Wednesday, December 31, 2003

I went to see Return of the King last night at Guildford Odeon. Comfortable seats with good sight-lines, even up against a side wall where I was. It was strange to be in a cinema that was completely full, but very quiet and attentive - not the usual munching and chattering.

I was bowled over by the film. Just as Two Towers was significantly more exciting than Fellowship of the Ring, once again Jackson lifted his game in the third movie.

I was really impressed by the pacing of the film. Yes it was long (and yes I didn't make it through without a toilet break) but there was time for the action to gather pace, time for the sense of impending doom to really develop. And time to bring it all to a close in an unhurried fashion. It reminded me of the experience of a Wagner opera, not just musically, but in the expansive way time is used to absorb you into the mythical world. It was a real shock stepping out into 21st century Guildford afterwards.

Things I really liked:

1) The mustering of Rohan, and the sense of courage struggling with despair.

2) The visualization of Minas Tirith - utterly splendid.

3) The arrival of the Riders of Rohan on the field of Pelennor was suitably spine-tingling.

4) Eowyn's fear before the battle and her confrontation with the Nazgul.

5) The Riders shouting "Death! Death!" as they charged the orcs. Connects with something deep (and rather worrying) in my heathenish Saxon roots.

Some minor quibbles:

1) Gandalf's disrespectful behaviour towards the Steward of Gondor was hard to swallow. Beating him up not just once, but twice - unforgivable rudeness!

2) The sequence of events in the Battle of Pelennor Fields was mucked about with somewhat. But not in a particularly irritating way.

3) The climactic struggle with Gollum in the Cracks of Doom was dragged out. Should have been a shockingly sudden and violent denouement. And I hated the Spielbergesque dangling over a precipice.

4) The Paths of the Dead were nowhere near scary enough. This is a problem with film ghosts in general - ghosts are scary because you see them out of the corner of your eye, or imagine you hear them behind you. You shouldn't be allowed to get a good look at them.

5) Where was Sauron's Darkness? Admittedly this would have made for a murky few hours, but the arrival of the Riders at dawn would have been even more thrilling.

6) Snogging and clapping? Group hugs?

Monday, December 29, 2003

Gavin and Phil visited over Christmas and we played a lot of Zendo. The game is really addictive and fun. It can be as simple or difficult as you please (depending on current alcohol intake) and you can play for 10 minutes or 2 hours. We found that we quickly forgot about who was winning, we got so wrapped up in the puzzle of trying to guess the Master's Rule. The small deck of example rules was very useful, but the game really came into its own when we progressed enough to start inventing our own rules.
Gosh it's quiet in the office today. Really quiet.

And it's quiet out on the Net as well. No-one is blogging much. The guns have fallen silent over at ConsimWorld. Not much incoming email either.

Looks like I shall have to do some work.....

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Had a lengthy "discussion" with Phil last night about the Iraq war. This was good fun, and also reminded me how torn I still am on this issue. I don't know what I think, but I do know what I don't think. As Phil reminded me, I am a Christian, in other words someone who claims to follow Jesus Christ, who quite clearly preached and practised non-violence. Yet at the same time I am repelled or disgusted by many of the arguments currently used by the anti-war lobby, which would make it very difficult for me to throw my lot in with them without sacrificing some self-respect.

Some of the anti-war arguments in circulation at the moment which I find repellent, wilfully ignorant, or just silly:

1) All the ills of the world can be blamed on George W Bush. If we could only get rid of this man, we would immediately enter an era of international peace and justice.

2) As above, but substitute "the Americans".

3) Suicide-bombers are not held to be responsible for their own actions, if they have been "forced" into violence as the only way of expressing their political frustration.

4) Especially if the victims are Jews.

5) The ongoing threat to British or American civilians from Islamic terrorism has been exaggerated.

6) The Americans are overreacting to September 11 2001.

7) The Iraqis were better off under Saddam Hussein.

8) There is moral equivalence between terrorist acts targeting civilians, and war waged by democratic governments against military targets.

9) Our Western civilization is sick to the core, we deserve everything we get.

10) There would be no cost to renouncing the use of violence against our enemies. Everyone, including us, would be better off.

On the other hand a pacifism that I could sign up to would sound more like this:

1) Non-violence will cost us. In the short-term it may well encourage the terrorists. The price might include large-scale civilian casualties in attacks against major cities in Britain and America. Nevertheless, non-violence is a core value of Christianity and our only hope for a peaceful future, so we are willing to pay the price.

2) Justice will cost us too. Giving terror suspects a fair trial will almost certainly mean that some very dangerous men are set free to kill again. Nevertheless, justice and freedom are core values of our civilization, and we are willing to pay the price to safeguard them.

3) We will not put security above freedom. We will not sacrifice our hard-won democratic values in a search for an illusory physical safety.

4) We will find other, non-violent ways to resist those who are working to overthrow our civilization and bring in a world-wide theocratic tyranny. That search may be difficult and costly, but we will not lie down and surrender our freedoms.

5) We don't impute malicious or evil motives to our leaders who took us into the Iraq and Afghan wars. But we honestly think they were honestly mistaken.

6) The moral requirement of Jesus to act non-violently applies to all humans, including the terrorists. There is no justification for violence. The ends never justify the means.

Is there a peace movement which talks like this? I'd like to hear about it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

I was delivering a fine lecture to Phil on this subject only last night. THE RING AND THE RINGS - Wagner vs. Tolkien:

Tolkien refused to admit that his ring had anything to do with Wagner’s. “Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceased,” he said. But he certainly knew his Wagner, and made an informal study of “Die Walk├╝re” not long before writing the novels. The idea of the omnipotent ring must have come directly from Wagner; nothing quite like it appears in the old sagas. True, the Volsunga Saga features a ring from a cursed hoard, but it possesses no executive powers. In the “Nibelungenlied” saga, there is a magic rod that could be used to rule all, but it just sits around. Wagner combined these two objects into the awful amulet that is forged by Alberich from the gold of the Rhine. When Wotan steals the ring for his own godly purposes, Alberich places a curse upon it, and in so doing he speaks of “the lord of the ring as the slave of the ring.” Such details make it hard to believe Tolkien’s disavowals. Admit it, J.R.R., you used to run around brandishing a walking stick and singing “Nothung! Nothung!” like every other besotted Oxford lad.

Monday, December 22, 2003

I received a large package in the post today which I strongly suspect ...nngh..... contains my preordered copy of GMT's game Europe Engulfed, but I do not ...nngh nnngh..... intend to open it ...nnngh c'mon you can do this..... until Christmas Day.
A comment from Phil about the new flat:

Don't get a woman in here Dad. A woman would ruin this.
It all went pretty smoothly on Friday, but even with no major hitches moving house is still a pretty stressful experience. The vendors - Kris and Julie - were marvellous. They left the place spotlessly clean, with light shades, towel holders, blinds etc all still in place. It's such a beautiful flat, two days after moving in I still wander through the rooms feeling stunned, I'm just not used to all this space and luxury. There is a little voice in my head whispering "What makes you think you deserve this?" or sometimes "What makes you think you can afford this?".

Phil turned up on Saturday and immediately christened the kitchen by producing a tasty pasta dish, and the dishwasher removed the usual sting in the tail from asking Phil to cook. He also did a great job of plumbing in the washing machine, saving me a hefty callout charge, and it hasn't even leaked yet! It always feels strange to discover that your offspring - who only yesterday was a mewling, helpless, bawling sprog - actually has some useful talents.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

David Warren continues his invaluable role as a purveyor of inconvenient facts:

The capture of Saddam was the climax of three huge events in Iraq, within the space of little more than a week. Unfortunately, our liberal media did not deign to report the first two. National protests against Saddamite and Islamist terrorism had already brought countless thousands into the streets of Iraq's cities, including more than 20,000 in Baghdad defying the terrorist threat.

Then, the news broke, or rather did not break very widely, of the discovery that Mohammad Atta, the late Al Qaeda "mastermind", had spent part of the summer of 2001 in Baghdad. Western intelligence is now working on this direct link between Saddam Hussein and the attacks Atta led on 9/11/01 -- after years of trying to ignore it. Atta was trained near Baghdad by the organization of Abu Nidal (who later died himself under very suspicious circumstances).

Atta was almost certainly shown through the ropes at the Iraqi regime's Salman Pak terrorist camp -- where a passenger airplane fuselage was kept to rehearse hijacking techniques. This was mere months before he piloted a hijacked aircraft into New York's WTC; he would seem to have remained in contact with Iraqi agents in the interim.

Such details are characteristically omitted from most of our news media, not because the facts aren't newsworthy, but because they contradict, indeed completely destroy, the case said media were previously making. For in order to undermine the Bush administration's justifications for invading Iraq, those media have repeated over and over that "no links have been found between Saddam and international terrorism."
As NTL don't seem to be able to cope with my moving house, I will be saying goodbye to my NTLWorld dialup account on Friday. I've been piping all my email through Oddpost anyway for the last few months, and as a consequence enjoying a wonderfully spam-free life. So it seemed like a good time to put all my eggs in one basket and switch to my Oddpost address ( Sent the "change your address book" email out to friends and family last Friday. Today, for the first time since I signed up, Oddpost is inexplicably down. No idea why or how long for.

In other words - basket dropped, eggs lying broken on the floor.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Cool! Theology Trading Cards featuring St Anthony of the Desert, Perpetua and Felicitas. They don't seem to have any rules for playing games with them, but I'm sure we could scribble some factors for orthodoxy, asceticism and saintliness on them, get out the d20s and start rolling on the martyrdom table! (via Jordon Cooper)
It was the office Christmas dinner party last night. I did my bit for gamevangelism by wrapping up Fluxx as my Secret Santa gift. I'm not sure yet who received it or whether they liked it. I'm spending today hanging around in the office kitchen hoping not to overhear something like this: "You'll never guess what idiotic present I ended up with last night!"
Over at Looney Labs there is an excellent report about an ongoing PBEM game of Homeworlds. It gives a good idea of how this intriguing space conquest game actually plays, which is useful for me as I have never been able to persuade the ignorant boardgame geeks of Salisbury to try it.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

It's all too true - Pretty women scramble men's ability to assess the future: Men lose the ability to think rationally when they see beautiful women, suggests new research.
The French government is planning to crack down on religious minorities, in the name of tolerance. BBC NEWS | French headscarf ban recommended: [Mr Chirac] added: 'We cannot accept ostentatious signs of religious proselytism, whatever the religion.'

It seems to be a law of the moral universe, that whenever one value is absolutized at the expense of all others, you end up destroying the very thing you have just deified.
Greg Costikyan's blog about game design issues is consistently worth reading. Today he brings us some crystal-clear and rather counter-intuitive discussion of the role of luck in games:

At the Replay conference in 1999, Garfield said 'If I am very lucky, I can beat Kasparov at Chess.' A priori, the statement is nonsensical. Chess is a game of pure strategy, without any luck elements whatsoever. Kasparov is the world champion; I don't know how good a Chess player Garfield is, but he's clearly not anywhere near in the same league. How, then, could he win 'by luck?'

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

This article is noteworthy for taking a sympathetic view of evangelical spirituality - unusual for the BBC. BBC NEWS | The new weapon in crimefighting... prayer:

He is, according to canteen culture, John the Baptist. That was the nickname John Sutherland got as a young policeman. Now 33, and a remarkably young-looking inspector in the Metropolitan Police, he seems comfortable with his authority, leading a team of up to 25 officers as they respond to 999 calls - robberies, assaults, whatever the world can throw at them. In many ways he's the regulation copper, asserting that what defines him is the way he deals with everyday cases like car crashes. But he does distinguish himself by his willingness to talk about his prayers.

'I believe in the power of prayer and the person of Jesus,' he says. 'In terms of my fight against crime as a police officer, I believe we are capable of having an impact in a practical way. If you take an individual burglar, and pray for him, and he becomes a Christian, one of the net impacts of that is that he may stop burgling.'
I'm extremely busy at the moment, had a great weekend but a tiring one in Essex and London celebrating my friend Nicky's birthday and baptism, I was out last night saying goodbye to the Ceroc club, out for NTL dinner tomorrow and Bible group dinner Friday, Workshop at weekend........!! And I'm supposed to get ready for my housemove next Friday in the midst of all this.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Looney Labs are about to ship another boxed IceHouse game - IceTowers. Looks nicely presented. Like Zendo it contains a complete set of IceHouse pieces, but as an incentive to those who already own them they are in new colours. Hmmmm, tempting......
PvP is on a roll this week - Francis is running an RPG about RPG gamers.

"My gamer is going to cheat on his next roll."

"Hey! You can't do that."

"Yes I can. My gamer has the 'Palm Dice' skill and his alignment is 'Snarky'."

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Chris Farrell, long-standing BoardGameGeek pundit, has an excellent new weblog - he is into wargames (especially card-driven games like Hannibal, Wilderness War etc) but equally enthusiastic about German Games. In fact very similar to my own taste in games, but he has a lot of interesting things to say about them.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

With only a couple of weeks to go possibly until I leave Salisbury, our game sessions are taking on a valedictory feel. We're being nicer to one another, being nostalgic about good times in the past, and planning how we will continue to get together in the future. Last Sunday Dave, Simon and I met up at John's place where we played Euphrat & Tigris, followed by Web of Power. No quarrelling about rules or who should have won, just a genial relaxed evening. Euphrat & Tigris: Me (8) Dave (6) John (5) Simon (2). Web of Power: John followed by Simon/Dave distantly trailed by by me.