Friday, 19 December 2008

Why Socialism? By Albert Einstein

Perhaps lesser known are his intellectual positions on political issues. This is an essay he published back in '49 supporting the development of a robust socialist system.

"We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive."

Why Socialism?

By Albert Einstein

From Monthly Review, New York, May, 1949.

Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist. The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstance that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period of human history has—as is well known—been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called "the predatory phase" of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.

Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and—if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.

For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.

Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organization would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: "Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?"

I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?

It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behavior. The abstract concept "society" means to the individual human being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is "society" which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labor and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word “society.”

It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human being which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organizations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organization which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.

If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time—which, looking back, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists' requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labor contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the “free labor contract” for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers' goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Κάτω στο Δαφνοπόταμο

Greetings everyone.

I uploaded a new video to youtube. It's an attempt at translating another obscure Greek song I like. The title roughly translates to "Down by the bay-river" and the vocals are by Mariza Koch.

Στίχοι: Νίκος Χουλιαράς
Νίκος Χουλιαράς
Πρώτη εκτέλεση:
Μαρίζα Κωχ

Κάτω στο Δαφνοπόταμο
Έριξα το τραγούδι μου
Μες στο νερό
Έφυγε και η αγάπη σου
Και πάει κατά το πέλαγο
Με τον αφρό

Και εκεί που ανταμώσανε
Ανθίσαν τα καράβια
Το δειλινό

Και το ταξίδι τέλειωσε
Στη μέση του πελάγου
Και στο βυθό
Και κοιμηθήκα
νε τα δυο
Μες στη μεγάλη νύχτα
Του πέλαγου

Τώρα εκεί κάτω στο βυθό
Οι ανθισμένες πλώρες
Μας ξέχασαν...

Down by the bay-river
I lowered my song

Into the water.

And your love departed

And flows toward the ocean
with the sea-froth.

And where they met

the ships did bloom
at the evening twilight.

And the voyage came to an end

in the middle of the ocean

And the bottom of the sea.

And they did sleep the two of them

amidst the endless night
Of the ocean.

Now down there at the depths

the efflorescent bows
have forgotten us...

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The prospect of immortality?

Aubrey de Grey: Why we age and how we can avoid it

Cambridge researcher Aubrey de Grey argues that aging is merely a disease -- and a curable one at that. Humans age in seven basic ways, he says, all of which can be averted.

For more, check out this video.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Sparrowfall (what is that?)

What is that? (Τι είναι αυτό;) 2007 from MovieTeller on Vimeo.

Father and son are sitting on a bench. Suddenly a sparrow lands across them.

Directed by: Constantin Pilavios
Written by: Nikos & Constantin Pilavios
Director of photgraphy: Zoe Manta
Music by: Christos Triantafillou
Sound by: Teo Babouris
Mixed by: Kostas Varibobiotis
Produced by: MovieTeller films

Bush vs Shoes

George W. Bush dodges shoes thrown at him by Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi from Al-Baghdadia television network, during press conference in Baghdad, December 14, 2008

I must say, Bush has great reflexes!

Saturday, 13 December 2008

How police shooting of a teenage boy rallied the '€700 generation'

Maria Margaronis in Athens
The Guardian, Saturday 13 December 2008

Thousands of protesters hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at police yesterday, as Greek police reportedly began to run out of teargas after a week of riots that have seen the streets of major cities turned into virtual war zones. Police sources say they have used more than 4,600 teargas capsules in the past week and have contacted Israel and Germany for fresh stocks. The prime minister, Costas Karamanlis, yesterday vowed to keep citizens safe, but students angry at the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by the police again attacked officers outside parliament.

"Alexi, these nights are yours," says the graffiti on the subway wall, addressed to the Athens schoolboy killed last Saturday, allegedly by a police bullet. The week of rioting and protest that has left the city in shards belongs, above all, to the young. It is a revolt of schoolchildren and students, most on the streets for the first time. There are reports of children as young as 12 battling riot police, shouting "Cops! Pigs! Murderers!"

The teenagers and twenty-somethings who have come close to toppling the Greek government are not the marginalised: this is no replay of the riots that convulsed Paris in 2005. Many are sons and daughters of the middle classes, shocked at the killing of one of their own, disgusted with the government's incompetence and corruption, enraged by the broken promises of the education system, scared at the prospect of having to work still harder than their exhausted parents.

Some call themselves the "€700 generation" in recognition of the wage they expect their degrees to get them. The intensity of their fury has startled the whole country - including, perhaps, themselves.

Anarchist groups dreaming of revolution played a key part in the first waves of destruction, but this week's protests were not orchestrated by the usual suspects, who relish a good bust-up and a whiff of teargas. There's been no siege of the American embassy, no blaming Bush, very few party slogans.

Though the spectacular violence has dominated the news, thousands have also set out to join in peaceful demonstrations, among them parents worried for their children's future. Linked by the internet, by twitter and text messages, many are trying to distance themselves from the destruction, which they attribute to "extremists, idiots and provocateurs".

The demands of the young are hard to formulate. They want an end to police violence; they want to change things; they want jobs, and hope; they want a better system. If the wish list is slightly vague, the problem itself is amorphous and difficult to name: a crisis of values and institutions, society and economy, vision and leadership.

Politically, Greece is a democracy that never grew up; economically, it remains a poor relation trying to pass in the salons of Europe. Its 20th-century history is a patchwork of coups and conflicts. The civil war that followed Greece's occupation by the Axis powers in the second world war put politics on ice for 30 years. Greece is the only European country where collaborators were rewarded and those who resisted were punished. After the left's defeat by Britain and the US, tens of thousands of resistance sympathisers spent years in prison camps or blacklisted from work.

The military dictatorship of 1967-1974 - brought down by the Turkish invasion of Cyprus after a Greek coup - was the last gasp of that repressive era. Under the conservative statesman Constantine Karamanlis (uncle of the present prime minister) democracy was restored, but institutions remained weak; under the socialist prime minister Andreas Papandreou (father of the present leader of the opposition), liberties were extended but corruption also flourished, hand in a hand with a corrosive leftwing populism.

At the same time, the country has been in the throes of a rapid and painful modernisation. In 40 years Greece has gone from peasant agriculture supported by a large diaspora to a mixed economy drawing foreign investment; from the periphery of the developed world to the middle ranks of Europe and the hub of the new Balkans; from a homogeneous nation where the lucky had jobs for life to a multicultural country where a fifth of the workforce are new immigrants.

Many of its most talented sons and daughters have chosen to work abroad rather than deal with Greece's disorganisation and bureaucracy. The social fabric has worn paper-thin. Few politicians have risen to these challenges; most have relied on the old system of trading votes for favours, or on periodic appeals to nationalism and xenophobia.

Costas Karamanlis' New Democracy government - which enjoys a parliamentary majority of one - has surpassed its predecessors in graft and corruption while imposing punitive economic austerity measures. Greece entered the eurozone in 2001 with a large budget deficit; prices have risen consistently since then. In 2004 the country spent an estimated €10bn on the Olympic games, an unknown portion of it pocketed by contractors and politicians.

The two trade union federations that staged a general strike this week want increased social spending in light of the global recession. But the government has called for bigger pension contributions and removed a tax exemption for some of the poorest self-employed. It has also partially privatised ports and plans to do the same with hospitals and schools - at a time when one in five live in poverty and youth unemployment stands near 25%, the highest in Europe.

Meanwhile, the centre of Athens is full of expensive boutiques; shopping malls sprout like mushrooms in the suburbs. Instead of education, values and understanding, the young are being sold an aspirational "lifestyle" they can't afford, which many of them don't want.

They watch their parents struggling to make ends meet and are told to work hard at school only to find that without connections they can't get a job - or a flat, or decent medical care. Despite the rhetoric of meritocracy Greece still runs on "means", up to the highest levels.

In the weeks before the shooting of Alexis, the papers were full of the latest government scandal, a series of lucrative land swaps carried out for Mount Athos's largest monastery, which involved at least three senior aides to the prime minister and are said to have cost the public more than €100m.

Graft, of course, goes hand in hand with incompetence. The government's failure to contain devastating fires of 2007, in which at least 67 people died and 642,000 acres of farmland and forest were destroyed, was partly due to political tinkering with the fire brigades; the lack of progress in restoring burnt-out areas is due partly to pressure from developers eager to cash in.

Given that precedent, no one in Athens is surprised that the riots have got so wildly out of hand. It is the other shoe dropping - or, as one journalist put it, Nero fiddling for a second time while the city goes up in flames.

Is this a country on the verge of a nervous breakdown? For some time, discontent in Greece has been aggressively policed. The area of Athens where the child was shot - a neighbourhood of ungentrified cafes where young people and anarchists, dope-heads and intellectuals all hang out together - has long been the target of a clean-up operation.

Police violence is not new, it is just that previous victims have been immigrants or Roma and so do not make the media. As usual when there is social dislocation, the far right has gained strength: the populist Orthodox Rally won 10 seats in parliament for the first time last year, and the neo-fascist Golden Dawn organisation is known to have supporters inside the police. Now that the lid has blown off the pressure cooker, repression may take more blatant and more violent forms.

More crucially, there is no obvious way out of the impasse. The problems facing Greece are profound and the recession will pull tensions tighter. Greece has a long tradition of protest and resistance - some of those occupying Athens University claim descent from the students who fell before the junta's tanks in 1973 - but less experience of concerted action to find solutions.

After the violence dies down there will, sooner or later, have to be an election. But the problems the young have exposed have been decades in the making. No one has begun to imagine a solution.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Riots in Greece

'Murderers': protesters' fury boils over as boy shot by police buried

Prime minister holds emergency talks and opposition calls for elections as rioting spreads on eve of general strike

Running battles between Greek police and thousands of protesters furious at the shooting of a 15-year-old student intensified yesterday as antagonism boiled over outside the cemetery where the youth was being buried.

On the eve of a general strike that threatens to plunge the country into further chaos, security forces fought pitched battles with stone-throwing youths outside Athens's parliament and in Salonika, the northern capital.

As thousands descended on the coastal suburb of Faliro for the funeral of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, who was killed by a bullet to the chest on Saturday, hooded youths chanting "pigs, murderers" began baiting police. Before the funeral had ended they began hurling stones, iron bars and marble slabs at officers, sending residents running for cover. As the boy's flower-covered casket was lowered into the ground the air was thick with acrid smoke from successive rounds of teargas fired in retaliation by the police.

The worst civil disturbances to hit Greece in decades, the riots have not only dealt another blow to the already badly dented popularity of the ruling conservatives but also left a trail of devastation.

In Athens alone, officials estimate that more than 200 stores, 50 banks and countless cars have been damaged. Shops are shut and streets devoid of shoppers. Hospitals have also reported an increase in the number of wounded, already believed to have exceeded 70 police and others.

Last night as looters went on the rampage, police in a change of tactics, began making arrests.

With the prime minister, Costas Karamanlis, facing growing criticism for his handling of the crisis - and his single-seat majority in the 300-member parliament looking increasingly vulnerable - the opposition leader, George Papandreou, of the Socialists, stepped up calls for early elections. Coming out of emergency talks - requested by Karamanlis in an attempt to contain the crisis - Papandreou said it had become clear the government was incapable of defending the public from rioters.

"It cannot handle this crisis and has lost the trust of the Greek people," said the leader, whose Pasok party has surged in the polls in recent months. "The best thing it can do is resign and let the people find a solution."

That was a view widely shared by many of the leftist and self-styled anarchists fuelling the riots. At the Athens Polytechnic, now the centre of the groups' operations, young men and women broke up marble slabs and quietly stocked up on the firebombs they have been throwing at police. Standing behind makeshift barriers of burning rubbish bins, they promised to turn the unrest into "an uprising the likes of which Greece has never seen".

As the site of the revolt against the colonels' regime in 1974, the polytechnic's colonnaded buildings are off-limits to security forces under a constitutional clause that gives students asylum on its grounds.

"This is not just about the kid, it's about our dreadful education and economic situation. That's what pushed us on to the streets," insisted one youth who called himself Andreas. "It's our belief and hope that this is the beginning of a rebellion against the system."

The chaos, he said, had exposed the deep-seated anger of Greeks who after the introduction of the euro have not only struggled to make ends meet but have increasingly felt deceived by a system that thrived on corruption, party political affiliations and patronage.

"All of us have poor parents who are really struggling," said Andreas as he sat cross-legged before a makeshift fire blazing in the polytechnic's courtyard.

For young Greeks like Andreas, who belong to a lost generation without work or hope, it is a rage that has been fuelled by allegations of corruption and the seemingly relentless scandals involving sex, money and the church which have swirled around the conservatives - and for which, despite public outrage, no one has been punished.

"We all thought it would take one incident for things to go up, and with the police killing of the teenage boy that is exactly what happened," said a veteran political analyst, Konstantinos Angelopoulos.

Yesterday, the rioting spread to Crete and Corfu, where hundreds took to the streets, and intensified in at least a dozen cities across the country. Greek demonstrators occupied the country's consulate in Paris, following protests in London, Berlin and Nicosia on Monday.

Yesterday, Karamanlis appealed to Greece's two largest trade unions to call off strikes that are expected to ground flights and cut ferry links.

The market-oriented government faces growing anger over its tough fiscal policies from workers demanding more state social spending as well as salary and pension increases. Rejecting the prime minister's plea, unions called on workers to participate in the walk-out "and demonstrate our opposition to state repression and the consequences of the [economic] crisis".

Voices from the street

Andreas, 19, student protester "The police are pigs and they deserve what they get. They don't have the balls to go after the anarchists. Instead they pick on us kids, stop us in the streets all the time. It's wrong to smash up shops, but personally I see it as a symbolic act to throw stones and rocks at the police, because they're bastards."

Nikos, 36, fireman "Am I surprised? Of course. Everything has happened so quickly. It's not just that the riots spread so fast, it's their intensity. In Athens we've had 200 cars and 40 buildings go up in flames, most of them in one night. We're all sick with worry."

Sophia, 44, shopkeeper "Twenty years of work down the drain. I turned up at my shop today and they had taken everything, even the lining in the drawers. They managed to get past the steel blinds. Why have they targeted the little man? We're not to blame for the death of a child. Tell me who is going to pay?"

Nikos Yiannos, 18, student "I agree with the protests against the police because, after all, they killed the kid, but I don't agree with the destruction. Our police aren't like police elsewhere in Europe. They aren't educated and it's because they're not properly trained that things have got so out of control."

Zoe Papanidou, 19, student "There were many reasons why these riots happened. The situation was explosive, socially and economically. The state undermines people. You feel it is violating your rights. At some point the lid was going to burst from the pot."

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The history of computer games (part 8)

Ελληνικά | Deutsch | Français | Italiano | Español | 日本語

Part 8:
The 32-Bit Era Begins 1993-1997
(Click here for part 1)

The Panasonic 3DO.
Panasonic Releases 3DO Console
Panasonic is the first company to market 3DO hardware. Initial reviews are enthusiastic. The only drawback is the console's $699 price tag.

Atari Launches Jaguar
Atari decides to bypass the 32-bit generation and go right ahead to 64 bits. The company launches the Jaguar, which Atari proclaims to be the first 64-bit game console due to its 64-bit system bus. Atari stresses the fact that the Jaguar is made in the US (by IBM).

New Systems From Nintendo and Sega
Nintendo and Sega announce their next-generation systems. Nintendo's Project Reality is a 64-bit system developed by Silicon Graphics. Sega's Saturn will be a 32- or 64-bit system.

Congress Notes Video Game Violence
Incensed by the violence in Mortal Kombat and Night Trap, Senators Joseph Lieberman (Connecticut) and Herbert Kohl (Wisconsin) launch a Senate "investigation" into video game violence, threaten to somehow effect a ban on "violent" games, and eventually soften their demands and concede to an industry-wide rating system.

ESRB Is Established
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is established to rate video games. Large letter icons appear on game boxes to let consumers know the recommended age of players for each game and whether the game is violent or risqué.

Nintendo Pushes 16-Bit Machine
Nintendo releases Super Metroid and begins a push to regain control of the 16-bit market. New Super-FX chip games, such as Star Fox, are supposed to aid the company's efforts against Sega and its upcoming 32- or 64-bit machine. Nintendo also releases Donkey Kong Country to a stunned crowd at a trade show (the crowd had been expecting news on the new Nintendo 64-bit game machine) and thus demonstrates that even the slow CPU of the Super NES can compete with the 3DO and Jaguar. Donkey Kong Country is the runaway best-selling game of the year, and Nintendo sales nearly catch up to Genesis sales.

Sega Releases 32-Bit Console (Sort of)
Sega releases the 32X ($179), a peripheral that enables the Genesis to run a new set of 32-bit cartridge games, in an attempt to stave off early sales of the Atari Jaguar and Panasonic 3DO machines. Ports of its arcade polygonal games, Virtua Racing and Star Wars, are received favorably, as is a version of id Software's Doom, but Sega licensees remain mysteriously uncommitted to the format, and all the Sega games announced for release bear the fingerprints of Sega of America marketing-and-development efforts. No one seems to know what the company is planning to do with the machine in the future, and Sega seems almost unprepared to release the machine in Japan at all.

Nintendo Releases Super Game Boy
Nintendo releases the Super Game Boy ($59), an adapter that lets Game Boy cartridges play on the SNES with extra features.

New Japanese Consoles Are Released
The Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation are launched in Japan. By year's end, critics are pointing to the PlayStation as the superior machine.

(End of part 8 )

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The history of computer games (part 7)

Ελληνικά | Deutsch | Français | Italiano | Español | 日本語

Part 7:
The Home Market Expands 1989-1992
(Click here for part 1)

1989 Tetris Troubles
Tengen acquires the home rights to Tetris and begins selling the extremely popular game. However, it is quickly discovered that Tengen bought the rights from Mirrorsoft, which did not own the rights in the first place. Nintendo quietly acquires the legitimate home rights to Tetris and releases it under its own label. The Tengen version is removed from the marketplace.

Nintendo Introduces Monochrome Game Boy
Nintendo releases its handheld Game Boy ($109). The system comes with Tetris, and despite a tiny monochrome screen, it begins to build a historic sales record. A Game Boy version of Super Mario (Super Mario Land), a Breakout clone (Alleyway), and a baseball game are quickly released.

NEC Releases "16-Bit" Console in America
NEC brings the PC-Engine to America and calls it the TurboGrafx-16 ($189). NEC also releases a $400 portable CD player that attaches to the TurbroGrafx-16 and plays games that are, for the first time, stored on compact discs.

Sega Releases 16-Bit Genesis
Sega releases the 16-bit Genesis in the United States after limited success in Japan. The $249 system is packed with a conversion of the arcade game Altered Beast. Early marketing efforts push the system as a true arcade experience that's substantially better than previous home game machines.

Atari Releases Handheld Lynx
Epyx displays a handheld color console called the Handy Game at the winter CES. Atari purchases the rights to the Handy Game and releases it as the Lynx ($149). After publishing a handful of great Epyx games, Atari begins to develop a number of 7800 game conversions and Atari Games arcade ports for the system. More expensive than the Game Boy, the Lynx suffers from a lack of third-party support and is plagued by constant rumors that Atari will stop supporting the system.

1990 Good Year for Nintendo
Nintendo releases Super Mario 3, the all-time best-selling video-game cartridge. Despite competition from the Genesis and TurboGrafx-16, the NES enjoys its best year. Nintendo of Japan unveils its Super Famicom, a 16-bit system with better audio and 3D graphics than the Genesis and TurboGrafx-16. Super Mario 4: Super Mario World is offered to Japanese gamers, who rush to stores to buy the game.

Video Game Rental Dispute
Nintendo and Blockbuster go to court over video game rentals, with Nintendo maintaining that the rentals are destroying its sales. When the courts decide the games can be rented, Nintendo strikes another blow by claiming that Blockbuster illegally copied the copyrighted game-instruction manuals. This time the courts side with Nintendo.

SNK, a long-time Nintendo developer and maker of such games as the three Ikari Warriors releases and Crystalis, releases the 24-bit NeoGeo in arcade and home formats. The graphics and sounds crush those of the Genesis and TurboGrafx-16, but the $399 retail price crushes the NeoGeo's sales.

Sega Arcade Hits Continue to Come Home
Sega continues to turn out games to trade on its established arcade successes. Afterburner II, E-SWAT, and other Sega arcade hits come home, and Sega secures the Genesis rights to Capcom's largely unknown but amazing platform game Strider, which wins game of the year honors at various publications.

NEC Releases Handheld TurboGrafx-16
NEC releases the TurboExpress ($299.95), a handheld TurboGrafx-16 with a separately sold TV tuner. This is the first time a portable game machine can play a dedicated console's games.

Commodore CDTV
Commodore announces its CDTV (Commodore Dynamic Total Vision). Basically a Commodore computer without a keyboard, the CDTV is the first of several home interactive systems that stress education software as well as games. The software is sold on compact discs rather than cartridges.

(End of part 7)

Monday, 1 December 2008

The history of computer games (part 6)

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Part 6:
Video Games Are Back 1985-1988

(Click here for part 1)

NES consoles come to America
Nintendo test-markets its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in New York. Retailers are so skeptical about video games that Nintendo has to agree to buy back all unpurchased inventory. Armed with a large number of Nintendo-developed original titles and arcade games, the NES is a hit in a limited market release.

Atari Goes up Against Apple
Following Apple's lead in releasing the Macintosh, Tramiel's Atari mounts a challenge with the 16-bit Motorola 68000-based 520ST, internally dubbed the "Jackintosh."

Russia Conquers World With Puzzle Game
Russian programmer Alex Pajitnov designs Tetris, a simple but addicting puzzle game that can be played on PCs.

Nintendo Releases the NES Nationwide

Satisfied by the system's success in New York, Nintendo markets the NES nationwide. The system debuts with Super Mario Bros., an arcade conversion, which becomes an instant hit.

Sega Releases NES Competition
Following the successful American introduction of the NES, Sega releases its Sega Master System (SMS) in the United States.

Atari Reintroduces Game Consoles
Following the success of the NES, Atari Corp reevaluates the popularity of video games and decides to release the 7800 game console.

Good Nintendo News
Nintendo outsells its competitors 10 to 1 in the United States. In Japan it unveils a disk drive peripheral for the Famicom, along with The Legend of Zelda and golf and soccer games.

Nintendo Adds New Licensees
Several companies sign on with Nintendo as third-party developers, and most of Atari's old supporters, such as Namco, are now making their best games for Nintendo's system.

New Software
Nintendo's hold on the market grows, crowding out Sega and Atari. Atari releases games for the 2600, which are all but ignored by the press, and releases ports for the 7800--Namco's Galaga and Dig Dug, Williams' Robotron: 2084 and Joust, Electronic Arts' 1983 basketball game One-on-One Basketball, and Atari's own Asteroids and Centipede--that everyone has seen before. Nintendo releases The Legend of Zelda on a cartridge in the United States after deciding not to bring the expensive Famicom disk drive peripheral into the American marketplace. Games such as Kid Icarus and Metroid are released, offering enhanced NES graphics and longer quests.

Tonka Distributes Sega Games
Toy-truck company Tonka purchases the US distribution rights to the SMS and gets it into more stores than Sega did, allowing it to better compete against the NES.

Atari Repackages Computer as Game Console
Atari releases the Atari XE Game System (XEGS), which is basically a repackaging its old 800 computer. The XEGS uses cartridges compatible with Atari's dying 8-bit XE computer line and includes two games (Barnyard Blaster and Flight Simulator II), a light gun, and a detachable keyboard. The unit sinks quickly.

NEC Releases "16-Bit" Console in Japan
NEC releases the PC-Engine in Japan and touts it as a 16-bit machine. Actually, the console features a 16-bit graphics processor.

Atari Releases Games for the NES
Atari Games establishes Tengen, a subsidiary that produces games for home consoles. Tengen begins as a licensed third-party developer of NES-compatible games. This role ends when Atari Games takes Nintendo to court, claiming that Nintendo has an illegal monopoly on the video game industry, achieved through illegal practices, such as fixing prices and using computer-chip lockout technology to prohibit unlicensed development of NES software.

Tengen Bypasses Nintendo "Lockout" Chip
Tengen discovers a way to produce NES-compatible games without Nintendo's approval and announces that it will develop, manufacturer, and distribute NES-compatible games without Nintendo's blessing.

Coleco Files for Bankruptcy
Unable to recover from the disastrous Adam, Coleco files for bankruptcy. Most of its catalog goes to Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers.

(End of part 6)

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Γκρίζα (Grey)

I had been looking for this song for a long time and it was not easy to find. It is based on a poem written by C.P. Cafavy and the recording is from a live performance by Eleutheria Arvanitaki at the Theatre of Herodes Atticus in Athens. The translation is mine.

Enjoy the video!

Friday, 28 November 2008

The history of computer games (part 5)

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Part 5:

The Great Crash 1982-1984
(Click here for part 1)

Coleco Releases the Colecovision
Coleco releases the Colecovision, a cartridge-based game console buoyed not only by superior graphics and sound, but also by support from a growing game company: Nintendo. Nintendo licenses Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior to Coleco, which releases excellent translations for the Colecovision and ports reasonable versions to the Atari VCS and Intellivision. Coleco also releases an adapter that lets VCS cartridges be played on the Colecovision. Realizing that Atari has firm support from Namco, creator of Pac-Man, Coleco involves itself heavily with Sega, Konami, and Universal (Mr. Do!).

Magnavox Does It Better
Magnavox releases a game called K.C. Munchkin for the Odyssey2. Atari deems K.C. Munchkin to be very similar to Pac-Man and sues. Atari wins the lawsuit, and Magnavox must remove K.C. Munchkin from the market.

Pac-Man Clone?
Atari releases its highly anticipated 2600 version of Pac-Man, which unfortunately doesn't resemble the arcade game at all. The public quickly becomes disenchanted with the company.

E.T. Goes Home
Atari releases E.T. for the VCS, a game Howard Scott Warshaw programmed in six weeks. Expecting a sellout, Atari reportedly manufacturers more E.T. cartridges than there are 2600 consoles in use. As was the case with Pac-Man, the public is disappointed by the game. Massive numbers of both Pac-Man and E.T. games end up in a huge landfill in New Mexico, along with millions of other unsold and unwanted game cartridges. Original games such as Activision's Pitfall(by David Crane) sell well.

Atari Super System
Atari releases the 5200 game console to compete with the Colecovision, although it had originally been designed to compete with the Intellivision. Based on the graphics and audio chips found in Atari home computers, 5200 games are essentially aesthetically improved rereleases of VCS games (the VCS was renamed 2600). The machine is incompatible with 2600 game cartridges until Atari belatedly introduces an adapter so 2600 games can be used on the 5200. A major strike against the system is its controller, which features a noncentering joystick.

Vectors Come Home
General Consumer Electronics (GCE) releases the Vectrex, the first and only home console based on vector graphics technology. The Vectrex includes a built-in game (Minesweeper, an impressive Asteroids clone) and one four-button analog joystick controller.

Pac-Man Fever
Midway creates Ms Pac-Man in-house. It becomes the biggest arcade game in American history, with more than 115,000 units sold in the United States, but Namco, which is not involved with Ms. Pac-Man, develops the improved, but radically different, Super Pac-Man for Japanese consumers. A number of Pac-Man "enhancement chips" arrive on the market to speed up the original Pac-Man and change its characters and mazes. The most popular enhancement, Pac-Man Plus, replaces the generic fruits and other bonus items in Pac-Man with popular American items such as Coke cans.

Stock Drop
On December 7 (3:04pm Eastern Standard Time), Atari announces that VCS sales did not meet predictions. Warner Communications stock drops 32 percent in a single day.

1983 New Bushnell Company
Nolan Bushnell becomes eligible to enter the video game industry again. He joins Videa and renames the company Sente Games, another Go reference (this time to "checkmate"). Sente forms a partnership with Midway games and releases arcade titles such as the simple but addicting hockey game Hat Trick. Unfortunately, the partnership never finds a niche in the market.

Atari Top Secret
In March, Atari announces a new top-secret project code-named the Falcon Project. The Falcon Project turns out to be a new Atari division called Ataritel, which is Atari's attempt to enter the telecommunications market.

Gaming Computers
The primary gaming computers of the 1980s emerged in 1982: the Commodore 64, Apple II (although the Apple II started in 1977) and ZX Spectrum. The ZX Spectrum was mostly used and known mainly in the UK, whilst the USA had the Apple II, Commodore 64, and Atari 800. Over the run of 15 years, the Apple II had a total of almost 20,000 programs, making it the 8-bit computer with the most software overall.

1984 Enter the Adventure game
The true modern adventure game would be born with the Sierra King's Quest series in 1984. It featured color graphics and a third person perspective. An on-screen player-controlled character could be moved behind and in front of objects on a 2D background drawn in perspective, creating the illusion of pseudo-3D space. Commands were still entered via text. Lucasarts would do away with this last vestige feature of text adventures when its 1987 adventure Maniac Mansion built with its SCUMM system allowed a point-and-click interface. Sierra and other game companies quickly followed with their own mouse-driven games.

The IBM PC compatible computer became a technically competitive gaming platform with IBM’s PC/AT in 1984. The new 16-color EGA display standard allowed its graphics to approach the quality seen in popular home computers like the Commodore 64. The primitive 4-color CGA graphics of previous models had limited the PC’s appeal to the business segment, since its graphics failed to compete with the C64 or Apple II. The sound capabilities of the AT, however, were still limited to the PC speaker, which was substandard compared to the built-in sound chips used in many home computers. Also, the relatively high cost of the PC compatible systems severely limited their popularity in gaming.

Early online gaming
Dialup bulletin board systems were popular in the 1980s, and sometimes used for online game playing. The earliest such systems, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, had a crude plain-text interface, but later systems made use of terminal-control codes (the so-called ANSI art, which included the use of IBM-PC-specific characters not actually part of an ANSI standard) to get a pseudo-graphical interface. Some BBSes offered access to various games which were playable through such an interface, ranging from text adventures to gambling games like blackjack (generally played for "points" rather than real money). On multiuser BBSs (where more than one person could be online at once), there were sometimes games allowing the different users to interact with one another; some such games of the fantasy role-playing variety were known as MUDs, for "multi-user dungeons". These games eventually evolved into what are known today as MMORPG.

Commercial online services also arose during this decade, starting with a plain-text interface similar to BBSs (but operated on large mainframe computers permitting larger numbers of users to be online at once), and moving by the end of the decade to fully-graphical environments using software specific to each personal computer platform. Popular text-based services included CompuServe, The Source, and GEnie, while platform-specific graphical services included Quantum Link for the Commodore 64, AppleLink for the Apple II and Macintosh, and PC Link for the IBM PC, all of which were run by the company which eventually became America Online; and a competing service, Prodigy. Interactive games were a feature of these services, though until 1987 they used text-based displays, not graphics.

(End of part 5)

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The history of computer games (part 4)

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Part 4:
The Golden Age 1978-1981
(Click here for part 1)

1978 Bushnell Leaves Atari
Bushnell leaves Atari and signs a lucrative five-year agreement not to compete with the company he started. He buys the rights to Pizza Time Theatre from Atari and begins franchising it. Ray Kassar becomes the CEO of Atari.

Nintendo Releases Arcade Game
In March, Nintendo of Japan releases Computer Othello, a decidedly simplistic arcade cocktail-table game based on the board game Othello.

Trackball Rolls Into Arcades
Atari releases the arcade game Football. The game features a revolutionary new controller called the trackball.

Midway Imports Game to Beat
Midway imports Space Invaders from Taito. Space Invaders gives you a goal by displaying the current high score for you to beat.

Arcade Success Stories
Both Football and Space Invaders break all known sales records with almost equal earnings. However, Football's popularity fades with the end of the pro football season. Space Invaders' popularity continues, causing coin shortages in Japan and school truancy in America.

Atari Enters Computer Market
Atari begins selling its line of 400 and 800 computers to compete against Apple. The public, however, associates Atari with games, and the computers are never taken seriously.

Magnavox Releases Console With Keyboard
Magnavox releases the Odyssey2, a programmable console that has a built-in membrane keyboard.

Vector Game Released
Cinematronics releases Space Wars, a game similar to Bushnell's Computer Space. The game features vector (line-drawn) graphics. Vector graphics are the earliest form of polygon graphics to appear in video game applications, and they lack the flat shading or textures of later graphics.

Holographic Games
Atari develops the Cosmos, a handheld programmable machine that features holograms within the graphics. Because the holograms are only for aesthetics and don't add to the gameplay, the Cosmos is never released.

Atari Vectors
Atari releases Lunar Lander, its first vector graphics game. Lunar Lander Begets Asteroids. Despite Lunar Lander's popularity, Atari halts production of the game and begins releasing Asteroids in the Lunar Lander cabinets. Asteroids is a game that was originally designed by Lyle Rains and Ed Logg for the Cosmos system. It goes on to become Atari's all-time best-seller. Asteroids introduces a new feature to arcades: High scorers can enter their three-character initials at the end of the game. Nearly 80,000 units are sold in the United States, but the game is less popular in other countries. Sega releases Monaco GP, a driving game with a top-down perspective, which is followed by the similar Pro Monaco GP in 1980 and the realistic 3D racer Super Monaco GP in 1989.

Milton Bradley Releases Programmable Handheld Video Game
Milton Bradley Electronics releases the Microvision, a handheld programmable unit that includes its own built-in LED screen.

Space Invaders Come Home
Atari releases its exclusive home version of Space Invaders for the VCS. Sales of the VCS skyrocket.

Mattel Intellivision
Mattel Electronics introduces the Intellivision game console. The first serious competition for the VCS, the Intellivision has better graphics and a steeper price--$299. Mattel promises to release an optional peripheral that will upgrade the Intellivision console into a personal computer.

Namco releases Pac-Man
Pac-Man (パックマン Pakku man) is an arcade game developed by Namco and licensed for distribution in the US by Midway, first released in Japan on May 22, 1980. Immensely popular in the United States from its original release to the present day, Pac-Man is universally considered as one of the classics of the medium, virtually synonymous with video games, and an icon of 1980s popular culture. Upon its release, the game became a social phenomenon that sold a bevy of merchandise and also inspired, among other things, an animated TV series and music.

Handheld LCD games
Nintendo’s Game & Watch line began in 1980. The success of these LCD handhelds spurred dozens of other game and toy companies to make their own portable games, many being copies of Game & Watch titles or adaptations of popular arcade games. Improving LCD technology meant the new handhelds could be more reliable and consume less batteries than LED or VFD games, most only needing watch batteries. They could also be made much smaller than most LED handhelds, even small enough to wear on one’s wrist like a watch. Tiger Electronics borrowed this concept of videogaming with cheap, affordable handhelds.

(End of part 4)

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The history of computer games (part 3)

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Part 3:
The Games Begin 1971-1977
(Click here for part 1)

Nutting Releases First Arcade Video Game
Nutting manufactures 1,500 Computer Space machines. The components are packaged with a 13-inch black-and-white TV set in a futuristic-looking cabinet. The first arcade video game is released, but the public finds it too difficult to play.

Magnavox Begins Manufacturing the Odyssey

Magnavox begins manufacturing Baer's TV game system, which it calls the Odyssey. Sanders and Magnavox begin showing it to distributors around the country.

Magnavox Unveils First Home Video Game
Magnavox displays the Odyssey at a convention in Burlingame, California, on May 24. Nutting, believing it's the only company dealing with video games, sends Bushnell to see the machine. Bushnell spends a few hours playing video tennis and other games and later reports back to Nutting that he found the Odyssey uninteresting and in no way any competition for Computer Space.

Bushnell Leaves Nutting
Computer Space does not sell well, and Bushnell comes to the conclusion that it is too difficult to play. He realizes that if he can design a simple game, it might be a major draw. He informs Nutting, who tells him to go ahead and design a new machine. Bushnell decides that since he is the brains behind video games he should get a larger share of the profits. When he demands a third of Nutting Associates and doesn't get it, he leaves the company.

Bushnell Starts Atari
Bushnell and Dabney decide to start their own company to design video games for other companies to distribute. They originally call their company Syzygy (the straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies), but that name is already being used by a roofing company. They then settle on the name Atari, a term from the Japanese game Go, whose meaning is equivalent to "check" in chess.

Pong Is Born
Bushnell hires Al Alcorn to program games. Since Alcorn is inexperienced, Bushnell has him program a simple video tennis game as an exercise. They call the game Pong, for two reasons: first, "pong" is the sound the game makes when the ball hits a paddle or the side of the screen, and second, the name Ping-Pong is already copyrighted.

Pong Breaks Down
Bushnell tries selling Pong to established arcade manufacturers. After finding Bally disinterested, Bushnell decides to market the game himself. Pong is test-marketed in Andy Capps, a local bar. Within two weeks the test unit breaks down because the coin drop is flooded with quarters. Pong is a success.

Magnavox Releases Home Video Game
Magnavox sells the Odyssey exclusively through its own stores. People are led to believe the console will only work with Magnavox televisions. Still, Magnavox manages to sell 100,000 units. Many people buy it because it is the closest thing they can get to a home version of Pong.

Home Pong was not released until 1975 and it quickly became the best-selling item in the Sears catalog (which was a big deal at the time). Atari was pretty much forced to market Home Pong through Sears, since they didn't have the resources to distribute it on their own. However, the national exposure Sears gave Atari helped catapult Bushnell's company to international success.

(End of part 3)