My love/hate relationship with Chess

40k-chessThis is something of a tangental blog post, considering it has nothing to do with politics, but with the recent release of a video game called “Regicide”, based in Games Workshops Warhammer 40,000 Universe and developed by Hammerfall Games, (information on which can be found here http://www.warhammer40kregicide.com) I started to think about what Chess has meant to me over my life. Regicide itself gives you two game modes, classic Chess and “Regicide” in which certain pieces move the same as others but have special abilities in an additional phase of play.

I’ve been playing strategy games of some description for my entire living memory. I was introduced to Games Workshop and its wonderful fantasy world when I was four and my dad taught me how to play Chess around about the same time. I also played it on the computer in my spare time and ended up learning quite a lot about the history of the game, it’s grandmasters, politics and rankings as a hobby. I will maintain to this day that how I think about life, how I remember things, and how I play games more generally have all been influenced by my Chess playing in some way. Having both GW and Chess in the same package feels like a match that I’d be waiting to see for years.

But it also shows to me how fundamentally archaic Chess is in the modern world. I’m a big video gamer, with dabblings in almost every genre, but Grand Strategy and RTS games have always been my forte, from Dungeon Keeper and Age of Empires in my early days to Europa Universalis, Total War and the Dawn of War series in more recent years. Regicides two modes show this up in a more vivid way than I’m used to because I don’t normally think about chess at the forefront of my  mind when playing video games.

It’s supposed to be the most balanced and tactical of strategy games. Luck doesn’t enter the equation, it’s your skill against your opponents and any mistake is likely to cost you a game against experienced players. It taught me never to play your opponents game, to never be constantly reactive and to look three or four moves ahead. Tactics were key, almost any chess player who has researched moves will have heard of the Sicilian Defence, which at its most basic level consists of a single move by Black. Imagine reading about players like Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov, who took elements this simple and slowly built on them over the years to defeat opponents with decades more experience. They were game changers for a sport that hadn’t changed in a meaningful way for centuries, and thats inspiring in its own way. I took the game straight into my heart, and in hindsight I should probably have entered tournaments or tried actually making something of it. In the end, I went to secondary school and was happy to win all the tournaments there every year bar the last one (which I lost to a Year 7, who it has to be said was a great player, even if I probably didn’t focus as much as I should have due to overconfidence, a big error on my part)

But chess isn’t a sport you can romanticise about, at least not in the same way as football for example. Matches can take hours or days (even at secondary school we had games that went on for two or three hours). They are, in reality, boring to watch even if looking at the moves afterwards is a revealing insight into the thinking of the player. Moreover, those who play the game at the highest level these days lack the charisma or rebellious nature of a Fischer, Kasparov or Petrosian; Magnus Carlson is a fabulous chess player, possibly the greatest ever to grace the sport, but he is reserved and thoughtful (a common comparison to make is with tennis player Roger Federer). The notation system looks horrible, even if it’s depth and ability to show an entire game in an incredibly concise manner is amazing. It also has an image problem, being dominated by a patriarchy of male players in a way that Golf could only dream of. This was bought to a head most recently when Nigel Short stated that “It would be wonderful to see more girls playing chess, and at a higher level, but rather than fretting about inequality, perhaps we should just gracefully accept it as a fact.”. I don’t have a problem with saying that female brains are wired differently. I do have a problem with “gracefully accepting” that it makes them worse at chess when opportunities for them to take it to higher levels are far more restrictive.

So, when I was younger and less involved in politics or study, chess felt like a sport that I was proud to be good at. It showed I was clever in a way that meant more to me than grades because they weren’t a direct competition with others. Beating another person at something is a great way to get a rush of good feelings, and since I was terrible at every physical sport on the planet, chess was really the only thing I could do to get that. Even if the rewards were winning the tournaments were terrible sometimes (juggling balls being the most stupid one I can think of) sometimes I received small monetary rewards, further increasing my desire to win and the feelings of competitive joy.

But the more I look at chess now, the less inspired I feel to play it. It feels old and worn out compared to the more fast paced games of the virtual world. It feels like the stereotypes of the players still exist and are still validated by its community. It’s no longer rewarding or inspiring, and it lacks character and meaning in the fast modern world. So, while I love the game of chess for the rewards and abilities its given me, it lacks the drama and character that it used to.

The Destruction of Reasonable Debate in Social Media

There is a certain irony, or even perhaps hypocrisy, in writing this post. I’m currently writing on a blog site that basically encourages the things I’m about to complain about, and I’ll be sharing the article on social media.

But I’ve been annoyed for a while about this, so lets just get it out shall we. Social media is destroying reasonable discussion. It is creating echo chambers, trolls and extremists. It is allowing groups and individuals with no purpose other than to hate or damage others gain enormous amounts of traction and exposure.

This is not an issue that relates to one part of the political spectrum. For every Neo-Nazi with a penchant for racism and homophobia there are “social justice warriors”, bearded Marxists and extreme feminists. And for each of those there are trolls with the opposite view, each in turn generating hate that could probably power the globe if we harnessed it.

Political discussion at a basic level is debating issues and finding common or opposing ground and working towards compromise. No one is going to agree on everything, you cannot engage in these sorts of issues if you have already decided what is and isn’t right because there isn’t a right answer. Plenty of movements are guilty of this, modern feminism, meninism, religious protectionism and anti-vaccination groups have all begun to start shouting nonsense into cyberspace in order to incite members of their groups into spewing ridiculous things on social media.

You cannot make a balanced or nuanced point in 140 characters. You can say something poignant, express a strong opinion or crack a joke, but you cannot say something of any value in that small space. Either you rant in several tweets or status updates, or you link to something longer that does try to address the points in a reasonable manner. It would be nice if people were more willing to find such articles and retweet them, rather than come out with unsubstantiated and offensive opinions that do nothing to move discussions forward.

And yes, I used the word “offensive” there. If you think that posting up the quote from Stephen Fry about offence somehow puts you on a moral high ground you’re someone who has clearly not thought through the implications of such a view. You’re someone who is happy to ignore the emotional state of the person on the other side of the argument and you lack empathy and basic human understanding. Being offended by something is not bad, it indicates that something at the core of your knowledge or even personhood is being hit with a blunt instrument. People who are offended by things often respond poorly, but rather than telling them their offence is worthless, ask them why they’re offended. In some cases, it’s almost blatantly obvious what the response will be, racism is offensive because a persons skin colour or heritage does not instantly define who they are for example. Misogyny or misandry is offensive for similar reasons. If it’s not obvious, in particular any case with religious connotations, try and understand the cause of the offence. Each time you make that person question why they’re offended, the more they will hear themselves questioning their own beliefs, and the more you understand why similar people feel the way they do. Why would you attack the offence that is taken and not the person doing the offending?

Ideally that question wouldn’t have a legitimate answer. Unfortunately, people who do take offence are increasingly going out of their way to find offensive things, either by reinterpreting the views of a particular writer, speaker or artist in a way that offends them or even by outright creating it by saying something equally offensive to draw attention to their cause. As soon as that is met with derision and disagreement, they claim they are being offended, oppressed or attacked. This has always been a common tactic of extremist groups, effectively garnering sympathy by claiming that moderate or opposing viewpoints want to shut them out by shouting them down. But increasingly it’s becoming common among even the most moderate of viewpoints and political parties. Instead of discussion, political and cultural debate is dominated by demagogues and sophists who will never budge from their position because they have already decided they’re in the right and everyone else is wrong. And when two of those groups meet, you get arguments that go nowhere fast.

I’m not going to sit here and claim I haven’t said stupid or unsubstantiated things in the past myself. I still do from time to time, but if someone corrects me because they’re offended I don’t go “So fucking what?” I calmly ask why they think I’ve overstepped a mark. And more often than not, the discussion very quickly leads to me learning something new about the person I’m talking to and an improvement in the relationship between us. Replying with a defensive or dismissive answer is just going to lead to a breakdown in the discussion.

But Twitter, Facebook and blogging sites encourage us to form networks that reinforce our viewpoints. And with enough reinforcement, eventually you’ve walled yourself in. No new or nuanced viewpoints are accepted, and any opposing viewpoints can be safely kept at bay in the knowledge that you have several blogs with the same viewpoint as you bookmarked in your favourites folder. This is especially common when discussing socio-economic issues, with poorly researched or blogs with twisted viewpoints garnering the most attention. If they’re right wing they’ll be focused on the benefits of capitalism and the issues with socialism. Left wing blogs will do the opposite, but neither will likely address the good points of the system they disagree with. It creates a dichotomy that appears to have no middle ground, when in reality the middle ground is exactly what you should be searching for. Solutions are not found by ignoring the other side, they are found by listening to them.

Lets face it, the internet and modern mass media has allowed people to claim things as true because they heard them through one of many outlets that lie or twist the truth while claiming to provide correct and backed up information. Fox News is a fantastic example of what happens when people see something that has an informative tone but do nothing to question what is actually being said. Hell, I could extend that to almost any news outlet in the world. I have a huge amount of respect for the BBC, but it’s not infallible and is certainly affected by the politics of the time and the media around it.

So, in conclusion, it’s down to us as individuals to find the statistics and hard facts for ourselves, to discuss them with a variety of people and to never believe that you’re going to be right about an issue. Things change and human beings are fallible, you can spend years doing all the best research in the world, but if someone finds something that does genuine damage to that, don’t respond by trying to justify your own findings in the face of the evidence. Try and incorporate it, see why it damages your view and draw new conclusions. Because frankly no one else is.

Russell Brands idealism isn’t what we need.

Last nights BBC Question Time was, in all honestly, a bore. For all it’s hype about seeing two men ideological opposed to each other sitting directly across the table and staring each other down, it ended with a sort of damp squib.

Brand is not a politician, these debates do not suit his style because he is a preacher of morality, not a speaker of political issues. The debate was really “won” by Camilla Cavendish, who was probably the only reasonable person in the room by the end. Brand later released a statement that was typical of both his grassroots activism and his desire to see a better world (and I don’t doubt that he does) in that it appealed to peoples humanity and ended on an attack on Farage for creating fear amongst the populace. What was perhaps most telling about this statement in relation to the debate as a whole was the end of the second to last paragraph.

“The Britain of the future will be born of alliances between ordinary, self-governing people, organised locally, communicating globally. Built on principles that are found in traditions like Christianity; community, altruism, kindness, love”

It is statements like these that should immediately ring alarm bells, not because they’re based in some kind of utopian vision of humanity (Brand is commonly guilty of this anyway) but because he could not get this idea across during a debate on concrete issues because of his decision to “politely sit on his hands”. When presented with questions concerning how people in power should govern, which policies they should implement or reject, Brand is like a idealistic left wing student. Tuition fees, food banks and wealth inequality are where his strengths lie (and they are important issues that he is right to raise), but when presented with an issue as fundamental as education policy a response of “I don’t know much about it” and trying to throw the question into the issue on tuition isn’t good enough. In the world of collectivized government he wants to create, how are children educated then? If the Britain of the future is to be built on the things he has listed above, he needs to give concrete reasons as to why. It’s all very well appealing to our humanity and altruism, but many of the altruists are voting UKIP as well in a desire to leave a European Union that they feel even further disconnected from than the parliament in Westminster. Convincing them that there is an alternative would have been a better line of answering. He doesn’t appear to support any one party, preferring to be wholly anti-establishment, but there will always be an establishment of some kind, and if there is the revolution he desires he will be the one people look to to form a new establishment. So far he has done little to convince that it isn’t just all philosophy, that once push comes to shove, he has very little to offer beyond clever words and joining student protests. Those are good things to have, but a bringer of change they do not make.

An answer he gave that also irked me was to a gentlemen, who it was later confirmed was a UKIP MEP’s brother, was that when asked if he was a campaigner he replied that he was a comedian. That shows something of a lack of respect for an enormous number of people who do hold him in high regard as a campaigner, particularly on drug reform, but also shows a lack of international knowledge on the power of such a position. The Five Star Movement in Italy was founded by a comedian, was anti-establishment and anti-corruption and declared “populist” by many of its detractors, in a similar manner to Brand or indeed even Farage (though to call Farage anti-establishment in any way is ridiculous. A case for him being a unintentional comedian possibly). It received a massive share of the vote, way above even pollster predictions, in the Italian elections, destablising the power structure of parliament and leading to fundamental change in policy in Italy after the Berlisconi years. Brand appeared to be using his status as a comedian to detract from his campaigning, as though the issues he is fighting for are not related to his job. That was fine in the 2000’s perhaps, but the growth of social media and the power of sites like Twitter and Facebook has fundamentally changed how you can enter into the political sphere as a celebrity. You will be held to account on the issues you campaign on, you will be challenged on the ideas you espouse and if you answer back, as Brand does to his credit, to your detractors you become the retweetable voice of those who do not have your reach. The point about Malala having so few followers in comparison to Brand shows how ignorant he is of this fact. Part of why political apathy, particularly amongst the young, is becoming such an issue is that those who are considered voices of good don’t have a political platform, and that leaves the rest with all the space they need to maneuver round most problems in government. When those that do have the reach of Brand refuse to stand in parliament out of fear is it any wonder we have the level of apathy that we do?

Which leads to the second problem the UKIP MEP’s brother attacked Brand for; why wasn’t he standing for parliament himself? Brands response was “I fear I’d become one of them” which is contradictory to his previously very idealistic statements. If we are to build a Britain that is actually better, we do not need people who are scared of political office. The people who do change politics, for better or worse, weren’t scared of being a leader in the political environment of their time (Thatcher and Blair fundamentally changed their parties to move out of what they perceived as political stagnation for example) and if Brand really is going to be held up as a voice of those most crippled by the ridiculous policies of the current government (I’m a Conservative and think George Osbourne is completely crippling this country, just for the record) he needs to step up the plate and not hide behind easily repeatable idealistic statements. We all want a world built on peace, love and understanding. But we’re also well aware that the world is a matter of gamesmanship, of gambling against others who would rather subvert it, and Brand must be aware of this.

Immigration issues are created primarily by a combination of poor policy choices by current and previous governments with regards to social housing and by fear perpetrated by the media. Benefit claimants are similar, in that they are wrongly demonised. Brand is right to regularly point out that these are a distraction from other issues, but he resorts to a common tactic of attacking the wealthy for not paying tax, something that is both a common misconception (as a percentage of tax receipts, the amount the wealthy is paying is increasing and our reliance on them for social welfare is immense) and also becoming rapidly old hat. The modern global world requires a global tax policy, but because there are so many countries that would not support one, our government included, there will never be one. America is also ideologically opposed to taxation these days. Thus you fundamentally cannot prevent companies and individuals from avoiding tax receipts if they have the accountants, lawyers and resources to do so. You can try, but you’ll always end up having a loophole somewhere for them to exploit. This is pessimistic, certainly, and does not help the issue of political apathy, but what we don’t need is the wealthy that do pay tax feeling victimized because of the actions of what are in reality a select few powerful individuals who abuse the system. Throwing the money lenders out of the temples might look morally good but if they start lending in another temple it changes very little and just makes the temple poorer. That happened in France, resulting in the current farcical situation where their president had to backtrack on the one policy that got him power because everyone who could have paid it threatened to leave. Thus he looked weak, and has never recovered since. It’s also happening right now in Japan, an increase in Sales Tax of 3%  is crippling the country after relatively good periods of growth, purely because of hysteria over price increases. The world does not work in the black and white morality of the Bible.

Politics does not need utopian idealists at the moment, however good their intentions may be. Brand is not a bad person, I do not believe he is some sort of self-centered hypocrite as The Sun might claim, but he is treading a very fine line between mad anarchist and idealistic humanist at the moment. He infuriates me not because he is “wrong”, he infuriates me because he refuses to start stating concrete ideas that can work within a political system, or at least start supporting parties that are. The Greens offer a far more reasonable alternative to UKIP, offer a referendum on Europe and have been shown time and time again to be in line with the desires of the British people. What they do not have is a successful voice. Caroline Lucas is a fantastic parliamentarian who fights for her beliefs and backs them up with policies to match, but the leader of the party Natalie Bennett is an unknown to large swathes of the population. They do not have the resources to stand members in every constituency, because they do not have the backing of unions, the rich or established politicians. That is changing, but it needs to change faster if things are going to go in the right direction in 2015. It is all well and good to claim “That the people have the wisdom, not politicians, that the old paradigm is broken and will not be repaired” when you’re outside the political scene. But as soon as he was on that stage it must have occurred to him that plenty of people disagree with him about Parliamentary politics. It is far from dead for most, it is close to dead to the left wing, whose voice in it is all but spent, but they have to take some blame for that. Left Unity is a start, but it’s still fighting against the ideologies that are now entrenched, but if Brand remains the biggest voice in opposition to current government or Labour policy (which lets face it, he is at the moment) any attempt to switch policies back to a more reasonable centralism or even socialism will fail.

Are Principles Dead in Politics?

As conference season for the two main parties in the UK draws to close, it has become abundantly clear to all concerned that the difference between them has decreased over the past five years. The politician once decried as “Red Ed” by the Tories has overseen one of the biggest switches to right wing policy in the Labour party in modern history, while the Tories see members of their party abandon ship for UKIP on the basis that the leadership no longer convinces them. Despite still consistantly polling higher than other leaders on an individual basis, Cameron is unable to convince social conservatives that he supports them.

But that shouldn’t be surprising, because it’s blatently obvious that he doesn’t. Ever since he became leader, Cameron made efforts to become the “compassionate conservative”, aware that the party needed to modernise. I supported him, and still support him, in this endevour. Allowing for two referendums to be held in a single parliament – one nationwide on the voting system, the other in Scotland on independence, defying some of the dinosaurs in his party over gay marriage and making efforts to show respect to the many cultures present in Britain through personal messages on religious festivals shows some measure of success in that regard. The party has moved towards being socially progressive in many areas that previously it was stuck in the stone age.

But having done all these things, the party is still mired in populism. Like UKIP, it sees immigration as the cause of more problems than it actually creates. Theresa May is reacting to the extremist threat of IS by making Britain seem insular and archaic. Ian Duncan Smiths welfare reforms, while being prefectly reasonable in proposition initially, have become a mess of different systems instead of one universal one. Micheal Goves new curriculum is sound and relatively uncontroversial, but almost every other element of education policy was a disaster. And George Osbournes economic policy has moved so far away from any level of economical foundation that it doesn’t bear thinking about what will happen should he keep his job in a years time.

So basically, every major politician we could vote for is either incapable of governing the country based on the last four years of evidence, or is steadily moving away from the principles that previously were the standpoint from which their parties were founded. Labour is no longer the party of the working class in any sense, promising no better than the Tories in terms of wages or tax cuts, while the Conservatives, supposedly the party of capitalism, business and free markets, are happy to ignore the rise of large companies and franchises over genuine competition. As much as people may hate Thatcher, Thatcher would likely hate the party as it is now, without rhyme or reason to it’s economic policy, without the focus on individual freedoms in a free market.

This is where that question arose. Where are the politicians, no matter how mad we may consider them, who stick to a set of principles that define who they were and why they are part of a party. In America the same applies, Obama is a fantastic orator, but he is far from a radical thinker. Arguably the most radical thinker in frontline American politics at the moment is Ron Paul, someone who can, even at his best, only be described as bonkers, but at least he sticks to what the libertarian principles in which he believes. There are still members of all three parties who do this, but they are not the ones on the front lines. Wishy-Washy think tanks like the Taxpayers Alliance dominate the fine print of news articles, yet in reality their economic policies are based on nothing more than single policy doctrines (tax cuts for all). Rather than having one school of thought dominate the system, as it was with Thatcher or the previously left-wing governments that supported nationalisation of industry, we’re stuck discussing individual issues with no reference to a grounding principle. While I may disagree with nationalisation as a government policy, it is at least based on an economic ideal that can be grounded in principles of equality, just as capitalism is grounded in the principle of freedom. What has become the standard principle is popularity, something that sways so wildly that it should really be of no surprise that people are becoming apathetic. One minute a party supports their view, as it’s the view of the majority, and the next minute they despise it in an effort to lure others to them.

Or maybe this is me viewing the past with rose tinted glasses, and the present with a murky torch. Politicians have, after all, always gone after votes. But it did at least feel as though those in the past would stick to their guns and go down with their principles, rather than betray them for votes. Even those who didn’t succeed in getting votes would also stand by their policies (Micheal Foot, Churchill, Steel etc) even if they failed. Now people seem to want rewrite the failures of the past, rather than accept and learn from them.

Why Series 4 of Doctor Who is still the best.

I did have a more negative title for this post at one point. It read “Why Doctor Who is turning into a soap opera”. Because it is, it’s become Eastenders in space, trying to create love triangles, life-ruining scenarios and frankly silly episodes for the sake of “drama”. But when I came down to it, I realised that most of the arguments I was making to support this point came from Season 4, the Tenth Doctors final full season. Even though I’m sure many people will call “Your Doctor” bias at this point (yes Tennant is MY Doctor, and easily my favourite) most of my points did not come from Tennant himself, and there’s very good reasons for this. So here’s a list of the things that I think made Season 4 the best, and comparing them to similar aspects from Seasons 5,6,7 and the start of 8.

This post will contain Spoilers for pretty much every Season of New Who. Do not read if you care about that.

Season 4 : Donna Noble is the best companion
Donna Noble was introduced at the start of Season 3 as a bit of laugh for the Christmas special. Catherine Tate was big at the time and she made enough of an impression on the writers to bring her back. Like most, I was initially skeptical. By the end of the season she was my favourite companion ever and brought genuine tears to my eyes when she left. She and Tennant played brilliantly off each other, she refused point blank to be bossed around by even the galaxies greatest law enforcers, and she never once just took what the Doctor said for granted. She didn’t blindly follow him into danger, nor did she feel constrained in anyway by him. In Midnight she goes off to do her own thing, enjoying the planet of diamonds for herself while the Doctor ends up fighting a copycat alien. But at the same time she didn’t feel like the driving force of the show. She was important, but the Doctor was still the focus, his travels and trials were still the most important part of the show and Donna was a check and balance on the jaded and almost apathetic Ten that sometimes reared it’s head (Fires of Pompeii is a great example of this). The final episode of season 4, which I still maintain is the best episode so far of New Who, is simultaneously the most joyous and uplifting experience in the shows history (I was literally cheering at K-9’s appearance, but was already smiling with glee after the rest of episode) and at the same time the most heart crushingly brutal one. Doctor Donna’s short time on the show epitomised this, for the short period of time she was able to keep control it was great to watch, hilarious and brilliantly acted by Tate. But that brilliant acting threw out one hell of a horrible ending, one so horrible to watch that it was scarier than any Dalek, Cyberman or Weeping Angel. Her leaving is still, even in comparison to Doomsday which is another great episode, the most heartbreaking and difficult thing to watch in New Who for me.

Seasons 5 -7.5: Amy and Rory try to steal the show and come off worse for it.
Amy and Rory were always going to be a different kettle of fish. For a start it was back to the Doctor having a romantic element to it, something that had worked well with Rose but not so much with Martha. The fact that Amy was already getting married to Rory by this point made that even more difficult. And that’s probably why I don’t have fond memories of either of them.

For a start, Rory was bumbling cannon fodder. This may seem harsh, but he died twice in Season 5 alone and was either transformed or hurt in a multitude of other episodes. While he does have some good moments (Last Centurion, Demons Run) these are generally precisely because they go against the grain for his character. His love for Amy, which Davril was always really good at portraying genuinely, is his one redeeming feature, which is why the arguments that started at the end of Season 6 and continued in to Season 7 felt so stupid for me, because it made you feel as though you were watching “The Amy and Rory show”.

That nicely brings me on to my main complaint about Amy Pond, which was that she rapidly became the focal point for the episodes rather than the Doctor. Her relationship with him and Rory became the trial, her travelling with the Doctor was creating a problem in her love life, and by Season 7 they basically dedicated an entire half-episode to discussing their relationship with him. That episode (The Power of Three) is typical of Matt Smiths era (and so far with Capaldi’s) in that it had a great premise but incredibly poor execution. The idea of human curiosity creating a perfect environment in which to kill us was great, but the ending was rushed and the focus was not on the implications that created. There were great episodes that were Doctor-centric in Smith’s era (A Town called Mercy, The Doctors Wife) but these are in the minority and while I think Matt Smith is a great Doctor, his seasons are inferior to Tennants because they do not feel like they are about the Doctor, Time Travel or Aliens. Their focus is else ware, on creating drama between companions and when they left at the end of Angels Take Manhattan, an ending that should have felt as heartbreaking as the end of Season 4, it instead felt as though the Doctor was responsible for creating the entire scenario to begin with. Donna was independent of the Doctor, her leaving was heartbreaking because you wanted to see so much more of her, even without the Time Lord elements. Despite everything Wilfred Mott (another great part of Season 4) was adamant that the Doctor had been a positive influence on everyones lives and especially Donna’s, even though he was now forced to keep secrets from her. At the end of Amy and Rorys era you feel as though the Doctor has been a negative influence on their lives, taking them away from family and friends and trapping them years in the past. You felt as though, had he never arrived, their lives would be better. Thats not a good feeling, at all, and leaves a very bad taste in the mouth that was not in Doctor Who prior to that, in any season. Even River Song, a character who was prevalent in these series but was deeply disappointing given her introduction in Season 4, felt like another character the Doctor had negatively impacted, never quite giving her what her loyalty and eventual sacrifice would deserve.

Season 7.5 – 8: The show goes Clara mad.

Given that Clara has not yet had her run, and is improving in Capaldi’s era already, I’ll give her some leeway, but she was the main focal point of Season 7.5 and the producers had the gall to fiddle with the old series during that time. They not only placed her in various parts of the Doctors old timeline, in itself not too bad, they had her be the person who recommended he take that TARDIS. Frankly thats sacrilege, not just because it’s fiddling with past canon (never a good idea in geeky circles) but also because it removes that choice from the Doctor and seemingly hands it over to a third party. The Doctor and the TARDIS were a relationship that went beyond individual companions, they were not something that should ever have been affected by a single individual. Her dating Danny Pink is also getting very old, very fast and creating more drama for the sake of drama, rather than focussing on the time-travel element or indeed the Doctor himself.

Conclusion

Doctor Who started moving away from it’s roots of questioning the difficult decisions we all make from new angles and new perspectives towards the middle of Smiths era. It began focussing more on the characters stories, on dramatic scenes and jump scares, rather than the moral quandaries the Doctor used to have to approach and solve. Again, these problems regularly came up in Season 4, with Donna and the Doctor regularly coming to loggerheads over the issue. But when all the villains are just outright evil (The Darleks, the Angels and the Cybermen) there is no quandary, and these were overused and overdone to death during Smiths time. A Town Called Mercy was a small respite in the later half, showing what Matt Smith could have been throughout his entire reign had it been more Doctor focused, and given him difficult decisions, but otherwise it’s heading dangerously towards becoming a case of “this is bad, we have to stop it” rather than “this creates a problem we need to solve”. The end of “Into The Darlek” shows that there is still something to this point that can be grasped, but again the unnecessary diversions to Clara’s love life detract from the ending of that episode. If it had left it on the “You are a good Darlek” line, it would have been that much more satisfying.

Again, maybe this is Tennant bias coming through, but I’m sure i’m not the only one who feels as though Doctor Who has started to move away from what made the shows return feel so right and necessary.

Scottish Referendum: Yes or No?

So tomorrow is a big day for Britain. It’s basically making up it’s mind whether to stay in one piece or become two entirely separate countries, as Scotland votes on independence.

The first thing to note is that Scotland itself has been toying with independence since devolution. Dissatisfaction with the government in London led to further powers being devolved, but the nationalist parties in Scotland, notably the SNP, continued to gain strength, especially after the financial crisis.

It’s worth remembering that that particular trend also occurred in the UK as a whole, UKIP has garnered increasing support since the 2010 election, and this is not really surprising. The biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression was always going to have a similar move towards isolationism by all countries, even in the States where the Electoral College disguises what was, in reality, a very close vote in 2012 between outwards looking Democrats and inward looking Republicans. Scotland is no different, the already present dissatisfaction was magnified to the point of considering divorce as the SNP continued it’s assertions that Westminster simply did not have a mandate to run its affairs.

That argument is perfectly valid. Very few of the Westminster MP’s representing Scotland are from the coalition, and even then they’re from the smaller half. Since Thatcher, the Tories have consistently lost seats across Scotland, until eventually they lacked a single representative north of the border, and their mandate to govern Scotland is flimsy at best.

This is where an argument in response can be formed, however, which is that independence is a response to the electing of a Tory government whose policies those in Scotland they do not support. Taking this way it makes sound as though had Labour been in power, where their mandate would have been significantly stronger, independence would almost certainly not be considered by the majority. In short, it’s reactionary and short sighted and not to the long term benefit of Scotland to throw itself out of the union because it’s part of a country where the largest proportion of citizens voted Conservative last time out.

Labour, of course, therefore see Scotlands abandonment of the union as a major threat to their electoral chances in 2015 and beyond. A “Yes” vote would take-away a large number of left-wing leaning seats from Parliament, something that the Tories are happy to keep quiet while the campaigning takes place. It’s noticeable that while all the pro-union parties are campaigning, Labour is it’s primary figurehead, with Brown and Darling, hardly the people you want running anything given their track record, their chosen voice. That’s because Labour is the party with the most to lose. Cameron’s attempts to keep the country together have hardly been acts of desperation on his part.

But that remains pretty much the only argument with a grounding in reality at this point. We’re 24 hours away from a referendum to decide Scotlands future, but there are no guarantees from either side as to what that future will look like. Salmond wants a currency union, the one person who can give him that is Mark Carney and he’s stated his opposition to it over and over. Salmond has promised to protect the NHS, but the figures he gives leave a £400 million funding gap inside the organisation. He wants to join the European Union, but after the financial crisis just having been a member of the UK is unlikely to grant you automatic admission.

But the same is true for the Pro-Union campaign. Until last week they’d promised new powers for Scotland should it vote no, but had given no idea of what that might be. Then the panicked selection of powers they gave were quickly dismissed by the higher members of the Conservative party, further muddying the issue, rather than resolving any of the problems it was supposed to solve. It also added fuel to fire of those in the Conservative party that some members were placing politics over tradition, and if there’s one thing that the Tories don’t like it’s the abandonment of traditions.

The campaigning on both sides has also been filled with subterfuge and game-playing, lowering the tone of the debate significantly. Initially, the Yes campaign was well behind until the second debate. Alistair Darling managed to screw up, rather than Alex Salmond getting one over on him, and left the door open for the momentum to swing back the other way. Undecided voters, who now had no more debates left, saw Salmond (probably rightly) as the stronger of the two. Salmond was still being consistently rebuffed however, Mark Carney said no to the currency union, the European Union gave no guarantee of Scottish Membership, and several companies of importance in Scotland noted their support of the Union, leaving the SNP with no real foundation to their claims. The debate about the amount of Oil in the North Sea continues to rage, and we won’t really know the result of that until it hits.

So the SNP changed it’s language. It focussed on emotional attachments to Scotland, rather than statistics or logical arguments. It reverted back to it’s nationalist type, forcing the No vote onto it’s turf, one on which it couldn’t hope to compete with a Tory government in power. More recently it’s begun an attack on the mainstream media, which has been almost universally against the Union breaking up (mostly thanks to it leaning to the right in the UK). That came to a head in a press conference where Salmond accused Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political correspondent, of “heckling” him. He didn’t, he asked a question that would have forced Salmond to refer back to statistics, so he initially evaded the question, then allowed the supporters he’d brought into the press conference (for which there is no other reason to do so than to intimidate the journalists inside the room) to heckle Robinson. The BBC itself has been impartial thus far, a good measure of impartiality is how many complaints it receives from both sides, and while there haven’t been protests outside Glasgow from the No vote, both sides are complaining pretty equally about the coverage given to their campaigning, or to the campaigning of the other side. The No vote complained endlessly that the schools chosen were for the Big Debate were from Yes voting areas, and the hall was indeed filled with Yes voters, to the point of that side of the hall being so full that they were forced to seat Yes voters in the No section (as much as the Yes side wants to believe that that was the BBC being partial to the No vote it simply had no choice precisely because the Yes vote is so popular amongst younger voters). The Yes vote did itself little favours by attacking the BBC and it resulted in the National Union of Journalists asking for an end to the intimidation of journalists, a good indication that some members of the Yes vote had been riled up enough by Salmond to put their views forward stronger than is acceptable in a democratic society.

But that’s not to say that the No vote hasn’t been equally guilty of trying to game their way back in. When the Yes vote appeared to gain momentum it started out by suddenly promising new powers should Scotland vote No. The Yes vote was right to point out that this was as a result of “panic” because up until the second debate there had been little indication that Scotland would actually vote to leave. After itthe momentum gained quickly enough for the No campaign to start adding in ideas that had previously been dismissed, and Labour realised it needed a stronger figurehead than Darling. So it brought in Gordon Brown, upped it’s promises and tried to counter Salmonds emotional response by continuing to try and get written assurances from companies that they were considering leaving Scotland should it go independent. That came to head when it leaked a letter to the BBC about RBS having contingency plans to move down to the UK. Why it did this is beyond common sense, had it simply waited for the announcement, far more damage would have been done without the need for a clear route for the SNP to counter. It then tried to get companies who had even made a mention of increasing prices in Scotland after independence (the logical thing to do, in order to combat risk) to put it into writing, which of course was also leaked and resulted in further embarrassment for them.

So basically neither side knows what will happen, so neither side can actually make any promises. Yesterday Salmond asked people to ignore statistics and political arguments going into the polling booth. This obviously appeals to the mentality that has worked so far leading up to the polls, but there is an element of truth in it. Independence brings with it massive risks for both sides, risks that are far more likely to cripple Scotland than the UK should they be taken and not succeed. But the Union has been slowly separating since the 80’s and Thatchers abandonment of the North, and Scotland has the right to decide it’s own future should that be different from the right of centre parts of England (Nationalist parties will basically get their “English Parliament” for one, something I don’t think they saw coming, as Wales will inevitably asked for more devolved powers as well)

So, it basically comes down to the old adage of “go with your gut”. I’ve wavered between supporting either side. Until the Yes vote started intimidation tactics and reverting to nationalist fervour I was more on their side, but if that is how the campaign is won, I see troubled waters ahead. Nationalism works until the nation realises it’s split on what it wants. If Scotland goes independent, it should have been on the basis of co-operation with the UK, on negotiation. Instead Salmond resorted to pressing the nuclear button on it’s debt requirements should it not get a currency union, which would effectively result in Scotland defaulting immediately after independence. That’s not going to do anyone any favours. Equally though the hard-line taken by the No vote was the thing that initially put me against them in the first place, so the day before the vote I can’t say I know which side to go with.

So Scotland, make your choice…

Quinnspiricy – The two worst parts of the internet

First off, there are going to be quite a few people who have absolutely no idea what the hell this post is about. In short, over the last few days, a game developer by the name of Zoe Quinn released a game on Steam called “Depression Quest”. The fact that the game appears to have value not as a game but as a social project is neither here nor there in this discussion. Check it out on Steam, see what you think. What’s gone horribly wrong is the results of what appear to be two conspiricy theories hitting each other head on in the world wide web.

First of all, there were allegations sent over social media implying that Quinn had slept with well known gaming journalists in exchange for high review scores. This resulted in a sudden burst of outrage on several blogs, most notable of which is Kotaku (who, in all fairness, have dealt with this the best of all the sites in question), but of course the big fish of quickfire discussion is Twitter. Quinns responded that she had recieved personal attacks on forums, some of them relating purely to her gender, and that her personal information had been posted online by hackers (a process known as “doxxing”).

Que possibly the biggest rush the internet has seen of two fervantly defensive sides coming together against eachother. On the one hand were those defending Zoe, many citing the accusations of gender discrimination as typical of the gaming community at large and the result of an inherent problem that needed to be addressed, regardless of the other accusations. The other side took notice of some of the posts on the forums that seem to paint Zoe as being deliberately provocative, or even outright destructive to charitable causes. One particular accusation claims she asked to be paid by a charity for work she would help do for them. When she was told she was to be paid only in royalites, she took umbridge and claimed they were “oppressing” her. The resulting storm she apparently then created got the site doxxed and paralysed.

It didn’t help that the posts coming out of Zoe’s twitter feed implied that she was hacked, only for other posters to point out that none of the apparently doxxed information related to her in anyway, and that she appeared to still be in complete control of the hacked account (having the delete button available on the tweets she claimed weren’t from her for example). She was also accused of using her influence to take down negative comments about her and Depression Quest on other sites. Furthermore, the people defending her were clearly not the best people to be doing so, the creator of Fez for example, Phil Fish, managed to get into a petty argument with the gaming journalist TotalBiscuit, who was relatively cordial given the madness around him.

In short, the entire thing is the definition of a shitstorm. Nothing of note was really gained from the massive arguments that ensued, other than that Zoe Quinn has come out much the worse. Some have called this evidence of the “Streisand Effect”, but that’s more to do with someone simply asking for the removal of negative material. If the accusations levelled at her are true, however, she has actively continued digging herself further in by attempting to slander her opponents.

Why do I want to blog about this though? I mean this stuff is now basically posted everywhere. What I want to add is this; that both sides have created this scenario, both through the creation of the problem that meant Zoe gained a very quick defence and also of the environment in which every aspect of your social media becomes monitored the moment you say something interpretable or debatable. The fact that there is a lack of female game developers is a problem the industry needs to address, and the recent build up of feminist drives on Twitter meant that this gained traction very, very quickly. All it needed was the suggestion of discrimination, and one half of Twitter was ready to jump.

On the other side is that the accusations levelled at Zoe and the evidence in support of them seems to be starting to poison the cause. It’s vitally important that if you are part of the group that feels the hurt that you don’t then cause harm to it through poor choices in your actions. Zoe did not have to fake being doxxed or hacked, and the result is she is in danger of losing support from everywhere. Depression Quest was a good idea, albeit not a game per-se, and it’s a shame that it’s now going to be permanently associated with the underlying feeling that something is very wrong in the gaming industry.

Social media gives everyone a voice. It’s important that the voices we have over social media are carefully stated. They cannot be removed, the internet never forgets as we’re always told. The posts associated with this crazy affair have been mostly taken down, either removed by posters or the sites themselves, to avoid further craziness. But it’s important not to forget that it’s impossible to hide from the internet once you make a point. If someone else has a point to make about you, you become a target. Zoe Quinn has clearly made poor choices, but it is important that this issue is not swept under the rug and ignored simply because of mistakes by one female game developer. The issue remains, and it needs to be addressed, otherwise the industry will continue to suffer from the short-sightedness of companies like Ubi-Soft, who think it’s ok to just claim it was “too hard to animate” female characters.