Wednesday, 30 April 2008

It's Hot As Hell In Here!

It’s not easy being the student representative for the maths department; every damn postgraduate mook wants you to lobby for them. Case in point: Danny and BT, who are annoyed about how hot the office has gotten. This leads to an oddly amusing half-hour of attempting to locate the University’s health and safety policy on temperature.

Danny: Hurry up, it’s getting hotter!

SS: It is not!

Danny: It is! The Thai Buddha thermometer you got me says so.

SS: I wouldn’t put too much faith into that thing; it cost me one-ninety nine from Woolworths. Plus, I’m pretty sure IBB broke it last week.

Danny: Just find the damn policy, would you?

SS: It’s pretty difficult to navigate.

BT: Nothing on temperature?

SS: No, although I can tell you our policy on chemical weapon attack, if you want.

Danny: We have a policy in case we get hit with Agent Orange?

SS: Yes. Also if we contract gastroenteritis, or if we get covered in amniotic fluid.

BT: What the Hell goes on in this university?

SS: Ah!

Danny: You got it?

SS: Maybe. It’s a check-list for office safety. Say, we’re not using razor-blades instead of scissors, are we?

BT: We try to keep sharp objects out of your reach.

SS: Very wise. We can tick that box, anyway.

Danny: Are you going to read the whole form?

SS: Wait! I’ve got it. The magic number for maximum temperature is… thirty degrees.

Danny: You’re kidding! We could open up a damn sauna. This is outrageous.

SS: The policy on amniotic fluid is pretty slap-dash, too.

BT: So we can’t get the university to do anything?

SS: They did install those tinted windows.

Danny: That just make the room darker.

SS: And those fans.

Danny: They just make the room louder.

BT: They’re also a hazard to paper work.

Danny: Do you have any work on paper?

BT: Shut up.

SS: If we can focus, the key aspect to all of this is: you’re boned.

Danny: But it’s hot as Hell!

SS: It’s only twenty-five degrees.

Danny: In April. In the North-East.

SS: Come back to me in June, then.

Danny: I’ll be a shrivelled, desiccated husk by then!

SS: We could turn off the computers.

Danny: We’re not allowed to turn off the computers.

BT: We could throw the computers out of the window; claim the insurance.

SS: Hypothetically speaking, BT, what would we write on the claims form?

BT: That the computers exploded from the heat.

SS: What, exploded, levitated, threw themselves out of the window, and smashed themselves on the ground?

A pause

BT: I’m starting to come around to this sauna idea.

SS: Ooh! We could grow tomatoes.

Danny: Or pineapples.

SS: Or opium.

BT: We could be drugs dealers!

Danny: Driving around in limousines with tinted windows.

SS: Haven’t we already decided that would just make it unbearably hot? We’d be halfway through hiring our first bunch of runners before we’d spontaneously explode, levitate, smash through the window, and throw ourselves to the ground.

BT: So what do you suggest?

SS: Erm, we check ourselves for gastroenteritis?

Our heroes exit, intent upon checking the firmness of their stools.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Torturous Logic

I've been thinking a bit more about Ashcroft's comments (the ones I repeated a few days ago, plus others) and about the debates they start (including here, apparently, which was a pleasant surprise). I still don't think people are making the right arguments against current US policy. There are a lot of posts along the lines of "Torture is axiomatically wrong", which is all very well, but once you take that stance you'll find it hard to back up (always the problem with axioms); so you sort of take yourself out of the debate. There is the much more practical point that torture is immoral and of questionable benefit, both in the short and the long term. I don't think the latter is under much debate, other than the usual nut-cases convinced that terrorists will become less keen to attack the US once they find out their mates are getting knocked about.

Most of the arguing, then, is over whether or not torture can, in the short term, save lives, and whether or not that makes it OK. I'm going to entirely skip the latter, although there are some interesting things to be said on it. What I want to concentrate on is the idea that torture is a useful tool, specifically in the case of the "ticking bomb" situation the GOP seems convinced is just bound to go off sooner or later like, well, a ticking bomb.

The logic runs that if we catch a terrorist and if he knows where a bomb is planted and if we can't find it any other way and if standard interrogation techniques have failed and if we assume that torture will lead to accurate intel (as oppose to whatever lies this guy decides to come up with in order to win a reprieve, however brief), we'd better make damn sure there is a legal contingency for that. I guess they're terrified that " if we catch a terrorist and if he knows where a bomb is planted and if we can't find it any other way and if standard interrogation techniques have failed and if we assume that torture will lead to accurate intel" is terrifyingly plausible, but " if we catch a terrorist and if he knows where a bomb is planted and if we can't find it any other way and if standard interrogation techniques have failed and if we assume that torture will lead to accurate intel and if one of his captors is prepared to torture him without rules allowing him to do so" is fairly unlikely.

It suddenly occurred to me the other day that legally allowing torture in case the above situation comes up is equivalent to removing speed limits on roads in case someone needs to get their dying child to a hospital. Or making murder legal purely in case an abused wife stabs her husband in self-defense the next time he drunkenly lunges at her with a baseball bat. I think I'm pretty safe in saying that the vast majority of people understand that laws are frequently inflexible, and that the system relies on compensation for this from the police, and from the courts. We don't want them completely overruling what they want when they want, but there are reasons a policeman can book driver A for speeding, but let driver B off, or why a judge can give a jail sentence to one drug user and community service to another. Oftentimes we hear about the ways this system has gone wrong, or given the impression that is has gone wrong (Pete Doherty is certainly an example of one or the other), but in principle, there are very good reasons we call them "judges". [1]

So why make torture legal on the off-chance this ticking bomb scenario actually does arrive? Surely if everything clicks into place, and a nuclear bomb is discovered because Agent Brown beat on some terrorist until he blabbed, then should Brown be officially charged, the system will take the situation into account. The man's a hero, the saviour of millions of American lives. He'd be showered in medals. Serious repercussions are liable to be somewhat thin on the ground. So what exactly is the situation that permitting water-boarding prevents? More likely, it's the occasion when someone gets tortured and it turns out to have been fuck-all use. This, apparently, is supposed to be OK too [2]. We're not talking about enabling success, we're talking about removing the repercussions of failure. Much as I pointed out in my last post, it's an attempt to shirk responsibility for what are potentially very serious mistakes, and pass it off as an attempt to save lives. And as cplcarrot said, people need to be willing to stand by this sort of stuff.

[1] There's a more general point to be made here. People really need to stop screaming and shouting every time a new law seems overly draconian. Take the furore over no longer allowing parents to give their children any alcohol in their own home. Is that the Nanny State flexing its muscles? Or just ensuring that there is no ambiguity over the law if the police choose to deal with parents who are clearly giving their children too much.

[2] Here's an interesting set of questions. If such an event occurs, and a terrorist is being tortured right up to the moment where the bomb goes off and a million people are vaporised, then there's no longer any reason to keep up the torture. Do we think it likely that Agent Brown will then immediately stop? Or is more likely that the guy the US Government are paying to inflict pain upon its enemies is going to continue out of frustration, or loss, or revenge? How would the system deal with that one?

Thursday, 24 April 2008

An Odd Line

Thanks to dday over at Hullabaloo I got to read an exchange between a Daily Kos diarist and fiend-in-human-form John Ashcroft from a college Q&A on Tuesday night. Much of what he said has already been ripped apart. Deservedly so, too; I like to hear conservatives make arguments so that I can try and counter them, but Ashcroft didn't actually put forward arguments, he just ridiculed or sidelined every tough question he got.

There was one thing, though, that neither dday nor Elsinora (the Kossack in question) tackled (maybe because it was just too depressing to unpick) the way I would have, which was this exchange ("me", of course, refers to Elsinora):
ME: After WWII, the Tokyo Tribunal was basically the Nuremberg Trials for Japan. Many Japanese leaders were put on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture. And among the tortures listed was the "water treatment," which we nowadays call waterboarding...
ASHCROFT: (interrupting) This is a speech, not a question. I don't mind, but it's not a question.
ME: It will be, sir, just give me a moment. The judgment describes this water treatment, and I quote, "the victim was bound or otherwise secured in a prone position; and water was forced through his mouth and nostrils into his lungs and stomach." One man, Yukio Asano, was sentenced to fifteen years hard labor by the allies for waterboarding American troops to obtain information. Since Yukio Asano was trying to get information to help defend his country--exactly what you, Mr. Ashcroft, say is acceptible for Americans to do--do you believe that his sentence was unjust? (boisterous applause and shouts of "Good question!")
ASHCROFT: (angrily) Now, listen here. You're comparing apples and oranges, apples and oranges. We don't do anything like what you described.
ME: I'm sorry, I was under the impression that we still use the method of putting a cloth over someone's face and pouring water down their throat...
ASHCROFT: (interrupting, red-faced, shouting) Pouring! Pouring! Did you hear what she said? "Putting a cloth over someone's face and pouring water on them." That's not what you said before! Read that again, what you said before!
ME: Sir, other reports of the time say...
ASHCROFT: (shouting) Read what you said before! (cries of "Answer her fucking question!" from the audience) Read it!
ME: (firmly) Mr. Ashcroft, please answer the question.
ASHCROFT: (shouting) Read it back!
ME: "The victim was bound or otherwise secured in a prone position; and water was forced through his mouth and nostrils into his lungs and stomach."
ASHCROFT: (shouting) You hear that? You hear it? "Forced!" If you can't tell the difference between forcing and pouring...does this college have an anatomy class? If you can't tell the difference between forcing and pouring...
ME: (firmly and loudly) Mr. Ashcroft, do you believe that Yukio Asano's sentence was unjust? Answer the question. (pause)
ASHCROFT: (more restrained) It's not a fair question; there's no comparison. Next question! (loud chorus of boos from the audience)
dday points out that this is muddying a clear precedent. My argument would be more damning that that. I think that even if Ashcroft is right, and there is a difference between "forcing" and "pouring", which is ridiculous stance to take, but never mind (I guess Ashcroft isn't using "forcing" in the sense of "entering without permission" so much as "using force beyond that which is supplied by gravity"; one can only assume he'd be fine with holding a person upright and pumping water into their mouths and nostrils at a rate consistent with the flow of water downhill), he is still implicitly making the case (by refusing to either admit either that current tactics are bad or that the Japanese gentleman in question was unjustly punished), that a fractional change in the velocity of the water used should genuinely make the difference between morally justifiable and punishable by a decade and a half of hard labour.

So my question (this wasn't a speech either) is this. Can anyone out there think of a situation in which such a tiny difference (i.e. a rate of flow greater than the terminal velocity of a water stream) in methodology can suddenly change the legal and moral into the illegal and harshly punished?

Update: Yes, I promised something lighter, and delivered torture. I am not always to be trusted.

A Passing

Dr P passed away peacefully in her sleep yesterday afternoon, with her husband present. She was a tremendously intelligent and unflinchingly determined woman, whose dedication to her profession was remarkable even before you factor in her terminal illness, which caused her great discomfort and inconvenience. Despite the many obstacles her condition placed in front of her, she never complained about her situation, or at least no more than you or I might bemoan the rain or a cold bacon sandwich. I am both proud and humbled to share authorship of the paper she worked on last, and endlessly grateful for the support given to me by her, in circumstances where so many would have tempted to give up anything so irrelevant as keeping a PhD student happy. The department, the world of probability, and the world in general are all the lesser for losing her. I hope she knew the value I placed upon her.

I promise my next post will be lighter.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Dr P And The Diary Question

When I started this blog all of six weeks ago, I had some vague idea that it might, amongst other things, provide me with some sort of outlet for all the amassed crap in my life that even my closest drinking buddies have gotten sick of hearing me vomit into their ears (could you actually hear someone literally vomiting into your ear? Or would the sound of the experience be muffled by the chunder now clogging up your aural canal? Why doesn't science stop fucking around with dark matter and investigate something useful?). Since then, I've begun to wonder whether or not this is a particularly good idea. By and large, I dislike the idea that the only difference between a blog and a diary is the medium in which it is stored, and by the number of people who read it (I should probably say who could potentially read it, I'm hardly The Onion or anything). It isn't. Anyone who writes their diary hoping someone else will read it is, I suggest, a tool. It immediately lends itself to warping your recounting of events (by shifts in emphasis, sneaky editing, or downright lying) in order to impress other people. And it won't work. Even if I do find a given person sufficiently fascinating, the most I'll do is read their autobiography (current number of autobiographies read by SpaceSquid: 0). I won't suddenly feel the need to trawl through their endless scribblings about the day the post was late or their wife forgot to get the kind of marmalade they like best. This is not to say that a diary cannot be of historical interest, to those studying the writer. And sure, some people are so talented in their writings that even diary entries (properly edited) can be entertaining or thought provoking.

But those people are famous already. In every case of which I am aware, a particular diary is of arguable interest because the person involved was extraordinarily important, extraordinarily talented, or in the case of Anne Frank, an ordinary person living in an extraordinary time (for all the wrong reasons, of course, and I'll happily concede that by living through what she did she was in at least some sense extraordinary herself). Diaries are supposed to be a record of your life so that you can benefit from it, the prose equivalent of looking at old photo albums and sniggering at your ridiculous hair-styles. There's no point in hoping that if you draw enough pictures in the margin or write enough poems filled with awkward cadence and Gothic imagery you will one day be recognised for who you were. It's just an attempt to feel you are doing something of worth without actually exposing it to outside criticism (which I know something about, believe me).

Blogging, on the other hand, is supposed to be about keeping other people entertained, or interested, or informed. Whether or not I actually manage that is entirely up for debate, but the attempt is there. A strange attempt which mixes jokes with poems with cod-philosophy with political commentary with miscellaneous observation, but an attempt nonetheless. And I think I'd be actively sabotaging that idea if I continue to post up windows into my private life; unless they in themselves seem to be interesting to the non-me members of the blogosphere. In my heart of hearts, I doubt anyone reading about the endless struggle with the mysterious DB (which, on the off-chance someone was wondering, has become less of an issue of late; proof-positive that there is no problem on Earth that cannot be solved by drinking until your brain no longer recalls the basic shapes of the object that has offended you), unless in the process it throws up a hilarious escapade or an insight into the human condition, or something.

Anyway, I mention all this because I'm about to entirely contradict it. The ongoing illness of Dr P is, in all likelihood, of no real interest to anyone reading this. On this one matter, though, I have chosen not to care. She's back in the hospital again and the signs point to her never leaving it again, and it feels like I have to mark that here. I haven't seen her in three months, and only spoken to her once in all that time, since she is now too ill to use a computer. The experimental medicine doesn't seem to have worked, and if there is any other option, Dr F didn't mention it today. It looks like this may finally be it.

Anway, I reserve the right to post up further updates on her condition, because the only reason you don't find this of interest is that you never knew her, which is your loss. Otherwise, take comfort in the sudden reduction of self-indulgent whining, which will be compensated for by an upswing in self-indulgent social commentary and dick jokes.

Monday, 21 April 2008

What I Learned This Weekend

Five things I learned over the weekend, in the order in which the knowledge was inserted into my brain.

1) Oxford reminds me a great deal of Durham. So much so that for the first twenty minutes I was absolutely convinced that instead of visiting jamie I should have just set fire to a hundred quid and then walked to my local pub. At least I could find the way back home whilst drunk out of my head. On the other hand, it's always a pleasure to meet new people, and label them as racist. Everyone up here is so inured to my abuse that I'm always surprised by the reaction gained from viciously heckling those who have yet to build up a resistance to it.

2) My devotion to the interweb has now reach such embarrassing heights that the merest suggestion of new Facebook friends requires an immediate Spring cleaning session to ensure my profile is impressive enough to receive visitors. For a man who understands computers little, and likes them less, I seem to be disturbingly happy to use them as a social crutch.

3) The new Mario Kart is awesome. It's hard to convey the enormous sense of satisfaction gained when three old gaming buddies all manage to not totally fuck up at the same time, and that feeling is only heightened when two of you are reptiles on motorcycles.

(Be warned, however, that the steering wheel add-on might as well be a paper plate with a remote sellotaped to it, for all the advantages it confers upon you).

4) James continue to "bring it", as I believe the kids are saying these days [1]. If a band that's been going on for twenty seven years (well, with six off for good behaviour) and released eight studio albums (six of which people actually bought, sort of) can pull off a set which (pre-encore at least) contains 50% new material and it not seem like a Rolling Stones-esque "Please Christ don't let it be anything post Exile..." type of affair, then you know things are going well. Only the fact that the gig was seated and that our seats were atop a balcony which STARED INTO THE VERY HEART OF THE ABYSS prevented some truly epic getting-down, as I believe the kids are saying in my 1981 Blake's 7 annual [2]. Well, that and the fact that my sister's epileptic seizures boast more rhythm to them than my shape-throwing can.

Also, bonus points for the audience sing-along finale. Anyone upset by the portly guy in row C screaming "Somtiyiyimes, I look in your eyes and see your sohl!", I apologise entirely. Unless you're jamie, with whom I accidentally formed the world's most appalling a capella cover-version double act. Cheeky-Girls-in-a-power-cut kind of level, we were. Only ugly men, without any sexual connection to Lembit Opik. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.

5) There is a bizarre kind of person in this world convinced that failing to bring adequate (i.e. any) entertainment for a four-hour train journey makes the poor sod sat opposite them (i.e. me) morally bound to engage them in pointless conversation. This strange sub-species reveals this idiosyncrasy by phoning their friends one after another and loudly complaining that those surrounding him (i.e. me again) are too busy reading books to have a chat with total strangers who are possibly drunk and certainly foul-smelling (should I feel bad about not wanting to swap small-talk with people whose breath smells like the corpse of an alcoholic dog? Comments welcome). "The art of the train-ride conversation is dead" he loudly proclaims to his presumably long-suffering wife, with whom he occasionally discourses in pidgin Spanish (perhaps believing this to be romantic). Good to see the art of the train-ride act-like-a-total-fucking-tool is still going strong, though. On several occasions our subject complained that his lack of preparation was down to him eschewed train travel for the last twenty-five years. I don't really remember what rail travel was like back then (being all of three years old), but I'd hazard a guess that it was unlikely to feature party clowns wandering the aisles and brass quartets in the vestibules.

[1] They are not.

[2] Presumably moments before they're all gunned down by faceless Federation troopers. I always figured B7 was ripe for a BSG-style makeover, partially because it's the only sci-fi series I can think of for which the remake producers would seriously have to consider
lightening it up as the first step.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

A Plan Forms

Overheard in our living room during an impromptu showing of Silence of the Lambs. All is calm until the moth-drenched finale.

SS: Argh! A soul-searing encounter with my greatest fear!

Big G: I'd forgotten your idiotic fear of small harmless creatures.

SS: There are so many. So many.

Big G: Is it a volume thing, then? Would a single solitary moth freak you out?

SS: Only if it flew at my head. Or was a giant moth. Like Rodan.

Big G: You mean Mothra.

SS: Yeah. That was a fairly obvious mistake, now I think about it.

Big G: So you don't like insects near your face?

SS: I don't like anything near my face. Or neck. Insects, seatbelts, women trying to kiss me.

Big G: That explains a few things.

SS: That's why I never wash my face, either.

Big G: That explains other, somewhat unpleasant things.

SS: Beetles are the worst. Hideous arthropodic gits.

Big G: What if a moth came at you carrying a beetle?

SS: Beetles can fly too, as a general rule.

Big G: I suppose. Have you considered aversion therapy?

SS: Do I get to kiss a lot of women?

Big G: My plan was more to keep kicking a football at your face.

SS: This is exactly why I don't like you watching this film in the house. Can't we watch Red Dragon?

Big G: Is it any good? Because Hannibal was so bad I almost ate someone.

SS: Sort of. It's entirely thanks to Red Dragon that I know you can arrange for a blind woman to stroke a tiger and in return she is immediately required to perform fellatio upon you.

Big G: Is this legally binding?

SS: It is. Of course, setting up some kind of big-cat-feeling session isn't particularly easy, so our secret knowledge doesn't really get us very far.

There is silence.

Big G: We could use a cat.

SS: Too small.

Big G: We could keep moving it around, I guess.

SS: Tricky.

Big G: Erm... we could bind the cats together?

SS: I think the law would have a few things to say about stitching cats together.

Big G: Velcro would be a more obvious choice, surely?

SS: Excellent! The RSPCA will be powerless to stop us! Bring me thirty tabbies and your most attractive blind friend!

Exeunt stage right, carrying twelve cans of Whiska's and two very disturbing leers.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

In Your Face, Free Will

Over the last few years I've had a number of discussions with friends (jamie and C spring immediately to mind) as to whether or not any of us have free will. Now, I don't believe in destiny, mainly because as I understand the term destiny implies a deliberate or at least consciously directed path for our lives to follow (the fact that destiny is generally invoked by those seeking to justify what they have, justify what they want, or justify the damage they've done in getting what they have or grabbing for what they want, is another story). You could extrapolate the word to cover any philosophy that we're stuck on rails and can't get off, but I prefer the term "determinism". It's the difference between believing America was deliberately created, and knowing that I find it if I hit the Atlantic and head West.

(Well, I'd almost certainly drown or get lost were I to try it; but you get the point).

My belief in determinism stemmed from the assumption that there is no such thing as randomness in the universe. There's a lot we don't know, and as Heisenberg reminds us, much that we physically cannot know. Unknowable and random are not the same thing, though; and if every action has a non-random consequence, then the universe just becomes one big horribly complex game of billiards, and nothing ever knocks us off the rails.

People tend not to like this argument, for obvious reasons (much like those people who insist on believing in God because the alternative is too horrible to consider; I'm looking at you, Big G). But the only convincing point against it I've heard is the argument that most scientists think that when you get down to the quantum level things really are happening in a messed-up way that is genuinely random. Whether these microscopic slow dances of elementary particles can possibly affect us within our lifetimes (as oppose to the coding in our DNA and our upbringing essentially ticking all the boxes in advance) is an interesting question, but it does invalidate the idea that there is no such thing as the truly random.

I note with interest, though, that New Scientist (I nearly wrote this week's New Scientist, until I remembered that I found it in the coffee room this morning and for all I know it was months old and only just been released from the office of whichever staff member keeps stealing them) suggesting new evidence has been found that this stuff might be deterministic after all. I only had time to read the first few paragraphs, and I recognise that for a magazine dedicated to science, NS tends to play fast and loose with anything so inconvenient as a fact, but this might bear a closer look.

Maybe I was right all along, and we have no genuine control over our lives. But as an old friend pointed out to me years ago, since there's no way we can predict what will happen, and since I don't believe anyone or anything intended for my life to take this path, then what exactly does it matter?

Update: I went and checked. It was the 22nd March issue, and essentially said "We haven't yet disproved causality, despite what those douches over in quantum theory keep saying". Good to know.

Outside Interest

Hurrah! Only one month in and I have comments from actual real people!

Well, one real person, but I appreciate the effort nonetheless. A shiny gold star to jamie.

Coming up next: we discuss the universe at the quantum level, and why I might have been right all along.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Hormone Control

After the latest hilarious series of misunderstandings in what is laughingly called my love life (the laughter being at a Black Books level of bitterness, obviously), I've been wondering as to whether life genuinely would be any better if we could consciously decide who we were and weren't going to find attractive. I've heard the idea suggested before as something that would do away with all the irritating pissing about, which admittedly wastes a lot of time which could be more gainfully employed drinking my liver three feet outside my torso. Of course, though, nine times out of ten (at least), what people implicitly mean is actually "Life would be better if people chose to find me attractive". I personally have been at the end of at least one teeth-grindingly hideous speech about how someone is "sorry" that they couldn't give me what I wanted, and the subtext was never "If I could flick a switch, I could" so much as "Holy Hell I wish this had never come up; I just wanted someone to lavish me with attention until I found myself a real man". Who's going to have some hideous, foul-smelling idiot sidle up to them and offer to buy a drink and think, "Right, I am so totally activating my horny chip for this one."?

No, I'm pretty sure that the level of rejection people face in this world would remain essentially constant. Only now, it's much worse, because when somebody knocks you back it's no longer "Those idiot hormones I can't possibly control say 'no', and I am helpless against them," but "I could find you attractive if I wanted to, but I am making the conscious choice to hold out for something better". You start getting rejected on paper, rather than in the confusing swirl of battle. It might be of more use when a long-term relationship starts going south, but then of course it's at least arguable that a decrease in the degree to which you find your partner attractive is symptomatic of a larger problem, and I'm not sure shooting yourself up with Puck's love potion (a classical reference! I am so smart!) is going to do anything than fuck you up worse in the long-term.

Which leaves us with the genuinely useful aspect of this hypothetical application of human pheremone: allowing the last pathetic remnants of the human population to fix themselves up after all the people who are just not naturally repulsive have left the singles bar. Of course, the cynic in me tells me that this tends to happen anyway. I guess in a few years, when I leave my twenties forever in tears, and my scalp finally gives up clinging to the increasingly irrelevant remaining patches of servicable follicles, I shall find out.

Fingers crossed...

Sunday, 13 April 2008

In The Interests Of Balance

Just because I ragged on it so hard last week, I thought I'd mention Dr Who was actually rather spiffing yesterday. I would qualify that, but I've learnt in this week's SFX that when you like something, you aren't allowed to criticise any part of it whatsoever.

Seriously, I've never known any magazine so desperate to push the idea that critical faculties are a bad thing. One wonders why they bother having anything so complex as a five-star rating system, since apparently all art belongs to one of the binary states of "awesome" and "shit".

Thursday, 10 April 2008

This Is Somewhat Worrying

Turns out it's Islamofascism Awareness Week in the States (at least for some people). Are there genuinely people left in the US who wake up every morning thinking "Holy Christ, this country is insufficiently hair-triggered when it comes to Muslims, and only a faintly disturbing week-long revel in the Islamic greatest shits collection will do the job!"?

People get it. There cannot be anyone left in America unaware that the Venn diagram of Muslims and fuckers-who-want-to-kill-us has a non-empty intersection (much as is that of FWWTKU and non-Muslims). Isn't there something else we should be made aware of instead? World hunger, maybe. You think Churchill needed "Why We Hate The Nazi's Eve"?

SpaceSquid Branches Out

Ordinarily I'd feel horribly egotistical (even by my standards) linking to my own ramblings, but since I have no evidence that anyone but me has ever even visited this blog, I guess it doesn't really matter a great deal. If, for some reason, you find yourself compelled to read some of the increasingly abstract comical musings that take place in my flat as an alternative to genuine work, then Big G and I have the blog for you:

Monday, 7 April 2008

SpaceSquid (plus KT) vs Television No. 1

Title: Are You Harder Than a Ten-Year Old?

Pitch: Noel Edmunds looks on with a terrifying leering grin as Britain's smuggest child prodigies are beaten senseless by full-grown adults in a variety of ever-more violent gladitorial combats, loosely based around playground bullying and PE teacher pederasty.

Target Audience: Everyone who has ever met a smart kid.

More On Galactica

Since I'm still waiting for Season 4 to grace my screens (admittedly at this point waiting for around 30 hours or so), I thought I'd get one more theory in about Galactica (once again aided and abetted by Senor Spielbergo). This time we got into the reasons for the split in Cylon culture. S. Spielbergo reminded me that we know from Razor that the Cylons were pissing aroung with skin-job tech much earlier than we thought. It seems more than plausible that the war was halted as the first proper skin-jobs rolled off the assembly lines.

What's more interesting is the idea that there was some kind of vote called as to what to do next. One scenario is make peace vs feign peace whilst preparing for sneaky genocide. Perhaps that vote had gone 7 to 5 for the former (the Eights may have wavered here, possibly the Cavil's too, although given how self-contradictory he is, it's hard to know), or even 7-4-1 if the final model is as different to the four as it is to the seven (and at this point I'd bet quite a lot of money that it is). Once the decision has been made, the losers might well have quit in disgust, or for more subtle reasons, and integrated themselves into human society, before the mass cloning began; presumably asking all records of them be destroyed and they not be followed (it's been noticed by others the significance of Cavil being the one to "box" the Threes for violating these conditions). This idea opens up a really interesting question and an even more interesting possibility, namely:

1) Why is Tigh older than Tyrol, Tori, and Anders? Were the original 12 mainly children? Were Tigh and Cavil the only adults, and by extension were they deliberately conceived as "mentors" for the other 10 (admittedly an addictive personality and and a contradictory atheist are not necessarily the best choice of mentors for commie religious nuts, but what new system doesn't have its kinks)? One thing the show has never discussed is whether the skin-jobs age as we do. If they don't, it's hard to explain Tigh. Tyrol, Tori and Anders could just keep changing lives from time to time (in theory, although see below), but since Adama has known Tigh for decades, it certainly seems they age. Presumably the fact that the copies of the other seven models are all the same age is a deliberate choice by the rest; certainly it would suck mightily if every time a skin-job died it had to be downloaded into a baby. They could potentially re-boot the entire line every so often, of course.

2) It's entirely possible the five/four were so appalled by the majority plan that they wanted to stop it. They couldn't do it themselves, of course, because they'd lost the vote fair and square. But if they deliberately altered their memories and placed themselves in human society and ended up in positions to stop it, then that would be fair game. Looked at it that way, the fact that Tyrol and Tigh both ended up on the only Battlestar able to withstand the coming attack stops being massive coincidence and instead becomes a deliberate plan. Tori too was clearly an up and coming political figure who, had she risen just a little higher, might have been in a position to be more useful (maybe even in Laura's shoes; had Colonial Heavy 798 not happened to make it through the attack) in fighting the Cylons. Even Anders managed to get himself into Pyramid, which might seem fairly pointless, but did give him a group of physically fit men and women loyal to him and used to working as a team, but weren't in the military that was deliberately targetted for destruction during the initial waves of the attack.

What's even more funky about this idea is that leads to the corollary that Tori and Tigh might have been intended to be in control of the military and civilians at some point during the attack, had it not been for Adama delaying his retirement and Roslin being there to witness it. If that had happened, perhaps the partial awakening we saw at the end of Season 3 might have kicked in immediately, albeit probably in a different way. This idea of helping to fight the attack rather than prevent it again can just be seen as the concept of playing fair with the other models. Tyrol and Anders might have had a similar "kick-in" goal, although those are harder to quantify (if we consider the twelth model and whatever he/she has in mind for Starbuck a wild card (see below), its possible Anders would have kicked in after so long fighting on Caprica had he not met her).

Of course, if you want a further level of head-games, you can instead see the other four models as being cure attack-wise, and Baltar as prevention. He alone could have stopped the attack, and there's a level of irony in the fact that he was seduced by another Cylon into betraying his own adopted race, but also the plans he had for his true one. Of course you then lose the wild-card idea of the final model pulling the strings. Or do we? We still don't know who pushed that note under Adama's door in the mini-series, but if Baltar is the last model he may well be subconsciously working towards more than we or he suspect. Maybe the four thought he was on their side during the vote, but he had other ideas, which is another layer of confusing awesomeness that will have the idiots I mentioned yesterday crying into their Talking Dalek mugs, especially since the Sixes at least think he's on their side. Baltar's constant left-turns (pretending the Cylon detector doesn't work even after he's become VP and wouldn't have to do the tests himself anymore, handing his nuke over to a bunch of nuts) immediately become parts of a larger plan.

All of this is deliberately ignoring (almost) the Starbuck destiny angle that they're pushing fairly hard. Whether or not she herself proves to be the final model or not, the strands of destiny idea is probably going to involve said model pretty heavily. The idea that the twelth model is seperate from all the others and pulling strings independently of the other eleven could potentially paper over several apparent holes, and tie in interestingly to Cylon monotheism (again, particularly if it is Baltar, which of course would hardly be surprising, but if the S3 finale proved anything its that surprise is not a sufficient condition for quality). That's something S4 is obviously going to deal with, I just wanted to come up with a plausible and (if I may flatter myself so much) interesting idea as to how we've got to where we are, and at least one way to tie the former to the latter.

Update: It's been put back a week! Curse you Sky, you inveterate douches. Now my American cousins will be two weeks ahead of me instead of one!

Updated Update: They're showing a double bill, so it all works out. Phew!

Sunday, 6 April 2008

The Pillaging Of My Childhood Continues

The opening salvo of the new season of Doctor Who was pathetic. Not in the sense that a wounded deer trapped under a fallen log is pathetic, but in the sense of that guy who would watch that deer, hands on hips below his Weird Al T-Shirt, and lean toward you so you could smell his stinking breath as he told you "Oh DEER!" in a ludicrous stage whisper that hurts your head.

This latter scenario may, or may not, describe the sensation of taking RTD out for a pint. I've never met the man (although I've never seen or read an interview with the man that didn't set my teeth on edge), but it certainly describes the sensation of watching a great many of his episodes. Almost invariably, they are tales told by an idiot, filled not just with sound and fury but idiotic dialogue and ludicrous asides. Also moments ripped off from Wile E. Coyote, of all places. Once your TV show lurches into territory already covered by Loony Tunes, perhaps it's time to move onto greener pastures. Add in the requisite gurning, shouting, running around at random, and worst of all the horribly forced "character moments" (if a joke falls flat, you get to move onto the next thing, a four-minute conversation between grandfather and grandaughter is almost unbearable unless the writer knows what they're doing), and you end up with the same recipie Mr Davies has been serving up for more than three years. You can't help but get the feeling he's desperate to throw as many different things as possible into each episode. That wouldn't be a bad thing except for the fact that he isn't very good at pretty much any of them, to the point where they don't just fail on their own terms, but they rub up against each other irritatingly too, like sand in your trousers. Assuming the sand isn't silica but over-earnest mugging, and your trousers are a fellatio reference, for some reason.

What's also of interest is how this nightmarish mish-mash of idiocy and self-indulgence has been received by the on-line community (well, my on-line community at least). To whit: total orgasmic delight. It's becoming increasingly hard to believe I have my TV tuned to the same channel, not least because what I believe to be the shows major weaknesses (see above) are highlighted by others as its strengths. I just don't get it. I want my TV shows to be like a good meal; it doesn't have to be just one or two ingredients, but there are rules about what you mix with what and in which order you serve it in. This show simply takes the ingredients, throws them into a blender and whisks it into a grey paste, which is then served to you by a clown singing tunelessly.

Actually, it's probably not the fact that everyone but me seems to love this bouillabaisse-and-custard monstrosity, its the level of contempt some of these people have for those like me, i.e. those incapable of watching anything with our brains on standby, cooing at the pretty lights and embarrasingly anthropomorphic marshmallow alien children. It's pretty hard to take the sneering contempt of someone witless enough to not notice that the Doctor hiding in a cupboard that then just happens to contain a supercomputer is entirely lame (Trial of a Timelord lame, which rates as over seventeen hundred mega-Langfords), harder still because of the underlying assumption that my objections mark me out as some kind of uber-nerd that even normal nerds kick mud in the eyes of, assuming so much physical exertion doesn't set off their allergies. I guess it's true what they say. Doctors make the worst patients, teachers the worst students, and inveterate geeks the worst cool kids.

Still, come Tuesday, Galactica will be back, and the shoe will be on the other foot as my hated enemies begin whining that the show is too dour, the plot too complex, and the characters far too morally ambiguous and grey for them to choose who to root for as they're gobbling down their Doctor Who spaghetti shapes.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

In Which I Am Noticed By The Government

I checked my inbox this afternoon to find that the Iran Co-ordination Group had responded to my e-mail about the discrimination against the Ba'hai in Iran (specifically in the field of Higher Education, although the problem goes far deeper than that). It was a fairly generic "We're onto it", which directed me to the EU President's statement on the matter from February. It's nice to know someone's keeping an eye on all this stuff, and that my message got through, however little difference it made.

Update: my local MP got back to me today, too. With, annoyingly, the exact same message. My faith in politicians dies this day.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Ode To People Of Reduced Ferrous Potential

It has been rather forcefully pointed out to me by Ibb that, as a general rule, the description of a woman with very pale skin should be "English Rose", and not "borderline anaemic". Apparently the latter is not considered particularly romantic, even when delivered in poetic form.

Her face is smooth, her grace proficient
Her breasts are firm, her blood deficient
Ticks find no food in her fair arms
Magneto's helpless 'gainst her charms
Oh! How I'd hand to you for free
The blood you seem to stir in me.

I really don't see what her problem is. I think it scans rather well. In your face, cadence!