Tuesday, March 04, 2014

In chaos and riots

"I have great sympathy for the oppressed but I do not expect them to be morally superior to the oppressors. I merely expect them to be oppressed."
Jerome Barkow

A timely post of something that was stuck as a draft for years, now that the argument is being attempted for the use of water cannons in London. So far the Assembly Police and Crime Committee has found there is no case to use them, but with a Tory-led government and Boris as mayor, let's wait and see.


So, riots and looting.
Lots of people are eager to offer their tuppence worth, "send in the army", "it's because of the cuts, youth workers are losing funding, the EMA is being taken away", "mindless thugs", "take away their benefits and housing".

Once again attempts at identifying the problems, usually in an effort to avoid repetition, are often shouted down as attempts to excuse idiots of their idiotic actions. No, how do people get to the point of thinking that acting idiotically is okay? If you aren't interested in the reasons then you are effectively writing off a whole subsection of people and you may as well just arrest any young people in hooded tops who live in estates, and their children and their children's children and so on. Is it more important to perpetually deal with the symptoms or the illness (or sickness to quote Cameron)?

Panic on the streets of London

As Laurie Penny says in the above article: "Violence is rarely mindless. The politics of a burning building, a smashed-in shop or a young man shot by police may be obscured even to those who lit the rags or fired the gun, but the politics are there."

Laurie mentions watching an NBC report where a man is interviewed, asking if the riots achieved anything.
"Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?"
"Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."

Surely not? When was there a march on Scotland Yard of all places, of over 2000 people, just a couple of months ago and surely when marches are prime time, after the student and union marches we've had in the last year? I haven't heard of it, have you?

Smiley Culture march

Smiley Culture was a reggae star. To quote the linked article "The reggae star, real name David Emmanuel, who grew up in Tulse Hill, died of a single stab wound to the heart in the kitchen of his home in Warlingham on March 15.
The 80s star allegedly plunged a carving knife into his chest when he went to make himself a cup of tea during a police drug raid on his home."

A couple of thousand people, mostly Black, went on a protest march to Scotland Yard to demand justice for another suspicious police-related death.

Deaths in police custody

So there have been 193 deaths in the custody of the Metropolitan police (link to Wikipedia, main source is a Houses of Parliament report) from 1993 to 2010, more than 10 a year for 17 years. No one is going to claim that anyone was rioting and looting as a direct result of Mark Duggan's death during an arrest, but it's indicative of a general atmosphere that exists in the places that most people do their best not to think about. The kids who took to the streets did so out of greed, out of anger, and stupidity, and there was obviously no desire to 'make a statement' beyond the usual machismo swagger, but these are the kids who live in a world of gangs and petty crime, of real and imminent fear of violence and police being a threat rather than a source of help.

So many people are speedy to rebuff the explanations involving poverty and deprivation as if the only sign is literally being too poor to eat and that the kids should have been stealing staple foods if it was about poverty. But why has the threat been made to take away the looters' benefits unless it's implicitly accepted that these kids are at the bottom of our society?
When you grow up in a culture of endemic unemployment, surrounded by the relatively easy money of drug crime, in an area like Tottenham (where unemployment in June 2011 runs at 8.3% compared to the London average of 4.2% based on claimants source).

Is their poverty a literal cause of their looting? No, but it's a reason for fostering a state of mind where such behaviour is seen as desirable, let alone tolerable. Many people have questioned how people can attack their own communities - but what is their sense of community? The insane idea of postcode violence and the idea of the boundaries that creates might help to understand how hostile the world could become, especially if your family is barely that, your substitute family is a gang and the police are hostile rather than helpful. Could the Fairy Jobmother Hayley Taylor help these kids?

Fallout: New Vegas

Here's an old review I found in my emails, thought I'd just get it out there. 

Fallout: New Vegas is often accused of being little more than a retread of the critically acclaimed first person RPG Fallout 3, and the use of subtitle rather than a sequel number would go towards supporting that claim. However, despite the bugs in the game build this is a far larger prospect than any DLC could deliver.

Many of the game mechanics are lifted wholesale from New Vegas' predecessor, with the same First Person perspective, the same menu access via the wrist-mounted pip-boy, the same levelling up system granting incremental skill increases and related perks, the same inventory system and the same VATS targeting.
Despite the many similarities it was the extensive exploration that made Fallout 3 such a special game, the sense of discovery when coming across new buildings, caves or areas and uncovering the stories of those who lived (or used to) within is what drove the hundreds of hours of gameplay that many fans poured into it. Finding a skeleton slumped on an office chair near a note and a pistol on the floor helped to conjure the feel of a world destroyed, where survivors were struggling to get by.

While mainly not trying to fix what wasn't broken, New Vegas introduces some new elements to the mix with the new survival skill helping you to craft new items from component parts, and disassemble and reassemble numerous types of ammo for your weapons depending on your related skill levels. Levelling up is now staggered, with some levels providing only skill increases without extra perks, though you can earn perks from task repetition - killing a set number of mutated insects grants a permanent advantage against them in future.

Compared to Fallout 3, New Vegas is quite a lot harder. Even ignoring the crazy Hardcore difficulty mode (where you need to regularly eat, drink and sleep regardless of combat damage, and ammo has weight alongside the other items in your inventory) the game throws up a stiff challenge when just attempting to get from place to place. In the Capital Wasteland of Fallout 3 the creatures roaming the countryside soon became distractions as your abilities outmatched them; in New Vegas a number of the creatures you meet (including new faces such as geckos and wasp-like cazadors) remain fatally vicious a dozen levels into the game, making companions more of a necessity than they were the first time around. Elements of the Hardcore mode seep down into the lower difficulty levels, such as food and health items working over time rather than delivering instant boosts, which definitely ups the challenge when facing hardened foes. After 28 hours of play I still found myself killed in seconds when I was ambushed by a small group of deathclaws.
Another new element is that of the factions present in the Mojave desert. In Fallout 3 you made choices that affected your karma, choosing to help slavers or decent townsfolk changing your standing in various people's eyes, but in New Vegas you can have different standings with the various groups depending on your actions. Initially you can mingle and mix with any of the groups (excluding the raider types who attack any strangers on sight) but as you decide to align with specific people, you will inevitably clash with their enemies. Karma is still as obvious as it was (stealing and murdering innocents is bad), but the factions' allegiances aren't necessarily clear-cut from the start.

New Vegas is a welcome update of the successful Fallout 3 formula with the emphasis wisely placed on exploration and combat. Any fan of the original will find something to love here, and the new variety of environments and enemies brings a freshness to the game despite the same basic template.