A few weeks ago I had an idea for an article. I would set out the arguments in favor of a political position which I deeply want to be true. And then, I would set out the evidence which proves that it’s actually false. The idea is that if you’re really in favor of evidence-based policy, you’ll be in favor of it even when your own sacred cows are being made into policy hamburger — so why not demonstrate that with an article?

There was just one problem, though: I couldn’t think of a good example subject. I decided to wait until one presented itself. Last week, Martin Robbins in The Guardian saved me the effort when he wrote about tuition fees for university.

It’s obvious that today’s costly tuition fees are a major deterrent to poorer people going to university — if you make it expensive to get a degree, that’s clearly going to favor the wealthy. Increasing tuition fees will dramatically reduce the number of poorer people going to university.

Obvious, but also wrong

For years, people have been buying the excuse that Obama can’t close Gitmo because “Congress won’t let him”. I’ve been arguing that no, Obama could close Gitmo any time he liked if he really wanted to.

Sure, Congress can refuse to allow funds to be allocated for special shutdown procedures and ferrying people by aircraft. They can pass laws prohibiting relocation of detainees to the US. But the President of the USA is the head of the nation’s armed forces. If Obama really wants to, he can simply order that all the doors in Gitmo be unlocked and left open, and all the prisoners be left unshackled and allowed to leave. No additional funding would be required, and the camp would effectively be shut down. If General John Kelley were to refuse, Obama could simply sack him and promote another General to his job, and repeat the process until he found someone who would obey orders.

I’m sure that someone would provide the released individuals with transport away from Cuba. We could run a KickStarter for the clearly totally innocent ones, and I’m sure Saudi Arabia would pay for a few plane flights for any dodgy ones, if you catch my meaning.

Skeptical? Notice the wording when Republicans say that Obama can’t close Gitmo:

“The language is very clear that he can’t transfer the prisoners, and this is language that was put in the defense bill by Democrats when they ran Congress in the early part of the Obama administration.”

Sure, he can’t transfer the prisoners to detention in the USA. But he can order that they be released outright.

Anyway, apparently Obama’s now starting to consider this option. I just wish he had considered it at the start of his Presidency. Then again, that would require that he be the Obama we wanted to believe he was, rather than the centrist desperate to govern by consensus and get approval from Republicans that he turned out to be.

Obviously an uncontrolled release like this would be a mess, but it would probably be a lot less of a Daesh recruitment exercise than keeping innocent people locked up and tortured for another 5 or 10 years, right?

Bret Victor expands on something I mentioned in my article on AI:

I am generally on the side of the critics of Singulitarianism, but now want to provide a bit of support to these so-called rationalists. At some very meta level, they have the right problem — how do we preserve human interests in a world of vast forces and systems that aren’t really all that interested in us? But they have chosen a fantasy version of the problem, when human interests are being fucked over by actual existing systems right now. All that brain-power is being wasted on silly hypotheticals, because those are fun to think about, whereas trying to fix industrial capitalism so it doesn’t wreck the human life-support system is hard, frustrating, and almost certainly doomed to failure.

Charlie Stross has thought the same kind of thing. And today on Twitter:

If you tried to develop a game specifically to rile gamergaters, you might come up with something like “Sunset”. Consider:

  • It’s in the genre derisively named “walking simulators”, where the main interaction consists of moving around the game world and looking at things.

  • It has a black female protagonist.

  • It’s overtly political, with a left wing socialist sensibility.

  • It’s (amongst other things) a critique of popular video war games like Call of Duty.

Unfortunately, few are likely to make it past the first few days to discover the true message of the game. Expecting a straightforward point-and-click adventure, they will become frustrated and bored in no time. Meanwhile, the dedicated art game fan won’t become bored until much later…

Tale of Tales have set out to tell the story of a civil war from the point of view of a civilian, rather than a soldier. Their point: that for most people there is no excitement in violent political struggle. Normal life goes on in its banality. Yet the effects of the conflict are felt nevertheless, gradually grinding down the protagonist. She seeks escape from her worries in the mundanity of the chores she was initially employed to perform. Eventually, though, the various stresses make her crack, and she asks in a mixture of anger and despair how much longer her situation must go on.

There’s something brave to the point of stupidity about this game. Less determined game designers, upon realizing that their message required making the player feel bored to the point of anger, would have tried to come up with a different story. Tale of Tales plowed right on regardless. That section of the game makes me think of the historically accurate pistol duel in Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” — it’s painfully slow, it’s tense, it’s irritating, it’s unbearable, and that’s exactly the point.

It’s rare for a game to elicit an actual emotional response from me. Video games are still in something analogous to the world movies were in during the 1950s. Action! Adventure! Monsters! The first game to make me care about a protagonist was LucasArts’ “The Dig”. For all its flaws, “Sunset” managed that same trick, and for that minor miracle alone it deserves high praise. The fact that it dares to tackle issues of race and class in a serious way, as well as critique capitalism, makes it a highly unusual game. On which note, I should mention that Tale of Tales is now defunct. Their finances didn’t work out. So the game’s musings on art take on a whole new level of significance.

sunset

Yes, the game has technical flaws. There are some graphical glitches, some typos, and it crashed once. It’s also a game only a select few will enjoy, and I can’t quite recommend it as a full price purchase considering the other games out there at the same price point. You need to be an explorational roleplayer, have a great deal of patience, and it would probably help to be into mid-century modern design. If that sounds like you, I’d suggest picking up “Sunset” whenever you see it on sale. (At the time of writing, it’s available as part of the Humble Weekly Bundle at a steal of a price.)