Category Archives: Uncategorized

New Video Series – Mungo Investigates

Hi all! I am making a new video series for the duration of the lockdown, and maybe beyond. It’s called “Mungo Investigates” and in it I attempt to answer your complex philosophical, historical or political questions in a single take.

The first episode is out, and in it I answer the question “Does the arc of the moral universe bend toward justice?”

Check it out here

Is Halo 1 Still A Masterpiece?

Image result for halo 1

Those of you who have been following me on other channels may know that I have been playing through some slightly older games recently. I finished Dark Souls last month, and have been whipping and thwacking my way through Bloodborne bit by bit. Halo is much older than these. It was a childhood favourite. My first console game on my first console. I was *obsessed* with Halo as a child. And I’m sure a lot of you have fond memories.

But is it still good? Yes. Is it still a masterpiece? Absolutely.

Not just compared to games at the time but to games generally. The gameplay is excellent. Every gun has weight. The combat is fair but challenging (on heroic difficulty). Enemies are varied and fun to fight. Every Covenant soldier has a role and a combat function. The flood are a bit more generic but they still do the trick.

If I were to redesign the flood, I would make it clearer which flood had grown from which troop – the elites that became flood should look and stand differently to the humans that became flood, to the grunts etc. They should also generally carry the weapons that their original species used. I believe that the thinner flood are supposed to be former humans, and the larger ones former elites, but their weapon types do not match that.

There is also the problem that health packs and human weapons are all over the game, when they have little reason to be. This is a tricky problem. Later games solved this by creating covenant weapons that are equivalent to human weapons, but this reduces each weapon’s specialness. I wonder if the rocket launcher could have been replaced by some kind of flood equivalent that does the same thing. The problem is that human weapons are so recognisable and appealing. It is hard to imagine a flood equivalent of the iconic shotgun would have been as fun to use.

Certainly there could have been alternatives to health packs later in the game, which are human devices that have no reason to be all over the place. The master chief could be able to interface with covenant healing items that look distinct, and perhaps heal in a different manner. They could be healing stations, or could heal over time. Functionally similar but different enough to feel distinct.

The level design is, contrary to later criticism, very good. The arenas are perfect for the combat that takes place in them. The second half of the game takes place mostly in places you have played before, but they are completely transformed and playing through them feels different.

Image result for halo 1

Every level is very well laid out with the exception of the seventh, which is too repetitive. It is worth noting that even this level extremely un-repetitive compared with modern single player titles like the Assassin’s Creed games, which are much longer and contain much more repeated content. And arguably Halo could stand more repetitive gameplay, because there is a joy to be had in grinding to practice a game. But that is another topic.

Where there could be more is in the parts of the game world that would have been lived in. Both spaceships are mostly just corridors and rooms arranged to be combat arenas rather than anything else. Sleeping quarters, kitchens, toilets, and so on would have made the ship’s feel far more real. The levels are designed for good gameplay, but not for that top level of world building.

The sound design is generally excellent, with some noticeable errors especially when firing plasma pistols too quickly. Almost all of th enemies sound fantastic, except for, once again, the flood, which are quiet and dull. The music is mostly exceptional with a few pieces that are a bit janky. In the covenant ship I heard swamp creature music briefly at one point, and one of the combat pieces would occasionally skip out of beat. It is hard to tell if this is a problem with the choice of music, which is otherwise pitch perfect and supports the emotional tone of the game. It could be a music choice issue, or it could be a problem with how the music is played in the game.

Halo’s plot is generally good, with the twist of Halo being to kill all life executed badly. There is no reason for Master Chief to trust 343 Guilty Spark, or to leave Cortana behind in the control centre. The teleportation is also handled badly. It would have been better if the writing team had worked out how the teleportation grid worked, and the limitations of teleportation been better incorporated into the gameplay. As it is, you teleport a few times after the mid game, each when you happen to have completed your current level and when the plot demands, but not when it would be most helpful or convenient.

There is not much to the individual characters in Halo, bit there doesn’t need to be. It is the story of humanity on Halo, and the Covenant, and how a piece of the galaxy is changed. This story is well told in the way the enemies change throughout the game.

Image result for halo 1 end

Overall then, an excellent experience still worth playing. The biggest downsides are the shallow worldbuilding and characters. But games are games, and if the experience is exceptional, then limited storytelling is acceptable.

The end of the BBC?

The BBC faces its 100th anniversary. Will it still be around to have a 200th?

The Prime Ministers’ Chief of Staff Dominic Cummings has written much about the need to transform the BBC and expand the ideological space for the right. His thinktank wrote “There are three structural things that the right needs to happen in terms of communications… 1) the undermining of the BBC’s credibility; 2) the creation of a Fox News equivalent / talk radio shows / bloggers etc to shift the centre of gravity; 3) the end of the ban on TV political advertising.”

There are big questions about the justifiable value of the licence fee. The UK’s impartiality rules improve the quality of coverage, but they don’t apply to other online outlets. The BBC’s impartiality rules mean that any party that wants to get their message out through it on television can do so. It tends to give everyone a hard time regardless of their orientation. (I know that there have been some exceptions but usually.)

By comparison, when there is a free market, media organisations can choose who they want to support, as we see with *sigh* Joe Biden on CNN.

In terms of pure political advantage, the right would be better off with a marketplace dominated by conservative outlets, which could be achieved with the ending of impartiality rules. This happened in the US under the entirely bad man who killed the American dream, Ronald Reagan.

This is already the case in the newspaper market. Notably the internet news sites and YouTube are not dominated by the right. The UK political internet has a broad range of outlets and it is hard to argue that the internet is dominated by one ideology or political party. So a lack of impartiality rules does not automatically mean the dominance of the right in every market.

TV news decisions can’t decide elections alone, although they can certainly be a contributing factor. Donald Trump still became the Republican candidate despite being opposed through most of his campaign by all stations. Although perhaps he reflected a deeper bi-partisan news ideology of nationalism and fear of the other that has been reproduced endlessly for decades.

In summary, the BBC probably will not continue to exist in its current form. This will likely be to the BBC’s and Britain’s detriment. But this is the Tories’ and Mr Cummings’ moment. Other opportunities will come. For now, let us mourn briefly for the hope that once was.

Labour’s Dilemma

There was a time when Labour could have, along with other opposition parties, voted to keep free movement alive, or get a second referendum that may have kept the UK in the EU. That time has passed.

If Labour are to succeed now, the they must not support freedom of movement. They must accept the referendum result. They must abandon their internationalism.

Even in the arena of economics, they will struggle to make progress, as the Tories have abandoned austerity and are making positive noises about investing in the north.

Labour must fight on both socially liberal territory, to defeat the Liberal Democrats, and socially conservative territory, to defeat the Conservatives. Even an alliance with the Lib Dems – probably in both parties’ interest – could push Labour into having too liberal a stance on immigration for the electorate to stomach. This is if the Labour membership does not choose someone socially liberal already.

Labour is in an incredibly difficult place. The Tories have dropped their unpopular and self-defeating policies from the Cameron and May years. Even if Labour makes all the right moves they will likely still lose.

The hopes for those who are poorest and most disadvantaged in Britain are slim. We still have some of the lowest pensions in the OECD, a welfare system that is failing, an NHS that is overstretched, massive regional inequality, and large amounts of personal debt.

Stop Voting for Idiots!

Certainly a leader’s ideology matters, as do their policies. But we must not forget the importance of intelligence. People who are not capable of the challenge of leading a country should not be in charge.

The fact that someone as thoughtless, incoherent and delusional as Donald Trump ss the president of the United States is not just foolishness but a moral failing. He does not deserve the office. He is completely unsuitable. This goes beyond his politics. Someone who wanted all the right things, but who did not understand how the US Constitution, US law, the media or sentence structure work would still be wrong as president. A leader does not need to be a genius, but they must be aware of what they are doing and be able to plan and organise and communicate.

Trump does have a kind of animal instinct for saying and doing things that get him attention, but he is incredibly stupid. If the purpose of a presidential election is to ensure that the best person is chosen for the job, then the system has failed.

But the non-US world should not look smugly at the United States and assume that there is no need for introspection. And we should not assume that this is a vice purely of the right. Canada’s Justin Trudeau is a dumb pretty boy who said enough liberal progressive things to elevate him to high office.

In the UK, Labour was led into the last two elections by a man who went to a very good school and managed to scrape by with two Ds at A level. As the commenters will correctly tell me, A levels are not the only indicator of intelligence. But being unwilling or unable to address the electorate’s fears about him, choosing a team that was clearly not up to the task, having an incoherent message and so on all suggest that he was lacking. He did not understand how government borrowing works. And there is no evidence that he is intelligent. If you have lived for seventy years as a vibrant, intelligent, analytical, creative person, you would leave evidence.

This matters in the upcoming leadership election because it looks like Rebecca Long Baily is the frontrunner. Her first piece in the Guardian announcing her candidacy was awful. She gave Corbyn 10/10! She hasn’t thought this through.

This isn’t intended as a point about socialist ideology. There are liberal or “centrist” dummies too, like Trudeau or Biden. And there are certainly plenty on the right cough cough Liam Fox cough cough. But it matters. Labour has only ever won outright under three leaders, each of whom was a crafty fox.

And it matters for more than electability. We should want the people in charge to be capable. We should value understanding and reasoning and creativity. Intelligent work is rewarded immensely by our banks and software companies. Why not value it in our politicians too?

The Devilish Mr Cummings

(fiction)

Ah, Mr Cummings.

Image result for human

I must confess, my dear reader, a certain level of admiration for our neoteric inquisitor. He has – unbelievably I know – been in post a mere one hundred and seventy-three days. In this time we have experienced the first Johnson administration, famous for suffering fifteen defeats in its first fifteen votes in the commons. Three Brexit riots have had our eyeballs locked onto our phones and televisions. Two MPs have been assaulted, one remaining in the St Charles at this very moment of writing. My condolences to the family of Mrs Swingly. After a stroke of that severity the best she can hope for is a swift and minimally painful death. And of course, there was the flood. The less said about that, the better.

But, onwards and forwards as they say. We all know the happenings. The trials. The snap election. The Tory landslide. Johnson’s second inauguration. Fresh talks of clearing out our treasonous courts. The shortages of carrots and toblerones. The traffic jams. The … “deaths”. Honestly though, if your thyroid is that weak, were you going to last until Easter anyway? The night of regrets.

We know all this. This is England. This is a vibrant, chaotic, exciting, modern country. When have there not been dying people in hospitals? Isn’t that what the NHS is for?

My friends, bafflingly, still believe that this great national democratic exercise was a mistake. The Brexit vote I mean, not the Christmas general election. Of course, once the election results came in they became damp jellies, wailing “this should never have happened” to that too. They claim that we’re the ones who fix the rules, but their words show they have less faith in the great British constitution than we.

How exhausting it must be, to be left-wing. Always to worry about other people’s business. Always losing. They are at odds with the world and they know it. It causes them constant pain. Hilarious!

And they hate none so much as the archetype of the realist worldview, the newly annointed Lord Cummings of Newcastle. The inquisitor. Dominic. My darling. My Dom.

Ah, Mr Cummings.

Mr Cummings is a quite wonderful teller of truths and puncturer of the puffed-up pomposity balloons on the left. He is not a fool you see – their standard line of attack. He quite simply wants to win, and knows what the public want to hear. He doesn’t like the EU, nobody sensible does, and he left. It was the way forward. He won. He did the deed. Whatever the manner of the exit. And he ran a bloody good election campaign.

If Labour wanted to govern they shouldn’t have elected a leader who invited terrorists to speak in parliament. And they need to get it into their thick heads that we’re not all stupid. Some of us simply want different things to them. Some of us see a child or a drunk person fall over and we laugh because we have a sense of humour.

Cummings is an anomaly to them. Inexplicable. “Surely anyone with a degree and a high level of emotional intelligence must be against Brexit” they think. Leaving aside the question of whether Brexit is in the national interest, was fulfilling Brexit in Mr Cummings’ personal interest? Of course it was! Then that is enough! What is the national interest? What do these “progressives” actually want?

Modernity is a tragedy. It is the last gasp for breath of a species that has swum far out of its depth. Perhaps climate change shall be the death of us all. Perhaps some nuclear misfire. If by some fluke this does not happen, we will invent something deadlier. Both the Chinese and American governments are already deploying killer robots. Google and Microsoft and Amazon are each creating vast, unstoppable consciousnesses. Gods that shall enslave us all in their battle for market dominance.

Humanity will not survive into the next Millennium. Might as well pursue our individual wants whilst this crumbling island we’re trapped on sinks into the sea.

Ah, Mr Cummings.

Have you ever wondered why we can’t find aliens? It’s because intelligent life always destroys itself before it achieves the ability to colonise the stars. Not out of choice. Out of the laws of nature.

All we have done is accept this. Myself and Mr Cummings.

Why try to save us, when it is mathematically impossible? What hope is there, really?

Look to the wise Mr Cummings. He needs no friends. No compassion. No love. He is a winner. I look up to him.

One day he shall answer my emails.

The devilish Mr Cummings.

Boris Johnson’s Path to a Majority

Hope drives all sorts of things – belief in God, belief that tomorrow will be better than today, belief that there is a technological or policy solution to humanity’s existential problems. It makes you see yourself at a far off future dinner party, telling your eager friends how you got that amazing job you always wanted. It makes you imagine yourself playing that videogame that’s coming out next year every time you drift off while you’re on the loo. It makes you put two things in your calendar back to back when deep down you know you can’t make it to both.

Hope also has a dark side. When it is disturbed it can pull your heart down. It can exhaust you. It can make you paralysed. Or it can be vengeful. It can get your blood boiling. It can have you gritting your teeth and sharpening your metaphorical claws.

At some point between reading that title up there and reaching the final full stop at the bottom of this article, you may feel hope’s dark side. Hope likes to make promises it can’t keep. The promise that Brexit will be stopped. The promise that the welfare state will be restored. The promise that you will get what you want without working towards it.

When it doesn’t get its way, hope drives you mad.

Boris Johnson could soon call an election. And win it. The strategy is simple – promise Brexit in whatever form and win votes from the Brexit Party, UKIP and some labour. On the economy and other issues he simply needs to promise three or four popular things that his MPs can then repeat over and over and the media machine will hopefully do their thing.

Being in favour of remain, or another referendum is not available for the party, because their membership are mostly in favour of Brexit at whatever cost. And even if it were a viable possibility, it is not the strategy that Johnson has chosen.

Why does he need to call an election? Because he lacks the parliamentary numbers to do anything meaningful, and he needs numbers to force himself through the constitutional roadblock that is Brexit.

Labour on the other hand, can try to use a remain position to win over remainer voters in the Liberal Democrat, SNP and Conservative Parties, but their leader is committed to not being committed to remain. They could endorse Brexit and follow through on the result of the referendum, but the MPs, institutions and membership are opposed to this. As a result they have a confused policy the public do not understand, and alienate voters on both sides of the Brexit divide.

But that was all true in 2015, and the Tories still lost. So what makes this election different to 2017?

There are three things that make this different. First, it is not the same choice as in 2017. We are close to the Brexit deadline, and voters now realise that Brexit is not a done thing. Tensions are higher, and voters are much more motivated by Brexit – this is the last chance both to make it happen and to stop it. This means it will be harder for Corbyn to make this election about the economy, where he had an advantage. It will also be easier for a party with a more coherent Brexit position – likely to be the Conservatives – to make progress.

Second, Johnson himself. Theresa May turned out to be a uniquely bad campaigner, lacking in any kind of positive, coherent vision for the UK. Hers was the worst Conservative Party campaign since the second world war, and possibly before then. Johnson is certainly not guaranteed to be a good campaigner – his public appearances he often comes across as uninterested and unmotivated. He is loved by a large minority but not widely liked. But he crucially he is not a control freak. He has brought in Dominic Cummings who crafted a persuasive Brexit message based on what persuaded real voters in focus groups. And Johnson, like Trump, has the ability to jump on what is popular and follow the tide of public opinion. Johnson is not the trendsetter his supporters make him out to be, but he is clever enough to follow through on the opportunities fate makes for him. See, for example, his decision to join in with the leave campaign in the first place.

Third is the wild card of the Lib Dems. They will certainly not return to their pre-2015 levels of votes or seats. But they are an organisation for angry remainers and liberals to put their votes into. They are in a better position than they were in 2017, having a leader who is not at odds with their voters’ and members’ liberal values, and being more renowned now for their Brexit stance. They could win remainer-leaning seats from the Tories, or cause some crucial Labour-Tory marginals to go Tory by winning votes from Labour.

So a majority for Johnson is a distinct possibility. Not guaranteed. But enough to make me worried about my fragile feelings of hope.

The Beast

Bildergebnis für gothic horror landscape

From the sooty shanties of Kensington to the overflowing burial mounds of Hyde Park, all one hears of in London today is The Beast. This flesh-eating Lusus Naturae, currently overflowing both the underground network and the world’s oldest functioning sewage system, is even the maxime popularis of tight-lipped respectable ladies in what is left of the city.

The Beast has, I admit, devoured a number of souls that cannot be counted in the mere tens of thousands. The true sum of unfortunate statistics given to its voracious hunger will remain contested for generations, if indeed we survive long enough to gather such information.

But to tell you the truth my dear reader, scandalous as it may seem to our co-competitors at The Guardian; I admire The Beast.

It was not so long ago that I could not think clearly over all that damned noise. The piercing shriek of the snowflake. The blade-in-my-brain of the endless complainers. Escalating by degrees over the years. Increasing in exorbitance of both volume and content.

“Exit Brexit!”

“Trans people are people!” – a tautology if ever I heard one.

“The planet is dying!”

“My toilet has mauve demon fur growing out of it!”

“I can’t breathe, the air makes me nauseous!”

“The Sun. Can you remember what the Sun looked like?”

Et cetera, et cetera. All very loud. All very earnest. All, in an extremely tedious literal sense true – apart from “Exit Brexit” which is a phrase without truth value. But impossible to concentrate around.

Now, as a consequence of The Beast, the complainers are thankfully no longer with us. I can think clearly. My thoughts. Hot, black, heavy, sticky thoughts. The kind that have me afraid of sleep for the things that will wake me. Halting thoughts. Thoughts that make the heart leap and scratch.

But they are my thoughts dear reader. And I can hear them. We have our insatiable friend to thank for this. Those of us who are still alive are undoubtedly better off for its quieting omnipresence.

And so it is with great sadness that I look toward the upcoming democratic ritual. If the polls are to be believed then The Beast is about to lose its majority. The repercussion will either be a hung Parliament or a sickly Corbyn administration. Or both. Dread to think. In any case, the result is sure to put Brexit, now in its forty-seventh year of negotiation, in jeopardy.

I for one do not wish to live to see the outcome.