Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Both Our Hearts Have A Secret, Only Both Of Us Know

It's been a while since I last extolled the virtues of a musician who deserves more recognition than they receive. Today we focus on Josh Ritter, who has already shown up on this 'ere blog back during the Radio Ljubljana sessions. Apparently, his parents are both neuroscientists, which must lead to some fairly weird conversation around the dinner table. Fortunately, he dropped the family business fairly early on in order to rock out.



Well, folk out, I guess, but that doesn't have the same ring. The above song is from Golden Age of Radio, incidentally.

Ritter claims two of his biggest inspirations are Leonard Cohen and Mark Twain, which may go some way to explaining why his lyrics are so good. I love the song below on its own merits anyway, but the words themselves, a salute to the art of songwriting itself, reminds me of Cohen at his meditative, peaceful best (the song starts at 1:46 if you're in a hurry).



Also from the same album (Hello Starling) are two of my favourite songs, one a shy man's defiant love song:



the other pure exhaltation of the start of something new and wonderful (no whining here):



Whilst we're talking about lyrical skill, "Every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied" and "I'm not sure if I'm singing for the love of it or for the love of you" are two of the best expressions of heart-based confusion (and the happiness that confusion generates) that you're likely to find. Further ruminations on the subject can be found here (from The Animal Years):



and here (from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter):



If I haven't persuaded you yet, then nothing will, and I must conclude that you are dead inside.

Just Wondering

For the record, I don't think this warrants the attention of Steve Benen (even if he does write more posts in a day than should be physically achievable), but I too couldn't help notice that whilst Transformers suggests George Bush is something of a slobbish goomber, Revenge Of The Fallen depicts President Obama cowering in a secret bunker whilst negotiating with alien terrorists over the life of a US citizen, having shut down the only fighting force in the world that could defend America. I would like to think people have enough sense to differentiate between fiction and reality, but no-one ever lost money assuming people were irredeemable idiots (see Road To 9/11, though fiction dressed up as political history is far more damaging than massive robots twatting each other, obviously). It's also interesting that this portrayal of Obama plays directly into well-established and pernicious Conservative memes about the 44th President, but I would call coincidence on that (especially since any negative portrayal of Obama would hit a wingnut meme somewhere; the film could imply he was a cross-dressing vampire and it would transpire the Washington Times had run a feature on that exact possibility). It's not exactly uncommon for American films to portray authority figures as incompetent cowards so the heroes can have some extra antagonists, though this is as far as I know the high water-mark of that tendency.

Anyways, I don't want to sound like a hysterical conspiracy theorist (not in this post, at least). I'm not accusing Bay of deliberate political commentary (though if he were to try it, it would be exactly as ham-fisted as this is), at most he's hoping that the seriousness of defamation is is inversely proportional to the ludicrousness of its delivery system (which he would probably be right about). I mainly just find this an interesting development. Have any other democratically elected major political characters been so badly portrayed during their time in office? Have we moved beyond the days of "generic President"? Or has this been going on for a while and I've just not noticed?

Update: Several posts in Benen's comments section point out that decrying film-makers for including political messages (however implied or benign) is exactly what liberals tend to mock conservatives for doing. It's a good point, but whilst hypersensitivity to these issues may be equally ridiculous from either side of the political spectrum, it's worth noting that the specific objections from each side are not entirely equivalent. Specifically, and this is just a general sense having been doing this for four years, it seems that liberals complain when liberals are seen to have been badly served. Conservatives complain about the same thing from their end (see The West Wing), but what really gets them going is when liberals are served well, or worse, when liberalism itself comes up smelling of roses. One possible interpretation of this is simply that so many people in film and TV are liberal you come across positive portrayals of the attendant philosophies far more often, but even my ever-growing conviction that far too many conservatives can only define themselves in terms of what they're against, it's an interesting trend to note.

Update II: Oh, and whilst we're back on Revenge Of The Fallen, this made me laugh pretty hard.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Five Things I Learned In Sheffield

1. Woo Woo and cider is surprisingly palatable.
2. The previous point can be immediately disregarded since I'm pretty sure I'd drink Woo Woo if it were mixed with meths-addled hobo piss.
3. "Hobo Piss" is a cocktail name just waiting for a recipe (we removed "meths-addled" from the name; people are unlikely to be offered a Hobo's Piss in a pub and ask "What type of hobo?").
4. The world's foremost science fiction experts predict that Steven Moffat will continue RTD's habit of confusing aliens with people with animal heads, although this time he will use tapirs since "they look more Scottish".
5. I am now apparently almost entirely immune to hangovers. This is good news in the short term, but I think I can hear my liver crying as I write this.

Hope everyone else had a good weekend.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

A Quick Reminder 2

Let's take the opportunity to remember basic cinema etiquette, courtesy of Aqua Teen Hunger Force.



The first time I saw this, I genuinely required medical attention.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

A Quick Reminder

Let us all recall why Monopoly is shit.

More here.

Friday, 26 June 2009

In Which Ed Morrissey Embarrasses Himself To An Epic Extent

I know I get into trouble for coming on too strongly about this sort of thing, but Ed Morrissey is a fucking tool who should never be allowed near a keyboard again. This is all about President Obama having the gall to confess that the public health option currently being discussed is not as good as the private option, which means he would probably not recommend it for his own family. Morrissey writes:
Oopsie! So ObamaCare for thee, but not for me? Hope and change, baby!

In 1988, Michael Dukakis blew a question about the death penalty when asked about whether he’d want it if his wife Kitty had been raped and murdered. Dukakis said no, but addressed it clinical legalese rather than absorbing the opportunity to address the emotional impact of violent crime, and his candidacy cratered. In this case, Obama did a reverse Dukakis. He went with the emotional argument, and effectively rebutted his own proposal and its egalitarian purpose. It’s a moment of sheer hypocrisy, caught in the modern amber of video.

If ObamaCare isn’t good enough for Sasha, Malia, or Michelle, then it’s not good enough for America. Instead of fighting that impulse, Obama should be working to boost the private sector to encourage more care providers, less red tape and expense, and better care for everyone.
It's almost impossible to describe how imbecilic this argument is. We'll start with the most obvious point first; it would make far, far more sense to knock Obama had he answered the question in the only other way possible, and he had claimed that he would insist his own family take the public option. It's been clear from the get-go that the public option is inferior to the private one (although apparently Morrissey only realised this yesterday, the loathsome turd), and hearing a father insist his children receive inferior medical treatment on the grounds of principle isn't really a particularly attractive thing. I can't stand people who attack an action whilst knowing full well all the alternatives would have been worse (this is also why the comparison with Dukakis is so objectionable, the only way for Obama to avoid a reverse Dukakis would have been to do an actual Dukakis).

If Morrissey could sensibly express what principles Obama should have stuck too, perhaps it might not be so bad (though that would likely mean only that Obama had violated Morrissey's principles, not his own). Clearly though he either doesn't understand or feel any need to explain exactly what the principle is here. Apparently it's that if the president proposes a solution to a problem, he is morally bound to make use of that solution himself, even if he doesn't actually suffer from the problem to begin with. Morrissey is quite aware of this, assuming he hasn't been living on Mars his entire life and just made Earthfall this week. The problem the US faces is that people with no money can't get access to medical treatment. Obama doesn't have that problem because he has money, but to Morrissey it is "sheer hypocrisy" to address this in any way that doesn't involve moving the poor from "no healthcare" straight to "health care equivalent to that enjoyed by the president".

This, quite obviously, is insane on toast. Obama would be hypocritical if he had come out and said "There should be no private option in this country". He hasn't said any such thing, of course, but Morrissey doesn't care. To him, if you want to make the lives of poor people better, you have to pretend that your solution is something that will appeal to the rich as well, or else you're a hypocrite (possibly Morrissey simply doesn't understand the word; he certainly doesn't know what "egalitarian" means).

This is a particularly stupid argument to make when it comes to health care in America. Making any positive change to the current system is appallingly difficult because of the number of "centrist" Democrats who are under the influence of medical insurance lobbyists, and the number of Republicans who are, quite simply, fucksticks. The argument these naysayers constantly make is that the "free market" needs to be preserved, and that the government is always rubbish, and that people should be able to choose to go private, and that the insurers will go out of business if the public option is too good (Obama himself did a great job of knocking this argument out of the water by asking how a public option could simultaneously be so shit it's a waste of taxpayers money and so good it drives insurance companies out of business, but that's another issue). The only way there's any chance to get health care change is to admit that the public option can't match the private one for quality of care. This isn't really much of an issue, since it's self-evidently true in any event, but for Martian Morrissey, a solution must either be perfect, or it must be abandoned, a position that quite obviously means the latter will occur, and a whole mess of people will end up seriously ill or dead.

This sort of idiotic drivel, attempting to label rich people hypocrites for not offering the poor everything they have (a particularly strange position in a country with such a knee-jerk dislike of socialism), or suggesting the rich a priori couldn't give a damn about the poor, reminds me of the Democratic primaries back in '08, when you couldn't get through a day without some reporter somewhere arguing that John Edwards couldn't possibly care about poor people because he had a big house and expensive haircuts [1]. No evidence of this was ever given, naturally, it was simply assumed obvious that it is impossible to care about anyone less fortunate than yourself. Of course the people making the argument were invariably comfortably well-off. They already had houses, and health care, and never needed to consider what would happen were they forced to choose between the two. I'll bet all the money in my pockets you won't find anyone trying to scrape the dollars together to obtain medical treatment who gives two shits about what coverage Obama's family gets, so long as he follows through on his promise to get them something.

People are dying for lack of health care. The United States is 37th on the list of the world's best health care providers. This should be seen as an embarrassment by the political elite, but instead the fact is simply ignored or, worse, flatly lied about (this is known as the Rudy Guliani method). The insurance companies constantly screw over their customers in order to save money. Which is pretty much what you'd expect from a business, admittedly, but it demonstrates very clearly why there needs to be a public option.

For Morrissey, though, the fact that the public option can't equal the very best private insurers can provide means the idea shouldn't even be tried, and suggests instead persuading insurance companies to lower their rates [2]. The obvious question here is this: if an insurance company lowered their rates enough for anyone to be able to afford it, would Obama be expected to automatically sign on with that insurer? What if he went for a better insurance company, one with higher rates and thus (for the purposes of argument) better coverage? Would that be hypocrisy? If Morrissey would say "no" to that argument, then it is he who who sets sail for the land of hypocrisy, since he will condemn the president for one action and not another, despite there being no difference in the effect either for those without health insurance or for the president himself. If, however, the answer is "yes", Morrissey comes out even worse, because at that point he is arguing that an attempt by the president to improve (and save) lives must come coupled with a promise to make the lives of his own family worse. The only way to avoid hypocrisy is to use your money to help your family whilst explicitly refusing to use your political power to help others.

Over at Obsidian Wings, Hilzoy makes the point that Morrissey's argument is exactly as facile as saying Obama would be a hypocrite for buying a Jaguar, because even though Hilzoy might want one she can't afford it. It's not a bad analogy (though it would work better if Obama offered to buy everyone a new Prius, and then went out and got himself a Jag; what a dick that would make him), but it isn't the one I'd use. I'd point out that there are plenty of other services the US government offers that can be better provided by private companies. Security is the obvious one. I don't want to have a go at the various police forces operating in America, but given their operational budgets and the many, many drains on their time and attention, it isn't hard to believe that relying on them to keep you safe is less satisfactory than hiring a personal security detail. Morrissey's argument is that attempting to improve the police force is hypocritical for any politician who chooses to live in a gated community, or in a building with paid security guards. It just doesn't stand up to the briefest scrutiny.

This is exactly the sort of unthinking crap that's going to kill the public option (which is why I'm so pissed off about it), attempts to move the debate away from how many people are going to die each year without it, and focusing on the motivations behind those politicians who want to stop that, and attempting to discredit them. As always, it's easy to tell who's right and who's wrong in this argument, because those who oppose the public option constantly and maliciously attempt to make people forget the human cost their desired result will result in. No-one in America should be allowed to argue against the public option without at least once starting their case with "I realise my position will cost an awful lot of peoples their lives, but I still believe it's for the best in the long-term because...". I realise that sometimes very hard choices have to be made, and that sometimes we can't save everybody. Just for once, though, I want to see that being acknowledged, rather than brushed aside in favour of cheap character assassinations and denial of the facts.

[1] It is interesting to note that this was an argument never applied to John McCain, a man who had to check with his wife over how many houses he owned, which I mention as yet another attempt to get people who whine about the "liberal media" to stop embarrassing themselves.

[2] Note the tawdry sleight of hand here, if the public option isn't equal to the best insurance, it's not worthy of America. The corollary that the cheaper and less comprehensive insurers aren't equal to the best insurance, and thus aren't worthy of America, is never mentioned. Presumably in Morrissey's putrid, rotting excuse for a mindscape, there exists some method by which the very best health care provider in America can be persuaded to start handing out heart transplants with complementary caviar crackers to the destitute, but if he's figured out a way to do that, he should really fucking mention it to someone instead of just being a cock about the way the world works.

Friday 40K Blogging: The Great Devourer, Part 2

More pictures of the spawn of Hive Fleet Tengu.

A Third Edition Zoanthrope. This was one of the few Tyranid creatures that was unquestionably improved for Third Edition, since they started looking like lethal psychically-charged horrors, and not just a normal warrior suffering from hydrocephalus:



Some Hormagaunts, based on their original lurid colour scheme. One thing I really did like about the original paint scheme for the Tyranids was that the Hormagaunts and Genestealers were deliberately coloured differently to everything else. I assumed this was due to these two strains being unique in that they could reproduce independently. Quite why they needed enough fluorescent orange on them to go jogging on fog-covered motorways, however, remains a mystery. These are Third Edition, another example of a clear improvement over Second. In fact, aside from one or two Termagants, the Zoanthropes and Hormagaunts are the only models in the entire army that are replacements for earlier and far crappier models.

A Third Edition Lictor and Spore Mine (the latter is from Battle For Macragge). It wasn't an aesthetic choice not to use Second Edition models in this case, I just didn't get round to adding any to my army until Third Edition came out. In the end I had to panic buy the second one (along with two Raveners) to make sure the arrival of Fourth Edition didn't leave me with models that didn't match (speaking of which; what is up with Fourth Edition Raveners? Whose bright idea was it to have them hide guns in their chests? We didn't make those infuriating WYSIWYG rules up, GW).

My Gargoyles and Raveners.

A Second Edition Biovore. Just... no. This is the one model in the army that I still intend to replace at some point. It's just a crappy miniature. In the meantime, I really should repaint his head. I'm not sure what I was thinking at the time (probably that it looked a bit like a skull so it should be Skull White), but I was clearly tripping on Dandelion & Burdock.

This concludes our tour of Hive Fleet Tengu. Next time round, I shall present a slightly less embarrassing army, begun at the turn of the Millennium, and utilising the rather less lurid colour of Dark Angels Green.

I won't be around this weekend, due to advanced-level drinking in Sheffield, but I'm sure I'll find some things to post-date and phone in. See you on Monday.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Shake #11

Today's shake: Apple Pie

Taste: 7
Texture: 5
Scorn: 3
Synergy: 7
Total Score: 6.5

General Comments: It's basically apple pie and ice-cream, only without the crust. This is a significant improvement, because the crust is by far the crappest part of any dessert pie, and in any sane world would be considered nothing but crunchy tin-foil; a delivery system for sugared goodness and nothing more.

Our Abitrary Dilemma Solutions Are Light Years Ahead Of Your Own

As a reminder of how far the Federation is ahead of us puny shmucks in 2009, here's the 23rd Century equivalent of the Magic Eight Ball. Or possibly the coin toss.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Sixty Second Film Corner: Revenge Of The Fallen

Once again, Michael Bay has remembered that if a film is lumbered with a sufficiently ludicrous plot, it is critical to blend comedy into the action, to prevent the whole thing collapsing into po-faced idiocy.

Regretfully, he has failed to remember that there is a difference between blending ingredients in a mixing bowl and then cooking them (thus producing a delicious cake), and blending ingredients in a toilet bowl, and then shitting all over them (thus producing some kind of stratified shit cocktail). To call Revenge of the Fallen "a mess" is akin to calling Richard Littlejohn "not entirely intellectually rigorous". Granted, it's not a mess without fun or merit, but it's still a mess.

I am also disgusted that Sideswipe was silver. Almost everyone's fucking silver in these films. You couldn't have shelled out for some red paint?

(Update: for a more thorough deconstruction of the massive problems this film demonstrates, try this piece, which nails many of my thoughts on the matter, particularly with reference to Skids and Mudflap, therein described as "sambots".)


Awesome


Lame

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Nothing But Sequels And Remakes

Having spent some time discussing the frequent "It's all just sequels and remakes in Hollywood these days" complaint with C and Big G last night, and as a follow-on from MGK's post that I linked to last week, I figured it was time to introduce some actual facts into the mix. Using the Box Office Mojo site, I studied the top 20 and top 50 grossing films of each year from 2008 to 1999 (along with the top twenty films from 1994 and 1989 for comparison), and divided them into "remake", "sequel", "adaptation" (which I decided to define as any film that had a subject matter sufficiently bound to another product to assume brand name interest could increase revenue; "based on real events" films were excused) and "other". In cases of overlap, sequel trumped remake, which trumped adaptation only if it was clear the latter film was based on the first, rather than simply sharing source material (so Batman Begins was not considered a remake, whereas The Time Machine was). Looking at this data should give some idea of whether remakes and sequels are becoming increasingly lucrative.

Here's what I found. For each data point, the first number is the percentage of top 20 films in that category, the second in the percentage of top 40 films in that category.

Year......Sequel.......Remake.......Adaptation.........Other

2008.....30/17.5.......5/7.5.............40/32.5........25/42.5
2007......50/30........0/2.5.............30/30..........20/37.5
2006......30/30........5/10.............20/17.5.........45/42.5
2005 [1]...10/15.......15/15.............35/35...........40/35
2004......35/25.........0/5...............25/30...........40/40 2003......50/30.........0/7.5.............10/25...........40/37.5
2002......30/30 .........5/10..............25/20...........40/40
2001.....30/22.5.......15/7.5.............20/15............35/55
2000 [2]..5/12.5..........5/5..............20/20............70/62.5
1999......20/10.........0/7.5.............10/30...........70/52.5

Means...29/22.25.....5/7.75..........23.5/25.5......42.5/44.5

1994........15...............5..................30................ 50
1989........25...............0..................25.................50

[1] I've put in The Island as an adaptation because of the Chronus lawsuit, and because there's only so far you can stretch the term "original" before it loses all meaning.
[2] I listed The Exorcist: Director's Cut as a remake, since that seemed most fitting.


Looking at this, it seems fairly clear that truly "original" films are being squeezed out of the top 20. Every data point from before 2001 has at least 50 of the films in the top 20 as originals, the average in the last ten years is 42.5%, but in the last two years the average has been 22.5%. Interestingly, the corresponding average increase for non-original films seems to be down to sequels in 2007, and adaptations in 2008. How much you care about how many films you see are based on books or plays is, I guess, entirely up to you. The sequel issue is more interesting, with the exception of 2005 there hasn't been a year this millennium in which sequels haven't accounted for at least 30% of the top twenty. Even as far back as 1989, though, fully a quarter of the top twenty were sequels. Whether or not this data can be said to represent an overall increase in the reliance of sequels is hard to tell.

What does seem clear is that a stratification effect is taking place, with the sequels in the top 40 heading for the top of the list and the original films the bottom. From this one could infer that Hollywood actually produces far less sequels than original films, it is simply that the former consistently outperform the latter. This presents us with a new conundrum: do sequels do better because they're what the public wants, or because Hollywood throws more money at them because they think they're what the public wants, and the public themselves just get hoovered up by the massive ad campaigns and flashing lights such uberbucks can provide.

In order to consider this question I considered four years, 2008 and 2007 (the years for which the sequel clearly dominated), 2005 (in which the sequel got a good kicking), and 2002 (a year which closely follows the average stats for sequels and original films). In each case I calculated the mean and median of the budgets for sequels and for original films. The results are given below (all values are in millions of dollars).

Year..Sequel (mean)..Sequel (med)..Original (mean)..Original (med)

2008.....157.29.............185...............91.13...............85
2007.....149.42.............130..............65.59.............62.5
2005........77................67.5.............61.63..............63
2002......91.73...............94................53.5...............85

Note the mean budget for a sequel almost doubles from 2005 to 2007, with almost no increase for mean budget of original films over the same period. Note also that the year in which sequels fared worse is also the year in which their mean budget was only slightly higher than that of the original films. The next step is to compare the ratios of sequels to original films in the top twenty with the mean budgets.

Year......................Budget Ratio......Top Twenty Placement Ratio

2008...........................1.73............................1.2
2007...........................2.27............................2.5
2005...........................1.25...........................0.25
2002...........................1.71............................0.75

Judging by this (and I grant four years is a pretty small sample), it's interesting to note two things. Firstly, increasing the budget ratio in favour of sequels increases their popularity, but a 1 to 1 ratio might well significantly favour an original film. This implies that the public is not inherently biased towards sequels, but are attracted to a fuck ton of money being thrown at a film.

Interestingly, after the massive increase in budgets for sequels in 2007 (up 100% from 2005), 2008 saw a increase in the budgets for original films as well (up 50% from 2005), almost bringing the popularity ratio between the two film types back to 1.

Conclusion: Hollywood makes a great deal of its major bucks from sequels, leading to them accounting for almost a third of the highest grossing films. Despite this policy working, there is evidence that offering comparable budgets to original projects might work even better. Moreover, statistical blips aside, there is no firm evidence that the numbers of sequels and remakes have increased significantly over the last decade, though the number of films based on established material has.

Update: I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank Blogspot for not letting me use the tab button; my data columns look like convulsing snakes.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Breaking News

Ladies and gentlemen, you are now adoring fans of the entity known as... Dr SpaceSquid!

Please update your worship of me accordingly.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Nerdcore

John Hodgman at the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner. It's not exactly Stephen Colbert's routine at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, but then nothing ever will be. On the other hand, Hodgman isn't afraid to tackle the important topics; is Obama truly the first nerd president of the modern era?

The Ageing

In honour of Pause's latest integer age increase, we present Wakefield's finest whining on about something.



Not my favourite Cribs song, but the video to Men's Needs is so hideously craptastic I can't bring myself to post it, or even link to it.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

How's This For Reconciliation, Bitches?

Dammit, but I love hanging out at the SFX forum. You run into such totally ludicrous shit sometimes.

Presenting Barack Hussain Motherfucking Ninja Obama:

(h/t to Hannigaholic).

More weird action figures here, including Sigmund Freud, and Marie Antoinette. Who doesn't want to play with Marie Antoinette?

Friday, 19 June 2009

Friday 40K Blogging: The Great Devourer, Part 1

I mentioned back when I put up some pictures of my 'Nid fleet that it wasn't the fleet I was most proud of, due to the need to tie its paint scheme in with the 40K army I started back in 1994. The inescapable corollary to this is that I shouldn't be too fond of that army, either.

For some reason, though, that isn't the case. I mean, objectively, it's the crappiest army I own, both in terms of painting technique (an unfortunate combination of youthful inexperience and the inability to paint miniatures fast enough to make redoing the older models again) and in colour scheme (I followed the GW colour scheme of the time pretty closely, which means my 'Nid army is one of the few remaining examples of a "Red Period" force). I mean, red, cream and black mixed with pink, dark blue and orange? What were they thinking? What was I thinking liking what they were thinking? Whilst contemporary Tyranids generally look like this:

I felt compelled to doggedly stick to this:

Still, there's no getting past the fact that this was the army I fought with throughout my first three years I spent as a GW slave (much as I love my hobby, had I not suffered a relapse in 2000, I could have probably afforded a palace by now). The earliest models have been in my collection for more than half my life.

None of which will stop them looking ugly as all Hell to an impartial observer, i.e. you guys. Still, if nothing else, there might be some scholarly interest in seeing examples of various antiquated miniatures; the army contains models released in support of all three Tyranid Codexes.
.
The entire army gathers at the foot of a huge alien temple, that is in no way the bottom of my shitty sofa.

A Fourth Edition Carnifex. The Third Edition variant was absolutely goddamn awful, looking for all the world like a beetle mixed with a puppy dog:

This newer version is a massive improvement, possibly even over the original:

which I didn't think was possible. Certainly it's nice to once again be able to put together a Carnifex that's not so rubbish as to need to lug a gun around.

A Second Edition Hive Tyrant, the original and still arguably the best (well, it's arguably better than the current one, it's unarguably better than the Third Edition attempt to just rip off the Alien Queen), along with a Fourth Edition Tyrant Guard, a great improvement on its massively silly predecessor.

That should do for now, I think. It took me 12 years to finish painting this army; I don't have any problems splitting its showcase over two posts. More next week.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Your Cover's Blown

S. Spielbergo e-mailed today to draw my attention to this case involving the outing of a blogger by the Times. Long story short, the blogger, Horton, wrote about the cases he had dealt with as a police officer, with names and locations changed, as well as laying into various public officials for what he saw as bullshit calls. The Times decided to out him because "there was a public interest in non-compliance by a police officer with his obligations under the statutory code governing police behaviour and also with general public law duty on police officers not to reveal information obtained in the course of a police investigation other than for performing his public duties." A judge then refused to grant an order to protect Horton's anonymity.

Frankly, I don't think the issue here is whether a blogger has a right to have their anonymity preserved. I and many others have discussed the reasons why blogger anonymity is a good thing; someone put it well following publius' outing by snippily pointing out ousting bloggers is a great way to ensure free speech is only enjoyed by those people whose opinions are entirely in line with their families and employers. In this case, though, we're not talking about opinions, we're talking about the information presented. Horton broke the rules of his occupation, and is arguing that the courts should prevent him from being punished for it. This, frankly, is bollocks. Whilst it's easy to think of situations in which a Deep Throat can be incredibly useful in uncovering corruption or illegal activity, they are still breaking the rules, and the argument that they have an a priori right to not have their identities revealed strikes me as exceptionally silly. Eady's choice wasn't between a man wanting to be anonymous and a paper wanting to name him, it was a) whether the benefit to the public of publishing the story outweighed the damage of the potential loss of anonymity suffered by those Horton had referred to, and b), assuming it wasn't, whether that gave the judge the legal right to block the Times publishing the story.

I don't know nearly enough about the law to discuss point b). Nor can I know what was involved in the weighing of point a), but the fact that Horton's outing has resulted in "a written warning" suggests that the potential knock-on effects of revealing his name are not too serious. That might in turn suggest the Times' story is rather weak tea and not worth damaging a man's career and (presumably) shutting down a blog with weekly traffic that can reach the millions, but whether or not the Times are twats is no more a matter for the courts than Ed Whelan's dickishness was.

What He Said 2

Glenn Greenwald talks about (surprise!) empathy and the Republican Party. He ties it in to their constant assertions that Americans are objectively the bestest people ever from the bestest country ever ever (assuming they're white and straight, natch), but the piece is of most interest for demonstrating how their obnoxious unwillingness to consider how their policies affect other people miraculously vanish when they start to impinge on themselves or their families.
For all the mockery over empathy, look at what happens to right-wing figures in those rare cases when they become personally affected by the ideology they advocate. They quickly abandon it. Dick Cheney objects to the injustice of gay inequality because his daughter is burdened by it. Nancy Reagan deviates from social conservative dogma to become a leading advocate of stem-cell research because she suffered through her husband's Alzheimers (sic). Jane Harman instantaneously transforms from Surveillance State authoritarian to raving civil libertarian upon learning that her own telephone conversations were intercepted by the government. They advocate their views up until the point that it begins adversely affecting not only others, but also themselves.
Read the whole thing.

In Fairness, It's Also Gonna Be 3-D

I have a disturbing and embarrassing secret to confess to. Of my own volition, I went to see the remake of Friday The 13th. It should go entirely without saying that it was bullshit on toast. If the toast was made of shit, that is. And the bullshit came from a Nazi bull.

Inevitably, then, a sequel is in the works. But not just any sequel, my friends, a sequel set somewhere that's really fucking cold.

Now, this may seem like a strange call to some of you. After all, those of us who are true horror film aficionados (or who simply pay attention) will already know that Jason has already been into motherfucking space. Watching him hiding behind a snowman is unlikely to impress anyone.

So what is the hidden agenda behind forcing a dozen teenagers to don three layers of clothing (which surely must interfere with the regular tit explosions the slasher genre is "famous" for) and head off to be slaughtered in the snow? There can be only one answer. The Friday The 13th series is now to be used to debunk global warming!

Think about it! Every time it snows on a conference on climate change Sean Hannity's tiny dead eyes light up like two flies on fire. An entire blockbuster film dedicated to snow will inevitably lead to the cinema-going public (almost all of whom, remember, are twats) over-estimating the amount of snow left in the world. Moreover, this is a perfect opportunity to suggest that, even if GW is happening, then there's an upside. Sure, lakes are drying, fish are dying, people on the coast are going to drown, but if you stay in the snow then Jason will fuck you up.

And this is only the beginning. The second remake sequel (Christ, that's a phrase that makes me nauseous) could be about Jason slashing the Hell out of a town that's given up its guns. In the next one, he could spend his time murdering anyone who managed to squeeze a gay marriage in in California, during the brief period between the authorities being douches and the majority of the entire state being unfeeling fuckers of the worst kind (even the Nazi bull has the excuse that it's ultimately just a dumb animal). By the fourth film, Jason could team up with Muslim sleeper terrorists and President Obama and try to slash out a new caliphate in Orange County.

Or maybe I'm wrong; maybe after snow it'll be sleet with brief hail showers. Hardly anyone uses hail in movies anymore. Consider the potential, and consider further that it is untapped.

h/t to MGK, which I mention mainly because the relevant link came halfway through a rant on remakes and sequels which is bound to increase Big G's blood pressure.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

SpaceSquid vs. The X-Men #23: The Swamp Rat

I am delighted to announce that this post will continue my new policy of not thinking all female X-Men are total vacuous wastes of ink.

After the latest Star Trek movie I briefly dipped into a discussion between Chemie and S. Spielbergo over whether Uhura required any more than two words to describe her "strong woman". Spielbergo (quite correctly) pointed out that Hollywood is littered with characters that can be encapsulated in two words. Of course, the obvious counter is that when one of those words refers to their gender, then you're really in trouble.

I slammed Jean Grey and Storm for being "strong women." Polaris received similar treatment, though with extra bonus slamming for periodically oscillating between the strong woman mid-point and the extremes of helpless damsel and psycho bitch-queen. Shadowcat fared better, because even if having "teenager" in the description doesn't strike me as all that much better than "woman", there are a number of other adjectives in there as well.

Rogue is different. Partially its because she's the first woman in this list who feels like her character traits came first, before expressed through the prism of her gender, rather than her gender being decided first and her characteristics slapped crudely on top.

Mainly, though, it's because she's almost impossible to describe at all, and for good reason. On the face of it, she's hard to pin down because she spends so much time under the influence of other personalities. The real reason is more subtle, and much more interesting. Rogue works because, as with so many of the best superhero characters, her powers are simply part of the human condition writ large.

This is true in three different ways. Most obviously, we have Rogue's baseline assumption, underlying almost everything she does, that if she could touch people, her life would become suddenly OK. It's not hard to understand where she's coming from on that, who doesn't like touching people (some people, obviously, usually the ones that wash regularly). In truth, though, much of her desire to touch and be touched likely comes from a deeper problem, her difficulties of self-definition. In that light, being able to touch people wouldn't help her any more than being able to see, hear and smell can. If you can't trust the reality inside your head, then no amount of external stimulus is going to help you. We all have moments where we question how accurate our conception of reality really is, whether we truly are who we think we are, and whether anyone else sees us the way we see ourselves in the mirror. Rogue has taken those moments of doubt and smothered herself with them. This is probably why her personality is as loud as it is; Rogue practically bleeds over everyone she meets. Everything she does, from her weird hair coloring to her constant chase for an adrenaline high, screams "I'm here! Tell me you can see I'm here!". It's nowhere near as irritating as Marilyn Manson's tired "shock" tactics, or for that matter the arse in the office who insists on describing himself as "zany", but it's born from a similar desire, to see yourself reflected in other people (the irony that Rogue feels the need to do this is one of the reasons I love her).

Secondly, and not entirely without connection (see above RE irony), there's Rogue's desire to separate herself from the influences of the personalities she has absorbed, and the traumas they brought with them. I don't think I'm over-generalising when I suggest that everyone, at some time or another, wonders what they would have been like had they not met certain people, and not have them spew their poison all over them, or wonder how things would be had their mother (or indeed their dog) hadn't died.

In Rogue's case, this is clearly futile. Her constant stated desire to just be herself, without anyone else rattling around in her head, is pointless. That amalgam of memories and emotions and assorted misery is what she is. It's all she's known for years. There's no reason whatsoever to assume life would be better for her without all of that. Worse, whatever remained would lack context, the remnants would just float anchorless through her cerebellum. Once you experience something, however unpleasant, it becomes part of you, and whilst in serious enough cases it might still be necessary to remove the memory in order to function, as a general rule losing those influences risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As James T. Kirk might say: we need our pain. We're all just cobbled together from the people who've affected us, and the traumas we've shared with the people we love. Rogue has a more obvious reason for wanting to get away from that fact, but it's as true for her as it is for anyone.

The final way in which Rogue's character taps into human psyche in general involves one of my favourite subjects: chaos. Rogue is an obvious personification of chaos. Not only can she not control her powers, but those powers frequently lead to her reality fracturing. At any given time, dozens of different psyches might be pressing in on hers, or even trying to wrest control entirely. One moment you might be talking to Rogue, the next it's Carol Danvers, or Mystique, or Wolverine. The great tragedy here is that Rogue is desperate for the change to stop, for stability to arrive, but the only way she can manage that is through change. It's quite the paradox ( especially since it was suggested in UXM #239 that Rogue's inability to control her mutant abilities was an entirely psychological problem. For all her talk of wanting to learn to control her powers, most of her time is spent pretending those powers don't exist. She dreams of the day when that one final change will bring her happiness, but she deliberately avoids any attempts to make that day arrive. It's always easier to hope for your dreams than to try and achieve them, because it's only when you really try to grasp them that you realise how far away they are. Another case in point (and I'm quite impressed with myself for having gotten so far without mentioning him) is Gambit. In the early stages of their relationship Rogue constructed a fantasy for herself that if they could learn to trust each other, then perhaps they could make it. When Gambit finally offers to reveal his past crimes in X-Men #45, though, she turns him down, and leaves the X-Men. She knew where she wanted to end up, but she was too scared to take the only route that lay in-between. When his crimes were revealed to her during "The Trial of Gambit", she was so outraged she left him to die (though in fairness that was partly due to elements of Gambit's guilt that she had absorbed). Better to cherish a dream than to work for it.

In truth, I can't blame Rogue for that attitude. She spent years wishing Cody would wake from the coma she had put him in the day her powers first manifested. In the event, he never woke up, the coma only ended when he was murdered by Gambit's ex-wife. The woman has extensive experience of change bringing the worst.

The thing is, of course, that this doesn't matter in the least. Hoping to avoid change is silly, and hoping certain specific changes will occur in order to protect us from other, unwanted changes is even sillier. All we can do is identify what we want, decide whether pursuing it is worth the risk, and, if the answer is yes, strike out into the void and hope we hit our target. You either push through the roadblocks that almost inevitably seem to appear, or you don't. What you can't do, though, is use those roadblocks as an excuse to not put your feet on the road in the first place. That just means going nowhere. No, worse, it means only ever going anywhere that fate decides to take you, which is a pretty bad idea considering it can be mathematically proved that fate is a big fucking dick. We're all already far too similar to driftwood in a strong current without us helping it along. "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans", as John Lennon said, but I don't think he was implying that makes all plans useless, just that we need to try things out that we don't know in advance will work out.

I hope that ultimately Rogue figures that out. Frankly, I hope we all do.

Next time: I join a pretty big club in not being able to say anything interesting about Rachel Grey.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Memorial


Following a horrible accident yesterday afternoon, we've had to put one of our dogs down this morning.

Josh was only our second ever dog (our first, Storm, is mercifully still going strong), so there's not a lot to compare him to. He was more boisterous than his older sister, and harder to handle, but that same troublesome streak made him far more obvious in his affections as well. I spent Friday and most of Saturday at my parents house, trying to recover from the gribbles, and Josh sat by my side the whole time. Losing him so suddenly is a terrible blow.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Good News And Bad News

Have crawled from my sick-bed for just long enough for this post.

First, the bad news, Obama's DoJ are kind of dicks regarding the Defence Of Marriage Act. You can tell their dicks because their argument relies on not recognising a gay marriage is equivalent to not recognising a marriage between a man and a child. This is a rather more developed version of Bill O'Reilly's constant insistence that allowing two men to wed would open up the possibility of unholy unions twixt man and duck). It deliberately conflates a situation in which two people are clearly consenting adults but there is a question as to whether their gender allows for marriage with a situation in which two people are clearly of opposite gender, but there is a question as to whether both are consenting adults. Bonus dick marks can be added for once again arguing that DOMA does not discriminate against homosexuals because it also states non-married heterosexual couples don't get marriage benefits either (the relevance of Anatole French's observation that "[t]he law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread" should be obvious here).

Here's the good news, though; I don't think DOMA matters, long term. Thanks to this handy graph, shamelessly stolen from Andrew Gelman via Kevin Drum, it looks like support for same-sex marriage is increasing across the board. It's only a matter of time (and not necessarily very much time, either) before the States hits critical mass, and it will be game over for the bigots.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Urg

Bleurgh. My gribbly virus has struck again; I just don't seem able to fight it off. I probably won't be posting for another day or two.

In lighter news, my car once again passed its MOT, so at least I can continue to make the roads of the North East that little bit more hazardous.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

It's Like A Dream

Thanks to Jamie I have learned that Fantasy Flight are indeed producing an expansion to the BSG board game. Interestingly, the expansion covers both the arrival of the Pegasus and the colonisation of New Caprica. Since these additions will now cover everything BSG ever actually did well, I can't help wondering where they plan to go next.

Unwise Adventures 2

As promised, a picture of me communing with nature (and by "communing with" I mean "bribing shamelessly").

Also featured (with her permission), the somewhat more photogenic Ibb, once I had finally persuaded her that the lorikeets were unlikely to try to savage her.


Not featured: BigHead, who was apparently convinced the birds were just waiting for the right moment to mug him. It's sad what an upbringing in Teesside can do to you.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Space Squids Part 2: The Twenty-Third Founding

Creating a new Space Marine Chapter is not an easy thing. Strangely, perhaps the simplest stage is the agonisingly long and difficult process of compiling the gene seeds necessary for such an endeavour. Whilst each Astartes Chapter is obligated to regularly send genetic samples to the Adeptus Mechanicus, in part for this very purpose, the Space Marines are proud and aloof, and above all independent in the way that only they can afford to be. Even when they deign to pay their tithes, each seed must be exhaustively studied to ensure it is free of mutation or other taint, a process which the material itself does not invariably (or even often) survive intact. Finally (though least problematically), the genetic stockpiles must be sorted by Primarch.

These, however, are simply issues of time and of patience. Eventually sufficient gene-seed will be available for the creation of one thousand new Space Marine warriors. It is at this point that things become truly difficult.

It is not always true that savage martial prowess precludes discipline, but the inverse correlation is sufficiently high to be a genuine problem. Taking a thousand feral tribesmen or Deathworld survivors and turning them all into super-human killing machines is all very well, but the end result is not an army, it is a mob; a terrifyingly destructive mob that has only ever known killing, and is delighted to have suddenly become so much better at it.

Thus, the new recruits must be tempered, guided in the best way to do their duty, taught to see their fellows as brothers in arms, rather than rivals, meals or even, occasionally, clothing. Added to this problem is the fact that persuading the initiates to undergo the honour in the first place is next to impossible, unless other Space Marines are the ones doing the "persuading". The martial societies (to the extent to which the latter term is appropriate) that provide the best raw material also tend to resist having the concept of the Adeptus Astartes explained to them by Imperial Missionaries or clanking Tech Adepts.

The only solution is to attach a number of more experienced Space Marines to the nascent Chapter. This is not even remotely as easy as it sounds. There exist no force in the Imperium less willing to see themselves as part of a whole than an Astartes Chapter. A Catachan would mutter threats of violence were he forced to join a regiment of Drookians, a Battle Sister would likely refuse point-blank to change from one Order to another, no matter who issued the command. A Space Marine's response, however, is not one that bears thinking about. The history of the Imperium contains all too many references to Chapters allowing themselves to become extinct rather than retreat, or join with other Chapters. The colours of a marine's Chapter is a source of almost psychotic pride. It is fortunate indeed that Foundings are so rare an occurrence, for finding the necessary genetic material is child's play compared to locating enough Space Marines to form an Officer's Corps for a new Chapter. This was the dilemma faced during the Twenty-Fourth founding in M38.

In the case of the Krakens of Greyjoy salvation came from the remnants of the very Chapter they had been created to replace. The fleet-borne Emperor's Shields Chapter, already severely under-strength following Waaagh! Dedtoof, found themselves under attack from the Apostles Of Minthras Traitor Chapter whilst in the final stages of regrouping their fleet at Raxos. Only a single Thunderhawk Gunship, carrying thirty battle brothers, escaped the resulting conflagration, either through carelessness on the part of the Apostles, or perhaps as a deliberate humiliation.

Most of those Marines who survived wished to attempt to board and repair the nearest intact escort vessel and follow the Apostles' fleet to their base, before attempting to gain their revenge there. Brother-Captain Rekasson, however, who now held the sorrowful distinction of being the the Chapter's most senior officer, realised that such an action would be simple folly. If they were to gain their revenge, it could not be on such unfavourable terms. If he was to join his brothers in death, he had no intention of telling them that they were unavenged. When the Adeptus Mechanicus offered Rekasson and his band of warriors an entire Chapter, raised from the savage inhabitants of the world of Four Feathers, he realised that he would have his instrument of vengeance, and that the Apostle's days were numbered. Thus did Brother-Captain Rekasson of the Emperor's Shields become Chapter Master Rekasson of the Krakens of Greyjoy, and the long tale of the Space Squids begin.

Emperor's Shield Veteran Sergeant Gundersson, one of the thirty survivors of the Battle of Raxos.

I Demand Action!

Ladies and gentlemen, a new enemy has reared its head. Like all the very worst enemies, this one comes cloaked in the guise of a friend.

I speak, of course, of Sainsbury's Stuffed Crust Cheese Feast Pizzas. These delightful discs of dairy-based deliciousness have been in tragically short supply lately. I have recently learned this was to allow for a new recipe to be finalised.

Now, I am not adverse to change per se, but this new so-called "stuffed crust" will not be tolerated. At best, the crust of this half-formed aberration could be considered almost full. Approaching capacity. Not much room inside.

This is not why I buy stuffed crust pizzas. When I tear such a treat into into irregular slices, I want to feel there is a very real chance that the crust is so stuffed, the simple act of breaching it's crisp walls will lead to a cheese explosion, which will send strands of hot cheese in all directions, burning and maiming those who have not built up a tolerance to scalding dairy produce, as I have. I want to spend each bite questioning the very laws of physics, convinced that they could not allow so much cheese to be contained within such a small space. I want my crust to be a motherfucking TARDIS.

Now, I'm not suggesting we boycott Sainsbury's, or track down those responsible for this horror and garrote them with cheese strings, but I do ask that the next time you drive past an outpost of the offending party, you shake your fists in rage. I think they'll get the message.

They fucking better do, anyway. Except for coffee and booze and sleep and being mean to people, cheese is all that gets me through the day.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Shake #10

Today's shake: Fig Roll

Taste: 3
Texture:3
Scorn:3
Synergy:2
Total Score: 3.75

General Comments: Once again I seem to have under-scorned. Initially, I assumed that fig would go relatively well with ice-cream, and that the comparatively soft nature of the fig roll biscuit would prevent further lacerations of my palette.

Alas, I was a fool. Fig is too tart to combine well with ice-cream, the overall taste forces your senses to arbitrarily choose between the two flavours and then attempt to shut out the interloper, an attempt which is disappointingly never successful. Further, one thing you never realise about the biscuit covering of a fig roll is that it is mainly there to prevent the bits of fruit from wedging themselves in your teeth and refusing to come out, like squishy brown limpets. With this protective barrier destroyed in the blending process, frequent pauses must be made to desperately keep one's teeth clear of invaders.

Avoid.

It's Never Wise To Over-Stimulate Conservatives

Just as an addition to Tomsk's post last week on conservatives being really dumb about money:
With the economy showing signs of recovery, fiscally conservative economists and Republican lawmakers are suggesting that the large unspent portion of the nearly $800 billion stimulus fund should be redirected to slash this year's nearly $2 trillion annual deficit.

Democratic lawmakers, Obama administration officials and many economists doubt the wisdom of truncating the stimulus program so soon after it began. But Republican congressmen and economists who were not thrilled with the stimulus effort are increasingly calling for it to be foreshortened as a return to economic growth appears closer at hand.

To summarise, the GOP argued the stimulus wouldn't work. Now, they say that since it's starting to work, it's time to stop it.

I've been watching a lot of House recently, so it's hard for me to not see this as a terminally ill patient initially refusing medication because they don't believe it will work. Then, having been forced to take the treatment, they concede that they feel a little bit further from agonising death, and that therefore they clearly no longer need medication.

h/t to Steve Benen.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Comparitisation

By e-mail Chemie sent me a three part article by Peter Baldwin comparing Europe to America.

The overall argument is that on any given issue, America lies within a spectrum of the European countries, making much of our kvetching about our friends across the Atlantic inaccurate.

To be honest, I'm not entirely unsympathetic to this idea in theory. There are a lot of misunderstandings and factoids floating around regarding the U.S. I'm not sure Baldwin's article really helps with any of that, though. Mainly, this is because his method of comparison means not only can Baldwin pull the trick of matching America to whichever European country he like for each concept, but he can completely ignore the fact that America's problems lie in their particular combination of factors. To use a very dumb analogy, he's arguing that because the UK has more sulphur, Sweden has more potassium, and Germany has more charcoal, it is silly to suggest that the US has more gunpowder than anywhere else. Or, to be more appropriate, he's ignoring that the American health-care crisis is born from the fact that despite the US spending more per capita on health-care than we do, you can't get access to a lot of that unless you have health insurance. The guaranteed access to the NHS in this country is also a reason why pointing out the US spends more per capita on unemployment benefits is pretty pointless (and that's before we even get into the fact that there are plenty of other considerations regarding unemployment benefit that are ignored, most importantly how easy they are to qualify for and for how long they last.). Lastly on this subject, it seems to me that conflating comprehensive access to health-care with the survival rates for specific illnesses is a particularly bullshit move.

I'd also argue that a country that spends more per student than any country in Europe and still have a mediocre literacy rate is not evidence that their education system is better than people think (any more than spending more on health-care for worse results). His decision to consider the American system on mass rather than state by state also means he can bypass the fact that there are many places (the District of Columbia, for example) that are absolutely screwed education wise. If he were to cross-reference each American state with each European country, the result might be very different.

Finally, of course, it's worth noting that when people compare the U.S. to "Europe", they almost universally mean "Western Europe". This is a somewhat unfortunate and egocentric conceit (of which I'm sure I am guilty), but that does not make it any less the case. Pointing out that America does better than certain Eastern European countries, then, seems rather irrelevant to the debate as it is generally considered.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

In Which I Add My Voice To The "Ed Whelan Is A Prick" Choir

While I may technically be an anonymous blogger, my identity is so ludicrously easy to ascertain (from my e-mail address, for one), and my daily hit rate so modest, that I think I can comment on recent events without it seeming particularly self-serving.

Ed Whelan is a prick. There's very little more to be said about him. Responding to having his arguments mocked by arbitrarily punishing the mocker is the action of an obvious twat. The real clue to his douche-osity, though, is in his follow-up.
A blogger may choose to blog under a pseudonym for any of various self-serving reasons, from the compelling (e.g., genuine concerns about personal safety) to the respectable to the base. But setting aside the extraordinary circumstances in which the reason to use a pseudonym would be compelling, I don’t see why anyone else has any obligation to respect the blogger’s self-serving decision.
This is exactly the sort of argument I despise. Absent a verifiable obligation to respect someone's wishes, it goes, there's nothing wrong with violating them on a whim. It's the stunted offspring of the "If it's not illegal, it's not immoral" pseudo-argument which is all that allows 99% of politicians to look at themselves in the mirror. If all you have to justify what you've done is there was nothing to stop you doing it, you need to seriously consider the possibility that you're just an arsehole, especially if the reason you did do it was out of wounded pride.

Update: Credit where it's due, Whelan has now directly apologised to publius.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Unwise Adventures

Let me give you a piece of advice. If you're so under the weather that you need to sleep from six p.m. until the following morning (with an hour off for good behaviour, and for watching Chuck), you might not want to commit to a three-hour drive to Edinburgh, and a day eating haggis and visiting the zoo. I haven't felt this crappy for quite a while.

On the other hand, Edinburgh zoo is fucking awesome. I've always been unsure on zoos; I find it hard not to over-identify with being trapped in a cage (despite the fact that I probably wouldn't care if I never left the flat again so long as someone regularly brought me pizza and booze), especially when they seem particularly morose (there was a leopard there that seemed particularly disconsolate). On the other hand, they are very useful in breeding programs and keeping species from going extinct a bit longer, and if that means kidnapping a few "least concern" animals and forcing them to stand around for my entertainment, then I guess I'm OK with that.

Here are some of the creatures I encountered this afternoon in lieu of anything more involved (like I said, feeling crappy). There are some more photos taken by Ibb in an aviary in which you can feed the rainbow lorikeets; I shall try and add those later in the week.

First; a tiger, which has to be one of the top ten most beautiful creatures evolution has thrown up:


(In fact, this specimen was so beautiful the French woman beside me was moved to attempt to describe its wonder in broken English to me. It's probably not that surprising that international agreement might be much easier in the face of marauding predators that want to eat our children).

Next, some sea-lions, a creature which Ibb described with infinite subtlety and yet commendable concision: "They're much less shit in the water".

Also, a jaguar chowing down on his tea (mercifully out of shot):

Baby penguin chicks! Face the cute and perish!

One of the rock-hopper "punk" penguins, captured at speed during one of its brief appearances (who knew penguins had so many places to be?):

Finally, my personal favourite:


Worth feeling like shit for, I think you'll agree.

Also, Scotland is weird. I got carded for the first time in a decade. Apparently "Challenge 25" means denying alcohol to anyone who might conceivably have been born after the last M*A*S*H episode was broadcast.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Cyber-Competition

Human units, prepare your upper flesh sacs for the following robo-question.

Q1 Does Terminator: Salvation equal:

a) Transformers - jokes - Autobots-Megan Fox- any actual transforming?

b) War Of The Worlds - Tom Cruise - stupid ending with germs + stupid ending for twenty other reasons?

c) Matrix: Revolutions - the actual Matrix + an actual sense of having watched a movie and not read the world's most retarded philosophy textbook?

d) All of the above, with a bit of Battlestar Galactica, for some reason?

For a tie-breaker, complete the following sentence in 15 or fewer inefficient human words: If I were Skynet, I would think shining metal exoskeletons are adequately disguised when dressed in boots and jaunty hats because ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________.

A random correct answer will be picked out of our jaunty mecha-hat; the winner will be terminated last.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

The Tragedy Of The Commons

Since Tomsk was kind enough to expand upon his earlier point, and since it's been a while since I've stuck up a "Voices of Authority" article, I thought I'd hand the keyboard over to him so he can explain in his own unique style. I've been toying with allowing others to guest-star on the Musings, and Tomsk is an ideal first contributer.

Treat him gently.
After the Labour party lost the 1979 general election, it took them another 18 years to get back into power. During this time a right-wing government remoulded Britain in its own image. One of their many achievements was to destroy the country's manufacturing base, leaving us heavily reliant on a deregulated financial sector to generate economic growth. Luckily for them, it took until 2007 for their banking "reforms" to go pear-shaped, and we are only now starting to pay for their toxic legacy in the form of a huge budget deficit.

Unfortunately for us, the Conservatives don't get the blame.

Instead we have another legacy of that era: New Labour. On the one hand committed to improving public services, reducing poverty, and other wholesome left-wing goals, but on the other a feeling that they had to embrace the Tory economic agenda in order to get elected, and later to stay in power.

For a while this strategy seemed to work. An unprecedented period of economic growth meant that we really could have both historically low taxes and a well-funded public sector. But when the recession struck, the New Labour method for running the country fell apart.

If nothing else, the financial crisis has demonstrated once again that limited government kowtowing to unregulated free markets inevitably leads to boom and bust. In an ideal world, public opinion would turn leftwards as a result. This is exactly what's happened in America,where the economic crisis destroyed any chance of McCain becoming president, and has given the Obama administration a once-in-a-generation opportunity to remake their government.

But what happens when the supposed party of the left is already in power? There was a fleeting moment when the financial crisis first hit when it looked like the progressive agenda in Britain was about to be firmly cemented in place. Gordon Brown, previously a lame duck, was getting plaudits for his swift action to shore up the banking system, and the poll gap with the Conservatives was beginning to close. All he had to do was hang on for an economic recovery before the general election deadline arrived. A hung parliament would be enough (and would open the door for PR, but that's a whole other post...).

The House of Commons expenses scandal has turned all this upside down. Even though all parties are equally to blame for the rotten system,the public have directed most of their anger at Labour simply because they are the party in government. The Conservatives have barely suffered, despite their MPs being among the worst abusers of the system. The opportunity offered by the financial crisis has disappeared, replaced by a lurch to the right that is entirely undeserved (anyone who thinks otherwise should look at the expenses of UKIP MEPs). The prospect of a majority Tory government, perhaps even a landslide, is more likely than ever.

This might not have mattered so much before the recession, when Cameron was positioning himself as a clone of Blair. But now we are faced with tax rises and/or spending cuts to fill in that hole in the budget, and the Conservatives have reverted to type, already indicating that they will choose savage spending cuts wherever they can. It'll be just like the 1980s, only without the craze for synth-pop. Oh wait...

Don't It Always Seem To Go...

Hurrah! Thanks to the technical wizardry of Big G (and no thanks to Virgin, who are impotent beyond mortal measure), I am finally able to once more access the intertubes from my humble domicile. Hopefully this means more regular posting, or at least posts that aren't assembled in a mad rush in between sessions in the maths mines.

By SpaceSquid. Posted from my i-Home.

Last Post On Empathy For Now, I Swear

I picked Dr L up from the airport on Monday, and on the way home I discussed the Sotomayor/empathy issue, figuring a psychologist would have an interesting take on the subject.

Dr L didn’t disappoint. The first thing she pointed out was that, on average, women display greater degrees of empathy, and are less likely to adhere to the strict letter of a system of rules when determining how to deal with infractions. I asked the obvious question: is there a causal link between the two, and she (tentatively) answered in the affirmative.

It was this exchange that crystallised my problem with the whole situation [1], and with American conservatives in general [2]. The hasty conclusion to draw here is “Well, maybe empathy is a bad idea in judges”. No-one wants the law to be made up on the spot, right? [3]

This is the kind of conclusion that drives me mad, though. It’s the sound byte comeback, the postage-stamp response designed to act as a roadblock in your head, that stops you having to consider wider implications.

Bad arguers excel at this sort of thing. They take a tiny sliver of the overall situation, find an easy counter to it, and consider the case closed (this is sort of like building a straw man, but not entirely the same). The fact that there are surrounding concerns, important contexts, knock-on effects, are all ignored for the sake of a quick conclusion.

In this case, for example, you have to ignore the fact that Obama mentioned empathy as one of a number of qualities a good judge should have. Empathy might lead you to throw away the rulebook, huh? What might stop that? Significant experience? Wisdom? Gosh, Obama said he wanted those too! It’s almost as though he has a whole package in mind, and any individual part of it wouldn‘t be enough!

This is an old GOP trick, of course. Remember when McCain lambasted Obama for days [4] during the Presidential campaign because he’d said inflating your tyres more regularly would help the environment? Obama had offered it as one small and immediate example, but that didn’t stop McCain portraying him as a man who thinks tyre pressure causes environmental catastrophe. Take a sliver, find a counter, move on.

Aside from the fact that it’s a poor tactic logically, and that it can be employed (probably subconsciously) to justify opinions and behaviour that any holistic, dispassionate view would deem unacceptable, the main danger with this procedure is that it allows mutually exclusive views to be held, because no attempt is ever made to connect them. Again, there is a perfect example in the Sotomayor debate (and it annoys me someone else had to point it out to me). There are conservatives in America simultaneously arguing that empathy is bad because it will lead to a judge ignoring (or bending) the strict letter of the law, but also that Sotomayor is a bad judge because during the Ricci case she made a ruling that was almost certainly technically correct but was arguably quite unfair to a white plaintiff. So you take one sliver of the discussion over Sotomayor’s nomination: is empathy bad, and conclude yes, because the law is not to be ignored just because a judge feels applying it would be unfair. Then you take another sliver: is Sotomayor biased towards Hispanics/against white people? Yes, you conclude, because in Ricci (a case in which the plaintiff claimed he was being discriminated against on the basis of race) she applied the law impartially in a way that many consider unfair.

If we were being cruel, we could suggest that this is proof that these people are fine with empathy, as long as white people are the beneficiaries, [5] but I don’t think that’s what’s happening. These people simply don’t see the need to consider anything but what’s right in front of them, so the contradictions are never made clear to them. It’s how you can claim it’s critical an investigation is unleashed to uncover the nature of Nancy Pelosi’s briefings on torture, but claim investigating the torture itself would be the behaviour of a “Banana Republic”.

In short, it’s an enabler for hypocrisy. And I hate hypocrisy. I loathe it, it makes my skin crawl. Naturally, since I am a hypocrite, that means I hate myself a good deal of the time (I refuse to be hypocritical about hating hypocrites). Despite being one myself, though (and someone once wrote “A hypocrite is a person who - but who isn’t?”), I think it’s fairly uncontroversial to suggest it’s something we should work to excise from our behaviour. The “sliver” tactic, on the other hand, may not have been designed to allow hypocrisy to as hard for the individual thinker to detect as possible, but it certainly fulfils that role very, very well.

[1] Actually, I have multiple problems;why it's OK to assume that a Latina judge must have been unfairly advantaged by positive discrimination; how someone can argue a woman shouldn’t be allowed to be a judge in case she adjudicates an important case whilst on her period without them being cast out of national politics; where people get off suggesting pronouncing "Sotomayor" the way the woman herself does is somehow an unacceptable assault on the English language, etc. etc. etc.

[2] In fairness, my problem is with a specific arguing style, the fact that I observe it so much more frequently in American conservatives than anywhere else is probably selection bias.

[3] With regard to this point, I should mention Dr L also reminded me that our justice system is somewhat more tolerant of judicial interpretation than is the American one (to what extent this is due to their reliance on the Constitution is an interesting question that I am thoroughly unqualified to discuss, not that that usually stops me), and so the argument that empathy may lead to “judicial activism” has an extra hurdle to overcome for me anyway, in that I‘m not sure how bothered I am by the idea of that happening in any case. I like Dr L. Arguing with her is fun.

[4] Clinton joined in, admittedly, because Clinton (or Mark Penn, depending on how you look at it) ran a very poor and at times despicable campaign.

[5] While we’re on this subject (again, and I‘m presenting this bit separately because it doesn‘t involve the sliver method), though, even on it’s own narrow terms, the argument that empathy is bad because it might lead people to not follow the law seems insane. The only way that argument can hold is if every legal decision is logically obvious. If that were true, we wouldn’t need appeals courts. Moreover, if it were true, then it wouldn’t matter one little bit what the ideological bent of the judge in question was. And it follows from that that all the effort Bush went through to stack courts with conservatives was a waste of time, and trying to block liberals from the bench is a waste of time. Since Bush did go through the effort, and the GOP are still trying to keep liberals out of the judiciary, we can assume that they know that isn’t the case. This argument about empathy being a reason to assume a judge will ignore the law is a smoke-screen for a much more interesting argument about what criteria should be used when the law is ambiguous. And wouldn’t you know it, conservatives want conservatives making that decision. Rather than admit this, of course, they pretend the decision doesn’t exist at all. If anything, this is worse than the sliver method, because the contradiction is obvious within the argument, rather than between two arguments on the same subject.