Woop!

1. I now have access to the electric internet again; my usual inconsistent pace of posting will return shortly.

2. I interviewed Vince Cable today, along with several other bloggers (see below).

3. I met several lovely fellow bloggers who I’ve not met before, including the regal Lady Mark, the owner of an excellent bag Jennie, the I’m-trying-desperately-to-resist-the-temptation-to-call-her Jo Crispy-Strips, the distinguished Mary Reid, the brilliant Alix, the lovely Helen Duffett, and of course the fluffy Millennium with his daddy Richard.

4. An evening in the pub’s always quite nice, innit?

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Election Night Reactions

So Dimbleby has disappeared from my screen (meh), as have Vine (hurrah!) and Alix (bah!). Things I have learned tonight:

1. I contributed today to the re-election of Sian Reid by quite some margin. So hooray. Not that I’m surprised – the only other party who bothered to deliver leaflets to me and my friends were the Tories. The best claim “In Touch” could make for representing students was “supporting” CUSU’s Access campaign. Pfft. Don’t get complacent, now, Sian.

2. The Lib Dems apparently exist in some kind of parallel universe whereby we compete in an electoral vacuum. This seems to me to be the only possible explanation of the BBC’s logic. In 2004, when these seats were last contested, we were riding the wave of anti-Iraq war protest votes, the Tories were steadily recovering but not exactly looking great, and Labour were deeply unpopular. This was, in short, prime Lib Dem electoral territory.

4 years later, the Tories are having a resurgence, and the Iraq war has died down. Apparently, therefore, a drop of 4% in our vote is a reason to berate us. This, despite the fact that we’ve just MADE NET GAINS IN COUNCILLORS, AND MAINTAINED OUR LEAD OVER LABOUR IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT, PUSHING THEM INTO 3RD PLACE FOR ONLY THE SECOND TIME IN MODERN POLITICAL HISTORY.

Yes, you heard me: We, the supposed third party of British politics, have just beaten Labour, the supposed party of government of British politics, into third place on projected national share of the vote. We’re doing pretty bloody well. And yet, in the BBC’s logic, we are to be berated because we’re not doing as well as a time when we did even better.

3. The Lib Dems got rid of Ming Campbell because we got 26% in the 2007 local elections. Which is funny, because I could have sworn I remembered something about poll numbers in October at around 13%, a terminal slump, and a media determined to sideline Ming, plus a bottled snap elecction. Must have been an idle daydream. You live and learn.

4. The BBC’s “projected national share of the vote”, when fed into their magic general election machine, gives Labour about 159 MPs and Lib Dems about 56 (if I remember correctly). This, lest you forget, off the back of Labour 24% of the vote, Lib Dems 25%. As fucking ludicrous as our electoral system is, even I have to conclude that the BBC’s election predicting machine has some pretty robust assumptions built into it.

Thank goodness for Alix, or I might have felt like I was going a bit bonkers.

Nigel Kneale: Do We Owe Him That Much?

Loz Miles has posted this interesting piece challenging the received wisdom on Nigel Kneale. OK, I know, not obviously Lib Dem, but there is undeniably a Doctor Who fan audience to be found here! Quote from the article:

The Quatermass serials have left us with a vague sense of superiority, without prompting us to question their meaning. And it’s a poor sort of television that only inspires mistrust. Kneale’s vision is an insular, mean-spirited one, in which everything unfamiliar is a threat; all human endeavour is worthless, if not actively dangerous; and anything which goes against the principles of old-school Britishness must be destroyed.

Intrigued? Irritated? Go read.

Whilst I’m plugging Lawrence, I will also point out that the updates to his bizarre new fictional blog seem to have started flowing again, too. Hurrah!

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Random Comedy Video Clip of the Week

from Maria Bamford, whose Edinburgh Fringe show I saw in 2006. It was good.

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A Lovely Surprise

Having noted the demolition notice hanging over Lawrence Miles’s Beasthouse for the last few months, I am pleased to see he has apparently thought better of this decision. Hurrah! And just in time for Christmas, too. Although he has broken his silence with a somewhat erratically numbered Advent Calendar feature. Either that, or he is doing his irritating deleting posts thing.

Anyway, that’s all from me today, since I am on a 9am shift tomorrow (it’s obscene, dammit! Don’t they know I’m a Student?!).

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Hurrah for Nintendo (the Lib Dems of Video Games)

Today’s BBC tech page features the news that the Wii has brought Nintendo a doubling of its profits. Which makes me happy. Even better, the Wii has sold twice as many units as the over-priced glorified Blu-ray player that is the PS3.

“Ah-hah”, any of you inclined to defend Sony cry, “surely that’s because the PS3 hasn’t been out for as long, and Christmas ’06 will have put a lot on the Wii’s figures”. Well, that would be fine, if the PS3 was outselling the Wii now. Which it’s not. Here is a lovely graph.

OK, then, so why should I be all that bothered about this? Surely I am celebrating one company making a huge amount of money rather than another company making that money, neither of which makes much difference to me? Well, yes and no. I am, it has to be said, a shameless Nintendo zealot. I bought a Gamecube and not a PS2, a rather more questionable choice than the one most consumers are making today. Why?

Well, Nintendo are just a nicer company. Throughout their history, they have been willing to be innovative and take risks with their products. Sometimes they have produced what can only be described as duds with this strategy. And on those occasions, only people who wanted to support Nintendo as a company bought their products. But on other occasions, they produced things that revolutionised the industry, and were immediately stolen by the other companies. I’m sure I don’t need to point out the parallel to the Lib Dems here.

So for instance, Nintendo gave the world the analogue control stick, immediately nicked by Sony, whose horrid PS1 controller was soon replaced with the swanky Dual Shock, a PS1 controller with not one but two analogue sticks shoved on the bottom. The next generation, there wasn’t much in the way of innovation, but still Sony couldn’t produce a controller that was anything like as nice to hold as Nintendo’s. This generation, of course, Nintendo have gone so far out of the box that they can hardly see it any more, with the Wiimote. As soon as the operating concept for the Wii was announced, of course, Sony once again set about ham fistedly stitching it into their plans for the PS3, with the result being the less than exciting Sixaxis. Very little so far has been done with it, compared with even the limited output on the Wii.

“Policy theft” aside, another parallel we might point to is “non-sensationalism”; the nature of the games that Nintendo makes its flagships compared with the other companies. Where Sony and Microsoft are all about wars and the “broken society“, with the selling point being essentially populism and shrouding themselves in glamourous clothing, Nintendo sells its games based on a sound philosophical underpinning based on characterful and slightly more wholesome franchises and, most importantly, interesting and innovative gameplay. As a recent article in Edge argued,

It’s these two factors – innovation and kid-appeal – that have remained at the core of Nintendo’s philosophy … And, although that assumption that Nintendo is for children may raise howls of frustration from dedicated grown-up fans, it’s a crucial point … whatever their real age, there’s no doubt that Nintendo perceives its audience to be childlike. Whether five or 50, Nintendo thinks of its gamers as playful, curious, eager to be delighted, ready to laugh. It’s not how Rockstar, Epic or Bungie would ever describe their target audience.

Indeed it isn’t. Before I leave this point, let me just make clear that by “wholesome”, I don’t mean “family” or “kiddie” oriented, I simply mean a game that isn’t intended to appeal to the most brainless instincts in a person. I equally think that applies to innovative games with rather more gritty clothes like the new Metroid game, or, on another platform, Deus Ex. The point is not that games be brightly coloured platformers; rather, it is about what the structure and gameplay of the games says about its creators’ expectations of the audience. Equally, the Lib Dems aren’t necessarily the “nice party”, in the sense that they haven’t got the guts to take difficult decisions (they have, you will be surprised to hear!) so much as they are the party who aren’t as interested in appealing to people’s more unpleasant nature.

Next, Nintendo are a company whose numbers add up. Not for them the practice of selling their consoles at a thumping loss in the hope of making the cash back from software sales. It’s just as well; unlike Sony they don’t have a large, succesful parent company to bail them out. Why do Sony think people want to pay such a lot of money for their product? Well, because they reckon (and they’re probably right) that what they’re offering is good value for money. The trouble is that not everyone wants all the things they are selling as an indivisible package. I already have a DVD player, I don’t want a console to act as one for me. I certainly don’t want to buy into the Blu-Ray side of the format war until the whole thing has died down.

As good liberals, of course, we know that the answer to this is for non-essential stuff to be left as a choice of the buyer, leaving them the option of having the money in their pocket. Which is why the Wii was launched at £180 and each one makes Nintendo a profit, whereas the PS3 launched at £425, and still made a loss with each unit sold.

Lastly, I guess, we have the superficial points. To many people’s eyes, Nintendo have been an underdog, (even though they have never been in the business of making losses – the Edge article again:

In 1993, when a slump took profits down to a still very handsome 23 per cent of sales, The Economist was startled enough to run an editorial asking if it was the beginning of the end. For a modern perspective that seems ludicrous: it’s hard to imagine how ecstatic Sony or Microsoft, both currently shouldering multi-million dollar losses, would be to be pocketing 23 per cent of their incomes. Nor has Nintendo’s golden goose status diminished. Its latest annual financial results show a 77 per cent rise in profits – ¥74.3 billion (£310 million) from total revenue of ¥966.5 billion (£4 billion).

Similarly, the Lib Dems are seen as an underdog, despite a massive trend over the last 30 years of movement upwards in the polls and a dash for our political territory. Meanwhile, we have Sony (the Tories), who are just bad, and Microsoft (Labour), who mean well but are just so hulking and over-centralising that one can’t get too enthusiastic about them. Sega (the SDP?) have now given up as a hardware producer, and now co-operate with Nintendo quite a lot. I think this metaphor is best left for dead now, not least because, in Sony’s videogaming infancy, they flirted with Sega, which would make Sony Labour and not the Tories. Never mind.

So yeah. Nintendo are lovely. And all good Lib Dems should go out today and find themselves a Wii (stock is still short, it seems; they are selling second hand online about £280 at the moment) and copies of Shigeru Miyamoto‘s masterpieces for it. I am not on commission, honest.

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Ashdown Enjoys Jenkins Breaking Wind

It was only towards the end of yesterday that I got round to finishing reading the Guardian and looked at the letters page. There, sat at the top of the page, was the following letter from Paddy Ashdown:

Simon Jenkins’s ability to break wind at length on your pages provides one of the Guardian’s most enjoyable and readable high points. His seeming aversion to ever expressing a modulated opinion somehow does not appear to diminish the pleasure.

But enthusiasm to make a point is not an excuse for inaccuracies. In his piece this week, he said I had “returned recently from Kabul consumed with imperial zeal” (It takes inane optimism to see victory in Afghanistan, Comment, August 8). In fact, I have never been to Kabul.

As for “imperial zeal”, which Sir Simon spends much of his article attaching to me and railing against, if he had read my recent book, Swords and Ploughshares, before commencing bombardment, he would have found it dedicated to the proposition that the era of imperial intervention is over – I call it “gunboat intervention” – and that we have to find a different way of doing things.

Finally, he accuses me of saying on your pages that success in Afghanistan was “probable” (his quotation marks). I said no such thing. In fact, the word “probable” does not even appear in my article.

What I actually said was that failure was likely, unless the policy radically changed. There is a difference between the two.

We all know that, as the Guardian’s highly successful resident controversialist, Sir Simon’s job – and nature it seems – is to relish failure more than success. But he would be more powerful, and no less enjoyable, if he took a little more care to be a little more accurate.
Paddy Ashdown
Norton sub Hamdon, Somerset

Of course, there is little love lost between our party and Simon Jenkins, so it came as little surprise to read the article which prompted this letter, where Jenkins essentially makes the argument that Afghanistan is a lost cause and that we are being imperialist to continue to try not to let it slide into the mire which Iraq has already found itself in. I don’t know if I agree, but if the facts are as slapdash as Paddy suggests, I don’t know if it’s even worth engaging with.