Longform Disappointment: Japan

As a necessary introduction: I’m Scottish. Welcome to a series on fandom.

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The first video game exploit I can remember using is the Missingno glitch in Pokemon Red. It was… odd. The stuff of rumour and legend on the playground until you tried it for yourself.

At the beginning, I’d grind, hard, for interminable, tedious hours, gameplay being padded out with pointless battles to gain experience. Hours of time were spent walking in circles, finding the same enemy, beating it senseless, then walking in circles again, just to make my pixelated sprites strong enough that I could access the next area of the game.

There was no skill to it, no sense of my becoming honed, hardened, better at the game. Maths dictated that I would eventually win, and I did, by rotely calling for the same attack after attack after attack until a MIDI fanfare signalled victory.

And then, about two thirds of the way through the game, the glitch presented itself. Go talk to someone in the early game, immediately fly to a completely different place, swim idly up and down a ten metre stretch of coastline until a hellish, Dr Moreau-ian snarl of symbols and lines garbles its way onto your screen. Defeat this strangely underpowered abomination however you please. And presto! Whatever item was in a specific place in your inventory has multiplied itself a thousand-fold.

The relentless grind of having to gain experience immediately melts away. The tension of challenging a powerful opponent vanishes. The game immediately becomes a stately victory procession, a gentle, unhindered prance. There’s still no measure of how good you are at the game but who cares? You’re winning!

On a not entirely unrelated note, Scotland’s opening world cup match resulted in a 45-10 win over Japan.

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The Economic Refugee

“The term “refugee” shall apply to any person who… owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

Even amongst lawyers, this particular bit of legalese makes for a confusing read. It’s effectively one 90-odd word sentence, with nary a full stop to be found. The dependent clauses, lists, and all sorts of superfluous commas combine to make a flowing jumble of semi-alliterative repetition, spinning the reader round until they’re not sure which refers to what or whom.

The thing is, though, to fully understand the ongoing furore about refugees and migrants and crises and flows and all those other flamboyant spoutings, it’s essential to have a grasp of that article. That definition is lifted from the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, albeit slightly edited to make it clearer. It’s agreed to be the authoritative statement of who a refugee is by the vast majority of the nations of the world. As such, it’s the definition that is incorporated into national laws and practices the world over. Governments and judges use that definition every single day when deciding on asylum applications.

When arriving in a country and applying for asylum, a refugee goes through a legal process to determine whether they fit that definition. If they do, there are a whole bunch of legal consequences usually entailing some type of entitlement to stay. If they don’t, they’re subject to the same immigration controls as anyone else.

That’s a long way of saying that the division between refugees and everyone else, within Europe and elsewhere, is based on that definition[1]. When politicians prevaricate about ‘genuine refugees’ compared to ‘economic migrants’, that definition is what they refer to.

A refugee is someone who is defined as such by the Refugee Convention. Unfortunately, that makes it a bit of a shame that the definition is hopelessly broken.

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Why are rugby teams trying to lose?

The opening round of the World Cup was scrappy, boring, and thrilling across a bunch of different games. England looked unconvincing, Wales got even more injured, Ireland were clinical, New Zealand are still inevitable, and South Africa… well, the South African Rugby Union has probably called in a crack legal team to try and annul some contracts.

Obviously, pulling large scale trends out of so few matches, when teams have only played once, is a bit suspect. The high ball seems like it might be more of a factor. Competition at the breakdown looks to be in an interesting spot, with referees aiming to encourage more open play. Video ref interventions are far more frequent, to the point that they’re causing a touch of controversy.

One point in particular that caught my eye from the opening weekend, though, was a bit more obvious. A couple of incidents where the attacking team chose to kick a penalty in the opposition 22 highlighted some serious shortcomings that still linger in the collective rugby consciousness. The problem is that it’s not really a tactical or strategic trend or change; in fact, it’s a marked absence of change, a stasis in thinking.

That’s why the decisions by a couple of teams in particular stood out, because in rugby’s difficult straggle into professionalism, some aspects of received wisdom have gone unchallenged. Having money to pay for match analysts and video experts and stats people and all the other glitter and baubles that go with professional elite sport should mean that teams aren’t consciously turning down chances to win games. But some of the biggest names in the sport still do exactly that.

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The Good Househusband: Scones

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Welcome to what should become a semi-regular feature in which I cook stuff and then write about it. Suggestions on what to make, tips, and alternative recipes are all very much welcome. The events page of your local council newsletter is not.

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Ah, September. The turning of summer to autumn, heralded by the browning leaves, the ripening crops, the terrified, pimply teenagers leaving home for the first time, and painfully overwrought metaphors about aging.

That is to say, universities start back in September, which means a new intake of first year students. At this very moment, thousands of scared, housebound agglomerations of acne and neuroses are venturing out into the world. Some are no doubt eminently prepared.

The thing is, though, I was an 18 year old boy at one point. And based on that anecdotal evidence, goddamn, 18 year old boys are awful, awful people. So I reckon it’s probably safe to assume the worst.

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Accidentally in Place

The Rugby World Cup starts on Friday 18th September. So, fair warning, I’ll probably be writing about and around rugby for the next month and a half. And yes, this is non-fiction.

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I was most concerned about what to wear.

Did I have the right shorts? The right shoes? The right socks? I mean, I owned all of these things, shoes and shorts and socks and shirts. But were they rugby shoes and shorts and socks and shirts, and would they make me fit in? Would I be there, noticeable, ostracised?

It was a remarkably sunny day for Scotland. Blue skies, the first hint of summer with a warm, almost thick, lazy feel beginning to develop in the air. The end of season barbecue, all the youth teams getting together on one Sunday morning and playing around, indulgent parents watching and laughing at the ungainly stumblings of their children. The treetops edging the ground waved gently in the slight breeze. The inexpressibly vast expanse of pitch, a full hundred yards long, was split into conceivable pockets of milling figures.

I stepped nervously out of the car. My bare legs shivered slightly, despite the warmth and the laughter that was coming from the jumbled chaos of the pitch. I stood and I watched for a second while my dad climbed out the other side of the car and locked it. I saw my friend, one of the only reasons I was here at all, in amongst a group of boys about my age, all chasing a ball about while shouting and laughing with one another. He was wearing a new looking red and yellow striped rugby shirt, the colours of the team, just like most of the rest. I saw studded rugby boots, oddly short rugby shorts. My heart fell right down into my astroturf football shoes.

I edged towards the group cautiously, loath to hold my dad’s hand in public. But I wanted to.

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A brief proposal

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His name was Aylan Kurdi. Photo Credit: WSJ

The big news in the UK today has been the image above. Taken on a beach in Turkey, it depicts the body washed ashore of a Syrian child drowned while attempting to cross the Aegean Sea to Kos and thus the EU. Despite the well-documented and horrendous stories possessed by seemingly every refugee arriving in Europe, this image has gone viral because it puts the rhetoric into shockingly stark perspective. Talk of ‘bogus asylum seekers’ (despite there being no such thing), of ‘burden sharing’, of ‘maintaining the integrity’ of asylum systems against ‘floods’ of migrants; it all results in dead children.

So how can governments realistically prevent this happening?

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British? Your vote probably doesn’t matter

Apparently, Jeremy Corbyn will cause “annihilation”. He’s been called a “dinosaur” whose policies are backward looking, seeking to drag Britain back into the 1980s, if not earlier. He has been deemed “unelectable”, raising the possibility of a concerted campaign amongst the MPs of his own party to usurp his leadership from the moment he takes office.

The man himself

And the funny thing is that those critiques, overblown while they might be, contain some kernel of truth. Jeremy Corbyn, the so-called “radical left-wing” candidate for the leadership of Britain’s second political party, probably would lose a general election by a significant margin. The Labour party as a major force in British politics could be under threat as it fractures along ideological lines, social democrats abandoning the loose coalition with business friendly neoliberals that Blair helped forge.

Tellingly, though, the alternative is just as unpalatable. If another candidate is successful in their leadership bid, the underlying possibility that makes Corbyn’s campaign so appealing goes unaddressed. Corbyn would be shuffled offstage and business as usual, the politics of the elite, would spin heedlessly on.

But if that happened, a fundamental flaw in British democracy would continue to be ignored.

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