Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 20:46 on 27-09-2013, Arthur B
Indeed it is.
at 18:52 on 27-09-2013, Dan H
I ... do not even know what this is.

Is this another example of people going to remarkable lengths to viral-promote something that isn't actually very good?
at 11:30 on 26-09-2013, Arthur B
So it turns out that @horse_ebooks and Pronunciation Book, which people liked mainly because they genuinely seemed to be slightly malfunctional and whimsical spam bots let loose on social media, were both elaborate stunts designed to promote an art project*. At least one person isn't impressed by the extent of the manipulation the folks behind this engaged in.

*Apparently @horse_ebooks used to be a genuine spam account, but the people behind the art project bought it off the owner in 2011.
at 05:43 on 26-09-2013, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Sweet Jesus. I spent an evening and about 4000 words writing about a manga series. What has happened to my life?

Still worth it though. Sometimes a story just hits you like a brick and you need to talk about it.

(And no, it wasn't the one you're thinking about. Or that one.)

Aside from that, I've got some random horror-things for October, then that should be it for the year.

And before I toddle off to bed, something lighter: Star Trek '09 as summarized in screencaps by an excited fangirl. [spoiler]p.s. I am a member of the canon police.[/spoiler]
at 17:16 on 23-09-2013, Kit
Actually, France having a semi-presidential system has been rather conducive to coalition governments. It has happened quite a few times that the president and the parliamentary majority (and thus the prime minister) were political opponents and thus forced into a power-sharing arrangement of cohabitation. This isn't as frequent anymore since 2002 (at that point the term of the president and that of the National Assembly were synchronised at long last, reducing the possibility of political discrepancies between the votes), but even so coalitions are pretty much the norm - as of now, the Socialist Party is cooperating with Europe Ecologie- Les Verts and the Radical Party of the Left, for instance. The president is indeed relatively powerful, but he can't govern without the majority of the Parliament.
I think you might be right - having a two party system probably has this kind of effect on electoral discourse and iconography. I wouldn't say that electoral campaigns can't be vicious and sometimes a bit, well, exalted (or frothing at the mouth, depending on where you're standing) in France, but yeah, the perspective of having to govern in a coalition might foster a more sober and restrained political climate.
at 16:44 on 23-09-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
anything more enthusiastic than a slogan like the FG's "Take back the power" (without any exclamation mark, mind you) and a sober photograph of a stoic or hopeful candidate would get associated with slightly hysterical extremist propaganda of dubious respectability. I don't know if it's a general cultural thing, though.

I wonder if that's an off shoot of a two party system, because there will probably not be a situation where you have to share power oor have a coalition government. Although does that apply to France really? How does it go on the parliamentary level there, are coalitions usual, or does the relatively powerful office of president mix things up?
at 16:38 on 23-09-2013, Arthur B
Come to think of it, I was on a brief holiday in Marseilles when Sarkozy got in and I remember the election posters around there were in a very similar style.
at 16:33 on 23-09-2013, Kit
Find a lot of philosophical texts heavy going? There is anotter medium of discourse.

Oh sweet Jesus, now I'm having flashbacks to the Thesis of Doom - some kind of post-philosophical stress disorder? Anyway, it's not until I came across those otters that I realised just how really fucking ubiquitous the word "other" is in philosophy. Especially if you're working on the post-structuralist/deconstruction/any kind of feminist/subaltern/post-colonialist studies end of the spectrum, which I sort of do (even though I think I never want to hear the word "postmodern" again for at least ten years). So, basically, there is a high probability I will now have flashes of frolicking otters every time I read a philosophical text of any relevance whatsoever to my work. Thanks, man :)

Re: the electoral posters, I remember those in Germany being fairly on par with ours here (in France) - most of those I've seen were quite restrained, even when they were bearing the rousing slogans of the Front de Gauche (a left-wing/far-left coalition which became the vector of many hopes for change, especially amongst people my age) in 2012; I don't know if that's the case for anyone else in continental Europe, but I'd say that, here, anything more enthusiastic than a slogan like the FG's "Take back the power" (without any exclamation mark, mind you) and a sober photograph of a stoic or hopeful candidate would get associated with slightly hysterical extremist propaganda of dubious respectability. I don't know if it's a general cultural thing, though.
at 14:39 on 23-09-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
Seems rather tame (but very civilised) compared to this sort of thing.

But that is much less ambigious and sort of easier for the basic voter, who just needs a compact and concise picture to make a decision. In this case, for example, it is obvious that the voters best interest is to vote for the killer robot from the labour party, because they do not want to get killed by the killer robot. Plus, you get the impression that the killer robot is a new one as well, so progress, yay.
at 01:20 on 23-09-2013, Arthur B
Find a lot of philosophical texts heavy going? There is anotter medium of discourse.
at 00:07 on 23-09-2013, Arthur B
Re: German politics - latest BBC reports seem to be suggesting that the FDP are, indeed, tanking horribly, and we're looking at either a CDU/SDP grand coalition or maybe even a CDU absolute majority. Though it looks like the Greens are going to make it into Parliament so a CDU/Green thing might still be possible.

I went back and forth to Germany a fair bit on business trips recently and what struck me was how sober a lot of the political posters were - they all seemed to follow a strict model of "picture of candidate, party logo, pithy slogan", to the point where I had to look carefully to work out whose face was being promoted by which party. Seems rather tame (but very civilised) compared to this sort of thing.
at 22:53 on 21-09-2013, Dan H
I'm with Arthur on this one. It might be true that fewer than 50% of Brits are strongly for staying *in* the EU, but mostly because I suspect that quite a lot of Brits don't really know what being in the EU even really means.

This diagram nicely highlights how complicated the whole European thing is. To be honest I doubt most Brits understand half of it.
at 19:30 on 21-09-2013, Robinson L
Sorry, Robinson, but your friend is full of shit.

More likely a case of garbled understanding on my part. For instance, I was the one who threw in the bit about Cameron having a "strongly anti-EU stance" - which obviously was a gross misinterpretation.
at 18:48 on 21-09-2013, Arthur B
Re: UK politics - I think it's a bit more complicated than your friend is making it out to be, Robinson. The media and politicians like to play up public discontent with the EU, but at the same time the general public don't seem to actually place that high a priority on EU matters one way or another. If over 50% of the country really, passionately wanted to be out of the EU, then UKIP would be polling even stronger than they currently do (right now they're getting a protest vote from right-wingers who don't like the government but like Labour even less) because all the other three major parties are likely to promote staying in the EU.

David Cameron occasionally makes Eurosceptic noises, but this is mostly a little dance he does to keep the Eurosceptic wing of the Tories off-balance (note that this wing overlaps strongly with the hardline social conservative wing and other Tory factions who think Cameron is too cuddly and soft, which is a goddamn terrifying prospect). But most of his concessions to the Eurosceptics are entirely meaningless. He has agreed to attempt to renegotiate Britain's position in the EU and then call a referendum if the Tories get a full majority after the next election, which basically translates to "I will buy you a yacht, but only if I win the lottery this week" - it's really, really hard for incumbent parties in this country to increase their proportion of the vote in elections, especially incumbents responsible for as many unpopular decisions as the Tories, especially when the major protest party is UKIP which is likely to vampire more votes from the Tories than it is from the Lib Dems or Labour, and especially when the folks who had been voting Lib Dem to protest Labour are likely to say "Well, fuck that" and go back to Labour after the Lib Dem's soft puppety weakness in the coalition. Even if by some miracle Dave does get his majority, it's been made fairly clear that his attention is to lobby for the UK to stay in Europe - as Labour and the Lib Dems are nigh-certain to do - so you'll have a strong "Yes to the membership" campaign where most UK politicians will actually be working to present the benefits of EU membership, which they're extremely slack about doing usually.

People like to gripe about the EU, but there's a long space between that and being willing to vote for an exit, especially when referendum turnout in this country tends to be low and when there'll be months of promotion of staying in and cartoon characters like UKIP representing the "No to the EU" campaign. And it's notable that the bits of the media which really push discontent with the EU tend to be the ones like the Daily Express - the Diana conspiracy-obsessed rag which regularly makes the Daily Mail seem wishy-washy and moderate.

It runs entirely against my grain to be defending Cameron but the idea that he has a "strongly anti-EU stance" is sustainable only if you don't actually pay attention to what he's saying and who he's saying it to and what strong anti-EU stances actually look like.

Sorry, Robinson, but your friend is full of shit.
at 15:01 on 21-09-2013, Arthur B
Despite the needlessly flippant use of "retarded", this crusty old Achewood comic accurately sums up my feelings about Google's logo change.
at 11:36 on 21-09-2013, Robinson L
@Cheriola: Bug or no bug, you've managed a lot more than I could, just at the moment.

Re: Politics
Currently, the EU is under a coalition government between the center-right Conservative (or Tory) and the center-left Liberal Democratic (or Lib Dem) Parties, which respectively comprise the older and younger siblings in the coalition.

I didn't hear the EU talked about a whole lot while I was in London, but a British friend of mine was on a podcast a couple of months ago with a US journalist where he talked about (among other things) the EU. According to him, at this point more than 50% of Brits want out of the EU, which probably helps explain why the Conservative Prime Minister feels empowered to take a strongly anti-EU stance.

My friend didn't go into exactly why Brits in general or the Tories in particular are against the EU at that point, but elsewhere he brought up a few different issues. For one, he says, Britain tends to be "somewhat misanthropic and distrustful of its counterparts on the continent" (as explanation for why the UK hasn't signed onto the Schengen Treaty). The other issues he identified were sovereignty (not wanting other countries messing about in internal UK affairs, plus the fact that, according to him, the EU is undemocratic because the elected EU parliament is "restricted purely to voting on legislation which they themselves do not write" and therefore they have very little real control); and economy (Britain insisted on retaining the pound as opposed to adopting the euro, and the pound has retained much of its strength over the past five years - it's apparently accepted generally that if Britain hadn't retained the pound, it would now be in a position analogous to that of Cyprus. So basically, many Brits view the EU economically as a sinking ship. and figure they're better off going it alone).

All three issues have some strongly nationalist, inward-looking, "Britain first!" dimensions, which would naturally appeal to a center-right party like the Conservatives.

I must say though, the US two-parties-and-never-the-two-shall-meet system, for all its bombastic campaigns, seems at the same time depressing ... and a bit boring

It gets even more depressing when you consider that even the ~50% of voters (which is significantly less than 50% of the population eligible to vote, even before you factor in the increased fad for purging voter rolls) often have their wishes disregarded by the party in power. As best I can tell, most Americans oppose continued war, austerity measures, and probably domestic spying as well, but none of that has stopped Obama and the Democrats. Really, though, from what I've seen of other countries' electoral systems (especially the UK's), it doesn't seem like our lot is, in the end, all that much worse.

Something I've realized recently is that the two-party system, for all its restrictions on freedom of choice, does prevent situations like the one in the UK with the ruling party getting less than 50% of the votes but still taking power just on the strength of winning a plurality. I'm pretty sure I've heard that was how Thatcher managed to remain Prime Minister for so long, despite being highly unpopular by the end.

As for boring, I dunno, I find the bombast and all the desperate attempts by the two parties and the mainstream media to make out that the essential differences between the two are matters of kind rather than degree make things quite lively (overly so, in election season, for my personal tastes - the US may have ditched the bread by and large, but it's gone to town as far as circuses are concerned).

Then again, the only other system I can really compare it to is Britain, which has exactly one more major party than the US; two of its major parties (Labour and the Lib-Dems, both broadly analogous to the Democrats in the US) are mostly indistinguishable at first glance, and the difference between either one of them and the third (Conservative) party is no more pronounced than between the Democrats and the Republicans in the States. So maybe I'm just missing out on what a proper multi-party political dust-up looks like.

And we do morally owe the world, even if maybe not Greece in particular.

I guess I would go along with this - but not, I would argue, any more than other major powers like the US, Britain, Russia, Belgium, France, etc. all of which also have numerous nasty blots on their records.

Re: Story
With the baby-carrier scenario - I'm hampered by frankly being incapable of truly understanding a dislike of / uninterest in having children (no doubt helped by the fact that biologically speaking, I am exempt from taking on the really hard role), so I'm sure that skews my perceptions to some extent.

But moving away from the scenario where the female-coded baby-carrier desperately wants to have children, I decided for a couple of reasons that I didn't want to go to the opposite extreme of having them actively not want to have children. I like the idea of having them be mostly ambivalent; not strongly wanting children for their own sake, but when somebody else brings up the idea (with the understanding that it doesn't necessarily need to be them) and knowing they'd have at least one other person to help with the bringing up process, happy enough to do that. I think there is a significant difference between that and "highly desires children" which could be neat to explore.

I did think it would be good to have an extra reason, though, especially if I don't end up going the artificial wombs route - as you say, it's a big undertaking for the baby-carrier character. So I threw in the "I want to grow the perfect lab partner" bit as an added incentive, which I imagine eventually overtaking the "I am broadly positive in a low-key way about the idea of having children for their own sake" motivation. I think I could produce a rather tragic scenario of the baby-carrier character loving their kids on some level (though not to the extent that someone who enthusiastically wants to have kids), but having that feeling overshadowed by disappointment by not being able to mold them into the perfect assistants.

Thanks for the info on IVF. I admit I haven't studied artificially induced pregnancy in any sort of detail and essentially put in the first thing that popped into my head. I will, of course, devote more research to the subject when and if I get around to turning the idea into an actual story.

And yes, I'm aware people (including asexuals) have sex outside their orientation for various reasons. Again, I may just be showing my ignorance here, but I figured the non-baby-carrying character would prefer not to do that if it turns out it can be avoided without too much hassle. I guess I'll see where my research and the feel of the story take me on that point.

Alternatively, I could just have them have sex for some reason (which I think would also entail research to make it plausible), the baby-carrier character winds up pregnant, and chooses not to abort. Either way can work, I guess.

Dan: If you select the "I may have killed more people than I actually avenged" option, you get an achievement called "Acknowledged Ludonarrative Dissonance."

Oh, that's cute.
at 12:51 on 20-09-2013, Kit
Thanks for the input! The trailer had me interested, and I guess that if I find it at a similar price during a sale I might give it a whirl.
at 10:57 on 20-09-2013, Dan H
That's a tricky one. It's quite fun but very short (I clocked up about 4 hours playtime, and that included quite a lot of pausing to talk to Kyra/make dinner) and despite the fact that most of the levels have multiple solutions, it didn't feel very replayable to me (I haven't felt much of an urge to go back and try to do things differently).

I bought it for £3.99 in a Steam Midweek Sale and I think that's probably about what it's worth. I think if I'd payed full price I'd have resented it.
at 09:36 on 20-09-2013, Kit
Wow, that's...deliciously meta :) How was the game itself? I'm kind of intrigued...
at 18:49 on 19-09-2013, Dan H
I have just finished playing indie stealth/puzzle/platform game Gunpoint.

At the end, your protagonist writes a blog post summarising the events of the game, and they seem to be published to the actual internets. Mine is here.

If you select the "I may have killed more people than I actually avenged" option, you get an achievement called "Acknowledged Ludonarrative Dissonance."
at 18:43 on 19-09-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
I remember that Greece's exports have been growing a bit and I suppose the agricultural stuff is important to them. But so is tourism! And with lower salaries in Germany, for example, people will be spending less money on that as well. The agricultural output might drop because of the draughts, that's true. But like I said, the poorer standard of living in Germany is caused mainly by the emphasis on export industry, which of course has many good sides, but has to be balanced at some point.

I agree too, that the project to save Euro and EU is not done out of altruism, or at least if that is a reason, it is far from the deciding or most important one. EU is much too good an idea to be let go, especially by the first real crisis it has ever faced.

I heard about the Green affair too, although one might hope that that stays as a tangential affair. Those sorts of ideas were relatively common in the 70s' when the sexual revolution was still looking at its limits and children's sexuality was thought to be repressed by some people. That was checked out in the end, if I recall correctly by people pointing out that sexual freedom is not supposed to end in an end of responsibilities and many feminists pointed out that some of the more wild ideas seemed to just be justifications for men's sexuality to run amok unchecked under the pretext of freedom. But that was some 30-40 years ago. For example, one of the richest men in Finland, the banker Björn Wahlroos used to be a stalinist, but now he is nearly a billionaire and an extreme Randian who thinks that democracy should be limited because it interferes with the markets and freedom of individuals. So, a lot of stuff can happen in a few years.

On the anti-eu stance of brits, there are probably many people here who know better, but as I see it, the current PM Cameron seems to want the best of both worlds. On the one hand he wants to stay in the EU, because it is a big benefit to their economy, on the other hand, he has to handle a large anti-eu faction in the Tory's while the anti-eu party UKIP, seems to be gaining in popularity, I assume at the expense of Torys. Britain does have a long history of looking after it self and trying to somewhat stay away from the messes of the continent, merely trying to uphold the balance there so that no one player gets too strong. But I don't know how relevant that is in today's politics.
at 15:38 on 19-09-2013, Cheriola
* phosphate
* mercantile

Today is not my day...
at 14:48 on 19-09-2013, Cheriola
Yeah, from what little I understand of the issue, the problem is more that there are people who are poor and unemployed in Germany, and they don't like public funds going abroad instead of using it to raise pension levels here to a point where you wouldn't have some elderly people needing to collect bottles from street wastebins for the return deposit anymore, for example. It's misdirected frustration, because most of the major print publications (especially the tabloids) are owned by big corporations with other arms in heavy industry and banking (the German private banks did get huge bailouts, too). It's the same with the discussion of the "too high" electricity prices for consumers right now - industry trying to distract the public from the fact that they're getting a free lunch right now due to the rapidly falling wholesale prices and the widespread industry exeptions from the surcharge.

I don't think Greece ever had much of an export economy, at least to Germany, except for a few select expensive foodstuffs (olives, wine, cheese etc.) and labourers. From what I can tell, the country's economy is mostly dependent on tourism (85% of their economy is in the service sector), which of course isn't happening as much as long as they are in turmoil. But I believe what we're seeing now is not just the result of irresponsible banking speculation and possibly government corruption, but also the first signs of the economic impact of climate change, which will turn the Mediterranean if not uninhabitable, then certainly not able to produce their own food supplies anymore, never mind for export. (The problem is less the heat, more the ever increasing droughts.) And the country doesn't have much heavy industry or natural resources to exploit. (Unlike for example Morocco, which is hot and dry, but also has most of the world's supply of rock phosphorate, which worldwide agriculture is completely dependent upon. Hence why the country was kept stable throughout the Arab Spring.) Well, Wikipedia tells me Greece owns the world's biggest merchantile shipping fleet. But that source of income will dry up, too, unless the oil price goes down considerably. So I don't think the area will ever return to the level of prosperity that they once had.

However, I think Merkel is mainly trying to help the country not out of the kindness of her heart, but because if Greece, mother of democracy, breaks away from the EU, then others will follow. And Germany needs the EU to survive, not just for economic reasons, but for emotional reasons as well.
And, well, at the end of the day, most Germans are still well enough off that some solidarity doesn't hurt. And we do morally owe the world, even if maybe not Greece in particular.
at 13:35 on 19-09-2013, Cheriola
... And "Hastur Lord", even more so, though I'm not sure I ever read that one.