Monthly Archives: December 2011
When I was younger, I argued with street preachers and door-knockers. I loved to watch the way they could hold irreconcilable beliefs and yet assert them all forcefully and with a straight face. The artifices of language held up by Escheriffic scaffolding loomed like a Tower of Babel: surely such batshittery must be an affront to the gods. Most of the claims advanced were either unsupported or unsupportable. Where were the rocks upon which God would build His church?
As I grew older, I realised that there were some catastrophic problems on my atheistic side of the fence. Positivists roamed free, mingling with science fetishists and other carriers of diseased thought (A = A!! The world is directly engaged by the seeeeeenses! A = A!!!!). At every point of my engagement with the door-knockers and the street preachers, I could dismiss the problem as: ‘We just fundamentally disagree about the nature of the world.’ But with other atheists? The same escape clause didn’t work.
Few places is this problem more clear than the issue of private schooling in Australia. I’m a fan of religious education in schools for a lot of reasons: it makes religious education mainstream (thus making it harder for fringe lunatics to preach hate in the pulpit), it means people educated in religious schools have to be taught science properly, it means the State can punish religious schools who preach and forget to teach. State funding is a firm leash on a potentially wild animal.
In a lengthy exchange with Jane Caro, we discussed the issue and kept coming back to the same mantras about private education in Australia. Because private schools weren’t strictly secular (whatever that means), they shouldn’t receive taxpayer funds. Private schools exclude (and, though I pointed out that some public schools do as well, it was correctly rebutted that they probably shouldn’t). Private schools entrench class differences based on parents’ ability to pay. Private schools are run by the Church.
As an example, Caro noted the excellent US system which Constitutionally divorces religion from the curriculum. Speaking of the US system, has anybody seen Waiting for Superman? (Note the table in the trailer which puts Australian kids at number 9 in the world for competency with maths, with the US at 25).
I’m not suggesting that religious education makes kids better at maths. I am suggesting that handwaving the US system as the gold standard to which we should be aspiring is a bit wonky. The American system is fundamentally broken and the approach championed by the haters of the private education system will result in similar structural problems.
But let’s start way back at the beginning. This is, as I’m sure everybody would agree, an argument about principles more than evidence. If it were about evidence, one would merely point to our great education outcomes and say: the system of public and private seems to be working, so why change it?
The basic principle is that every kid in Australia deserves an education. We can either couch it in obnoxious rights language: ‘Every kid has the right to an education’. Or we can put it in more sophisticated virtue politics tones: ‘An ideal society would enable all children in that society to receive the best education which meets their needs.’
So how do you ensure that every kid gets an education? You could start by building schools, filling them with teachers, and then allocating children to those schools by lottery. Kids in less population dense areas wouldn’t need a lottery because they’d only be able to support one school. So that’s buildings and teachers, but what about resources? Should there be one Bunsen burner per student or should the Bunsen burners go to where they’d deliver better outcomes? If a Bunsen burner out in regional Australia can only meet the needs of 5 students, wouldn’t it be better to put it in a city school where it can meet the needs of 15? Given that there aren’t infinite resources, how do you divide the resources up between schools?
What about kids with multicultural needs? Should Caro’s Extremely Secular High School provide prayer rooms for Muslim students? Should school cafeterias include kosher and halal food? Her exact words were: ‘I’d like to see them purely secular‘. It’s unclear.
Do you know who should be able to choose the sort of educational environment for their children? Parents. If parents want their kids to do the International Baccalaureate instead of the Victorian Certificate of Education, who should stop them? If parents think that their kids will be better served by technical education rather than scholarship, why should they be denied?
Because the options aren’t infinite, it makes sense to have a co-contribution system. If parents want special education desires fulfilled, they can help make up the financial difference. The question then becomes: why should parents be expected to meet all the costs of their children’s education?
We’ve already agreed that the State should facilitate the education of every child. In some sense, we recognise that there’s a duty of the Government to support every student. Why does that duty cease to exist the moment the child walks through the gates of a private school?
In a fair and egalitarian society, taxpayer funds follow the student to subsidise their parents’ choices. The only way to disagree with that is to say that parents should be denied the right to choose academic outcomes for their child and that the State knows best.
Despite having this discussion a few times, nobody’s agreed to assert that final point. Their argument, instead, is:
1. Religion is bad.
2. Separation of Church and State (whatever that is).
C. The State shouldn’t be funding private schools because they’re religious and OMG Separation, Separation, Separation.
But that just delays the question. Why shouldn’t parents be able to choose religious education for their children? I’m an atheist and I really cannot see any problem with a parent deciding that religious education is the best option for their child. I also can’t see why the State should be allowed to drop the ball when it comes to that child’s education just because the parents want a religious education.
The ideal education model isn’t difficult to envisage. The State allocates a certain amount per student which follows them to wherever their parents decide is best. If that place is a private school, the private school requests fees from that parents to make up the difference between the amount made up from students and the amount it actually costs to run a school. Each public school would get a block grant based on a few specific factors (location, for example, would mean public schools with fewer students in regional areas would need larger block grants). Simple.
So apart from the rabid animosity of New Atheists to religion, what argument is there against State funding of private schools? None.
(By way of disclaimer: I received a scholarship to go to a private school.)
Oh, you non-nerds have it so easy. Up there in the mainstream, you only have to deal with the ordinary misogyny, homophobia, and racism which passes off as daily interactions or popular entertainment. Down here in the nerd sub-culture (and, in truth, it is beneath culture) we invent whole new ways to be terrible human beings.
I recently ranted about Batman: Arkham City and its weird, weird, oh-so-weird inability to be women-friendly. There was a game based on a popular franchise that went out of its way to make misogyny fun. But there’s no need to rehash that.
The videos aren’t really worth watching (Movie Bob is insufferable and unfunny), but they cover a few issues which are worth discussing at length.
Quickly, here’s a run-down of the videos:
1. Ms Marvel was a superhero in the Marvel Universe (the two big comic publishers are Marvel and DC: DC has all the characters you know — Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, &c. — but Marvel has the better movies — Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man… lots of men).
2. To celebrate a milestone in Marvel’s publishing history, they decided to centre a story around Ms Marvel. Ms Marvel wakes up one day and discovers that she’s pregnant. She doesn’t know how it happened. The foetus undergoes rapid development, is born, then matures to adulthood quickly. The child explains that Ms Marvel was kidnapped by a villain, put under mind control and impregnated. For reasons unexplained, she had her mind wiped and was returned. Due to cosmic woo-woo she gives birth to the guy who kidnapped, brainwashed, and impregnated her. Ms Marvel falls in love with her rapist/child and they go off into the sunset.
3. Nobody in-universe thinks (2) is weird.
4. The video then makes a bunch of funny noises which might be the author trying to make a point.
5. One writer at Marvel, Chris Claremont, thought this treatment of Ms Marvel was rubbish, so wrote a story where Ms Marvel returns and lectures everybody for treating her rape like it was romantic.
6. Video declares Chris Claremont to be a hero (‘Joss Whedon 1.0′).
The broader issue is the portrayal of women in comics. I recently hosted our monthly book club meeting, and set Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta as the book under discussion. I am the only regular comics-reader in our group, and I thought it would be interesting to choose a book from a radically different genre. The feedback from the others was that the format was alienating, and then when you overcame that hurdle, the story had a fundamental problem with women which was further alienating.
There’s a recurring set of storylines for women in comics: they are raped, tortured, or have babies. It’s the only way the characters develop. In V for Vendetta, Evey has to be tortured in order to have her character develop.
The Ms Marvel plot is not incongruous with the pervasive misogyny of comic books. There have been concerted efforts to stop this from happening but, as I discussed in the Batman post, whenever there’s progress, the comic book publishers regress back into their adolescent boy stage.
From the videos, you’d think that Chris Claremont was somehow a revolutionary progressive of the industry. Described as ‘Joss Whedon 1.0′ (and, well, it’s not like Whedon doesn’t have his problematic years when it comes to the portrayal of women), Movie Bob explains how Claremont reclaimed Ms Marvel for womens lib and lovers of non-rapey plotlines everywhere.
Earlier in this post, I mentioned that nerds had found new ways to be terrible human beings. Chief inventor was Chris Claremont who, during the dark times of the late ’80s and early ’90s (long story short: DC and Marvel tanked the industry by running a weird scheme where they thought printing comics was basically the same as printing money…), was given free reign to print story after story dedicated to his women-degrading fetishes.
Whoa. Those are some lawsuit worthy words right there. I better have some good evidence to back them up.
Claremont’s stock plot is: ‘Courageous, empowered woman with large muscles and larger breasts combats a character with some sort of transformation power. Said character uses transformation power on the courageous woman, making her some sort of slave or object. Courageous, empowered woman is either saved or becomes a recurring character as a slave or object.’
Case in point: Spiral. Spiral was originally a woman called Rita who was kidnapped by the interdimensional being Mojo. Despite being brave and courageous and in love with her partner, Mojo performs magical surgery and brainwashes her to become Spiral.
Case in point: Rachel Summers. Rachel Summers was born a super-powered mutant (daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey in a future timeline). She’s kidnapped by the government, brainwashed, tattooed, and forced into some sort of fetish wear. She’s called a ‘hound’ and is used to hunt down other mutants.
Case in point: Spiral and Rachel Summers. Mojo uses Spiral to kidnap Rachel Summers and manipulated her into working for him.
Case in point: Storm. Storm battles Magneto who uses his ability to manipulate metal to encase Storm as a statue.
It’s not just me who thinks Claremont might be on the wrong side of the strong female character debate. TV Tropes handwaves some of his other exciting storylines (all women are bisexual, for example).
If Claremont invented a female character, he’s found a way to tie them up or brainwash them (or both). He’s creative in his misogyny.
Really, the only thing that can save comics is to get women into top jobs in Marvel and DC. In 70 years of Marvel’s publishing history, there’s never been a female editor and only one female editor-in-chief (Bobbie Chase was part of the one-year experiment where there were several editors-in-chief; she headed up Marvel Edge which was basically ‘Tales from the Universe Next Door’). There’s never been a female executive of Marvel. DC fares slightly better. Diane Nelson is the president, but I can’t think of any female editors or editors-in-chief.
I love this game.
There’s no way you’d be able to tell that from what I write below, but know that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is awesome and you should all buy it and play it until your arm atrophies from Wii-itis.
Let’s start somewhere else: the Greek hero, Theseus, has a ship. Sailing between islands, he begins to replace each plank of wood in his ship, throwing the old plank out behind and replacing it with a new plank (where he gets these new planks out on the ocean, none know). There’s a person sailing behind Theseus grabbing the discarded planks and making a ship identical to Theseus’ original… blah, blah. Which is Theseus’ ship?
What makes for a Zelda game? The series has been, undoubtedly, the most influential in the history of videogaming. There isn’t an new game made today which doesn’t borrow concepts originally tried in a Zelda adventure.
But what happens when Zelda starts borrowing from other franchises? Does it start a dialogue where each party learns the best stuff of the other? Or do the interlocutors begin to lose their individuality?
There is an element of the latter in this game. While being familiar enough to be a Zelda title (Link’s there, Zelda’s there, goddesses, Triforce, &c.), it’s not difficult to see that the names could be replaced and it wouldn’t be a Zelda game.
It’s sort of like how the film Troy had absolutely nothing in common with The Iliad except the names.
On the other hand, who cares? If the game is excellent, does it matter if it ‘feels’ like a Zelda game (whatever that means)?
And the game is amazing. You play a young hero whose love interest appears to be better at succeeding in life than you are. Shortly after an event in which she acts as the avatar of a goddess, she’s kidnapped by evil forces. Instead of waiting for you to rescue her, she’s saved herself and begun a journey about three steps ahead of you. Thus begins your adventure to keep up with the girl.
It’s a long way from old Zelda who was asleep or trapped in a crystal waiting for you to rock up. It’s even a long way from the Zelda who dressed as a guy and stood in the background waiting for you to save the world. It’s a Zelda who carves the way ahead of you, but for some reason puts all of the traps and switches back the way she found them.
Or she’s so much more awesome than you that she can complete the dungeons without needing to solve all the puzzles.
The world is beautiful. The story is fun (although you’ll be talked to death in the first hour of the game: cut scene, cut scene, bird race, cut scene). And the puzzles are puzzling.
It’s not without its problems. I am, above all things, a very lazy person. Everybody’s been raving about the sword fighting. The sword moves where you move the Wiimote. What I want in life is for me to push A and the monster dies. If I wanted to sword fight with monsters, I’d start up a fencing competition against libertarians.
And flying. God, I hate flying. In Wind Waker, sailing was a matter of pointing in the right direction and keeping a vague eye out for sharks. In Skyward Sword, you travel over miles of featureless clouds by waving your arm. If you stop waving your arm, the bird shits itself and gets stuck in the clouds at the bottom of the screen. I’m ambidextrous, so I figured when one arm got tired, I could go to the other. Not so; the Wii is designed to only recognise dexterous people and has no time for the sinister.
It’s also a pain playing in bed. I have found memories lying in bed playing A Link to the Past. I could wrap myself in my duvet with some soft drink and nibbles, and get my arse handed to me by Turtle Rock Dungeon.
Don’t try to move unnecessarily while playing Skyward Sword. I tried to grab a bottle of creaming soda, but this resulted in me accidentally swinging my sword into the nearby bomb plants…
‘Sure,’ I hear you say from the future, ‘But if you’re not a complete moron, you’ll be fine.’
But you’d be wrong. In order to roll bombs, you either have to stand up or have to contort your arm around in front of your body to simulate where your arm would be if you were standing up.
Yes, boohoo for me. The game wants me to be active instead of just lying around. But if I didn’t want to lie around, I’d be doing something else other than playing video games. It’s like people who spend weeks on end trying to get good at Guitar Hero. Why not put that effort into learning the guitar? If I wanted to get good at moving around and being coordinated, I’d take up a sport.
Oh, and upgrading items. I hate games that do that. Give me my weapons. Don’t expect me to go out hunting bugs to crush up into weapon bonuses.
But all of those things aside, this is an amazing game. So much better than Batman: Arkham City.