The Hollow Men by Nicky Hager: My Impressions

I’ve mentioned this book in passing before, it was the subject of attempted censorship by self-appointed “free-speech warrior” Don Brash. Having now read the book, one can cynically understand why. Neither Brash, nor his colleagues have much to be cheerful about. Here, I’ll briefly cover my thoughts about the revelations in the book and what they mean for NZ politics. There was also a documentary version directed by Alistair Berry, which may be viewed at NZonScreen.

I was 12 years old at the time of the 2005 election, so I have some limited first hand experience about the events covered in the book. I wasn’t yet politically aware in 2005, only looking back now do I realise how close New Zealand came to disaster.

A Very Brashish Coup

Following the National Party’s humiliating 2002 defeat and the lack of any improvement in polling, a challenge to Bill English’s leadership was made by Don Brash in October 2003. Hager reveals the identities of the strategists who advised Brash during the challenge and afterwards. Most of them were not members of the National Party but a greatest hits collection of New Zealand’s far-right clown car.

One of the most obscene examples was that of Michael Bassett (one of the Labour MPs responsible for NZ’s neoliberal malaise), who secretly offered Brash advice while simultaneously talking him up by writing positive newspaper columns about him. Bassett didn’t see the need to disclose this conflict of interest in his thinkpieces.

Meanwhile National party donors threatened to withhold donations unless Brash was elected leader. In the end, Brash won the caucus vote by one. Bad news for National Party activists across the country: you don’t matter, the leader gets picked by the big donors and has-beens from NZ’s political past. The National Party strategists openly acknowledged this hierarchy of influence, dividing donors into 3 distinct categories: A dozen or so top donors (far-right multimillionaires), several dozen medium donors (businesses) and everyone else was viewed with contempt as ‘low value donors’.

Contrast this situation to the Labour and Green parties, where party members get to vote on their leader(s). If a major party claims to be a voice for New Zealand, then it must be possible for the public (via party membership) to have input on selecting the leadership and determining policy. The National Party’s system is opaque and incompatible with a democratic society.

Interference by donors and lobby groups wasn’t just limited to installing Brash into the role of party leader, it would form a significant part of the financing and communicating the election campaign. Notable examples included:

  • The Exclusive Brethren cult financed and orchestrated a leaflet drop that was highly critical of the Labour and Green parties with the knowledge and consent of the National Party, while purporting to be independent. The Brethren is rightfully despised by most of NZ society, so the connection between it and the National Party was kept hidden.
  • The horse-racing industry placed pro-National Party advertisements at prominent racing events, ostensibly as part of a campaign for tax regularisation with casinos.
  • The Maxim Institute (an extremist think tank whose intellectual dishonesty I’ve covered previously) put out “research” about the education system that recommended National Party policies. The timing of the release of reports was chosen to ensure maximum political effect.
  • The National Party colluded with the Insurance Council (alleged to have made a very large donation) on the details of its ACC policy press release and on the messaging for the ensuing damage control once this was made public.

This collusion is alarming in two areas. First, these arms-reach operations didn’t require any money to go to the National Party, meaning that the Party could effectively spend more on campaigning than electoral laws allowed, a problematic loophole in the law. Entities such as the Waitemata Trust would be the depositories for big-ticket donors. More money means more advertisments, and more consultants who, like it or not, are effective at winning elections. Elections should be won on policy, hence in sensible countries there are limits on campaign spending.

Secondly, the public were being kept in the dark. All of these groups held viewpoints that are contrary and harmful to most New Zealanders. If the connections are not publicly known, then voters are unwittingly voting for something that they did not agree to. This is not persuasion, but manipulation.

The National Party’s links to the Brethren cult were revealed before the election and Brash’s credibility was destroyed as he tied himself in knots trying to avoid admitting to knowing anything about the collusion. National finished 2 seats behind Labour and had no path to forming a government because they lacked enough coalition partners.

Establishing Public Positions

Brash’s strongest attributes are that he is thoughtful and forthright with his beliefs. Unfortunately for him, his thoughts are terrible and not widely shared by the public (look at how he nearly killed the ACT party when he led it to its then worst ever result in the 2011 election). The challenge that National Party strategists had was to present Brash as an honest “non-politician” with popular ideas all while still remaining committed to unpopular far-right policies that their donors wanted.

When pressed on economic issues, Brash would issue non-committal statements about supporting the status-quo (known as “inoculation” by National Party strategists). Meanwhile, Brash took aggressive lines on race relations and law & order. His 2004 Orewa speech was a cynical exercise in stirring racial resentment and pushing economics out of the public consciousness in a way that paid off handsomely for the National Party.

Strangely, Brash and his strategists didn’t even believe in the objections that they raised in the Orewa speech. When curious journalists asked for more examples of race-based privilege, National Party strategists stonewalled any inquiries because they didn’t have any evidence!

Evidence or no evidence, if they could just keep up this pretense for the election, they could enter government on the votes of a misled populace, and then give their donors the “return on investment” they were promised. I am reminded of Hillary Clinton’s infamous “you need both a private and a public position” quote which sums up the duplicity of the National Party’s communications. My response is “no, your private position should be your public position”. Politicians may not claim that they have a mandate to enact their privately held positions when they were elected on the premise of their public positions.

As evidenced by the very existence of Hager’s book, the strategy doesn’t work if we found out about it. Voters were first alerted to the plan when the National Party’s collusion with American neo-cons was revealed over the issue of ending the ban on nuclear-powered ships. The “gone by lunchtime” statement precipitated a decline in National Party polling that would last until mid 2005.

By this stage, National Party strategists were increasingly desperate and turned to more foreign assistance.

We’re Off to See the Lizard of Oz!

The Australian public relations firm Crosby Textor Group is a mainstay of right-wing Anglosphere politics. Crosby Textor have been involved in victorious campaigns for Boris Johnson, the Australian Liberal Party, and the Queensland LNP. With such a track record, it was only natural that the National Party would seek their services.

Crosby Textor are experts at “dog whistle” politicking. This is where a message is crafted to sound innocent when interpreted superficially (plausible deniability), but has a specific meaning known to groups of a certain ideological persuasion.

Dogwhistles played by National at the recommendation of Crosby Textor focused on portraying the Labour government as lucky on the economy and distracted on “minority interests” such as civil unions, immigration, prostitution and Māori relations while paying no attention to “ordinary” New Zealanders. Such rhetoric is effective as there’s no better way for a party to lose support than if voters believe the party doesn’t care about them. With the messaging sorted, it was time to release it into the public consciousness…

Brash by Name, Brash by Nature

Crosby Textor’s messaging would form the backbone of the National Party’s effective 2005 election advertising campaign. The Iwi/Kiwi billboards and the Taxathon television advertisements have become the stuff of political legend.

PratPart-time marketing guru and full-time lunatic John Ansell volunteered his crazed mind to the National Party, creating bipolar billboards to portray the Labour Party as wasteful and obsessed with minority interests, while the National party was portrayed as efficient, focused and common-sensical.

A whole raft of these dichotomous billboards were created on a whole raft of issues such as fuel taxes, education, and beaches. I remember being at school during an event for gifted children, I met a fellow gifted child who adored Brash and was collating a whole bunch of images of these billboards. Others were also enthralled by the advertisements and National’s polling started to rise to match that of the Labour Party.

The tune to the Taxathon ad remains stuck in my head to this day. It was amusing to read the lyrics interspersed through what otherwise reads as a serious scholarly work. Cartoon Don Brash swept in at the end to offer salvation to the “drive-by voters” who get their entire political information from the National Party’s obnoxious marketing push.

The trouble with this flamboyant strategy is that the claims made had no basis in reality. Fact-checking wasn’t a thing back then, the media let the ads go unchallenged, even going so far as to praise them for their wittiness. Even better, National didn’t need to make any serious policy announcements, thus avoiding their main weakness.

Labouring Under a Delusion

Why does the National Party find itself in the situation where it hypes up and manipulates voters over trivial issues while promoting no discernible vision for important economic matters? Hager hypothesises that this approach is to paper over a ideological fissure within the National Party. Like many “centre-right” parties the world over, National has two key ideological groupings:

(1) The old-school conservatives, who hold traditionalist views over many social issues, yet support many aspects of the Keynesian Welfare state model that dominated NZ politics from the mid 30s til the mid 80s.

(2) The radical free-marketeers, who support socially liberal policies, and enthusiastically endorse the deregulated, privatised corporatist economic model that has dominated Western politics for the last three decades.

Let’s look at the Political Compass to visualise this gulf in values:

NZ_polCompass_groups

Figure 1. Politcal Compass political spectrum with the positions of ideological categories highlighted.

A political party cannot develop many policies that appeal to both factions, hence the National Party has no option but to campaign on emotive, but ultimately insignificant issues. This deprioritisation of issues is more worrying because it means that governing to improve society is supplanted by merely being in government. This is why the Key/English National government was deliberately inactive (Pike River, housing crisis), lacked innovation (buying fake carbon credits and poorly targeted R&D grants), with bursts of insanity to appease their donors (asset sales and charter schools).

Such a situation suites the free-marketeers just fine from both an ideological and a careerist perspective. Yet as voters, we expect better, yet better is something that a seat-warming government will not facilitate or deliver.

Indeed, this divide is the very reason that we ever found out about the National Party’s misconduct. Hager did not obtain this information unlawfully, instead decent principled members of the National Party (of the old-school conservative faction, I presume) blew the whistle and delivered it to him in an attempt to bring this madness to an end.

Concluding Remarks

The National Party strategy failed in 2005 because Brash, for all his faults has a default position of honesty. He was not a convincing liar, he could not convince enough voters that he was a soft centrist who wouldn’t pick up where Roger Douglas left off. Luckily for National, they had a charming psychopath waiting in the wings in the form of John Key. Key was able to pull off the duplicity required to win over the “drive-by voters” and led National to government in 2008. It should come as no surprise that with the benefit of incumbency they were able to deliver the right-wing agenda that their donors had paid for.

Hager believes that the law for electoral donations is not fit for purpose. It’s far too easy for wealthy influential donors to anonymise their bribes. The threshold for anonymous donations should be lowered well below the current $10,000 limit. The concept of replacing private donations with state funding was also considered. I do not believe that the wealthy are entitled to gain more influence by giving more money, thus I would support banning all private donations to political parties and covering reasonable operational expenses with state funding. Nonetheless, if private donations are here to stay, then they must all be publicly known so that voters know whose side parties are really on.

The public derides politicians for being economical with the truth and proclaims an interest in focusing on the issues. Yet the very same public is easily led astray by shallow tactics such as incendiary rhetoric, dogwhistles, and superficial advertising. The National Party uses their strategy because it works.

Voters need to become wise to all forms of misinformation if we are to get political parties to behave at a higher standard. The media has a responsibility to inform and educate the public, not insult them with irrelevant trivia, or openly display partisan bias in favour of the right-wing.  My primary schooling involved coursework on the electoral system and lawmaking, holding a mock election (the party I belonged to did poorly, of course), a visit to parliament, and meetings with local MPs. Every child should receive a high quality civics education like I did.

The conditions that corrupted the National Party in 2003 still exist today, what mysteries lie within the current embittered iteration of the party that has been returned to opposition? Because Hager’s advice has not been taken, New Zealand’s government is still at risk of being hijacked by right-wing fanatics. As voters, we must stay informed, think critically, and demand changes to electoral law to inhibit the undue influence of corporations and the wealthy.

The public is greatly indebted to Nicky Hager and the decent National Party informants for pulling back the curtain on the machinations of the Don Brash era National Party. The approach put forward by Brash’s supervisors is one that is bad for New Zealand. By recognising it and by refusing to reward it, we can bring such deception to an end.

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Elite Dangerous Engineers Revamp: Many Steps in the Right Direction

Beta testing is now open (and free for all Horizons owners) for the first update in the Elite Dangerous: Beyond series. For me, the headline feature of this update was a revision of the much maligned Engineers which wasted player time with insulting random changes to module performance. I have had the chance to do some testing of the new system, and I am generally very positive about it. The changes are as follows:

Module Generation

When a module is modified at a certain grade, the negative effects are only added on the first roll, while the positive effect is still randomly generated. Subsequent rolls compound on the previous result until you reach the maximum positive effect possible. There is also the option to progress to a higher grade modification once the positive effect is large enough. Typically, one would need to only do a few rolls at each level.

The user experience was very different compared to the old mode. All you see is a blue ring gradually filling up, the oscillating sliders are gone. One could argue that this has removed any sense of occasion from using the Engineers. And they’d be right: going out to the casino for an evening of debauchery is a much grander affair than putting money in a vending machine, selecting a chocolate bar and picking it out from the tray at the bottom*. I don’t see this as a problem, after all Engineers is supposed to be a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Progression

The new system has received criticism since it is now mandatory to progress through all of the grades. One starts engineering a fresh module at Grade 1 and must have achieved most of the possible effect before progressing to Grade 2 and so on. For the second beta test, I engineered some 3A enhanced thrusters (for an 880 m/s Imperial Courier) starting at Grade 2. It took 11 rolls to reach Grade 5. I think this is a reasonable progression that’s not instant, but achievable with a small amount of work.

Secondary Effects

These used to cut both ways; a roll could be further improved, or the roll could be ruined by random secondary effects. Now secondary effects have been decoupled from the modifications. They may be obtained by additional materials.

I see two main uses for secondary effects: (1) Additional gain to a specific aspect of module performance, (2) Reducing the mass of modules for a higher jump range. And now that they’re a bolt-on feature, players won’t need to waste so many materials trying to get the perfect roll.

Materials Trading and Storage

These features are very useful, instead of storing a maximum of 1000 materials and 500 data (which fill up very quickly), each item has a limit of 100. Players can now collect and stockpile materials without agonising over whether they should pick one thing up and discard another.

If a particular material is hard to get, then players may use material traders to swap items they have for items they want. I have found this to be quite useful, particularly since I have no interest in grinding on the beta which is going to be wiped in a few days. The buy:sell ratios are a bit excessive and don’t scale the same if you are selling high grade items or buying low grade items (kind of like how the buy and sell prices for foreign currency aren’t the same). I think a ratio of 3:1 between adjacent grades in both directions would be ideal.

Irrational Playerbase Responses

There are two main ways to play Engineers: (1) briefly, where you do a few Grade 5 rolls (having ranked up to this level beforehand) and accept whatever results you get; or (2) obsessively, where you keep rolling until you get an amazing modification. Users may roll hundreds of times to achieve this. I’m somewhere in the middle, I want a powerful roll, but I refuse to collect enough materials to do hundreds of rolls. I would typically do 20 at the most before running out of materials and giving up in exasperation.

Group 1 are upset that they may need to do more rolls by having to start from Grade 1 for all new modules. Now players need to do 10-15 rolls to get to a full Grade 5 modification for every module, where they may have only chose to do one or two in the old system. I don’t agree with this assessment since low grade rolls were required in the old system to build reputation to reach Grade 5 in the first place. The clearer outcomes may encourage such players to get more involved than in the past if uncertainty was a big disincentive to use the Engineers.

Meanwhile, some who fit the category of Group 2 are affronted that their misguided past efforts are going to be supplanted by the availability of better modifications for less work. These players can go take a running jump. The RNG based system is incredibly unfair and puts optimal results out of the reach of casual players. I for one, am glad to see the back of it.

Power Creep

By changing the system to become deterministic while preserving outcomes from the old system, it is necessary to ensure that old modifications don’t have an advantage that is unobtainable under the new system. Hence the maximum effects in beta 2 are quite a bit higher than in the old system.

While power creep is viewed by some as a distortion, as an explorer I see it as positive and necessary. There are still systems that are inaccessible due to the distance between systems exceeding the jump ranges achievable. Sooner or later, there will have to be some mechanic to enable access to these systems (dockable megaships that can jump up to 550 LY are already available but not currently used for this purpose). Power creep means more opportunities for explorers** and thus should be encouraged.

Criticism

Ship statistics are still missing. This was most problematic when I was deciding between the increased FSD range modification secondary effects. Would a higher max fuel per jump or extra optimised mass give a higher jump range?*** There is no in-game display for this information before the modification is applied, which is unconscionable when third party websites such as E:D shipyard and Coriolis.io are able to provide ship stats for any hypothetical ship build.

The progress made in reaching the upper limit of a modification is still dictated by RNG. Sometimes the gain made during a roll may be marginal, which is as much of an insult to the player as the old system which would waste materials on poor modifications. A minimum gain should be achieved by a roll that is substantial enough that players don’t get discouraged.

Conclusions

The revised engineers system is a great deal fairer and more accessible than the old system. A clear path towards optimal results makes the grind for materials worthwhile and the new storage and trading helps address RNG-based difficulties associated with spawning materials. The power creep should be viewed positively as it will allow for better ship performance.

It’s a bit disconcerting to see a roll sometimes give minuscule gains, I think this should be tweaked. There is also still no way to tell in-game how the ship performance is altered prior to applying modifications. Presenting this information is not difficult, it should be in the game.

I have always seen the Engineers as a means to an end; enjoyment should come from the improved experience of having a fast ship, or a longer jump range, or more powerful weapons. The changes made by Frontier serve to make engineers better suited to this purpose (although I don’t think this is their intent). The game will be more enjoyable because of these changes for the better.

*assuming it doesn’t get stuck on the end of the rack!
**Better exploration mechanics are part of the Q4 update and are desperately needed.
***More fuel is better for class 4 FSDs and lower, more optimised mass is better for class 5 FSDs and higher, as outlined by a superb forum post.

BallisticNG: My Impressions

As a latecomer to the WipEout franchise of anti-gravity racing video games, I was born too late to play the earlier games. To my surprise, it may not be too late since BallisticNG by Neognosis is available on Steam.

BallisticNG 8_01_2018 8_59_09 PM

Lining up at the back of the grid at Marina Rush. From here, the only way is up. The spectators get a great view from the glass-clad art gallery, or the viewing pods.

BallisticNG bears a strong resemblance to Wip3out in terms of graphics and gameplay. It is developed by a small group of enthusiastic developers. It was originally free to play, but the increasing workload of development meant that it has transitioned to a paid game (only $6.29 NZD). I can understand the motivation for doing this and I was only too happy to re-purchase the game to support the developers.

Let’s start with the positives:

  • Despite the similarities to Wip3out, the ships and tracks are original and satisfying to race in their own special way. My favourite track is Arrivon XI (video by developer Vonsnake), which has a very fast, twisty downhill, followed by a sharp turn with a narrow exit. It’s very rewarding to get this bit right. My favourite ship is the Nexus, which is essentially a fast FEISAR.
  • The pick-up items have some great features, such as firing missiles backwards, and a shield that deploys automatically if you are attacked while carrying a shield pick-up. The autopilot also includes a shield and will stay engaged during corners so it won’t timeout in an awkward position.
  • The BNG modding scene is very healthy, there are lots of great fan-made ships and tracks that have been added to the Steam workshop. These include ports of WipEout ships. And nary a microtransaction or loot box in sight!
  • The unique soundtrack is great and adds to the atmosphere.
  • The game loads very quickly and my computer runs very quietly when the game is running, in part because the graphical processing requirements are quite low.
  • The custom races are highly adaptable. There are a range of speed classes to challenge all types of player, different levels of AI difficulty. I especially like the ability to set extra AI, and extra laps. Two different physics models are available: 2159 which is like the older games, while 2280 is reminiscent of WipEout Pure and WipEout Pulse. There’s something for everyone.
  • The drag ships and tracks are a creative addition where ships race at supersonic speeds around large open circuits (with great sonic boom sound effects). I prefer to do drag mode with 2280 physics since wall contacts are much softer, but there is the risk of falling off the track.

BallisticNG 9_01_2018 8_48_18 PM

Going for a supersonic stroll through the Lujiazui Park track in Shanghai. The buildings in the background are (L to R): Shanghai Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center, Jin Mao Tower.

Speaking of walls, here are my criticisms:

  • Wall contacts are very unforgiving with 2159 physics. You can scrape along the walls with no problem, except for the awful sound it makes, however collisions send the ship ricocheting between the barriers, eating away precious shield strength. This problem is infuriating in the drag ships and needs to be corrected.
  • The 2280 physics mode includes more forgiving wall collisions, but this is outweighed by being able to go through walls and fall off the track. The ship is stationary when it respawns; I would prefer that ships respawn at speed so that you can carry on without losing too much time. Even better, make it so that the ship CAN’T GO THROUGH FUCKING WALLS!
  • The campaign includes mirrored tracks. I can’t stand mirrored or reversed tracks!  It’s really confusing to learn a track one way, only to have to race it in another way.
  • Energy walls launched by opponents are really frustrating and disrupt the fast flow of the game, I would prefer them to be removed from the game.
  • The AI in the Campaign mode are all over the place. In the knockout modes, the AI is far too powerful and I’m unable to complete these challenges in hard mode.
  • For the 1 lap 1v1 races, I’ve found that you need to get in front very quickly and the AI will fall behind you. If you don’t, then it rockets ahead into the distance. Use the shield draining speed boost at the start to get the upper hand. Be prepared to restart these challenges a lot.
  • In the endurance races, the AI is unbeatable for the first 5-6 laps, but you can then reel them in the last few laps. While this is a very nice turtle/rabbit story, it’s quite unrealistic. If I can maintain a steady pace for 10 laps, why shouldn’t the AI?
  • For 2159 physics,  you get a boosted start if the throttle is at ~75% when you start the race. Since the AI get this automatically, I think the boosted start should be standard.

While there are a lot of criticisms (mostly to do with the campaign mode, and wall contacts (or the lack of them in some cases)), BNG is still an enjoyable game when you set it up to your liking. It’s still in early access, so there are still changes that will be made. In particular, wall collisions need to be made more forgiving. If you’re adept with the WipEout games, interested in AG racing on the PC, and looking for something that’s quick to load up and get racing, then I can highly recommend BallisticNG to you.

Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis: My Impressions

A while back, I had dinner with an old friend who works in the Wellington beltway. He had recently gained a small amount of publicity for a study into the then government’s 90 day “fire at will” employment policy. The Tories sold this to the public under the guise that it would create jobs by encouraging employers to take a chance on people.

My friend’s research showed that the policy failed to increase the hiring of workers. We then joked about how then Prime Minister John Key tried to dismiss his findings by  using anecdotal evidence!

I also remarked that it was fascinating that academic economic research tended to support many left-wing policy viewpoints in contrast to the right-wing framing of concepts presented at the level of ECON101. I saw it as a sign of the validity of the political left, much to the amusement of my friend who would never deal in such broad generalities.

This attitude explains my interest in Yanis Varoufakis, the academic economist-turned Greek Minister of Finance following the 2015 election victory of the left-wing SYRIZA party. In principle, having an academic as a government minister to implement evidence-based policy is ideal. Varoufakis’ 2017 book, titled Adults in the Room explores his time as Minister of Finance, and reveals that things aren’t so simple.

The book makes clear the horror of the debt repayment/austerity regime imposed by the EC/ECB/IMF troika. Austerity has eliminated Greece’s ability to repay its debts, and despite the sacrifices made by the Greek people, the repayment bill keeps growing. As Minister of Finance, Varoufakis seeks to reverse this disastrous course of action. But he has an almighty struggle ahead against intransigent EU functionaries.

Perhaps Compromise isn’t so Bad After All…

Moderation and compromise formed the backbone of Varoufakis’ negotiation strategy with the troika. However, he was clear to highlight the difference between compromise and being compromised. When the troika refused to budge, the answer was not to make more concessions, but to be prepared to proceed with a deterrent preferable to staying in the debtor’s prison.

This approach simultaneously confirms and challenges my uncompromising attitude to politics. I now appreciate that compromises may be necessary as part of reaching a very specific end goal. Similarly, I felt vindicated in my belief that genuine compromise with authoritarians is impossible since total acquiescence is what they are looking for. Credible threats against their own interests are required to progress.

Varoufakis knew this and had a strategy in place to haircut SMP bonds held by the ECB, a move that would have legal ramifications for the ECB in its attempt to save the Euro by purchasing debt. A parallel currency would also be introduced to buy time should Greek banks close. Varoufakis has a great capacity for self-reflection and even identified when he should have put this plan into action (following the teleconference ambush on 24 February 2015).

We Haven’t had Enough of Experts!

The strength of having an academic as Minister of Finance was evident in some of the innovative plans that Varoufakis drew up to counter tax evasion, contingencies in the event of Grexit and reassuring Chinese investment in the Port of Piraeus.

If Varoufakis represents one side of the expertise coin, then the other Eurogroup ministers, the ECB, and the IMF belong on the other side. As I see it, these functionaries were able to mask their lack of expertise by stonewalling, or by instantly dismissing all of Varoufakis’ proposals.

Some interesting examples of troika incompetence include the German double act of Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble. Schäuble is impervious to reason, sees Grexit as inevitable, and ultimately wants the troika in France. Merkel is more focused on progress being seen to be made and makes disjointed interventions for the sake of seeing progress. She was able to win the confidence of Prime Minister Tsipras, which eventually caused SYRIZA to surrender to the troika.

Varoufakis relays one instance which beggars belief. The troika used the outputs from an economic model to justify their demands for austerity (in this case increasing VAT). The problem was that they failed to account for price elasticities. A superior model was developed by Varoufakis’ team that incorporated this assumption, arguing that VAT should be reduced to discourage tax evasion. Of course, it’s not enough to be correct when you are arguing with the troika and Greece was imposed with a VAT rate that made its tourism sector less competitive at a time where tourism revenues are crucial to the Greek economy.

Whose Side is the Troika on?

The demands that Greece should prioritise debt repayments over pension payments to it’s citizens, and the Bank of Greece engineering a bank run in anticipation of SYRIZA’s election win were just two examples to show that the troika was not on the side of the Greek people. The troika’s loyalites are made clear when one spectacular act of economic self harm was committed following Varoufakis’ resignation:

To combat the endemic tax evasion that was hindering Greece’s recovery, Varoufakis introduced a scheme where electronic transactions were analysed to flag up undeclared income. Following Varoufakis’ resignation, the MoU for a third bailout loan included the elimination of the algorithmic hunt for evasion, which was about to net billions in revenue for the Greek government.

Hanlon’s razor comes to mind: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. Given that the counterproductive actions of the troika always benefit the Greek oligarchy at the expense of European citizens, it is fair to describe the troika as not only incompetent, but also malicious.

Summarising Thoughts

Even though Varoufakis is no longer an MP, he is still campaigning to bring about constructive change as a co-founder of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25, which regular commenter Old Deuteronomy has mentioned before). Opposing the ascendant far-right does not require alignment with an uncaring establishment, instead left-leaning collectives such as DiEM25 offer a participatory approach for citizens to reclaim the dignity of all their European compatriots. Adults in the Room perfectly illustrates the need to take action to secure economic and social justice for Europe.

 

 

 

Formula Fusion: My Impressions

It was a sad day when Sony closed down Studio Liverpool in 2012, the games developer who had produced highly regarded titles such as the early to mid 2000s Formula One games (but not the abomination that was F1 Grand Prix for PSP) and the WipEout series. The WipEout games were futuristic hovercraft racing games, where players piloted anti-gravity (AG) craft around a variety of challenging circuits. The games were particularly unique for their electronic soundtracks and superb visual design that extended to AG craft sponsors and advertising around tracks. For me the portrayal of the future in the WipEout series was alluring , the racing was frenetic, and to this day WipEout Pure remains my favourite video game of all time.

The closure of SL means that there are no more installments in the WipEout series. In its place similar games such as BallisticNG or RedOut have been released. Joining them is Formula Fusion. Formula Fusion makes a convincing claim to assume the mantle of spiritual successor to the WipEout series; R8 Games has ex-Studio Liverpool staff and The Designers Republic was involved with the graphic design. While it has been in development for a while and I have been playing the early-access version for a few months already, June 1 marked the release of the full version. Below, I’ll list my impressions of the game, starting with the positives:

  • The graphics are superb, the craft and track assets are very well resolved (I’m playing with “high” settings). The sense of speed is immense as surroundings whizz by when I boost down the straights of Midtown at 600 km/h. I also enjoy the glare when I exit the tunnel in Niagara.
  • The ships have very different personalities. The Vixen is a good all rounder, with predictable turning behaviour, the Sabre feels more “pointy” and I can dart it about to get onto speed-up/pick-up pads. The Python is very floaty and slow to respond, so forward planning is needed to keep it out of the wall. Such diversity in ship handling is good, it allows players to work with a ship that suits them and introduces an element of strategy where ship benefits and drawbacks need to be weighed against each other.
  • Customisation. The ship skins can be changed (without any microtransactions, take note Frontier) and modifications can be made to make the ships faster, handle better or give them superior offensive/defensive capabilities.
  • Race results. This was a weak part of the WipEout games that I played. You never got to see the results at the end. This is addressed in Formula Fusion, the results are given in real time and at the end of the race. Furthermore, the lap times of each AG-craft are displayed in bar-graph form making it easy to identify how I compare to my opponents.
  • Replays. These can be set to auto-save and can be viewed under the “Records” section. When viewing the replay, you can switch between the AG-craft and camera views. You can even change the zoom and orientation of the camera in one of the modes. This feature is great for making videos to share online, or reliving past glories.
  • Game Modes: The elimination mode isn’t anywhere near as fun as the similarly named mode in WipEout Pulse, which was all about racking up kills. Here it is the more traditional “last place is eliminated each lap” approach. The endurance mode is interesting. The shield/health drains at an increasing rate as the laps go by, the challenge is to go as far as possible before the ship explodes. This requires a balance between outright speed and collecting shield pick-ups to prolong your time on the track.
  • Double Boosting. Fly between two adjacent speed-up pads and you can get twice the boost compared to going over a single pad. This feature is useful for speed runs, race strategy and improving the precision of one’s piloting.

Now for some negative aspects:

  • The game isn’t as smooth as it should be. There are jitters in the frame rate, which is an issue when precise movements are needed. This was improved by a patch released not long after the release of the game, but it still isn’t perfect.
  • The music seems quite dull and repetitive. More variety in this area would make things more interesting.
  • There was a cockpit view during early-access, but this isn’t in the game now. While I wouldn’t use it, it was nice to have the option. From what I can tell, it will be back in a later update.

All-in-all, Formula Fusion is a welcome addition to my SSD. I don’t bring out the PSP to play WipEout much anymore, so it’s great to have something that can run on my PC. From a graphic design and lore point of view, it offers a fresh break while demonstrating the same attention to detail that endeared the WipEout franchise to me. The ships are great fun to pilot and the tracks are well-designed and very rewarding to fly when one gets everything right. That feeling and new content including free tracks and craft will keep me coming back to Formula Fusion for a long time to come.

Here’s a video of what it’s like to play:

Apologies for the pixelated appearance, I’m new to video capture. I recorded the gameplay with OBS, the footage looked great. Then I had to truncate it in Blender, which is where the quality was lost. With practice, I’ll hopefully find some better settings.