First, happy birthday to oinomel71! This, of course, operates on the principle that if you start composing a LJ post on someone's birthday and don't finish it in time, it still counts. Happy birthday Eastern Daylight Time, or something?
Second, elvie points out that favourite mad performance art group Blast Theory are running Can You See Me Now? on Thursday and Friday this week between 4pm and 7pm BST - the current game is taking place around "The Junction" in Cambridge - that's Cambridge, UK, not the one near Boston. Anyway, you can run round a virtual chunk of Cambridge pursued by real people whose physical positions are superimposed on the virtual world, trying to avoid being caught by them.
The game is pretty easy, but it's an interesting way to play; before long, you make new challenges for yourself, like staying just out of the way of the runners - perhaps chasing them? - or interacting with other players. The most obvious improvement via improper gameplay is to go to the real Junction in Cambridge, play via wireless internet in their physical presence and throw the runners off-guard. It's old tech (I blogged about it in late 2002) but at least we can be confident it works reliably. Anyway, it's only online for another day or two, so get movin', and perhaps I'll see you in virtual Cambridge.
Third, a new campaign has officially started of the biggest game of them all in Britain - the General Election. Kudos to BBC News for putting what I consider to be an excellent site covering the election online straight away; the highlight, for me, is the issues comparator, which I consider an outstanding piece of public service. Pick three parties and compare their policies on 17 issues at a glance, which I think blows away arguments from the disinterested that all the parties are the same or that the parties spend more time slagging each other off than saying what they stand for. Incidentally, while I'm glad the differences between parties are clear, I do think the fact that there is so much cross-party agreement about best practice is heartening and should be celebrated.
Also interesting to note that the BBC have appropriated the term weblog for their frequently-updated collection of short pieces. I quibble at the terminology slightly in that I still associate weblogs as being primarily about dissemination of weblinks rather than original content, so perhaps I'd call it a journal. Their interface is also sadly lacking a way to view all the entries of that day without users' comments; nevertheless, I'll forgive them that for the fact that they offer a RSS syndicated feed, already syndicated to LJ as blog_vote2005. Anyway, frequent Friends list F5ers, have at.
US politics geeks may well find following the British election fun and possibly less depressing than the US campaign simply because more parties make for more geekery and more colour. Admittedly a good 30%+ of the vote will be taken by each of the Labour and Conservative parties, translating to close to 90% of the seats between them as a result of our First Past The Post scheme, but the Liberal Democrats stand good hopes of increasing both their vote share above 18% and their representation, plus the minority parties may well take a bigger chunk of the vote as well. There isn't a direct equivalent to the Electoral Vote web site which was essential daily reading in the US campaign on the grounds that constituencies are so small (c. 70,000 voters) that you can't really take meaningful polls within them, plus nobody is quite sure which the marginal constituencies really will be. There's always the BBC's poll tracker and associated analysis.
Incidentally, I don't anticipate significant change in foreign policy between the US and the UK, whatever the result of the election. Labour are more traditionally associated with the Democrats and the Conservative party with the Republicans, but Tony Blair has famously strong ties to both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The strongly pro-European Liberal Democrats favour closer ties with Europe, which might possibly be at the expense of de-emphasising ties with the US, and they were the highest-profile party to oppose the war in Iraq, but I don't think relations with the USA are a major policy issue for any of the serious players. Perhaps there are questions to be asked about what the UK is getting out of the "Special Relationship" at the moment, but the Conservatives and Labour aren't willing to do so as a policy commitment.
Almost needless to say, I encourage everyone in the UK who is permitted to vote either to do so, or alternatively to take considerable pleasure in deliberately spoiling their ballot paper, quite possibly in a glorious, elaborate and demonstrative fashion. Both voting and proactively spoiling should give tremendous pride.
The big question for me, of course, is who to vote for. Here are my views; you tell me for whom I should vote.
I would be especially keen to support an overtly secular or humanist party who would disestablish formal links with specific religions and rethink the roles of religious representatives in the House of Lords, the religious aspects of the Northern Irish government conflict, the religious underpinnings of marriage as opposed to civil partnership, British involvement in religious conflicts, religious financing, holiday tradition and so on. This is not to say that established religions do not have good ideas, but I do not accept religion as a means of authority. I support equal rights and tend to support redistribution of opportunity to those who are unfortunately disadvantaged beyond their control. (Not to excess, but to a greater extent than happens currently.)
I would be especially keen to support an overtly internationalist party or movement who would be keen to recognise that decisions should be taken at the most appropriate level - frequently this is more local than happens at present, but also frequently this is more continental or global than happens at present. I would encourage handing more responsibility and power to European and global government, not least as a route towards further entrenching and securing long-term peace, and discourage particular attachment to conventional geographical concepts of nation.
I am overtly pro-government and feel that the institute of government, regardless of the political alignment of its incumbents, is unfairly disparaged. It is not responsible for many of the problems and issues that people often ascribe to it; conversely, I'm not sure whether governments can claim all of the credit for accomplishments that are often ascribed to them. However, I believe that human nature cannot be trusted to work for the greater good effectively without the leadership and guidance that some form of government provides, not to say that our form of government is necessarily the best one (though experiments and refinements over the years and across the globe have shown what does and doesn't work). I respect the small-government (libertarian? Libertarian?) position but consider it misguided, frequently uncaring and sometimes dangerous. Of course, I may just not understand it properly. :-)
I believe that government does not currently do an effective job at dealing with aspects of life that determine people's well-being; people's concerns and miseries are frequently far from the topics that governments currently address. I would support citizenship and education reforms to make people consider the more unfortunate consequences of human nature which are currently exploited by the media. In short, I think it is possible for the world to be happier through government intervention, but I don't know how and I don't think this concept is currently being addressed in the manner it would most beneficially be.
I support electoral reform to ensure that minority viewpoints are heard and considered. In practice, I support forms of proportional representation and would set the level of required support for a viewpoint to be considered to be very low, rather lower than the 5% figure sometimes used (e.g. in the London Assembly). I am aware that there are some nasty extremists out there, but I do not fear any one particular band of nasty extremists. In principle, nasty extremists' viewpoints should be considered, though in practice almost always rejected.
I believe that the jobs market is a more capricious and inequitable way of rewarding people for their efforts than would be desirable. I favour limited, but greater than current, redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor, not just within the country but around the world. I regard myself as very fortunate and quite rich already in this regard, even though I am some way from what is considered "middle Britain" or "middle England".
I believe that people have the right to do what they like with what they earn to some extent; I believe they also have a responsibility to benefit the rest of the world. When people become unusually rich, I believe that their right to choose which good causes benefit from their largesse (which charity, or possibly which luxury) does not exceed their responsibility to fund the social benefits that nobody chooses to fund. In simple terms, the rich world should pay for unfashionable causes like garbage collection in the poor world.
I believe that tax policy is very difficult and do not believe that massive hikes in income tax are the best way to fund this. I am concerned about the extremely wealthy's ability to evade taxation and suspect that global co-operation is required to ensure that the extremely rich cannot change their nationality for convenience and economic benefit.
I believe that while successful people have the right to make life more pleasant for their loved ones, they can currently do so to an extent that reinforces inequalities in an unhelpful fashion. I would support increases in inheritance tax, even to my own detriment, to the point that nobody can be excused from contribution to society simply through the basis of privileged upbringing.
I am not opposed to private health, education or transport in principle, but I would hate to see any fo them expand to the point that public alternatives were unacceptably poor quality. Of the three, I regard public health and public education as being rather better served than public transport in Britain at the moment. I have little opinion on whether consumers can be trusted to make well-informed decisions when choice is offered.
I do not have tremendously strong opinions on the issue of crime. Business at large is currently given excessive leeway to damage the environment. Art, culture and sport contribute greatly to the well-being of the world and are currently underfunded; governments should not be scared, within reason, from attempting glorious and imaginitive public projects which may form modern wonders of the world; my sense of reason on such matters is more liberal than most.
For whom should I vote? Feel free to answer that question either by picking a party that matches up most closely to my views, or by challenging my views and suggesting why I should adopt different ones more closely aligned with a particular party.
Lastly, if all these games are too much for you, a safe-for-work and very silly picture: how they celebrate April 1st at a Japanese zoo - or, possibly, confirmation of the existence of the Oriental version of Trigger Happy TV.