Skin in the Game in Education

The idea of cameras in classrooms has come up recently in the US as part of the ongoing discussion of Crititical Race Theory (CRT) anti-White racism. Here is a short article from Breitbart by John Nolte responding to an article from Huffington Post which I didn’t bother reading. Apparently, public school teachers in America are outraged at the idea of their student’s parents being able to see into their classroom. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone with even a passing familiarity with a public education. Accountability is something to be avoided at all costs and teacher’s unions have done a truly commendable job of making sure that they aren’t — especially it appears in America.

Now I want to get the usual stuff out of the way before continuing. Teaching can be a very demanding job and I would say the average teacher (at least in my experience), is earnest and hard working enough. The main problem I’ve found generally is an inflated sense of self-importance. This is partly the fault of society but the education industry is also rife with ghastly self-congratulatory propaganda despite what is an ever lowering bar of educational attainment. As Joe Sobran much more starkly puts it:

“In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching Remedial English in college.”

Despite what we hear to the contrary, educating children shouldn’t be all that complicated and there are very simple ways education could be improved. As far as silver-bullets go, having cameras in classrooms would be worth a try. Though I don’t think it will happen, the outraged reaction to the suggestion is very telling.

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The Fascinating Backdrop

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Lost in Translation is a 2003 film directed by Sophia Coppola and starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. From 1998’s Rushmore onwards, Murray transitioned into more dramatic roles and this is already one of his best remembered since this transition. The film also launched the career of Johansson who was only a teenager at the time. While it is certainly an excellent film in its own right, the backdrop of Japan became a focus for much of the films audience including this writer.

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A Humble Book for a Humble Man

askiwata
Ask Iwata, edited by Hobonichi, Viz Media, May 27th, 2021

Satoru Iwata was the CEO of Nintendo from 2002 until his unexpected death from cancer in 2015. He was only 55 when he died which is very young for the long-living Japanese and a surprise for many people around the world who had become quite fond of him. In noticing his relative youth in death, it is hard to not to also notice his amazing rise to CEO of one of the most recognisable companies in the world when in his early forties. At the time of his death, Iwata had become more than a CEO as he had fostered a close an endearing public persona with his customers and was also well-liked in the industry. The quote from him on the back cover of this book well illustrates this:

“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”

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Seeing Black America – Part 2

I wrote Part 1 last month and this will be the second and final part.

Before I get into this part, there are a couple of asides I want to add for context.

My early upbringing was in rural Australia and I almost never saw anyone of another race except on television and this was generally from American TV shows. Even when living in a city for most of the 90s, almost everyone around me was White except for very few people of various “token” races in schools and who I would see around the city. Other cities in Australia such as Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane were more “diverse” but my home city didn’t become so until much more recently. I add this because it made Black Americans more of curiosity for me than they would have been for Americans and I did find myself naturally observing them more. As well as this, I was interested in asking them questions that perhaps Americans wouldn’t such as when I asked a girl why she was putting oil in her hair. I honestly had no idea at the time that their hair was naturally frizzy and needed oil to keep straight. After being told, I finally understood how the afro came to be.

The next aside is a show I came across while still at the university that I used to watch with my roommate. This was Chappelle’s Show which had stopped its run but was still very popular among students and the DVDs were passed around quite commonly. I ended up buying both seasons for my brother as a present before I came home later that year.

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E3 is pointless and has been for years

Just over two years ago I wrote a diatribe called ‘The Absolute State of Video Games’ that covered various aspects of the gaming industry. One that I covered towards the end was the increasing irrelevance of gaming media as publishers and developers are now able to deal very directly with their customers through websites like YouTube and Twitter among many others. A number of large gaming websites have gone bust over the last decade and the ones that remain increasingly focus on comics, film, television and popular culture and far less exclusively on video games. 

There has also been an increase in political/social activism which I would argue really began around 2012 and became very obvious with #GamerGate a few years later. This was initially thought to be clickbait for their dwindling audiences and while this was somewhat true, it was more than this. Seeing articles like, ‘How I learned to embrace Lesbianism playing Sega Bass Fishing on Dreamcast’ certainly provokes curiosity from potential readers but behind this was a concerted effort to converge the medium as well as the industry. These people were all entryist wreckers whether they were conscious of it or not. 

The last time I wrote on this subject, a commenter claimed that this was simply the result of more educated writers taking a more critical eye on the industry. This is an absurd claim as most of these articles are more about the writer than the medium as my thankfully fake but all too plausible example above shows. The topic is less video games but the writer’s own interests grafted awkwardly onto video games. These writers mostly do like video games in much the same way as the average person likes watching television. Their main interests lie elsewhere though and this is simply a vehicle to voice them. And one they will (and do), abandon when the first more lucrative opportunity presents itself. The remaining employees that have a genuine interest in the industry have either acquiesced to the changes to their working environment or are no longer part of it. The genuinely in-depth and thoughtful journalism I’ve read has almost been done by freelance writers and rarely the employed staff.

This transition coincided with these website’s articles becoming little more than facsimiles for publisher press releases. Many articles today (do go look for yourself), are simply embedded tweets, YouTube videos or quotes of press releases with a brief editorial to make it appear as more. Worse still, the writers often hide the information from the headline as a flagrant way to maintain web traffic. This practice is so ubiquitous that I am sure parent companies have insisted on it as a way to prevent the continued loss of readers and advertising. 


Why not go straight to the source?

If you’re wondering how any of this can be accurate since many of these websites still exist, well this is largely due to the parent companies just mentioned. They can afford to make losses so as to maintain a presence in the industry. There are only a handful of prominent websites that aren’t owned by a much larger parent media company with several more reliable income streams holding the website up. Nearly every major gaming website would go down within a few years of been cast out on their own and many will anyway. 

This brings us finally to E3 2021

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Conan’s Great Uncle Kull

After reading every known scrap Robert E. Howard wrote about both Conan and Solomon Kane last year, I have since moved backward is his oeuvre to Kull of Atlantis. Only three Kull stories were published in Howard’s short but prodigious literary career and one of these was a cameo in a Bran Mak Morn story. He did write more than he ever saw published including a number of unfinished stories. 

Unlike with Solomon Kane, I was somewhat familiar with Kull due to the 1997 Kevin Sorbo film, Kull the Conqueror. I saw that film a few years after it was released and I don’t remember liking it. This was when Sorbo was well known for the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys television show (which I quite liked at the time), and doing a sword-and-sorcery film was a natural fit for the actor. Interestingly, it was originally to be a Conan film but this didn’t work out for a number of reasons. The film itself is a mix of stories but is closest to the only Conan novel, The Hour of the Dragon (also known as Conan the Conqueror). This novel itself is a mishmash of previously written Conan stories. There are also elements of The Phoenix and the Sword, the first Conan story which was a re-write of the completed but previously rejected, By This Axe I Rule! — a Kull story! To add further confusion, the antagonist of the original Schwarzenegger Conan film, Thulsa Doom is actually from a Kull story too.

 As you shall see, the history of the film adaptions well reflects the confusing history of the source material. 

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Seeing Black America – Part 1

The last two years have been especially turbulent with regards to race relations in the United States. I have written a couple of posts on aspects of this but never really anything much directly on the topic. What I write her will be somewhat biographical as I deal with my direct experiences with the reality of race relations in America. Before I visited the United States, I had a very different image of it born mostly through cinema and television. So while I knew about the “urban” demographic, I had a more romantic idea of the reality. Actually going to America and seeing and experiencing this with my own eyes as well as hearing it from Americans had me rethinking a lot of my assumptions and not in the way the powers that be would desire.

These were all experiences from fifteen years ago as of writing and things have clearly gotten a lot worse. This isn’t just a “this one time I went to New York and saw a mugging” story either. In fact, I didn’t witness any crimes directly. What I did was see a lot more of the country than most tourists do and spent time directly with Americans away from famous landmarks and tourist trails.

The first part will be my experiences while attending college for a semester and I will warn people that find this browsing or by chance that this will be *ahem* racially insensitive but I add (no doubt pointlessly), that I harbour no ill will to Black Americans.

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There is no Scooby-Doo Ending

Whatever the animation company, almost every cartoon on television I watched as a child had the same formula. The bad guys would hatch some convoluted and ridiculous plot and the good guys would put an end to it just after the third ad break with the bad guys vowing that the next time their plan would succeed. Sometimes there was a multi-part special or the odd episode where it transcended this formula but this was generally what you could expect. Off the top of my head this was true of G.I. Joe, Pokémon, Captain Planet, X-Men and a whole bunch of other shows.

Scooby-Doo was similarly formulaic but the bad guys changed with each episode. I haven’t watched it for a long time but I recall that they always got caught, admitted what they’d done and were brought to justice. While in one sense, it is good for children to see a clear distinction between good and evil and justice being served, this is not the reality of the world. Thinking about it, earlier works of fiction for children were far more grim and realistic with stark lessons to be taken away. This is particularly so for most fairy tales as they were originally told.

It seems there is a never-ending debate about what children should and should not be exposed to while growing up. This I should stress is one among people who genuinely want to raise children well and not amongst the growing legions of people trying to corrupt them. There are things children should definitely not be exposed to but there are also very bad things that it is best they are aware of. The true nature of evil is one such example.

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The Setting of the Rising Sun


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Rising Sun by Michael Crichton, Alfred a Knopf Inc, January 27th, 1992

Rising Sun is a novel written by Michael Crichton while he was still at the height of his literary powers. It was published after Jurassic Park and before Disclosure — the latter of which I have not read.* All three were successful novels that were quickly adapted into successful films.

The subject matter of the novel is rather out of date today and it is best read as a period novel, as the issues of the time now seem rather quaint. The title is both obvious but still clever with three levels of meaning that I could pick out. The obvious being a direct reference to Japan as the land of the rising sun. The next being its position at the time as a major world power that was expected by many to eclipse the economic power of the United States. This features heavily in the plot with the two detectives investigating a murder at the Nakamoto Corporation. The last meaning can be seen in the time much of the story takes place where the detectives are racing against the sunrise to solve the murder. The actual plot goes on three nights though.

Although I’m certainly not very familiar with the genre, the book and film both have elements of classic American detective fiction and film noir. A quick search supports this as it wasn’t lost on critics. The film follows the book as closely as one could hope with the only major changes being the white character Peter Smith becoming the black Webster Smith. This was at a time when race-swapping characters was done less maliciously and absurdly than today. It also actually works as racism is a strong thematic element and the buddy cop dynamic found in the Lethal Weapon series had been well-received by audiences.

Almost thirty years later, things are very different. At the time of publication, the Japanese economy had already begun to decline and the fears of Japanese dominance now seem laughable though Crichton’s observations about American politicians and corporations willingly selling out their nation to foreigners are all too accurate. Nowadays, Japan has been usurped by its unfriendly neighbor China but remains a strong and (more importantly) stable nation. The United States today needs no help from foreigners to commit economic and cultural suicide. Americans could be now forgiven for wishing the Japanese had come to dominate the country.

Crichton’s style in all the novels I’ve read was to have characters explain scientific concepts or some other extended but relevant piece of trivia to another character or characters. He excelled at having things explained in ways that most readers could easily follow and while I’m sure literary pedants found it wanting, I always found these asides fascinating.

In Rising Sun, Crichton has the character John Connor explain different aspects of Japanese culture to the protagonist, Peter Smith. Although some critics seemed determined to have found fault with the novel (and the film) for being anti-Japanese, Connor is sympathetic to the Japanese and I suspect Crichton was too. As I lived in Japan for a decade fifteen years after the novel’s publication, I found these parts of particular interest.

In the film, John Connor is portrayed by Sean Connery and his commentary on the Japanese is far briefer — as is his use of their language. It also seems to have been changed to be more sympathetic to the Japanese though I would maintain that Crichton’s main target is the willingness of Americans to voluntarily sell themselves out and not Japan’s willingness to take advantage of this.

What follows are some of the extended quotes from John Connor which I found interesting and my commentary. As a last aside, I am a bit puzzled as to why Crichton used that name for the character as Terminator 2: Judgement Day was released the year before, is set in the same city and is still a much loved film today. Realistically though, it is a fairly common sort of name so it still works.

On to the commentary.

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The Genre Amalgamation

Just over a month ago I happened on a post from David V. Stewart which was very similar to something I had been contemplating on modern gaming. His post dates 2007 as Ground Zero for video games because that was the year when innovation in game development essentially froze. Almost all the most successful series that year saw major releases that set the staple for what was to follow. Games have gotten much prettier since but there hasn’t been any major shifts in game design since. Stewart admits that dating it here has its imperfections and allows for significant releases in the previous and the following year.

Making these declarations is always open to criticism by pedants though and the year is a sound enough place to set a marker. Who could plausibly claim for example, that the Call of Duty series has seen significant evolution since 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare? How have RPGs changed in any significant way since Mass Effect? That’s just two of the games from the list. I should also add here that this applies to the mainstream or AAA games and that the lower budget or indie games have been far more innovative though even they seem to have fallen into a rut of late.

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