Monday, 28 April 2008

Vengeance In New Guinea

If your pig eats the vegetables in my garden I'm going to spear you in the eye. In fact, I don't think I could live with the dishonour of not doing so. At least, I might feel that way if I were born in the New Guinea Highlands. The complicated relationships between the clans that have lived there for numerous generations create an aggressive culture of compulsory and violent retribution. The graphic history of the wars between the clans is engaging enough, but what makes this typically in depth New Yorker article by Jared Diamond exceptionally fascinating is the contrasts and comparisons he draws to contemporary global society and and our system of states. He convincingly challenges Rousseau's concept of the evolution of the social contract, which inspires reflection on our expectations of actors in both international and interpersonal relations. Though I disagree with some of the conclusions he infers at the end, (he bases them on an isolated example that could be otherwise explained) it is really worth taking the time to read this lengthy article for a valuable and not commonly considered insight into human nature. Here are some excerpts;

' Daniel described what happened next: [...] "Only one arrow hit Isum, but it was a bamboo arrow, flat and sharp as a knife, and it cut his spinal cord. That’s even better than killing him, because he’s now still alive today, eleven years later, paralyzed in a wheelchair, and maybe he’ll live for another ten years. People will see his constant suffering. Isum may be around for a long time, for people to see his suffering, and to be reminded that this happened to him as proper vengeance for his having killed my uncle Soll.” When I asked Daniel how he felt about the battle in which Isum became paralyzed, his reaction was unapologetically positive: a mixture of exhilaration and pleasure in expressing aggression. He used phrases such as “It was very nice,” and his gestures projected euphoria and a huge sense of relief. “I felt that it was a matter of ‘kill or else die by suicide.’ [...] If I had personally seen the arrow go into Isum, I would have felt emotional relief then. Unfortunately, I wasn’t actually there to see it, but, when I heard that Isum had been paralyzed, I thought, I have everything, I feel as if I am developing wings, I feel as if I am about to fly off, and I am very happy. After that battle, just as after each battle in which we succeeded in killing an Ombal, we danced and celebrated and slaughtered pigs. '

' Daniel [...] concluded that, despite his former passionate waging of war against Ombals, the Western state system of adjudicating disputes is preferable. Why, then, didn’t New Guineans give up a way of life that obviously made their lives miserable? A striking feature of New Guinea’s history is that New Guineans traditionally practiced unchecked violence against each other, yet they offered only limited resistance to the imposition of state government and the ending of that violence by European colonial powers. That wasn’t just because Europeans had guns and New Guineans didn’t; the number of armed Europeans involved in “pacification” was often absurdly few. Daniel’s view points to another reason: as more New Guineans were exposed to the benefits of state-administered justice, they saw that they were better off living without the constant fear of being killed, though, of course, no tribe could ever have followed that course of peaceful dispute adjudication unilaterally. This question of state government’s recent origins, and, conversely, of its long failure to originate throughout most of human history, is a fundamental concern for social scientists. '

Monday, 21 April 2008

Reviews - Chalkies, Keating & Game On

I've been quite busy recently, what with my trip to Melbourne the weekend before last and the Mobile Enterprise course I was doing through work last weekend. On top of that I've been going to see a few different things, and so hence this round-up of reviews. It's not because my opinion matters, or for posterity, but rather to make me feel like the last few weeks have been productive in some way. I shall start from most recent and work backwards until I reach a point of boredom. Don't worry it wont take long.

Chalkies - Holden Street Theatres
This locally produced comedy/musical/play by Matt Byrne is about teachers, students and school amalgamations.It runs for nearly two and half hours, though on the plastic, ex-classroom seats in HST, my ass thought it was closer to five hours. Four actors play over 30 characters between them, some of the well, some of them not so well. While there was plenty of amusement in Chalkies, that shouldn't have been too difficult given that every opportunity for a joke was used, whether appropriate or not. It should have been much more tightly edited - what was an ok way to spend two hours could have been a good way to spend an hour.

Keating the Musical - Her Majesties Theatre
Wow, what fun this was. I was only ten when Keating came to power, and I don't remember much of his Prime Ministership. I was told I ought to wiki him before I went to recap, something I didn't get around to, but it mattered not. The humour was both broad and specific, strongly executed in both cases. The music was the high-light, genuinely catchy songs, performed outstanding by the leads, yet simulateously wry and clever. Portraying Downer in Rocky-Horror-esque fishnets, heels and bodice, while he sings about the reason why he couldn't stay leader, "I'm too freaky", was a riot, played with just the right amount of verve. The love duet between Gareth Evans and Cheryl Kernot (played by a guy in drag), with a chorus featuring Evans singing "My heart's in peril... Cheryl", to which she replys "Oh heavens, Mr Evans" was delicious. There are few original Australian musicals that are successful, and though this could never translate overseas (although I would love to see Clinton or Bush the musical), its irreverence and intelligence was unmistakably Aussie. I can't wait to see what they do next.

Game On - Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne
This exhibition of the history of video games rocked my world slightly. It wasn't just the over 100 playable games on display, it was the informative design of the exhibition, guiding the audience through the evolution of game culture, that made it such a memorable experience. My own nostalgia was not piqued by the first room of classic arcade machines such as asteroids, pacman and pong, fascinating as they were, but rather the next phase of videogame history, the early home consoles. They were all there, right from the orginal Magnavox Odyssey, through to the Commodore 64, the FamiComs and MasterSystems right up to the PS3. It was slightly surreal to see and play the Atari Jaguar, a cutting edge machine I remember reading about in games mags in primary school, which failed in the US before it even got a chance to be released broadly here. So many classic games I hadn't thought of or played for so many years, like the original Mario Kart, Monkey Island, Populous, the first SimCity, Street Fighter II, Tomb Raider... the list goes on. In addition there were some astounding games I'd heard of but never had the opportunity to play. The trippy 'Rez' for the PS2, essentially a 3d forward scrolling shooter, with closely integrated music and abstract visuals, which produce a unique synesthesia. Enemies appear in time with the rhythm and the shots of your gun add an extra layer of beats on the sound track, so that you find yourself firing as much in time with the music as at the enemies, yet when those to phases of your attention line up, its simply breath-taking. I finally got the chance to try my hand at 'Katamari Damacy', the quirky Japanese PS2 game I've read so many raves about, and it lived up to the hype. You simply take your odd little elf character and start rolling a ball of stuff around the landscape. Anything reasonably smaller then the ball will stick to it, and the idea is to make the ball as big as possible. As it gets bigger you can roll it over stuff you couldn't pick up before, so you start with pins and coins, and can eventually get up to levels where you are rolling the ball around cities picking up houses! It was so wonderfully simple and utterly addictive. Aside from these treasured interactions I learnt fascinating things about video games, such as about the first arcade game, which was not Pong but rather a commercially unsuccessful game called 'Space War' released in 1971, the year before Pong. Or seeing an arcade machine built in the late seventies behind the iron-curtain. Or that Lara Croft was original going to be Laura Cruz, a selfish, money-grubbing thief.
*sigh* Yes, I really did love Game On. It's on at ACMI until July 13, if you're in Melbourne, you won't regret giving it a visit.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Could I want you more...

As if it wasn't bad enough how much I wanted the iPhone before, then they have to go and release the developers kit, and now cool apps like this version of Quake appear. Using the accelerometer as the control... Oh. My. I want one sooo bad. AAAArgh! I know I am never going to be able to afford one when they are finally, eventually released here. With the 3G version just a couple months from release, that can't be long either!