. If you choose to criticise or take action against Israel you must be anti-semitic. Why? Because you're highlighting the Jewish state instead of a number of other states at least as bad as Israel! It's mind-numbing.

    Anyway, here's his article. Anything in bold is my emphasis. 

    The University and College Union annual congress last week voted by a two-thirds majority to organise a campus tour for Palestinian academic trade unionists to explain why they had called for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, and to encourage UCU members to consider the moral implications of links with Israeli universities. Not surprisingly, this overwhelming vote met with a roar of hostility from what we have learned to call the Israel lobby.

    Our government, long accustomed to sitting on its hands when any serious attempt to censure Israel is made, predictably joined the chorus. More surprisingly, the Independent's editorialist and its columnist Joan Smith followed along. The boycott, we are told, damages academic freedom, picks on Israel, and encourages anti-Semitism on British campuses.

    Entirely suppressed in this harrumphing has been any thought about why Palestinian university teachers and their union, as well as all the NGOs in the Occupied Territories, have called for a boycott. Academic freedom, it appears, applies to Israelis but not Palestinians, whose universities have been arbitrarily closed, Bir Zeit for a full four years. Students and teachers have been killed or imprisoned. Attendance at university is made hazardous or impossible by the everyday imposition of checkpoints. Research is blocked by Israeli refusal to allow books or equipment to be imported.

    Even within Israel itself, some universities sit on illegally expropriated land, Arab student unions are not recognised and there are increasing covert restrictions on Arab-Israelis (20 per cent of the population) entering university at all. No Israeli academic trade union or professional association has expressed solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues a few kilometres away across the wall, though the boycott call may finally encourage them to do so.

    When challenged, Israelis cite examples of collaboration with Palestinians: bridges, not borders. Fine, but because Palestinian academics from Gaza or the West bank are not permitted to enter pre-1967 Israel, how real can such collaborations be? If academic freedom means anything, it must be indivisible. And what are Palestinians to make of the uncensured insistence by senior Israeli academics that their family size constitutes a demographic threat to the Jewish state?

    But why should academics, culture workers, architects and doctors in the UK, who have all in recent months called for forms of boycott of Israel, take such action? Why pick on Israel, we are asked. After all, as Joan Smith points out, there are lots of ugly regimes around. How about boycotting the UK until troops are removed from Iraq? But boycott is merely a specific tactic, a non-violent weapon available to individual members of civil society. It is only one form of protest: many boycott supporters are at least as actively involved in the various campaigns against the UK's illegal war in Iraq as in any boycott of Israel.

    No one asks those campaigning against China's occupation of Tibet why not Israel or Darfur? If opponents of our boycott call want to make a case for boycotting Cuba (one boycott that Israel, following its American paymaster at the UN, habitually supports) they are free to do so. The issue is not "Why Israel?" but "Why not Israel?" Yet the secular western press, so willing to express discomfort with states that describe themselves as "Islamic Republics" is seemingly untroubled by the ethnic assumptions underlying the claims of a Jewish republic.

    Further, it is precisely because Israel prides itself on its academic prowess (just as South Africa did of its sporting prowess) that the idea of an academic boycott is so painful. Israel has uniquely strong academic links with Europe, and despite its Middle-East location and constant breaches of European legislation on human rights, receives considerable financial research support from the EU. That's why the Israeli cabinet felt it necessary to set up an anti-boycott committee under that well-known campaigner for a greater Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, and why teams of Israeli academics toured the UK before the UCU vote to try to block the boycott call.

    Lurking behind the thinking of even well-meaning opponents of the boycott is that it is in some way anti-Semitic. This ignores the fact that the boycott is of Israeli institutions, not individuals (so it would affect the tiny number of Palestinian academics in Israeli institutions, but not a Jewish Israeli working in the UK or US). Second, it ignores the fact that the British Jewish community is itself intensely divided over Israel, between those who will defend Israel at all costs, and the increasingly vocal critics who insist "not in our name". Even a cursory look at the signatories of the various boycott calls will show the large number of prominent Jewish figures among them. It really isn't good enough to attack the messenger as anti-Semitic or a self-hating Jew rather than deal with the message itself, that Israel's conduct is unacceptable.

    What could be a more democratic way of bringing debate on to university campuses than the instruction to the UCU to organise a campus tour for Palestinian academic trade unionists to engage in discussion before UCU members decide whether to support their call for a boycott? Those who cherish the idea of the university as the house of reason will surely welcome the opportunity for calm discussion of a controversial issue.

    The writer is secretary of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine

                                  Steven Rose, The Independent, 04/06/2007

    June 04, 2007

    Tip of the day

    If you buy a couple of Dual Layer DVD+R spindles, make sure you've got a bloody Dual Layer DVD Writer.


    London 2012

    Writing about web page

    London 2012 LogoThe new London 2012 Olympic logo has been unveiled. And let's hope a new one is adopted before 2012, else in five years we're going to be the laughing stock of the world.

    It's absolutely hideous. It's especially hideous in comparison with what Beijing 2008 has come up with. It reminds me of the intro to Saved By The Bell (hello 1980s!).

    I was just watching BBC News 24 and some viewers had e-mailed self-created logos that were genuinely vastly inferior to this expensive monstrosity.  


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