New Year’s resolutions 2017: Part 2

I’ve decided to add another New Year’s resolution to the previous set. It’s simply to watch all of the films on the list below. The intention is to knock a number of “must see” films off my own “haven’t seen” list. The films are a mixture of all-time classics that I’ve somehow missed, cult films I’ve been wanting to watch for ages, and unwatched DVDs I have sitting on my shelf.

The original idea was to list 12 films, so that it would be easy to monitor progress: if I watch one a month, I’m on track. But since it’s 2017 and everything’s topsy-turvy, I’ve added a special choice for number 13.

  1. The Third Man
  2. Gone with the Wind
  3. Doctor Zhivago
  4. Where Eagles Dare
  5. North by Northwest
  6. A View to a Kill
  7. Gandahar
  8. Fucking Åmål / Show Me Love
  9. Grave of the Fireflies
  10. Once Upon a Time in America
  11. Mother India
  12. Suspiria
  13. The Manchurian Candidate

New Year’s resolutions 2017

Here are my resolutions for 2017:

1. Complete The Lords of Midnight.

God damn it, I’m going to do this.

2. Use DuckDuckGo at all times.

I’ve already switched from using Google search to DuckDuckGo, the privacy-oriented search engine which doesn’t track your searches. But DuckDuckGo is still developing, and its search results often aren’t as good, so I find myself drifting back to Google.

Everything is a trade-off. If I value privacy, if I don’t want to be monitored, tracked and analysed, then I have to put in the extra effort – which isn’t even very much – to spend more time looking through search results to find what I want.

And perhaps the serendipity of scrolling through more results, and finding things I wasn’t looking for or didn’t expect, will be a reward in itself.

3. Switch to a non-free private email provider.

If I’m avoiding Google for search, why the hell am I still letting them handle – and thereby read, monitor and analyse – all of my most private communications?

2017 is the year in which I put a value on my own privacy, by switching to a non-free email provider. One which, because I’m the paying customer, doesn’t treat me as the product.

4. Switch to safety razors, shaving soap and brush.

This continues the theme of switching to a superior tool despite the initial effort/cost hurdle. I’m going to abandon the ongoing scam of expensive disposable razors with ever more numerous blades, and switch to traditional safety razors. Out too goes the foam in a can, to be replaced by shaving cream, applied with a badger-hair brush.

5. Switch to a better solution than takeaway coffee cups.

Maybe I’ll buy a reusable cup. I’m not committing to the detail of the solution yet.

New Year’s resolutions 2016: end of year review

Time for my annual review of how well I did with the last year’s resolutions.

1. Complete The Lords of Midnight.

Status: failed.

Carried over from 2015, and I still didn’t manage it. I did have a go one Sunday, but Doomdark remains undefeated.

2.  Play the board games I already own until their purchases become cost-effective.

Status: good progress made.

I set myself the ambitious target of getting all games down to less than £5/play, and I didn’t manage that. But I did make significant headway, reducing the number of uneconomical games (over £5/play) from 24 to 19, and the number of super-uneconomical games (over £10/play) from 11 to 3. Of the 19, about 10 are only just over the target, and will be easy to convert.

More importantly, the resolution helped me to resist the temptation to buy new games, to put more effort into arranging gaming sessions, and to focus on playing the less-played games more. It meant that I finally got around to playing Tammany Hall, a game I’d had for over a year, and hadn’t played because I’d assumed it was too heavy for most of my casual-gaming friends. It turned out to be much simpler, rules-wise, than I’d thought, although tactically still very rewarding, and became one of my favourite games of the year.

In 2017, I’ll continue to chip away at those stats. I may even allow myself the luxury of buying some new games, but the cost/play tracking, which is now an established routine, will ensure that board game purchases are kept under control.

3. Never pay the included service charge on a restaurant bill; always leave the tip, if appropriate, in cash.

Status: mostly passed.

Almost as soon as I started doing this, I realised that the sort of big chain restaurants which tend to abuse the system aren’t the sort of restaurants we ever go to anyway. It turns out, being snobby middle-class metropolitan liberal elites, we only go to independent, family-run type places (the area of north London we lived in was particularly abundant with them), where there wasn’t any tip chicanery to fight against. But I insisted on cash tips anyway, because I feel there isn’t enough awkwardness in my personal interactions already.

4. Make more eye contact.

Status: unknown.

I’ve certainly been more aware of when I have and haven’t been making eye contact, but whether that means I’ve managed to alter the balance towards making it, I can’t tell.

The Hate List – Volume 20

  1. Excessive, tacky Christmas lights. I’m fucking fed up with this shit now. A few years ago, it was still ironically amusing when a few sporadic eccentrics would fill their lawns with enough wattage to be seen from space. Now every street has one of these cunts, and it’s getting fucking tiresome. “It’s just a bit of fun!” No, it’s not. It’s an eyesore. Your neighbours hate you. And the waste of electricity alone is obscene. Climate change is destroying the planet: conspicuous over-consumption of energy should be villified, not celebrated. “It’s Christmassy!” No, it’s not. A wreath on the door is Christmassy. Flashing lights, illuminated inflatables, a robotic Santa waving his arm: it looks like fucking Vegas. Or rather, it looks like you were aiming for Vegas, and what you actually achieved was redneck brothel. “I’m raising money for charity!” Oh right, you spend thousands of pounds on decorations, and then expect ME to make a donation? How about you fuck off? I hope you short a circuit and burn to a crisp.
  2. Multi-coloured, flashing Christmas lights. Pay attention next time you see a Christmas scene in a film or advert. One designed by a professional designer. I guarantee you, there will be no coloured or flashing lights. Contrary to the belief of tasteless suburban idiots, what ACTUALLY looks Christmassy is steady, warm white lights. Not flashing, not every colour in the rainbow. At a push, I can even forgive red and green lights: they still look shit, but at least I can see where you’re coming from. But fucking BLUE lights? When the fuck did blue become a Christmas colour?
  3. Makers and sellers of novelty gifts. You know you’re making a load of shit, and you know it’s all going to be thrown away. You might as well dump it all straight into landfill, and simply steal the money from our well-meaning but clueless grandparents. As far as I’m concerned, you’re morally equivalent to OAP-targeting phone scammers. Or worse: at least their business model is less polluting.
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“It’s the principle”: why turkeys do often vote for Christmas

US liberals and leftists who won’t vote for Clinton, even though that decision will help Trump, who is even worse, are an interesting case study. It reveals a deep difference, not between liberals and conservatives, but between “principlists” and “consequentialists”.

Consequentialists do what they have to do to get the best available outcome, even if the means – and the end – fall short of their ideal.

Principlists feel an inherent wrongness in doing anything against principle, even if the result is an outcome even further from their ideal.

They’re two totally opposed mindsets – ways of thinking about how to choose action – with little scope for persuasion between them.

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Walter Russell Mead’s “The Jacksonian Tradition”: the essay that predicts Donald Trump

In 1999, American foreign policy academic Walter Russell Mead wrote an influential essay, The Jacksonian Tradition. In it, he identified a strand of US political thought associated with its conservative and anti-intellectual middle and working classes.

The article was highly prescient in anticipating the appeal of George W Bush as president. Now, as the US teeters on the brink of electing an unimaginably worse candidate, it’s worth reading again. Mead’s analysis turns out to be just as perceptive an insight into Donald Trump’s supporters and their political attitudes.

It is not fashionable today to think of the American nation as a folk community bound together by deep cultural and ethnic ties.

However, the seventh President, Andrew Jackson, built his political career on identifying and mobilising that community – white, Anglo-Saxon/Celtic, working and middle class – which Mead terms the “Jacksonians”.

His political movement—or, more accurately, the community of political feeling that he wielded into an instrument of power—remains in many ways the most important in American politics.

Jacksonian America has produced—and looks set to continue to produce—one political leader and movement after another.

The future of Jacksonian political allegiance will be one of the keys to the politics of the twenty-first century.

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Temper-Trapped

I propose the following definition:

Temper-trapped past participle verb tricked into a buying a music album on the strength of one song, to discover that it’s the only decent one on the whole album.

It’s derived from the band The Temper Trap: I bought their debut album Conditions after hearing the song Sweet Disposition, but was disappointed to find that the rest of the album is utterly mediocre and forgettable.

I’ve recently been temper-trapped again by John Grant. His song Down Here, an infectious indie pop ballad, was stuck in my head for weeks, so I bought the album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, which turned out to be weird electro nonsense: not even the same style of music as the one song I’d enjoyed.

What albums have you been temper-trapped by?

Manufactoria: a brain-expanding puzzle game

I finally completed Manufactoria.

Manufactoria is an online puzzle game, which is deceptively simple and surprisingly deep. Your task is to build a factory machine from simple components which takes an object, inspects it and moves it around the factory floor accordingly. In later stages, you get to modify the object as well.

At first you think you’re just moving objects around and printing patterns of coloured dots on them, but later, when you’re thinking of blue dots as 1s and red dots as 0s, and the patterns as binary numbers, you realise that the system is Turing complete and the game’s progressively harder puzzles are teaching you how to build a binary adding machine. It’s a beautiful, powerful way to demonstrate the principles behind mechanical/electronic computation.

While some games, like Angry Birds and Candy Crush, are meant to numb your brain with repetitive tasks, the best ones expand your brain with new skills and knowledge: Manufactoria is in the latter class.

Play the game online here: Manufactoria at PleasingFungus Games

There are two things called ‘regulation’, and they’re very different

Whenever people discuss regulation, whether for or against, it’s always treated as basically one type of thing. Opponents might say, “regulation is bad for business,” or, “we need to cut red tape,” while advocates might argue, “regulation makes us safer,” or, less positively, “regulation is a necessary evil.”

Occasionally, someone will distinguish between good and bad regulation, but it’s still talked about as one thing, with one purpose; the debate is whether it achieves that purpose to a better or worse extent.

Visiting India helped crystallise in my mind that there are two very different things, both called “regulation”. They have different aims, and different effects on business. We shouldn’t confuse one for the other. We should also be aware that it’s a deliberate policy of business lobby groups to try to make us do just that.

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Cultural Highlights of 2015

I know it’s a bit late, but here’s the best stuff I read/saw/etc in 2015.

BOOKS

Railsea by China Miéville

By the same author as the superb The City And The City, Railsea is a post-apocalyptic riff on Moby-Dick. A young cabin boy joins a train crew rattling about on a vast dried sea-bed covered in criss-crossing railway tracks and inhabited by ferocious burrowing monsters, while the captain obsessively hunts her great yellow mole. Ripping stuff.

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang

Since the era of Thatcher and Reagan, mainstream economics has been dominated by the ideology of the free market, championed by the right wing as the driver of economic success. Meanwhile the left wing has either opposed it on moral grounds of fairness and compassion, or accepted it while trying to mitigate its worst effects. The basic economic argument has never been challenged in public debate: the free market creates a prosperous economy. However, in academic economics, this truism is widely known to be false, and the contradictions and failings of the free market are well understood. Ha-Joon Chang is one of the leading voices attempting to bust the free market myths of public consciousness, and this book is a perfect primer.

One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

One of the hallmarks of a great book for me is how much is lingers in your consciousness after you’ve read it, and for weeks after finishing One Day In The LIfe Of Ivan Denisovich, I often found myself thinking, ridiculously, “this is just like in the Gulag.”

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