Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Best of Bill Hicks

(Pic : picstopin.com)

Twenty years ago today, the world lost one of the greatest comedians of all time. Even if his material was a little dark, a little cynical, a little misanthropic and a little tin foil hattish, it's worth going through and trying to find some prize quotes.


                         

“I ascribe to Mark Twain's theory that the last person who should be President is the one who wants it the most. The one who should be picked is the one who should be dragged kicking and screaming into the White House.”

"Here's another idea that should be punctured, the idea that childbirth is a miracle. I don't know who started this rumor but it's not a miracle. No more a miracle than eating food and a turd coming out of your butt. It's a chemical reaction and a biological reaction.....

"....Did you know that when a guy comes, he comes 200 million sperm? And you're trying to tell me that your child is special because one out of 200 million -- that load! We're talking one load! -- connected. Gee, what are the fucking odds? 200 million; you know what that means? I have wiped civilizations off my chest with a gray gym sock. That is special. Entire nations have flaked and crusted in the hair around my navel! That is special. And I want you to remember that, you two egg-carrying beings out there, with that holier-than-thou 'we have the gift of life' attitude. I've tossed universes...in my underpants...while napping! Boom! A milky way shoots into my jockey shorts, 'Aaaah, what's for fucking breakfast?' "

                         


"Another thing. This idea of 'I'm offended'. Well I've got news for you. I'm offended by a lot of things too. Where do I send my list? Life is offensive. You know what I mean? Just get in touch with your outer adult. And grow up. And move on. Reasonable people don't write letters because... A: They have lives and B, they understand it's just TV. C: If they see something they don't like, something they do like might be on later. I've seen many comics I've hated. I've seen many shows that have offended me. I've never written a letter. I just go about my life."

"I can't watch TV longer than five minutes without praying for nuclear holocaust. Really. On my hands and knees, wishing it upon every one of you. That's how much I love TV. Think it's great. I watched 'The Love Connection'. That's gotta be the most depressing show I've ever seen in my life. Adult human beings on national television, groveling for dates. Have some self-respect: stay home and jerk off, man. Guys, buy a Hustler, toss off a load, go about your fucking day, all right? Have some dignity."

"During the LA riots English people were trying to sympathize with me, 'Oh Bill, crime is horrible. If it's any consolation, crime is awful here, too.' Shut up. This is Hobbiton and I'm Bill-bo Hicks … You gotta see English crime. It's hilarious. You don't know if you're reading the front page or the comic section over there. I swear to God. I read an article front page of the paper one day, in England: 'Yesterday, some hooligans knocked over a dustbin in Shaftesbury.' … Wooooo. The hooligans are loose! The hooligans are loose! … What if they become ruffians? I would hate to be a dustbin in Shaftesbury tonight."


                        


“A lot of Christians wear crosses around their necks. You think when Jesus comes back he ever wants to see a fucking cross? It's like going up to Jackie Onassis wearing a rifle pendant.”


"Once again the useless wastes of fucking flesh has ruined everything good in this goddamn world! That's where we're at. Hitler had the right idea! He was just an underachiever! Kill 'em all, Adolf! All of 'em! Jew, Mexican, American, White, kill 'em all! Start over! The experiment didn't work! Rain 40 days, please fucking rain to wash these turds off my fucking life! Wash these human wastes of flesh and bone off this planet! I pray to you, God, to kill these fucking people! "
- To someone who shouted "Freebird".

“I do have a healthy skepticism, I think we all should. But I think if you listen closely enough, you’ll find that my message, if I as a joke-blower could be pompous enough to have one, is that we’re all alright and it’s gonna work out. I don’t find that cynical at all.”

"Here's what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace."

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Euro 2016 Qualifying Draw - Dare to dream?

(Pic : UEFA)
The draw for the 2016 UEFA European Championships qualifying stage was made earlier today.

The 2016 tournament has expanded to 24 teams. France have already qualified as hosts, so the top two teams qualify automatically along with the best third-placed team. The other third-placed teams will go to play-offs.

That means the usual suspects – Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Italy etc. - are effectively guaranteed a place, along with the bigger second-rung nations like Croatia, Sweden, Ukraine, Russia etc.

Qualification games are often crap, and it looks like it's same old same old this time around. There really needs to be an overhaul.

Wales

1. Bosnia-Herzegovina
2. Belgium
3. Israel
4. WALES
5. Cyprus
6. Andorra

The kindest qualification draw in a long, long time, only spoilt by the last ball (Belgium). You would expect Belgium to win the group with Bosnia second. If we had got Hungary, Czechs, Ireland or Denmark, Wales would've been challenging for an automatic place. As it is, a play-off place is a realistic expectation, possibly even a fight for second. If Wales manage that, then judging by the other groups, possible play-off opponents would include the likes of Slovenia, Ireland, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria – all beatable.

But this is Wales we're talking about, and it's not as if we hasn't slipped up against the likes of Cyprus before. The lessons about being positive are always learnt the hard way with Wales. The U-21s even lost to San Marino last year.

England

1. ENGLAND
2. Switzerland
3. Slovenia
4. Estonia
5. Lithuania
6. San Marino

Not much to say here other than I'd fully expect England to qualify undefeated. It's a very weak group and it would probably be a question of how many goals England score in each game. I suspect Premier League managers might be happy as there's lots of opportunity for squad rotation and a chance for younger players to get experience.

Scotland, Republic of Ireland & Gibraltar

1. Germany
2. Poland
3. REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
4. SCOTLAND
5. Georgia
6. GIBRALTAR

Arguably, all three find themselves in the "Group of Death". Germany will walk the group for sure, but it promises to be one hell of a scrap for second and third place. You would perhaps expect Poland to get second place, with third decided between Scotland and Ireland. Gibraltar make their international tournament qualifying debut here, and acquitted themselves well in their first ever game against Slovakia.

Northern Ireland

1. Greece
2. Hungary
3. Romania
4. Finland
5. NORTHERN IRELAND
6. Faroe Islands

Not a good draw for them with Greece, Romania, Hungary and Finland - though that makes top of Group F look very open. Northern Ireland will really have to improve on their World Cup qualifying campaign if they're going to secure a top-three finish. Staying home, methinks.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Democracy 3 : Who wants to run a country?

"What pushed people over the edge was by plastic bag tax.
A few turns later my body was turned into Swiss cheese by a Patriot terrorist group."
(Pic : rockpapershotgun.com)



Democracy 3
, released in October 2013, is a rare breed – a government/political simulator. It's not a genre that's taken off, despite several attempts to get the format right – via the likes of Crisis in the Kremlin, Tropico, Sim City, 4X games like Civilization etc.

As you might expect I would be interested in that, so I've been playing it for the last week.

You can take control of a few real countries : UK, Germany, US, France etc. Each "turn" lasts 3 months, and you can set how long the terms are, term limits and even whether there's a monarchy.

You build up "political capital" to "spend" on new policies. How much political capital you have depends on the loyalty and capabilities of your cabinet – who you can hire and fire as you please, even via reshuffles.

Each country is – disappointingly – a two-party state, so you don't get the nuances of multi-party legislatures and you don't get involved in things like debates. On top of this you have random events – freedom of information laws, deporting terror suspects, legalising euthanasia and, if you're running a monarchy, royal scandals.

There are around twenty sub-sections of the population you need to placate in order to win elections.

Patriots, for example, dislike foreign aid, want secure borders and like initiatives like Armed Forces Day. Liberals dislike CCTV cameras, want less strict drug and immigration laws, and support things like racial discrimination legislation. Capitalists want lower business taxes, longer working weeks, less trade union support etc. So you can't please everyone at the same time, and this affects their likelihood to vote for you in elections.
There are only so many plastic bags a true patriot is willing to pay for....
In my first game, I decided to push the envelope. So I abolished the armed forces by cutting their funding to nowt, scrapped all taxes except income tax – which I hiked to 80%, legalised all drugs, prostitution and gun ownership, set no minimum age for drinking and put CCTV cameras pretty much everywhere.

With a deficit running into hundreds of billions per quarter, I was surprisingly unpopular, with pressure groups becoming armed and radicalised – including the nuns. What pushed people over the edge though was my plastic bag tax. A few turns later my body was turned into Swiss cheese by an armed Patriot terrorist group.
The "Won't Somebody Think Of The Children" Vote - pretty much everyone -
cost me my first election. The first election I lived to see, anyway.
(Pic : funnyjunk.com)
Second time around, I tried to tone things down a little, though events elsewhere had an impact. There was a long, deep recession, not helped by spikes in oil prices causes by terrorist attacks. I tried to steady the ship by cutting business taxes, freezing public spending and boosting some benefits for those out of work. This was topped up by new taxes – the plastic bag tax going down better this time around.

With the poll ratings looking close, I thought, "It's been a miserable 5 years. Oh, what the hell. Drugs for you, drugs for me. Drugs for everyone!"

I lost the election by a landslide.
"By my fifth consecutive term in office...."
(Pic : dailygrindhouse.com)
The third game I tried to adopt prevailing public policy of "not doing anything". "Not doing anything" works. In fact, it worked too well. I just tweaked taxes here and there, made sure spending on public services held up, and tried not to introduce too many new policies.

People liked that. They liked it a lot. So, in the resulting economic boom from my boost to science funding, I decided to throw policies at people. Free children's clubs – boom. Cut sales tax to 15% - got it.

It snowballed. Carbon tax, internet tax, legalised cannabis (and taxed), mortgage tax relief, start-up grants, robotics grants, city farms, no limit abortions, no teaching creationism in schools, full rehabilitation for prisoners....

By my fifth consecutive term in office : people are stoned out of their minds, hookers are a more common on the roads than streetlights as I redirected funds into public transport from road maintenance. Organised crime has skyrocketed due to prostitution and no-stakes gambling. For creating this utopia, I win elections with 90%+ of the vote.

So, played three times. One ended in assassination, another in a landslide election defeat, and the last created a one party bong state with me Prime Minister for, effectively, life.

I guess it's best I stick to blogging about politics.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Wait! There's a film about Lego!?

(Pic : Forbes)

It's safe to say that Lego used to be – a long time ago - one of my favourite things to do when not outside. I built absolutely everything I could think of out of it. The pride and joy of my collection was a space shuttle.

If something fell apart, you would get angry about it, but it would also teach you the basics of engineering, geometry and design by a process of trial and error.

If you're walking around in the dark, with a random selection of toys on the floor to step on, a single Lego brick would be the first to find your feet – and you would regret it instantly, learning to put stuff away properly as a result.

I fully expected to, when older, stumble from stores leaving a trail of multi-coloured bricks behind me as I'm escorted from the premises by security. Then, in a dank alley, I melt down the bricks into a spoon and inject them into the nearest plasticised vein, my head turning yellow with nothing but a vacant grin.

It didn't quite work out like that, and I haven't played with Lego for at least 18 years.

It seems most sets at present have franchise tie-ins, and instead of a simple :), every lego man and woman comes with a range of expressions. Now they've actually gone and made a movie.

They sold out, man. It used to be about the bricks. This is like when Metallica released Load.

But you can also see why they did that.

If they just sold the blocks, they wouldn't make much money and they can't come up with new products. I don't think it impinges on the creativity side of things at all, it's just a sign of the times. Kids probably don't just want a generic pirate ship nowadays, but a Pirates of the Caribbean pirate ship.

The sets and pieces seem over-engineered – due to advances in the computer design process - in such a way that it's very hard to build anything other than whatever's on the front of the box. But it also means the models themselves are accurate and detailed in a way my younger self could only dream of.

It's like comparing Megadrive to Xbox360. Same thing, yet completely different.

So maybe instead of wondering whether Lego has "Sold Out", it's worth letting a new generation do whatever the hell they want with it. That's the whole point after all. The future is now.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Down in a Hole

This isn't a reference to where Arsenal's defence disappeared to yesterday afternoon.
(Pic : e-flux.com)

Florida is like the United States equivalent of Australia – regardless of what it is, something is trying to kill you. Even the ground you walk on isn't exempt.

Earlier this week, BBC's Horizon : Swallowed by a Sinkhole (available on iPlayer), presented by geologist, Prof. Iain Stewart, looked into a freak incident where Florida residen, Jeff Bush, disappeared into a sinkhole that opened underneath his bedroom.

He was never seen again, nobody knows how far down Jeff went, and his body is unrecoverable. The house has since been demolished and cordoned off.

The precise cause of sinkholes appears to be multi-faceted. In the case of Florida, it in part relates to massive limestone deposits underground that get hollowed out by thousands of years of water and acid erosion. Layers of clay above these hollows act as a "cap" between the soil and the cave. If the clay fails suddenly, then everything collapses into the hole.

Because areas prone to sinkholes have been built on extensively, and because human activity is affecting things like the water table, they're becoming more commonly reported.

You do wonder if, with all the old mine workings and limestone quarries etc. we have in Wales, whether this sort of thing could happen here to a greater extent one day. Worth considering.

A massive hole swallowing you suddenly and without warning - regardless of the slim chances of it actually happening - seems like something we should all be evolutionary conditioned to be afraid of.

You go to bed at night, fast asleep, then a few hours later you wake the moment you and your bed plummets 50 feet into an open chasm, your screams echoing into into darkness, as though the Earth's crust has singled you out for consumption.

That's incredibly terrifying....

....but also up there as one of the most metal ways to die ever.

So, my first concern would be - what soundtrack should play you off the surface of the planet?

Slayer - Crypts of Eternity

                            

From the – appropriately-titled - Hell Awaits album :
Devious to those unknown
He walks below the land
Alluring victims to their death
Perish to the sand

I'm sure Prof. Stewart would argue acid erosion isn't devious or a person, but I think it works.

Grim Reaper – See You In Hell

                            

A guilty pleasure of mine. Steve Grimmett flogs sat navs nowadays, but still has the voice of a Norse God. What better way to acknowledge the Earth saying you're too awesome to walk upon its soil than a screaming, "See you in Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeell"?

Meshuggah – Bleed

                            

Tomas Haake is arguably amongst the best drummers in the world at present.  Bleed is about external forces leading you to an early grave - in this case an aneurysm. I suppose a sinkhole could be considered the Earth's version of an aneurysm. Plus it underlines the cruelty of the random nature of sinkholes if you're unfortunate enough to be caught in one.
Falling into the clarity of undoing
Scornful gods haggle for my soul
Minds eye flickers and vellicates as I let go
Taunting whispers accompany my deletion

AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long

                           

I goes without saying that if the world opened up, and you disappeared 100 metres below the surface whilst in a tryst with a lady friend(s), songs would be sung about your sexual prowess until humans lose the ability to sing.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Six Nations 2014 Predictions

Can Wales do it again?
Yeah, why not?
(Pic : ITV)
It's that time of year again, meaning another opportunity to display my prowess at prediction and get this spectacularly wrong.

England


Talented, definitely. Ready to challenge for honours, maybe. They've threatened to steamroll the Six Nations for the last several years but it's never quite come off, perhaps because they have great individual players but lack a little depth and speed. It's not the last opportunity for players to show what they can do before next year's World Cup, but it's the start of the selection process, and I'm sure many players will want to stand out and put themselves in contention.

Prediction : 2nd

France

They were woeful last year, but it's said France tend to win tournaments following a Lions tour. With the number of absentees that's going to be tough work. They'll need to rely on flair and tricks, which could make them brittle against the physically larger sides. They've been poor over the last several years despite the success of French clubs, though they have three home games in their favour - but have to go on the road to Wales. Not convinced they'll do much.

Prediction : 4th

Ireland

Hard to place. You could see Ireland challenging for the title – which would be a fitting farewell for Brian O'Driscoll - but they have a habit of chucking victories away. With two big away games against England and France there's plenty of opportunity for them to do so. They do have pretty much everything in place to make a real go of it, with Joe Schmidt bringing a winning pedigree from his time at Leinster. Dark horses, worth a flutter.

Prediction : 3rd

Italy

Italy had – by their standards – an excellent Six Nations in 2013, it's a question of whether they can repeat it. Judging by their more recent performances that's easier said than done, and they must've been dreading starting off against Wales in Cardiff. They have at least two "star players" in Sergio Parisse and Mirco Bergamasco, but a large chunk of the squad are starting to age. Could be rough.

Prediction : 5th

Scotland

They're still some way from being competitive. Scotland lack a cutting edge despite getting into good positions to score tries, it's almost all about the defence – which isn't that great either. They're also prone to picking up injuries and lack a bit of depth, and there's not much Scott Johnson can do about that. It's clearly between them and Italy for the wooden spoon. With that game taking place in Rome you've got to point to the spoon heading north.

Prediction : 6th

Wales

For once, Wales are in the peculiar position of being many people's (and pundit's) favourites. I doubt it's bias to say that the tag of favourites is deserved. The clowning around off the pitch between the WRU and the regions – on paper – shouldn't impact things too much. Most of the big names are there. Barring any serious injuries, Wales should have enough to make it three in a row for the first time ever. I could see the results going similarly to last year – lose to Ireland, win the rest.

Prediction : 1st (....that's jinxed it).

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