Jun 30

Warhammer: Age of Sigmar – the end of my hobby

Have you ever gotten really invested in a TV series, maybe even bought t-shirts, mugs etc. to let everyone know you’re proudly affiliated; only for it to come to an abrupt end, leaving you thinking “well now what am I going to do with my life…?” That’s how I feel about Warhammer. Only, instead of sinking a couple of years into it, it’s been my entire life, and the gods alone know how many thousands I’ve spent.

Things come to an end. As a nerd I have a very hard time coming to terms with this, but as a (reasonably) sensible adult, I understand it’s an unalterable fact of life. If the End Times were the end to everything, it wouldn’t feel so bad. Like saying “Timmy, Rover has led a long life filled with joy and wonder, but it’s the kindest thing we can do to end his life now”. Instead, however, Rover’s been put down and GW is saying “look, Timmy! We’ve strapped a Minions mask to Rover to make him hip and contemporary, and we’ve tied marionette strings to his corpse so he can dance for you! Isn’t this FUN!!!??? It’s the same thing but BETTER, Timmy! BETTER!!!”

For those who haven’t seen the leaked images showing both the starter boxset for Warhammer: Age of Sigmar and the accompanying rules set, here’s a summary (not going to link it myself, I’m not that silly):

Boxset:

Good guys vs bad guys – Chaos models which I must admit look very nice, but look like they’ve been transplanted from the 40k starter box, versus a new faction who appear to be nothing more than Blood Angels assault marines and combat terminators with thunder hammers and storm shields, all of whom have Commander Dante’s head. They’ve got a techno-styled Ghal Maraz on their shields. (“It’s the same thing but BETTER, Timmy!”)

Rules (the bits that jumped out at me):

  • 40k lite – Move, shoot, charge, combat. The addition of a pre-turn Heroic Phase allows you to cast “magic”, which seems to have been…. *sigh*…. ‘simplified’.
  • Wounding value replaces more dakka – gone are the days when you struggle to hold hundreds of dice as you gleefully launch attacks at your opponent. Now attackers inflict multiple wounds by hitting once.
  • “Special Terrain” – pretty much the same
  • Psychology – in all its beautiful and varied forms, has been nerfed 40k style. It’s just “you scared? no? good.”
  • Warscrolls – these are described in the rules as being the elements which tell you what individual units do. I assume that a card will be present in each unit boxset to tell you what unique things the unit does, or how it in some way contradicts the universal rules. Not to be a total Debbie Downer, I think this is a neat and tidy way of doing things, but is unfeasible if you want to have a big, varied army (something which doesn’t seem to be in the scheme of things for this game, despite continuing to use the name Warhammer “BETTER!!!”)
  • Army size – the rules sheet makes mention that a “big” army might consist of 100 models. *sigh* Back in my day, that was one regiment of goblins…

 

Is it the fantasy-ectomy? Is it the over-simplification of rules? Is it the complete gutting of the core principle of “massive, great big armies” upon which Warhammer was built? I don’t know. Whatever it is, something has left me hollow inside. I’m really trying not to let my feelings of the present, as I gaze at the rainforest’s worth of Black Library novels and the mountains of plastic in hundreds of figurecases that take up most of my house, affect my memories of the past. I have loved Warhammer. More than a grown man should probably admit. “Age of Sigmar” is not Warhammer.

Assuming AoS is successful, and that GW manage to attract new hobbyists and sell lots of toy soldiers; it makes me sick to think that in years to come, people are going to consider this Warhammer, in the same way that some people think of Jar Jar Binks when they hear Star Wars. In that regard, us “Oldhammer” fans will be saying what Star Wars fans have have been saying since 1999, “No, no, the proper ones; before the new stuff.”

In the latter years of my hobby, I’ve mainly been interested in the story, or “fluff”, of Warhammer, being unable to afford many of the new models and finding it ever-increasingly hard to find the time and energy to play games. I thought to myself, in my naivety, that no-one could take the fluff away from me, no matter what else happened. Then came the End Times. Exciting as it was, it was essentially “rocks fall. Everyone dies.” I, along with hundreds of others if social media is to be believed,  was drawn headfirst back into the Warhammer story when the End Times campaign happened. It was new, it was turbulent, EVERYONE was miserable… it was WARHAMMER! I was looking forward to another edition of the game where the beleaguered forces of Order would battle on all sides to eke out their existence as Destruction reigned all around them. Instead…. boom…. everyone’s dead… here are some Sigmarite Space Marines, Timmy.

 

From a purely business point of view, I sort of understand GW’s quest to make everything they sell a legally defensible brand identity (lest we forget the great Space Marine debacle!). People who are clearly far more in-the-know than me in boardrooms up in Nottingham have clearly identified that the increasing number of companies producing fantasy wargaming miniatures, and gamers’ decisions to use other companies’ miniatures in their Warhammer games, is a threat to their business model as a manufacturer and retailer. I myself stand guilty of using models from Gamezone and Avatars of War in my Warhammer armies. What can I say? I can’t resist the shiny-shiny! Looking at it, though: what does it say about your rules set and lore that people will buy miniatures from elsewhere and then come back to YOUR game for the most important element: the FUN! I’m no Donald Trump or Alan Sugar, but if you’ve got a business with two key elements, 1) designing and manufacturing miniatures and 2) producing rules and background literature, and you’ve identified that customers are spending money elsewhere for their miniatures but coming to YOU for the game rules and background literature….. which element of your business needs improving?

The last edition of WHFB came with £30 army books and huge £60 rulebooks that could bludgeon an elephant to death, and people were PAYING it in order to get that sweet, sweet Warhammer goodness. All the while they were bitching and whinging that other companies provided rules for free with their models, blah blah blah, they were STILL buying Warhammer rules because (but for a few more recent changes that were a bit misguided) it’s a GOOD GAME and they cared deeply about the fluff. I’m sure there’s a chart that can be plotted using all GW’s detailed sales metric they no-doubt have that shows that any drop in miniatures sales and subsequent uptake in rivals’ sales is commensurate with the cartoonization of Citadel models and increasing badassery of competitors’ models. While an absolute pain to build (seriously, little to no thought was given to how a human with only two arms could build the bloody things), Avatars of War plastic miniatures gave hobbyists outstanding-looking fantasy models at prices they expect to pay for them. I haven’t met a single person who actually uses the AoW rules set. They just take the models and put them straight into their Warhammer game! What part of this indicates that it’s the RULES that’re to blame!?

 

Some might say “just because there’s a new version of the game, doesn’t mean your old one will magically disappear! You can still play the old one!” and while that’s undeniably true, it doesn’t stop that feeling of the rug being pulled out from under my feet. As I said, the major part of my hobby these days is the story, and that’s the main thing that’s been killed. If/when I do manage to get the odd game of ‘proper’ Warhammer in, it’ll be purely “what if” scenarios, rather than being able to roleplay the progression of the story. I don’t know… just feels like a bit of a wet fish to me.

Anyways… I’m now rapidly going through the stages of grief and have landed painfully at acceptance. Warhammer, the love of my life, is dead. Its corpse is being paraded like a mardi gras float, but it’s dead nonetheless. I’ve got some serious soul-searching to do.

Mar 11

Escape from the Dungeon

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Daryl awoke with a dull pain in his head to near total darkness. Instinctively, he reached for the gym towel he kept forever perched on his shoulder and mopped his expansive brow, where beads of sweat had formed in the cloying humidity of his present location.

He was laying down, that much was certain. He fumbled around on the floor around him and came upon what he knew were his glasses. Bringing them to his face, he could just make out a thin crack running through the left lens. Typical, he thought.

Allowing his eyes to adjust to the gloom, he began to discern more of his surroundings. However improbable, he deduced that he was in some sort of medieval dungeon cell. The walls were made of thick stone blocks roughly cemented together, with a thin sheen to them, as though damp. The door was a solid sheet of metal with a small slot roughly a hand’s width into which, presumably, the gaoler could observe his prisoners.

Keeping a clear head, Daryl decided that he should fully assess his situation before leaping to any conclusions. So many questions. Where am I? How did I get here? Do they have WiFi?

He ponderously rose to his feet and began to explore the rest of his cell, which he deemed to be about eight feet across, and similarly deep. Reaching into the darkness, his fingers almost instantly landed upon something solid. He recoiled from this unexpected contact but, after nothing untoward seemed to come of it, resumed his careful search. How he’d missed it before, he couldn’t be sure, but there, standing just below his chin in height, was a 1:1 scale porcelain statue of Queen Elizabeth II. As his fingernail tapped against the smooth white surface, rendered a shade of umber by the thin stream of dim light creeping through the slot in the door; he heard the unmistakable chink of fine china. Coming to terms with the strangeness of his situation, Daryl resolved to get himself out of here and return home to the comfort of a warm cup of Ovaltine and copious volumes of raunchy Japanese cartoons.

He felt his mobile phone in his pocket, and quickly reached for it, hoping beyond hope that it wasn’t damaged. As the little screen illuminated, he was pleased to see that not only did it have power, but was also totally unscathed. He immediately attempted to call the police, but was met only with the monotonous bleeping that reported a lack of signal. Typical, he thought.

Where there was previously silence beyond the cell door, now Daryl could hear the faint sound of footsteps and voices through distant corridors and, chillingly, what sounded like the pained screams of some poor soul being tortured. He understood, then, that however he came to be in his current situation; it was dire, and he needed to free himself before the same fate befell him. He wracked his brain, taking stock of what he had available to him and forming a plan of how best to make his escape. After what seemed like an eternity, but must only have been a handful of minutes, Daryl had drawn a complete blank. In frustration, he slammed his fist into the wall. A thin streak of what seemed like plaster dust came loose around one of the stones set into the wall. Absent-mindedly, he pulled at the edges of the stone, and was rewarded by a dull thunk as it came completely loose and fell to the floor of his cell, smashing into a few pieces. Behind it, he could feel, was soft dirt.

It was in that moment, with a fist full of soil and an examinatory glace at Her Majesty the Queen, that Daryl formed his escape plan.

***

Cradling Elizabeth in the crook of his left arm, and using his right to hold a fragment of the fallen stone; Daryl began to tap at the queen’s neckline. Slowly at first, but then with greater ease, he began to separate the monarch’s head and, he was pleased to see, it was as hollow as he’d hoped. Once his grisly task was done, he placed the remainder of the queen’s body to one side, and began to scrape soil from within the wall cavity. This he scooped up and placed within the queen’s severed head until its weight was not unlike a bowling ball.

Taking his chance, Daryl held the mud-filled head at his shoulder like a shot putter and took a position beside the cell door. He angled his face towards the narrow opening and yelled loudly and clearly, “1v1 me, fgt!” Shortly, there came the sound of feet fast approaching him. He braced himself for action.

The silhouette of a man became visible outside, and the door opened suddenly. With an effort he normally reserved solely for the acerbic criticism of demonstrably successful board games, Daryl hefted his makeshift weapon with all his might down upon the head of the stranger. With a sickening crunch, the man’s skull caved in and his body slumped to the floor like a sack of offal, blood pooling around his head, reflecting like the rippling surface of some macabre lake.

Wasting no time, and assuming that it would somehow be useful, Daryl grabbed the remainder of the queen’s porcelain body and exited the confines of his cell into the corridor beyond. This, he found, was much better lit than his cell. He could see clearly that there were many intersections and hallways leading off to either side.

He began to question his sanity when, to his disbelief, he saw what appeared to be a glowing green sign depicting a fire exit about a hundred yards down the dark tunnel. With no apparent alternative, and failing to see how this horrible misadventure could become any stranger; Daryl clutched the hollow remains of the queen’s headless body in both hands and staggered towards the sign. As he drew closer, he could see a blindingly bright light emitting from what seemed to be a doorway beneath the sign. He instinctively reached at it with one hand. As he reached, he could hear the sound of raised voices, dogs barking, and the unmistakable sound of the hustle and bustle of busy city traffic.

As his hand made contact with the solid surface and the door began to swing outward, he was disoriented by the brightness of full daylight, the shouting of angry voices in his direction, and a dark shape clad in padding and armour approaching him with some sort of stick. Moments later, he was unconscious.

***

When he came to, Daryl was handcuffed to a chair, alone in a brightly-lit room with nothing but a noticeboard and a table with a pair of chairs on the opposite side. He went to rub his aching head, but found his restraints didn’t permit him to raise either hand higher than his chest. Straining to take in any further details of the room in which he found himself, he managed to make out some of the words on a piece of paper stapled to the noticeboard, “Metropolitan Police”. I’ve been saved, he thought to himself, but why did they handcuff me?

Moments later, a pair of men entered the room. One wearing a brown jacket and trousers over a pale shirt open at the collar, another in police uniform and a stab-proof vest. The man in the jacket sat down opposite Daryl, the uniformed officer remained by the door.

The man on the other side of the desk produced a small plastic bag from the inside of his jacket, placed it on the table and began to empty it of its contents. Daryl recognized the items as his own belongings. The man opened the wallet he’d produced from the bag and removed an identity card. “So…” he began, “Daryl, is it?” Daryl begin to speak, but before he uttered a word the man continued.

“Let me be perfectly clear with you, Daryl. You are under arrest. Once we’re done here, my colleague will escort you to a holding cell where you’ll await a trial date. The evidence against you is such that nothing you could possibly have to say would change matters, but unfortunately, proper procedure dictates that we go through the motions.” With a laboured sigh, the man continued “I will now read out a statement of incidents as they occurred; you will have the opportunity to correct any points you feel are incorrect. Until that time, you are to remain silent. Do you understand?”

Nonplussed, and whimpering slightly, Daryl managed a brief nod.

“On the evening of Friday the 12th, the accused did frequent no fewer that ten establishments whose purpose is the selling of alcoholic beverages in Soho, London. While a toxicology report has yet to be produced, it is believed that the accused came into the possession of and proceeded to use illegal narcotics with hallucinogenic properties. Under the effects of these intoxicants, the accused then proceeded to make forcible entry into the Tate Gallery; irrevocably damaging several priceless artworks and absconding with a scale replica of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second.”

“It is then reported that the accused, deliriously drunk, loudly staggered through the streets, clutching the stolen artifact, repeatedly screaming ‘Luke senpai’ loud enough to awaken several dozen local residents. No fewer than four complaints of public disorder were filed regarding this conduct.”

“The accused then forced entry into the popular tourist attraction, The London Dungeon, where it is presumed he passed into unconsciousness until the early hours of Saturday morning. It is then recorded that he vandalized the stolen artwork and brutally murdered one of the attraction’s janitorial staff before attempting to flee the scene, whenupon he was apprehended and placed under arrest.”

“Have you understood the statement read to you, sir, and do you wish any corrections to be noted?”

Daryl sat in stunned silence, stupefied, staring into the face of the man before him as though expecting to wake from a horrible dream.

“For the record, the accused is exercising his right to silence” the man stated officiously. “We have yet to locate your accomplice, Mr Senpai; but any information you provide as to his whereabouts may been seen favourably when it comes to your sentencing.”

The man continued to stare unblinking into Daryl’s now watery eyes for a few moments more, before exhaling in defeat, rising from the chair and making his way out of the room with the uniformed officer, leaving Daryl alone with his thoughts.

Aug 06

At what point does inclusivity become preferential treatment?

In the 21st Century, most people are on-board with the idea that regardless of race, gender, politics, sexual orientation, body type, etc.; people within a society should be treated equally and/or given equal opportunity. I’m writing this to discuss the very subtle difference between these, and asking when the provision of equality becomes preferential treatment. I hope to touch upon how this might come to be. To do so, I’ll be using some very rudimentary examples that I hope identify the societal thought processes behind it.

Creating a Level Playing Field

I think we can all agree that most efforts towards equality revolve around creating a level playing field; making things accessible/attainable to as many people as possible, relative to an unwritten middle ground that society seems to have developed of its own volition. This is the main theme of this article.

A crude example, were there no standardized format and someone wanted to build a doorway: “how high should we make the door? Most people who use the door are 6’6” or shorter, so by making it that height we’ll afford the majority of people the best access to it.” The average ceiling is about 8’ high, meaning there’s enough room to make the doorway higher (taking structural integrity out of the equation) and everyone knows there are people out there who’re taller. My point is, somewhere along the line, someone proclaimed a limit on how high they’re prepared to make the doorway despite knowing there were people who would have to duck to use it. To my knowledge, no-one is out there campaigning for doorways to be made higher, so as a society we’re in agreement that this is fair treatment despite a group of people being disadvantaged.

In reference to the ‘middle ground’ I mentioned: the example shows that the average or usual height of a person has been calculated, and then an indefinable degree of dispensation has been granted for those who require more than the average. This is giving equal opportunity for people who are both ‘normal’ and those who in some way differ from the norm, in this case those who are tall, to use the doorway. Very important to note here is that a limit was placed on how accommodating of extra-normal people this opportunity would be.

Disabled Access

Many buildings take measures to allow people who can’t easily use traditional access, such as wheelchair users, to enter the premises as easily as able-bodied people. The most commonly recognized example of this is the access ramp; replacing a flight of steps with a ramp on a smooth incline.

If you were constructing a building, it wouldn’t have any difference in construction costs to install a ramp rather than some steps, and would allow everyone who visited an equal opportunity to enter the building easily. Everybody’s happy!

However, it’s more often the case that a building has long since been constructed, and the owners must make a decision whether to install a ramp or replace their steps. This is an additional expense, and one which would only benefit (in most cases) a minority of the building’s visitors. Should they do it, then? Those with a pronounced sense of decency would agree that the building’s owner should, out of common courtesy and in the spirit of inclusivity, provide all their visitors the same opportunity to enter the building; but is it really an objectively good decision?

In an objective, black-and-white situation; on a to-do list that includes incurring XYZ expense to benefit less than 5% of users, most people would place that at a lower priority over things that would affect a much higher percentage of users.

In the case of being given equal opportunity, then; it sometimes transpires that those who are unaffected by an issue must bear some burden or negative effect in order to assist those who are affected, thus ‘levelling the playing field’. We as a society have made an unspoken, unwritten agreement that this is an acceptable bargain to make.

Dedicated Parking Spaces

Installing a ramp to access your building allows all people an equal opportunity to enter easily. Having a car park adjacent to the building allows all drivers an equal opportunity to park their car nearby.

Allocating certain parking spaces, usually located nearer to the building’s entrance, for various groups of people creates a division between the visitors, allowing some of them to get a ‘better’ spot than others. Whether the dedicated parking space be for building managers, disabled visitors, parents with children, or whomever; they’ve been deemed to require extra-normal treatment:

– The building manager’s spot has been allocated as a privilege; a sort of reward for owning the building. The manager is making the decision that due to their ownership/seniority of the property, they are entitled to place themselves above the ranks of their visitors, and can take their pick of whichever parking spots they wish. Society accepts this, and we acknowledge an owner/manager’s right to preferential treatment.

– Disabled parking bays are normally located immediately next to a building’s entrance/exit, are sometimes double-wide to allow for optimal manoeuvrability and ease of getting out of vehicles, and in some places, it’s a criminal offense to park your car in such a bay without displaying an appropriate badge to denote your entitlement; such is the fervor with which society feels these people require deserve the exclusive use of the facility.

I can’t speak for other nations, but in Britain we have the unspoken rule that if you see someone park in a handicapped bay without displaying a ‘blue badge’, it is a person’s civic duty to make passive-aggressive remarks to the transgressor, or even openly confront them for their disregard of people who society deems require the space more.

Disabled parking spaces do not afford equal opportunity, and they certainly don’t constitute people being treated equally; in fact quite the opposite. Equality is being permitted access to a car park and being given the same chance to find a space and park along with everyone else. Society, then, has decided that due to difficulties many disabled people have once they enter the car park along with all their equals; additional measures should be taken to make their use of the facilities, if not easy, then as difficult as everyone else’s (or as near an approximation as can be managed).

So, what’s happening here is: a group of people who, through no control of their own, find an activity more difficult than the majority of users, are being given preferential treatment at the (albeit not tremendous) detriment of others. Society accepts and agrees with this decision because as a collective we have decided that, while unfair, giving those who may be at a disadvantage the means to do something with greater ease is beneficial to us as a group.

– The ‘parents with children’ spot is usually wider to allow strollers to be easily wheeled around cars to load/unload children, and is typically located nearer to an entrance/exit to give the parent a shorter trip (making the assumption that they’ll be juggling purchases and children to and from their car).

Is this acceptable? Certainly, we can (I think) agree that this is a positive gesture aimed at helping people whom the vast majority can identify with; but it’s very clearly not in the spirit of equal opportunity. Rather, it’s giving preferential treatment to people who have a) made the decision to breed, and b) made the decision to travel with their progeny and all the accompanying paraphernalia to this building in their car.

Different to disabled bays, the parents’ bay is not being given to someone who is perhaps at a physical disadvantage or who may, outside of their control, struggle with using the parking facilities within the same parameters as the average user; it is being given to an average user who may encounter difficulty because of their choices and lifestyle.

The point…

Somewhere along the line, we’ve stopped just ensuring there’s a level playing field; and instead have begun creating levels within levels, moving that unspoken, unwritten middle ground back and forth until we’re not quite sure where it is anymore.

Who should change for whom?

The world is becoming a much smaller place with a much bigger population. People from all over the world, from all different walks of life and with an endless variety of lifestyles are now living and working together in the many different societal structures modern humans have devised for ourselves.

I write from the perspective of someone in a prescriptively inclusive society that tries (sometimes excruciatingly) to accommodate everyone. That being so, I’ve observed that the increase in groups of people identified as somehow ‘different’ is parallel to the number of measures taken to ensure that these ‘different’ people are treated equally. The invariable result of such measures is the change in behaviour or circumstance of everyone but the group in question; either bringing the group ‘up’ or the majority ‘down’ to whatever level is perceived to be ‘equal’. While admittedly hyperbolic, I feel it bears mentioning that in these instances, it is normally the ‘affected’ group that decides whether the measures adequately result in equality, not the society as a whole.

I posit that, over decades of making minor, sometimes imperceptible changes in society to suit the needs of minority groups; people have almost been conditioned to believe that changes must be made, and now only concern themselves with the degree to which things change, and whom should be doing the changing.

By and large, the changes to which I’m referring don’t initially have any negative effects, but given time and a nurtured sense of entitlement; those who are unaffected by the issues in question, but who subsequently find themselves confronted with those who are, begin to resent having to make any changes to their lives.

These range from dietary needs, to cultural or ideological differences, to religious doctrines. As multiculturalism increases, there comes a time when the unspoken middle ground of any given place moves to a degree that those who valued it dislike, but that those who cause it to move don’t recognize (what with it being unspoken!). This begins to form a very ‘us vs. them’ mentality in the minds of those who are unwilling to accommodate, and further resentment when it’s decided that their adversarial attitude is antisocial.

One very passive example of this is vegetarianism. The idea of choosing to only eat vegetables (whether for ethical reasons or otherwise) found its way to Europe (and subsequently the New World) from the east, with its roots tracing back to Asia and then to Greece. Some famous figures from European history were considered ‘unusual’ for choosing this diet, and it was largely considered merely an interesting oddity that affected one or two people. It wasn’t until the 1960s that it became a popular choice for many people, and it was around this time that the first vegetarian restaurants opened in London.

Since that time, ‘veggie’ options have become a tacit feature of any restaurant’s menu, despite the fact that the vast majority of diners are not vegetarian. Why? Well one could argue that restaurateurs simply want to garner the business of vegetarian patrons, but I think that glosses over the remarkable change in what counts as ‘normal’ in a restaurant. Vegetarians as a minority group made it clear that in order for them to have an equal opportunity to dine in restaurants, those restaurants needed to serve food that accommodated their lifestyle. Having done so, this is now ‘normal’. If a restaurant doesn’t have a vegetarian option, (the more outspoken) vegetarians feel they’re justified in complaining to the owners based on the new unspoken understanding that there should be one. If the owner purposefully didn’t have this option for whatever reason; they’re now in a conflict situation with someone from a different social group which wouldn’t have occurred had the the patron not felt the sense of entitlement.

To reference my earlier example of a doorway to determine our middle ground: this very subtle change has caused the middle ground to move, accommodating a minority group within society. Objectively, does the vegetarian have the right to complain about the lack of veggie option, or are they ‘taller than the doorway’?

Gender and Sexuality

Among the major driving forces for changes in the modern day are a person’s gender and/or sexual identity. As a preamble, I should state that I find this subject incredibly tedious, and thanks to websites such as Tumblr and the coverage it receives in global media, I’m so sick of talking about it from my unemotional (and therefore dismissible, it would appear) viewpoint that it pains me to bring it up now. However, as it has such a recognizable impact on the subject at hand, I’ll solider on but keep it brief.

Marriage

For any reason other than legal or financial gain, it is this author’s humble opinion that marriage is ridiculous. A pair of people crave undivided attention for a day while they talk to themselves and exchange material wealth, then carry on the lives they had before. That’s just my cynical view on the whole thing; but as ridiculous as I think it is, I and any sensible person feel that everyone should have the equal opportunity to undertake that crazy attention-seeking ritual if they so choose.

Same-sex couples around the world are denied this opportunity because of various Bronze Age fairytales told by illiterate peasants and embellished by power-hungry men of authority who were terrified of women. The crux of the issue is a change to what’s ‘normal’. Not to belittle the strife of these people, but as per my example above, this is the equivalent of someone’s invisible friend decreeing that the vegetarian option on the menu is punishable by death.

Is permitting same-sex couples to marry equality? Yes. In fact, so much so, that the change would be almost imperceptible. No concessions need to be made. It’s really that simple.

My point here, in reference to my previous examples, is that the ‘doorway’ size doesn’t need to be altered to accommodate another group of people, and that not all societal change is based on trivial differences but instead on a systemic problem.

Employment

“A person should be employed based on their gender” is a statement which I hope my readers disagree with. However, a cognitive dissonance exists when it comes to hiring female employees in many workplaces.

There seems, in some places, to be a conflict of the “level playing field: there are X jobs, and we’ll fill them with the first X people who qualify” mentality when it’s identified that far more men are in X-level jobs than women in any given place. The thinking becomes “how can we get more women into these jobs?” rather than “does this matter?” or “what factors are leading to this statistic? If women are trying to GET these jobs but are somehow being unfairly prevented, how can we fix the problem?”

In the UK, it’s been noted that there aren’t ‘enough’ (who the hell decides how many’s ‘enough’?) women in high-level scientific positions. So, here’s the solution: the government is going to incentivise female school students to study sciences in the hope they’ll pursue scientific careers.

This, to me, is not equal opportunity or being treated equally. This is reactionist change and preferential treatment based on a self-diagnosed need for more people of a particular gender in an occupational role.

The ‘middle ground’ I mentioned earlier, in this case, seems to suggest that we need a 50/50 split of people based on gender despite the fact that this supports the statement we all disagree with, “a person should be employed based on their gender”.

I’m aware there are inequalities between genders when it comes to employment, such as salary disparity etc., however the point I’m trying to make here, and what this article is about, is the extent to which measures are taken before they cease to create equality and instead creating preferential treatment. To reference an earlier example: is this invented notion of a requirement for employees of a specific gender, or the facilitation to make more of them akin to the ‘parents with children’ parking spaces: taking a group of people that fall within the norm and giving them preferential treatment with the uncontested support of others.

(Edit: two hours after posting this, I read an article about LEGO making female scientist models. That seems to suggest that this isn’t a thought that’s just isolated to the UK)

Race and Nationality

One of the touchiest subjects, stemming from both historical and political events, is the inclusion of people from multiple nationalities and races within a society. Equality is achieved when anyone, regardless of place of origin, colour, accent, etc., can live in exactly the same manner as any other person in that society, and encounters the exact same difficulties.

Affirmative Action has a presence in one guise or another in many countries around the world, notably in the United States. It is a system put in place to ensure that certain groups of people have preferential access to job opportunities based on race or in some places religion. It sounds absurd to say that such a system exists in the 21st Century, but there you have it.

In almost all instances internationally, the system was born from a state in which certain racial or ethnic groups were less able to attain employment due to persecution or subjugation, and were therefore afforded an opportunity to obtain a job more easily. President John F Kennedy coined the phrase, saying employers should “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin” Stupidly, however, this ends up meaning that if two applicants of equal qualification and different race apply for a job, it is often mandated to go to the applicant whose race determines suitability.

It goes without saying that this is not equality as there is a system put in place to select groups of people over other groups of people regardless of qualification.

To reference my examples; this is equivalent to classifying people from certain races as needing disabled parking spaces, and giving them spaces near the entrance because they must find it difficult to use the same facilities as everyone else due to a physical deficiency outside of their control.

Questions

  • How much can be taken from those seen to be in privilege and given to those who aren’t before it transcends equality and becomes preferential treatment?
  • How do we determine which groups of people warrant the moving of our ‘middle ground’ to justify inclusivity in the name of equality at the expense of others, and how do we determine the limit of our action?
  • How does society collectively acknowledge the ‘difference’ of one group or other, and how do we determine the lengths we must go to accommodate them?

Aug 15

The Youngest of the Pack

Slaughter. No other word could better describe what happened that day…

None of the ten score men whose remains now litter that ill-fated field in an unrecognizable dissemblance had the merest hope of surviving once the creature decided to attack.

A scouting force. That’s what they told them. Tasked with ranging ahead, surveying the lay of the land and turning about at the first sign of the enemy. In good order, the force was divided into files of ten men and given rotations. When they weren’t marching, details would be set to make camp, hunt in the nearby forest, stand sentry, or take rest as well as could be managed.

It was dusk on the fourth day. The waggoners broke out the caravan and dutymen began setting camp. Night had well and truly fallen by the time watches had been set and the victuallers had set to provisioning the cooks with the night’s fare. Soldiers gathered in huddled groups around scattered campfires, murmuring grizzled complaints about life and love, and swapping far-fetched tales. From one of the campfires could be heard the faintly carrying notes of a ballad being improvised, no doubt by one of the motley camp followers trying to ply their trade for a copper or two.

About a hundred paces into the woodland on the east side of the encampment, far from the warmth of the fires and the drifting, comforting scent of roasted boar and game-fowl, sat a trio of watchmen, gazing out into the deep, gnarled forest of dense oak and birch.

“I think I saw summit,” exclaimed one with hushed urgency, “out there, in the trees.”

“No, Haggan. You didn’t. There’s no-one there. What possible reason could any soul have to come to this gods-forsaken mire?” came the reply from his surly comrade, the leather flaps on the side of his thick, earth-stained coif lightly flapping as he turned his head exasperatedly in Haggan’s direction. Droplets of the rain that had mercifully ceased an hour before fell onto his grey quilted armor and the heavy iron-tipped spear that lay at ease across his lap.

“I’m telling you, Cobb…. there’s summit out there movin’ about. An’ I’m not right sure it’s a person, neither. Bryn, you ‘ave a look.”

The man called Bryn rose; his tall, muscular frame was the opposite of Haggan’s body which looked like whips of bracken twisted into the gangled shape of a man. Bryn stretched away the seeping cold of the sodden earth from his muscles with a grunt and slowly strode four paces to where Haggan stood, the whites of his knuckles showing as he tightly gripped the spear he leant upon. Though Bryn was at least a full head taller than Haggan, and twice as broad, the big man moved with surprising stealth; an ability he no-doubt acquired after many years of hunting boar in the woods near his hometown. He stood motionless for a short while, his eyes scanning every gap in the tall, pale trees which had begun to shed their leaves at the hinted whisper of the chill breeze of winter.

“W-well…” stammered Haggan, his mouth dry with anxiety.

“I see…” began the larger man, his low, rumbling voice barely audible so that Haggan needed to lean in to hear him properly, “NUTHIN’!” He roared the last directly into Haggan’s ear, sending the scrawny man tumbling backwards onto his rump in a thicket of bindweed.

“Cobb’s right. If anyone or anythin’ was out in those woods, it’d be stupider than we three ‘ere. By my reckonin’, such a thing i’nt possible, eh lads?”

Haggan was still extracting himself from the tangled vines of the plant he’d landed in, but Bryn and Cobb shared a smile at the joke. Bryn returned to his place beside Cobb at their meagre campfire, the damp but cooked carcass of a small forest creature suspended over it with a series of sticks. Cobb proffered a drinking skin which Bryn gratefully accepted, and the two began laughing at poor Haggan’s expense.

Haggan, meanwhile, had found himself completely entangled by the bindweed into which that oaf Bryn had made him fall into. Every which way he turned, the buckles on his armor and straps caught and wound their way around one or more of the strands of this gods-taken weed. Matters were not made better by the sound of his brothers-in-arms making mock of him, without so much as offering a hand. It had been this way for the longest time, having been sworn into service together some five years back. Always they would make Haggan the butt of every jape. It wasn’t all bad, though; as the two of them had become like brothers to him. Each watched out for the others, and tried to make sure they didn’t get into too much trouble. By now, Haggan had wriggled and twisted his way onto his front, hoping to get a better purchase on the ground and break the weed by whatever force he could manage.

A sudden whooshing sound, like the near-passing of a thrown spear, came to Haggan’s ears. Only that was no spear, this was larger. The sound of breaking branches, as if trampled by an animal, echoed around the small clearing. Perhaps a forest creature had been attracted by the scent of their cooking meat, thought Haggan with a start, as he redoubled his efforts to free himself. With a last exertive heave, he pressed against the ground, breaking the strands of bindweed as they freed their murderous grasp on his body. He turned dumbly about to see from whence the sound had come. Expecting to see his fellows stumbling about in confusion at the rude arrival of their next meal, what he saw instead were the lifeless corpses of his erstwhile friends, their forms twisted into a horrific rictus, their lifesblood seeping into the loamy forest floor, and their bodies not wholly intact.

Shock hit Haggan then; his mind a whirling storm of panic and fear. Ignoring the warm sensation trickling down the inside of his leg, instinct finally overtook Haggan’s terror after what seemed like an eternity of staring aghast at the mauled remains of his comrades. Whatever did this to his friends couldn’t be far, and so Haggan decided to run, run for his very life, back to the safety of the main encampment. He ran faster than he could ever remember, imbued with the speed of a man moments away from discovering his mortality. Having dropped his spear and shield, he couldn’t recall when, he flailed his arms wildly before him; knocking aside the many branches that sought to block his path with nothing but moonlight to see by. His thoughts raced. He had turned away for a minute, maybe two. His friends hadn’t screamed. There were no screams.

As the thoughts continued to turn and roil inside him, he hadn’t realized that he’d broken free from the treeline and had made his way to the sea of signal fires, tents, and middens that was the main encampment. Instinct continuing to drive him, he charged through the narrow thoroughfares of the camp, blazing his way to his captain’s tent without a thought for any other soul about him. He reached the tent, unmistakable due to the pennant which hung from a pole before the entry flap, bearing the sigil of his liege. The roof of the tent was covered in wolfskins, also. Gifts from the high lord long before they began to move south.

Slowly he opened the tent flap, the discipline of his training and the instilled awe of his captain overcoming the primal terror currently gripping him. As he entered the dim torchlit tent, its walls hung with coarse vellum maps of the local area, along with flags bearing the horned hare, the sigil of his captain’s house; he noticed for the first time how silent the camp was. His captain lay face down at his desk in the center of the tent, a goblet of rich southron wine the color of blood spilt across the papers and onto the ground. Panic returned to Haggan. His captain was passed-out drunk! How could a defense be rallied without the captain to lead them? He moved swiftly to the man’s side, took him by the shoulders and made to wake him.

Pulling the captain upright in his chair, the head lolled back revealing a pulverized collection of purple welts where once the captain’s face had been. His lower jaw was missing, the still-attached tongue hanging down onto his tunic, a stream of gore staining the once grey direwolf sigil a deep, saccharine brown. The stench of excrement, and the cloying taste of copper was in the air. Much too late it occurred to Haggan; that wasn’t wine spilt on the captain’s table.

Staggering back from the gory scene, dumbstruck by the sheer brutality, Haggan bundled his way from the captain’s tent, determined to find help. The captain could still be saved. He could. He could. Before his cry for aid had the chance to leave his lips, his voice became a draught of stagnant water as he finally perceived the camp around him. Not a sound could be heard. All about him, the ground was strewn with the dismembered fragments of men and women, their identities indiscernible as their collective entrails intertwined and their limbs lay scattered. Two hundred. They numbered two hundred, and that was without the small army of camp followers who had trailed them this past week. All dead.

Haggan stood still for a moment, staring with his mouth hung agape at the carnage that had been wrought here. For no reason he could think of, he began to walk. The scene was the same throughout the encampment. Folk had been slaughtered, eviscerated where they stood, where they sat, where they slept. Everywhere he looked, the fallen wargear of his fellow soldiers could be seen. Their quilted armor heavy with their own lifesblood, still dripping from open wounds. He brought to mind the image of his friend Cobb, the rainwater dripping onto his shoulder. All that time ago. Littering the ground were discarded vambraces, bracers and shields; laying unused, or rent asunder. He crouched to examine a dropped shield, his fingers tracing five deep gouges running the full width of it, leaving the proud emboss of the snarling direwolf barely recognizable; scrapes as from some predator, only none that he had ever seen. What creature could rend solid iron and steel as though it were parchment?

He rose to his feet, seeing droplets of water falling as he did so. In this waking nightmare, he hadn’t noticed as tears of grief began to form, welling in his eyes and falling among the blood-soaked blades of grass below. Once again, he began to walk, devoid of purpose and bereft of hope. Slowly, he left the tented city of the camp and entered into the wide plains ahead; the thin layer of frost losing its deathly grasp, revealing the verdant, green blanket beneath. It occurred to Haggan that he’d never before been this far south. He turned to take one last look at the encampment, and the people who had been family to him.

He heard a sickening crunch and felt a jarring blow to the abdomen, as though punched in the stomach during one of the soldiers’ pugilist tourneys, though the dull aching pain swiftly turned to sharp, searing agony. A coarse, scraping cry of anguish left Haggan’s mouth and he felt the flesh of his throat rip and tear with the force of it, the metallic taste of blood filling his senses. He glanced down at his stomach to see it punctured, ruptured by force and ripped open by the invasive, fleshy tendrils that were, it dawned on him, the clawed fingers of a human hand. As the hand retracted, sinuous fibers and horrifically flailing intestines grasped within its balled fist; gushing rivulets of scarlet drenched his breeks and pooled on the pure white frost as Haggan slumped to his knees, the pain so intense that he had lost all sense of reality.

Knowing that in moments he would be dead, knowing that he would soon share the fate of those he held dear; Haggan gazed upon the face of his murderer as darkness enveloped his world…

Concealed Content: Click to reveal SelectShow

 

 

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May 08

A Tale of Many Gamers

FINALLY… and a good long while after I said I’d be posting more Hobby-related things; I’m going to be doing something worthy of note! At my local gaming establishment and emporium of geekery, Gamerz Nexus, I’ll be taking part in a Tale of Many Gamers campaign for Warhammer Fantasy, as popularized by White Dwarf magazine.

We’ll be starting off with rules-legal 500pts forces, fighting a couple of skirmishy engagements in order to accrue some renown and acquiring reinforcements. The campaign with then increase in 500-750pts increments until it culminates in a massive, tentacle-waving, wing-flapping, spell-casting game of Storm of Magic!

There’ll be one game a month, allowing for plenty of time (he says, hypocritically) to paint the extra models needed to qualify for the next points tier.

source: wallpaperpassion.com

I’ve decided to go for a Dark Elf corsair force. A corsair captain as landed on the shores of the Old World (Elthin Arvan) in order to plunder a bit, take a couple of slaves and generally have a lovely time. As time passes (at the next points increase, in fact) a sorceress will appear, whispering promises of forbidden knowledge and unspeakable power into the captain’s ear and encouraging him to raise an army and slaughter the innocent masses. “Alright then,” says the captain, “anything to pass the time…”

At the end of the campaign, the simple captain and his motley crew will be transformed into a mighty pirate lord mounted atop a sea dragon barking orders to serried ranks of hundreds of druchii, chomping flesh-hungry dinosaurs, and other big gribbly beasties!

At the time of writing, I’m fairly confident that the other campaigners will be:

  • A force of Skaven from the dreaded, pox-ridden Clan Pestilens,
  • A host of daemons brought forth by the blood god, Khorne
  • A hulking crew of pirate ogres who have, apparently, found SOME kind of ship to support their less-than-petite frames
  • A force that has, to my knowledge, only been described as “ALL the tentacles!” I take that to mean some sort of Chaos force, but whether it’s Daemons or Hordes I don’t know. One assumes that Tzeentch is involved if tentacles are the order of the day.

I shall be posting my efforts to prepare for the campaign (deliberating army lists, modelling and painting things etc.) as well as (if I remember) some photos and battle reports of the games themselves.

I’ve already made a start on my sea dragon conversion, and have remembered to take one or two photos. Here’s hoping I can actually put together something of a useful post for you all!

If anyone out there has done a corsair-themed Dark Elf army before and has come up with something funky to make certain units stand out or match the theme better, I’d love to hear about it. I’m not limiting myself to GW models as over the years I’ve accumulated several gorgeous Dark Elf models from companies such as Gamezone Miniatures and Avatars of War with my would-be catchphrase, “I’ll find a use for that one day”.

One thing I’d also like to get people’s views on: how much hot water do you think I’d be in if I used GW’s images of models (say, for example, if I wanted to talk more about one or two with a picture to illustrate what I’m talking about)? I’ve heard a fair few horror stories now about the GW legal team striking such offenders down with brutal efficacy.


May 07

No Maybe About It

I received a blindingly stupid email from a generic, falsely cheerful marketing/training company which I thought was SO spectacularly dim-witted, it warranted sharing with the world.

The opener of this email (which is, as we all know, meant to catch the readers’ attention and reel them in for the “big sell”) is as follows:

Luke,

We’ve all heard the story of Manhattan being sold for $24 in trinkets. Bad deal for the Native Americans, right? Maybe not.

Had the tribe taken advantage of compounding interest, say 8% annually, that $24 would today be worth more than the entire real estate value of Manhattan!

It’s true: When earned interest is added back to the principal each year, stunning growth occurs.

This compounding effect applies to manager training, too.


When managers are taught to take full advantage of techniques that improve the performance of the people around them, those improvements become part of the whole, and can be improved upon again and again, from employee to employee, with great results.

WHAT!?

I genuinely thought this must have been a joke, so I read on for a little bit further; and no, it wasn’t.

So let’s just take a wander through this, shall we?

So you’ve decided to catch my attention with a metaphor. That’s cool. Many people do, and it often proves quite successful. Let’s see what you’ve chosen…

Ok, you’ve gone for a Native American, historical exploitation kind of theme; but with the possibility that maybe things aren’t as bleak as they seem. Due to some heretofore undisclosed or undiscovered loophole, maybe we’ve falsely interpreted one of the most recognizable acts of “civilized” white people screwing over indigenous cultures worldwide; and that by reading further, this company can teach us how maybe it’s not all that bad.

Had the tribe taken advantage of compounding interest, say 8% annually, that $24 would today be worth more than the entire real estate value of Manhattan!

Oh RIGHT, so actually, that $24 has, over the centuries, turned into… hang on.. wait… whuh? “Had the tribe…”? So, they didn’t, right? Having no knowledge of banking, investment, or money for that matter… they didn’t, choose to “take advantage of compounding interest”, aren’t enjoying the sum totalling the entire real estate value of Manhattan, and are instead sectioned off into “reserves” where they’re expected to keep quiet and not get in the way.

So, unless you want to end up like those silly, bad-decision-making Native Americans, you’d better get management training from these jackasses….

Apr 17

Review: The Great Betrayal

The Great BetrayalThe Great Betrayal by Nick Kyme

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that Nick Kyme is singularly gifted at writing from the dour a dutiful perspective of the dawi. This is yet another example of a gripping read that not only provides a metric bucketload of fluff for Warhammer fans such as myself, but also weaves a powerful story of conflict and, you guess it, betrayal.

I absolutely LOVE how many offhanded references to events that Warhammer fluff addicts would know about are provided in this book. Just little one-sentence remarks that, if you’ve read short stories from army books etc. you can immediately attribute a whole portion of Old World history to!

Also, I adore Nick’s ability to subtly weave humor into the story without it detracting from the seriousness of what’s going on. To name but a couple of non-spoiling examples: the miners’ rhythmic work-song, “ho-hai, ho-hai, ho-hai…” and the digging of three tunnels “Thom, Grik and Ari”.

Whether you’re a veteran Warhammer fan, or just feel like finding out some of the reasoning behind the enmity between the dwarfs and elves; this makes for a bloody good read!

View all my reviews

Image

I’ll Bet You Really Like Books

“Hey, is that coffee you’re dipping your thick glasses into? I’ll bet you really like books.”

Oct 16

Review: Raven: Blood Eye

Raven: Blood EyeRaven: Blood Eye by Giles Kristian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been feeling in a pretty historical mood for a while now, thinking about my family’s lineage which stretches back to the Norsemen of Denmark (specifically a place called Nyland); so when I saw this on the shelf in Waterstone’s, I thought it would be worth a go. I’m incredibly glad I made that decision!

When I read that this was a book about ‘Vikings’, I was hoping it wouldn’t just be a hack-and-slash adventure, with 400 pages of nothing but slaughter and pillaging. I was richly rewarded in that regard, because this book has just the right amount of pillaging and slaughter, along with a fantastic storyline following the exploits of one teenage boy without a past who gets caught up with a mighty jarl from across the sea.

During the story, the main character has to figure out not only what he cares about and where his loyalties lie; but also who he is. I really like this element, as you join the character in his obliviousness, and share the enjoyment of every discovery.

The writer’s Nordic background lends a wonderful realism to the writing; slipping in enough idiosyncrasies to keep the Norse flavour, but not so much that someone with no previous knowledge of the subject matter would be lost along the way. Kristian has clearly done extensive research into the exploits of the Norsemen in Britain, and writes of the politics of the time (which haven’t changed much over hundreds of years, when you think about it!)

Reading this book has inspired me to go on a sort of pilgrimage to Nyland to see where the family line began. When you look at it on Google Maps, it’s not hard to see why they decided to leave! It seems to be just a scrap of mud with some rocks on it! The green fields of Holland and Britain (which my ancestors decided to rape and pillage as part of their “shopping spree”) look much nicer by comparison!

This is a very well-written and colourful beginning to what I trust will be a gripping saga. I’ve already bought the second instalment, Sons of Thunder, and am eagerly awaiting the reading of it. I’d recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in socio-political history, or who loves a good character-driven adventure story. From start to finish, this book kept me interested and yearning for more!

View all my reviews

Oct 08

Are “Casual” and “Competitive” Gaming Styles Mutually Exclusive?

We’ve all come across them: the people who take their games to a serious level, and for whom losing is never an option. This can be incredibly annoying to those who play against them and aren’t of like mind, but can also make a game more challenging (and ultimately more enjoyable….?)

This post mainly concerns players of board games and card games, as these are the most common face-to-face turn-based games people play. While it could apply to video games in some respects, it’s not often that a video game will allow players to change their minds if they feel like it, or concede certain things; it just carries on without them!

Casual Gaming

While these people may look like gawking  slack-jawed goofs; they’re clearly having a lovely time

I, and many like me, play games for no other reason than to have fun. For the most part, i don’t care if I win or lose; I’ll take the fun, silly, and oftentimes tactically unsound option if the mood takes me, or if I think it would make the game more enjoyable and memorable. Sure, I like winning. Who doesn’t? But honestly, it’s not the main focus of the game.

As with anything people practice at; with time you’re bound to get pretty damn good at it. If, after all that time and effort, you do become really good at a game; do you seek to prove yourself against others, or are you content to just carry on? If you need to prove yourself, does that take away the original fun/enjoyment of the game?

Competitive Gaming

“Bow, mortals! Bow before the unbridled fury of the card I just played!”

Learning how to use the rules to your advantage, exploiting your opponent’s ignorance and using superior tactics to win a game. This can all be achieved in a friendly environment, but as we all know, often doesn’t. To some, the fun of a game is in the winning of it, pure and simple. In my mind, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be as good as you can be at something (and take every opportunity to prove it); but when you ruin others’ enjoyment in the process, that’s a bit dickish.

I’m by no means saying that anyone who plays a game purely to win is no fun to play against, but there’s a very thin line between “aggressive play” and “aggressive player”, no-doubt brought about by the need to deprive an opponent of opportunities in order to gain some yourself.

My question is: can you be a competitive casual gamer?

If you’re playing competitively at anything, your objective is to win, whichever way you look at it. If you don’t mind losing, you’re not “competing”, you’re just playing.

In any game where you need to win, there’ll always come a moment when a player does something they immediately regret and wish to undo. Personally, I will always let my opponent alter their move/turn/whatever unless an amount of time has passed that means it’s just plain cheating. Even if that means I’m worse off, I put myself in their position and think how crappy I’d feel if my stupid mistake went uncorrected.

If you’re playing competitively, you wouldn’t (or at least, shouldn’t  have that kind of concession. I know a lot of people at tournaments and things allow their opponents to change things in the spirit of sportsmanship, but as I said above, that means they’re playing, not competing. In order to compete, you’d need to deny your opponent the chance to amend their decision, as this would deny you the opportunity to take advantage of the mistake (the usual way of winning any game, when you think about it?)

Those who have been reading my articles for some time now are used to me asking myself questions and then answering them, but I leave this one completely open. Internet, tell me what you think!

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