Why can’t we have both?

From The End of the Twentieth Century and the End of the Modern Age (1993) by John Lukacs:

Near the end of the twentieth century — indeed, near the end of the so-called Modern Age — two dangerous circumstances threaten the world. One is the institutionalized pressure for material and economic “growth” — contrary to stability and threatening nature itself. The other is the existence of the populist inclinations of nationalism — contrary to a greater and better understanding among peoples, often debouching into barbarism. One is the thrust for increasing wealth, the other, for tribal power. One issues from the presumption that the principal human motive is greed; the other, that it is power. To think that the former is morally superior to the latter is at least questionable; but to think that the progress of history amounts to the triumph of money over force is stupid beyond belief.

 

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Gamer grouch

The first Fortnite World Cup has been held, with the winner, a 16-year-old from Pottsgrove, Pennsylvania, taking home the $3 million top prize.

The response to this story has been predicably polarized. Some think it’s great that such a popular form of entertainment is finally getting the recognition it deserves. There were 40 million contestants vying to get into the Fortnite World Cup, a field that must have been strenuously winnowed down to the 100 who made the final cut. Video games are a bigger business than Hollywood, and have been for years. The people who play them can make millions of dollars through their own streaming channels and endorsement deals. Resistance to these developments is clearly futile. And anyway, as Steven Johnson argued in Everything Bad Is Good for You, video games are actually a healthy past-time, involving complex problem-solving skills, among other things.

Critics, and I include myself in this category, have their doubts. I get that video games are popular, and big business. And I have nothing against their professionalization. Elite gamers may as well make money out of this. I also understand the draw for people who just like to watch. Maybe they’re picking up tips to improve their own play, and maybe they just find the players entertaining.

But I don’t think video games are good for you. They are extremely addictive, and very consciously designed to be so. Encouraging any sort of addictive behaviour is bad. I also don’t think people learn anything from video games or pick up any worthwhile skills by playing them. In addition, I think they’re harmful to one’s health. If “sitting is the new smoking” I don’t think the example of teenagers who are spending 8-12 hours a day in front of a screen, as some of the contestants to the Fortnite World Cup said they had to while “in training,” is a good one. Wouldn’t young people be better off swimming or playing soccer? That’s good for the body, and team sports can build social skills as well. It seems to me that sports are also less directly commercial than esports. Sure there are professional sports like hockey and basketball, and kids dream of making it into the big leagues, but these video game tournaments strike me as just being advertisements for a product. Soccer is a sport first and only at a higher level big business. Video games are a business, period.

Is the Fortnite World Cup the end of civilization? No, but I don’t see it as a step in any good direction. That said, I’m comfortable now being on the wrong side of history.

Liam Neeson, action star

A man with a certain set of skills.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching some Liam Neeson movies. I think he surprised everyone in rebranding himself as an action star with Taken, soon to be followed up by a bunch of other genre flicks. And then he surprised everyone again by blowing himself up in a press interview last year. I’ve heard he doesn’t want to do any more action movies, so maybe that was his way of signing off. It’s too bad, because even though few of these movies were any good, I think he did well in them.

Taken (2008)
The Grey (2011)
Taken 2 (2012)
Taken 3 (2014)
Non-Stop (2014)
The Commuter (2018)
Cold Pursuit (2019)

Haters gonna hate

From The Tangled Garden: A Canadian Cultural Manifesto for the Digital Age (2019) by Richard Stursberg with Stephen Armstrong:

One day during all this unpleasantness, I sat down to have lunch with Flora MacDonald and seek her counsel.

“Why do your people hate the CBC so much?” I asked.

“My people?” she replied.

“Yes. Your people, your party, the Conservative Party.”

“They are not my people. They are a different party from the one I was in.”

“But you must have some insight into why they hate the CBC so much.”

“Oh, Richard,” she laughed. “Don’t think that you’re special. They hate everything.”

“Everything?”

“Yes, everything. That’s what they do. They are haters.”

Don’t know much geography

Whose flag?

It was an oft-repeated criticism of American involvement in Vietnam that the U.S. was waging a war in a country that few of its citizens would be able to find on a map. That was a zinger, then and now, though, in the American public’s defence, at the time Vietnam was only twenty years old (it had most recently been French Indochina).

I was thinking of this recently when preparing my notes on the movie They’re Watching, which was set in Moldova. This threw me. Before finding out this little tidbit of information, if you’d asked me if there was a country of Moldova I would have said there wasn’t. I associated the name with a province in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and thought that the filmmakers were invoking it as an imaginary place like Ruritania or the Duchy of Grand Fenwick. But actually Moldova is a sovereign state, having been one of the Soviet Socialist Republics and gaining independence when the Soviet Union collapsed.

This was humbling. I thought I knew enough of the basics of world geography that the existence of a European country I didn’t know of came as quite a surprise. But as I went flipping through a pocket atlas recently I found other examples of my ignorance of how the world is divided up. Just as surprising to me as the existence of Moldova was the discovery that there’s a part of Russia that isn’t connected to any other part of Russia (what’s called an exclave). This is the Kaliningrad Oblast, the old Prussian K√∂nigsberg. Who knew? Well, probably a lot of people. But I didn’t.

Political boundaries are often in flux, which justifies the printing of new atlases. I found several such boundary issues in my browsing. Suriname, for example, claims big chunks of both Guyana and French Guiana (the countries to its west and east respectively). I have no idea how valid these claims are, but on a map they look significant. Meanwhile, Western Sahara has been administered since 1979 by Morocco, but is still considered a (huge) disputed territory. I knew nothing of this.

The upshot is that I don’t have the right to make fun of anyone else’s ignorance of geography. There are plenty of places I not only couldn’t find on a map but that I’ve never even heard of. I guess I’m not a man of the world.

Mistakes? I’ve made a few

It’s a testament to something that every time I happen to re-read a previous post I’ve made at one of my sites I find something that needs to be corrected. Usually this is just a typo or some infelicity. But in the last couple of weeks I came across a pair of glaring factual errors that were absolute howlers. One was in a review of a book and the other of a movie.

The nice thing about running a blog is that you can immediately correct your mistakes. And once they’re fixed you can pretend as though they were never made. You can’t do that with print. Still, I’m depressed to find so many goofs. I actually do try to make sure that a post is clear of errors before I publish it online. But still the fact is I don’t think I’ve ever posted anything, in over twenty years, that didn’t have at least one mistake in it. As I’ve said, I find them all the time. They turn up like stones in a field.

Perhaps it has something to do with writing for the Internet. Or perhaps it’s just my own carelessness. As for the nature of my mistakes, my opinions, I find, change less and less. But my expression of those opinions is always in flux. This makes a blog a perpetual work in progress. Thanks for bearing with me!