Monday, 30 November 2009

Liberalise This

A while back I wrote a post suggesting Peter Oborne's recent radio series "Conserve What", on the nature of modern conservatism, was fairly poor, relying as it did so heavily on constructing a straw-man version of liberalism/progressivism and then defining conservatives as simply being those people who didn't like said shambling monstrosity.

I mentioned this show to C at the time, arguing that it was essentially propaganda rather than a serious political analysis, and his immediate question was "When do we get a go?"

Turns out the answer was "in about two months". Last night's Westminster Hour featured the companion piece, Richard Reeve's Political Roots.

First off, I should note that it's a little irritating that whilst conservatives got three episodes, liberals and "whatever Labour thinks they are these days" get one each. Beyond that, though, it was interesting to note how much fairer this piece was than Oborne's attempt. In truth, the actual amount of detail gone into wasn't much better that it was in Conserve What?'s first episode (almost as though 15 minutes isn't enough time to detail what liberalism is), and since I took Oborne to task for arguing conservatism isn't a philosophy but a sensibility, I should also point out Reeves' strange focus liberalism is a gut feeling rather than a considered opinion or set of dogmatic constraints. The latter isn't really something any political group is liable to lay claim to (outside of some of the more obviously lunatic members of the Republican Party), and the former is, to put it mildly, deeply unconvincing. To me part of liberalism's great strength is that it combines a deeply-held feeling that inequality and misery are bad, and then applies logical thought and expansive consideration to the question of how such things can be eliminated. I may be being unfair here, though; Reeves may simply be attempting to combat the liberal image as nothing more than stone-hearted egg-heads (and certainly he doesn't deny the rich intellectual heritage liberalism can lie claim to).

At least though a valid attempt was made to describe what liberals are, rather than just what conservatives aren't, namely people who are deeply concerned by clear inequalities in wealth and social standing, and who believe that the solution to preventing tyranny is to challenge the powerful at all times (in truth every party claims this, though not all practice it equally well), especially those powers which exist simply by force of tradition.

In fact, the only time anyone really brought up a negative comparison of conservatism was in a brief excerpt from Nick Clegg, which was immediately followed by Reeves saying something along the lines of "Of course, he would say that, wouldn't he?". It was a refreshing admission of the bias running through the program which was missing entirely from Oborne's fawning love letter.

Conservatism did come up once more, as part of an argument that "progressivism" as a label has run its course in this country, since now even Cameron is labelling himself as such. It's an interesting point, actually, though it's at least arguable that this merely indicates how deeply confused Cameron's approach (or claimed approach) to politics is. Much as with Oborne, the only way Cameron can define his approach (as indeed he did on Oborne's program) is to invent an alternative approach from whole cloth and then point out why his is better. To hear Cameron tell it, the "pure" progressive will always attempt to solve a problem by removing everything already there that can be used, so as to leave the way clear for an entirely new approach (remember Oborne's claim that removing tradition and institutions was the aim of liberals, rather than simply a price we're entirely prepared to pay in order to achieve what our actual aims are). That way he can state that his brand of conservatism will attempt to create progressive accomplishments within the framework that already exists. That is to say, he's promoting a suggestion that no rational progressive would automatically object to (though of course in any given circumstance there could be heated debate over which aspects of the current framework are and aren't necessary and do or don't do more harm than good), and is presenting it as some kind of shiny new form of revolutionary thinking. In fact, liberals might in fact take some comfort in the idea that the Conservative Party has recognised the only way back to power is to agree with us whilst pretending not to, though it would be a major surprise if Cameron's dedication to progressivism proves any less ephemeral than his definition of liberalism if and when he takes the reins of power.

All in all, it wasn't too bad, and certainly at worst was simply throwaway, rather than genuinely objectionable. So why aren't we getting more of it?

Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Shake Experiment: Here Are The Facts Part IV

Welcome to the latest in our series of pointless and surprisingly basic graph-based analyses of dairy-based drinks. Despite my accidental exposure to its indescribable horrors (described here), the marmite shake is not included in this analysis, being considered instead the first shake in the fifth and potentially final round of the experiment (options for a replacement article are currently being considered, suggestions welcome).

The latest pie chart reveals, as always, the clear superiority of chocolate. More surprising is that cakes come in 2nd, the appalling blackjack shake still proving difficult for the sweet category to recover from. Otherwise, it's business as usual, and yet another demonstration that attempting to flavour milkshakes with biscuits goes against God's plan for mankind.


Moving onto the bar chart of shake quality deviation, we see little has changed since last time. Cake remains both highly rated and dependable, sweets remain strong but with a real risk factor. Chocolate, as always, proves a heavy hitter, and the breakfast cereal category is now even more mired in mediocrity than before.

Lastly, the satisfaction over time graph continues it's (admittedly slight) downward trend, which should help explain why I'm considering terminating the experiment at the end of this next cycle.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Electro-Crack Dealer Is Dealing You Electro-Crack

I'm ashamed to confess that Pause sent me this little Flash game back in July and I've only just around to sampling its wonders.

Said wonders are, er, wonderful. Well, pretty good anyway. It's another one of those fairly basic balance type games, up until Level 11, at which it becomes a balance game based around a Lagrange point.

This, needless to say, is full-on awesome.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Shake #29

Today's shake: Weetabix

Taste: 4
Texture: 6
Synergy: 5
Scorn: 4
Total Score: 5.25

General Comments: Remember how I said the Crunchy Nut Cornflakes shake was pretty much like drinking the milk from the bowl once you had finished said cereal?

Well, the Weetabix shake is like that too, only once I've finished a Weetabix, I really don't see any point in drinking the milk at all.

Still, at least it made me feel vaguely Christmassy.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Ultimate Horror Horrifies... Ultimately

Anyone who has played Arkham Horror even in its most vanilla incarnation could be forgiven for facing the prospect of attempting it with all six expansions added in with the kind of terror usually reserved for a calamari supper with Great Cthulhu himself. The three smaller expansions can be fiddly enough, but adding three extra sections to the main board results in a game that you can't even fit on most tables, let alone play.

As a true board game lover, however, I hold it to be axiomatically true that there is no game that cannot be improved by extra bells, whistles, rules, cards and Great Old Ones (only the latter would be liable to help Monopoly beat genital torture as a choice of pastime, of course). And if I'm going to force people to sit down and grind their way through a game with a board almost longer than my arm span and with at least three dozen different decks of cards (and make no mistake, people will be forced), I figured I should put some effort into ensuring that the feat is physically possible.

The bad news is that the set-up time for this behemoth amongst games is now somewhere around the half-hour mark (and I'm guessing the time lost by doing it single-handedly is entirely compensated for by the time gained by not having to deal with constant questions or stopping people chewing on the playing pieces). The good news, though, and it is very good news, is that once the game kicks off, everything slots together perfectly.

I'm not sure I'd call it a complaint per se, but one of the comments raised by people using the Dunwich and Kingsport expansions was that their unique requirements (stopping the Dunwich Horror from rising and keeping reality-warping rifts in check, respectively) essentially forced one investigator to spend the entirety of their time in those locations, running damage control whilst the rest of the players got on with the far more glamorous job of shooting shoggoths in the face-analogue and hopping to other worlds ("glamorous" in Lovecraft's world being entirely synonymous with "physically hazardous and mentally destabilising"). I suspect that if one played with only the Innsmouth expansion, a similar problem would emerge; someone would have to stay beside Devil's Reef and make sure the Deep Ones don't get too up themselves ("The Horrors From Beyond Time That Got Too Up Themselves" being one of the best Mythos stories, obviously).

In combination, though, that need is somewhat lessened. The accumulated volume of extra Mythos cards vastly decreases the frequency with which gates appear in Dunwich, which in turn delays the arrival of the Horror itself. Similarly, since playing with all three extra boards allows the players to subtract two from their number for all rules requiring a count (I played with six characters, since that seems to be the optimal number for the basic game), the terror track fills up more slowly than would otherwise be the case, and increasing terror is what the Deep Ones are relying upon to feed their hideous appetites.

The effect of this is that Dunwich and Innsmouth can both be visited when necessary, rather than policed at all times (alas, Kingsport still requires constant supervision, which is a shame since it is in many ways the least interesting of the four towns). Not only does this afford greater flexibility, it allows the characters to concentrate on the main board, which means more dead gribblies, and more closed gates. At one point last night I actually found myself at a loss regarding character movement, since there were no open gates on the board left to deal with (had I been more even-handed with whom I had sent into other realms, of course, I would have already have won by that point).

With regard to the card-only expansions, it's worth noting that the entire game can go by without explicitly referencing them at all (the various additional items, encounter cards and so on are still likely to make an appearance, of course). Whether this allays fears about being bombarded with too much information, or irritates you over buying an expansion that might hardly feature, is up to you. Currently, I'm going with the former.

Moving away from the combined game to discuss the Innsmouth expansion on its own terms (the only expansion I hadn't played before), there is a distinct possibility that this is the best expansion so far. Whilst Dunwich essentially relegates one character to monster hoover, and Kingsport requires some kind of horribly repetitive guided tour, Innsmouth both allows exploration and action. The mid-game switch to martial law, requiring an investigator to sneak around to avoid arrest, is a particularly nice touch (it's also a wonderful nod to Dark Corners Of The Earth, still one of the best FPS games ever made, though it might have occurred in the original story as well, I haven't read it). There's also a strange sense of satisfaction to amassing enough evidence to persuade the Feds to show up and ruin Innsmouth's shit, far more than there is in killing one more monster, or visiting the Artist's Colony for the umpteenth time.

The Innsmouth Expansion also contains a personalised goal for each character. Not only do these add flavour to the characters, which until now have been relatively interchangeable (special rules notwithstanding), but unlike pretty much everything else in Arkham Horror, the conditions required to fulfil these individualised side missions are not overwhelmingly difficult. Of the seven characters I played (one of them being devoured by a Moon Beast halfway through, poor guy), two characters achieved their goal, two failed (including the replacement for the poor sod who got eaten, who arrived in the game after his failure condition had already occurred), and the remaining three were all heading towards the finish line, albeit with varying degrees of success.

Overall judgment, then? Innsmouth is a great expansion; the whole combined shebang plays very well and isn't quite as drawn-out as you might think (the game itself took me a little under four hours); and the balance between the various expansions means that it finally feels like failure is a distinct risk rather than a near-certainty. I was literally one turn away from winning the game (I had two characters about to return to Arkham through the last two gates, one of whom was the only remaining character sans gate trophy) when the Great Old One awoke (Chaugnar Faugn this time, and congratulations to the game artists for managing to come up with the most sinister rendition possible of what is essentially a fat-bastard elephant man). If only Groth, The Nemesis Moon hadn't been the Herald. If only that gate burst from a few turns earlier hadn't cost me a precious Elder Sign. If only that Moon Beast hadn't been so impossible to dodge. If only...

A Horror Beyond Your Imagining

I spent last night and some of this morning playing Arkham Horror with all six expansion packs included, mainly to check whether or not it was feasible to do so without dedicating an entire month to the proceedings.

I'll post up some comments on how it went later, but for now I just wanted to ask the following question: would even the total destruction of mankind by the sanity-blasting forces of chaotic darkness be enough convince Stan Lee to join forces with Cherie Blair?

Having said that, he doesn't seem too in to it, does he?

The Dickensian Aspect

I've held off posting on this for a couple of day because I assumed it had to be a hoax, a Supply Side Jesus equivalent for Victorian literature. There's only so much craziness one can buy anybody actually believing, after all.

People smarter than me, though, tell me it's on the level (though a few years old), so witness: why A Christmas Carol is deeply unfair to Scrooge.

There are three parts to this that particularly bugged me, and all of them appear (in one form or another) so frequently in libertarian arguments that I thought they were worth considering even if the article itself is now a little long in the tooth:
So let's look without preconceptions at Scrooge's allegedly underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit. The fact is, if Cratchit's skills were worth more to anyone than the fifteen shillings Scrooge pays him weekly, there would be someone glad to offer it to him. Since no one has, and since Cratchit's profit-maximizing boss is hardly a man to pay for nothing, Cratchit must be worth exactly his present wages.
It takes all of few seconds to recognise the obvious flaw in this argument; it only works if the cost to Cratchit to seeking alternative employment is exactly zero. Cratchit is worked horrendously hard by his boss, and whilst Levin is correct that Cratchit chose to have a family, the fact that what little free time he has is spent looking after same is something one would assume few people would criticise. Trying to find alternative job can be difficult and time-consuming even under the best of conditions, and whilst I can't claim to be an expert on the subject I would think Dickensian London is quite some way from being the best of conditions. Can Cratchit count on a good reference from Scrooge? What explanation could he give potential employers for his wish to leave his current job without risking Scrooge's wrath? Levin might not like that Cratchit is playing it safe, but that is most certainly what he is doing, and for good reason.

It should also be fairly obvious that Dickens is attempting to decry a wider trend in what for him was contemporary society by condensing it into the actions of a single character, and so assuming the rest of Victorian London is a worker's paradise that Cratchit is only excluded from on the grounds of his own lack of ability demonstrates wilful blindness.

Next up:
More notorious even than his miserly ways are Scrooge’s cynical words. “Are there no prisons,” he jibes when solicited for charity, “and the Union workhouses?”

Terrible, right? Lacking in compassion?

Not necessarily. As Scrooge observes, he supports those institutions with his taxes. Already forced to help those who can’t or won’t help themselves, it is not unreasonable for him to balk at volunteering additional funds for their extra comfort.

This is a classic example of a popularly held and entirely ridiculous belief that goes as follows: once I am mandated to help people to a certain degree, it is unreasonable to expect me to help people any further. [1]

Like the argument above, it collapses upon even the most cursory examination. For the sake of argument, let us say we require X million pounds per year to ensure nobody starves to death or has to sleep in the gutter. Now say we divert Y million pounds of taxpayer money to the issue each year, and hope the remaining Z=X-Y million pounds are donated to the relevant charities. Levin's argument is that because Scrooge pays into Y, then it betrays no lack of compassion to refuse to pay into Z as well. It doesn't matter if his contribution to Y is ten pounds a year, or ten pennies. It doesn't matter that the reason Y has been set as a value strictly less than X is precisely so that Scrooge can have more money. As far as Levin is concerned, until Y is set to precisely zero, there is no lack of compassion in refusing to help make up the shortfall, regardless of the consequences to anyone else. In other words, Levin seems to believe that the businessmen of the world would all be glad to pay the entirety of X voluntarily, if only we wouldn't insist on some sort of mandatory baseline. [2]

Of course, the above is nothing more than the tired old mantra that if someone is not under obligation to do something (in this case prevent people from dying of hunger or exposure), the decision to not do it voluntarily cannot be criticised.

Not that this particularly matters, of course, because Levin's next point is so shoot-the-moon crazy that his last one fades into insignificance. To continue with the basic algebra, not only is it unreasonable to ask for Z, but X is just too damn high in any case:
He is right to be unmoved, for society's provisions for the poor must be, well, Dickensian. The more pleasant the alternatives to gainful employment, the greater will be the number of people who seek these alternatives, and the fewer there will be who engage in productive labor. If society expects anyone to work, work had better be a lot more attractive than idleness.
There is a interesting little trick being utilised here that's worth unravelling. First, let's consider the one thing that is true in Levin's argument: society will pay a price for offering alternatives to employment that are no less pleasant than employment itself. To this day Slovenian friend blames the fall of Communism on its inability to recognise this fact, and whilst I think he overstates his case, he has a point.

Notice how the pieces are arranged, though. Cratchit deserves to work in appalling conditions for little pay, because people can always find a job that pays exactly what they are worth. But the only way to ensure Scrooge benefits from Cratchit's hellish existence is to ensure that the alternative is much much worse. Rather than establish the bare minimum of respect with which to hold a human life in and work upwards, Levin is convinced we must start with deciding the minimum each worker can feasibly be paid and work down. Then, having come to that conclusion, he attempts to argue that charity for the destitute is a bad idea, because it might raise their miserable lives up to a level where Cratchit no longer sees any sense in working his life away for the scraps from his master's table.

In short, the vicious degradations of the Dickensian workhouse are the inevitable consequence of consciously attempting to minimise the amount employers are required to do. Levin, to his credit, has at least realised this. It simply beggars belief however that he doesn't see this as a problem.

[1] This is not to say that it is impossible to ever do enough, or that it couldn't happen that taxpayers money could deal with a sufficient problem well enough that associated charities can be seen as a bonus rather than a necessity. Scrooge offers no such qualification, however, and neither does Levin, or at least not a sensible one.

[2] The other thing to note here is that if Levin had any sense or internal consistency at all, he would be condemning Scrooge's refusal to cough up. One of the central tenants of the argument that taxes should always be lowered is that once people are affluent enough they will choose to be altruistic because it is in everyone's interest to not have people starving to death. As MGK notes, however, Scrooge is absolutely loaded, and he still tells charity that it can go fuck itself. Thus, Ebeneezer amply demonstrates that there are some people who will never reach into their pockets, however much gold might be kept there.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Kiss Every Baby, Slap Every Colleague

Not done one of these for a while. Shorter Mary Matalin: If your campaign isn't physically assaulting women, you're not trying hard enough to win.

It would be nice if we could at least get as far as all politically active people agreeing that a campaign that requires assault and battery of its employees to succeed, even if such a thing existed, is probably worth losing. Apparently, though, there's at least one Republican strategist who figures that for quittin' talk.

h/t to bluegal over at Crooks and Liars.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Latest Distractions

Not much to post about today (though go Harry Reid for getting us through exactly one of the three 60% + Senate votes that are now apparently necessary for ever getting anything done ever). Fortunately, it's been more than six months since I last employed my shameless place-holder post of choice, so I'm wheeling it out again.

Same rules as always, people. I give you the first line of a song, you tell me artist and title. Previous attempts at this have resulted in fairly low scores (I blame Jamie, who astonishingly manages to not only fail to recognise tracks he has in fact given me in the past, but also Counting Crows singles, which makes absolutely no sense). The first attempt garnered 44% success, and the second a truly feeble 28% (answers for both up now). Clearly, more knowledge of whiny white boys is required.

To encourage superior scoring this time around, I will introduce a further competitive element. The top three scorers thus far have been Jamie (seven) and Mozz and Moddey Dhoo (two each). Your challenge is to beat those scores. Your prize will be... probably fictional. But who knows?

Edit: I've been asked to clarify the rules, so here's some extra advice. Googling lyrics is cheating. Googling individual albums you think a given song belongs to is fine. Listening to a song you believe to be the right one is also fine. You could even go back through some of the videos I've put up on the blog, though that would only gain you one answer.

1. "I declare I don't care no more." Green Day - Burnout
2. "Whenever I'm alone with you, you make me feel like I am home again." The Cure - Lovesong

3. "Where I come from, silvery tree." British Sea Power - Down On The Ground (Jamie)
4. "Do you know what's worth fighting for?" Green Day - 21 Guns
5. "Birds beneath my window, dustying their wings upon the lawn." Josh Ritter - Snow Is Gone (Garathon/Edenspresence)
6. "Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet little agony." Smashing Pumpkins - Sweet Sweet
7. "I met you before the fall of Rome." Barenaked Ladies - It's All Been Done (DhooModdey)
8. "Huffman don't take no nonsense." Kings Of Leon - Four Kicks (Chuck)
9. "Well I looked for the light fantastic." Semisonic - Ordinary Life (Garathon)
10. "Set me free, little girl." - The Kinks - Set Me Free (Pause)
11. "To come apart on mountain tops is to come apart in rain." Idlewild - Once In Your Life

12. "So strap yourself in again." Hundred Reasons - Oratorio
13. "I'm all lost in the supermarket, I can no longer shop happily." The Clash - Lost In The Supermarket (Tomsk)
14. "I was nothing but a lonely boy looking for something new." Meatloaf - All Revved Up With No Place To Go
15. "Go progress chrome, they paint the moon today." Grandaddy - Go Progress Chrome
16. "This is the first! (Thing I remember)" Blink 182 -
Stockholm Syndrome
17. "Judy, could anyone be loved any more?" Ben Folds - Give Judy My Notice (Jamie)
18. "I'm an ocean in your bedroom." - Red Hot Chilli Peppers - Don't Forget Me
19. "Hey Jack, it's me; I don't want to bother you." Styrofoam - Couches In Alleys
20. "It's been pretty simple so far." R.E.M. - Letters Never Sent
21. "It was meant to be but all along it never meant a thing." - Foo Fighters - Long Road To Ruin
22. "I hate a lot of things, I hate a lot of people that are lame." The Offspring - Cool To Hate
23. "I know the dog days of the summer have you 10 to 1 outnumbered." Joss Ritter - Still Beating
24. "I saw you again, I think you used me again." Blink 182 - Obvious
25. "He'd just finished eating dinner." Grandaddy - Everything Beautiful Is Far Away


Brief clues. The list contains 18 bands, three solo artists, two (edit: three) entries which include the song title itself, and exactly one song released before I was born. No artist is represented more than twice, which is a new rule to get around my i-Pod apparently developing a sudden and significant refusal to shuffle properly (it tried to include one band five times, and three other bands three times each. Lame!)

Update: C'mon, people! Thanks to Garathon we've hit 30%! Let's keep it rolling!

I decided to check up on how obscure the remaining songs actually are. Turns out at least six of the albums remaining went multi-platinum, and several more went gold. For the record, there are still 12 bands and one solo artist unidentified. And remember, of the 18 songs still unnamed, two of them have their title within the quote themselves.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Friday 40K Blogging: Size Matters

It's been a while since we took a look at my painting station (i.e. the front room table). Partially this is down to me doing other things (travelling the country, weeping with impotent rage into incomprehensible mathematical texts), but also to blame is the sheer size of my current project: an Imperial bastion. It still isn't finished, but it's at last reached the stage where if I stopped work on it, it would still be usable for it's intended purposes (all it lacks is some optional extras and the roof-mounted lascannon), so I'm wheeling it out now. Also featured, partially for scale but mainly because he hasn't been on the blog yet, is a Tau Broadside.


The Broadside in all his glory.


Thursday, 19 November 2009

An Honest Mistake

Returning to Tuesday's theme regarding the clear and total superiority of a Deadpool video game to not only X-Men Origins: Wolverine but also pretty much any form of entertainment which has ever existed or indeed be conceivable by the limited human mind, I present Exhibit A:

h/t to those hoopy froods over at 4thletter!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Truly Horrifying

I promised I'd slap together a post on Return to House on Haunted Hill if it turned out to be any good.

It didn't. Obviously.

But the sheer brazenness of the film is worthy of comment (spoilers follow, though if you're worried about being spoiled for this thing you're even more messed up than I am). This is a film in which the male lead is introduced in the middle of a photo shoot devoted to hot, scantily-clad girls. A film in which the lead supporting character has been on screen for exactly three minutes before he gets to rip open the blouse of an implausibly-proportioned PhD student half his age. A film in which the female characters are bumped off in reverse order of attractiveness. A film in which they recreate that scene from The Shining with Jack Nicholson and a naked chick, only this time with two naked chicks and with Jack Nicholson swapped out for a hot lesbian. A film in which the standard post-credit twist requires a couple on the beach find a cursed statue, but they don't manage this until after the cute blonde has taken her bikini top off so her boyfriend can feel her up. She doesn't even bother to put it back on whilst they're digging their find out of the sand!

This immediately raises two vital questions: how can Zombie Strippers (still as-yet unsampled) possibly be worse than this, and how, title notwithstanding, can it possibly manage to feature as many norks?

Customarily Stupid

Steve Benen (who was nice enough to reply yesterday to an email I sent him and is thus now my favourite blogger EVER, which I freely admit is totally pathetic) reads this column in the Washington Times and detects more than a hint of offensive commentary. The topic, rather depressingly, is how Obama's willingness to bow to foreign dignitaries (literally bowing, not in the sense of capitulation) is proof that he just ain't American enough.
He stopped just this side of the full grovel to the emperor of Japan, risking a painful genuflection if his forehead had hit the floor with a nasty bump, which it almost did. No president before him so abused custom, traditions, protocol (and the country he represents).

[...]

But Mr. Obama, unlike his predecessors, likely knows no better, and many of those around him, true children of the grungy '60s, are contemptuous of custom. Cutting America down to size is what attracts them to "hope" for "change." It's no fault of the president that he has no natural instinct or blood impulse for what the America of "the 57 states" is about. He was sired by a Kenyan father, born to a mother attracted to men of the Third World and reared by grandparents in Hawaii, a paradise far from the American mainstream.
Now, it's certainly true that arguing a President with a Kenyan father who grew up in a non-contiguous state lacks the "blood impulse" (whatever the Hell that means) that all true-blooded Americans share is pretty bad, and adding in "Plus, his mom was totally hot for Africans" is simply hideous (you can't be a true American if you find foreigners attractive is literally the least offensive way to take that statement).

Beyond the (extremely) thinly veiled nastiness, though, there's something else that bothers me about this piece. Well, two things; first there's the idea that it is somehow a major screw up for Obama to have bowed to the Japanese emperor and that no other American president has ever done such a thing (whoops!). At the very least if you're going to complain about someone violating custom you should ensure that said custom exists (which by the way is a process which involves more than simply pointing out some people in the past have done it).

Secondly, though, and this is what surprised me most about the whole piece: how is it possible for anyone to argue that someone observing a custom demonstrates a contempt for custom?

There is, of course, a way to reconcile the two, but Pruden either didn't quite have the guts to say it (and what are the chances of that after the whole "attracted to Third World men" comment?) or he didn't notice his argument as it stands if self-contradictory. Pruden's position is only coherent if one adds in the additional idea that is customary for Americans to be contemptuous of all other customs. It's one or the other. You're either for us or against us, and you show you're against us every time you refuse to show you're against anyone else.

This is what the lunatic right has been reduced to, arguing that Obama shows a lack of understanding of American history when he refuses to insult a foreign leader in his own country, and that the only way someone can prove they are aware of the importance of customs in society is to ignore them entirely in everyone's society but your own.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Because Old-School Wolverine Is Best

Welcome to Wolverine: Origins. Press any key to play.
>a
You are in your bedrooom. You are a sickly child. There is a bed. Victor is here.
Victor strokes your head.
>That's the worst start to a game I've ever seen.
I do not understand.
Your father enters.

>Mewl pathetically.
Your father finds this bafflingly charming.
You hear shouting to the south.

Your father leaves.
>Follow father.
You are in a hall.
Your father goes south.
You hear a gunshot to the south.
>S.
You go south.
You are in the entrance hall. Your father and your mother and Victor’s father are here. Victor’s father has shot your father.

>Try to help my father.
Your father dies.
>Bollocks.
I do not understand.
You grow kick-ass claws.

>Much better! Attack Victor’s father.
You mortally wound Victor’s father.
Victor's father tells you he was your father too.
>Run away.
You run away.
Victor catches you.
Victor is now your companion.
You hear people chasing you.

>S.
You go south.
You are in the American Civil War. A Whole Bunch Of People are here.
>What?
I do not understand.
>You don’t understand?
I do not understand.
>Fine. Kill A Whole Bunch Of People.
You kill A Whole Bunch Of People.
You are in World War I. A Whole Bunch Of People are here.

>WHAT?
I do not understand.
>FFS. Kill A Whole Bunch Of People.
You kill A Whole Bunch Of People.
You are attacking the beaches in Normandy. A Whole Bunch Of People are here.
>Kill A Whole Bunch Of People.
You kill A Whole Bunch Of People.
You are in Vietnam. A Whole Bunch Of People are here.
>Kill a A Whole Bunch Of People.
Whilst you kill A Whole Bunch Of People, Victor attacks a woman.
>Try and calm him down.
You are too far away.
>Run towards him.
You run towards him. You are surrounded by your own men and shot. You are dead.
>Shit.
You are alive again.
>Cool!
You are in a jail cell. Victor is here.
Major Stryker enters.
Major Stryker asks you to join his sinister secret military force.

>Join sinister secret military force.
You join sinister secret military force.
You are in a plane. Wade Wilson and Other People are here.
Wade Wilson and Other People are now your companions.
Wade Wilson is awesome. A game about him would be much better.

>Play that game.
You can’t play that game.
You are in the wilderness. To the north is the building you must storm.

>N.
You go north.
All your companions demonstrate their powers.
The building has been stormed.

>Already?
Wade Wilson is awesome.
You are in a clearing. Wade Wilson and Other People are here.
You become sickened by violence.

>Seriously? I killed a whole bunch of people, like, four times already.
This is worse. You are horrified to your very soul.
>You mean I'm a pussy now?
I do not understand.
Victor and Wade Wilson and Other People are no longer your companions.
>N.
You go north. You are in a log cabin in Canada. Silver Fox is here.
>Wait. Canada? W T F?
You go west.
>I didn’t want to go west!
You are in a clearing. An axe and some wood are here.
>Pick up axe.
You pick up the axe.
>Chop some wood.
You chop some wood.
>What did that accomplish?
Character development.
Major Stryker enters.
Major Stryker asks you to rejoin his sinister secret military force.
>E.
You go east.
Night falls.
You are in a log cabin. Silver Fox is with you.
>Get busy with Silver Fox.
You can’t do that. Silver Fox is telling a sad story.
>A sad story? My body count is in the quadruple digits. I want to get busy.
You can’t do that. Silver Fox’s story has filled you with a profound and overwhelming melancholy.
>To hell with this. Attempt to take own life with claws.
You can’t do that.
Day breaks.
>Sigh. W.
You go west.
You are in a clearing. An axe and some wood are here.

>Can I see Bill Murray?
I do not understand.
>Pick up axe.
You pick up the axe.
>Chop some wood.
You chop some wood.
>Allow axe to sever major artery.
You can’t do that.
You hear screaming to the east.

>E
You go east. Victor and Silver Fox are here.
Victor kills Silver Fox.
>Fine.
You swear vengeance.
>Nope. It’s fine. Her stories were crap. Plus, I’m really getting into this lumberjack thing. I’d like to give it a proper go. Make a career out of it.
I do not understand.
>Course not. Er... get drunk.
There is no bar here.
>N.
You go north.
You are in a clearing. To the north there is a bar.
>Awesome.
Victor is here.
>Oh, of course he is.
Victor attacks you.
>Attack Victor.
Victor cleaves your skull. You are dead.
>Thank God.
You are alive again.
>I hate you.
I do not understand.
Major Stryker enters.
Major Stryker asks you to rejoin his sinister secret military force.

>Attempt to make a living through intricate embroidery and interpretive dance.
I do not understand.
>Rejoin sinister secret military force.
You rejoin sinister secret military force.
You are in a tank of water. Major Stryker and Helpless Scientists are here.
>Get out of tank.
You can’t do that.
Adamantium is bonded to your bones.

>Get out of tank.
You can’t do that.
The shock of the procedure kills you. You are dead.
>Oh, the humanity! If only I could have one more minute in this vale of tears.
You are alive again.
>Ta da!
Major Stryker tries to wipe your memory.
>Get out of tank.
You get out of tank.
>Why couldn’t I do that before?
You are in a sinister secret laboratory. Major Stryker and Agent Zero and Helpless Scientists are here.
>N.
You can’t go north.
>E.
You can’t go east.
Agent Zero is shooting at you.
>Kill Agent Zero
You can’t do that. You’re the hero.
>Whatever. W.
You can’t go west.
>In the real world people can see doors.
I do not understand.
Agent Zero shoots you in the head.
>Seriously, just kill the bastard.
Your in-built sense of honour will not let you.
>I've already killed my own father. Who, now I think about it, didn’t look anything like me. Unlike my fake father, who now I think about it was actually my exact double.
There isn’t time for this.
>S.
You go south. You are at a waterfall.
>Jump in.
You jump in.
>Just so you know, once I get out of this I am so taking a desk job.
I do not understand.
You are in a barn. An Old Couple is here. A bitching motorbike is here.
>Engage in comedy hijacks and unconvincing bonding.
This fills several minutes to good purpose.
>Steal bitching bike.
You don't want to upset the Old Couple.
The Old Couple are shot!

>Steal bitching bike.
You steal the bitching bike.
>N.
You go north. Agent Zero is here. He mentions an island for some reason.
>Kill Agent Zero.
You kill Agent Zero.
>Oh, now I can kill him.
I do not understand.
>Never heard of a sandbox, huh? Go to Island.
You can’t go to the island without Gambit.
>Bollocks to this. Quit game.
Wolverine never quits.
>I do. No Gambit. Gambit is crossing the line. Quit game.
Wolverine never quits.
>Ah, shit. Fine. Find Gambit.
You are in a New Orleans bar. Gambit is here.
>Talk to Gambit.
Gambit attacks you.
>Great! An excuse! Kill Gambit.
You can’t do that.
>Fuck off.
I do not know how to fuck off.
>No-one here has any trouble believing that.
Gambit uses his staff to become a helicopter.
>Oh, God; this is painful. Break staff.
You break Gambit’s staff.
Gambit uses his broken staff to climb walls.
>Seriously, Mr Text Adventure Game? Why you gotta make me hurt you?
Gambit agrees to help you.
>That was quick. And pointless.
I do not understand.
You are in Gambit’s plane. Below you there is an island.
>Jump out of plane.
You land on the island. The experience is exceptionally painful.
>I'm not even going to bother.
I do not understand.
You are on an island. To the south there is a sinister secret military facility.
>S.
You go south.
You are in a sinister secret military facility. Major Stryker and Silver Fox are here.
>Does anyone ever stay dead in this game?
She was faking. It reminds you of her story, You are once again filled with a profound and overwhelming melancholy.
>You are so right.
I do not understand.
>N.
You go north.
You are on an island. To the south there is a sinister secret military facility.
To the south you hear screaming.

>S.
You go south.
You are in a sinister secret military facility. Major Stryker and Silver Fox and Victor are here.
Victor attacks Silver Fox.

>Attack Victor.
You knock Victor out. Silver Fox runs away.
>Follow Silver Fox.
You follow Silver Fox.
You are in a jail complex. There are many Mutant Prisoners here.

>Free Mutant Prisoners.
You free Mutant Prisoners.
Mutant Prisoners are now your companions.
Deadpool enters.

>Kill Deadpool.
Deadpool is faster than you.
>Let the Mutant Prisoners deal with him.
The Mutant Prisoners have run away.
The Mutant Prisoners are no longer your companions.
>Everyone here is useless.
I do not understand.
Victor enters.
Victor attacks Deadpool.
>About time. Kill Deadpool.
You kill Deadpool.
>Kill Victor.
Victor runs away.
>That was fast. Not that I’m complaining.
I do not understand.
Major Stryker enters.

>That’s convenient. Kill Major Stryker.
Major Stryker shoots you in the head. You lose all your memories.
>Man, you have no idea how much I wish that were true.
You have completed the training mission. Now play the game.
You are in your bedrooom. You are a sickly child. There is a bed. Victor is here.

>AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Shake #28

Today's shake: Snowball

Taste: 8
Texture: 4
Synergy: 6
Scorn: 4
Total Score: 6

General Comments: As snacks, snowballs are up there with the best of them. Anything that allows me to crack open the shell and feast on the goo inside is liable to score highly with me (see Egg, Cadbury's Cream), and even the presence of coconut - not normally one of my personal favourites - is no hindrance, since it comes combined with chocolate, a combination that works much better than the human mind would consider possible (all credit to Professor Bounty's first experiments into this phenomenon back in the '50s).

Bitter experience has taught me though that a pleasing snack does not necessarily make for a pleasing beverage. This time it all just about works out. The chocolate is barely noticeable, but that doesn't really matter since it's only the precious, precious goo that really matters; the true connoisseur of snowballs knows that the chocolate is nothing more than a delivery system for the true snack (snowballs will be another food to feature when I finally get around to hosting the OCD Eating Method Olympics). In this sense, the shake is a triumph; the vanilla combines perfectly with the marshmallow, giving the impression that one has simply pierced a snowball with a straw and gone nuts.

Tragically, this beautiful illusion is constantly spoiled by the accumulation of coconut shards at the back of the throat. Without the chocolate to make them palatable, this assault is difficult to ignore. I recommend those considering trying this shake to bring some kind of sieve, tea-strainer or mosquito net with them, so as to maximise the pure, unsullied experience of the almighty goo.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Don't Ask For The Water

Unsurprisingly, Who spoilers follow.

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My initial thought upon watching The Waters of Mars (over a three hour period on iPlayer for reasons not worth elaborating upon) was that it was easily the best of the (I think) six specials so far. Granted, that's not exactly a huge accomplishment (Voyage of the Damned is arguably the worst thing Davies has produced since he launched the new show, and that really is a difficult record to claim); perhaps it would be fairer to just say that WoM (as I shall henceforth refer to it, recalling the terrible ice-lolly stick jokes of my youth [1]) was, all things considered, really rather good.

One of the things I've noted before about Davies is that for all of his wearying shit-talk about totally ignoring "ming-mongs" (by which he means anyone on-line who has a reason for not liking the show), successive iterations of his Who scripts do seem to actually take note of the criticism levelled at him. WoM carries on this noble tradition of incremental improvement in several ways. There is a notable reduction in attempting to be overly cute, the gadget droid aside [2], and whilst whinging emo-Doctor is still present and correct, the central premise of the story (essentially a retread of The Fires of Pompeii with less insanity to distract from the core concept) is strong enough to make his moping seem pretty reasonable. There aren't any of the massive lapses in basic character or plot logic that threatened to shake Planet of the Dead apart (restricting the story to one location for almost the whole run-time doubtless helped here). The hapless victims of the Martian water are genuinely chilling (the first possession scene ranks amongst the very best Who scenes, old or new), though in fairness monster-creation isn't something Davies gets wrong too often. Most importantly, though: the Doctor no longer saves the day within thirty seconds in a storm of shouty babbling and unnecessary gurning.

Nah, I'm kidding. Of course the Doctor saves the day within thirty seconds in a storm of shouty babbling and unnecessary gurning. This time, though, there's an actual point to it all. People - well, smart people - have been complaining since Last of the Timelords, if not earlier, that the frequent comparisons between the Doctor and Jesus Christ (or some other messianic figure) were ludicrous and overblown, even within the context of a show that relies on ludicrous and overblown to get anywhere at all. The constant reminders that the Doctor was the most noble, tortured, good-hearted heroic soul ever were entirely redundant in a show in which he's already the (near-immortal genius) protagonist, and they came across, much like Davies insistence that Rose was the best companion imaginable, as a desperate attempt to tell the audience that the characters were worthy of appreciation. Rather than do anything as prosaic or difficult as demonstrating their worth, script after script would simply have various characters insist that the Doctor and Rose were perfect.

This constant obsession with hammering home the God-like wonders of the main characters was also used to cover up the appalling clumsiness with which many stories were wrapped up. Granted, 50 minutes isn't much time to piece together entire stories that, unlike most TV shows, were generally started almost entirely from scratch (once again, three cheers for the psychic paper, and any use of the sonic-screwdriver that advances the story rather than replaces it), but RTD chose to fill up umpteen minutes of every episode with the Doctor sulking and Rose being a pain in the arse, so he can damn well suck it up. I'm not sure which came first, the obsession with portraying the Doctor as a humanist God, or the lazy resolving of plots with a flick of the screwdriver and a pointless catch-phrase, but certainly the two rapidly fed into each other. I've said before that one of my biggest problems with Tennant-era Who (I don't think this was true of Eccleston's tenure) is that crises were no longer solved by the Doctor actively struggling against them, but were instead dealt with simply by dint of the Doctor showing up (last night's special was an obvious example, but see also Gridlock or The Doctor's Daughter); the entire thrust of the narrative development reduced to ensuring the Doctor got to the right place to work his magic. Everyone's favourite Time Lord was a teleport device away from total omnipotence. [3]

Last night, we finally got to witness the effect that all this epic win has had on the Doctor; he's started believing his own bullshit.

With that one move, I can forgive a lot of what has gone before. I don't intend to give Davies too much credit for it (this, after all, is a man who spent two years thinking a story arc meant repeating the same phrase ad infinitum, so my opinion of his forward planning skills are not high), but at least now each ludicrous eleventh hour save can be considered a link in a chain, leading to the Doctor concluding (not entirely unreasonably, quite frankly) that the fact he always wins means he can play far faster and looser with the rules than he has up until now. After all, what's the point in worrying about consequences when any result you don't like can be dodged in less time than it takes to make a cup of tea? So what if Adelaide had survived, and history hadn't gone according to plan? The Doctor could handle it. So what if the Reapers showed up to eat her face (along with reality)? A couple of seconds of running around to horribly out-of-place pseudo-techno and the Doctor will be able to wish them all away. It is, at once, a hideous development for our hero, and the logical zenith of the rebellious, arrogant streak he's demonstrated since the very beginning.

It's also absolutely the most perfect note to herald this particular Doctor's end.

[1] What do you do with a wombat?

[2] Today's lesson for Davies: an irritating character does not become less annoying just because another character confesses that they are annoying. Mind you, I don't think it's ever occurred to Davies that one can invoke any given reaction in the audience without being told to feel it by at least one character.

[3] Well, he has the TARDIS, but then he can't use that, because he's "locked into events", or some such. I shouldn't complain about that one, because without that hand-wave the whole show would become entirely impossible. Of course, he could easily get a different teleport device, like Jack's, for instance, which the Doctor has no problem making use of. Something else that infuriates me about the current incarnation of Who is the constant technobabble arms-race. Instead of setting down basic rules, or even limiting the Doctor's abilities (the latter being the preferable alternative of the two), the show simply lets him do whatever he wants with that damned sonic screwdriver up until a story would immediately collapse if he could use it at all. Hence the ridiculous invention of the "deadlock seal", a method for defeating sonic screwdrivers which villains can use on everything from car doors to Maitre D androids, just so long as it forces the Doctor to come up with an alternative fix that can play out over the course of 30 seconds.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Forces Both Ancient And Powerful

As part of my continuing quest to own every X-Universe comic book ever created (yes, yes, I know) I picked up the first trade paperback of the new X-Force series yesterday.

It's... kind of odd. I don't mean odd in the way Peter Milligan's X-Force was odd; that thing was so mental they ended up having to change the title just so the fans of all the previous, non-lunatic iterations wouldn't combust with rage and confusion (mainly confusion, I'm guessing). I mean odd in the sense that it's in almost in every way not odd to the point of self-parody, and yet I still really liked it.

Pretty much everything you need to know about X-Force can be gleaned from the conversation I had with Count upon picking it up.

Count: I've read that. Art's great.
SpaceSquid: I read a couple of them in the Messiah Crossover, but that's about it.
Count: The basic concept is simple. Pick out every X-Man with pointy bits, and stick them together.
SpaceSquid: Pointyness is the central theme?
Count: Pretty much. "The X-Men in their pointiest adventures yet!"
SpaceSquid: Isn't Warpath in here? All he has is a knife.
Count: Knives count as pointy.
SpaceSquid: He was using it to peel apples!
Count: "You with the knife! You are now part of Pointy Squad. Get out there and get yourself killed!"
SpaceSquid: "But I haven't even finished this Waldorf salad!"
Count: "Get out there AND DIE! Pathos is all we have left to offer!"

Operation: Pointiest Points Ever makes sense in the context of the original X-Force, a paramilitary squad of mutants dedicated to hostile actions of a somewhat more... premature nature than the X-Men would be comfortable with. X-Force was perhaps the most '90s of '90s comics, pointless mega-violence, minimal characterisation, pouches freaking everywhere, and of course drawn and written by Rob Liefeld. The '90s obsession with hideously unpleasant main characters and unfeasible body counts was so pronounced that the writers of DC's Lobo, whose eponymous character existed precisely as an indictment of the trend for brainless mega-violence, seemingly found it difficult to outpace the ludicrousness of the very comics they were parodying. [1]

This latest iteration of X-Force would be enough to make Lobo feel queasy and need to lie down for a while. It does at least take the "War is Hell" angle rather than the "shooting your prisoners is fun" one, but the pages are still littered with decapitations, eviscerations, and the involuntary separation of limbs from torsoes. You could use the resulting dead tissue to fill a 737 hangar, and by issue 6 that's pretty much exactly what happens. It's relentless, and it's nasty.

On top of all of that, this first arc falls into the classic mistake of attempting to tell a new story by simply collecting together a dozen or so elements from previous stories and hoping the resulting stew will somehow taste different. The main villains, the Purifiers, start off by resurrecting Bastion, who then goes looking for Magus, who is then used to infect Donald Pierce, Graydon Creed, The Leper Queen, Bolivar Trask, William Stryker and various other mutant haters (many of them once dead). You remember those old cartoon episodes where all of the main villains decide to join forces to finally finish off the do-gooders? It's like that. All of which is before you factor in Angel once more becoming Archangel. I guess struggling with one's place in the world and attempting to use your healing blood to help others is less interesting than having huge fuck-off wings of death-steel.

In short; it absolutely shouldn't work. Needless gore? Check. Sacrificing characterisation for violence? Absolutely. Upping the stakes by upping the villain count? Yep, that too.

Somehow, though, it manages to work. It manages to genuinely persuade that the endless parade of dead bodies is a bad thing, even whilst every third panel gives us some new way to depict ultra-violence (to say nothing of coming closer than ever to fetishising Wolverine by having everyone in the book wishing they could be more like him). It's also nice to set up a dynamic of mutants vs humans again, something which the X-books have never dealt with as thoroughly as you might have expected, though just as with Operation: Zero Tolerance, Bastion's position as a future-tech robot might weaken that idea long-term (especially given his use of Magus). The fact that X-Force don't so much win the day as show up in time to minimise the damage when the Purifiers tear themselves apart (using an army of razor-winged human angels, no less, which if nothing else make for a great visual) is also interesting, though perhaps not particularly satisfying in dramatic terms.

In short, then, X-Force is so '90s it manages to be more '90s than a '90s parody, and continues to struggle with the 21st century problem of finding ways to tell modern stories with an essentially out-dated core concept, but somehow it still manages to come out pretty well.

[1] I believe that the only DC comic I own is Lobo #50, in which he has a dream of killing every superhero on Earth. A friend bought it for me as a birthday present, believing (entirely correctly) that if there was one DC book I was liable to enjoy, it would be one in which a blatant Wolverine rip-off proved the inferiority of DC heroes by beating each and every one of them to death.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Friday Comedy: Literal Meatloaf

Spend last Sunday morning guffawing at this (plus eating cake, and no, you can't have any), so I am sharing it with you, because I am a giver.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Reshuffling

I've developed an itch to fiddle around with the design of the blog. How much I'll change and now much effort I'll put in I'm not yet sure, but as an opening gambit I've separated the blogs I read by people I've never met from those put together by my friends. Thus the blogs that are either partially or entirely about American politics are in one place, and those on an already impressive array of subjects (films, film-making, cooking, literature, American football) and which share a link only in that all of those involved met at University are somewhere else.

To that latter group I've added Tomsk's (still the only person on this Earth to have produced an entire post for me, though applications are always welcome) blog, Accused Of Literature, which has now officially (i.e. according to my usual vague and subjective criteria) existed for long enough to have moved out of the "liable to be suddenly abandoned" zone. He doesn't post very often, but that's the price one pays for writing about the books one reads, instead of just slapping up any old tat whenever the whim takes you.

I've also added Our Front Room, which has been around for ages, but which I felt odd about adding whilst I was heavily involved in writing it. Now that it has been single-handedly rebuilt from the rubble by Gooder, though, there's no reason not to stick it up alongside Tomsk, Spielbergo, and Chemie.

The Space Squids Part 6: Three Chaplains IV

Your humble scrivener recommences his continuing chronicle of the history of that most unique of chapters by returning to the newly created Krakens of Grejoy's offensive upon chaos-held Vestan Prime.

Upon reaching the Vestan System, the Kraken’s fleet was barely slowed by the anarchic blockade assembled by whatever traitors had resisted immediately attacking the Maze, and loyalist boarding torpedoes reached the surface of Vestan Prime’s unending ocean within seven minutes of their transport vessels' exit from the Warp. Another fourteen minutes later, and the torpedoes had reached the ocean bed. The Krakens plan was absurdly simple, and ideally suited to their methodology: they flooded the Maze.

Even the attacking Chaos cultists, in all their blood-crazed insanity, had taken care to keep the complex airtight. Indeed, lacking a space marine’s access to technology, they had little choice. The suddenness of the Kraken attack, combined with its meticulous planning, meant that seventy percent of the cultists had drowned before any combat took place, with most of the others suffering from the after-effects of pressure change (ranging from burst eardrums to fatal embolisms), or cut off and unable to reinforce their brethren. The Word Bearers, of course, had the capacity to face the Krakens irrespective of the crushing pressure of the silt-heavy brine, but their greater experience in general warfare made little difference against the Kraken marines, each of which was now more comfortable under the water than they were above. The flooded halls of the Maze allowed the Krakens to fight a three-dimensional war that the Word Bearers were unable to adapt to. Propeller-fitted servo skulls tracked the enemy as they trudged clumsily through the dark saltwater, allowing the Krakens to set up ambushes; each assault squad waiting until the last second to plunge downwards, hydro-adapted jump packs screaming as they propelled their owners through the surrounding water.

Once the Chaos marines realised just how efficiently they were being hunted, the patrols ended and they began a fighting retreat towards the area surrounding the largest structure in the Maze, Saint Varakus’ Cathedral, hoping to concentrate their forces. It was exactly the move Rekasson had anticipated. Whilst squads of the Third and Fifth Companies harried the retreating Word Bearers, heavily-modified escort vessels bludgeoned their way underwater, carrying the chapter’s Terminators. Once the optimum depth was reached, selected airlocks were double-cycled, allowing sea water to pour in, and the teleport runes were struck, flooding enemy-held compartments with explosions of water, a team of implacable Terminators at the centre of the storm. A room would be swept clear with the thunder of storm-bolter fire and the pale blue flashes of lightning claw strikes, and then the Terminators would cut their way out of the Maze, rendezvous with their ship, and begin again.

It took one week and sixteen casualties for the Krakens of Greyjoy to reclaim Carella’s Maze for the Imperium of Man. With the cathedral city swept clean of living enemies, Rekasson ordered sweeps of what had been so briefly enemy territory, in order to gauge the level of corruption visited upon that once holy place, and determine what should and could be salvaged, if indeed the planet could be allowed to escape Exterminatus at all. Ultimately, it became apparent that the Maze had been luckier than its inhabitants. The traitors had lacked the necessary time to do much more than slaughter the Ecclesiarchy, and had been too far from the warp storms plaguing the core-ward Allagon systems to have summoned daemons of any great strength or in any great number. The damage was extensive (even discounting that which had been caused by the Krakens themselves), but not irreversibly blasphemous.

The question that occurred first, though, was also the most pressing: what was to be done with Saint Varakus’ Cathedral itself? As the largest symbol of the Emperor’s divine power on the planet, and the former base of operations of the Chaos forces, more corruption had been visited upon it than anywhere else in the Maze.

All three Chaplains were present when the last Word Bearer fell and the Krakens gained entrance. What awaited them was a charnel house. Those holy men unfortunate enough to have been captured alive had been flayed here, their cracked skin daubed with profane symbols using their own blood, and draped across the now-headless statues that lined the central hall. The bodies themselves had been arranged on the pews, posed as though staring in wonder at the centrepiece of the cathedral, a eighteen-foot carving of the Emperor, now gouged and broken almost beyond recognition.

Several moments passed before any of the Imperium’s warriors were able to speak. Such pure and unrepentant evil was new to the marines born on Four Feathers, and to those who once called themselves the Emperor’s Shields, this was their first exposure to the true depravity of Chaos since the campaign that entered in disaster above Raxos. There was no question of allowing this blasphemy to remain, not for either group of marines, nor for me, nor you, loyal citizen as you have doubtless proved yourself in order to read these missives. The very moment thought became action, however, and Tolosson ordered his terminators to cleanse the cathedral, Tegatchi and his marines blocked their way.

Perhaps you recall the harsh tales of ruinedKrinngrim, a world cut from crystal and cold, upon which the Emperor was worshipped as the exquisite craftsman of all reality. To the dour Krinngrimi marines, the defilement of Saint Varakus’ Cathedral could only be rectified by carefully rebuilding it, piece by piece and stone by stone, until every line, curve, statue and pew was just as it had always been. Before that could happen, every inch of the cathedral needed to be cleansed by the purity of the chapter’s promethium.

Those marines that hailed from the ever-shifting fungus forests of Cauda on Four Feathers saw the situation entirely differently. To them, the Word Bearers had succeeded in changing the cathedral according to their perverse desires. The idea that somehow this could be undone was obvious folly. Saint Varakus’ Cathedral might change again, would change again given time, but to attempt to turn back the chronometer would be to deny the Emperor his twin roles as destroyer and re-builder. If the Krakens were not to allow this monument to change to stand (and it is whispered in dark corners by the bravest and most foolish of heretics that the Caudan obsession with change is entirely too close to a respect for Chaos itself; a topic to which we will one day return), then it must be destroyed utterly, and rebuilt in a new form. Promethium would not suffice; the situation demanded nothing short of high-yield explosives.

Tegatchi outlined his position in a few clipped sentences. Outraged at his junior’s interference, if not outright mutiny, Tolosson might have ordered the First Company to begin the cleansing by burning down the Caudans had Orfirsson not stepped in. A more diplomatic man than his fellow Krinngrimi, Orfirsson pointed out the sheer impossibility of ever rebuilding the cathedral once it was destroyed. Already Carella’s Maze stood on the knife’s edge of total destruction, its millenia-old spirals, hallways and corridors on the verge of complete collapse. Either the Cathedral was cleansed, or it was destroyed forever; no other alternative existed.

Tegatchi remained unmoved. His only reply to Orfirsson's logic was to order his fellow marines to raise their weapons. For long moments Caudan and Krinngrimi faced each other inside the depraved place of butchery that had once been sacred ground. Tolosson accused Tegatchi of betraying his chapter; Tegatchi responded that he was doing the only thing possible to avoid betraying his Emperor. Facing the possible end of the Krakens of Greyjoy during their very first campaign, Orfirsson tried one last time to salvage the situation. His solution was simple. It was also all but unprecedented, but the need to prevent the chapter from imploding overrode all other concerns.

Solemnly, desperately, Orfirsson placed himself between the two opposing forces, and demanded the argument be settled according to that most ancient of traditions: trial by combat.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Further Flashes


It's getting increasingly hard to watch Flash Forward and have any real interest in what's happening. I discussed the problem with Gooder (who has already given up on it entirely) and we concluded that part of the probem is that the characters aren't really characters, just b;ank slates who have slightly different reasons for being grumpy. Whenever dramatic conflict shows up, it's not because two fully-realised individuals are dealing with the same situation differently, it's because their reasons for being grumpy are temporarily (or permanently) incompatible. More specific spoilers follow below, so be warned.

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The other reason things are going wrong, though (and this matters more to me than the problems with characterisation, though as a general rule if I think a character is flat and lifeless, then something somewhere has gone badly wrong) is that the format just isn't sustainable. The show has pretty much ended up exactly where I feared it would; each week a new and pointlessly vague lead arrives, they follow it, and get just enough information to produce a lead for next time round. There are still reasonable things being done with the central conceit (having suicide parties for "ghosts" sounds exactly like the kind of ludicrous, self-defeating idiocy people would come up with once they "know" they're approaching death), but you can't just use that to flavour an otherwise fairly dull police-procedural show (a genre which I don't think is entirely suited to long running arc plots, or at least not without much more work going into the characters) and hope that will be enough.

One event that undoubtedly was interesting in this week's episode, though, was the decision of a major character to kill himself rather than allow his flash-forward to take place. Suddenly we discover that the future is not inevitable.

Some opinions I've read following the episode suggest that this revelation robs the show of whatever appeal it still had left. Now we know the future is not set in stone, there is no reason to fear it coming true. I'm not sure I agree. The key here is in realising that just because the future isn't inescapable, doesn't mean you will manage to escape it. The flashes might no longer be stations each charater's train is hurtling towards, but they remain magnets, or perhaps sinkholes.

In that sense, it's at least arguable that this has made the situation more interesting. Imagine the following two situations. In the first, you find out that in sixth months HORRIBLE EVENT X will occur, and there is exactly nothing you can do about it. Zip. Nada. Zilch. As horrible as the horribleness of HORRIBLE EVENT X unquestionably is, there can be some comfort from the fact that it's going to happen, that it always was going to happen, and there was never anything you could do about it. In that sense, it's no different from the fact we all know we're going to die.

Now consider situation #2: you find out that in sixth months HORRIBLE EVENT X will almost certainly occur. Anything you do to try and stop it might make it more likely, but equally anything you could have done to try and stop it but you chose not to might make it more likely. Every day the pieces of the future are falling into place, and you keep trying to rearrange them into a new pattern, but it never works, or at least you can never be sure that it has worked.

Once you throw in the tiny possibility of avoidance into it, you can't prepare for the inevitable, because it isn't inevitable at all anymore. The one thing worse than a situation with no hope is a situation with just the faintest glimmer of hope. Especially because every time you do something that brings H.E.X. that bit closer is now in some sense your fault.

And the only way you know of getting out of all of this is to kill yourself.

I'm not saying the show will do anything particularly inspired with that angle; frankly I strongly suspect Gooder has the right idea. It's worth bearing in mind, though.

Shake #27

Today's shake: Fruit Cocktail

Taste: 4
Texture: 1
Synergy: 4
Scorn: 2
Total Score: 4.25

General Comments: When exactly am I going to get any good at predicting the foulness of the drinks I still inexplicably volunteer to force down on a weekly basis? "How bad could it be?" I asked myself. "A bunch of fruity bits in an ice-cream? That's what ice-cream is there for."

I am a fool. Remember when I discovered adding pineapple to vanilla ice-cream does nothing but actually suck away the vanilla taste? The fruit cocktail is like that. The only thing I could taste was strawberry, and the only effect of chucking in a mess of other fruit was to make it taste of strawberry less. It was like eating the ghost of strawberry ice-cream ("Expect the first fruit-based beverage spirit when the clock strikes one!"), you know it's there but your senses can't quite get a grip on it.

It would be easy to believe there were no other types of fruit in the shake at all, and that "fruit cocktail" had somehow been translated into "less strawberries", except for the fact that every mouthful contained two dozen seeds of various declensions. This, in case anyone was wondering, is too many seeds. Swallowing them whole is unpleasant, crushing them in your teeth is unpleasant and time-consuming, and spitting each mouthful into the Wear is frowned upon by the public and liable to encourage evil seagulls (the only kind of seagulls, as any truly intelligent person is well aware). I ended up with so many seeds in my stomach that I am terrified the first 90% will nullify my digestive acids and the other 10% will take root. I could be a freaking Vervoid by the end of the month.

In summary: to be avoided by anyone not hoping to grow themselves a fruit garden or become a psychotic plant with a head like an exposed clitoris.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Talking Heads

Spang! My two favourite Guardian columnists (by which I mean the two funniest) in one place! With the funniest one being interviewed by the one who has some grasp of order! Brooker is pretty much excellent in everything he does, and Marina Hyde managed the almost impossible job of making me want to read her coverage on the World Cup back in 2006. The live interview format probably doesn't really play entirely to their strengths, but it's still worth a spin to hear Mr. Brooker ruminate on children's funerals, Gary Glitter as a mad wizard, and the sudden development of the "internet cunt" rule.

Old New X-Men

David Brothers has an interesting article up over at 4thletter that's worth perusing if you've ever read Grant Morrison's New X-Men run (or if you're thinking about doing so, though I'd steer clear if you've somehow managed to get through the last eight years without having it fairly comprehensively spoiled for you). In short, Brothers argues that Morrison took the "oppressed minority" metaphor and updated it for the 21st Century. Specifically, he gave them a culture, and suggested that mutants were the new in thing, just so long as they could be seen as essentially accessories and/or playthings for the human majority. The instant mutants didn't want to play ball, it was right back to fear and loathing in Mutant Town.

Brothers has a very compelling case, and I've long had similar, much less well-ordered thoughts on the subject. I initially disliked Morrison's run because it deviated so much from the template, and even now I think the run had more than its share of flaws, but I can't really argue with Brothers that those issues were the last time that the X-Universe really tried to make something of the central metaphor that attracted me (and so many others) to the books in the first place. It might be time to dig those issues out again and have another look.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Comparative Contrastiness

Following Spielbergo's reminder to us all that Ryan Adams and Bryan Adams (more commonly known as "The shit Adams") share not only freakishly similar names but also the same birthday, I think it's important to list their many differences, so as to ensure that no-one confuses the two.

1. Ryan Adams is 35 and American. Bryan Adams is 50 and a talentless hack.

2. Ryan Adam's best songs are emotionally charged, lyrically inventive, and cover a bewildering array of styles. Bryan Adams best songs are "Summer of 69".

3. Even that one is a song about the fact that when he was young he might still have been talentless, but at least he could get some touch.

4. Ryan Adam's greatest hit united and revitalised the devastated inhabitants of a violated city. Bryan Adam's greatest hit forced the British public to spend three months watching Kevin Costner look greasy in a forest.

5. Ryan Adams is funny. Bryan Adams is so unfunny he singlehandedly prevents Canada from being the world's most humorous nation. The Kids In The Hall formed exclusively to combat the affect of Adams on Canadian unfunny emissions. If not for their tireless work ethic, Canada would even today be tied for funniness with Guam.

6. Ryan Adams is capable of putting himself into the mindset of a Depression-era farmer, a New York waitress, or a cancer-ridden suicide jumper, meaning he is not just a singer, but a storyteller. Bryan Adams is capable of putting himself into the mindset of a pair of knickers, meaning he is not just a tepid buffoon, but also a sex pest requiring electronic tagging.

7. Ryan Adams once named an album "29" to reference the songs' connections to his twenties and his fear of growing old. Bryan Adams once named an album "11", because he'd done 10 albums already.

8. Then he put 11 songs on it.

9. All of which were shit.

10. Well, probably. i-Tunes won't even sell it, and they sell Milli Vanilli.

11. Ryan Adams agreed to produce and co-write a Willie Nelson album to help a living legend regain his former mojo. Bryan Adams sang a duet with a Spice Girl to remind us that in the grand scheme of things, there are far worse musical crimes than "Wannabe".

12. Inevitably, the duet was shit.

Hopefully that should sort everything out for you.

(Hideously embarrassing counting error fixed.)