Friday, 31 July 2009

Shake #14

Today's shake: Blueberry Nutri-Grain

Taste: 4
Texture: 5
Synergy: 7
Scorn: 8
Total Score: 4.5

General Comments: This was an odd one. High Synergy was awarded, since I believed the combination of dairy produce, fruit and dense breakfast-cereal like crumbly bits would combine sensibly. High Scorn was also given, however, due to my suspicion that the aforementioned sensible combination would be something one drink at a health farm whilst waiting for a colonic irrigation.

In practice, it might have well not been a milkshake at all. If someone had told me they had put in sugared water instead of vanilla ice-cream, I honestly would believe it. It tasted exactly like a liquidised nutri-grain bar should, which is to say the initial sensation is pleasantly fruity, but the hideous pencil-shaving aftertaste kicks in almost immediately. I found myself forced to fill my throat with the longest draughts possible, in order to minimise the number of gag-inducing post-swallow sensations [1]. J-Dog's suggestion that the milkshake be "downed in one" were briefly considered, but ultimately dismissed, since there is little street-cred to be gained from such an act, and much to risk in the way of vomiting light blue pencil-shavings across Elvet Bridge.

Since I've now tasted two shakes from each grouping, I think another round of pointless charts is called for, but that will have to wait until I can be bothered.

[1] This term is in no way funny.

I Have Two Kidneys, Right?

I mentioned yesterday that there were two Drum posts I was interested in discussing, this is the second.

The debate around legalising the organ market is one of those for which I've never come down on one side or the other, but it's sort of been simmering around in the back of my mind for a while now, so this seems as good a time as any to get something down about it. The basic argument seems to be between "exploitation" versus "people dying". On this level, I am far more persuaded by Somin than I am by Drum (who is also undecided on the issue, in fairness, though his current stance seems to be on the other side of mine, such as it is, to Somin's). A lot of people against the idea argue there is a point of principle here, but a principle has to be pretty damn compelling and clear before it's worth sacrificing up to 80,000 lives, and forcing up to 80,000 other people to be poorer than they need to be [1]. "Avoiding exploitation" is something I am entirely in favour of as a principle, but when compared to saving lives you need to be much, much more specific about where the problem lies, [2] especially in situations in which the exploited have a genuine choice, albeit one in which neither option is in any way desirable.

In this one respect, this debate has similarities with those over whether boxing should be banned, and whether prostitution should remain illegal. In both cases, those who argue for laws against the activity tend to point out that absent such laws people will be economically compelled to enter into them, despite the inherent risks, which is clearly A Bad Thing. The problem with this argument, though, is that if someone is economically compelled to get repeatedly punched in the face and/or sleep with strangers, preventing them from doing that must by definition have negative consequences on that person's life. If a woman has to choose between prostitution and starvation, then that's a horrible, horrible situation, but telling her she has to choose starvation is hardly helpful.

If this argument works for boxing and prostitution (and if anyone has any counters to it, I would be pleased to hear them), then it most certainly works in a situation in which someone else gets to live as part of the process. Certainly, if every time a boxer got knocked out a terminal illness was cured I'd be far more likely to watch Ricky Hatton do his thing.

On the other hand, I do see some validity in Drum's slippery slope argument (as he says, it's a terribly overused rhetorical trick, but it isn't entirely without worth). Here's the thing, though. Drum argues that if it's a kidney today, it's a cornea tomorrow. If it's a cornea tomorrow, it's a chunk of lung by Sunday. My question is this: why is a cornea worse than a kidney, or a piece of lung worse than either?

As far as I can see there are two options. Either body part X is no worse a thing to sell than body part Y, in which case Drum's argument doesn't apply, or body part X is worse, and therefore there is a concrete case to be made that we don't allow that part to be sold. I don't think either Drum or myself are in a position to sort those out from each other. Doctors would be, though, and hopefully legislators as well, assuming they bother listening to the experts. If it were done right, each individual body part would have risk assessments associated with them, and those risks would be clearly and thoroughly explained.

Following on from that, the two most compelling arguments against legalising the organ trade I can see are a) the risks involved are so complex and fiddly you couldn't reasonably expect the average person in the street to understand them, and b) the possibility that doctors will err on the side of collecting organs rather than ensuring donors are well briefed, and/or that the government will stack things in the favour of those requiring donations, since they have all the money. I'm not qualified to judge a) (though I don't find it tremendously difficult to credit as a possibility), and as far as b) goes, off the top of my head I would think the latter situation more likely (the occasional episode of House notwithstanding), but that's an argument against the specific wording of the legislation; I don't think it's strong enough on its own to justify a blanket ban.

Anyway, that's where I am right now. If anyone has anything to add, you know what to do.

PS: I should add that the title of this post comes from a conversation with Mad Richard, in which he told me his discovery that he had only one liver and two kidneys (rather than vice versa) had completely flummoxed his plan to drink like a teenager for his entire life, a revelation he likened to discovering Father Christmas wasn't real. Pointing out that the fictitious nature of Father Christmas was unlikely to have featured on the Y8 Science Syllabus back in school proved useless.

Update: Gooder suggests in comments that illegal fighting matches might be a more apt analogy than boxing, since the former is far more likely to be where anyone desperate enough to fight is going to end up. I've heard the argument used with explicit reference to boxing, but nonetheless I'm entirely happy to go with Gooder's suggestion instead.

[1] I freely admit that there is a problem with this formulation which is that once getting a kidney cut out becomes profitable, there will be far more people with only one kidney, which presumably will raise the number of people at risk of dying from kidney problems. The whole thing might descend into some bizarre game of musical chairs, only it's just the rich people who get to decide when the music stops.

[2] Drum is right to call this kind of formulation "baldly utilitarian", but then I'm a mathematician; I tend to be receptive to utilitarian arguments. Well, genuinely utilitarian arguments. One of the many reasons I distrust so many conservatives is their habit of choosing the course of action that maximises their utility, and then try to fudge some pseudo-explanation as to why that choice benefits everyone else (see also: "trickle down").

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Mammals And Reptiles

As promised, a selection of some of the animals at Colchester Zoo. There were tortoises...



and, most pleasingly, meerkats.

Just looking at them is enough for me to want to break out my infamous dance moves from my Uni days. Fond memories...

(There were also penguins, which I fully intended to photograph to amuse and delight Chemie, but the clever things were using some kind of advanced holo-fields that scrambled my puny camera).

Everything Fail

Whilst I was gallivanting around Colchester Kevin Drum churned out a pair of very interesting posts. The two are almost entirely unrelated, beyond a shared theme of maths, assuming utilitarian theory counts of maths (or averages, for that matter, which I would assume comes under basic numeracy, which neither I nor my proudly mathematically incapable friends should come under the heading of mathematics). I'll get to the more complex one later on (partially to give myself time to decide whether or not I want to pick a side), but this was so hilarious I couldn't leave it alone. Ever wondered why Canada has a higher life expectancy than the States? Mr Bill O'Reilly has the answer!
[W]e have ten times as many people as [Canada does]. That translates to ten times as many accidents, crimes, down the line.
Bear in mind that this was in response to a letter. O'Reilly had the chance to consider his reply. Drum describes this as flubbing fourth grade arithmetic, but I don't think that's the problem. Knowing how to calculate an average might be fourth grade (that sounds a little bit early, actually, but I don't want to bet my more recent experience with the English maths syllabus trumps Kevin's distant memories of an American one); O'Reilly's mistake is one of basic English. He simply cannot understand what a life-expectancy is. I literally can't find any way to understand the mistake (and I taught this subject to eleven-year olds for three years, so I've seen my share of misconceptions). For a moment I assumed he believed life expectancy is the sum total of everybody's predicted age, but that doesn't make sense because then the States would be higher (it would also put the number in the billions, which might have made even O'Reilly think). So he must know that the life expectancy is how old each individual person is expected to survive, but apparently can still think that adding more people into the pool will automatically drag the number down. Of course even by his insane logic, more people means more success stories and medical miracles, so the whole thing should be a wash, but the fact O'Reilly didn't mention that can at least be written off as deliberate wingnut BS.

I've just realised that I'm attributing outrageous mendacity to O'Reilly in order to give him credit. Remind me again why this gomer is right-wing royalty?

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Heroes And Villains

Message to Trainline: I have some suggestions regarding your operation that I think will significantly improve your customer feedback.
  1. Do not send people the wrong tickets;
  2. Do not tell those people to send the tickets back at their own expense, rather than just printing new ones out;
  3. Do not tell the same person that his tickets have also been dispatched, even though you've clearly just swapped two envelopes round by mistake;
  4. Do not repeat this obvious fabrication during two further phonecalls;
  5. Lastly, and most importantly, do not tell him that you can, and will, arrange for him to collect his tickets at the station on the day of travel (despite knowing full goddamn well that if there's a problem no-one will be manning your phones to sort it out), and then not bother to do a fucking thing, forcing him to buy new tickets for over one hundred quid, and create a knock-on effect whereby his bank account runs dry on Tuesday afternoon, forcing him to choose between eating and getting to his hotel.
Message to Gooder: Thanks for not letting me starve.

More pleasant ruminations on my trip South tomorrow. I have pictures of meerkats!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Playing Genre God

Update: Forgot to mention this post contains spoilers for The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Given Tomsks comment, I should add also Angel and for The X-Files in there too, but I have decided to impose a five-year rule. Any TV event that occurred five years of more before the date of the post is fair game. You have been warned...

Update 2: Let's do this properly. The statute of limitation for film and TV is five years, for books ten. Comics I'll judge on a case-by-case basis.

I'm on record as stating that this month's Torchwood story was the least shit ever, but even so, a "bring back Ianto" petition is surely a bit much?

This scratches at my brain in at least two different ways. Firstly, I think it's important to note that Ianto was one of the weaker Torchwood characters, a statement that carries the same implications as "Bubonic plague was one of the worse international pandemics". He threw a paddy the first time he went out in the field, he forgave his boss for murdering his girlfriend the instant he decided he wanted some futuristic immortal ass-timing, and, most importantly, he spent the entirety of his time on-screen looking like a sulky fridge balanced on top of a cheap suit. I get that mileage varies when it comes to fictional characters, but the people who claim that watching him cark it leaves them "as sorrowful and hurt as any death of a person close to us" must have pissed of more than one spirit of the departed feeling somewhat undervalued. I did feel sorry for Ianto, but I would be genuinely have been more upset had they set fire to a cardboard cut out of him instead, because of the wasted opportunity to recycle wood pulp. [1]

Problem number two: the further fading of whatever spark of hope I still had that people in this world understand what good television is. The thought that anyone could have watched sufficient Torchwood to have become attached to a carefully carved sideboard like Jones and yet simultaneously hold the belief that the reset button wasn't used enough makes me wonder if there genuinely isn't any steaming pile of shit subsections of the British public won't cram into their mouths, so long as it's advertised with explosions and flashing lights.

I said "at least two", but my last problem is admittedly not particularly well-formed. Basically, I don't like the idea of telling people how to write their stories.

Obviously, this sounds massively hypocritical, given the bashing Davies and Chibnall have received on this blog, often on a weekly basis (though it is not my fault they managed such epic runs of shitty, shitty scripts). That's about craft, though. Method. Suggestions about how best to build tension, as oppose than just repeating the same phrase. Pointing out tat trying to maximise your emotional impact by concocting a situation that cannot be resolved in a dramatically satisfying way is counter-productive. Arguing that the Daleks cannot be terrifying every time they appear, because familiarity breeds contempt almost as quickly as repeated defeats do. Getting together and demanding specific story choices are reversed seems a ways beyond that. I doubt Davies will listen in any case (given his childlike insistence that he doesn't have to listen to anyone, and that he will call you names if you try [2]), and even if he did I wouldn't particularly care, since my attachment to the show is pretty minimal (though I would reserve the right to criticise the execution) but the idea still makes me nervous. Constructive criticism is great, and very important, but stories themselves shouldn't be written by committee.

Having said that, I figured I'd waste some time this afternoon deciding which fictional characters I would resurrect if I had the chance.

1. Cordelia Chase

Cordy's death hit me about 1% as much as Fred's, even though the latter event was something I'd already known was coming (damn me for flirting with spoilers!) and the former came entirely out of the blue.

Nevertheless, (and speaking of blue), Fred's death had a point to it. Sure, in the fictional world of the show itself, it was a heartbreaking, senseless waste, but that was the idea. Watching the way each character dealt with her death was horrible, but it was fascinating too. Marsters and Richards were both brilliant in the aftermath, and Denisof managed to find brand new ways to make Wesley compelling. His breakdown was tragic, his pain obvious, and his last moments with Illyria probably the saddest moment the show ever managed, and it isn't like that's an achievement without stiff competition. The whole saga also raised a (morbidly) fascinating question: how long can you spend with the one you love before their death can't erase what went before? Before, as harsh as it sounds out loud, you can consider yourself lucky for what you've experienced? Harmony tries to argue that it happens almost instantaneously, but Wesley can't agree, and even as a vampire Harmony is neither stupid nor unfeeling enough to push the point. It's probably not something it's too healthy to consider in-depth, but that doesn't make it any less interesting a question.

Enough about Fred, though, this is supposed to be about Cordelia. Ahem.

Cordelia died. Angel looked sad.
We're done.
After seven years as a major player in the Buffyverse, poor ol' Ms Chase died off-screen, and people barely noticed. Sure, she spent most of the last few months she had awake trying to kill everyone, but people got over it with Angel, and he did way worse things than ensure the birth of a woman who wanted everyone to be hippies (that thing with the kitten, for instance). I realise that out in the real world, commitments and life get in the way of giving characters the goodbye they deserve, but even so, Cordelia's send-off was so pointless blink-and-you'll-miss-it (even the parts you could blink at because they were on-screen) that the whole thing pissed me off.
2. Derek Reese
War is Hell, so from that perspective having Derek brutally shot in what seemed a bog-standard gun battle before the credits even rolled makes narrative sense. The problem, though, (aside from the fact that narrative sense can often jibe with emotional sense, and I tend to get annoyed if both aren't being simultaneously served) is that the season finale (and now last episode ever) of The Sarah Connor Chronicles heavily suggested that the intention was to bring Derek back, albeit from an alternative time-line.

Even by my standards, this is probably more worthy of a YMMV stamp than most things, but I cannot stand it when characters are replaced by "alternative universe" copies. Hell, when Miles O'Brien got replaced by his own self from about ten minutes into the future, I was pissed off as all Hell [3]. Maybe this implies I have more of a belief in a soul than I realise, but I think it's about uniqueness. That O'Brien was not our O'Brien. The new Derek is not our Derek, and whilst I would have trusted the ...Chronicles to deal with the situation rather more satisfyingly than I would Davies' crayon-scribbled scripts (not that I can be sure without ever seeing the resolution), it still irritates when characters with long and interesting back-stories are suddenly rubbed out, but then replaced with the same actor with the same character name.

3. The Lone Gunmen

Man, I loved the Lone Gunmen. I loved them so much I was one of, like, eight people who watched their spin-off show, and adored it to boot. You wouldn't think X-Files - monsters = hijinks would be particularly good TV maths, but it damn well worked, not least because the po-faced pseudo-philosophical bullshit that ruined every X-Files season from 4 onwards was entirely absent.

Then it got cancelled, because no-one in the world but me has any taste, and the characters returned to the parent series at roughly the same time as Duchovny gave up entirely. Perhaps the feeling was that without Mulder, the Gunmen didn't have any place in the show, but if that's true, someone messed up pretty badly [4]. The entire point of the Lone Gunmen is that if Mulder was Holmes, and Scully was Watson (which I think is a pretty fair analogy), then the Gunmen were the Baker Street Irregulars. They're the scruffy (Byers' suits notwithstanding) nobodies whom no-one in power even notices, and certainly doesn't rate, but who help out where they can, and can do things and go places that Holmes himself can't. The two immediate questions in light of the end of Season 8 should have been a) how do the irregulars keep fighting the good fight without Holmes, and b) can they deal with Watson attempting to become Holmes, whilst dragging a brand new assistant who might or might not be working for the enemy?

All of that means that getting rid of them at all was something of an irritating call, but the real problem lay in the method by which it was done. If you're going to finish off characters that have featured in every single season of a show that's run for nine years, I would humbly suggest you not dilute the impact by bringing in a comedy villain, however funny he may have been in the past. Nor is it a particularly good idea to spend the entire episode implying they are bumbling idiots. Lastly, bear in mind that you can't make someone's death seem meaningful just by attaching a body-count to the alternative. Not even my brain works that way.

* * *
The running theme here, of course, is that everyone above died for no good reason and/or in fairly shitty ways. Hell, if someone had resurrected them purely to give them a less wanktankerous death, I'd be cool with that too. [5] Maybe, in the final analysis, I wouldn't want them back, I'd just want to go back in time and slap down the idiots who wrote the episodes in question. Some people would kill Hitler, I would shout at Chris Carter. Go figure.

h/t to Garathon.

[1] Actually, I might not even have noticed at all. Oh, burn!

[2] I should point out though that for a man who claims to never listen to critics, Torchwood has gotten better each year by cutting out a lot of what people complained about. I still think the man has the attitude of a seven year old, but better he pretends not to listen but does than the other way round. Better the carpenter is an arse than all your chairs can't be sat on.

[3] I seem to remember an episode of Voyager in which this idea was taken to its very nadir by having Harry Kim die and be replaced by someone from an alternate reality that was apparently so identical to our own that their Kim had our Kim's entire memory and skill set, and moreover that this development didn't freak out anyone at all, or at least not by the time the credits rolled over the sound of a reset switch being rammed home by Rick Berman's idiot forehead.

[4] It might alternatively have simply been Carter deciding that if he couldn't use them the way he wanted, he was just gonna kill 'em dead, but I'm trying to be generous for once.

[5] This probably explains why Magneto is still running around, it just wouldn't be fair for one of Marvels' most complex anti-heroes to bow out whilst acting like a pantomime villain. More on that next month, though.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Hot Under The Collar

So, naturally, I'm delighted to hear today that apparently "if you’re 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life".

Hooray! I'm 29! The system works! Of course, I was somewhat puzzled by the comment, because everyone keeps telling me that global warming is, like, really bad, and one day I'll be in a dark alley and Climate Change will show up and beat me up and steal my wallet and my woman, and I wish I'd listen to my mother and eaten my vegetables and reduced Europe's carbon footprint.

So I went investigating. Everyone's talking about George Will saying the above, but lets be fair, he only quoted it as his only piece evidence that skepticism of "alarmist" evidence for climate change is on the increase. In other words, he didn't say something absolutely goddamn retarded, he quoted something goddamn retarded, and then used it in a goddamn retarded way. It's important to lay the right crimes at the right doors.

The guy from whom the quote actually originated was Mark Steyn, so I dutifully padded over to National Review Online to see what he had to say. Mostly, he argues that the changes to economies and industries necessary to do what scientists say needs to be done is impossible, which is an interesting point. Because he can't resist it, though, Steyn has to use the same formulation every intellectually vacuous commentator does when discussing global warming, "Change is hard and we don't need it anyway." [1] After all, if global warming were real, Steyn would have to consider whether the current solution is worth the hit, or look for alternative options, or just shrug and say: "Fuck it, humanity's had a good run". If ever there was a time when we've got to go for the lesser evil, it's now, but that would involve thought, and a rational decision making process, and recommending sacrifice, and those are all, like, really hard and really depressing.

So, from where is Steyn getting his information? From a study by Alan Carlin from the Environment Protection Agency. Steyn doesn't bother to link to it, so I tracked it down.

Now, let's be fair. It's entirely possible Steyn had no motive for not linking to the paper, he might just be that lazy of a worthless hack (always be generous to your opponents). If he did intentionally leave out the link, though, it's not hard to see why. I've only looked through the first half of the report, so (to paraphrase Will Self [2]) I can't be sure it doesn't turn into Tolstoy on page 50, [3] but what I've seen so far is dodgy on three immediate levels:
  1. The majority of the charts only consider data for the last ten or twenty years, which in the context of long-term climate change is a sure sign that someone is trying to fiddle the data; this is something I taught 15 year old children when I worked as a maths teacher, so I am surprised to find it employed here;
  2. The various (and many) reasons for the scientific consensus on global warming are all treated separately. This in itself is in no way unreasonable, but far too many of the conclusions include phrases like "other variables seem more important" or "not necessarily relevant". These might be persuasive in isolation, but if you have fifty symptoms of cancer and a doctor tells you there are fifty different other conditions that you might have instead, each one contributing one symptom, what is the more likely conclusion?
  3. The actual presentation of the paper is very concerning. Phrases like "there is no way" that a variable can be within previously predicted bounds set my academic language alarm beeping, but that in itself is far less concerning than the fact that this assertion is made without any explanation, save a graph that is not explained in any way, and further that only a paragraph or two later we learn the reason there is "no way" said variable can exist within said interval is that some of the contributing factors for calculating that interval do "not necessarily" apply. That's it. There may have been a mistake in the calculation (more precisely, the possibility there was such an error cannot be ruled out), so there's "no way" it can be right. This disconnect between arguments, and between graphs and their discussions, is a recurring problem; my favourite comment on a graph occurs on page 47 of the pdf "The important thing is not [the graph's] accuracy..." There's a pretty major warning sign, if you want to try and use a graph to build an argument that the graph may not support, you're in trouble. Certainly, attempting to use inaccurate graphs in order to bolster an argument on multiple fronts is a strange thing to do whilst simultaneously ignoring the fact that the evidence for global warming is more compelling as a whole than in isolation.

So, Carlin looks an awful lot like a hack. He's also an economist, as a 10 second Google search demonstrated, so whilst I would be hypocritical beyond measure were I to suggest he cannot be expected to comment on anything outside his field of expertise, he is a strange choice to lead the charge against thousands of people who are experts in the field and all of whom agree (of course, those trumpeting his report simply refer to him as an "EPA expert").

In fact, that same Google search revealed various websites in which the evidence he presents is debunked, and the accusation that this report is "supressed" (the Right is always "supressed", remember, it never simply fails to persuade people) is countered (apparently the EPA wasn't any more impressed with his writing style than I was). In fact, I think I've been hearing about this report for a little while now, but this is the first time I've seen how dumb it is up close.

I got all of this done in an about an hour, whilst my computer was thinking about maths. Steyn didn't bother. George Will didn't bother, and he won a Pulitzer. Is it really too much to expect someone who actually gets paid for this stuff to put the work in?

Oh, and the reason why Steyn (and implicitly Will) think there's been no global warming since 1998 (the year I became an adult)? Average temperatures last year were lower than in 1998. That, quite literally, is it. Kevin Drum, who has far more sexy charts than I do, punches that one in the crotch pretty fast. In short, you might as well claim that if you cooked a chicken yesterday, and let it go cold overnight, if today is colder than yesterday then the chicken is still raw. Put another way, this is the same logic vacuum entered by those people who laugh when climate change conferences are cancelled due to snow and claim it proves the whole thing is a waste of time, only at least that bunch don't pretend that science has their back.

I also wonder where Steyn was in 1998 itself, when temperatures jumped upwards from previous results. Sure, it only did so because of a mid-decade slump, but if short-term variation can be confused with long term trends, why wasn't Steyn screaming that we were only a couple of years away from our own faces setting on fire?

[1] This is a more general conservative trick (the small c is entirely deliberate, though there are plenty of conservatives who don't play such games); argue that the solution to a problem is really hard, and then go on to argue the problem doesn't exist in any case. A lot of the reasons the Democrats are so wretched at getting anything done are entirely their own fault, but in this at least they start with a disadvantage, claiming a problem isn't there is much, much easier than trying to solve it.

[2] Who was putting the boot into Richard Littlejohn at the time, a point I mention just because I don't think I've been mean enough to the dough-faced poltroon recently.

[3] Or whomever the climate change equivalent of Tolstoy is. He might have written Anna Karenina, but I'm not sure I'd look to him for advice when we start running out of lakes.

Friday 40K Blogging: Blood And Fire

This post (along with next week’s) is liable to be the final entry in the “Friday 40K Blogging” series for a while, since my Blood Angels army is the only force I haven’t yet photographed and put up here. Hopefully we can return next year, by which time I hope to have finished my Tau force, and included a few more squads into my Chaos warband. I’ll probably have a Blood Angels fleet done by the end of the year, providing I can find the necessary coinage.
Anyway, onto the models.

The army gathered in the foothills, around the wreck of an Imperial Aquila Lander (painted in Battlefleet Isoka colours, naturally). I actually started this army only a few months after my Dark Angels force, in order to give me something to paint whenever I got sick of all that green, but it grew only slowly in-between working on the senior Angels, and reorganising the rabble of Tyranids that had been lying around my house since the mid 90’s.

A Force Commander with his Honour Guard. Having painted the power swords of the Dark Angels red fading to orange, I decided a similar kind of “spot colour” approach would work here, hence the blue that lightens as it travels up the blade. Two power swords and two melta-guns (sort of) make this bunch pretty handy at close quarters, which is obviously exactly how it should be.

Speaking of those who excel at the close-combat FUBAR, a Death Company Chaplain and his psychotic vampire killing machines. Given my total incompetence at this game, there really isn’t that much I have that can put the wind up C, but these bastards always manage to do the job.

The Death Company Rhino. This vehicle is a little bit plainer than most of mine, because I had to paint it up in a hurry (the specific reason for this escapes me right now), but I don’t think it looks too bad. I mean, how much more black could it be?

A Death Company Furioso Dreadnought in its Drop Pod. I am really proud of the Dread itself, it was painted during the period when I really felt I was starting to get into the stage of painting competently (albeit simplistically), rather than employing a style that relied entirely on what I can only describe as the half-life of fuck ups; if I only fucked up half the original model, then I would only fuck up half of the following corrections, and so on. Every now and again I still go back to those old figures for tidying duty, which means that, had I not improved, particularly imaginative archaeologists would be able to gauge the age of the figures by exactly what proportion of them looked like shit.

I should also mention how pissed of I am that I shelled out fifty-odd quid for a Dreadnought Drop Pod (C pointed out at the time that it was probably the first Forge World miniature to actually cost more in pounds than it did in points), spent four months assembling and painting it [1], and discovered one week later that GW were releasing it as a plastic kit. Well, OK, the kit was for a troop-carrier, but it wouldn’t have taken much conversion, and I’d be thirty pounds better off. Think of what I could have spent that on! [2]

My final Elites choice, a small squad of Veteran Assault Marines. Aside from the Death Company, these chaps are probably the best reason to collect Blood Angels. They will, quite simply, fuck you up. Their Veteran Sergeant is armed with a Power Fist to fuck you up if you’re ten feet tall, one of his comrades has a power sword to fuck you up if you’re in heavy armour (and have dodged the Power Fist due to not being an enemy tree, or a belligerent rock, or something), and another has a flamer, to fuck you up in the most amusing way possible. The fact that the Death Company draws so much fire and often leaves these guys comparatively unharmed is a big bonus, and if they can both get through intact…

More next week.

[1] Neither of which is remotely easy where resin is concerned, you need a gas mask, a hacksaw, three dozen coatings of paint, and not to drop the fucking thing on a Tau Piranha, though admittedly that last one was my fault entirely, and didn’t do half as much damage to the Pod as the Piranha, which detonated like it was made of blancmange.

[2] Beer. Obviously, it would have been beer.

Thursday, 23 July 2009


Just in time, I present celebrations of Jamie and Cocklick, whose shared birthday today represents them moving into the last young year of their lives.

For Jamie, a reminder of the two months we shared a room in college and bombarded each other with our favourite tunes; Crowded House's very least shit song.

And for Cocklick, another call-back to our college years. Every time I mentioned Semisonic (currently at the peak of their popularity after Feeling Strangely Fine), Cocklick would say "Yeah, they're gonna be big". The joke being they were already big.

Then they got small, and then broke up.

Man, I just realised how much nostalgia is creeping into the stuff I'm writing. I hate getting old. Still, happy birthday, guys.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

From The Holy Texts

From Kevin Drum:
...[T]wo-thirds of the country already has health insurance through their employer and another big chunk are on Medicare. If these aren't going to be touched, then why should they care about healthcare reform? In particular why should they be willing to pay higher taxes for something that won't help them out in any way?... [T]he selling point of national healthcare is freedom from the endlessly gnawing problems of our current jury rigged system. For example: HMOs that make it hard to see a specialist. High and rising copayments. Fear of losing coverage if you lose your job. Long waits for non-urgent care. New (and usually worse) healthcare coverage every time your HR department is told to find a cheaper plan.
Let us now turn to our Sorkin, Chapter 4, Verse 12:

The specifics are always different, but the basic shape remains the same. If the powerful want to make an gesture that helps the poor, or those in other countries, or struggling minorities, or whatever, they need to make damn sure voters realise the exact reason there's something in it for them as well. I'm not particularly happy about that, but there you go. We've heard some things already about those people who think they're insured only to find the rug pulled from under their feet at the worst possible time [1], but it feels like the White House is spending too much time reassuring people they can still have their BS bastard-run money-pit pseudo insurances if that's what they want, whilst insisting the new health care proposals are for the benefit of the nebulous "other".

Of course, they might just not want to pick a fight with the insurance companies, but that fight has already begun, and it has to happen some time, and if it really is that the Democrats can't even be bothered to suit up, they may as well just give up on making a difference, ever.

Update: Publius briefly explains (amongst other things) why constantly reassuring people they can keep the potential stinking pile of shit they have is important; it's how the Republicans beat Clinton on the issue. It's a fair point, though it doesn't change my belief that there are serious message-balancing issues to be addressed.

[1] In a civilised society one would hope that there would never be a line of business with a vested interest in letting people sicken and die. The fact that the US not only has one, but it's actually the business designed to keep people healthy and alive, never ceases to make me mad.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Good Fucking News

Yay! Science has at last proven that swearing is good for you!

This is great news for mankind, and the dawning of a New Age.

We must not rest on our laurels, however. So many more questions need answering. Does psychological pain count? The next time my boss stuffs up, will it genuinely help my well-being to call him a cockhead? Can this be statistically proven?

Also, does some danger exist of building up a resistance to certain swear words (analogous to developing an addiction to morphine, as J-Dawg puts it)? How many times can I utter the word "fuck" before it will no longer help me when my testicles are crushed by carelessly placed furniture or the angry fists of my enemies? Must I resort to more esoteric words in order to salve my pain? And given my prodigous rate of cursing, how long can it possibly be until the day arrives that not even describing my assailant as a "turdwelding cunt-trumpet" will ease the burning fire of my agony?

We need answers, science. ANSWER US NOW!

Preferably without me as a test subject, though.

Monday, 20 July 2009

W00t, And So Forth

Hurrah! As of 19:20 this evening I have completed my list of corrections to the thesis [1]. Let us celebrate by shooting the living (undead?) shit out of helpless zombies in celebration!

h/t to J-Dawg.

[1] Well, that's my position at least, doubtless I'll have to fight with my supervisor about it.

Better Late Than Never

I promised someone (Spielbergo I think, though I can't remember, this whole week is basically an alcoholic haze) a link to the best deconstruction of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen humanly possible. If you've still not got round to seeing it, then never allow yourself to under any circumstances.

Update: I mean don't see the film, of course, not the link. The link will save you two hours you will never get back, with the added bonus of not involving robots picking watermelon seeds from their teeth as they sing Zip A Dee Doo Dah.


Hurrah! For arguably the first time since 3001, my adoring fans count references genre fiction! [1]

This got me to thinking, what's next? Are there any quadruple figure references passed The 4400, or am I going to have to wait. Off the top of my head I can't get beyond Warhammer 40,000, which frankly is less than encouraging.

Update: Just remembered Terror From The Year 5000, so that's a weight off my mind.

[1] Or at least it will until someone actually gets to read this, at which point it will no longer be true. It's all very existential; if a sci-fi fan makes an obscure reference, and no-one hears it, is he still desperately sad?

Sunday, 19 July 2009

After The Flood

Normal service should hopefully resume tomorrow, but for now I am still exhausted after a week of explaining to confused Continental Europeans how the rules of cricket work, why we are seemingly obsessed with cocktails and foreign food, and that summer in Durham does not automatically involve the Wear breaking its banks and flood the local beer gardens, though only a fool would bet against it. I was also called upon to answer for our appalling coffee, defend the local maidens from disturbing advances by socially-retarded foreigners, and as usual had to make the difficult choice as to whether to explain the effects of strong ale on the human digestive system, or allow them to discover it for themselves.

Roll on next year.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Friday Gothic Blogging: Wings Of The Angels

Fresh off the production line, my completed Dark Angels Fleet.

The fleet in action.

My battlebarge, the Echoes of Caliban.

The Echoes of Caliban again, escorted by the strike cruiser Indefatigable.

Two more strike cruisers, the Intolerance and the Wolfsbane.

My final cruiser, the Molochia.

Three Gladius class frigates, the Swords Of The Unforgiven.

Azrael's Gaze, a small squadron of Firestorm class frigates.

The Hunter class destroyer squadron Lion's Teeth.

A treacherous Imperial Governer's private fleet suddenly finds itself in serious need of the Emperor's forgiveness. The Sons of the Lion can find you anywhere, buddy, nowhere in the Carpet Nebula is safe!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Choose Your Weapon

Quickly stopping by to link to an LGM piece on the planned Royal Navy supercarriers, which is interesting both on its own terms and because it finishes off by staking a position I've been maintaining for years, that the UK nuclear deterrent is arbitrarily close to useless, and far more likely to be about prestige vs. the French than it is about defence.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, the strategic rationale for an independent British deterrent has collapsed; I find it extraordinarily difficult to envision a scenario in which a country could lob a nuke at London without triggering a response from either Washington or Paris. Prestige considerations are also relevant for nuclear weapons, and the continued French possession of SSBNs may make British abolition untenable, but nuclear weapons also have a lot more domestic enemies than aircraft carriers.
I'd like to think that if we did get rid of the SSBN fleet we'd spend the savings on something other than giant motherfucking warships, but even that seems like a positive exchange.

Also, Hilzoy's choice to retirement may well be the best choice for her, and I wish her well, but she had a nice line in logic and humour that I'm going to miss.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Finding Of The Week

The local Sainsbury’s are selling Maynards Reds & Blacks for 1/3 off. For those of you unable to conceptualise this wonder, the upshot is that Maynards have taken the time to close off the shoots dispensing yellow, green and orange wine gums (AKA the hues of shite), to leave us with only the best flavours available, and then have paid us for the privilege.

Let’s hope Tesco’s decide to fight back and start selling tubes red Fruit Polos along with a free blow job.

Monday, 13 July 2009

I Didn't Become A Mathematician To Actually Work

Light blogging ahead, I'd imagine; tomorrow through Saturday I'll be conferencing during the day, and more than likely spending the evenings drinking with the worlds preeminent experts on Imprecise Probability.

Everyone be good whilst I'm not looking, OK?

Sunday, 12 July 2009

SpaceSquid vs. The X-Men #24: Red Junior

So, two weeks ago, Mozz and I are drunk in a bar, trying to decide which pitcher of cocktail we'll use next to punish our already screaming livers, and talk turns to the next article in this particular series; Rachel Grey. The problem, I tell Mozz, is that I can't think of anything interesting to say about her, at all. Never could. Essentially, I always thought, Claremont had somehow managed to create a sidekick for Kitty even though said second-fiddle was, like, a billion times more powerful.

Sitting down and reading through her biography, though, started to generate second thoughts (the luxury of having a brain entirely un-addled by Woo Woo might well have helped here, of course). Writing Rogue's article last month has a lot do with it, since it's possible to see some comparisons between the two characters. As is traditional, though, I'm getting ahead of myself.

It would not be easy to find a character with a more messed up origin than Rachel Grey (formerly Rachel Summers, before a recent fight with her father). Born in one possible future, Rachel is forced to watch as first her mother is killed (by Mastermind, which is a nice touch for anyone who remembers the run up to the Dark Phoenix Saga), then as Sentinels take control of the country, destroy Xavier's mansion, and round the surviving mutants into internment camps.

Whatever else you else you want to say about Claremont (and God knows the man has his share of flaws as a writer), one thing I always enjoyed about his marathon stint on the X-books was his attempts to present the mutant problem through the lens of actual historical examples of intolerance, most often the Civil Rights Movement (watching Kitty scream at Stevie Hunter that she wouldn't be so forgiving of the word "mutie" if you substituted "nigger" is still one of my all-time favourite UXM moments), and the Holocaust. Seeing Magneto in the camps of the future was a very clear signal that where we've been, we can get to again. More on this another time, I would imagine.

This is Rachel's story, though, the internment camps will have to wait. Originally she escapes going to the camps in any case, though "escape" is a word with positive connotations that possibly doesn't apply here. Rather than being imprisoned, she finds herself subjected to a program of brainwashing, so as to turn her into a Hound, a mutant who tracks her own kind.

This is the first of many encounters that displays the similarities between Rachel and Rogue, along with the differences. To some extent every X-Man, and arguably every comic character pretty much ever, finds themselves being knocked around by fate, by powers greater than they are. Even within this, though, Rachel and Rogue share a common bond. For Rogue, the tragedy lies in the fact that every external threat can and often does become internal by the nature of her power, which makes that power both a blessing and a curse (admittedly, Rogue almost invariably focuses on the latter, but we've been through this.

For Rachel, though, the external forces itself inside her in a different way. Though her powers on their own terms can safely be considered a blessing, the desire to which they are coveted makes her every bit as vulnerable as Rogue, and ultimately just as helpless as well. It's an interesting paradox; the more power one has, the more powerful the enemies one attracts, and the more helpless you become before them.

Ahab, the man who lead the American anti-mutant forces in Rachel's time-line, isthe first in a long list of entities who wants to twist Rachel's powers to their own ends. The resulting psychological and physical debasement follows Rachel throughout her later life, despite various attempts to deal with it, or even have the memories suppressed. It is not uncommon for a comic book character to have a single defining moment in their past that colours everything that they are and do from that moment on, and Rachel's time as a blank, vicious puppet qualifies as hers. Even when she finally breaks away from Ahab and attacks him, all it earns here is a place in an internment camp, along with what little remains of the X-Men.

A clarification here. I said Rachel's time as a hound can be considered her defining moment, and that is certainly true. There is something else, though, that could lay claim to the title. Having sent Kate Pryde back in time to alter events, in an effort to de-fuck their present as much as possible, apparently without success, Rachel sends herself back in order to discover where things went wrong. During that jaunt, she attracts the attention of the Phoenix Force.

The more power we think we have, the more helpless we are when we come across a bigger fish.

The immediate effect of the Phoenix's interest is a deal with Kate Pryde that sends Rachel to our present with her memory erased, but the long-term consequences are considerable and extensive. Her powers are increased exponentially, and with it the dangers.

For quite some time, though, her greatest enemy is herself. Despite not being able to remember what happened in her past, enough of her experiences are lodged in her subconscious to make two things very clear. First, a threat must be dealt with proactively, and second, it must be dealt with permanently. In almost her first encounter in "our" time, she meets the vampiric Selene, and decides (accurately) that the world would be a better place if that particular External found herself significantly more Ex (sorry, couldn't resist), and goes hunting with Magma in tow [1]. No sooner have the X-Men persuaded Rachel that killing Selene goes against their moral code (unless its Wolverine and no-one's looking, obviously), then Rachel decides that the Beyonder has to go, too.

More power, more helplessness. The Beyonder defeats Rachel easily, so easily that he even offers her the powerto kill him, at the expense of the X-Men's lives, presumably as one of his bizarre sociological experiments. She chooses the life of her team mates for all of a couple of days before deciding that letting your friends live was a mugs choice, and using their life-forces to bring the Beyonder back for another confrontation. The Phoenix Force (in part) gives her the power she needs to do this, but surely it is what little remains of her time as a Hound that forces her to hunt down her enemies without pause. Is it because she hated being a Hound so much she needs to destroy those with power and the will to use it against others? Or is she still a Hound, still a blood-crazed, single-minded hunter, who has simply acquired different target priorities. Either way, what seems undeniable is that she is still so in thrall to a past she can't remember that all the Phoenix Force in all the world isn't going to make a difference. She's even helpless against herself. Hell, after letting the Beyonder go, and losing the faith of the team once they realise what she did to them, Rachel decides the next sensible step is to try and kill Selene again.

This time its Wolverine who stops her, by the simple expedient of stabbing her to death (apparently appointing yourself someone's executioner is so bad, Wolverine will deal with it by appointing himself your executioner). The Phoenix Force holds her together physically, but the incident leads her into being manipulated first by Spiral, and ultimately Saturnyne and Roma, which brings us to the formation of Excalibur.

My feelings on Claremont-era Excalibur at this point are presumably abundantly clear, but even within my more general issues with the comic (a lot of which I confess is just personal taste), Rachel seemed an odd fit for the group. If you're intent on focusing your stories on a series of crazy alternate-universe capers, then bringing along a mentally-scarred would-be murderer haunted by horrors of the future seems like a fairly odd choice [2]. Rachel's powers might have provided various reasons to keep the narrative going, but as a character she seemed very much out of place. We return to my initial problem with Rachel, at its most obvious during this period; it was almost impossible to consider her character except in terms of her friendship with Kitty. Claremont's continuing obsession with the latter character meant that the presentation of the trials and tribulations they both shared always seemed heavily slanted towards the young Ms Pryde. When Kitty fell for Alistaire Stuart of the Weird Happenings Organisation (a lovely reference, if nothing else), despite him developing an attraction to Rachel, it was almost always through Kitty's eyes that the love triangle was explored. It's much easier to write an awkward teenager than it is a time-displaced fugitive with reality-altering powers, of course, but that doesn't really help us at this point.

I've talked a lot about Rachel's tremendous powers never seeming to bringing her victory. This is counterpointed in a rather depressing way by her empathy (which is real and obvious, even if it does tend to be rather difficult to spot behind her regular need to kill the crap out of people) never seeming to bring her happiness. Kitty may be her best friend, even when things become strained over Alistaire, but is the younger versions of her parents to which Rachel, a lonely girl lost in so many ways, feels the need to turn. This is a tricky thing to manage whilst Jean is dead and Scott on a hair-trigger regarding anything involving his late wife, of course, and it only gets worse when Jean returns and the whole story comes to light [3]. Neither "parent" can accept Rachel as their daughter, and she is left alone once again.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rachel's response to this latest set-back (once her memories are returned when the Phoenix Force abandons sentience) is to once again go on the offensive. This time, her plan is to travel into the future and stop Ahab from developing the Hounds program. This time, at long last, she is successful. Perhaps this is because she is finally facing up to her past, perhaps it is because she has learned the value of being backed up by her team mates, or perhaps it's simple coincidence, but the defeat of Ahab (and let's not lose sight of the irony in a man obsessed by defeating mutants calling himself Ahab, only for that man himself to become the closest thing Rachel has to a Moby Dick) seems to mark a change in Rachel. Not necessarily an obvious improvement in her fortunes (she is finally accepted as a friend by Jean, if not a daughter, but very soon afterwards Rachel is thrown into the time-stream and catapulted across reality), but certainly the ability to think beyond the next kill. When next we meet Rachel, it is 2000 years in the future, and she has very much gotten used to playing the long game, setting up the Askani Clan, a resistance movement to Apocalypse (who now rules the world), and bringing Jean and Scott to the future to raise Cable, who Rachel has also had brought to her to attempt to cure his techno-virus. This last effort eventually kills her, and had her story ended there, it would have been very fitting to see the lonely, broken child grow to fix herself, and so many others, and to try so valiantly to save the life of her half-brother even after her family was unable to truly accept her. She even persuades Jean to take on the Phoenix moniker, pointing out it's importance to Rachel's life, and the things she has achieved with it.

Like mother, like time-lost daughter, though; Rachel was far too bound up in the fate of the Phoenix Force to remain dead. When Apocalypse dies following his failure to use The Twelve to dominate the world, the future in which Rachel had died became impossible. Due to the unique nature of timey-wimey physics in the Marvel Universe, Rachel (long established as being the only Rachel Summers in any reality) was somehow restored to the world, the same age she was before she had entered the time stream, and without the Phoenix Force. Almost immediately she finds herself being manipulated again, this time by Elias Bogan, to cause trouble for the X-Men. This time it is not her power that is coveted, so much as her knowledge of the X-Men and their security systems, but the point remains the same, sooner or later someone always comes for her, and she cannot escape.

Not long afterwards, Rachel finds she can tap into the Phoenix Force once again, and as a result is forced to watch as a squad of Shi'ar Death Commandos kills her entire family on her mother's side. She enters space with Xavier, ostensibly to track down and stop Vulcan, but very much with vengeance and murder once again on her mind.

Ultimately, though, Rachel finally comes to understand that not every crime can be righted by destroying the criminal. More importantly, she casts aside the last lingering side-effect of her time as a Hound, she realises that enemy and friend cannot be easily determined, that individuals cannot automatically be held responsible for the crimes of the communities to which they belong.

There is no guarantee that all she has endured, and all she has learned, is ever going to make life easier for Rachel. It is a sad thing to watch someone wade through endless misery and pain and have nothing more hopeful to say than that they are getting better at understanding why such suffering exists. For now, though, that will have to do. If anyone can help her with this, it would be Korvus, but I haven't read Kingbreaker yet, and to be honest I have my doubts if the descendant of Rook'shir is long for the galaxy. Having had little in the way of romance since she lost Franklin Richards, it may very well be that we will have no choice but to watch Rachel lose another loved one, and wonder whether she is becoming better at handling those kinds of losses as well. I hope so. I hope for a great deal more, actually, but for a force dedicated to rebirth, those that are touched by the Phoenix tend to suffer through a Hell of a lot of loss and destruction.

Of course, I might be missing the wood for the burning trees, here. Perhaps all this pain and anguish is the end of another cycle. Perhaps the next time Rachel is reborn, literally or figuratively, we shall see something different, and beautiful. It is, in every conceivable way, entirely due.

Next time round, we discuss one of the Marvel Universe's most complex and surprising characters, not least because of his place in this series, Magneto himself.

[1] As a New Mutant, Magma isn't likely to show up in these articles anytime soon, although the possibility has been raised of moving into the more general X-Universe once I finish this particular series, sometime in 2012.

[2] Remember when she was determined to FUBAR Mastermind to a truly epic extent, for making her remember her future? Good times.

[3] Just after Rachel has been unable to use her power to directly defeat Galactus. Do we see a theme developing here? Of course, she did stop him, but only because her status as host to the Phoenix Force meant that eating her would destroy all life, which is cheating.

The Price (Jesus Paid For All Mankind) Is Right

This is probably the best game-show ever conceived by mortal man. Ten atheists are rounded up and put in a room, and four religious leaders compete to convert them.

There is nothing about this that isn't gloriously funny. The show might not be able to find an imam, despite the show being made in Turkey. The organisers are justifying this incredible debasement of the importance of faith to the faithful by arguing "We are giving the biggest prize in the world, the gift of belief in God", when what they're really offering is a free holiday.

But the true cherry on the cake is that in order to ensure the competitors are genuinely atheists (a group whom the program makers "don't approve of"), a team of theologians will be employed to ensure no-one is actually a person of faith just hoping for a free pilgrimage. I would love to see that questionnaire. It also makes me wonder what one has to do at the end of the show to persuade the viewers that one has, indeed, converted, since apparently the suggestion that a genuine atheist would fake Buddhist revelation in order to get a free jaunt to Tibet hasn't occurred to anyone.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Day Five

Consequences. At last we have consequences.

First up, I should confess to my mistake. I had assumed Ianto's working-class clan would end up irritating me with some last minute implausible heroism, like usual, but in actual fact organising a riot against oncoming troops worked really well (plus, hooray for Andy). In fact, generally speaking the (for want of a better term) "heroic moments" went very well. Sure, Deadly Killer Evil Assassin Lady seemed to get persuaded of Jack's awesome stupidly quickly, but since she was being incredibly dumb for the whole serial, it's at least in character.

Besides, that's small potatoes. For once, Torchwood didn't attempt to shy away from the difficulty of decisions, and the consequences of actions. Using a child to reverse the polarity and kill the 456 might have been unbelievably stupid narratively, but the cost of it made it intensely thematically satisfying. In order to stop the world sacrificing it's children to save themselves, Jack sacrificed his child to save all the others. He weighed the options, and he made the choice. Big G pointed out after I'd gotten around to watching Day 4 that Jack's plan to essentially shout at the 456 Ambassador Plan was grade A fucking stupid, but that, I think, was the point. If anything was the overall theme of Children of Earth, it was Jack finally realising that playing adventurer was getting everyone else killed. And having realised that, and been devastated by it, he tries to face up to the responsibility he's been given, and all that does is upgrade the problem from accidental deaths to deliberate sacrifice.

Did Jack make the right choice? Is one dead child better than millions alive but apparently paralysed. Almost certainly. But then millions alive but apparently paralysed is better than a barren world, and hoping Torchwood can save your arse at the eleventh hour isn't exactly the best plan in the world. My point, I guess, is that Green's decision was right as well, from a certain perspective. And Idiot Killer-Savante Woman was right too in a way, I suppose, or at least she had valid motivation for what she was doing. In fact, if RTD had gone all the way and given the 456 a sympathetic motivation for wanting the children, it could have been perfect, everyone would have had understandable motivations for horrific actions. Well, Green was far to cavalier about the whole thing, but then that ties into the "banality of evil" idea I hinted at last time, which is even more easy to understand in a situation like this, in which there is a compelling case that we're talking about the "banality of the lesser evil." Maybe he crowed about being lucky because he's a twat (Davies really has something against PMs, doesn't he?) or maybe it was simply a coping mechanism.

Ultimately, though, the show followed through. Lesser evils, and sacrifice, and recognising what you can change, and what you have to accept. Jack didn't learn to accept, only to run. The same is true of Frobisher (poor, poor Frobisher, who I think deserved better). Gwen, though, worked it out. Accepted what she couldn't change. So did Rhys, I guess, judging by the precipitous drop in childish whingeing. For all the complaints lighting up the interweb right now about not explicitly outlining the effect the five days of the 456 had on the world, Gwen and Rhys demonstrated everything you really needed. Life, you suspect, goes on. It always does.

Poor Ianto.

"There Would Be No Incentive To Avoid Leprosy"

Having given the American Christian Right a quick kicking the other day I was amused to come across a copy of Al Franken's Supply Side Jesus, a brief but telling reminder as to why these people are horribly full of shit.

h/t to Attaturk.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Day Four

I shall keep this brief, since Day Five is almost upon us. Firstly, I was totally right yesterday, getting rid of Torchwood entirely would have made this much better. Secondly, even with them in it, it's very good. The moral dimensions of deciding whether to hand over 10% of the world's children in exchange for not being burnt to a crisp (or however it's going to happen, my money is biological warfare given the nature of the original encounter and Jack and Ianto's meeting with the Ambassador) are fascinating. Watching the PM and the Civil Service discuss the specifics; referring to children as "units", arguing over the manner in which selection will be carried out, it's horrible, and it's vicious, and it's actually (incredibly) believable (arguing over whether less "socially useful" children should go first was particularly chilling in its plausibility). It's like watching the Wannsee Conference, only this time round you can actually understand that it might just be necessary. I don't even want to try and form an opinion on the whole thing, which given my track record will give you some idea of how difficult a choice the audience is being offered.

Of course, we're not through yet. Such a monstrously difficult dilemma, such a catastrophic choice, needs to be resolved properly. If RTD has learned this (or remembered it, perhaps would be more fair), then this could genuinely be some of the best television the BBC has offered this year.

To quote the Doctor himself: time will tell. It always does.

SpaceSquids Official 500th Post Sexy Fun-Time Time

At long last, I have dragged myself across the 500 post line. An awful lot has happened in my life since I started this blog back in March 2008. I've earned a doctorate, published papers, lost both Dr P and Josh, actually re-entered the world of work (sort of), and so on and so on.

But those particular events are only of interest to me, not my dear readers, so instead of detailing the myriad ways my life has changed, I thought this might be an opportune to cast our minds back over the last 16 months.
  1. The first ever post. I think it's reasonably safe to say my blogging style has become more distinctive over the time I've been doing this (distinctive, of course, not necessarily being equivalent to competent), and it feels odd reading this now. Still, it has nostalgia value, especially since not all the information offered is still strictly true.
  2. The post with the (second) most comments ever (28 posts, 22 of which aren't mine). I decided to cast aside the actual post with the most comments because it was one of those silly "Guess the tune" things I put up occasionally, and at which you people invariably suck at. This one actually has a point, and makes me long for the days when Galactica was still a journey, and not a destination (specifically, a destination that turned out to be full of shit). The follow-up piece might be worth a look too.
  3. My favourite link. Over this blog's history I've found or been led to some awesome stuff (the Aliens flash game, the world's most morose sea anemone, the bitch-slapping of Rob Liefeld I still read once a month), but my all time favourite remains the Gardener/da Costa cover of this Woody Guthrie song. I guess I found it at exactly the right time, sitting by the window of my Ljubljana flat and staring out into the city, missing home. Plus, it's just a kick-ass song. Fact.
  4. My greatest hits. A selection of some of the posts of which I am most proud:
Right. That's enough wallowing in the past. See you all at post 1000, I hope.

Day Three

That was a bit of a day of two halves, wasn't it? I got all ready to complain that nothing was really happening beyond chessboard shuffling (with the concession that a bit of time to shuffle is still better than breakneck nonsense running) and a tedious "Torchwood go bad" sequence that might have had more effect if they hadn't spent two years being bastards to everyone anyway, and then suddenly the bleedin' sky's on fire. Whatever else I can say about RTD (and have said, ad nauseum), the guy can write an entrance.

And while we're on the subject, the 456 are brilliant. None of this sticking a cats head on someone and playing it for laughs. No sir. These aliens have balls. Balls that presumably require that poisonous alien atmosphere in order to fire out that pea-green extra-terrestrial death-jizz (I really wish I hadn't had to type that), but balls nonetheless. It's hard to tell within their atmospheric box, but if anything they look like the bastard offspring of a Yithian and that giant mantis that tried to eat Xander. They're awesome, and they want our children. Frankly, you could have removed Torchwood entirely from this story, just hung it on the international politics/human cost angle, and it would probably made the whole thing better (and shorter).

Which is kind of the problem, really. As has been mentioned, Torchwood as a team are at their least irritating ever, but Barrowman and David-Lloyd are still fairly weak actors, and Gwen and Rhys still annoying far more often than they're anything else (the "Jack found out first" subplot is particularly retarded; he walked in on the fucking scan, that's all you need to say, you daft woman). The international fall-out of alien contact (done properly, this time) and a world full of crazy mind-controlled children is way more interesting than whether Ianto wants to be in a relationship.

Mind you, even I'm interested in Jack's role in the original 456 encounter, so for now I'll let it slide. Really, though, you can't help feeling this could have been done entirely separately from the Whoniverse and it wouldn't have hurt, and helped in several areas.

Friday 40K Blogging: The Sons Of The Lion Part 2

A second look at my Dark Angels.

A tactical squad. Note the Sergeant and the flamer-armed marine, those are models that date all the way back to Second Edition. This is why they are shit. Do not blame the artist (though the fact the other eight are terrible is my fault).

A smaller tactical squad and Razorback. This squad is a little plasma heavy to fit in with the Third Edition background (apparently their unique status as the First Legion means they're much happier frying their own faces like fucking idiots) . The Razorback has twin-linked lascannons as part of an overall theme for the army. Well, I guess "a fuck-ton of lascannons" isn't a theme, so much as part of the philosophy that it is much better to face a horde with lascannons than it is to face heavily armoured targets with a heavy bolter (this is why Obelisks of Nod beat the shit out of Advanced Guard Towers back in the original Command & Conquer, but I digress). In the event, it turns out I can never hit anything ever anyway, but I still dream of a day when I'll actually be able to roll enough 3 pluses to reduce C's Storm Raptors into a pathetic orange mist.

My Ravenwing contingent. The Land Speeder has fallen off its flying base more times than any other model I have combined, and along with my Desolator-class battleship was what finally persuaded me to buy a hobby drill [1]. The most interesting thing about the bike squad, aside from me having a spare biker that I can't use now because of the stoopid combat squad rules (and that there's apparently another marine desperate to burn out his eyeballs) is the Sergeant's power sword. It's difficult to see it (and impossible with the Company Master from last week), but whilst this army as a whole has very little highlighting (a common trait in my first four armies), I did make an effort into blending swords. The technique is more obvious on the Hive Tyrant from three weeks ago, since with that model I blended from green to white, whereas here it's from red to orange, but it's just about noticeable.

A Predator Annihilator, stocked to the gills with shooty laser death. Since C always manages to roll the first turn, and is somehow incapable of missing with any weapon he shoots with, this poor vehicle gets to actually fire maybe one game in five, at which point it invariably misses. Such are the perils of your regular opponent having a near-infinite supply of luck.

My devastators. I know conventional wisdom suggests one should have only one or two types of heavy weapons in such a squad, so as to have a more concrete idea of their likely effect on any given target, but a) that's boring, and b) when I bought these many years ago I didn't really have enough money to do anything but get the boxed set. Besides, this way not only is there another lascannon, but someone else can sear away their own flesh. I mean, what kind of pussy wouldn't go into battle with a weapon that cripples its bearer once every eighteen shots?

Next time, I shall wheel out my only other completed army, the Blood Angels. This is the army of which I am most proud, because as work continued on the force both my painting skills and my budget increased, leading me to buy my first ever complete resin kit, a kit which was both almost impossible to do anything with (anyone whose tried to paint resin will now how pernicious the anti-stick chemicals the pieces get treated with are), and which for the first time allowed me to own a model that cost more in pounds than it did in points. Of course, three months later GW released a plastic equivalent for the third of the price, but that's another story.

[1] You would not believe how many people have asked me how I came to have my drill. Unless you believe it's one, which is the correct answer.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Breaking News

Not seen You Have Been Watching yet? Why not, you idiot? All the cool kids have seen it. I've seen it (now, anyway). If you haven't seen it, God hates you.

Go on. Head over to 4oD and check it out. Now. Don't keep reading the rest of this post, you bastard. Go now.

Do not look back. GO NOW.

Day Two

(I'm a bit behind in my plan to blog on each episode as it happens, due to a combination of a red-hot social life and a computer apparently powered by asthmatic hamsters in rusty wheels. Bear with me.)

Forty percent of the way through, and Torchwood still shows no signs of sucking to the epic extent it once did. Sure, there are niggles, mainly that Davies is using a common tactic of lazy writers by setting up an adversary for the heroes that are totally BIG and BAD and WILL KILL YOU, but who are simultaneously outrageously incompetent whenever it's necessary to have the heroes escape, or to discover a new clue. I mean, who the Hell talks about matters vital to national security on their mobile in front of the office temp they hired yesterday. Capaldi might be an awesome actor, but his character is a chump. If only he could be more like his colleague (the one who looks like the love child of Richard Briers and Leo off The West Wing), who sashays around the corridors of power like a Sir Humphrey Appleby for the post 9/11 world.

That's a comparatively minor point, though, in part because the real action is promised for when the 456 finally show up [1]. Once again, then, there's a certain difficulty in judging the success of the episode, since so much is conditional upon the pay off.

Still. Unquestionable good bits:
  • Very little Jack. This is good, because Jack is a terrible character, and has been since the Daleks killed him, and because Barrowman is a distinctly limited actor, and has been since at least Shark Attack 3. [2]
  • On a related note, watching him screaming as his body forcibly rebuilt him was pretty damn cool, and seeing him encased in concrete better still.
  • Gwen shooting an unarmed man in the foot. One of the biggest complaints about Torchwood in the past was that it couldn't include a scene one wouldn't find in Doctor Who without screaming "WE ARE ADULT" over the top, and spraying blood and fuck-tricks all over the place. You could argue it's a bit sad that something so simple impresses me, but I'll take all the improvements I can get.
  • Kids. Still creepy.
  • "We want a pony". Best line Davies has written for a long time.
Not so good bits.
  • The aforementioned incompetence of the hostile government agencies.
  • Apparently the BBC still doesn't have anyone that can direct action films for shit. Gwen in particular looks like a eight-year old with two water pistols whenever she engages in gun-play.
  • Ianto's family. I should be careful here, they're not too bad yet, but one can't help the sneaking suspicion that despite their humble background and current status as (mercilessly unfunny) light relief, they will end up saving everyone, because Davies is convinced everyone in the world hates the working class, and he must re-educate us. Someone might want to tell him a) we get it, and b) if all of your working class characters are shouty arguing selfish bumblers, it might not be the audience who has a problem with undervaluing the working class, irrespective of how many times they implausibly save the Earth at the eleventh hour.
  • This is fairly minor, but how does Ianto know how to drive a JCB, and how did he get himself inside the perimeter of a top secret base filled with anti-terrorist forces? See above about strategic incompetence, by the way, it doesn't fill me with confidence that the British Armed Forces apparently don't bother with identification checks for sexy undertakers.
In all, then, a mixed bag, but a mixed bag of sweets which includes the occasional Pink Shrimp, as opposed to a mixed bag of the faeces of two dozen different types of rodent. Definite, and significant, progress.

[1] One thing I forgot about Monday's episode that really pissed me off; apparently "half the world" are still refusing to accept the existence of extra-terrestrials. This despite the fact that the fucking world was stolen. I can't decide if RTD doesn't want to be bothered with following through with the fall-out of his ludicrously overblown finales, which would make him a cock, or if he's deliberately throwing this stuff in to irritate people who have complained about it before, in which case he's intentionally weakening the structure of the show to make a point, which would kind of confirm my impression of the man as BBC Centre's equivalent to George Bush. Sure, Davies hasn't started any pointless and bloody wars, but then Bush never wrote Love & Monsters, so who is the real criminal?

[2] I also find him a fairly grating person, too. Not just because he's everywhere these days, bellowing catchphrases into microphones so loud each drop of phlegm sounds like a napalm drop, but because he seems even more congenitally incapable of considering the possibility that Torchwood might just suck than its creator is. According to Cocklick, Barrowman has been complaining that being reduced to five episodes from thirteen is "like we're being punished." You are being punished, Barrowman. That's what happens when nobody watches your show, because despite having a huge potential audience, you decided to be shit on toast. Your problem is not being able to grasp the possibility that your punishment is deserved.