Sunday, 30 September 2007

Stranded in a Sea of Silicone

by Rabbie Macintosh

Initially, I’d love to be able to say that this article is about breasts. However, I can’t, as it is about something that you’d normally associate with the kind of person who hasn’t seen a real pair of breasts without parting with a considerable sum of cash.

Over the last few years, the face of gaming has changed significantly.

Now, please accept my sincere apologies for the lengthy pre-amble that I am about to embark upon, but I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve only
just arrived on the gaming ‘scene’ – I believe that I’ve certainly seen and done enough on consoles and actual computers over the years to be able to share an enlightened opinion with you. What that opinion is, I’m not entirely certain, as I’m letting my brain wander between the various hemispheres of my limited intellect until it arrives at the right spot by accident.

I first got into gaming with a Commodore 64 in 1986 – and have been going since then, getting most major consoles on the market and additionally a fair share of gaming quality PC’s – safe to say, I’ve paid my fair share towards the technology boom enjoyed by the companies in pursuit of the best profits, er, games.

There have always been great rivalries between the various factions of Hardware developers. Sinclair, Amstrad, and Commodore. Sega, Atari (remember the Jaguar?), and Nintendo carried this on in the early 90’s, but it’s worth mentioning that Commodore tried to prize their way in here, but failed, with the CD32, which indecently, is believed to have been largely responsible for their downfall. A trend emerges from all this, and it seems to be that eventually, all great console developers eventually meet their end. Looking at the successive generations of consoles, only Nintendo have been able to avoid bombing out at some point. But they’re the exception, as they were very quick to embrace innovation, and genuinely offer something new. This, along with a near fanatic army of lifelong fans, has guaranteed they will remain for a number of years yet.

The current generation of games sees the 3 great foes, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, battling for our hearts and TV’s with their latest generation of offerings. Technology has always been an expensive hobby, but these days, it’s moving into the realm of idiocy. At least with the previous generation, you could get the most from a console with a normal television. Nintendo, maybe to their credit, have not deviated from this line of thought. Sony an Microsoft have basically asked you to shell out an additional £300 minimum for a shiny HD TV to fully utilise what they are offering you, making your minimum purchase around the £600 mark. Depending on how much you like gadgets, this quickly rises above £1,000 – then games on top - £40 – 50 each. Quite soon you find yourself very poor indeed.

Then, there are the target audiences. I’ll be honest here. I’m a sucker for marketing. I actually believe all the hype that they spin. I’m hopeless and completely beyond help. I fall for it time and time again. On no less than 3 occasions I have found myself in a line outside a gaming retail outlet waiting for the very latest release of something, what exactly, I couldn’t honestly tell you. Over the years I estimate that I have spent over £25,000 on consoles, televisions, games, controllers, PC’s, online subscriptions, and the like. Please be aware that this is not a boast, it’s an admission of idiocy.


So, Sony and Microsoft want to get their mitts on the ‘serious’ gamer, the kind of person that will happily sit down and plough through 6 hours of their life in a mystical world full of intrigue and adventure until the story plays out. The sort of person who looks at information such as frame rates, resolutions, textures and sound modes. The person who will analyse the layout of a level, and maybe even look at the statistical odds of success of any given section before undertaking it.

Nintendo are different. They want the more relaxed gamer. They are more interested in people that want to have fun. The kind of person who w
ill happily pick up the pad/wand/glove/other unusual and original control device and just dive in to the game. They may not play another game for months, but they will remember their console experience more fondly.

So, the obvious choice is to go for the Nintendo console, the fun angle. Simplicity itself. It gets to live for a further generation, and Microsoft and Sony can taste crushing defeat. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The decision between the various consoles is mired by the choice of Software available. The latest, greatest, best marketed and shiny games tempt the consumer one way or the other. The truly damned try to go for all, and discover that only 5% of the software market is unique – and that they have just shelled out a c
onsiderable sum of money for a shiny book-stop.

Then, in the way that it inevitably comes about, there is the rivalry. Oh joy, the fanatic baying of the hordes, locked in an eternal struggle to see who’s expensive toy will ultimately reign supreme over the inferior products of the competitors. Power versus functionality, graphics versus speed, online play versus social life, the debate is endless. The internet, once it was firmly established that everyone had a voice, seemed to be the ideal place for these electronically minded enterprises to fight the newest incarnation of the console war, but they quickly realised that they didn’t have to, as people would do it for them, in huge numbers, for free. Imagine if that kind of enthusiasm could be generated for actual combat. The concept is terrifying once you think about it. Religious extremism would seem tame in comparison.I’m rapidly running out of space, and getting no closer to something resembli
ng a point, so I think that I’ll try to establish that one now.

Ultimately, there comes a point when technology will cease to be as innovative as it at this present time – there is only so far one can push graphics before you cease to notice differences. There will always be the 'next generation' of systems, but we are going to eventually ask ourselves why we continue to shell out large sums of cash for something that takes no significant step forward. Surely we should be more concerned about the enjoyment derived from a console, and therefore, we find ourselves back at Nintendo.

Ironically, this is the one manufacturer that I ow
n no consoles from – you see, SEGA won my loyalty back in the summer of '94 with the Megadrive II.

Funny how these things come about.


The fun is back, oh yes siree,
It's the 2600 from Atari! (or from Little Man, What Now?)

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Anglican Church Compromises

by Edwin Hesselthwite

I, Edwin Hesselthwite, a moral agnostic citizen, hereby make a vow. I will guarantee that any children I may have are inoculated against measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, tuberculosis, polio, tetanus, and organised religion.

There is nothing better for society than an established church, and exposure at a formative age to Sunday School is a key stage in an education for questioning minds.


Some Anglicans, who agreed that maybe they shouldn't have an argument today.


Oh dear, you've got cancer have you? Can I offer you some tea?

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

EU off the rails

by Bertrand Boer-Waugh

The EU is basking in self-congratulation today for it claims that it has reigned in unfair treatment of rail passengers. What nonsense—it has achieved the square root of **** all.

We have one of the worst train systems in the developed world, and even ours already gives the discounts that the EU have just decreed (which, anyway, have a 15-year opt-out). Never mind Spain giving refunds on AVE services if trains are more than 5 minutes late. The EU has achieved nothing.

On top of that, under the rules, the train company is only meant to be able to back out of refunds if the delay was not their fault. Don't believe that to be true either. I was on a First Great Western train from Swindon that was delayed for one and a half hours. Ten minutes of that delay was due to the police closing a section of track for a jumper. But, as we were told at the time, the remaining one hour, twenty minutes was due to train and track problems. However, when it comes to claiming a refund, it turns out that the whole of the delay was classified as being due to the police action and therefore not their fault. Well spun FGW. You remain beneath contempt.

Only £50m of the £300m that was paid by network rail etc. to the train operating companies was returned to customers. That is £250m that wasn't returned—far more than the £200m that the OFT is claiming that supermarkets ripped us off by. Why is this not plastered all over the news?

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Metapost

by Bertrand Boer-Waugh

Metapost (n): A post about the post.

Royal Mail, and the Post Office (as public face of the once-great Royal Mail), appear to be playing a dangerous game with its brand. First, deliveries become unreliable. Second, it stops Sunday collections from its letterboxes. In other words, the cost-cutting that is necessary for it comes from cutting its service rather than dealing with its problems with the unions and its striking workforces. Not content with that, they appear now to be using this to increase revenue.

It used to be that if you went in to the Post Office at 2:30pm to post something first class, it was pretty much guaranteed to get there the next day. Now, it seems far less likely to get there the next day. The question I am left asking myself is whether or not this is intentional on their part.

A number of times now, I have been in the post office about that time. Each time, they have been asking the same question: "do you want to pay for special delivery so that it gets there tomorrow?" The cost of special delivery is three times the cost of standard first class. I can see the strength of them making money through offering additional services such as loans and insurance - they have an expensive branch network to maintain (even if the rural post office is increasingly becoming either a thing of the past or a weekly visit). But offering people a service upgrade at three times the cost? This can only mean one of two things: firstly, the service that used to be reliable is now not reliable and so they will charge more for it, or secondly they are selling a more expensive service that people don't actually need. Either way, they don't come out of it well.

This raises an interesting question from a strategic point of view. Yes, the internet means that people are sending letters less and less. But companies that respond to a decline in their market (particularly one arising from an external threat) by increasing the cost of their service frequently find it to be the nail in the coffin. It is a grave mistake. If the rise in e-business teaches us anything, it is that you find a way to make your service cheaper (if not free) and proliferate usage of it. Imagine if google had charged you a penny for every search. It would have cost even a prolific searcher only about £3 per month, but the psychological barrier would have reduced our search (and therefore their modern business) dramatically.

There are all sorts of ways that they could do that. Offer a monthly fee to guarantee no leaflets through the door, for example. But raising the price on us (and making the service seem unreliable and expensive) will kill it. Competition aside, we have plenty of alternatives to snail mail for the bulk of our communications. What they should be doing, rather than competing for a greater share of our existing communications, or charging us more for the communications that we choose to (or have to) post, is exploring ways to make the post cheap enough to use without thinking and then finding new ways to make us communicate through the post more.

Friday, 21 September 2007

The European Secession Problem - How Belgium Broke Brussels.

by Edwin Hesselthwite

“We have no quarrel with America. We all know NATO is the strongest military machine in the world. We simply want them to stop being so busy with our country and worry about their own problems.” - Slobodan Milošević
The European Union does not have a centralised press or media. It's such a bizarrely obvious fact about our multi-national entity that the implications of politics without media intrusion is often missed. National level medias continue to lobby the EU about issues of interest to their own societies (from CAP spending to The Euro to African Immigration) but there is no central forum for discussion, meaning that a lot of the spit and bile of day to day politics (there will never be an EU Dangerous Dogs Act, and The Catholic Church has yet to make any headway in convincing the EU to care about abortion) does not occur. On the flip side it means the whole entity is somewhat less accountable, and issues that are of pan-EU implications can fall completely by the way side until they hit crisis point (as happened on The Constitution, when the elite completely misunderstood that it was supposed to be representing the people).

Today's case in point is a political beachhead taking place in Belgium, a deadlock that is increasingly looking likely to end in a messy divor
ce between Belgium's constituent units of Flanders and Wallonia. This issue is so high profile its managed to obtain one middle-page article in The Guardian, one in The Observer and nothing on BBC News Online, not quite what you'd expect of the first precedent of secession within the EU. Because even the roughest investigation will show that secession is the one European issue most likely to end up in an almighty mess, with blood and teeth mixed with the broken beer-bottles and Zyklon B.



Firstly, lets step back and look at the European continent as a whole. A quick glance at a map will demonstrate that Europe has more countries per unit area than any comparable landmass in the world. In total area it's roughly the size of China, but an unusually fractious history has led Europe to be divided into 48 nation states, with 7 language families. Within these nation states it is the norm for them to be formed of an assemblage of countries and regions with varying degree of autonomy and histories of independence - from Transdnieta in Moldova to Catalonia in Spain, Europeans dislike their neighbours. Above this now stands the European Union, an unprecedented assemblage of nation states which follows many of the functions of government.

Secession is a messy business, because it revolv
es around visceral identity issues on the one hand, and the hard hand of real politik and economics on the other. So that in Europe we've seen long drawn out wars of secession such as those in Northern Ireland, Basque Region and Corsica, velvet divorce as happened in Czechoslovakia (still messy, since only 40% of Slovaks ever favoured divorce, even after their government declared independence), to the incomparable train-wreck that started in Yugoslavia. The division of infrastructure and resources, placement of population, and the mess of politics cause countless pragmatic problems, and when secession starts rolling the implications are difficult to predict. On this basis alone, the EU should be paying close attention to what is going on under its metaphorical nose, but certainly when the events are in part its responsibility.

Increasingly The EU has taken on the main functions of central government that regions require in order to go about their business. With the case of modern Ireland as an example: if the EU is going to bootstrap your country's infrastructure, guarantee your currency and offer you defensive security, do you really need centralised administration in Paris/London/Berlin/Rome? All of the collective measures that were previously the main reason for states to join together as unions, are weakened by the generalised existence of the EU. The problem being shown in Belgium and to a lesser extent Scotland (where the SNP now form a minority government, and are unlikely to be toppled by the Westminster holding Labour Party before they somehow wrangle a referendum on independence) is that once this issue meets the ballot box, it becomes incredibly difficult to resolve.



Map of Belgium: Flanders is in pale grey, Wallonia dark.

Belgium, composed of Flemish speaking Flanders and French speaking Wallonia has always been subject to accusations of being a made-up nation (but then this is not unusual). Flanders is financially more wealthy and demographically more numerous, Wallonia is historically more upper-class but has fallen on harder times for the last half century. With the linguistic divide in place the constitution was erected to require a coalition between both regions interests. Never an easy solution, and it has fallen apart dramatically for the last 100 days, after an Election handed a majority to the Flanders based Christian Democrat Nationalist (CD&V) party. The CD&V refuse to form a coalition with the pro-union, French-speaking MR party unless they agree to a referendum on the secession question. Any further elections are likely to lead to a greater majority for Flemish nationalists, so at present the country sits without a government. Each day that passes throws the divisions into
sharper relief. The only big brake on divorce is the question of what to do with Brussels - this is a French speaking city, pivotally important to EU politics and the Belgian economy, and sits firmly in Flanders's territory. Neither side can afford to give it up.

If Flanders eventually secedes, The EU will be in the bizarre position of having its capital in a country that is potentially no longer part of The Union. But more than the pragmatic questions of what the EU does about Belgium, the way The Union chooses to deal with secession will have implications for the stability of every other EU country with a nationalist region. This precedent is sure to be watched with interest by Catalonia and Scotland. The question
s that need to be answered are numerous: will the seceding country be able to remain within The EU? If not will the seceding country be allowed to accede back into the Union and on what terms? If not, will seceding countries be able to rapidly obtain favourable trading agreements such as currently exist with Norway, Switzerland and Iceland (members of the European Economic Area) or will they be treated as pariahs like the Balkan nations? These issues are pivotal, and were a focus of much debate in the recent Scottish Parliament Elections that led to a minority government by an explicitly nationalist party. So far the EU has carefully avoided giving the Scots any answers (Westminster would not approve) bar a few hints, but this will become impossible after the first precedent. It is not out of the question to say that events in Brussels are going to dictate whether The United Kingdom will exist in 20 years.

To make some guesses about these questions, I think the secessionists are being wildly optimistic about their treatment by the EU. The
assumption must be that the EU will treat the rump of the country as a member, and that the seceding entity will have to apply for membership. Since the rump country will have a veto on this decision, their ability to rejoin the Union will be entirely at the mercy of the country they have divorced. Already Greece has threatened to veto Macedonian membership of the EU because they disapprove of their name, is it likely that Madrid will tolerate Catalonia joining the EU (or even Flanders, with the implications this has for Catalan politics)? Further, it cannot be in the EU's interest to become an entity with an ever increasing number of veto-wielding members - this makes the entire unit harder to manage. Thus, much like France or Britain themselves, the EU is likely to be instinctively antagonistic towards seceding regions. The only alternative would be to become a more federal system with less use of the veto, since countries would become less able to protect their own interests alone. If Flanders and Wallonia undergo the messy divorce that is looking increasingly inevitable, the EU will have to engage in these discussions while working out what to do about its own relationship with Brussels.

To my mind, the current events in Belgium (or, if they avoid this divorce, Scotland) are likely to dictate whether the EU evolves into a more centralised union of 50+ micro-states, or continues to compose a union of large, veto wielding nations who are international players on their own terms. It is almost inevitable that with the EU guaranteeing the standard of living within The Union, that The Union will have to resolve what to do about seceding units that wish to retain its protection. And of course, if this country-spl
intering occurs, what will happen if the (arguably unstable) whole house of cards begins to collapse?


Please mr BBC, can you please tell us what's going on in Belgium?

Thursday, 20 September 2007

A Scary Prospect

by Charles Pooter

This kind of abuse of power combined with this technology could lead to results that don't bear thinking about.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Review: Seven Soldiers of Victory

by Charles Pooter

The Shining Knight, from Seven Soldiers of Victory

Grant Morrison has always liked to plant far-out, mystical and post-modern ideas in his comics. This is hardly surpising as he decribes himself as a magician (not the Paul Daniels kind), even claiming that he has used "sigils" in his fictional creations to imprint his desires on the universe. Sometimes this pretention and posturing detracts from the narrative, but occasionally he provides us with something gripping and original. My first memories of his work are from when I was relative youngster and they were both stories in his Animal Man comic. The first was about a Wile E. Coyote type character being removed by a vengeful God (the cartoon artist) from his universe and deposited in Animal Man's world of humans, cars and vaguely sensible laws of physics. The second was the last story in Morrison's run on the comic and involved Morrison inserting himself into the comic and preaching to Animal Man (and the readers) about his extreme opinions on animal rights. Even at the time I was disgusted by Morrison's abuse of power in the second story, but both tales fascinated me and stuck in my mind for quite a while. I guess they were my first encounter with an artist breaking the fouth wall, at least in any interesting and consistent way.

Page from Animal Man #5: The Coyote Gospel

After plenty of other work for DC on both mainstream titles such as the Justice League of America and on "mature" titles like the esoteric Invisibles for the Vertigo imprint, Morrison was given the task of re-imagining the company's 1940s super-heroes, The Seven Soldiers of Victory. For DC Comics this is a tried and tested recipe: take some old-fashioned, true-blue American characters (whose intellectual property value is current negligable) give them to suitably deranged British writer — mix, bake for three months and serve to your appreciative audience. In this respect Soldiers' antecendents are numerous: Alan Moore's transmogrification of the ridiculous Swamp Thing into a "plant elemental" appearing in deep stories full of magic and menace. Neil Gaiman's Sandman, which makes only scant refererence to DC's original mystery-man and James Robinson's excellent and respectful updating of DC's Starman character (which almost makes up for Robinson's terrible League of Extraordinary Gentlemen screenplay).

Alan Moore's Swamp Thing

Unlike Swamp Thing and Sandman, Seven Soldiers takes place firmly in the DC Universe. This is the world of Superman and The Joker, of super-heroes and super-villains, but it is a flexible world which Morrison shapes with his dark and mystical aesthetic. Seven Soldiers was originally published as seven seperate titles featuring seven different characters. The titles interweave, starting and concluding in two stand-alone Seven Soldiers issues. The story can now be bought as a four volume set of graphic novels (see below).

The characters Morrison has chosen for his new team are: The Shining Knight, a knight who has crashed through time to the present day from a mythical "pre-flood" world-spanning Avalon; The Manhattan Guardian, a super-hero mascot for a New York newspaper of the same name; Zatanna, a previous compadre of top-rank heroes like Batman, now just a magician down on her luck; Klarion, a witch-boy descended from the lost colonists of Roanoke who fled underground, their puritan faith perverted by the black arts; Mister Miracle, an escape artist with visions of an eternal war of the gods; The Bulleteer, a woman whose husband's fetish for super-heroes leaves him dead and her with unwanted powers; and finally Frankenstein, the monster who has taken the name of his creator and stalks the Earth with a new vendetta.

Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory

The story and characters are tied together by the villains of the piece, the Sheeda. Here Morrison draws on the the old fairy-myths of Europe. The name Sheeda derives from the Sídhe of Irish fairy legend. These aren't the faries of sentimental Victorian re-invention like the kind depicted in the forged photographs that so convinced Conan-Doyle. These are the fae of the Unseelie Court who stole people away to their otherworld and who planted changelings in babies' cots. In these instance they are not out to steal babies but to ravish the Earth, just as they did before in the time of King Arthur.

Each of the seven character's stories holds up well and I particularly liked the diverse artistic styles used in each story strand. Of particular note is Shining Knight. Grant's idea of Camelot as a forgotten world-spanning civilisation, completely destroyed long before the Bronze Age, is an inventive one, neatly avoiding the usual Arthurian anchronism of a chivalric age in anglo-saxon Britain, whilst still providing an appropriate origin for the hero. Simone Bianchi's art is epic and beautiful and Morrison adds to the mythic quality by avoiding Arthurian cliches — he uses the older name Caliburn for Arthur's sword, calls the Camelot's knights "The Knights of the Broken Table" and uses quotes from the ancient Welsh poem Preiddeu Annwn.

Seven Soldiers of Victory is one of the freshest comics in years, combining elements of science fiction, myth, horror, magic and super-heroics. It makes good use of under-used DC characters, adding depth to their histories and back-stories. The Sheeda are a creepy and original concept and the art is mostly well-realised. If I have one major criticism it is that the ending is a little disappointing, but at least it's a lot of fun getting there.


Volume 1


Volume 2


Volume 3


Volume 4



Quotes of the Day

by Charles Pooter

“But as a uniformed officer available for deployment I would spend over half of my time writing in the office. Eighty per cent of what I did was a waste of time. There comes a point where you think, ‘This isn't really why I joined’.

Around 50 per cent of my job is clerical, 40 per cent of it is social work and 10 per cent is trying to catch criminals.”
— PC Stuart Davidson, AKA PC David Copperfield.
“However, the hon. Gentleman is living in cloud-cuckoo-land if he thinks that that is all that happens in policing—and I would not believe ‘PC David Copperfield’ either, because that is more of a fiction than Dickens.”
Tony McNulty MP (Home Office).
“Wanker! When you have somebody spelling out the problems and so fed up they are leaving the country you should be listening and not stoking your arrogance by assuming you know better.

This country is a madhouse. Let me out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Vindico.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Ask a Silly Question...

by Charles Pooter

Walter Wolfgang should count himself lucky that they don't use tasers in the UK (yet). This is what can happen when you ask an unwanted question at a US political conference:

(More info)

Quote of the Day

by Charles Pooter

“It is beyond my ability or purpose here to describe a world where a true market system could have developed without such state intervention. A world in which peasants had held onto their land and property was widely distributed, capital was freely available to laborers through mutual banks, productive technology was freely available in every country without patents, and every people was free to develop locally without colonial robbery, is beyond our imagination. But it would have been a world of decentralized, small-scale production for local use, owned and controlled by those who did the work—as different from our world as day from night, or freedom from slavery.”
— Kevin Carson, The Iron Fist Behind The Invisible Hand

Poll Results

by Charles Pooter

The results for the first Little Man poll are as follows:

We asked our readers, What do you think about the proposal for a universal UK DNA database?

Results:

If you've got nothing to hide... 0%

It's a slippery slope... 0%

It is time to start using the lampposts for something other than lighting. 46%

I almost can't be bothered to vote. I've given up feeling cross about this sort of thing and now feel only a vague sense of despondency and ennui at what is happening to the country I once loved. 53%

So there you have it: despondency and ennui beat mob justice by just a small margin!

Political Animal 6

by Charles Pooter

Sunday, 16 September 2007

The Objectivist Who Created Spider-Man

by Charles Pooter

Cover of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (1964). Art by Steve Ditko.

Jonathan Ross in Search of Steve Ditko on BBC 4 tonight at 9 PM could be worth watching. Steve Ditko, whose dynamic and detailed artwork brought a new level of quality to American comic books, created the iconic Spider-Man character. The credit for this is normally given to Stan Lee and with Lee ever the self-promoter and Ditko a recluse, this perception remains.

Ditko ultimately left Marvel Comics after continuing artistic differences with Lee and others. One story has it that the final spat was over the identity of arch-criminal the Green Goblin. Ditko had become greatly convinced by the objectivist philosophy of Russian émigré novelist Ayn Rand (who incidentally would probably have approved of his vocation, believing that pulp fiction was one of the last retreats for romantic heroic ideals). Ditko liked his stories to be black and white tales of good vs evil. He was insistent that when the Goblin's identity be revealed he should be shown to be a nobody. To Ditko, criminals were always nobodies and losers and there should be no contradictions in fiction lending crime a glamour or mystique. Stan Lee wanted the Goblin's identity to be that of industrialist Norman Osborn, father of Spider-Man/Peter Parker's friend Harry. To the Randite Ditko this was anathema: businessmen should be depicted as heroic pillars of society like Atlas Shrugged's Hand Rearden and John Galt, not as criminals. As anyone will know who has seen the 2002 Spider-Man movie, starring Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn, Stan Lee won the argument.

After leaving Marvel, Ditko joined Charlton Comics, creating and revamping many characters including my favourites: the clearly Rand-influenced The Question and the Blue Beetle. You will be able to see these two characters pastiched as Rorschach and Night Owl in the upcoming movie Watchmen, based on the excellent comic of the same same by Alan Moore.

After Charlton, Ditko did some work for a few other big companies including DC Comics, but mostly focused on small press work (often published by his friend and former editor Robin Snyder). This work often had uncompromisingly objectivist themes, the best example of which is probably Mr A (whose name comes from "A is A", the Law of Identity as expressed by Ayn Rand).

Further information about Ditko is hard to come by, as he is a recluse who refuses to give interviews. Some years ago it was reported that he had fallen on hard times and was living in a YMCA hostel in New York. Maybe Jonathan Ross has succeeded where others have failed and persuaded the objectivist who created Spider-Man to give him an interview.

The Question: One of Steve Ditko's uncompromising objectivist super-heroes.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Sack Ming Yesterday - on The Political Outlook for The Liberal Democrats

by Edwin Hesselthwite

Get out your notebooks and badges people, it's party conference season... Time for a bunch of State of the Party posts across the blogosphere, and listening as media-puppets like Nick Robinson bang on about policy as if it has the slightest affect on polling and the landscape come next election time. First up is the Liberal Democrats, the political minnows of the moment, and after posting some tactical advice for Cameron last week, it seems only fair that we feed our wisdom to the party of Ming.

As we see the landscape, the prognosis is bad. And not just a little bit bad, we're talking 1922 bad. Your party is slamming home poll results on the 16% range, Cameron and Brown are acting like its a two party punch-up for the next election, without Iraq to campaign on you are looking utterly, utterly irrelevant.

Let's put forward raw electoral arithmetic: you currently hold 62 seats in the Commons (which you won with 22% of the vote, for the fragility of those numbers remember that back in '92 you won 20 seats on 18% of the vote). In my estimation, your support is even more vulnerable than this suggests, because much of your gains over the last 15 years have been a mixture of anti-Conservative tactical voting, and anti-Blairism among the chattering classes. Now that The Conservative Party are looking pleasant but stupid rather than Howard/IDS-style evil, and Brown has begun to lance the Iraq boil, your coalition is looking very fragile. The smart money is currently on a May 2008 election, Brown is going to be after his own mandate very soon. It is not outside the realms of possibility to suggest a squeeze on your votes from both sides leading to a meltdown of up to 40 seats, a meltdown that would almost entirely result in seats being handed over to the Conservatives.

Those 62 seats matter (duh!), because if you can hold them indefinitely you have a very good chance to hold the balance of power when the time comes for a change. This is the only chance you have of taking genuine political power (you did get into politics for a reason, didn't you?). The Labour government have currently got a majority of 66, so with only a 33 seat swing from Labour to the Conservatives, your party becomes pivotally important. The impact of a 40-seat meltdown on this is obvious, it cements the Conservatives majority. Once the Conservatives are back in power, your party is back to the sort of electoral arithmetic it was holding in the 70's, with no chance of influence. Fix your polling, or die.



That was the bad news, what space do you have for fixing this? There is one big, bad problem above all others: Ming. 20 months in office so far (elected as the only viable candidate after everyone else got mired in sex scandals), and he has made almost no impact on the media. The Today Programme isn't beating down his door, he has no equivalent to Kennedy's role on Have I Got News For You?, and there is no single issue on which he has memorably made the political weather. In the personality politics that is pivotal for minor parties (Salmond is the SNP, Paisley is the DUP, Galloway is Respect), he has failed completely to build a personal relationship with the electorate. Nor has he succeeded in playing the major party "our policies show us as fit for government" game, so you've lost on all fronts. He is not Tony Benn, he does not have opinionated gravitas, he is not a good leader.

Fortunately for you this is fixable. Get rid of him, give the job to David Laws, Chris Huhne, even Simon Hughes (despite the fact that he makes my skin crawl, nasty little shit that he is) and you have a fair chance of reinventing yourself before May. I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume you can see this one already and are doing things I can't see beneath the surface, so what political space is there for the party after the decapitation? There are two issues on which you should already be making the political weather: devolution and Europe.

The best way for a third party to get influence and media-space is to take control of the larger lower electoral offices, and it is a sign of your tactical incompetence that you have allowed The London Mayoralty, The Scottish Parliament (16 of 129 seats) and The Welsh Assembly (3 of 40 seats) to slip so far from your grasp. While I'll admit no great understanding of regional politics, I suspect much of this is due to your coalitions with the Westminster-incumbent, damaging your credibility - this was stupid. In London you have absolutely no chance of beating Ken or Boris, but since Scotland and Wales will never elect Tories, and are highly unlikely to elect the Westminster-incumbent, you should be uniquely placed to defeat the SNP and Plaid Cyrmu. Further, devolution is increasingly the elephant in the room in British politics, start talking about it too loudly and Labour has to deal with its fundamental West Lothian question problems, and The Conservatives begin to sound like the Little-England party. This is one of those issues that becomes more important the more you talk about it. And you are the only national party who have no reason to fear discussion of the increasingly precarious union with Scotland... There is massive, massive, tactical gold in talking about devolution, why are you silent on it?

On Europe you are also uniquely placed to campaign for pro-Europeanism. Your party has never hidden its pro-Euro credentials, so you need to find ways to campaign harder on Europe. You are again uniquely placed to make the weather on this issue, since Labour has to actually deal with the monolithic entity (so always has to hide its cards) and the Tories have such a historically volatile relationship with it that any mention of the beast is a recipe for fissures and splits. Today's call for a EU referendum is an acceptable stab at this, but really, cant you do better? How about campaigning for Turkish membership of the EU, or campaign for a more muscular policy in relationship to the hated CAP? But to be honest, what you need to do on Europe is not to make policy announcements, but to make sure that a charismatic LD is loudly and outspokenly campaigning on every television programme on the issue. At the moment you don't even have a front bencher dedicated to it, what are you doing having an Innovation spokesman and Children spokesman but no Europe? Make the weather on this and you can expose the hypocrisy in both the major parties.

Now for the topics to avoid: you really need to stop talking about taxation and the environment. Here it is far too easy for you either to look ridiculous or for the other parties to steal your clothes. Everyone knows you're the nice party on climate change, try not to look preposterous by campaigning on it. Same applies to taxation, social democrat/libertarian is the only major fissure in your party, are you so foolish as to keep kicking it into the public sphere?


The state of The Liberal Democratic Party is a precarious one, currently a mixture of open goals and massive pitfalls, the party is currently in a more ill-balanced state than at any point since the founding of The Alliance. We at LMWN would not go so far as to suggest their demise as a significant force is imminent, but it is a sign of the changing tides that this needs to be considered after the confidence of the 2005 election. There is still plenty of political space for a third party, they just need to find fissures that run across both main parties and stick wedges in them (preferably then smacking them with an intellectual sledgehammer), but there are no longer any significant votes in Iraq, few in anti-Toryism and none in anti-Blairism. Time for some radical public statements (please, as always, cite us if you wish to use our proposals Mr Cable). And, of course, Ming has to go yesterday.


Asquith turned his head towards God, and said "Glad I quit in 1916, look at the balls up Lloyd George's party has become".

Friday, 14 September 2007

Write For Us

by Charles Pooter


Little Man, What Now is looking for new contributors. Our statistics show that this blog is read by the world's cognitive elite, e.g. IT workers looking at upcoming stories on Digg and people searching for "hairy chinese kid" on google. If you want your work to be seen by the people who matter, then join us. If you can write about:

  • current affairs
  • politics
  • frippery
  • technology
  • books
  • movies
  • TV
  • high weirdness
  • London
  • anything else at all that grabs your fancy
...then waste no more time. Email Charles.Pooter@gmail.com now to get your work seen by literally several people every day!

Free Episode Of The Ricky Gervais Show

by Charles Pooter

As a thank you to all those who attended his recent Fame tour, Ricky Gervais handed out free CDs featuring a brand new episode of the Ricky Gervais Show. An enterprising individual* has uploaded it (legally) to the web. You can download it here.

Marvel at Ricky and Steve's abuse of Karl's head shaped like a "f***** orange". Gasp at Karl's idea for a movie, staring Clive "Warren" and Rebecca De Mornay, about a man who transplants half of his brain into his wife's head.

Basically, it's more of the same old nonsense they've been putting out for years.

*Courtesy of Pilkipedia

Political Animal 5

by Charles Pooter

He's Back

by Charles Pooter

He's been away so long I thought those coffee jar shelves must have finally collapsed on top of him. But no, he's back and with news of a new blog venture...

Thursday, 13 September 2007

The Best Press Release Ever

by Charles Pooter

From here.

NEWS RELEASE FROM THE LIBERTARIAN ALLIANCE
In Association with the Libertarian International

Release Date: Thursday 13th September 2007
Release Time: Immediate

Contact Details:
Dr Sean Gabb (Director), 07956 472 199, sean@libertarian.co.uk

For other contact and link details, see the foot of this message
Release url: http://www.libertarian.co.uk/news/nr055.htm

CONSERVATIVE REPORT ON ENVIRONMENT A “BLUEPRINT FOR GREEN FEUDALISM”

The Libertarian Alliance, the radical free market and civil liberties policy institute, today denounces the Conservative Party report Blueprint for a Green Economy as a “blueprint for green feudalism”.

Libertarian Alliance Director, Dr Sean Gabb, says:

“The Conservatives are proposing more taxes and more regulations on the basis of fraudulent claims about the impact of human activity on the climate. There is no global warming. If there is, it is not our doing. If it is our doing, government action is not the answer. But there is no global warming. This whole set of claims is a device to rescue socialism from the failure of its promise to deliver heaven on earth. Shame on the Conservatives for joining in the clamour.

“And shame, above all, on the very rich men who are telling us to tighten our belts in their attempt to ’save the planet’. Zac Goldsmith, one of the authors of this Report, is one of the richest men in the country. David Cameron and John Gummer are not poor. If all the economic growth of the past century were to be rolled back, their sort would not suffer. If the rich want to travel, they have their private jets and helicopters. If they want to eat fresh fruit and vegetables out of season, they have their vast greenhouses. If they want to do without washing machines and gas-fired central heating, they can fall back on armies of servants and expensive personal generators. If they want entertainment, they can have their private theatres and orchestras, or whatever in our degraded modern culture serve in their place.

“For them, a reduction of the general wealth would be a blessing. It would ease pressure on the roads that they would continue using, and reduce numbers at exotic holiday resorts that would remain within their reach.

“These people talk about making the world a better place. Perhaps they believe what they say. The natural effect of their words, however, would be to make the world a better place for people who have done nothing to earn their wealth other than take the trouble to be born.

“This whole report is a blueprint for green feudalism.”

The Libertarian Alliance believes:

  • That taxes and government regulations are bad:
  • That economic growth is good;
  • That the world will be a better place when every home in India and China has the same levels of income and consumption as North America and Western Europe;
  • That the world will be a much better place when the continued scientific and technological improvement that freedom makes possible have enabled us to establish colonies on the inner planets and in the asteroid belt, and when the conquest of disease has allowed the human lifespan to be extended to centuries;
  • That Messrs Goldmsith & Co should live as their ancestors did - whoring, drinking, gambling, hunting and being beastly to their servants - and leave the rest of us alone.

END OF STATEMENT

Heh. Class.

Political Animal 4

by Charles Pooter

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

On Belief

by Charles Pooter

Pitchard Buckminister's earlier post points to a universal need to find meaning in the cosmos. It is necessary for many people to attempt to satisfy this need. One way of satisfying the urges the God gene places in your head is to maintain an agnostic, sceptical core but to read about whatever spiritual and Fortean subjects interest you. Just let it wash over you, delving in whenever something particularly takes your interest. Don't "believe" any of it. As the great UFOlogist and Fortean John Keel said "belief is the enemy". If something particularly attracts you and you find yourself infused with the Holy Spirit, obtaining Gnosis, contacted by VALIS or whatever, then so be it, but why feel under any pressure? Conversely, why feel under any pressure to commit to belief in an existentialist, Godless Universe, about which 21st Century science is omniscient?

It is also worth noting that the possibility (probability?) that this is a Godless universe working broadly along the lines envisioned by mainstream science may be a good thing compared to possible alternatives. The assumption, made by major religions, that ultimately there is something good in charge, is a very big assumption indeed. To my mind, if written accounts in the historical record are anything more than allegory or delusion, then any metaphysical forces that hold sway over the Universe are far more likely to be deceitful, bizarre, indifferent to humanity or just plain evil. Examples are numerous: the God of the Old Testement seems far similar to the Demiurge of Gnostic imaginings than a "God of Love". The trickster entities of the old European fairy-faiths seemed to regard mankind as a toy. The apparitions at Lourdes and Fatima seemed to delight in imitating religious figures whilst exhibiting bizarre behaviour and issuing mischievious "prophesies". The diverse and unsettling reports from around the world of encounters with "aliens" repeatedly show patterns of malevolence and deceit.

I'm not saying any of this stuff is true and I maintain my sceptical agnosticism, but what I am saying is that if the material realm is so screwed up, what makes anyone think the spiritual realm is any different? To quote the mythical Hermes Trismegistus: "As above, so below".

So, let us view the probability that scientists are right and mystics wrong as a good thing. When we die, we probably rot and get eaten by worms. There are far worse alternatives.

Political Animal 3

by Charles Pooter

Will You Still Love Me........?

by Pritchard Buckminster

It is nearly time for my 30th birthday; an event that I view with a strangely ambivalent selection of feelings. I am, for the first time in my life, fairly secure in who and what I am. I have discovered many things I enjoy and no longer feel the pressure to pursue things that I feel I should enjoy but actually do not. I earn a reasonable wage and it will increase fairly significantly over the next few years as a result of both age/seniority and experience. I have a wife, a nice house and many toys. I have completed some life goals and know that I have plenty of time to pursue the remaining ones.

However, this morning I woke up with a strange pain in my elbow that I could not account for through any activity recently experienced. I watch the Saturday Morning Kitchen and write down interesting recipes. Cleaning and polishing my bike is almost as much fun as riding it. I write complaint letters instead of going out and getting furiously drunk. I stopped watching Five News and watch Channel 4 News instead as it has better coverage. I have a pension.

As a result of this clash of feelings I have done a certain amount of self-examination recently and I have come to a fairly depressing understanding of P. Buckminster in the year 2007.

I really don’t believe in anything anymore.

The influence of one very religious friend and one very open one caused a certain amount of introspection on the subject of my immortal soul and its place in the cosmos. After all, at 30 I am most probably nearly halfway to finding out the answers to several big questions including the most significant one, can that many religious people be so wrong? I longed to find something, anything. I discarded formalised religious ideas such as the Catholic Church; I was interested in spiritual succour not dogmatic structure. Turning to Islam has attendant upon it several difficulties at this current time and anyway, as far as I can tell, is simply Catholicism born in a different climate with a slightly different set of rules for the faithful to ignore and rationalise. Sikhism the same. I encounter many variations of Buddhism and Zen in the course of extensive martial arts training and they seem weak and unfounded, a kind of wouldn’t- it- be- nice- if- everyone- was- nice* mixed with self-belief and silly clothes.

Earth Mother worship will not be tolerated in any form and I want to make it clear that every time some hippy tramp suggests it to me I cut down a tree.

If religion were not the way forward I would try Atheism. After all, it is simply the flip side of the same coin and would provide a rock in the turbulent waters of life. Mr Richard Dawkins’s book seemed like a good place to start. And indeed it was, it gave me a new belief. Namely that I believe that as long as I live I will probably never read such an awful piece of badly argued self-indulgent tripe in all my life.

I think people that believe in ghosts are silly and people that believe in anti-wrinkle cream are deluded. You can’t believe the Government (who does?) but you can’t believe the anti-Government papers either (I wouldn’t wipe my arse with the Daily Mail). Anyone who believes in the healing power of crystals, rocks, prayer, tarot, seaweed, mud, laughing in groups or reflexology is running away from a painful reality in their life. Trying facing it instead of making shit up.

Chinese medicine is not based on the wisdom of the ancients but on the fact that rural Chinese people have historically been well below subsistence level and could not afford real medicine that actually worked. You are paying for the World’s oldest placebo.

Every TV advert is a lie. Every news story is a cover-up. Every politician is on the take. Nobody but nobody has your best interests at heart. Big business scams us and the banks steal from us. Economics perpetuates war; war causes economic growth, expansion of new ideals and conflict causing war. You (and I) are alone in a hostile, unfriendly, cold, dark universe and if we all dropped dead together it simply would not matter.

Hey look, I do believe in something. I believe that our actions can be judged purely in a context of the effect upon people/environment around us. The worth of any event is the degree to which it improves things or otherwise.

So this is why, at [very] nearly 30 I have applied to become an RSPCA inspector, mostly given up eating meat and try and listen a little more to people who are having problems.

I remain, as always, very suspicious of any organisation that tells you things. If someone shows you a thing then allows you to make up your own mind then they are confident that you will reach the same conclusion as them. These are the rare organisations to seek out and support. In continuation of an idea that I wrote about last year I will give you some rules that work for my increasing contentment and me. They are different to the last set of rules, but not wildly.

1. Run a marathon. You will learn more about yourself and your strengths and weaknesses than any head-shrinker or expert could extract from you in a lifetime.
2. Feel free to do DIY but understand that you will make mistakes while you do. You are not a professional so comparing your work to theirs, or listening when others do, serves no purpose.
3. Goof off. Go roll in a field or feed the ducks.
4. Give up on the Government. They are something of an anachronism anyway and increasingly ignore us so just relax and let them get on with it.
5. Watch a program with Bill Oddie in and try and grasp why he seems so relaxed and happy.
6. Always push yourself but understand that failure is always an option and do not beat yourself up over it. I tried and failed for years to play the guitar – turns out I’m bloody brilliant on a piano!

I can actually hear the sound of several members of Little Man grinding their teeth at this point but that is because they still care about things such as Politics and Truth. As they come to understand that the sound in the background is someone sharpening a curved reaping implement they will understand.

As will you.

Everyone does eventually, just make sure you’re not dead before you go into the light.

* In my previous piece I stated that this reference is from the Simpsons. Actually it is from the T. Pratchett book “Hogfather”. Many apologies to all.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Oddie Priorities

by Charles Pooter

That Bill Oddie was on TV again last night getting angry about people's misconceptions regarding sparrow-hawks and ranting about the public's prejudice against seagulls. The US may be about to attack Iran, and Russia is buzzing our coastline with bombers. Priorities Bill, priorites!

Oddie: Wrong priorities.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Happy Birthday Google

by Charles Pooter

Happy Birthday Google. Remember your motto.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

PG Boozing: Mr Cameron - May I Offer You A Policy?

by Edwin Hesselthwite

Little Man, What Now? has been watching Dave's progress with interest. Early on he bent into complex contortions to avoid policy statements, which suggested to those of an optimistic mind that he might have some ideas held back for election time. Since we make it a code here to give democratic leaders the benefit of the doubt, it was with great sadness that we today witnessed the launch of his "Patriotic National Service" idea in The Sun. This is the beginning of the phoney-war for the next election, which could come at any time, and this was the first week's big cannon-shot. The policy is a transparent attempt to do something about youths (please see The Devil's Kitchen for a takedown, we just couldn't summon the enthusiasm) and the implications of such flaccid but high profile offerings are utterly depressing - his policy team are obviously not the same Oxbridge material as he is.

After giving this a minutes thought, we decided to take pity on poor old WebCam. While this is clearly a "not to be implemented" policy - fired into the media much like old Tony's spot fines - it's still a definite third rate piece of work. We suspect it's relatively easy to come up with something for the same purpose (media firewood) that is at least sane, sensible and arguably worthwhile. With this in mind we offer you our own opposition-type policy, and invite other bloggers to do the same... Surely there must be something better than this.



PG Access to Alcohol

You probably need to offer something about public drunkenness, Dave. The media is beating up a storm about youth at the moment, there is an ugly stereotype amongst our continental cousin's about sozzled British younger generations, and it will nicely define your trim frame against Brown (who should be easy to stitch up as an obese glutton at this time of waistline obsession). A new and radical policy on booze, youth and licensing would go down a treat.

In the case of films, the Parental Guidance Certificate works reasonably effectively, staggering children's access to violent and sexual content. It seems reasonable to suggest that alcohol could be treated the same way, thereby gradually socialising youths to something considered dangerous, but doing it in a safe environment at the hands of their own parents. The ideal would be to bring children into pubs (one of the common centres of British community) younger, an idea that is even more acceptable now that the smoking ban has made pubs more family friendly. This is the sort of policy the BBC are virtually guaranteed to favourably compare with the "sensible drinking wine with meals" attitude they ascribe to our continental cousins, you'll play well to their prejudices. By staggering the booze laws you'd kill two birds with one stone - you would be liberalising something that is currently ridiculously restrictive, and you would be engaging in social engineering to please the Christian Democrat fraction of the party.

Here's one suggested staggering:

At 12 you are allowed in pubs with a guardian (let's say guardians must be over 21).

At 14 you can enter a public house on your own and consume alcohol bought for you by a guardian.

At 16 you can buy alcohol on a licensed premises but only if accompanied by aforementioned guardian.

At 18 all doors are opened, as is currently the case.

If you really feel the need to throw the authoritarians a bone, stagger alcohol contents and do something along the lines of only allowing over-21s access to spirits. If the Redwoodites demand more then implement some sort of zero tolerance system for youths caught street-drinking (you probably wouldn't even need to enforce this), the Mail would probably like that. This is just the sort of ludicrous experiment conducted on the citizenry (you know, like the smoking ban and your national service policy) they get a kick out of.

There are a few drawbacks - you may get some bad headlines if you actually get to form a government "14 year old found doused up on snakebite with knickers in the air as paralytic parents watch on" but to be honest, that gov
ernment is never going to happen, so you only need to worry about how it looks in the manifesto (you'll be able to knock out some great posters based on the BBFC symbols)... The absolute worst that can happen is you end up victim to a long low key campaign by some vested interests (like that which came up after the reclassification of cannabis) and then all you have to do is a moderated climbdown - a climbdown that will win you even more votes when the time comes.

It's simple, arguably effective and liberalising... Prepared to give it a go, Cam?


To our mind, this is a superior policy than that which Cameron slipped under Murdoch's paw today, and we took about 20 minutes to come up with it. In an ideal world we would see a more wholesale, libertarian licensing liberalisation, but that just isn't Dave's style - we're doing this for you Dave. In the same vein, we at LMWN encourage other bloggers to come up with policies that The Conservative Party might make serious use of, since they so obviously need our help. We promise to link to any of you at the bottom of this article.

However we happen to feel about Cameron's Conservatives, we can at least help them come up with better policies if they absolutely have to play the media-politics game.


(Ming, you're welcome to take this one, too, if you fancy it)

Heaven and Hell 1

by Charles Pooter

People Who Look Vaguely Similar (Part 4)

by Charles Pooter


Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families"Blinking" Ben Swain, Junior Minister for Immigration from BBC4's The Thick Of It

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Against The DNA Database

by Charles Pooter

This post was going to be an attempt to enumerate the arguments against a universal DNA database in what is laughably known as the "United Kingdom". However, I find myself unable to think about the topic rationally without a build-up of uncontrollable and murderous rage. Instead read this by Sean Gabb. It says all that needs to be said on the subject.