gambitch - now available in blue
Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

RIP Yasser Arafat (1929 - 2004).

gambitch [ 9:41 PM]

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

I had managed to catch a few video trailers for some recently-released and pending-release games. One of the funniest ones I saw was this one from The Sims 2. I really have to take my hat off to Maxis, for injecting some really ticklish humour into a game that's rated G.

There's this one where the guy (who's the main character in this trailer) tries to kiss the girl he somehow got to his house. The girl promptly pushes him away to the other end of the couch. This happens twice, with two different girls. I suppose it happens to this guy a bit often, and it probably happens to the average American teenage or adolescent guy a bit often too. That's the way this game works, in part - tapping into the experiences of the average American. It's a recurrent theme, and I like that.

Anyway, back to the funny. The guy's ego is obviously heavily bruised by having this kind of rejection happen to him a bit too often, so the next time he tries to kiss a girl on the couch, he stops halfway, shrinks to the other end of the couch, and looks seriously depressed. (I'd be depressed too if something like that happened to me, to be fair.) The nice, decent and understanding girl (who looks every bit traditional with the hairdo and the way she dresses) leans back over, pats him a bit and looks like she's saying something like "it's okay, baby". You know, the kind of consoling you'd expect from girlfriends. Then, she rips her top off and flashes her boobs. Given that this is a game rated G, the trailer video mosaics over the offending body parts. Nonetheless, it's just too funny.

To add to it, the girl, who becomes our guy's wife, flashes her boobs again twice in the trailer. That's right, twice! Once on wedding day, when she rips off the top of her bridal gown (with the veil on her head still on). And once again after the couple, now old and with four college graduate kids, shoo the kids off for their graduation ceremony. It's scenes like these, and the use of these little plot devices, that make Maxis incredibly funny.

Just in case you think it's all adult scenes, there are other general funnies, like the kid who breathes fire (and burns his bride's bouquet when they're taking photos), and the daughter hanging and revolving on the ceiling fan. Scenes like these make Maxis funny - something nobody else at Electronic Arts would know how to do.

Maxis are incredibly good with their touch of humour. They can have boob-flash scenes that are just funny without being erotic or pornographic. They can pull off the other funnies that are trademark Maxis without so much as batting an eyelid. I'm sure there are a couple of references somewhere to SimCity 4 (which I've put on hold for the moment). After all, SC4 featured a couple of Maxis billboards and other such touches. And they're entitled to - they're a great company with lots of fan backing, and we can all get the jokes, which adds to the game's fun.

Although, according to one of the guys working at this computer game store, The Sims 2 seems to be more popular among girls than guys. That's an eyebrow-raising observation. Can anyone explain why?

gambitch [ 11:32 PM]

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Another new game to check out!

Children of the Nile

HeavenGames have launched their newest community here.

This looks like a game I'd really want. I'm a sucker for city builders.

gambitch [ 7:17 PM]

Monday, November 08, 2004

My blog has registered 1000 visits today. Yay!

Unfortunately, the 1000th visitor was a search engine returning results for the phrase Total Club Manager 2005 - which by the way is now available in a good computer games store near you! Go get it!

gambitch [ 3:07 PM]

As the dust slowly settles over the results of the American presidential election - it isn't really over yet until the overseas ballots are actually inspected and counted - the nation continues to be mired in controversy, although nothing will quite compare to what happened with Florida in 2000. That said, Bush's substantially more emphatic victory this time round will undoubtedly present the Republican Party with an intriguing headache, one that the party may need to deal with more urgently than they would, perhaps, like to think.

It isn't the state of emergency that has just been announced in Iraq, or the fact that the Bush Administration has, for the most part, bungled the entire operation and achieved nothing of note apart from the live capture of Saddam Hussein and the death of the other two members of the Axis of Evil - his sons Uday and Qussay. It isn't escalating healthcare costs for the average Joe in America, or the dismal failure of the No Child Left Behind programme, an initiative that was launched by George W Bush but, in their infinite wisdom, the Administration elected not to adequately fund. It isn't the sharp loss of jobs to outsourcing, and it isn't the economy which, as Bush constantly reminded us in the course of his campaign, is on the upswing this year. And no, it isn't the environment, so you greenies out there aren't anywhere close either.

No, those are problems for the Bush Administration to deal with. The Republican Party has a bigger issue to tackle - who to succeed Bush when 2008 inevitably comes along.

Eight good years of Clinton rule, including what was a rather disastrous Republican campaign for Bob Dole, meant that the Republicans were not really fancied when the 2000 campaign was in progress. Not that many would have then reckoned George W Bush, of all people, to steal home, not when Al Gore, running on a Democrat ticket, seemed to be performing so convincingly at the presidential debates. But Gore was floored and nutmegged in Florida as the Republicans threw plenty of stuff at the campaign. After four years of what can be loosely described as international disaster, Bush's re-election means that both he and the Republican Party have used up their Get Out Of Jail Free card. Unless Bush pushes through something, anything in the Patriot Act series that allows him to run for a third term (thereby nullifying the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution), George isn't going to be working in the Oval Office when February 2009 comes along.

This is not such a big problem for Bush himself; a slick switch to private and corporate life is on the cards, particularly since he has been there before with an assortment of oil and timber companies. However, for the Republican Party, the show must go on after Bush. After working their socks off for the last two election cycles, it is rather inconceivable that they wouldn't make something of an effort to put another Republican in the White House four years from now. But it's not going to be easy for a few reasons.

First of all, despite the really bad shape the country's economy is in and all the other domestic problems plaguing the White House, the Republicans appear to have finally found a formula that actually has mass appeal. 11 out of 50 states had on their ballots the question of whether to explicitly ban gay marriages, an issue that many analysts say helped get all the conservatives across the farmlands and hamlets to turn out and vote for Bush. Bush ran a campaign heavy on wanting to ban gay marriages and even civil unions, and it was something he talked about with great passion when he wasn't talking with great passion about Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sure, Osama bin Laden turned up on Arab television and spoke directly to Americans on his latest video, and Bush did say plenty of things about the war on terror and the need to keep the pressure up. But none of this seemed to have registered with the folks in the big cities - the very people who have the most reason to fear a repeat of September 11. Most of the major population centres fell to Kerry, a clear indication that, much as city-dwellers fear for their lives and don't want to see another airplane crash into one of their skyscrapers, the majority of these people also feel the whole thing is, to a significant extent, Bush's fault. That's why California, home to San Francisco and Los Angeles, went to Kerry, and New York state, home to New York City, went to Kerry. That's why Chicago, Detriot, Philadelphia and Boston all went to Kerry. Absent from the list of major cities are the likes of Miami and Austin, but Texas is where Bush came from, and Florida's governor is a man called Jeb Bush, so that may not be too surprising.

Ultimately, it's the Christian conservatives, not the Islamic fundamentalists, who were the key factor in this election cycle. And they turned out in support of a man who has made every effort to show just how religious he is - although there is nothing biblical about going to war on another country and sending troops in harm's way. Bush had that personal touch that swayed the Midwest and the Deep South into voting for him, never mind that he was a straight C student and that he was as daft and as stubborn as a mule. It was nonetheless a formula that worked wonders for the Republicans. The problem is, where are they going to find someone else who could pull it off once George W Bush finishes his second term?

There aren't many leading figures among the Republicans who could walk up to the plate and hold the bat. Dick Cheney? He's done a decent job as vice-president, perhaps, but more than any other vice-president, Cheney has been careful to avoid the public eye when he can help it. In fact, people can almost forget he is actually vice-president. Plus, he is very old and could well decide that, for health reasons or anything else, it wouldn't really be advisable for a bespectacled, fat, old man to run for presidency. Add to that the fact that recent history doesn't feature too many vice-presidents who go on to become president - the last example being George Bush Sr., who only managed one term - and the signs don't look good for Cheney to take over.

There has been, in the past, talk of John McCain becoming a serious challenger for the big job. Unfortunately, after his shock loss in the Republican primaries leading up to the 2000 campaign, McCain hasn't really been that hot about rising to the presidency. This time round he even ended up backing Bush, which suggests either he has become a convert or he has given up trying to fight the mighty devils of campaign funding and soft money. God knows whether he'll pick up the courage to run again in 2008, but even though the man with a record of genuine bipartisan cooperation (he teamed up with Democrats Ross Feingold and Joe Lieberman at different times and for different purposes in the last four years or so) may unite Congress better than Bush ever can, he may also be too much of a good boy and have one or two scruples too many for this ruthless game.

The apparent absence of a viable candidate to succeed Bush within the Republican camp is made even more alarming by the continued spectre of Hillary Clinton, currently a senator representing New York. Ex-president Bill's wife has often been tipped to make a beeline for the White House, and her decision to run for the Senate in the first place has been read as the first step towards realizing that ambition. That she opted out of the 2004 race has been read as a clever move to avoid fasttracking that process, building more carefully instead for the 2008 round. If Hillary runs, so goes conventional wisdom, all the Democrats would be in a hurry to rally around her.

Some of the talk on Hillary Clinton may border on the hyperbolic, but one thing the Republicans cannot deny is that the Clintons can command far greater public support than either Gore or Kerry could. If Bush is the man to mobilize the closet Republicans into voting for him, then Hillary Clinton is the Democrats' equivalent. Bush himself might have real problems dealing with her - who's to say any other Republican would have it any easier?

The rather blunt truth is that both the Republican and Democratic Parties do not really do much of a job in terms of cultivating successors and ensuring party stability and continuity. Instead these political parties operate on a system of collecting individuals, each of whom nurses his own political ambitions and expends his own energy to go where he wants to go. These are parties united by ideology and purpose, but otherwise there isn't very much of a hierarchy presented to the public. Indeed, if you quizzed the average American on who the leaders of the respective parties are, they probably can't tell you. They can tell you who the Senate's majority or minority leaders are, but the party's own mechanisms are a confusing secret that even the Americans know practically nothing about.

This laissez-faire approach is admittedly very high on mobility, and allows parties to switch track with absolute ease if the situation called for it, but the corollary statement when talking about fluid structures is that, in the absence of a pulling direction, the whole structure just sprawls all over the place. America is fortunate it has no shortage of charismatic and influential personalities within its political system, but if the day should ever arrive that the supply pool suddenly dries up, the party that is most short of such talents would be thrown into absolute chaos. And that problem is further augmented by the 22nd Amendment. Because presidents can only serve up to two terms, which is up to eight years (ignoring promotions due to the death of the original president - e.g. the Lyndon Johnson scenario), consistent and relatively quick turnover is ensured, which means that the US always has to look for new people to enter the pool.

Americans regard pseudo-dictatorships or so-called sham democracies in Asia with disdain. They see the likes of Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohamad as dictators (and you don't need me to remind you all the baggage the word 'dictator' is associated with) and accord them less respect than they would to people like Chen Shui-bian and Lee Teng-Hui (although it must be reminded that Lee Teng-Hui rose to presidency before Taiwan had elections as we know them today, and so served longer than Chen actually will). But the absence of an equivalent of the 22nd Amendment in these pseudo-dictatorships means that these leaders can stay in power for as long as they consider themselves physically fit enough to do so, subject in part of course to the will of the people. This isn't exactly good news if the leader in question is an absolute idiot or has despotic tendencies. However, in the case of benevolent dictators (which is less of an oxymoron than it sounds) this may not be a bad thing.

The other thing about countries like China and Malaysia is that they actually have a system where grooming good talent to take over is a huge priority. Let's face it, we're past the era of Shih Huang-Ti and even Genghis Khan. Both men sought to find the elixir of eternal life so they can rule forever, but leaders today aren't that stupid. They know they have to die someday, and many political leaders today prefer to retire alive rather than dead. Some, like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, don't totally retire, but not that many leaders nowadays cling on to their positions of power like their lives depended on it. This is true even in non-democracies or non-democratic structures - just last month King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia abdicated, citing poor health.

Despite the good things I have to say about Asian political systems, America would not be in a hurry to dump a two-party system that has worked decently for both sides for the last century and a half, if not longer. Neither are they likely to annul the 22nd Amendment and start giving Bush freedom to rule until he's sick of the job. To be honest, I wouldn't think that the world's most powerful country needs to do either of these two things. For the most part, America isn't totally broken and there's no need for such drastic overhaul if the Republicans are to stay in office when 2008 comes along. But they do need to make a serious effort to start looking for a successor to Bush now, before Clinton, Kerry and the Democrats poise to step all over them in the next quadrennial.

(P.S. For those who think I've suddenly switched and become a Republican sympathetic, I haven't. I don't particularly back either party out of party-based allegiance. Rather, I lend my support to the side that seems most rational and makes an effort to solve the most pertinent issues to its population, to put bread on the average American's table and to make sure John Doe doesn't die of the common cough. Four years ago that side happened to be Gore; this year it happened to be Kerry. Shame neither won, though.)

gambitch [ 1:08 PM]

Sunday, November 07, 2004

To Surfer and C&B:

I don't think I'm going to get that many opportunities to see you in person, in private in the near future. Circumstances simply don't allow me to be present without possibly being politely asked to leave. It's a gentlemanly thing to do to pleasantly ask people out, but this works on the assumption that I do get the message and am gentlemanly and circumspect enough to know my place. In this case that assumption is true, so it will be hard for me to see you guys in action.

Which means that I will share my comments on how you fared the other day here, out wide and in public. I've thought about this and I'm fine with it - there aren't too many secrets to hide.

I won't comment too much about your friend the Flamethrower, because we don't really know each other nearly as well and so any comments I give are likely to be both unsolicited and unwelcome. So unless the Flamethrower wants me to say something, let that be the gaffer's problem.

Surfer, I thought I should just let you know that the feedback about you across the room was generally unfavourable. I've hinted at the cause of this sentiment to you before - you might want to rein yourself in a bit and go slower. A few thought you stumbled on your shoelaces a bit on occasions, and the way the post-mortem across the room was progressing, people were being made to think that you were what separated the sides, in the negative sense. That was what you were made out to look like.

To your credit, you probably realized that your sensei was there, and believe me, she was very proud of you. In fact, your sensei was so proud of you that she disagreed under her breath (although in the interests of time, she didn't raise any objections that would have held us all back). And you know what? I agree with her.

C&B, you did okay, but were somewhat below the standards I've come to expect of you. Maybe I'm doing something wrong here, piling unnecessary pressure on you when I'm really not that related to you. But it has struck me that you are more intelligent and sharper in our casual conversations than when you are actually out there playing the game. It's happened a wee bit often, and maybe it's something you just want to keep at the back of your mind. I do genuinely think you got dragged down by the sprawling undergrowth, which distracted you from the main job of sending powerful messages and driving the final nails into the coffin. That little bit of oomph was the kind of thing that was missing, often because you've sliced out some of your effort to deal with things you didn't need to deal with.

Where you're at, I would traditionally consider it the one real last chance to take down the enemy, the final rallying call to bundle home the biggest things you have. So it's all about the message, both in meat and in dressing. Personally I'd like to see more dressing, and I'd also like to feel there's a big chunk of meat. And while I'm on meat, I'll use the imagery further and tell you this - I saw too much fat that should have been cut away. Make it lean and mean, give your stuff specificity and focus in purpose. I've said this before to you, using other words. String 'em up and unite them, and give it a common theme and purpose.

The thing about me is that I'm better at picking out areas to fix than I am at realizing what went well. It's like what they say - you don't know where the good stuff is until it isn't there. Which is why some people criticize me for my tendency to stinge. There's an alternative reasoning for that kind of behaviour, but yes, I know I stinge a bit much and I'm not very good at fixing that problem. Much as I want you guys to do better, I have to acknowledge you're doing fairly well. But I guess I'm the type who sees the glass as more than half empty.

My political status means that I'm not going to be invited to too many things, so I don't even know whether I'll see you again on someone else's invitation. But if ever you want some help of any sort by an external agency, you know how to reach me.

Right, I'm done. Got to clock my exercise hours in the morning.

Thanks for the beer, folks. Goodnight.

gambitch [ 12:19 AM]


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