Go Home the Party is Over

Posted: January 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

I’m on hiatus from this blog to get on with some things I need to be doing and to pursue other projects, I probably will be returning to this eventually, in a blaze of bourbon and self-righteous indignation no doubt – but don’t be expecting new content any time soon.

It’s been a ride; I’ve enjoyed the hate mail, been amused by the people plagiarizing my half-assed posts for their own websites, I’ve really dug the people who’ve emailed in to chew the fat and I love that you guys have still been reading, and getting in touch with me since I stopped – you are all beautiful people and I wouldn’t have bothered doing this without you. So I’ll see y’all around. Not like you need me here to be breaking the news to you, it’s already pretty damn broken.

 

You’re gonna’ carry that weight,

Elliot

Indie games Brutal Tactics Totally Okay Now B.U.T.T.O.N GDC videogames gaming review

This Question is what brings the fun, it is also the philosophical malaise underlying the design of the game, but you should concern yourself with finding the answer as a matter of survival.

By Elliot Adams

Three men lie aching on the floor, ruined shadows of their former selves – sweaty, breathless and surrounded by thrown shoes and broken keys. The apparatus those keys belong to is being clutched by one man who stands alone, still bracing a foot against the chair he had used to shield himself from the others’ assault and clinging to the keyboard as proof of his victory. His thousand-yard-stare looked over his defeated friends, lines had been crossed brutally and without hesitation – things would never be the same again.

“another round?”

GDC Indie Games Design Game Developers Conference B.U.T.T.O.N. Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally Okay Now Videogames Review Gaming

Awh, even their horrible electric death is cute.

“yeah okay.”

This is the way of the indie party game B.U.T.T.O.N. which appropriately stands for Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally Okay Now. Ostensibly the game is a simplified simon says, but with cute animated flashcards and a competition to be the first to complete the commands given. First the players are told to back up to seven paces away from the keyboard, then they are given an action to carry out – this can any number of things, for example pose like a ninja or look another player lovingly in the eyes. Then it is a race to carry out a specific action with your allocated button, which could be to press it a certain number of times, or not to press it at all. The computer plays no part in enforcing rules upon the game, by doing so B.U.T.T.O.N focuses the gameplay outside of the computer and puts the rules of that gameplay in the players’ hands.

New notions of ‘unfair’ slip into the house rules quickly as people don’t step back the full distance, or make a mad lunge for the keyboard halfway through a task, or trip other players and pull obstacles into their way, and frantically press each others’ buttons – literal and figurative. This is hilarious; like a cross between Twister, Last Man Standing and a pub brawl.

Spyeart Silent Skies GDC Game Developers Conference Indie Games Design Gaming B.U.T.T.O.N

Spyeart's Silent Skies was a particularly elegant solution to the GDC one-button problem, holding the button banks a plane in an anti-clockwise direction and releasing the button turn clockwise.

Your mileage on this experience may vary; what is permissible for players to do is entirely dependent on the people who are playing and to my mind this is the way games should treat their players. The game was part of a contest in designing one-button games at last year’s Game Developers Conference, and the other semi finalists were all impressive examples of what can be done under such limitations. But I feel only B.U.T.T.O.N. was truly unique, no-button or one-button inputs are increasingly common, for example you only have to look at the myriad imitators Cannabalt spawned.

B.U.T.T.O.N. seems to acknowledge that though the rules of a game are what makes it engaging, those rules should serve the player themselves. Rules should not merely serve the integrity of the game, they should serve the enjoyment of the people who are playing and be flexible enough to step aside when they are inhibiting that.

This isn’t necessarily a game you’re going to come back to, a few extra game-modes or some way of keeping score might have aided replay value. But it only costs £0.97 via their formspring(also available from Steam or Xbox Marketplace), which is worth it for something that is undoubtedly something special.

kingdoms of Amalur trailer screenshot review RA Salvatore Todd McFarlane Ken Rolston

Even eldritch abominations enjoy playing with their toy soldiers.

By Elliot Adams

Amongst all the promising big-budget RPGs on the way, early demonstrations of 38 Studios’ single-player RPG Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning have passed quieter than a fart in a courtroom. Perhaps this lack of interest is because, as I did at first, people see the game’s title and consign it to the banality pit at the back of their minds. ‘Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning’ sounds as though it was picked from random pages in The Big Book of Fantasy Clichés – sorry, I meant ‘Ye Prophesied Tome of Hackneyed Phraseizor‘. The game continues in his manner too,  rabbits will be renamed ‘smeerps’ at every opportunity; elves are ‘Ljosalfar’, dark elves are ‘Dokkalfar’, humans are ‘Almain’, the Scottish are ‘Varani‘ and gnomes are adorable.* The protagonist will awaken from one of those not-really-deaths that have been popular since Planescape and trot off across the Faelands seeking their incompetent-killer and smushing kobolds with swords and spells – presumably saving the world in the process. The story is not yet particularly impressive, but the team behind ‘Reckoning are.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning RPG MMORPG E3 Trailer Screenshots God of War Oblivion RA Salvatore Todd McFarlane

no amount of posing can undo the shame of hipster facial hair

New York Times bestselling author RA Salvatore created the world itself and its extensive lore, with Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn, working on the visuals. Salvatore is apparently a big deal in expanded universe fiction and is somewhat famous for being the author who killed Chewbacca, I like to think he convinced the CIA to shoot him as a known drug smuggler and anti-Empire terrorist(Update: I have learned that he dropped a moon on him).

But for me the promise in Reckoning‘s pedigree comes from the game’s executive designer Ken Rolston, the lead designer of the last two Elder Scrolls games Morrowind and Oblivion, both of which won numerous awards and remain benchmarks for the genre.

It’s being pushed as the bastard offspring of Oblivion and God of War, which is a pretty firm match. As in the latter, combat will be based around timing button-presses to build up combos, or to ignore if you prefer button-mashing. But the game will also be very familiar to Oblivion players. It is a persistent living world in day to night cycles with an NPC population that, if left alone, will go about their own business interacting socially and visiting pubs and shops. Also while combat is somewhat arcade-style, there are no class limitations on weapon use and magic can be used alongside any number of weapons and items without switching equipment – a simple crafting and gathering system has also been announced to bolster these items, though hopefully it avoids the drudgery of Oblivion‘s alchemy process.

Reckoning is a multi-platform release and will be lumbered with some of the difficult-to-port relics of console gaming, so even if you’re on a PC expect to be occasionally called to hammer on a mythical ‘triangle’ key to avoid instant death.

Even though such Quick Time Event sequences are a regression to a form of cinematic gaming we discarded with FMV sequences some time in the early 90s, I’m not necessarily against them.  A reflex test is a fair, if arbitrary,  method of distracting the player from their loss of control in cutscenes – you’re essentially playing a jarring version of Typing of the Dead. But QTE are never been properly integrated into gameplay so it’s impossible for the player to really be ready for being wrenched from one type of game and into another.

kingdoms of Amalur Trailer Screenshots Review Concept Art RA Salvatore Todd McFarlane Oblivion Quicktime Events

These daggers make an appearance in many of the publicity screens, looking suspiciously like the God of War swords - still using placeholder models perhaps?

But regardless of these problems, names like Rolston’s are fast approaching the trusted status previously restricted to the old videogame industry doyens like Warren Spector, Tim Schaffer or Ken Levine – who, in showing their willingness to rethink the types of world and narrative that can be built in the medium, have proved capable of making the oldest videogame tropes seem new and entertaining. ‘Reckoning is certainly trying something new with the single-player fantasy RPG – which seems like an endangered genre of late as more developers just go straight to MMO – so they are to be applauded for that, and considering the calibre of the development team they may just be successful. Expect it in early 2012.

*To my dear Scots, I don’t mean to imply you aren’t human, I live among you and wouldn’t do so if I didn’t find the majority of Scottish people rather likeable. But in the world of fantasy fiction you are essentially another martial species, you’re just lucky that in this instance Scottish people aren’t bearded axe-wielding midgets.

last issue of the News of the World phone hacking Andy Coulson Rebekah Brooks David Cameron Ed Miliband

The final issue of News of the World, in a surprising display of humour they covered it with some of the more dubious and exploitative headlines the newspaper has run in the past.

By Elliot Adams

I was going to wait until after reading the News of the World‘s final issue before weighing in on the latest batch of News International’s wrong-doing, very bravely taking shots at the things everyone else already hates. But even without the normal parade of witch-hunts, libel and outing of people’s sex lives the ‘Screws of the World has become famous for – it is junk food news, cheap to produce but devoid of any real content; I just can’t bring myself to do it.

The way NI have been addressing the situation has been reprehensible, and it is this that I want to now gripe on about. Putting aside for a moment allegations about the bribing of police officers and hacking into the private communications of union leaders, victims of terrorist bombings, fallen soldiers and murdered schoolgirls(in one instance leading her parents to believe she was still alive). Admittedly this is a fairly large aside, a fast stream of feculent ordure that threatens to choke News International, and the police, the Prime Minister and the self-regulated free press along with them – it is not called the gutter press for nothing.

There’s been a fervour to the hyperbolic coverage from the NotW‘s contemporaries; some bemoaned ‘The End of the World’ and its passage to the gallows, perhaps feeling that the mob could call for their own sacrifice in time. Others were shouting down the foul recreant with revolutionary zeal, a link Henry Porter made explicit in The Observer:

A lightning revolt with a whiff of the Arab Spring about it … a feeling of liberation at the end of this highly charged week and we can say that our society seems better off: our political system is freer and, I would suggest, a little bit cleaner; relations between the media, politicians and the public have changed for good.

While I agree that politicians have been given a scare with regards to how they cosy up to figures like Murdoch, the current situation is more akin to the Terror in Revolutionary France; conspiracies(both real and imagined) are rife and heads are rolling, but all the wrong ones. (Alongside Clive Goodman)David Cameron’s former director of communications Andy Coulson has been fired, arrested and fired again – but so far he is an exception. Though it has rapidly become apparent that the ‘one rouge reporter’ defence was about as silly as it sounded, executives, managers and editors calling the shots have remained safe while hacks, photographers and office workers at the NotW are put out of work. It seems they are being sacrificed on behalf of a what James Murdoch freely admits was as failure of NI corporate governance.

Rupert Murdoch News International News Corporation News of the World Phone Hacking

Murdoch's continued protection of Brooks may be due to dynastic concerns, reputedly his wife and daughter are not fond of her, but she is integral to James Murdoch's work - to turn on her might cause in-fighting.(Image: World Economic Forum)

In a structure based heavily on top-down authority it makes no sense for accountability to stop on the ground floor. Even with those who indulged in phone-hacking, you can’t expect a tabloid hack to have the self-awareness to critique the editorial guidance of his corporate overlords, these are pitiful creatures that think ‘ethics’ is a county just north of London. If they were not so blessed with the complete absence of self-awareness the job’s suicide rate would be atrocious, every day the clattering of keyboards would be punctuated by the sad thud of heads on desks as the pentobarbital takes effect, while James Murdoch whirrs past in a street sweeper keeping the aisles clear of corpses.

Maybe I am being too quick to judge though, Rebekah Brooks claims it is “inconceivable that [she] knew or worse, sanctioned these appalling [actions]allegations” well there you have it, literally incon-fucking-ceivable. There is no way anyone could conceive of a bizarro world where the head of a major newspaper would have any awareness of what was being published in said newspaper or where those stories had come from. Clearly those at the helm of NotW are the victims of some kind of cruel prank where they’ve been tricked into thinking that they were running a newspaper, are they entitled to compensation perhaps?

Likewise Brooks and Coulson are misunderstood on the allegation that they bribed the police for information. Now admittedly they did both inadvertently confess to this in front of a Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee hearing. But when asked if they would do so again Coulson was very clear;

We operate within the code and within the law and if there is a clear public interest then we will.

That’s reassuring, ‘within the law’. Clearly not the law we’ve had for centuries about not making payment to a police officer acting within his duty, but another law – perhaps the one outlawing wearing a suit of armour in the Houses of Parliament. So really News International is a paragon of truth and virtue.

The spontaneous closure of the News of the World was  seen by many as a virtuous move, doing the right thing by falling on their sword, but the cynic in me finds this unlikely. Last week, News Corporation posted a press release announcing a new “managing editor structure” at its newspapers in a move towards integration of daily and Sunday publications. To this end, a group managing editor position was created with responsibility over both The Sun and News of the World and News of the World‘s managing editor Bill Akass was to be moved to a safe regulatory executive position.

We will take a comprehensive look at where there is common ground across our titles and where we should remain unique. Where there is common ground we will find ways of implementing efficiencies to editorial systems and processes and, where appropriate, we will find ways of introducing seven day working.

Clearly News Corporation were already planning on merging their daily and Sunday titles, is it really a stretch to see this as evidence that the death of NotW was also planned before all this kicked off anyway?

I disagree with the notion that NotW was a toxic influence that had to be killed off before it tainted Murdoch’s fitness to takeover BskyB, there’s plenty evidence that another of NI’s rags the Sun is also tainted by the phone-hacking scandal. Even if there wasn’t, the Sun is currently waiting to hear if they’ll be prosecuted for breaching contempt of court laws in their reporting of Joanna Yeates’ murder – so hardly a ‘clean’ example of NI’s responsibility. NotW‘s closure was merely expedient.

Some have speculated that the plan has long been to replace NotW with a superficially different Sun on Sunday title. I would not be surprised if this is the case, nor would I be particularly shocked if the News of the World made a comeback in a familiar form in a couple of years time. The simple fact of the matter is that Murdoch has a metric fuckton of money and influence enough to have king-making powers in UK politics. Unless the government curbs his influence, this is not going to change any time soon. To some in the media, the 7th of July may have been “a lightning revolt” reminiscent of the Arab spring, for some politicians it was the day they re-evaluated their relations with the media, but Murdoch is media-concentration incarnate, to him it was just Thursday.

Politician Bites Watchdog

Ed Miliband seems to understand the situation a lot better than Cameron. Gone is the simpering replicant who somehow got stuck in a loop during an interview 9 days ago, he hasn’t gone to war with Murdoch, but he has been uncompromising in seeking an independent solution to the mess his company has left in it’s wake.

Apparently ignoring the rumoured threats of a lifetime cut-off of support for labour policy from News Corp titles, Miliband has passionately pushed for Brook’s resignation and a delay or cancellation for Murdoch’s BskyB bid until an criminal investigation is complete or it is deferred to the competition commission – threatening to force the issue to a vote if necessary.

This is not necessarily to his credit though, he has less to lose because Cameron’s courtship of Murdoch was far more successful than his. Team Cameron has spent years getting News International to play for them, the linking of interests between the Conservative Party and NI was the product of endless negotiating, secretive dinner meetings, promises to abolish Ofcom and scale back the BBC, and quaffing wine in exotic villas. Ultimately I think the clincher was the link Cameron trusted route to Murdoch through Brooks via her disgraced – and newly employed by the Tories – friend Andy Coulson. Ever since Murdoch’s papers have served the interests of the Conservative party, even supporting the Scottish Nationalist Party who provide a softer resistance to Tory policies north of the border.

Ed Miliband Labour Party Phone Hacking News of the World

Miliband beat Cameron to the punch in seeking reform of the PCC, but to abolish and replace it at this time would be a mistake.(Image: DECC)

Miliband’s has had no chance at wooing Murdoch, whereas David Cameron couldn’t be more ‘in’ with News International right now unless Murdoch buried his gentleman’s region testes-deep inside him, which would be about as uncomfortable for Cameron as he appears to be now anyway. Dave is tethered to NI and so has been flopping about defending Andy Coulson while condemning his actions, spitting soundbites criticising vague notions of something wrong in the UK media while constantly on running from talking about his own involvement with problematic media figures – he is loud and showboating but directionless, a rodeo clown afraid of his own Bull.

Hence Cameron’s distraction tactic of attacking the Press Complaints Commission. It is true that the PCC’s initial response to phone-hacking in 2009 was insubstantial and not enough attention was given to the evidence revealed by The Guardian, but it has since become obvious that they were intentionally misled and  the PCC have withdrawn their report from that time. Hindsight is always 20/20, but prior to this past few weeks even the police thought the matter was confined to a small number of celebrities. If the police and James Murdoch himself both could not accurately assess the scale of the problem with their greater access to evidence, how then can Cameron claim that the self-regulation apparatus of the PCC should have done?

Those calling for stronger regulation than the PCC can provide seem to be forgetting that these acts were against the law, there have been arrests and those responsible may face prison sentences – is illegality and the full force of law not ample regulation?

It seems to me like there is a drive building off Cameron’s statements for MPs to castigate journalism as a whole for recent events. I find it difficult to listen to MPs pontificating on the failings of the press without ever acknowledging New Labour’s part in the cementing Murdoch’s power or these Thatcherite-lite conservatives courting that same power.

The PCC has its failings and we have long needed a way to address the concentration of media ownership. But it should be remembered that it was a journalist applying all the bounds of good practice who exposed these latest scandals. The PCC has helped resolve a constant supply of complaints at no cost, free speech and good practice are protected by independent self-regulation, but are also fostered by it. Nick Davies and other ‘Guardian journalists have been exemplar in applying a meticulously accurate scrutiny to the News of the World. This very process has been a shining example of media plurality prevailing over media concentration and of the industry regulating itself independent of government control.

By DAILY MAIL REVILER

Today’s Daily Mail was the normal mix of sensationalism, scaremongering, racism, pseudo-science and anti-reason(their idiocy surpasses common nonsense to such a degree that it annihilates reason whenever the two collide). But The ‘Mail has now seemingly given up all pretence of being a newspaper, not a comicbook, by headlining a report on a car-bombing in Thailand and the rising death-toll from such occurrences with “Ka-boom! …”. They swiftly followed this up with one of the most appalling and malign pieces I have ever had the misfortune to read. They have opted to exploit the sad story of Sophie Howard, a 13-year-old killed by a falling tree branch in Yaxley on Thursday, to spread more of their unthinking anti-union bile.

Daily Mail Tree Death Sophie Howard Yaxley

I've been in the pub since taking this screenshot and The Daily Mail has since adjusted the headline and some of the article content to hide their vindictive implication.

This was  an apparently unpredictable accident, Sophie Howard hit by a falling branch as she sat on a park bench in Peterborough. But the ‘Mail clearly blames her teachers for being on strike, and therefore allowing Sophie and her friends time for their fatal trip to the park. The Mirror and The Telegraph took the same ridiculous angle on the story, but with a great deal more subtlety.

It even seems unlikely to me that anyone prior to the ‘Mail itself was making this absurd connection between events, though obviously, as is typical with this auspicious publication, the article is peppered with conveniently anonymous vox pop quotations reiterating the anonymous journalist’s position. “The fact is if the teachers were not on strike Sophie would have been at school and this would not have happened,” one anonymous source says, completely unprompted of course.

Now, perhaps this is my problem, but I seem entirely unable to find that dubious twitter quote from Mrs “one angry parent” claiming “she should have been safe at school … it could have been my daughter” – perhaps twitter’s search function is broken. Admittedly though, other people have made similar posts following The Daily Mail‘s trash – so if they can’t be honest, at least they’re sometimes prescient(“even stopped clocks”).

If the teachers were not on strike Sophie would have been at school and this would not have happened

Another anonymous source points the finger at local government – yet another constant enemy of the ‘Mail - for ignoring his warnings of the dangerous trees. I wonder if anyone in the ‘Mail’s newsroom recalls the Daily Mail‘s claims that council efforts to maintain or replace dangerous trees were health-and-safety-‘gorn-mad caused by “misguided fears” of deadfall accidents. Accidents which the, ever forgetful,  Daily Mail have themselves pointed out do happen even in the presence of teachers.

No matter how much of a technically inept Kelvin MacKenzie job this piece was, the crux of its post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacious argument is that; though this accident could have happened at any time, it didn’t, it happened during strikes. Well I too, indirectly , think this is the important issue here. Though the accident could have happened at any time, it happened less than a day ago. There is a family and a school that has just lost a child in a tragic accident, so recently that there is no guarantee that those the ‘Mail accuses know of the death yet. Yet instead of covering the accident in a decent and sensitive manner, this vacuous thought-hole of a newspaper has been peddling that butterfly-flaps-its-wings-and-causes-a-hurricane crap to groundlessly accuse those who knew and taught Sophie Howard on a daily basis of being responsible for her death. They are the soul cancer that is going to finish us all.

If there is anyone at the Daily Mail who still remembers what it was like to be a human being then they will be apologising to both the Howard family and the teaching staff from her school. Failing that, shutting the hell up for a bit and taking a long hard look at the mindless screeching terrorhawk you have become would be a start.

Update: Ending on a song because why not.

Tamil Sri Lanka Protests Toronto Canada

Tamil protests in Canada which has the largest Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora population. (Image: 松林 L)

by Elliot Adams

Many broadcasters are using the summer evening slow hours to drop some emotion bait for the September-November documentary award-season. Long-running documentary series are wheeling out their larger set-pieces for this year, as This World did with their excellent ‘The Invasion of Lampedusa’. There have also been suitably emotional and shocking standalone efforts, like Terry Pratchett ‘s insightful video essay on assisted suicide, Choosing to Dieor More4’s The Pipe. But the most controversial so far has been Channel4’s documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, which I finally managed to catch a last night and is still available internationally online.

It contains some of the most shocking images ever broadcast on Channel4 we are told in a trite and hackneyed introduction from Jon Snow, very much in the style of Sheriff John Bunnell from World’s Wildest Police Videos - which is appropriate because the show that follows is very much Jon Snow’s Most Shocking Genocides by any other name.

They allowed the narrative of the documentary to be shaped by what un-aired clips they had and made no mention of events that they didn’t have new shocking gory footage of, for instance little was said of the concentration camps that hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians were forced into – these are termed ‘welfare villages‘ by the Sri Lankan government, a chilling amelioration that belies the horrifying truth that sexual abuse, torture and starvation is endemic in these camps and at one point thousands were dying in the largest camp every week.

Civilians trapped between their own soldiers and the Sri Lankan army who were bent on state-sanctioned genocide

Interview questions also never really go beyond the obvious, often merely reiterating what has already been said or was explicitly shown in video footage. At its best, the narration of the new footage points out the disparity between the State’s account of events and what is being shown – particularly when showing that key LTTE figures were summarily executed after their surrender was accepted (and in one case sexually assaulted, probably raped) rather than Killed In Action as claimed. At its worst, it is sensationalising and exploitative – building up the emotional impact of the images, providing callous atrocity as a form of entertainment. But perhaps this was to be expected, this is after all the broadcaster that gave us the exploitative modern-day freak-show of its Bodyshock series, trailers for which stopped just short of calling out ‘Roll up! Roll up! ladies and gents, with terror and revulsion feast your eyes upon The Girl With an Arsehole on Her Face!’

Issues of sensitivity and its limited depth aside, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields gives a compelling and seemingly accurate account of the unlawful behaviour of military forces in the northern theatre of the latest civil war.

We’re shown targeted shelling by Sri Lankan forces of crowded hospitals(to such a degree that doctors requested the Red Cross to stop sharing hospitals’ GPS locations with the Sri Lankan government) within civilian camps in areas the government had laughably designated ‘no-fire zones’. We see a sustained and targeted campaign of extermination against the civilians who had fled to the no-fire zone, and then once the government designated a new one on the east coast we are shown how the armed forces cut the zone in two with a sustained artillery barrage so they could arrest those who fled east and herd them into internment camps . Tamil civilians found themselves trapped between their own soldiers (who weren’t willing to let their human shield leave) and the Sri Lankan army who were apparently bent on state-sanctioned genocide.

Tamil Sri Lanka Genocide War Crimes IDP

Tamil civilians fleeing Killinochi (Image: Tamils Rehabilitation Organization)

All journalists, NGOs, international observers and most UN staff had been expelled from the region before the government’s offensive. Consequently the majority of the footage used for the documentary was from shot by civilian amateurs and by victims themselves. The story their footage tells bears witness to crimes against humanity committed by both combatant factions, neither showing much concern for the suffering and deaths of those whose lives they were fighting over. But the last portion of ‘Killing Fields, introduced by another Jon-Snow-channelling-John-Bunnell introduction, was made up largely of the trophy videos filmed on the perpetrators’ mobile phones. It is this last third of the documentary that has proved the most controversial.

Clips of dead child soldiers, mutilated Tamil civilians, bound and helpless prisoners being executed and the naked corpses of raped Tamil women being piled on trucks while those throwing the bodies joke about which one has “the best figure.”

A particularly disturbing moment is when one soldier remarks, “I really want to cut her tits off. If no one was around”, in Sinhalese. Humanity has been lowered in your estimation so much by this point that you find yourself reassured that this implies someone in the Army’s command structure wouldn’t approve of further mutilations.

There is a troubling air of spectacle in the way these images are treated though, through its commentary and the questionable choice to put a cheesy horror film soundtrack behind footage of war crimes – this incidentally, by displacing the atrocities from their callous and everyday context, was every bit as inappropriate a choice as the Benny Hill theme tune would have been. It wasn’t the same atrocity exhibition being put on by those filming these war crimes, it was a more human form of exploitation – using these images purely for their shock value.

To be honest I wasn’t that disturbed by what I saw. I am both a very jaded horror film fan and have never shied away from real-life footage of this nature – to be honest I had already seen much of what was included in Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields circulating on the internet. I’ve seen people killed literally in front of me, and while I was shocked at the time – it hasn’t stayed with me as trauma. So perhaps I am just failing to understand the effect these scenes have had on some viewers, but to me it was the way in which they were broadcast that was troubling and I wasn’t the only one.

Even those who felt the way ‘Killing fields handled events was laudable made comparisons between its later footage and horror film excess. Most eloquent among detractors, who felt the scenes shouldn’t have been broadcast, was Serena Davies writing for The Torygraph;

Watching these films made me retch and I wonder quite what the purpose was of viewers being exposed to such horror. Snow said he believed the films should be made public, but why to the British public? Should untutored members of another nation, one on the other side of the world and with no claims now over its former colony, be the people to bear witness to such grotesque behaviour, watching a sequence of these squalid little films and adding a final violation of the victims’ privacy? Surely they are a matter for the experts, for the international arbiters of justice and human rights. In this instance, TV, with its sensationalising soundtrack and its graphic intimacy, seemed the wrong way to present yet another reminder of man’s capacity for evil.

Another obvious critic is the Sri Lankan government. They have released an official statement registering their concern at the ‘distress’ possibly faked footage may have caused viewers, and trying to portray their cover-up attempts as part of an effort to heal old wounds.

The Sri Lankan government is concerned about the distress the images in the Channel 4 film aired without any guarantee of their authenticity might have caused to the viewers … This is an exercise which is carried out by a small section of international media at the behest of certain parties with vested interests and it caters only to the interests of separatist forces living outside Sri Lanka, the final objective of which is to push Sri Lanka back to war, by way of lacerating the wounds that the country is attempting to heal.

This is almost verbatim their response to the last broadcast of evidence of these war crimes, but both sets of footage have been independently authenticated by the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. The Sri Lankan government’s seeking to pretend that these events are now just a painful history to be forgotten and healed is not just disingenuous – I think it is a fundamental misapprehension of how social trauma heals, the same one I feel critics like Serena Davies are labouring under.

I’m going to make a few gross simplifications here, so sorry for that.

In the foundational texts of trauma studies, for instance the works of Cathy Caruth, trauma is often identified as a problem of knowing or witnessing. On experiencing a traumatic event, the individual is overwhelmed by the impossibility of ‘being there’ and cannot cope with, or integrate, the emotions and ideas involved with that experience into their own personal narrative. With this gap in their own history, rather than remembering the trauma per se they are compelled to return to it. This is a post-Freudian notion, but should not be confused with the Freudian concept of repressed material returning subconsciously. Trauma here returns literally, the victim is compelled to repeat or re-enact the trauma through flashbacks, nightmares, emotional states or – most tragically – through a physical repetition of the traumatic event. Victims of these traumas often organize their entire lives around repeated patterns of reliving and warding off the influence of these traumatic memories.

Now obviously nations are not people, it is not merely a matter of up-scaling. In dealing with this international trauma, neither Sri Lanka, the Tamil people nor the international community should be thought of in such away. But the central issues remain the same. In national social trauma there is always a problem of witnessing, either through the dissociative effect of trauma, but on a mass-scale, or through other forces(often those who caused the trauma) co-opting the traumatised into a narrative that prevents it from being adequately and accurately integrated into their history. Some peoples have combated this by ‘re-storying’ their narrative, as post-colonial authors like Chinua Achebe have tried to when confronting imperial literature for ownership of their people’s traumatic colonial history.

This traumatic problem of witnessing was pronounced in Sri Lanka. Not only because of the massive personal trauma people were suffering (and in channel 4’s camp footage you can see this; people struck by the sight of their dead loved ones, seemingly unaware of the mortal peril they are in) or because of the expulsion of journalists and other international observers from the region, but also because the world’s media failed in bearing witness to these atrocities.

According to Jane's information group, the LTTE have carried out over 160 suicide bombings - causing serious damage to military and economic targets (Image: Duminda Jayasena)

I would argue that partly they just didn’t know how to tell the story, when they could not fit it into a normal victim/oppressor narrative. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had many of the accoutrements of modern statehood but are officially considered a terrorist organisation by some states. It was the LTTE that resurrected the use of suicide bombers, and they have been brutal and anti-democratic in dealing with opposition – they were ‘unmournable’ lives in the press.

The UK media seemed to do better than most. Though this is not to their credit, it was entirely due to the protests of the considerable Tamil population in Britain. But even these protests went seriously underreported.

Perhaps the protesters demands were too moderate to attract interest; some were calling for a secular two state solution, but most just wanted international pressure for peace negotiations. But again I believe it was the presence of the Tamil Tiger flag at these protests and the fact that the situation could not be made into an easy victim/oppressor morality tale. A tale like those that are told about Darfur, the Occupied Territories or Syria. This is an attitude that needs to change if we are to ‘heal’ the traumatic breach in Sri Lanka, find justice for victims and prevent the physical return of this trauma.

Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa

Mahinda Rajapaksa; president, tyrant, and now role model. (Image: Nader Daoud)

If the concept of that most tragic repetition of this genocide seems too abstract and shamelessly theoretical, then consider that some of the world’s most brutal regimes have been eagerly seeking president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s advice in deploying “the Sri Lankan solution” in crushing their own insurgencies. Burma’s dictator, Than Shwe, visited president Rajapaksa so he could apply methods used in Sri Lanka against ethnic groups in Burma. Then Thailand’s prime minister made a similar trip, referencing a need to learn lessons to be applied to Southern Thailand’s Muslim insurgency.

As Serena Davies found watching Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields made her “retch”, I feel similarly sickened by the idea of allowing the spread of this technique of applying illegal and merciless scorched-earth tactics against both combatants and civilians without distinction. If we are not proactive in seeking to truly heal the trauma in Sri Lanka, then these killing fields could spawn a legacy of genocides and atrocities committed against some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

The best chance at justice and halting this process before it starts is for the UN to refer the case to the ICC, but this currently seems unlikely. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon is still rejecting his own organisation’s report identifying Sri Lankan government complicity in war crimes and the Sri Lankan government has disbanded its token efforts at investigation before completion.

Ban Ki-Moon has suggested that he will only establish an international investigation into these atrocities with the Sri Lankan government’s consent – which is quite frankly a completely bat-shit ridiculous notion – or through a decision from UN member states in the Human Rights Council or UN Security Council. As the chances that the Russians or Chinese – both permanent members of the UN Security Council – will waver in their unquestioning support of Sri Lanka’s impunity are extremely slim, that leaves the option of compelling the UNHRC to action and to do that the press needs to first solve this problem of witnessing. Channel4’s Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, exploitative or not, is a solid first step.

Brian Haw Dead Peacecamp

(image: Steve Punter)

By Elliot Adams

Brian Haw is dead. This is not an obituary though, unless the circumstances of death are extraordinary, I don’t see the point of giving strangers’ deaths undue attention – no one’s life becomes more interesting after their leaving it and no one dies before their time, to me that’s what ‘their time’ means. So it goes.

I understand that Brain Haw was a great symbolic asset to the anti-war movement, with his unmovable peace-camp shaming the government on the doorstep of their seat of power. He was emblematic of everything the anti-war movement thought it wants to be, earnest, persistent, speaking truth to power, unmovable. Even his iconic fishing hat has symbolic power, it was covered in so many slogans and badges that it looked uncannily like an old-school combat helmet – a man armoured with his peaceful ideals.

His peace-camp meant absolutely jack all to me though. The movement that gathered around him was less a protest, and more a tea-partyesque confused outburst. His protesting was about how y’know, the man is committing genocide because of oil and stuff. His ranting about how 9/11 was an inside job and accusing tourists of sticking “broomsticks up people’s arses” was hardly a notable contribution to the debate over war in Iraq, in-a-word it was ‘confused’. As were those who gathered to support him there, a motley collection of conspiracy theorists, 9/11 truthers and a small number of genuine peace protesters – even then, their arguments and goals were ill-defined and incoherent.

Brian Haw Dead Parliament Square Westminster Security Wall

Security in Westminster, especially around Whitehall, is tighter now than it was at the height of the IRA's mass murders. (Image:Stock)

It’s not that I’m some kind of pro-war Blairite nor that I’m against protesting the war, I marched through London’s streets and protested in Parliament Square with everyone else. For me though, Brian Haw’s death is something of a memento mori for those same protest-friendly streets. Thanks to the fight between Haw and the local authorities Parliament Square is now fenced off from the public and guarded by security patrols. Every key location throughout Westminster is peppered with blast barriers, anti-ram bollards and outposts of heavily armed policemen. Then when there is a reasoned protest, as opposed to aimless squatting, the police presence is easily large enough to occupy a small country.

With all the cordons, fences, concrete defences and machine-guns, approaching the Houses of Parliament feels a little like you are crossing the lines at Ypres. Compare this with the surroundings of City Hall over in the Borough’s Glass Testicle(I actually love the way City Hall looks, but it is somewhat testicular in shape), everywhere is open and there are wide public space always being used for events, socialising and protest.

Members of the voting public have less physical access to their representatives in than ever. The public is now prevented from entering Downing Street itself by massive spiked iron gates and armed policemen. Whereas in the House of Commons a bulletproof glass screen now separates MPs from the chamber, and it is rare that they will meet the public outside of carefully stage-managed events – and it is even worse in Holyrood.

downing street gates Westminster Whitehall security Brian Haw Dead

Downing Street behind bars. (Image: Courtney Powell)

I used to think that the level of access we were afforded to our government was something Britain could be proud of on the international stage, it was no rarity to see protesters in the Houses of Parliament, unfurling banners from Big Ben, or – in one particularly memorable incident – laying down turf across the entrance to Parliament. Where else could you see that, when was the last time protesters re-landscaped the Whitehouse lawn? But now with our access to political representatives being increasingly sanitised, I can’t help but think that those same representatives are becoming increasingly sanitised themselves. So many of our most successful MPs are these chinless media types with enormous estates and meticulously controlled branding that haven’t worked outside the Westminster village in years – frankly, I preferred Brian Haw.

Update: Sad to hear all this stuff about how after his diagnosis Haw was taken for a ride by all these conspiracy theorists and snake oil peddlers. Apparently – I haven’t had a chance to properly confirm this for myself – the “doctor” who was treating him in Germany was no longer legally allowed to practice medicine in his own country and had some fraud and unlawful killing convictions to his name, word is he was prescribing Haw a treatment of vitamin C and Bicarb of soda. This low end of fake/alternative medicine is a shameful scam, the best thing their practitioners can do with their earnings at this stage is buy a nice suit to kill themselves in.