Journalism At The Edge of Reality

Some interesting news from the world of virtual reality. The Alphaville Herald is a news resource for The Sims Online, and has in recent weeks investigate fraud, child prostitution and the community’s attempts to form a force to combat some of the issues plaguing the game, the Sim Shadow Government. The journalist behind the Herald has just had his account suspended by EA/Maxis, and the story is featured in this Salon article from last Friday.

Meanwhile, a bug has been found in Ultima Online which allows players to rack up millions of gold pieces easily. So what, you say? Well, for a start, the various MMORPGs are beginning to resemble nation-states. Last month, the Gaming Open Market opened its doors for trading. This is a currency trading site that allows players to exchange currency between the different gaming systems, or to convert into US dollars. This bug will likely cause the value of the UO Gold Piece to drop considerably against the dollar, and could set off a hyper-inflationary rise in prices in the game itself. This in turn could lead to increased migration from the UO to a world that has a more stable currency, like The Sims Online, for example.

I've never been enticed by the MMORPG, as in order to get anywhere, you need to put in ten or more hours of game time each day. Which seems a little excessive to me. But it is interesting to see the problems that are occurring as this genre develops…

currently playing: Joss Stone - I Had A Dream

Best of 2003: Kingdom of Fear — Hunter S. Thompson

A rather depressing book, to be honest. HST is getting old, and all the venom he's spurted over the years has come to nothing. They gave Nixon an full-honours funeral, praising his name, and the current Administration fills Hunter with a new sort of Fear: a relentless, unending rule of The New Stupid. The book tells the story of a law suit that a woman filed against Thompson a few years back, but mostly this is a collection of random thoughts and rantings from a man who has seen it happen before. They didn't listen to him then, and they probably won't listen to him now…

Dirty Dancing III Casting Starts Here…

Everybody else is talking about how the capture is so important to the Iraqi people and President Bush’s re-election campaign, or why the USA felt that broadcasting footage of a captured man was not in violation of the Geneva Convention when it cried foul during the Spring offensive. But I want to act like a McSweeney’s hipster, so I will instead focus my attention onto something trivial.

Operation: Red Dawn?!?!

What exactly was going through their minds? "This is possibly one of the most important missions we've undertaken since the end of May, so naturally we'll name it after a cheesy 1980s film" (incidentally, check out the review on the IMDb; it's quite amusing). At first, I thought it was just a coincidence, but as the press briefing continued and the Lieutenant General talked about how the troops had split into two "Wolverine" squads, I realised the horrible truth: someone had put thought into this. A lot of thought. Somewhere deep in the Pentagon is a person with far too much time on his hands (or her hands). Was it a deliberate attempt to equate Saddam Hussein and his supporters with Patrick Swayze and a host of Brat Packers? The world has a right to know…

currently playing: Electrelane — Windmill

Best of 2003: Panjabi MC — Mundian To Bach Ke

The first of two songs chosen more for the memories they evoke rather than the quality of the song itself (although I do like this; if someone told you the concept of this record, you’d dismiss it out-of-hand, but when you hear the mix of Knight Rider and Bhangra, it just seems to fit perfectly); this one reminds me of the Easter weekend spent at the Outer Banks when a drunk Shafaq showed us how Bhangra dancing is really done, and an amusing drunken acappella version from this September 8-).

Adventures In Time!

(note: doing these things manually is best avoided...)

currently playing: Martha Reeves & The Vandellas — Nowhere To Run

Best of 2003: Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 7

It was always going to be a difficult season. And yes, parts of it didn't work; the main storyline dragged on somewhat; Caleb should have been introduced much earlier in the season. But episodes like "Storyteller", "Lies My Parents Told Me", and the heart-wrenching "Conversations With Dead People" showed that the writers were still able to produce fantastic television. The finale, "Chosen", ended too quickly, but it was a powerful hour, combining tragic loss, bunnies, the ultimate redemption of a character long lost, the amusing fate of Sunnydale, and an ending that promises that the story has only just begun. Yay for Joss Whedon!

The Revolution Is Only A T-Shirt Away

  • Billy Bragg Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards

    Well, since getting hold of "Must I Paint You A Picture?", the new three-disc retrospective this week, I've been making my family suffer this, so now it's your turn. Muahahaha!

  • Tori Amos - Father Lucifer

  • Every so often, I pull out "Boys For Pele" and realise that I don't listen to it often enough. Then I forget about it for another six months. Just call me Dory. Anyway, this came up through random playing the other day, and is recommended for the Sgt. Pepper-like flourish that occurs at 1:59.

  • Sleater-Kinney - Lions & Tigers

  • One of the bonus tracks from the limited edition release of "One Beat" from last year (I donated a copy to Schoolkids Records in Chapel Hill this May as I had two). A cute baby song which doesn't make you reach for the volume control.

  • Johnny Cash & Joe StrummerRedemption Song

  • Is it just me, or is "Johnny Cash — Unearthed" a really inappropriate title for the current box set? Joe Strummer's solo version of this, on the posthumous "Streetcore" album is affecting, but this is something else…

currently playing: Stevie Wonder — Superstition

Best of 2003: Beyoncé Knowles & Jay-Z — Crazy In Love

One of the most talked-about singles of the year, so pretty much everything that can be said has already been put to paper (or active LCD pixels in this case). All I'll add is that in 2043, this track is going to be as popular as (Love Is Like A) Heatwave and Dancing In The Street. Yes, it's that good. Shame the rest of the album wasn't up to much, but then nobody really remembers the albums that Martha Reeves and The Vandellas released either, do they?

The Nerdiest Page On The Internet

See how far you can read before your eyes bleed!

(three comments in for me, then I. just. couldn't. take. any. more)

currently playing: Spiritualized — I Think I'm In Love

Best of 2003: Pirates of The Caribbean

“WHY IS THE RUM GONE?” — If there’s a better piece of dialogue in film this year, then I be gladly walking the plank, arr. For ‘tis a tale of treasure, fair maidens, chilling ghosts, buckling swash, and lashings of the rum. Here be Captain Jack Sparrow, the finest pirate that ever sailed upon the seven seas, arr. For a Christmas treat, avail yourself of a copy of this fine film, lest the Ghost Pirates hunt you down. ARRRR!

Link Forever

The quest to find the most useless gadget on the Internet is now officially over.

Rabbits? Or fur-demons from beyond the sixth dimension that are just lying in wait for their time to strike?

How long before the RIAA lead frontal assaults on university campuses across America. Start building your barricades...

Folding clothes can be fun!

24hr Toronto

currently playing: Billy Bragg — Waiting For The Great Leap Forward

Best of 2003: Snow Patrol - Final Straw

Melancholic alt-rock from Scotland! What’s not to like? Actually, this album is a little patchy, with “How To Be Dead”, “Chocolate”, “Somewhere a Clock is Ticking”, and “Grazed Knee” towering over all the other songs. So why is it here? Partly because it’s one of the few British albums of this year that I’ve even partly liked, but mainly it’s due to these four songs being very good indeed. This isn’t much of a write-up, is it? “The album’s not all that great, but most British albums this year have sucked, so this is all I’ve come up with…”

We Apologise For The Break In Service

Apparently there was a router failure at the server farm where this site is located, which caused the site to drop out of the DNS and disappear from the Internet. So, if you sent me any mail today, you may need to resend it :-).

currently playing: Billy Bragg — A New England

Best of 2003: The New Pornographers — Electric Version

It's the new sound that the hip kids are calling 'joycore'! Songs shouldn't have hook after hook crammed into them, but here they do! An official dance! Lyrics featuring spelling bees, the failure of traditional antibiotics, and Bush's daughters! The delectable Neko Case! Far too many exclamations! A record that cannot fail to bring a smile to your face; with a jackhammer if necessary. Go here and here. And you have to get this simply for Testament to Youth in Verse, where the band completely loses the plot at 1:59, and simply sings "no, no no, no" for two wonderful minutes.

Married With Children Is Safe For Four More Years

Could you drive that stake just a little bit further into Lieberman, Mr. Gore? Thank you kindly.

(If this is true, expect the DNC to go nuts from tomorrow onwards, and don't be surprised if you see them pulling out the classic 1972 game plan...)

currently playing: R.E.M. — (Don’t Go Back to) Rockville

The Priest Betting Pool Begins Anew...

This probably isn’t of interest to most of you, but Priest has revealed the new comic he’s going to be working on:

Captain America & The Falcon.

Hmm, I have to admit that I don't have the utmost confidence that it'll still be published this time next year, but it does sound relatively interesting; Priest's "Pembleton from Homicide" take on the Falcon has me intrigued, and although he and his editor have spoken at length to say that it won't be an overtly political take on Captain America, the first storyline, "Two Americas", does sound as if it will touch on the current political situation somewhat. Anyway, I'm happy to know that there will still be Priest-written comics to read next year…

currently playing: Snow Patrol — Chocolate

Best of 2003: Dawson’s Creek Finale

Okay, I haven’t watched the past two seasons of this, because I thought that the story had been played out, and I didn’t really want to see what contortions the writers went through to end up sending Dawson back to the Boston area. When I heard that Kevin Williamson was returning to write the finale, I knew that if nothing else, the final two episodes would be worth watching. And yes, they were. Metafiction jokes about the infamous stylised dialogue and the ages of the cast, a look at the motivations of a writer, a sad farewell, the return of fond-remembered characters, and even a final resolution of the love triangle (which managed to give both Joey/Dawson and Joey/Pacey fans what they wished for, although in different ways). It was all a final episode needed to be, and a little bit more besides.

The Doctor Is In

Well, it has been a fun week in political circles, hasn’t it? The White House, in its never-ending quest to turn the Presidency into a cheesy straight-to-TV movie has spent much of the last few days quietly retreating away from some of the more outlandish claims of last week’s Thanksgiving surprise. I can’t see what possessed them to have the President wandering around with a false Turkey; surely they should have known that it’d look a bit silly when they were inevitably found out, hmm? Then there’s the detail about how Air Force One was spotted by a British Airways 747 pilot when it was flying to Iraq. The first version of the story had the pilot radioing AF1 asking whether it really was the President’s plane. Only British Airways denied such a conversation ever took place. The second version of the story had the pilot radioing London Air Traffic Control. British Airways denied this also. At the moment, we’re up to the third version, which is some guy with a British accent radioed in to London ATC. Yes, it’s only a little thing, but the story was fine enough as it was: Bush visits Iraq with only a few video cameras and reporters. There was no need to add embellishments to an already quite impressive story/PR stunt.

Back in California, the Democrat-controlled Legislature has turned its nose up at Governor Schwarzenegger's attempt to move California's debts to a bigger credit card (or $15bn in a new bond issue, if you prefer). They also wen't too pleased at his proposed $3.8bn budget cuts that would have cut back on education and medical spending. The Governor has vowed to go over the Legislature's heads and hold a referendum next November (remember guys, you only have to wait 90 days before you can start the recall process all. over. again.).

And finally from American shores, the Ronald Reagan Dime Act, wherein a group of Republicans with far too much time on their hands want to replace the image of the man who solved the banking crisis, began the New Deal, led America to victory in World War Two, and who founded the March of Dimes, with a man who most likely lied to congress, sold arms to both Iraq and Iran, fired striking air-traffic controllers, loosened anti-trust law to protect multinational corporations, created the situation for the S&L disaster, and landed America with a multi-trillion dollar debt by the time he left office. Well, that makes sense.

Back home, two things of note: Nobody likes Mr. Blair at the moment. The new idea for charging students for attending university (£3,000/per year maximum, payable only after graduation and after the student is earning more than £15,000/year, plus the re-introduction of the maintenance grant) are quite sensible, considering that British universities are losing a lot of money at the moment under the current system, and it's still rather cheap when compared to, say, American-style charging. But nobody wants to hear that; instead we just have lots of student groups and the Conservatives shouting at Blair, without coming up with much of an alternative.

Secondly: George Galloway is a smug, pompous man, and it does the peace movement no good to have someone like that as one of their main proponents.

UPDATE: In the interests of full disclosure (and because I felt bad about it after talking with Laura): FDR wasn't what you would call a saint, either. Trying to pack the Supreme Court, hiding the extent of his illness, using the New Deal for patronage purposes, his feud with Robert Moses which caused problems in New York, and being President during the Japanese Interment. (I'm leaving out the PETA information because it's not clear how long it has been going on for, and whether FDR had any involvement aside from setting up the fund in the first place)

I'm struggling to think about positive things about Reagan. I'm willing to entertain the notion that he, along with Gorbachev, was one of the architects of eventual peace between Russia and the USA, although it didn't happen until well into George Bush's Presidency. Feel free to add your ideas in the comment section, answering the question: what did Reagan ever do for us, anyway?

currently playing: Joss Stone — Super Duper Love (are you diggin' on me?)

Saturday Looks Good To Me — All Your Summer Songs

Or what happened when Belle & Sebastian woke up to find themselves living in Detroit and infected by the spirits of the long-gone Motown Age. Beautiful horns, strings, vocals, and of course melodies to invade a small nation in Asia for. It's the way the tune of "Untitled" keeps on recurring throughout the album, it's the use of "what were once majestic city streets" in "Ultimate Stars", and it's the finale of "Meet Me By The Water" peters out from a wall of sound to just a single guitar that form some of the perfect moments of this record. If you like lo-fi pop, you need this album. If you don't, go here and take a listen anyway. (The fact that Fred Thomas was nice enough to send me a tour CD-R after I explained that I missed the band's appearance in Chapel Hill due to the spring break has not coloured this mini-review. Well, not much anyway)