Bahrain: a Moral Pit Stop?

Cartoon by Latuff

In an almost surreal bit of advertising, petrol bombs came to symbolise Bahrain in the build up to the Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Government crackdowns still continue 14 months after the so called ‘Arab Spring’ began. Spreading from Tunisia to Egypt, Libya, Syria and . . . . Bradford?

Meanwhile, back in Bahrain, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s crown prince issued this statement:

“We are not trying to say we are perfect — we are a real country with real issues,” he said. “I genuinely believe this race is a force for good. It unites many people from many different religious backgrounds, sects and ethnicities, under the roof of Formula One.”

A good comment from his highness. Until you except that Formula 1 is primarily built onrich, European men.  It would have been nice to see people in Bahrain, and other areas of the Middle East, stop protesting about their rights and go home to have a cup of tea and biscuit under the uniting roof of sport but, strangely enough, this did not happen.

When asked whether the race should be cancelled he said: “Cancelling the race just empowers extremists.”

This coming from an unelected official who’s police forces have brutally beaten protesters that want nothing more than better representation.

Some might say that the primary concern is money. The cancellation of last years race is estimated to have cost Bahrain £250m in tourism revenue alone. But Formula 1 was allowed to keep the £25m that the country paid to host the event.

As it happens, no incidents directly effected the race itself. But F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said that there was “no such thing as bad publicity.” 

Fair enough Bernie, next time someone wants to raise money for charity they should go and beat up some women to draw people’s attention.

Dark humour aside, we must enlighten our minds as to whether or not Formula 1 made the right decision.

The fact that the controversy surrounding the race elevated the unrest in Bahrain back into the public eye must be acknowledged. Alas, this was merely a moral pit stop. Except in this instance, nothing has been changed.

Lessons of War

Our last session of Axis and Allies got me wondering about whether gaming can be used as an educational tool and if so, to what extent can this be achieved? 

“Fellow Citizens, we cannot escape history.” – Abraham Lincoln

Firstly and most obviously, Axis and Allies is a game focused on WWII. The 2004 revised edition of the game begins in the spring of 1942 and, therefore, does not allow players to contemplate and undertake strategies that could have altered this outcome. Options such as Germany not invading the Soviet Union until the Western Allies had been exhausted or the Japanese not attacking Pearl Harbor.
Historical hypotheticals aside, a game like A&A can get people interested in the context of the scenario/faction with which they are participating. What stood out for me was a comment made by one player about the geography and scope of the war to which another responded “well, yeah, it was a world war”. Although this exchange may seem simple in its approach it can lead to questions such as how did the Germans conquer France? Why are there American troops in China? When did this event happen?
More importantly a game can raise moral issues such as who am I fighting and why?
This approach can seek to inform players of various age groups about the greatest conflict the world has yet witnessed whilst bringing a sense of reality to the game.

This can also apply to other game systems. A lot of players will research information about a game ranging from lore to weapons. Children especially can benefit from this process as it can teach them to analyse content and make an informed decision as to what they are going to play and why. Even the reason of “because that model looks cool” can provide a learning curve. Just because it looks good doesn’t necessarily mean it is good.

“In my experience there’s no such thing as luck” – Obi Wan Kenobi

War games, as a whole, require large elements of luck; an example from our game being a British bomber being shot down by one German infantry unit from Leningrad. This may prove infuriating for the loosing party and result in comments such as “you got lucky” but we must remember that luck plays a part in combat too. American aircraft carriers were out on exercise when the Japanese struck at Pearl and D-Day was hugely dependent on the weather.

Tabletop war gaming also removes the ‘fog of war’ from combat. Whether it be Axis and Allies, 40k or Dystopian Wars a commander is able to see the deployment of enemy troops and act accordingly. This offers great strategic insight as normally, only an intelligence breakthrough would offer this kind of advantage.
Some, however, may argue that luck is irrelevant and that in a war of attrition whoever has the greater number of forces at their disposal will ultimately win. This may be true when addressing one particular combat; for example, three tanks against one infantry means that the infantry has a 2 in 6 chance of destroying one tank whilst the tanks, which attack on a 3, have a greater chance of winning.
Whilst battle is the primary demand of war we must also take into consideration the elements of logistics and economics.

Each nation in Axis and Allies has different economic quotas and strategic decisions to overcome. Russia starts the game as the poorest nation economically and faces an immediate threat from the Germans advancing towards Moscow. It must, therefore, simply stay alive and trade men and territory with the Nazis whilst its allies build up forces to ease the pressure. Although this strategy seems simple in theory, the practicalities prove otherwise. This is where luck exits the theatre of war and logic takes centre stage.

The decisions made by a player have far reaching consequences.  Games can provide lessons in planning ahead and co-operation:

1. What should I build and where should I deploy it?
2. How do I  best use my resources?
3. What can my opponent do next turn?
4. What can my allies do next turn?
5. If something goes wrong, what are my options?

These questions can also apply to other game systems whether it be on the battlefield of a distance planet in the 40k universe or the confines of a chess board. Gaming not only gets us planning ahead, it teaches how to adapt to changing circumstances; a vital pit stop on the road of life.

“Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war” – Donald Trump

The most important benefit to war gaming and games in general are the lessons it teaches us about winning and losing.
It is a fact of life that people want to succeed and there is no harm in wanting to win. Aspiring to win gives us a goal to aim for and if all goes well this can leave an elevated sense of pride, confidence and self-esteem.
This is all well and good but it’s not the events in our lives but how we react to them that shapes our character.

Constantly winning can be just as negative to our development as losing. Victory can stifle our senses thus making us immune to the learning process. If you constantly win then you’ll be less likely to adapt and be willing to try new things. It can also create an aura of invincibility which, if broken, can have the same if not worse impact on your self-esteem than losing.

Similarly, no-one likes to lose, however, this experience can be just as important, if not more so, than winning. Whether we lose through making the wrong move or producing ‘unlucky’ dice rolls a gamer can analyse what went wrong and, hopefully, be educated by the experience.
If we lose we want to know why. Experienced gamers may seek to instruct and advise those that fortune has shunned and can also lead to further knowledge and greater bonds of friendship.

It’s a well known cliché but ‘it’s the taking part that counts’. Most importantly its not what you do its the way that you do it.

South Sudan: Independence Blotted

Air-strikes, oil fields and dead civilians litter the hot desert landscape in familiar scenes to Western news viewers. But this isn’t in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria. These actions are occurring along the South Sudanese border with Sudan.

Sudan is no stranger to violence. The country has witnessed 2 civil wars, the most recent terminating in 2005. South Sudan gained independence in July 2011 after a referendum was held asking whether the South should secede.

The region has been fraught with humanitarian disasters. Both sides accuse each other of sponsoring rebel factions that are alleged to have burnt down villages, raped women and children and killed countless numbers of civilians.

One of the main issues that wasn’t resolved during the secession was that of the country’s oil reserves. An estimated 80% of Sudan’s oil came from the South which adds an economic aspect to the recent conflict.

The current conflict broke out after the South seized the Heglig oilfields along the de facto border last month. This was viewed by the both the African Union and the U.N as an illegal act. As the South withdrew under fire from Northern troops, soldiers and civilians looted the oilfields, damaging them in the process, which will further cripple Sudan’s economy.

Sudan has continued its attacks by attempting to destroy a bridge linking two Southern towns. Another jet strafed a market killing 2 people.

Whilst the United States has called for both sides to cease hostilities, the chances of this occurring are minimal. Tribal conflict is still being waged in the South whilst traditional religious systems clash with Christianity and Islam.

The fighting is also dividing opinion amongst the international community. Uganda has threatened retaliation if Sudan bombs the Southern capital of Juba. Kenya too supports the South as it wants a pipeline to allow oil to flow across its borders. China, which has economic stakes in both countries, has remained dutifully neutral. Meanwhile Israel, which was one of the first nations to recognise an independent Southern Sudan, wishes to move the many refugees sheltering within its borders back to their homes.

The conflict looks likely to escalate. The main question is whether calls will be made for direct intervention by the international community. Sanctions are all well and good but when the economics of the two warring factions are taken into account, the military option becomes prominent. The issue of monitoring any ceasefire will also need to be brought into consideration.

Another problem is that there is very little footage making its way into Western media outlets. With world attention focused on the violence in Syria, this begs the question of whether the international community has left Sub-Saharan to a dark fate?

U-Turn over F35

The future of the Harriers replacement has taken a recent loop.

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Some may ask why this should matter but is is crucial to understand the strategic and financial impact of this decision.

The difficulty arises in that there are 3 different variants of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), or F-35, which is set to replace the Royal Navy’s Sea Harriers and the Royal Air Force’s Tornado GR.4.

The question is which variant best fits the U.K.’s strategic interests?

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Up until the Strategic Defence Review, the U.K. was dedicated to purchasing the B version. This would allow the U.K to operate the aircraft off of other nations ships as well as the Queen Elizabeth class carriers that are currently under construction.

The B variant also provides greater strategic and tactical flexibility. Strategically, Britain has a strong maritime tradition which is tied to its colonial past. One reason that British forces were able to quickly launch a task force to retake the Falkland Islands in 1982 was because of the Harrier’s Vertical Short Take Off and Landing (VSTOL) capability. More recently, RAF Harriers were operating out of Camp Bastion in Afghanistan before other aircraft could because there was no dedicated runway.

The VSTOL version of the JSF does have one major downside. The vector thrusters lead to a smaller fuel tank, meaning that the B variant will have a shorter range and lower payload than its carrier aligned counter-part. This is countered by the very nature of the aircraft. It’s ability to land anywhere means that it can be refuelled and rearmed provided that there are secure zones to do so.

There are also financial implications for keeping the F-35B.

The cost of the carrier version has soared due to technical issues associated with the arrester gear. The hook conflicts with the stealth features of the aircraft which, in turn, has resulted in a review of the carriers themselves. A project that was meant to cost £400 million has now escalated to £1.8 billion. This, combined with the additional cost of training pilots in complex carrier landings, means that the B variant is a cheaper option.

If the Government has the strategic interests of the U.K. in mind, its best option is to stick with the original and the (B)est option.

Dreams of Here

‘Oh great’ cried my inner monologue. ‘I have to write a review. Not just any review but an ART review.’

This internal outburst was brought about as part of our reporting sessions for Brighton Journalist Works (BJW). Part of the course involved going to the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery to look at an exhibition called Dreams of Here.

So, after a while, I came up with this:

Art for art’s sake is not the case with Dreams of Here. A collection of work by three artists linked to Sussex that is currently on display at the Brighton museum and art gallery.

The gallery uses three rooms to display the work of Julian Bell, Tom Hammick and Andrzej Jackowski.

On a conscious level this approach appears normal. But reality is not the intention of this exhibition. It aims to take the viewer on a journey through the human mind. Each room subconsciously representing different regions of human thought.

Bell states that they share: “a belief in painting as a space for reflection, a space for giving substance to our sense of how life is shaped.”

Bell paints imaginary works but blends them with vivid details that add a touch of reality. His use of colour instantly draws the attention but it is the style in which it’s used that gives the impression of dreaming. A world that looks real but upon closer inspection becomes unfamiliar.

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Next comes the work of Hammick, who uses brightly patterned paintings depicting the impact of modern-day life. On another level, it shows the encroachment of modernity clashing with mankind’s primitive nature. The dark walls and dim light further reinforce this element of the unknown.

In complete contrast to Bell, Andrzej Jackowski adopts a vague sketching style to take us into the dark recesses of the human mind.

The Voyage consists of 60 unframed paintings pinned to the walls. Scenes range from animals to dismembered corpses, each contained within small boxes; representing unconscious areas of the mind that can harbour comforting thoughts or disturbing ideas.

So if you want to examine the human mind from a completely different angle; go and check out this stimulating display.

Dreams of Here is on display until the 10th of June.

First Steps

I’ve recently started a course in journalism so I thought I’d introduce myself to the internet and blogging. I suppose that should actually be get to know the internet better; as we’ve been relatively good friends for a while now.

I guess I’ll have to see how this goes.