Creative Commons License

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

21

Dear Dad,

You died twenty one years ago today, at about this time, although I wasn't there, I was on a bus coming to see you.

I was 17 then and not nearly a man. Perhaps that is why you withheld so much from me, you thought I wasn't old enough to have those talks with, but when were you going to do it? It's well past too fucking late now, isn't it?

So, yeah, I'm angry. I'm still fucking angry, 21 years later. Not that you died, but with you. I'm angry with you dad.

I never knew you. I'll never know you. I'll never know why you didn't talk to me. Not when I was a child, but when it mattered, when I was a teenager, when I was a young man.

It's that you didn't try that really bothers me, or perhaps you did but some internal conflict or doubt stopped you. For me, all I'm left with is; wasn't I good enough or worthwhile enough, wasn't I considered articulate or intelligent enough?

You've left an imprint of your personality upon me; the miserableness, the sarcasm, the love of solitude, respect for nature, but most of all, the short temper and the boiling pit of anger.

You were an angry man too, weren't you dad?

I remember you smashing things, or storming away and denying with delight the possibility of a calm resolution to whatever small thing had upset you.

What made you angry dad? Was it your father? The fact that he never fucking spoke to you? Imagine that. Imagine just being left, with no help, no advice, no kind words, fucking nothing. No wonder you were angry.

I was sick of being you. Trying to do the things I think you'd want for me. Indeed, I did stop. I stopped years ago, when I was 25. I remember realising that I had nothing to prove and no way to fucking prove it to you anyway. I started thinking for myself properly. I often think that you're the reason I decided to study philosophy. To consider the 'good death'.

You didn't die well did you? If we're given the time to 'put our house in order' before we die, and many people don't get that chance, you should take it. I don't think you did, but perhaps I just wasn't included. Were you protecting me? Or were you just protecting yourself from having to actually talk about your own death to a young man? Or was it talking about your life that was the problem?

Will I do any better, could I be a different father? Hopefully, I'll get to answer those questions, but the potential of failure fills me with fear. Is that what stopped you, dad? Fear?

Perhaps this all sounds unfair to you. After all he was there; he wasn't earlier deceased, or in prison, or runaway, or on drugs, or abusive, or violent. He did teach me to respect nature and naturalness, to appreciate art and music, to regard working hard at something you value, and probably many other things too. Perhaps it is unfair, perhaps this is just based in my anger, perhaps someday soon I'll learn to live with it or work past it.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

New Year - New Direction (sort of)

Firstly, a very happy new year to you all. I hope it is a happy, creative, and fulfilling year.

So, I'm not announcing a major change in my blog, there will still be most of the same things, but I also want to focus on one area and draw away from another.

Moving towards: As I've mentioned previously, I have been creating a fantasy world inspired by the work of a dear departed friend and others. This has not stopped, although I have not blogged about it. Whether this is merely a personal project, or serves as the basis for a game (a co-operative story) with friends, or the basis for a story or series of stories (the unlikeliest chance I would start and finish a novel, even one based in my own flights of fancy), remains to be seen. I would like, however, to 'finalise' some of my thoughts and ideas about the 'world' and its history, the occupants and their histories as species, the description of the societies, the mythos of the world, and so on. Some of these are, just like the previous list, descriptive historical fiction (as it were) but some of my other ideas are specific to how it would work as a game. I often think about game creation, when I was little I would invent card games that only I would play and I wish I'd written down some of the rules. You get bored of solitaire as an only child...

Anyway, expect many more posts about this un-named world and the un-named game in a project that I've loosely titled "LeCraft" after Ursula Le Guin and H.P. Lovecraft, the two biggest influences on my creation after my friend. I'm pleased to say that this temporary working title has already been described as "shit" by JJ. So, it stays. Ha!

Moving away-from: I spent a great deal of time, if not completing posts concerning politics, society, and the myriad of problems related, then just worrying about them. Last year was and, I have no doubt, will prove to have been a turning point in World history. I can perceive a great many problems arising; here in the UK, in Europe, in the USA, and elsewhere across the globe. Therefore, I could spend this year as I ended the last trying to remain a voice of reason, to argue against injustice, to hold untruth to account and various other self-inflating bombastic nonsense descriptions. All this thinking accomplished for me was a very deep depression, which (I believe) led to a very real and very unpleasant illness that lasted the entirety of December and bloody ruined Christmas and Hogmanay.

At one point last year, I began taking to answering people's comments on public posts on Facebook. Although sometimes I felt this accomplished something, mostly it did not. I even started 'helping' friends by telling them what to do with their lives. I started correcting blog-colleagues in their personal essays. Now, perhaps sometimes it was a 'correct' argument that I made, but was it necessary, what it helpful or worthwhile? For me, ultimately the answer was a definite NO. It made my concerns grow, not shrink, it made my interfering attitude more strident, basically it made me more of a person that I would never want to be.

Therefore, expect a great deal less of personal political essays. Some perhaps in response to the ongoing disaster that is UK society or World relations or the belief in truth. However, I'd really like to keep sane, so this will NOT be a focus for me this year!

I’m not going to bury my head under the sand and witter on about my fantasy creations to the exclusion of reality. This is not my point in creating such a world. All good fantasy, and it’ll be a bloody miracle if mine is any good, should highlight the flaws and strengths of the writer’s contemporary society and if not directly then through a hope for something better. Something positive that we could be. A thought experiment for a society that had power thrust upon them and they still chose to be good.

Well, let’s see how it goes.

All the best to you all
C


Saturday, 24 December 2016

Merry Christmas to you all!

I had hoped to keep up with regular posting all the way up until Christmas, however, I've been really rather ill for quite some time now. Indeed, I hope to make enough of a recovery tomorrow to properly take part in Christmas day fun, this is made a little trickier as I'm at my partner's family this year, so don't really feel like I can make too much of fuss, even if I still feel awful.

Anyway, illness aside, I've really enjoyed the build up to Christmas this year. Having not only managed to get most of the shopping done befoe December but also that the presents were chosen and were not just random last minute pick. Still, well considered or not, many of them are (like me and JJ) very silly indeed.

I hope you all have a very merry Christmas.

Here is a friend and excellent folk musician, Will Pound, playing an extraordinary version of jingle bells.

Peace

Friday, 9 December 2016

Foodie Fridays: Winter Jewel Salad

Continuing my attempt in staying healthy over the colder months (in Scotland, quite a lot of them!) here is another squash-based salad creation.

Full disclosure: This came after several days of pizza and other similarly unhealthy stodge :(
More carbs for the carbs king!

So, I started with Kale and Butternut Squash, two of my favourites, but wanted to prepare them a little differently to how I would normally (boil and roast) them.

I'm using chestnuts again here, mainly because I love them, but also because they seem so seasonally correct.

What's probably not widely known (certainly it was not by me) is that it's also the correct season for pomegranate, which is the reason for the 'jewel' in the title.

Courgette isn't seasonal sadly, but I also find them an excellent addition to most dishes.

This is the point when 'healthy' starts to look a little of an exaggeration, mainly because I'm going to sauté the kale and squash in butter... not much butter though!


Here's most of the base ingredients, I'd already started cooking

Ingredients list

(I've given up exact measuring, and tend to just go by eye. I'll tell you what I used for two of us, but then I had leftovers too)

  • Brown long grain rice
  • Butternut squash
  • Kale
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Chestnuts (pre-cooked and peeled)
  • Courgette
  • Lemon
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Butter (unsalted)
  • Pul Biber (optional)


Method

  1. Start by washing the brown rice, put in a lidded saucepan and adding 3 parts water to 1 part rice (you want to strain the rice rather than being left with no water, such as when cooking basmati for example). Place on a high heat and as soon as it starts bubbling (or just before if you've a slow electric cooker like me) turn right down to the lowest heat. Cook for at least 30 minutes or until soft.
  2. Peel and dice the butternut squash quite small (I used half a large squash) and sauté on a medium heat for about ten minutes stirring regularly. Also add a pinch of pul biber (red chili flakes) if you're using it and some salt and pepper if needed. Keep a lid on your sauté pan or put a large lid over your wok/frying pan.
  3. Once the squash has started to soften add the diced courgette. I used just one courgette for the both of us. Keep the lid off and stir regularly.
  4. Wash, chop and remove the large stalks from the kale. I used most of a large pack of kale, probably around 150 g but could easily have used more. Roughly chop/half the chestnuts and add them too. I used a 180 g pack of chestnuts. Add some more butter if needed. (pictured above).
  5. Turn up to a higher heat (not too high) and keep stirring until the kale wilts. Hopefully by this time the rice will be done, drain it, and add to the pan, which after a minute you should remove from the heat. Grate the lemon zest. Add the pomegranate seeds (I used one entire pomegranate). Splash over a good amount of balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. Drizzle some olive oil.
  6. Serve warm.




Replacements or additions for larger groups

If you'd prefer to stay seasonal or indeed can't find any courgette then I think that (Jerusalem) artichoke would be the best possible alternative, but then it's not easily available near me whether seasonal or not. So, I'd also suggest mushrooms or leeks as an easier alternative or possible additions.

Indeed, for a large group or a bulkier meal, I'd suggest adding a red onion with the squash, some halved Brussels sprouts with the courgette or kale (depending on how softened you like them, earlier is better from my point of view/taste).

For extra crispness, perhaps adding diced red/yellow/orange (bell) peppers or the more seasonal sliced chicory leaves when you add the pomegranate seeds.

And if due to some crisis there isn't Butternut Squash, perhaps roasting some parsnips and carrots would be an adequate replacement.

Apart from the splash of lemon juice and balsamic, I don't think it needs any additional sauces, but would be interested to hear about an experiments.



Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Games Day: Tableflip - buy more games! (The commercialisation of our generation)

Games Day, is a new addition to my schedule. More info on the What I do page.

This piece of writing is motivated by the recent pay-toll that has been added to the very popular internet series 'Tabletop' which is hosted by Wil Wheaton.


If this had come as a total surprise then I suppose I'd have very little to say, but this outcome was entirely expected, because as a veteran geek this is the sort of thing I've seen repeatedly in 'my culture'.

A. What Culture?

So, a bit of self-identification here, but my interests put me firmly in the category of geek or nerd or saddo or weirdo. The latter two being the more common descriptors when I was younger and the other two terms being used affectionately and confidently nowadays. Ultimately it comes down to liking certain forms of entertainment that, until recently, have been looked down upon. Whether this is Star Trek or other Sci-Fi films, Tolkienesque fantasy novels and comic books, playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) or other role-playing games (RPGs), and other 'geeky' pursuits like computer games, any or all of these would have you labelled as a social outcast for failing conform to normalcy. I'll admit, I liked all of it, including being a pariah, because what was 'normal' didn't really appeal to me all too much (and it still doesn't). However, this wasn't a rebellious act (certainly not to begin with) it was just what interested me. It probably all started with a classroom reading of 'The Hobbit' when I was about ten years old, which combined with an overactive imagination, no siblings, and a love of drawing meant that I spent way too much time drawing all the dwarves and trolls and other characters, but more than that, it led me to find a hobby I felt especially at home with. Something that rewards imagination, careful thought, and fun.

The Hobbit: a primer for nerds

Perhaps because there are so many aspects to geek culture there are also so many ways to be a member of the culture. Some may like books to the exclusion of film (or vice versa), some may not play board games, or think RPGs are "a little weird," or any other combination. It's got to the point now that each 'area' has it's own nomenclature with the lines drawn around different franchises, or types of game or different mediums of entertainment. This is because it is now 'acceptable' to be a member of these communities, to be a geek at all, so that a conversation about what 'type' of geek you are is now also perfectly acceptable. When I was a youngling, back in the late 80's/early 90's, it was a better idea to fake other interests or else be considered a total weirdo (like I was).

B. Geek-capital

Geek culture is now mainstream. The most successful films and television shows of the last few years are all deeply connected to all things geeky. Consider the Marvel superhero movies, the success of Game of Thrones, and the triumphant return of Star Wars. All the sorts of things that would have been only considered for a 'select' audience years ago.



Every good business person knows that those obsessed with a hobby make the best customers, because you can literally sell them the same thing repeatedly. And this generation of geek is nothing but loyal to their chosen 'fandom' or franchise or genre. Obviously hobbyists are by nature collectors, but normally the collecting aspect of the hobby is only part of it. The activity and the community have always been the most important focal point for the hobby, even for something that is built entirely on the collection itself, for example the old classic of stamp collecting.

However, the great thing for business is that geeks build that community around the activity themselves. Indeed many would happily devote hours of their free time to help better develop a website or write fan fiction or edit a computer game (i.e. creating 'mods' for specific games). All the business need do is make sure that there is enough 'new' products for the geek-consumers to keep coming back for. 

I got into geek culture at the ideal time, it had grown enough so that even weird kids in remote corners of Scotland could buy the games and although not nearly as big budget as they are presently there were some film and television shows too (Star Trek TNG), but also it had not grown so popular that it had become a homogeneous collection-magnet

Okay, so that phrase deserves some describing before we move on. The first part refers to the habit of larger businesses buying out smaller competitors, the Imperial business model, which can mean the inclusion of some interesting ideas and innovations but also means that it becomes harder for smaller companies to get started in the first place. Ending with the point that there are only a few 'big name' brands left in the field. Once all the small fish have been squashed out of the pool, you know need a reason for your customers to continually buy from your brand. This is when the product becomes a collectable, it's also the point when the imagination tends to leave the game or whatever. Now, the final claim here can certainly be disputed, as by this point the company can afford to hire all the best writers and artists in the hobby, but there is also now no need to be constantly developing to make your game, your story, your product the most interesting conceptually, because people by this point will be buying it whatever.

X. The expected responses to criticism

Perhaps, I'm just an example of a proto-hipster, whereby I can remember when it was better or purer, but that this really only comes down to a combination of posing and nostalgia. However, that's just not true, but it doesn't stop it being a common dismissal. So, let's look at some of these common responses to commercialisation and the insidious attempt (by marketing) to remove the possibility of any criticism of their slapping a price on everything.

The responses come down to two approaches; either dismiss the critic as childish, ineffectual, anti-social, deluded, or pretentious (as above), or else suggest that without commercialisation your 'favourite games' wouldn't be here for you to enjoy, "you want this? you gotta pay!" The only way is capitalism...

Indeed, in the video introduction for 'alpha' (the paid monthly membership service that is the toll-gate for viewing 'tabletop') the presenter (complete with a I'm-too-cool-to-be-a-middle-manager-haircut-and-yet-I-am) makes mention of the fans "throwing their dice at her" when she introduces the cost, which pretty conforms to approach one. It is a soft jokey critique however, but not any less effective for that. It succeeds in making fun of those that might have thought of any alternatives to the idea of a monthly payment for viewing, in making them seem foolish or childish even.

Attacking the critic in this manner, pushes the critical geek back into 'not belonging' which seems to be the harshest of terms in this contemporary culture. Perhaps because of the internet, these formerly disparate, niche, and often very small groups have found themselves part of a large global culture (one that has indeed become 'popular') and the threatening insult that "you don't belong anymore" means that they 'go back' to being the social outcast neckbeard losers they had hoped this popularity had removed them from.

This is ironic (in a manner), because critical analysis has always been part of geek culture. Whether it is the overly literal 'rules lawyers' found in role-playing games, or those willing to debate Star Trek versus Star Wars for hours, or so forth. Being a geek is being intelligent (sometimes) and critical (always), it isn't just being a blind consumer.

Y. Commercialisation of imagination

As there are many types of ways to be a geek nowadays, there are also many markets and commercial opportunities for business. Let's start with the most famous growth model. When D&D took off in the US in the 70's and 80's there were many like-minded hobbyists that saw an outlet for their own imaginative games, but this boom in interest also meant lots more people with money to spend. Business isn't bothered by small geek movements, such as D&D in the early days, which was only really played by groups of dedicated college students, but once it because larger and much more popular then you have the grounds for an adequate market. Also, once it gets so large it becomes a proposition that really does need sound business management, because hobbyists or gamers aren't in it for the money, their love is for their game or their genre or whatever, they just want to keep making or developing their hobby. While this is great for gamers or readers or what have you, it's also a terrible way to do business. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were the epitome of this really, both absolutely in love with idea of their game, and both utterly hopeless at managing a company.

Tom Moldvay's 'user friendly' basic edition re-write

So, when actual managers got involved, it seemed like things were on the up. Indeed they were, profits were certainly up, with the introduction of 'basic' (above) and 'advanced' versions of D&D there were plenty of books to buy, there were regular releases of new expansions and new adventures, there was a monthly magazine, and many other products. However, this is the thing about D&D, about any geek hobby really, is that it's based on (like I said) the activity and the community. There is (for me) something fundamentally punk about the aesthetic of geek culture, or perhaps this is simply my generational approach, but as the community is based in imagination, and the games and stories are about using your imagination, it seems to  obviously approach that the games themselves are merely to be taken as a starting off point. So, before it became about collecting (before it become over-commercialised, I contend) it didn't depend on owning a great deal of the products. Simply put, if you had the basic rule book and a few expansions (player's and DM's guides) for the game, then you could create your own stories, worlds, your own customised rule sets. For example: It's interesting to note that the successful and popular RPG Pathfinder is basically a customised set of third edition (3.5) D&D rules.

Of course, D&D didn't stay punk, it got bigger, and bigger! Eventually it attracted the attentions of Wizards of the Coast who bought out D&D from TSR in 1997. Wizards who had made their money with the addictive collectible card game Magic: The Gathering, were also soon bought over by Hasbro in 1997. Bigger and bigger fish! Less room for all the weird little indie fishes...

When D&D's fourth edition came out in 2007 it was pretty obvious that the publishers were trying to keep the game relevant by mimicking the style of various online computer games such a World of Warcraft, in the manner of tiered skill trees and a more simple modular game style (it's interesting how most computer game designers started out playing pen and paper role-playing games too). This wasn't overly well received and led to Pathfinder (noted above) and various small role-playing games taking off. However, role-playing games despite recapturing some of their imaginative originality are now far from as popular as during the 80's and 90's.

Φ. Keep your grubby capitalist paws off my games!

Now that the most popular genres of entertainment are those of geek culture, surely this must be a golden age to be a geek in?

Well, only if you conform to the excepted ways of being a 'geek', that is, being a 'true geek' now seems to be based upon owning all the right things and having bought or seen the rest. More than that, the constant pressure to comply means that your membership of your chosen fandom(s) is based on you showing brand loyalty. Your response to your fandom must always be one of near hysterical adoration with no room for critical questions about over-merchandising, or dumbing-down, or anything else. To do so, would show that you aren't a 'true' fan but a 'hater' or a 'whiner' or a 'basement-dwelling neckbeard troll'.

I'll admit though that I'm pleased to see the quality of the products improve. Board-games are going through a real golden period, role-playing games have quality art now (unlike before, see the basic D&D cover above), the films and television have huge budgets and finally decent special effects (sorry 'Hawk the Slayer' but you were rubbish). So, for the pragmatic buyer you can find some excellent games, it's just that most seem to be based on the formula learned from the success of Magic: The Gathering. "You want more things, you want better things?" Then you need to spend spend spend!

So, returning to this piece's impetus 'Tabletop', I could spend my money and watch the show now, or I could just wait a few months and it'll turn up on YouTube like we were all expecting it to do about six months previously. Sure we could just buy all the things we think would make us happy, that's the dream of capitalism after all (selling unneeded things to people), but that was never the outlook of geek culture. As I said, it's basis is in the activity and the community, but also; being critical of developments in the community, and being an active part of that community itself. Even if that means developing 'home brew' rules for your group, or turning that into its own stand-alone game system (i.e. Pathfinder). There are similar types of stories in each aspect of geek culture; game designers/programmers starting by re-developing a favourite computer game (aka 'modding'), writers starting by writing good quality fan-fiction set in their game worlds (i.e. NOT twilight fanfic author E.L. James) and so on. It's a community based in a love of imaginative story-telling, the precision of logical rules, and in arguing about all these things.

I'm not suggesting everyone designs their own games and then whittles the pieces themselves, or anything as similarly outlandish for other geek categories, but that neither should we accept the view that 'being a geek' is a passive activity primarily characterised by consumerism.

Futurama originates the meme/catchphrase, now used unironically

***

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

(free) Words on Wednesday: "You have nothing to fear, if you have nothing to hide."

This is an extended edit of a comment I made earlier today in response to someone paraphrasing the above remark on Farcebook.

It is itself a response to the news that the UK government has passed the "snooper's charter" or the Draft Communications Data Bill without much of a fuss, or complaint from the opposition, or taking into account the views of those in the communications industry or anything like that. Here's a link to a story in the Guardian. And here's one that explains that encryption technology can also be bypassed by the government with this law.


"Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say."

          - Edward Snowden

But maybe that's not convincing enough. Here's some other reasons why this is bad for you, if you need to have it made personal rather than seeing why it would be bad if you are a Muslim or a protester or a journalist or someone who uses private data (like lawyers, therapists, doctors etc.)

1. YOU don't decide whether you've done anything wrong, the government does. So, maybe you think you're totally innocent now but ultimately that is not up to you to decide.
2. The rules might change. Now this is law, there's not much we can do if they decide to 'extend' it. 
3. Laws need to change, people need to express opposition to laws, "You have nothing to fear, if you have nothing to hide" is not the language of a democratic society, or a position that allows opposition or difference, it is a weak encouragement of the powerful.
4. Privacy is (or should be) a fundamental human right. If we allow it to be so described, as the 'nothing to fear' assumption does, as a basis in hiding a wrong-doing then we are also allowing ourselves to be labelled as potential criminals straight away. Privacy is about human dignity, it is about having some measure of personal freedom. Wanting privacy doesn't mean you've something to hide.
5. What happens with the storing of this data? What happens if this data is lost, or hacked? When it becomes the property of someone else, someone who does not even have to pretend to have your best interests at heart (like the UK government does) then you might find that this was a bad idea after all.


Big Brother is Watching You


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Library Tales: Book curse

“For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand & rend him. Let him be struck with palsy & all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy, & let there be no surcease to his agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, & when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him for ever.”

- from the library of the monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona



It appears that some people have always taken libraries as a free book shop. I'd imagine that these threats of damnation did about as much good as our threats of fines to students. At one point a student was not allowed to graduate until they had paid all of their library fines, which became a motivating factor, however, one clever law student pointed out this was actually illegal and most institutions stopped enforcing this. Still, most libraries would be wise to not let this fact be well known.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Thoughts on Thursday: Tabula Rasa

Presently I feel as if my mind has been swept blank,



& although there are no thoughts, there is a noise




an intense buzzing,





which comes in waves,






washing me further from the shores of feeling







into a deep cold sea, populated with monsters








King's spoil, dread with the undecided, blooded doomed









plunging gasping back towards the light, fearful as a newborn










. CFT 2016

Illustration by Mervyn Peake

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Quotes worth saving (20): the coming ages of barbarism and darkness



After Virtue: a study in moral theory, by Alasdair MacIntyre.
Published in 1981. 



It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead - often not recognizing fully what they were doing - was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict.

(p.263)


Alasdair MacIntyre