Monday, July 24, 2006

Intellectually Challenged

To distract myself from dissertation duty, I've resorted to creating puzzles. The first is "Final Positions".

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Value of Tribal Voyeurism

Patriotism, tribes, competition, battle cries. Many people seem to decry such "primitive" rituals of bloodletting and whooping. Yet the reality is that patriotism pays. The World Cup has been responsible for a good economic season in the UK, with its influence extending not just to barbeques, pizzas and beer, but also to television sets, flags, and quite possibly "extras" such as broadband and 3G.

So things are up, at least for the moment. And there's the rub. The World Cup is popular not just with the punters, but with the retailers, but only comes around once every 4 years. We can't live like this, injecting huge amounts of cash into the economy once in a blue February, and then lounging around and floundering for the other 3 and a bit years. That's ridiculous.

No, we need to grasp the link between that sense of tribal belonging, and the success of the GDP-o-meter. We need to exploit pride if we are to survive the 21st century intact.

But having a World Cup every year is obviously flawed - it would cause too much disruption to national football, for one thing, and generally lose its novelty appeal for another. And creating a new international event just wouldn't work - football is the global symbol for "We are better than thou", so you either risk clashing with an already established iconic event (by creating a new football tournament) or crash landing by trying, against all odds, to make another sport popular. Not going to happen.

But we do have established tribal callings already, pretty much all year round, with well-defined international squads and enough "matches" going on to keep things interesting. Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel/Lebanon are already in play, with Iran, Syria, North Korea and France lined up waiting for same players to be released. We've seen that cameras operating from the front-line can get a signal back. All the pieces are in place, they just need joining together.

Here's what we need then:

1. Extend news coverage to include pre-invasion "warm-up" coverage, including analysis of recent performance, current injuries and an overview of the tactics being used.

2. Heavier integration of in-game, live statistics for the maths-freaks. "Posession time" has many possibilities, for instance. Statistics should also be broken down into inter-allied-forces counts so that teams on the same side can compare their performance.

3. More action replays, with bullet-time, Hawkeye-style recreations of trajectories, targets, etc.

4. Bigger flags.

5. Conduct "mini skirmishes" that last for 90 minutes and broadcast them live on digital TV. (This last part is essential, as viewers need to be able to choose their viewpoint(s), check stats, etc.) Swapping ends is optional. Strike a deal with and/or force pubs to show these on large screens.

With all this extra information and viewer-centric "clashes", interest can't fail to be renewed. Furthermore, by publishing a schedule of "matches" in advance, not only is it easier to follow the action, but the opposition are encouraged to prepare themselves and interact at the same time. This will enhance and encourage the same format in other countries, reaching a point where "friendly rivalry" will emerge to replace the nasty vindictiveness of out-and-out racism. Especially once they've seen how much money we're making from all the sales of big screen TVs.

By being open and transparent and - most of all - competitive, the set of "rules" by which affairs are conducted will work itself out in due course: Press coverage and "democratic viewing figures" will ensure that the action does, indeed, stop once a "golden goal" has been achieved (and there is no retaliation after the final whistle). "Fair fighting" will become the new global watchword(s).

Profiting from war is not illegal - in fact, it's already the foundation of many developed economies, and is a big factor in making sure you have bread on your plate. So why not embrace it? Turn that bread into garlic bread, add some pizza, get some mates round, and sit back to watch the UK slug it out with the Taliban (once again - we won the first round, but past performance is not a guide to future performance, right kids?)

It's not even a zero-sum game, unless you score an own-goal.

Monday, July 17, 2006

All Seeing Ears

The Syria link isn't anything new (at least according to yesterday). The use of the word "shit" isn't a scandal. Attitudes towards overlong speeches just remind me of every graduation ceremony I've been to.

What's (possibly) interesting is the way different media institutions run with it, and what happens when the barrier between "controlled" media ("PR"/spin) and "celebrity" media (that is, media which intrudes into privacy, and so here the media pouncing on an unswitched mic is akin to it/them pouncing on a celebrity spotted out jogging...)

At this point, I'd love if someone kept a minute-by-minute account of all of the news articles surrounding this. Not that I'm paranoid about the link between state and corporate media. Just sceptical. Intrigued. I would imagine that, as the link from sender to receiver is often so heavily directed, anything undirected (and, noting Bush's comments right at the bottom below, out of the usual bounds) causes a little bit of a furore in various political press offices. I can't imagine that reportage would be withdrawn, but, you know, it'd be interesting to track the changes...

ABC go for snippets and paraphrases. The Reuters article linked to from Google News says "Article not found". (Oh, here's a working link which has much of the conversation.)

Here's the text from the CNN article, anyway:

Bush: What about Kofi Annan? I don't like the sequence of it. His attitude is basically cease-fire and everything else happens.

Blair: I think the thing that is really difficult is you can't stop this unless you get this international presence agreed.

Bush: She's going. I think Condi's (U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) going to go pretty soon.

Blair: Well that's all that matters. If you see, it will take some time to get out of there. But at least it gives people....

Bush: It's a process I agree. I told her your offer too.

Blair: Well it's only or if she's gonna or if she needs the ground prepared as it were. See, if she goes out she's got to succeed as it were, where as I can just go out and talk.

Bush: See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over.

Blair: Cause I think this is all part of the same thing. What does he think? He thinks if Lebanon turns out fine, if he gets a solution in Israel and Palestine, Iraq goes in the right way, he's done it. That's what this whole things about. It's the same with Iran.

Bush: I feel like telling Kofi to get on the phone with Assad and make something happen. We're not blaming Israel and we're not blaming the Lebanese government.

Plus some extra bits according to the Washington Post, include Bush's remarks about his and other speeches:

"No, just going to make it up," he said. "I'm not going to talk too damn long, like the rest of them. Some of them talk too long."

Friday, July 14, 2006

Sneaky Psychoclassificists...

BBC reports that Autism 'more common than thought':

"'Prevalence of autism and related ASDs is substantially higher than previously recognised.

'Whether the increase is due to better ascertainment, broadening diagnostic criteria, or increased incidence is unclear.

Note the lack of distinction between "some form of ASD", and "a lifelong disability" - the blurring of continuum and thresholded abnormality. Rates are going up, but is it a genuine increase, a broader classification scheme, or simply a desire to classify?

Normality is against the norm. Rejoice in your deficiencies and peculiarities!

Extraness: The Mind Hacks blog has a good rundown too, making the excellent point:

"Having one of these diagnoses entitles children to special educational support or even a place in an expensive yet well-supported special school in many areas of the UK."

..and generally linking "objective" diagnosis with "societal" (and hence subjective) needs.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Liberty and Equality

I don't know much about anything, but from a layman's point of view, it's funny how when you extradite 3 bankers, everyone gets up in arms about extradition rules, but when "hacker" Gary McKinnon was sent packing, nobody could be arsed to notice.

Just drawing attention to the differences, s'all.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Happiness vs the Battle Obscured

The NEF have have released their "Happy Planet Index" (Download here), placing the UK at 108th and trying graciously to sever the association of happiness with GDP. The associated BBC article is here.

"Although Vanuatu tops the happiness index, it is ranked 207th out of 233 economies when measured against Gross Domestic Product (GDP)."

Interestingly, it seems that the largest economies occupy the middle of the table:

"Germany is ranked 81st, Japan 95th, while the US comes in at 150th."

Naturally, I wonder about how we measure "progress" - note that "progress" is a very different thing to "happiness" - one can be happy without making progress, and one can make progress without being happy.

Various things (ok, ok, I've watched a little bit of Big B[r]other...) have got me thinking recently about the differences between men and women, and I've come to the (temporary) conclusion that when men get bored, they create external enemies (hence video games, paintballing, cold war, terrorists, holocausts...). When women get bored, they create an internal "enemy" (worrying about themselves, rather than worrying about someone else). OK, this is a gross over-simplification, but I think it has enough value to merit discussion. I'm also not speculating (yet ;) on causes...

Global markets fit very much into this man-influenced version of the world, under this model. Competition is a constant battle, just with certain "rules" that involve underhand tactics rather than out-and-out violence. Diplomacy, not Firepower (although the latter has played an essential part in creating the market in the first place, of course).

At any single point in time, we are being dragged continuously into a struggle of trade with "emerging economies" and "newly globalising countries" - feeding the male desire to do battle with and overcome an external enemy. Opening up new countries to trade is like inviting the gangly guy in the corner over to play squash when you're on a roll.

So this means, under current definitions, the "globalised" definition of happiness is one that's inherently tied to that of "competing", and all that "progress" is is yet another tactic to play the game. Winning outright is out of the question - once someone wins, you can no longer compete, and so new competitors need to be found all the time.

Except this idea of "happiness" needs to be considered on a fractal scale too. The effects and male motivations bonding happiness with competition trickle down to the level of the individual (and beyond, and feed back). People are not nations. There are more people, for a start - many more - which means a much wider variation in needs. Furthermore, not everyone is "as" male as those deciding the agenda of "competitive happiness". At least half the population, probably.

In fact, this split is readily identifiable. Of the happiest people I know, some (small) proportion, mainly biased by my own social circles, are happy because they do want to compete and like the challenge. Fair enough. The other happy individuals are happy because they don't want to compete and aren't competing. Thus, the ability to remove oneself from the competitive "flow" is vital to achieving this happiness.

The problem is that the former need the latter in order to "compete", like an army commander needs soldiers. Populations cannot be happy while they are being enlisted by their "commanders" (read "presidents", "prime ministers", "kings", etc.) to undertake economic battle in a war on the scale that only those high enough up can comprehend.

I should wrap up by making a clear distinction between "male/female" and "men/women", as in the current climate any reference to either can find the discussion quickly mired in debates of equality and so on.

"Male" and "female" concepts are very much abstract, used in order to define some polarities in order to draw some relative context to matters we often take for granted as being absolute (e.g. GDP = Happy). "Male" and "female" are not necessarily tied intrinsically to the "man" and "women" biological forms - men have as much of a "male/female" mix as women do. Following yin and yang then, "male" and "female" is simply a "handy" way to refer to two things that are in opposition, yet attract and repel each other simultaneously.

There are women that like to compete. There are men that don't. There are men that like to compete. There are women that don't. Happiness depends on letting all of these exist as they would like to.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

No fly zone pledge

Well, its been a while. Hopefully I'll post something substantial soon. In the meantime, a couple of things to pass into the minternet...

Firstly, me and my lady keep staring at the clouds and noticing just how many of them are actually just airplane trails. Mucho flying. So we've decided to not fly (unnecessarily) for a year and we invite everyone to join in. Think carefully before signing up, though...

Secondly, here's a plug for Phil Jones' latest venture, the Political Ideas and Values podcast. He's getting his interview groove on and talking to different Internet figures each episode. This week it's the turn of Dan Abbott of What does tdaxp stand for? You'll have to listen to the podcast to find out ;)

More post soon.