Thursday 28 August 2008

But who'll speak up for the wealthy?

Another day, another Tory policy speech. Last time round, if you remember, it was Michael Gove explaining how the best way to help the disadvantaged was to bribe the middle class. Same theme, new topic: this week it's health.
So, my purpose today is to describe how we intend to improve the nation's health, and in doing so, also to improve the health of the poorest, fastest[...]
Excellent. How, exactly?
with more support for families bringing baby home for the first time1, through encouraging marriage2, to parental choice and incentives for more good schools3...
1: Free nannies for all, whether they can already afford them or not!
2: £20/week to get hitched - tax the single to pay dual-income kid-free couples!
3: Need a little help going private?

That distant roar you're hearing is the sound of the Tories being cheered to the rafters in Govan.

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Seeing is believing

Norm has a pop here at people, particularly those of a scientific bent, who can't accept the evidence of their own eyes. It's an important point. While a certain amount of curiousity about the world is charming, and perhaps even useful, it can too easily lead people to waste their time in fruitless speculation. Some things clearly speak for themselves: the sun self-evidently goes round the earth; light necessarily moves through a luminiferous aether; ill-health is unquestionably a result of imbalance among the four humours.

To even question whether what appears to be the case actually is the case can only ever be an exercise in futility.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Getting those boots on

Apologies for the slow going. I've been back up north, inspecting my new niece. (Pink. Sleepy. Poor conversationalist.)

The good news is that, as ever, other people have been blogging better than I do. Tom Freeman has a good piece on the data massaging behind Osborne's unfair Britain, and as a bonus links to a good piece on Michael Gove's claims about inequality in education.

Hopi Sen also has a good piece about Osborne stats, which are now being bandied about as fact. More interestingly, he's also had a crack at video blogging (vlogging?). I say interestingly, because as good as Hopi's and Tom's work is (and it's far better than I could hope to do), theirs are lights shining under particularly heavy bushels. As Hopi says, 5 million people watch cats talk on YouTube. Osborne's "900,000 in severe poverty" echoes across the media. If it takes 4 paragraphs and half-a-dozen links to refute a headline, you won't refute it.

Here's John McCain

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Right Next Time - Nomination

If you haven't been keeping up with cryptozoology, you may have missed last week's big news: they found Bigfoot! Or at least, his corpse.

I know what you're thinking: what more proof could we need? That's because you're not a professional. The boys at Searching for Bigfoot Inc. know what they're talking about, and set out to investigate at any cost:

On July 9th, 2008, Matthew Whitton and Ricky Dyer placed a video on Youtube making the claim they had recovered the body of a Bigfoot body....

On or about August 12th, 2008, Matthew Whitton and Ricky Dyer requested an undisclosed sum of money as an advance, expected from the marketing and promotion, and as a good faith gesture of the contract.

On August 14th, 2008, after signing a transfer receipt for the amount money requested and counting said money, Matthew Whitton and Ricky Dyer led the Searching for Bigfoot Team to a location and turned over a freezer with something appearing large, hairy, and frozen in ice....

Within the next hour of thaw, a break appeared up near the feet area. As the team and I began examining this area near the feet, I observed the foot which looked unnatural, reached in and confirmed it was a rubber foot.

At that point we immediately contacted Tom Biscardi [CEO of Searching for Bigfoot] and advised him of the situation and he began to take action on his end. Later that day, Tom Biscardi informed us that both Matthew Whitton and Ricky Dyer admitted it was a costume. They reportedly agreed to sign a promissory note and admission of what they had done, and set a meeting in their hotel room in California for 8AM on August 17th, 2008.

On August 17th, 2008 Tom Biscardi went to the hotel where Dyer and Whitton were staying and found that they had left. At this time action is being instigated against the perpetrators of this fraud.

Searching for a Clue Bigfoot are hereby nominated for a Right Next Time award for Clear Thinking for the following achievements :

  1. Believing in Bigfoot.
  2. Paying "an undisclosed sum" for a frozen gorilla costume.
  3. Arranging a meeting with their fraudsters to ask for the money back.
  4. Scheduling this meeting for three days after they discovered the fraud, in a hotel in a different state.
  5. Still believing in Bigfoot.
UPDATE: Brilliantly, I've contrived to make a minor error in a post about other people's stupidity - although the "corpse" was "discovered" in Georgia, both it and the hoaxers were in California by the time the shocking truth was exposed.

Nuts to you

Tom Freeman and Shuggy have more to say on the Tories' new found loathing for lad's mags, and middle-class attitudes to "vice" generally.

"As so often happens when the Tories talk about social ills, there’s a subtext of class.Nuts and Zoo mainly get working-class readers, GQ middle-class ones. Are we worried only about the moral and social corruption of the former?"

"Sex. When the proles do it or flaunt it it is a sign of collapsing civilisation. When the quality strip off and get down and dirty it is raffish, playful, taboo-busting, daring and ever so sexy."

Monday 18 August 2008

For better, for worse

Cassillis has an interesting piece on party loyalty and the value of independent voters here, following Daniel Finkelstein's claim that UK voters as a whole (almost) always vote for the best party. Given this, asks Cassillis, why do we have such a low opinion of people who are actually willing to, you know, vote for the best party? The psephological cliché "[Consituency] would elect a donkey if it were wearing a [red/blue] rosette" is usually uttered with an amused acceptance which tends to gloss over the fact that representation by actual livestock is regarded as a sub-optimal outcome in almost any well-consitituted electoral process. Any electorate so heedless of its own interests needs to be disenfranchised for its own protection, if not summarily committed.

So why do people vote for a party they consider second-best? The obvious answers (stupidity/tribalism/habit/complacency) are both dull and depressing, so let's try and find some more:
1a) Finger in the dyke: My party deserves to lose, but it looks like getting whitewashed. So I'll vote for it to keep it alive.

1b) Balancing act: Contrariwise, I rate the other lot, but not as much as everyone else clearly does. Ideally, I'd like to see them with a majority of <30, so I'll keep my vote against them as a counterweight.

2) Look to the future: My local MP/candidate is part of a group of [young reformers/hard-core traditionalists] who will [breathe new life into this moribund party/get us back to our roots]- so I'll vote to support them, even though I can't stand the leadership right now.

3) Positive re-inforcement: My party's position sucks, but not as much as it did four years ago when I did vote against them. They're going in the right direction, and I need to encourage that.

4) I think the other lot will be better for the country overall, but I'm a strong supporter/opponent of [single issue policy] and so I cannot in good conscience vote for them.

5) General principles: the leadership may currently be a shower of nincompoops, incompetents and backstabbers, but the party stands for a basic political philosophy I want to support.

These positions are not without their flaws: I'm not trying to suggest that loyalism is necessarily virtuous. But voting is a terribly unsophisticated process: we start, ideally, by developing our own nuanced position on everything from fiscal policy to health provision, foreign interventionism to environmental regulation; then we compare competing parties' policies to find the best - or least worst - match; then we reduce this to all or nothing support for one party's bundle of policies. No telling from the X on the ballot whether we're whole-heartedly behind our candidate or favouring them only on balance. No doubt, however, how much of our support they will claim when elected.

Consequently, it's probably no surprise that people are reluctant to switch votes, or try to make their vote the beating butterfly's wing amidst the noise. A fool's errand, given the sheer volume of votes and our inability to predict them accurately. But conversely, it's because we don't just vote for the party we think best that we get nuanced electoral results: massive majorities only happen when once-loyal voters finally break. It's good that there are independent voters who lean narrowly left or right; but it's also good that big political shifts demand the sceptical and reluctant assent of more entrenched voters.

Thursday 14 August 2008

Who is this God person anyway?

As if to refute her own thesis, Julie Burchill is given space in the Guardian to witness about a loving God.

The vital thing, apparently, is that faith "encourages one to transcend the self". Let's see how that spiritual journey has informed Julie's writing:

  • Uses of I/me/my/mine: 48

  • Uses of God/Lord/Jesus/Christ: 4

  • Uses of church/faith/prayer/pray/love: 6
Or in graphical format:

Rhetorical Questions Whose Answer...

Picking up the baton from Tom at the late Let's Be Sensible, here's a Rhetorical Question Whose Answer Isn't What The Author Wanted, from Naomi Alderman's piece on hijab-wearing athletes:

Q. What could be more anti-feminist than telling women that they don't really know what they think?

A: Telling them they won't be safe if they don't wear what you tell them to, and that in any case they don't have choice.

Not an RQ, but equally dumb, is this headline on sustainable tuna fishing:

Never mind the dolphins – what about the turtles and sharks?

As the article itself goes on to say, the single biggest sustainability issue caused by aggressive tuna fishing isn't carnage among sharks, or turtles, or even dolphins. The problem with tuna fishing is that it's killing all the tuna.

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Realpolitik in inaction

Had I been quicker, I would have read Tom's post pointing out the perils awaiting bloggers who comment on the difficult, complex and hitherto obscure situation in Georgia, particularly in light of the fact they know hee-haw about it. But I wasn't and I didn't, so in for a penny...

The problem for the West, as per the last post, is that Russia seems to be in a position to act with impunity, and is working hard at maintaining that advantage. So how to respond?

One answer, of course, that we don't. From a realpolitik view, as summed up by Simon Jenkins, Russia and the West are just as bad as each other: we invade sovereign countries, encourage separatist movements, seek control of energy resources, use power and influence to expand our power and influence. Moreover, it's our efforts at controlling Russia that brought us to this pass: we encourage and support democratic, pro-Western movements in Russia's backyard, we offer military support to countries Russia would prefer weak and intimidated, we expand NATO to hem Russia in. In consequence, Russia feels isolated and besieged, and responds aggressively.

Much better not to interfere. Give Russia space, let it play power politics with its neighbours and aim for cordial, arms-length relations. If it means that a few fledgling democracies fail, a handful of tanks roll through the occasional village or city, it's still better than a new Cold War. Frankly, it's a beguiling proposition. It is difficult to see how we would oppose Russia in a battle of wills, the cost of failure is pretty high, so why beat our heads against a brick wall? Maybe we can't save the whole damn world.

Another view comes from Michael Williams, also in the Guardian: our failure was that we didn't push hard enough. By this view, it was the decision not to fast-track NATO membership that led to all this: Georgia was left exposed, and Russia took advantage. But this was not a joint decision: expansion was supported by the US, but also by former Warsaw Pact countries and the Baltic states. They view NATO as vital in defending the interests of Russia's one-time allies or Soviet republics - the only guarantee of sovereignty. Opposition came from Germany and France, who knew very well that South Ossetia was a flashpoint, and didn't want to be dragged into war by a belligerent Saakashvilli. Given that Saakashvilli's belligerent approach did give Russia the excuse it was waiting for, it's a diffcult counterfactual to argue. Maybe French troops would now be obliged to fight Russians; maybe NATO leadership would have reined Saakashvilli in while telling the Russians to think twice.

In any case, it seems clear that a strategy of supporting pro-Western states will only work if the support is serious - or, in other words, costly. Building up our allies so that they take risks counting on our support only to leave them begging for help on CNN doesn't get anyone anywhere. Naturally, that makes us reluctant to make any commitments. But it's worth remembering that one key point: many of Russia's neighbours are turning towards democracy, asking to be our allies, and telling us they want our help in becoming fully autonomous rather than satellites of their more powerful neighbour. It may be difficult to achieve - it may be impossible in all cases - but it's a much better starting point for a foreign policy than realpolitik's "I'm alright, Jack".

PS There's an assumption running through this post, and through almost everything I've read on this. It's the assumption that to be pro-West is to be anti-Russian; that the West and Russia are necessarily opposed. Granted, it's an assumption that's clearly operative in Moscow, but it could stand re-examination from this side too.

Energy = Power

It's hard to keep up with developments in Georgia - previous attempts at producing a post have all been overtaken by events.

At the time of writing, the latest news is that Russia has dictated terms to the Georgians (full withdrawal from disputed regions, renunciation of use of force) in return for cessation of hostilities. According to Georgia, and the Guardian's correspondent on the ground, Russian tanks are going through Gori on their way back to the border, possibly targetting military infrastructure. (Further update: Georgian villages are being burned and looted)

Whatever the details, it's pretty clear that Russia has come out on top. Not only has it secured the safety of its newly-minted citizenry in South Ossetia, it's also a) broken and humiliated Georgia, b) sent a clear message to other neighbours and c) established pretty clearly how little it regards the protestations of the West.

The last point is pretty clear. America condemned the Russians strongly; the EU sent Sarkozy to broker a truce; former Warsaw Pact countries sent delegations to Georgia in support. But so what?

The US doesn't have a lot of levers. Political negotations concerning membership of the WTO or access to NATO may offer some incentives; further expansion of NATO or missile-shield installations in Eastern Europe could act as a stick. But Russia is currently flush with petro-dollars and unimpressed with earlier NATO co-operation; meanwhile, we now know how Russia reacts to percieved hemming-in of its territory.

The EU is closer to Russia, but that doesn't translate into influence. This spreadsheet breaks down trade between the EU and Russia, and it's difficult to see what sanctions are available. Russia provides 28% of the EU's energy imports. We've already seen Russia blackmail the Ukraine and the EU by turning off the tap; no reason to believe they wouldn't do it again. Against that, we export cars, machinery and direct investment - all of which are available from elsewhere. Gas is a lot less fungible.

What's really alarming is that Russia knows full well how powerful it's control of the EU's gas is. This article from the Asian Times explains what Russia is going to cement its advantage: buying up the world's gas:

Gazprom, Russia's energy leviathan, signed two major agreements in Ashgabat on Friday outlining a new scheme for purchase of Turkmen gas. [...] In essence, the two agreements ensure that Russia will keep control over Turkmen gas exports [...] The agreements with Turkmenistan further consolidate Russia's control of Central Asia's gas exports. Gazprom recently offered to buy all of Azerbaijan's gas at European prices.

From all appearance, Gazprom, which was headed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for eight years from 2000 to May 2008, has taken an audacious initiative. It could only have happened thanks to a strategic decision taken at the highest level in the Kremlin.[...] Curiously, the agreements reached in Ashgabat on Friday are unlikely to enable Gazprom to make revenue from reselling Turkmen gas. Quite possibly, Gazprom may now have to concede similar terms to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the two other major gas producing countries in Central Asia. In other words, plain money-making was not the motivation for Gazprom. The Kremlin has a grand strategy.

The overall implications of these Russian moves are very serious for the US and EU campaign to get the Nabucco gas pipeline project going. Nabucco, which would run from Turkey to Austria via Bulgaria, Rumania and Hungary, was hoping to tap Turkmen gas by linking Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan via a pipeline across the Caspian Sea that would be connected to the pipeline networks through the Caucasus to Turkey already existing, such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. But with access denied to Turkmen gas, Nabucco's viability becomes doubtful. And, without Nabucco, the entire US strategy of reducing Europe's dependence on Russian energy supplies makes no sense.

Now would be a really good time for cold-fusion to start working.

UPDATE: Playing around with this map gives a really good idea of why Russia is so keen that Georgia keep in line: pipelines and a buffer zone.

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Going Nuts

The previous post went on a bit. (If you want a snappier list of good reasons to suspect Gove's true intentions, read Chris at S&M here). Sadly, there wasn't room to address Gove's second train of thought, if you'll forgive the expression, on protecting the family.

(Yes, the family. The strongest, most vital social unit known to man, set fair to be the salvation of our nation's ills yet also an institution all but overwhelmed by hostile liberal forces, able to survive only through tax-breaks, free nannies and the strong protecting hand of government.)

Anyhow, families are under threat (again!) this time from weekly lad's mags.

That's why I believe we need to ask tough questions about the instant-hit hedonism celebrated by the modern men's magazines targeted at younger males. Titles such as Nuts and Zoo paint a picture of women as permanently, lasciviously, uncomplicatedly available. The images they use and project reinforce a very narrow conception of beauty and a shallow approach towards women. They celebrate thrill-seeking and instant gratification without ever allowing any thought of responsibility towards others, or commitment, to intrude.
This is just bizarre. Young men fantasising about no-strings-attached sex with oiled-up bimbos? Truly, these are strange and troubling times indeed. Gove doesn't give us any actual evidence that Nuts and Zoo readers are more likely to a) become fathers or b) do their women wrong. Nor does he suggest that he'll actually do anything about it. "Asking tough questions" is easy: can we expect a Tory government to ban or censor lad's mags? Maybe each photospread should be accompanied by a couple of paragraphs on how the model is a real person who deserves the reader's respect. Will we perhaps see a new boob-tax on pictures of naked women, with money ring-fenced to support* single mothers?

Of course not - this isn't anything to do with policy. The key paragraphs in the speech came earlier:
I think that the right was wrong to get hung up on homosexuality. I think we
indulged prejudice in the 80s and missed the point. It's not gay men who are abusing women and abandoning children – it's straight men. And the demand for civil partnerships, proper inheritance rights and equality in adoption rights from gay couples is not a rejection of commitment but a desire to see commitment celebrated and publicly embraced. It is right and moral. I also think the right was wrong in its rhetoric about single mothers. We need to recognise that it's those fathers who've abandoned their responsibilities, not mothers left holding the baby, who should be challenged about their behaviour.

Gove has just "detoxified" the Tories by announcing they're now officially OK with single mothers and gays - he's got to give the troops something they can blame for the hideous, savage mess they want to believe the country's in. And maybe feckless seed-scattering 21-year olds deserve it. But I don't think he's thought this through. If pictures of naked women are warping the moral fabric of the nation's youth, surely he's missed a trick. Nuts and Zoo have a weekly circulation of 0.5 million: why on earth isn't Gove attacking the multi-million circulation, politically influential, Murdoch-owned Sun?

*Yes, yes: and uplift

Monday 4 August 2008

Caring, sharing inequality

As Socrates told us, "A rabble is no more an army than a heap of building materials is a house"* and with Labour's great and good continuing their impersonation of a complete pile of bricks, what better time for the Tories to hit the nation hard with some serious and well-thought-out policies, the better to draw a sharp contrast with their rivals and paint themselves once again as the natural party of government.

Cometh the hour, cometh Michael Gove. And what dragon will he slay for us today, to prove the might of the Tory Round Table? One of the biggies, perhaps - the credit crunch, or energy prices? Hey, let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Besides, it's awfully technical and quite difficult. How about a bit of green? No? The shine is wearing off a bit, I'll admit. Besides, there are other, more insidious threats to a happy and prosperous Britain. Put simply, we're not getting enough love.
Each of us is defined, and enriched, by our relationship to others. It's the strength of our relationships, the warmth of our friendships, the time we have with our partners, parents and children, the respect we're given in the workplace and by our peers, the achievements we forge collaboratively and collectively, which generate real happiness and fulfilment. We are fully ourselves because others believe in us.
Yes reader, you complete me.

But this circle of affirmation stuff, tugging as it does on the ol' bile-duct strings, isn't really the point. The point is this: Labour are demanding and controlling and patronising and uncaring - like Daddy when you came home at half-term:
The Labour conception of society is a thin, and impoverished, one in which there appear to be only two primary centres of decision-making, the central state organises and the individual is expected to respond appropriately. The quality of the relationships we enjoy[...] are all neglected.
The Conservatives are warm and lovely and want you to feel good, just like Mummy does:
People don't want government and authority to be like BP. They want a relationship which allows them to feel loyalty, to have their emotions stirred, sometimes to anger when authority fails them, but more often to pride at what has been achieved collaboratively by a collective of which they feel a meaningful part.
Of course, before you can be truly happy with Mummy, you're going to have get rid of Daddy first. And we all know what that means, children.

Once we've got past this frankly bizarre attempt to channel our Oedipal urges into political action, we're going to have start talking about actual policies. To do him credit, Gove manfully avoids giving any actual detail about his policies - who, how much, when - but his argument runs something like this:

1) Centralised education policy is failing kids because teachers and headteachers are too concerned about performing well in league tables to really engage with pupils and parents in a community-based, localised way
2) This problem is much worse for schools in poor areas: poor kids are demonstrably doing worse in school than rich kids
2a) We know the scope and size of this problem and can therefore come up with policies to solve it because we... looked it up in the league tables
3) The problem is not funding, or discriminatory admission policies, or lack of parental interest in education. The problem is that schools are not accountable
4a) Therefore, we will let parents send their kids (and State cash) to whatever the hell school they want
4b) Therefore, we will let almost anybody open a school, with almost any "ethos" and then sell themselves to parents
4c) Therefore, we'll pay schools extra to take poor kids
5) Result: schools reform themselves from dirt-poor inner city pseudo-jails to gleaming palaces of learning; parents pick and choose from an exciting smorgasbrod of educational styles; poor pupils are lifted out of drudgery and encouraged to shine, shine like a star, shining so bright like the star that they are.

Come on! What could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot. The big problem that Gove is overlooking is that one of the major factors in kids' performance at school is the interest their parents take in education:
Research also establishes that parental involvement has a significant effect on children’s achievement and adjustment even after all other factors (such as social class, maternal education and poverty) have been take out of the equation between children’s aptitudes and their achievement. Differences in parental involvement have a much bigger impact on achievement than differences associated with the effects of school in the primary age range. Parental involvement continues to have a significant effect through the age range although the impact for older children becomes more evident in staying on rates and educational aspirations than as measured achievement.

9.2.2 of this .pdf

So, what might we expect to happen under Gove's scheme of fully-empowered parents and market-driven schools? For simplicity, let's divide all parents into two groups: Active & Involved on one hand, and 'Meh' on the other.

The A&I group will thrive. Keen to see their kids do well, they'll shop around for a school with good results, visit a short-list to meet teachers, pick one with an ethos that will help little Jeremy blossom.

Mehs aren't up for that sort of hard work. They'll pick the first school offered, or the nearest. Or if they care a bit, they'll judge schools superficially, without doing any real digging.

So what happens? Positive feedback kicks in, is what. Schools a little better than average attract good parents who push their kids on: the kids get good results, the school looks good, becomes more attractive to good parents and up and up we go. Meanwhile, schools a little worse than average drive away A&Is and attract a higher share of Mehs. Mehs don't care about their kids' learning, so their kids don't do as well as they might. But Mehs aren't going to change schools, so over time we get a higher proportion of Mehs, progressively worse results, more Mehs, yadda yadda, yadda.

So if you're born to Meh parents, you end up in a school with pupils of Meh parents, and any interest and aptitude you had gets drained/beaten out of you. That's not exactly equality of opportunity: now throw in the fact that a good way to predict parental involvement is to look at parents' educational attainment and socio-economic background.

Examining the nature and impact of these forms of parental involvement has consistently revealed that the degree of parental involvement is:
  • strongly related to family social class: the higher the class the more the involvement
  • strongly related to the level of mothers’ education: the higher the level of maternal educational qualification the greater the extent of involvement
9.2.1, ibid
So the new community-focused, inequality-busting Tory plans look set fair to trap poor kids in sinkhole schools. But hang on a minute! Poor kids come with all this extra moolah, remember? That's the incentive for schools to take them on and give them a damn good education.

Well no. It's certainly an incentive to take the kids on; it's not an incentive to educate them well. Let's say you've taken advantage of the somewhat looser restrictions on who can operate a school, and that you're incentivised by the prospect of attracting a bunch of taxpayer's cash. You've got two strategies: target A&Is by paying top salaries to teachers, kitting out your school with networked computers, top-notch science labs, soundproofed music rooms etc. Do a good job, and you'll attract a lot of keen parents. Keep up the investment and the hard work, and you'll do pretty well, although competition for these pushy parents will be fierce. So fierce, in fact, that you'll want to think twice before taking on any "risky" kids. Sure, they might turn out alright, and their parents seem very keen - but a bigger "range of backgrounds" could scare off A&Is and lose you a handful of nice, safe pupils - bankers who'd keep your average up.

Alternatively, target Mehs. Two advantages here: their kids are worth more and they don't give a crap. Invest a bit in a nice glossy brochure, do a bit of selling. Don't waste money hiring talented, enthusiastic or experienced teachers - the parents probably wouldn't even notice, and it won't make much difference anyway. Maximise your class-sizes, never do anything extra-curricular and as long as the little buggers don't actually riot and burn your school down, you're golden.

Gove's proposals are not going to reduce inequality. They're going to exacerbate it. Astonishingly enough, the end result of a Tory policy is: the well-to-do will do well; the poor, poorly. What's genuinely funny about this is that Gove, in this same speech, excoriates Labour for precisely this failure of policy:
The determination to push ahead with the closure of small GP practices and their replacement by polyclinics [... is] also engineered in such a way as to benefit most those who need help least - the fit active and working - while the closure of community based GP surgeries puts the greatest strain on those who need the NHS most

*Source: Rome Total War. Who said gaming wasn't educational?