Monthly Archives: September 2009
The Lisbon Treaty
It’s time for everyone’s favourite hot-button topic: the Lisbon treaty. Fun times ahead!
My cousin, who occasionally reads this blog (hello!), was telling me about the reason he voted ‘no’ during the last referendum. Or rather, the reason he would have voted ‘no’ if he had actually been registered to vote.
“I’d have voted no because the government wanted me to vote yes.”
It’s an interesting reason, but not that unusual. Lots of people voted/are voting ‘no’ simply because they want to “stick it” to a government that they are increasingly mistrustful and resentful of. The Irish people feel like their government isn’t actually on their side. For example, many people argue that NAMA is designed to bail out the bankers at the expense of the taxpayer. Photos from the recent Dáil debate don’t really help us to feel like there’s any reason to doubt that. And when you get overblown, selfish and mercenary fucksocks like Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary (pictured here with a personal message for you) coming out in support of the “yes” campaign, well, that just confirms people’s suspicions. We’ve all seen his vision for the airline of the future, why should we presume that he would want anything less for the people of his country? Professor of comparative political behavior at Trinity College, Michael Marsh, points out “for some people, the intervention of big business confirms that this is not good for workers.”
So why would my cousin vote ‘no’ a second time (again, if he was on the register)?
“I’d vote no because I really hate that thing of ‘You got a referendum and you MADE THE WRONG CHOICE. Now try again.'”
It’s true that the referendum is basically the same as it was the last time. What’s changed is the fact that Ireland has secured a number of legal guarantees regarding a number of the core issues that caused people to vote ‘no’ last time. It means that the Lisbon treaty does not and cannot affect Ireland’s constitution on the subjects of security, defense and right to life. Ignore these militant (read: demented nutball) anti-Lisbon groups who say that, no, this is not the case and that these “guarantees” are “as useful as a politician’s promise, and just as easily broken.” Coir still insist that Lisbon would introduce abortion laws. On the other hand, the Irish Bishops say that this is not the case, and Irish people can vote either way in good conscience. Now, which group would you turn to for your moral guidance?
A ‘no’ result would fuck us. And we’re talking the terrifying hard pounding of a prison rape, not the gentle, tender feathery stroking we’ve experienced in the last year. But as well as the effect it would have on Ireland and its economy, imagine what it would do to Europe. Everyone’s favourite little megalomaniacal midget, Berlusconi, has been once again throwing around the idea of creating a ‘two tier’ Europe, where some animals are more equal than others. This from a man who threatened to block all EU business unless Commission spokespeople STFU about Italy’s immigration policies. Can you imagine what happens if there’s a ‘no’ result and Ireland takes his place as the red-headed stepchild of Europe? Ouch.
The other reason lots of people voted ‘no’ in the first referendum was because they said that it was too complicated. In a way, this is a fair point, I’ve always believed in the idea of not signing my name to a contract I don’t fully understand. But it’s been a year since people first became aware of the Lisbon treaty and this isn’t a viable excuse any more. If you don’t understand the contract, you owe it to yourself and the person whose contract it is to go off and figure it out. As Owen Corrigan put it in his article in the Tribune, this made last year’s ‘no’ result “less a triumph of democracy for the voters of a ruggedly independent state, and more a triumph of ignorance in the face of reason, rationality and responsibility.” (Seriously, if you read nothing else in this whole campaign, I urge you to read this article.)
In the end though, I guess a lot of people will vote based less on the issues and more on ridiculous external factors, like who is encouraging you to vote what way. Sure, Michael O’Leary wants you to vote ‘yes,’ but David Icke, the ‘I am the son of God and the world is ruled by giant lizards’ guy wants you to ‘no.’ Think about that.
You Say Toe-May-Toe…
I just watched the Toby Young/Michelle Bernstein spat on this week’s Top Chef regarding the pronunciation of “paella” and – weird as it is to say this – I totally agree with Toby Young. Unless you’re actually Spanish or in Spain, you should be pronouncing it with hard Ls. Pie-el-la.
But this argument made me realise that after watching four seasons of Top Chef, it’s time something was said:
IT’S PRONOUNCED RIZ-OT-TOE*. NOT RIZ-OH-TOE.
I mean, you’re chefs, for fuck’s sake. This should be sorted out by now. Every week, someone does a risotto. Every week, my wife and I facepalm at the apparent inability to pronounce this word. I think at this stage we’re actually dealing with willful ignorance instead.
This week, one dickbag chef decided to go one step further, pronouncing saltimbocca as ‘salt-im-boe-ka.’ PRO TIP: you’re wrong.
Update: Likewise, when I’m back home in Ireland, I’d be more likely to be understood if I asked for a “broo-shet-ah”, versus what I’d say in Italy, which is “Broo-sket-tah”.
* Like the ‘paella’ thing, this is the standard ‘international’ pronunciation. If you’re Italian or in Italy, it’s more like “ree-sot-toe”.
Happy Birthday Elite!
Hard to believe, but Elite came out 25 years ago this month. Twenty-five years!
This makes me feel very, very old. Still, Elite has held up really well over the years. That must mean I have too, right? Er…
The first time I played Elite was on my cousin’s Commodore 64. I was barely out of nappies and for the life of me, I couldn’t wrap my head around the whole space-trading thing. Having to keep track any number of variables is kind of difficult when you’ve got the attention span of a sparrow. I had no idea what was going on and understood maybe every second word in a sentence. “What is ‘narcotics’?” “Drugs.” “What is ‘drugs’?” But I loved the game’s 3D engine and the feeling that you could go anywhere, do anything. All this in a game that took up less than 22K of memory – that’s less than an average email. And I still count my first successful docking with a space station as one of my videogaming high points.
If you fancy playing a bit of Elite right now, grab a copy of Oolite, which runs on almost anything.
Crank 2 DVD Commentary
Remember when DVDs first arrived on the scene and everyone was gushing about how great it was that they could record their own commentaries for their favourite movies? How did that work out?
Not so good, huh?
Know why? Because most people are boring as shit. When you get them talking about movies they love, they’re even worse. I’m not saying I’m above this. Put a microphone in front of me when I’m watching Kickboxer you’ll just get me either rattling off the entire screenplay or not saying a word because I fucking love that film so much.
Over on the AV Club, frequent commenter and the world’s biggest fan of ownage, Zodiac Motherfucker, has recorded his own commentary for his film of 2009, Crank 2: High Voltage. This is decidedly not boring. Imagine the forgotten love-child of Andrew W.K. and Kanye West screaming at the TV, swearing like a docker and whooping for blood, and that’s his commentary. Stupid and puerile? Sure, but so are the Crank movies, and that doesn’t stop them being some of the most entertaining movies of the last few years.
Either way, there’s no-one better to watch Crank 2 with than Zodiac Motherfucker.
Are Apple Products Badly Engineered?
There’s a lot of brouhaha about the failure rate of Xbox 360s. In the same week, I saw three different news stories citing three different failure rates for the 360 (54.2%, 23.7% and 27.3%, if you’re interested). And everyone gives them shit because they’re, y’know, Microsoft.
Having spent the morning fixing a dying Macbook, I started thinking about what my failure rate with Apple hardware has been. And to be perfectly honest, it’s been pretty shit. In the past five years, I’ve owned (or co-owned) an iBook, two Macbooks, an iMac, a 60GB iPod, two iPod nanos and an iPod touch. Let’s see what’s happened with these.
- Wife’s iBook ate its own display cable
Putting a teeny-tiny display cable into a hinge that gets used all the time? Great idea.
- Macbook case cracking
This happened on both my own Macbook and my wife’s. If you see how the Macbook is assembled, it’s easy to see why this happens – you have to bend the entire keyboard plate slightly to get it to connect. Bending it weakens the decorative plastic ‘lip’.
- Macbook case discoloration
I got this on my white Macbook. Got the keyboard plate replaced, started happening again before I got rid of the Macbook
- iMac logic board meltdown
Brand-new iMac died within 8 hours of getting it because the logic board wasn’t connected properly, half the fans didn’t work and melted the graphics card
- Dead headphone adaptor on 60GB iPod
This was probably my own fault. I like to use headphones with strong cables and very little ‘give’, forcing the headphone jack to bend slightly. Still, this wasn’t exactly ‘heavy’ use. Managed to replace this via parts on eBay
- Random lines on 60GB iPod
No idea where this came from, but it’s like my iPod had a stroke or something. Turned it on one day and there was a strong black band going across the LCD screen. They’ve slowly started fading away now, going back to normal.
- Dodgy connector on one iPod nano
This both comes from and affects the Nike+. I plug in the Nike+ adaptor and it doesn’t detect a receiver. Works fine on the other iPod nano. Doesn’t affect normal connection to the computer.
- Dodgy Nike+ on iPod touch
My iPod touch will only randomly choose to see the Nike+ adaptor in my shoe. Usually after I do a complete reformat and restore, and even then, it only lasts for about a week.
- Broken DVD drive in Macbook
About a year after my wife got her Macbook, the DVD drive stopped working. It was hardly ever moved and rarely used. Still, it means that OS upgrades are a pain in the dick and I can’t run the hardware test utility any more.
- Broken LCD backlight on Macbook
This is what I’ve been dealing with today. After a random crash, the backlight no longer works. I can see the display on the LCD, but there’s just no backlight. I don’t even know where to begin with this
- Update: Fraying on Macbook power chord
Joanne’s comment reminded me about this. About a year ago, power on the Macbook was a bit flaky. We turned over the power chord and noticed that near the connector, the cable had burned almost completely through. We were lucky that we were in the house when it happened, this could have been a lot nastier than the €80 it cost to replace the chord.
So, of all the Apple hardware I’ve used in the last five years, the only thing that hasn’t given me an issue is one iPod nano (I’ve also got an Apple IIe from 1986 at home that still works fine). Which leads me to wonder if Apple products are badly engineered, or am I just extremely unlucky?
Lady Gaga is My New Hero
I’ve always had a lot of respect for Lady Gaga. She’s completely batshit insane, but unlike most of those self-consciously ‘quirky’ artists out there, she’s actually has the talent to back that up. You have to admire her courage. Or, at the very least, her ability to keep a straight face.
But her appearance at the MTV VMAs was so amazing that she’s now become my personal hero. She was, by far, the most entertaining person on there. I mean, who else could sit behind Beyonce and completely steal the spotlight? That takes some balls (no pun intended).
Flavorwire have a great article deconstructing Lady Gaga’s VMA ensembles. My favourite is the Carrie/Burger King one.
Normal Service Will Resume Shortly
I’m heading back to Ireland for a few days and deliberately using the time to step back from the computer. Here’s a few links that should keep you entertained until I get back.
In Praise of the Sci-Fi Corridor
A Mugging on Lake Street – a reporter is mugged and writes a thoughtful article about the incident.
World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.
Bruce Handy on Mad Men – if you can get over the fact that Vanity Fair’s site is a pain in the dick to read (PRO TIP: hook yourself up with Readability), this is a fantastic article about the show.
Good Novels Don’t Have to be Hard Work – interesting thesis: Stephanie Meyer and the like represent the real postmodern novel
In Which Wes Anderson Tries To Game Pauline Kael – actually, I could have chosen any article from ThisRecording.com, but this one — about Wes Anderson screening Rushmore for Pauline Kael — is particularly nice.
The Sopranos: Definitive Explanation of the End – This is an old article, but it takes a while to get through. Even if you’re not a big fan of the show (like me), you have to appreciate anything that can get this much of a discussion going.
The Trouble with War Games – no, not the film.
The Actor Believability Index – I find Christian Bale implausible as anything but a self-obsessed yuppie.
Back next week!
Batman: Arkham Asylum
For a license with so much meat on its bones, it’s a little disappointing to see all the Batman games that have been made, all laid out. The majority are lazy movie tie-ins, knocked out by South Asian sweat shops for a bowl of rice per game. And it shows, you know? Check out the SNES version of Batman Forever and tell me if you think the developers had even heard of Batman when they started working on that game. “What-man? Forget that noise, Jack. Kids today love their Mortal Kombat. Give them some Mortal KomBatman.”
Thank goodness, then, for Rocksteady Studios. Here are a bunch of hardcore, unrepentant Batman geeks who get it. Working very much from an “If it ain’t broke…” mentality, these guys called in the pros. Rather than trying to write their own story and ending up with some fanboy claptrap, they instead hired Paul Dini to write the story. He may not have written the book on Batman, but he certainly wrote the cartoon, as well as the truly amazing Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. They also hired a lot of the main voice actors from the cartoon too, like Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and Arleen Sorkin. Even ignoring the rest of the game, the story and voice-acting are pure Batman.
But, thankfully, they didn’t ignore the rest of the game. Having a great, authentic Batman story would be nothing if they didn’t completely understand what makes Batman such an interesting superhero. Apart from a few gadgets (which are all present and correct), the best thing about the character is that he’s a brick shithouse who moves with fluidity and grace. He can hide in the shadows, picking off his enemies one by one, making each remaining enemy progressively more terrified. It also means that he can handle himself when he drops into the middle of a group of thugs and decides to take them on all at once. The developers are proud of their combat engine here, even going so far as to offer a bunch of separate “challenge” modes where you fight groups of increasing numbers of enemies. Kind of like Gears of War 2‘s ‘horde’ mode, but with fisticuffs. And they’re right to be proud – this game has the best combat of any game I can think of. It’s simple, it feels natural and it produces devastating, cinematic results. If there’s any film that can offer a more spectacular, perfectly choreographed fight sequence, I’d love to see it.
Okay, maybe that one sequence from Tony Jaa’s The Protector comes close.
It’s not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination. It cogs so heavily from Bioshock that it falls foul of the same criticisms that could be thrown at that game — lazy fetch-quests to artificially pad out the game’s length, inconsequential upgrades that make very little difference in the gameplay — but for all it gets wrong, it gets other things very, very right. The world is almost perfect. It’s an open world that you actually want to spend some time in. You’re encouraged to explore, and rewarded for doing so. Through the 240 ‘riddles’ hidden throughout the island, you’ll learn more about the mythology of the place, or characters that don’t actually make an appearance in this game, like Catwoman and the Penguin. British Gaming Blog nails it: “After hunting 200 god-damn pigeons in Grand Theft Auto IV last year, I decided to make a pact – make them enjoyable to hunt, or I just won’t bother. Guess what? My Xbox 360 gamercard holds an achievement for solving 240 riddles in Arkham Asylum.”
I’m slightly disappointed that the game didn’t lift a little heavier from Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. It’s a genuinely brilliant comic that explores Batman’s own psychological state in relation to the so-called lunatics locked up in the asylum. Having read the book, I was hoping this was a theme that would pop up in the game, but it only really appears in passing. Though I suppose beggars can’t be choosers. I guess I’ll have to be satisfied with it only being the best Batman game ever made.
Rome has a cat problem.
The Ufficio dei diritti degli animali (Office of Animal Rights) estimates that there’s about 300,000 stray, feral cats living around Rome. I live near Largo di Torre Argentia, a massively interesting set of ruins that contains one of the many places in Rome where Julius Caesar (him of the salad fame) was allegedly killed. Except you wouldn’t know it to look at it, because with so many ancient ruins dotted around the place and so many cats running wild in the streets, the council – understandably – threw up their hands and said “balls to this malarky, let the cats have it.” Now the square is probably more famous as a cat sanctuary than as an actual historical monument in its own right.
The point is, Rome has a lot of cats. With me so far?
One of the many parasites carried by cats is toxoplasmosis. It’s a parasite that thrives in cats. It can live in other organisms, but it can only reproduce in the intestines of cats. So, in rats and mice, the parasite effects the brain by making cat piss smell amazing. This draws them to the cat and makes them more likely to be eaten, so the parasite will make its way back to cat intestines. There’s also a theory that it does much the same for people. This is the parasite that causes people to turn into crazy cat ladies – without knowing it, they surround themselves with cats to increase their chances of being eaten. (And for the record, if you die and there’s no-one around to feed it, your dog will usually wait a week or so before eating your body. Your cat, on the other hand, might wait a day, if you’re lucky. More proof that cats are mean-spirited little fucks.)
Listening to this week’s Radio Lab, I discovered another potential side effect of toxoplasmosis in humans: it makes them worse drivers. Someone infected by toxoplasmosis is two and a half times more likely to die in a car accident than someone who is not infected.
So to sum up: Rome has an abundance of cats, and cat parasites make you a reckless driver.
Just sayin’. It’s not like I’m suggesting these two points are linked.