Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Shake Experiment: Here Are The Final Facts

At long last, the shake experiment has concluded. But what conclusions can be concluded from that conclusion?

Well... maybe not all that much. Taking into account the pie chart below:
it seems rather like there's no real difference between the seven groupings. "Goo" looks a little slender in comparison to its colleagues, but that's about all. If we consider the mean value of each shake category:

Fruit 5.10
Sweets 5.75
Chocolate 6.70
Breakfast Cereal 6.05
Cakes 6.65
Biscuit 5.30
Goo 4.4

it's a bit easier to gauge the differences. Broadly speaking, the seven categories can be divided into four sets, {Chocolate, Cakes}, {Breakfast Cereal, Sweets}, {Biscuit, Fruit} and {Goo}, where the difference between the mean values of elements between sets is greater than the difference between mean values of elements within the set. From this, we might conclude that that first set is the optimal choice.

But is that the whole story? What about the variance of each category. Once again, we can illustrate this (rather crudely) with a bar chart:
This time the graph is a bit more helpful. Clearly chocolate is not only a good bet, but a reasonably consistent one as well. Cakes are even more consistent, which will make it difficult to choose between them. At the other end of the scale, goo is neither particularly enjoyable but desperately variable in addition. About the only further statement one might be willing to make is that the higher mean of biscuit over fruit combined with a slightly reduced variability might make us want to split up their category above.

Is that variation true, however, or just what the graph suggests. Let's check using the standard deviation of each category:

Fruit 1.834
Sweets 1.953
Chocolate 1.237
Breakfast Cereal 1.690
Cakes 0.487
Biscuit 1.634
Goo 2.155

We argue then that within each set, category X dominates category Y if the mean of X is greater than Y and the standard deviation of X is less than Y.

This process creates the following ordering: {Chocolate, Cakes}>{Breakfast Cereal}>{Sweets}>{Biscuit}>{Fruit}>{Goo}.

Obviously, this is only one method. But I have to say it tracks with my experience as a shake expert (I guess this makes this a Bayesian experiment, though BigHead will argue that's been true for some time). I am thus content to recommend those that visit Shake'a'Holic (though for Durham dwellers at least you might want to do it quickly, before the shop's seemingly inevitable lingering death) partake either of a chocolate or cake-based shape.

Right. That's that. Time to start planning the experimentation process by which I can compare cheese and beer...

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Taking Care

I still lack the heart to get into the nitty-gritty of the healthcare summit; other than to say it went pretty much exactly how I thought it would: the Republicans' last experience of live TV discussions with the President persuading them to come far better prepared this time.

However, since S. Spielbergo has spent some time discussing the overall situation over at his own blog, I thought I'd take a big risk and actually start tearing up online articles by people who are actually liable to respond.
For us Europeans the American system just boggles the mind – we just can’t begin to fathom why they don’t have a similar system to us. I mean as much as we complain about it, we basically love our NHS (well your NHS and my small island equivalent). We like that we never need to be concerned about having the right cover, or that our insurance premiums will go up, or getting a long term condition or any of that rubbish the Yanks have to deal with on our daily basis.

We’re basically used to what we have, and we like it so it’s hard to understand why those “evil” Republicans are so hell bent against the idea…

At this point it is worth pointing out that in my view the Democrats aren’t a lot better and most of their suggestions are just improvements on a broken system rather than the complete rebuild it actually needs.
Actually, it's not at all hard to understand why those evil Republicans don’t want the idea, any more than it’s hard to understand why they don’t want people’s inheritance taxed, corporate money into their coffers limited, illegal immigrants given medical care, and so on: it’s predominantly a combination of dogmatically insisting freedom is exclusively determined by what the law doesn’t prevent combined with a pathological fear of people getting money the GOP thinks they don’t deserve.

And make no mistake, my deletion of Spielbergo's scare quotes is deliberate. The Republicans as a party are evil, or at least their actions are evil, if you'd rather think of it that way. There is simply no other way to describe people who ask their countrymen to elect them so as to serve their interests and then turn round and argue that it isn't worth trying to save the lives of 18 000 to 45 000 citizens every year.

I have no doubt that if the Republicans had brought a bill to the summit on Thursday, I would have despised it. There would already be thousands of posts up across the blogosphere about how terrible it was, and one would probably be mine. But at least at that point the Republicans could argue they were aware of the problem, and had an idea how to solve it, even if I thought that idea was ridiculous.

Instead, they said they had no intention of even considering the problem, and just tried to dodge the issue each time it was raised.

You can't do that, and it not be evil. These people volunteered to take responsibility for the general public, and then flat out refuse to even admit the existence of the problems that are quite literally killing many of those same people. Not only that, but they've actively argued the methods for saving lives the other side have suggested will lead to the government killing people. It takes a certain sort of moral vacuum to try and protect a status quo that kills people by stating that the changes will kill people and knowing damn well that you're lying. It's attempting to justify your willingness to let people die by pretending you care too much about them for you to risk them dying.

This goes back to my long-term problem with many conservatives; it's impossible to conclude that these people have an ounce of empathy for those failed by the system when all they do is insist those people don't exist. It's one thing to listen to a story about a woman forced to wear her dead sister's dentures because she couldn't afford to visit a dentist and then argue that hard choices have to be made in a society and we can't protect everyone; it's quite another to start mocking the idea that this mightn't be something we should put up with in one of the most affluent nations in the world. For sure, many people who do that sort of thing aren't evil, just appallingly callous (and bollocks to their complaints that they were "only joking"; you only get to claim you were joking when the rest of your behaviour makes it clear you didn't believe what you're saying). It only becomes evil when one has the direct ability to do something about it, and instead mocks the very idea that one should feel obliged to try.

Anyway. With that point aside, think there’s some conflation going on here in Spielbergo's argument. I do, as Spielbergo says, love the NHS. Crucially, this is not because I am European, it is because I am British. I’m sure plenty of French people love the French system and plenty of Swiss people the Swiss system. This is an important point because all three systems are very different. It does no-one any good to compare America's system to "Europe's".

Spielbergo is entirely right that the Democratic proposals are too timid to fix the current system. This is not because the system is fundamentally flawed, however. It’s only fundamentally flawed if you assume the US needs a specifically NHS-style system; a system to which the States is indeed probably institutionally (to say nothing of ideologically) incapable of applying. Choose something like, say, the Swiss system instead, however, and the degree of large-scale changes needed becomes far, far less. Those who know far more about these things than I do have been suggesting the Swiss model be adopted precisely for that reason; it works far better than the US model and is sufficiently structurally similar to make implementing it theoretically feasible with a minimum of fuss. I’m not sure I'd even would recommend anyone else following the NHS model at all, actually, since as far as I can determine it's chiefly noteworthy for the fact it manages to operate pretty well despite us putting so little money into it.
Anyway when you stop and think about it from the Republicans perspective you can kind of (well kind of) get what their problem is with the idea. They have a system already in place that the majority of Americans are happy with – yes there are some holes (and some pretty big ones at that), but the system by and large seems fairly popular. First point for a conservative is therefore why rock the boat? If it isn’t broke don’t fix it and all that jazz.
There are three problems with arguing that the system is fairly popular. The first is the most obvious: the fact that people are happy now does not mean they'll be happy in a few years following the massive increases in insurance premiums heading down the pipe (and which have already been announced in some states, like Maine and California). Arguing that a system isn't broken yet is embarrassingly short-sighted, and doesn't deserve to be considered as a sensible objection unless those people arguing it can suggest how to fix it at a later date. Certainly, anyone who argues we need to do something about global warming must immediately recognise the foolishness of this argument, since right now, the planet isn't exactly in dire straits. So why worry, huh?

The second problem is that this argument only tracks following the most superficial consideration of the statistics. Yes, the vast majority of Americans list themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with their healthcare. Of course, it would be tempting here to argue that there was probably a time when the vast majority of Americans were OK with slavery too. I'm not going to, because the comparison would be unfair, but it does highlight the important truth that it is meaningless to cite the percentage of people happy with a situation without considering the damage being done to those not happy.

In any case, a closer look at the data suggests a different story. Fully two thirds of those who have had recourse to their insurance claims describe their bills as having a major adverse effect on their lives. Almost a quarter state they put off seeking medical help for lack of funds. More than half are concerned that losing their job will cost them their insurance (which raises another important point: being happy with what an system has allowed you is not the same as being happy with the system itself ). A fifth state they have had difficulty persuading their insurers to pay up.

Given this, the question is not "Why change a system so many people are happy with" so much as "How can a system with such drawbacks still lead to people being satisfied". My own personal take on this would be Occam's Razor; these people are satisfied because have no experience of alternative medical systems under which they'd be better, and because the nature of the current system is such that you can be rejected or bankrupted by insurers at the drop of a hat, which means many people are probably satisfied at least in part because they've escaped the worst case scenario.

Regardless of how close to the mark that speculation is, I'd argue it would be far more sensible to look at the stats regarding how insurance claims have affected people, rather than how much those people feel they're hard done by in comparison to others.

Lastly, and related to the above, the problem with this kind of appeal to the will of the masses is that never actually seems to account for that will properly. Sure, majority of American’s prefer their own healthcare, but a majority of them also believe the system should be changed. A wide margin more people (9%) support rather than oppose the Democratic HCR proposal once they know what is in it. This after over a year of being told the bill would explode the deficit and kill your Grandmother.

So it seems strange to argue that if most people like their current insurance it shouldn’t be changed, even if most people think it should. I know cherry picking polls and stats is hardly a practice limited to Republicans, but it doesn't make them right to do it.
The second issue is they are quite firmly behind the idea of small government – Now the NHS in the UK comprises £119bn in costs – which means to add it on (if we didn’t already have it) would increase spending by about 30%. You ask any proponent of smaller government if they want to take a system out of the private sector and increase government spending by 30%, I’m pretty sure they are going to turn around with a very large NO!
The problem with this argument is that the current cost of American healthcare to the taxpayer is already higher than ours. Nor is anyone suggesting taking a system out of the private sector, this is about regulating that part of the private sector more stringently. Now, a "small government" conservative can certainly still object to the increased regulation, but make no mistake; said conservative would be making that argument despite a reduction in the tax burden, not in addition to it. Moreover, as I've said, comparing the proposed changes in the US system to the NHS is pointless, because no-one has proposed aping the NHS in any case.

Of course, the Republicans have spent a good deal of the last year pretending that is what’s been proposed, which should be the latest in a long line of clues that trying to fairly determine where they stand on this issue is liable to be a waste of one's time.
And yes Squid I know all those 50 million uninsured and 18,000 dying each year should be a good argument – But well it hasn’t worked so clearly it isn’t.
This is, needless to say, entirely backwards, if not out-and-out insane. First of all, this implies that an argument is only good if it works, and that it works only if the other side immediately capitulates based on its quality, which is so far away from the way politics works I’m amazed anyone could possibly suggest it. Whether or not an argument works depends not on the opposition agreeing with it (and just how often do you see that happen?), but on how well it drives public opinion, shoring up the poll numbers that might just persuade someone (in this case the Democrats) to stop cowering and get something done. Getting the Republicans to admit they're wrong has never been the objective. Persuading the public the Republicans are wrong is the name of the game.

Second, when this particular argument fails, it isn’t proof the argument itself is bad, it’s proof that the Republicans are so far away from any position that can be squared with concern for their constituents, interest in carrying out their responsibilities, or a desire to negotiate in good faith, that every single word put down in a paragraph that starts with “Looking at it from their perspective...” is tragic waste of vowels and consonants that might otherwise have been used to describe a good movie or craft a dick joke.

What Spielbergo means, as far as I can discern, is that the only way a political argument can be good is if the other side is either forced to agree with it in public, or pretends not to agree with it but changes their stance anyway. As a general rule, I would agree that those are the arguments that could certainly be considered the most successful within political circles (outside of the court of public opinion, though of course that's still relevant because it's only when they're paying attention that it matters that a party has been forced into admitting the other side have a point). In this case, though, it doesn’t matter, because Obama is coming at the Republicans with their own arguments, and they’re still pretending they don’t agree. There are any number of provisions within this bill that Republicans still in Congress are on the record for having supported. Last year, the general feeling amongst the GOP was that 80% of the HCR bill was in line with their philosophy, it was just that that wasn’t enough. Fast forward to now, though, and all of those Republican ideas included in the hopes of getting them to sign on are now repeatedly decried as offences against democracy.

So even if we did make the mistake of believing an argument is only good if the other side will confess to agreeing with it, there quite simply isn’t such a creature left in the rhetorical world. Because using the HCR bill (or anything else) to sink Obama’s presidency is the only thing, literally the only thing, the GOP cares about right now.

Now, you can argue that such is their role as the opposition. I would disagree, I think the role of opposition is to keep the party in power honest rather than to thwart its ability to govern – the will of the people, and so forth - but you could make the case, though you'd have to explain to me how it's OK to, say, block appointees to high-level military positions in the middle of two wars whilst confessing no having no idea whether or not they're qualified.

Regardless of your position on what the minority party should consider itself entitled to do, what the current behaviour of the Republicans clearly demonstrates is that Spielbergo is looking for a method of persuasion that quite simply does not exist. The thought process by which one assumes that method must exist - and I see no other way to read Spielbergo's argument other than that he believes this, unless he's prepared to argue there exist literally no "good" arguments for reform - and so any that fail must have been flawed in some way, is the same one that leads to people like David Broder arguing that any time the Republicans filibuster a bill it must be the Democrat’s fault for not giving them enough of the things they want, and that the only way “bipartisanship” can fail is if the side more willing to compromise isn’t prepared to compromise enough.

Not that I think Spielbergo is the next David Broder, of course. I mean, I may be telling everyone I think his arguments are wrong, but I don’t want to insult the guy.
Now onto the main point I wanted to make – and the one that surprises me the Republicans don’t seem to have cottoned onto – We Europeans get to buy all these drugs and things, but we don’t spend anywhere near the amount the Americans spend.
US dollars subsidise our Healthcare.

And more specifically every American Citizen paying for health insurance is helping us over in Europe and Canada get better drugs cheaper than we should otherwise have it.
This, at least, I agree with entirely, in so much as I’m sure the Republicans probably do hate this (Democrats, too), though I suspect many of them can console themselves with endless whiskey sours at the next banquet a drugs company throws for it’s – ahem - “friends” in Congress. Having said that, though, it’s far from clear to me how reforming the US health care system would in any way help, at least in the way it's currently considered. Firstly, the drugs price issue is currently essentially separate to that of HCR. I get why it shouldn't be: if drugs were cheaper so would insurance tariffs, but at present the Democrats have shied away from confronting the pharmaceutical industry as much as possible. Crucially, though, whilst you can lower drug prices and thus improve the insurance issue, I don't see how reforming insurance will make one iota of difference to the cost of drugs, which makes it hard to see how Spielbergo expects there to be a reduction in costs.

None of this matters, though, since it's not remotely the case that the Republicans would want it at all. What exactly is being proposed here? Forcing the drugs companies to reduce their prices? How will that help? Research costs what it costs. Reducing what the Americans pay to what we pay isn't going to do any good for those who make the pills, and I simply don't see anything the Americans can do to force us to pay more. Certainly I don't see any way they can do that by enacting entirely internal changes.

So what would the Republicans suggest? Replacing the money individuals pay for the drugs with government money for research? The GOP is already screaming (incorrectly) about the bill costing too much. Forcing a cap on the amount a pill can cost? That's fundamentally at odds with the way Republicans do things that it could never happen even if so many of them weren't receiving healthy amounts of cash from those same companies.

Certainly it seems clear to me that the search for this entirely mythological “good argument” is going to have to go a good deal further than “If you let us reduce costs in every other way, we’ll allow you to reduce the amount of subsidisation powerful pharmaceutical businesses will receive.” In truth, that might actually theoretically work if the Republicans were suggesting that to the Democrats (though realistically I very, very much doubt it would), but the suggestion that the best way to get the GOP to sign on with the Democrat’s agenda is to include provisions that will hobble major donors to Republican campaigns strikes me as pretty unpersuasive, however much the Republicans might agree that letting the rest of the world pay less for US drugs is a bad idea.

In fact, Spielbergo may not have seen this particular topic come up during the HCR discussion, but I have, or at least a couple of things that were very close. There were several abortive discussions generated on whether to introduce amendments to the bill that would allow the US government to either directly force pharmaceutical companies to reduce their prices for American consumers, or start buying American drugs back off the Canadians, since that would still be cheaper than buying them first hand.

Anyone want to guess which party was interested in reducing American drugs costs? And which party immediately labelled the idea as socialism in action?

Thursday, 25 February 2010

State Of The Union

Whilst we wait to see what effect the Health Care Summit will have on the landscape (pretty much everyone seems to be saying "Not much", which I'd say was likely but far from certain), there are a couple of other interesting recent articles to consider. If nothing else, the three links below sum up an awful lot of what is so disgracefully wrong with the American system.

First of all, anyone still having trouble understanding why I spend so much time beating on the American media might want to take a look at this article, in which the New York Times concludes that there exists no conflict between calling themselves the "paper of record" and refusing to retract articles, irrespective of the amassed evidence that they are false, unless the guy that gave them the story - who was since arrested in an attempt to bug a Senator's office - admits he was lying.

Compare this with something like the Dan Rather incident, where three people were fired and Rather allegedly forced into retirement by CBC because they ran a story based on documents later found to have been forged by someone else. I guess accusing the President of doing something based on evidence which you later discover is false is far worse than accusing a non-profit organisation that helps racial minorities receive their constitutional rights of something which you later discover has been fabricated by an apparent criminal. Or maybe "paper of record" means you get to have a more relaxed standard of truth-telling. Maybe they'll just "record" anything their Public Editor unilaterally decides cannot be categorically proved as false.

And whilst we're on the subject of ACORN, the constant bleating by almost everyone from ombudsmen to Jon Stewart over how the media hadn't blindly piled on nearly enough, and the quite simply insane decision by Congress to strip said organisation of all federal funds - further proof, were it needed, that the constant noise machine of FOX, Drudge, talk radio and Republican officials invariably leads to everyone else in the government and media scrabbling around in a desperate effort to concur with as much stone-cold wingnut bullshit as is humanly possible - let's take a moment to consider the an organisation Congress believes should keep being sent taxpayer dollars.

Got that, people? Giving legal advice to pimps: unacceptable. Giving money to pimps, so as to procure a prostitute? No worries.

Of course, whilst this latest example of breathtaking hypocrisy might be particularly easy to spot, given they both involve pimps what are given shit, Blackwater would still have some way to go to reach the sickening level of Halliburton. Nothing says worthy of access to the public purse like gang-raping employees and blocking their access to legal recourse, huh? I mean, if she even was raped; maybe she was just delusional after being locked in a fucking box for 24 hours. It's a tough call. [1]

Presumably this exceptionally harrowing and upsetting story is why as many as 10 Republican Senators were persuaded to support an amendment that would withdraw funding from any company that prevented its employees from seeking legsal support.

Just think about that for a second. 75% of Republican Senators voted against a law designed to prevent rape victims being cut off from the justice system (number of Republican Congresspeople who voted against defunding ACORN: zero). A law written to tell those companies the taxpayers subsidise that as a bare minimum, they couldn't tell their employees that their only response to a sexual assault was to either quit or to keep their fucking mouths shut.

Of course, not only did 30 or so Republican Senators decide that rape victims were less of a concern than the merest fractional strengthening of employment laws, they actually had the nerve to start complaining that Senator Franken, by introducing the amendment, had forced them to vote against the interssts of sexually assaulted women. The nerve of the man!

This is the American problem in a nutshell. Hiring pimps is a non-issue, but helping them get what they are legally entitled to is a disgrace. Falsely accusing the powerful without effect leads to dismissal, but falsely accusing the average Joe leading to government punishmens is just worthy of tinkering with future semantic language. Abandoning rape victims is unfortunate, but limiting employer's actions is disasterous. And, on top of it all, the real villains in American politics are not those who ignore their responsibilities to their citizens, it is those who force their colleagues to confront those responsibilities.

Which brings me back to healthcare. It took me two hours on and off to write this post. Over that time, eight US citizens died due to a lack of health care. The current scuttlebutt in DC is that Congressman Stupak is once again threatening to sink HCR over his objections that poor women can get abortions as well as rich ones. He thinks "it's not the end of the world" if the bill fails to pass.

If we can be sure of nothing else in this ridiculous and heartbreaking situation, it's that it's going to be the end of a lot of people's worlds.

Pass the damn bill.

[1] Vitriol aside, I do realise that a story does not become more plausible simply because it is more hideous. It's taken more than four years to get to the point where an Appeals Court has ruled she has the right to be heard in open court, so we're still waiting to hear the full story (if indeed we ever will). What is most certainly clear however is that Jones' story might be true, and that Halliburton's attempts to block her access to the legal process are disgraceful and unjustifiable even if she is later found to be lying.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Breaking Naan Bread With The Enemy

I'm all for universal peace and harmony and the peaceful and profitable interaction between all colours and creeds, but Vindaloo Against Violence?

I have no idea how common anti-Indian violence is in Australia; clearly any amount is too much, but is the consumption of ludicrously hot curry really likely to decrease tensions? Kormas Against Klansmen might work, once you get past the concern of whether one is simply swapping racial hostility for racial stereotyping, but vindaloo?

That's like Torture for Tolerance. Burns for Brotherhood. You may as well try to promote African-American culture in the States by lining up every white person in the country and getting Mike Tyson to punch them all in the face.

On the other hand, this is probably very good news for Australian dentists. I wonder how many of them are Indian?

h/t to Chuck.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

A Step Forward On Strategery

This is both faintly encouraging and tremendously concerning. It's faintly encouraging because it suggests it is at least theoretically possible to persuade Republican Senators that there actually exists issues for which the government actually has to do something, even if President Obama likes the idea.

On the other hand, it's tremendously concerning because allowing this bill to pass with a small smattering of "yes" votes is the final piece in the GOP strategy for the current Congress. Ever since the Democrats gained their impressive majority the Republicans having been stonewalling to an extent both ludicrous and unprecedented. As usual, the media has bent over backwards in its attempts to argue that both parties are to blame, by constantly insisting that bipartisanship is to be valued over achievement, and more importantly that in a situation where one side is holding the other to ransom, the only "bipartisan" approach worth a damn is to pay the ransom in its entirety, and wait to see whether or not more will be demanded later.

There was always at least a slight risk that the GOP would overplay their hand, though. Sooner or later it would be obvious to the public that the Republicans and their supporters in the media were taking the word "bipartisanship" and redefining it as "capitulation".

That's why this latest move is so smart. First, by playing the spoiled child for so long the Republicans have ended up with a jobs bill already suited to their tastes, because everyone in the Senate is now so desperate for co-operation the idea of writing a left-of-centre (or even plain old centre) bill is now viewed as utterly absurd. Second, the GOP can now point to this vote every single time someone argues that they are reflexively blocking everything that comes their way.

Third, and most worryingly, they've demonstrated their willingness to work in a "bipartisan" fashion just three days before the healthcare summit. Scurrilous hacks like David Broder have already spent the last year insisting that there is literally nothing the Republicans can demand without Obama/Reid being in the wrong if they don't immediately agree to it, and now those same people can spin the summit with pathetic "arguments" to the tune of "If the GOP will co-operate on jobs, the only reason they won't co-operate on HCR must be that it isn't bipartisan enough".

It's hard to be impressed by the GOP (or some amongst) managing to figure out their long-term strategy was fundamentally flawed to the point where even someone with no political training (i.e. me) could work it out. It's also hard to be impressed by the fact that the party with a significant media advantage has simply found a way to not piss that advantage down the drain.

Nevertheless, it remains a smart move, and this close to the summit, I'm definitely worried.

Kraken's Dance: Part One (Of Three)

Tolofsson whispered his final prayer to his armour’s spirit as he twisted away the last piece of ceramite that protected his frame. Whenever he had cause to remove his protective shell, it was always this piece, enveloping his right forearm, that he saved until the end. Ever since he had shattered his ulna against a genestealer’s carapace aboard the Serpent’s Coil, so as to distract the xeno long enough to gut it with his power sword, the vambrace seemed to become tangled somehow in the mass of scar tissue that still clung to his flesh. It was rarely removed without difficulty, and never without pain.

But then no-one knew better than a space marine that old wounds never really heal. Even those from so long ago as this, received back when he still wore the badge of the Emperor’s Shield. Back when the master of his chapter wouldn’t respond to a plea for aid by asking how damp the battlefield was.

Back when those that ranked beneath you would never dare to question your orders, and had they ever done so, they’d be drowning in their own blood before they’d finished their second sentence.

Back when you could face your brother marine and not gag on the stench of chaos.

Old wounds never really heal.

Ten feet away, Tegatchi stood motionless, staring unblinking at him. Had Tolofsson not watched as the younger chaplain had removed his own armour, each piece obsidian black and with the sheen of perfect smoothness that betrayed its wearer’s innocence of the crucible of combat, he might have thought Tegatchi a sculpture. Perhaps one of the statues of the forebears that encircled Moot’s Cavern on Kringrimm before the Apostles of Minthras had come with contagion and death, or one of the images of the Emperor that honoured the surrounding cathedral before the Word Bearers had defaced them in an orgy of violent bloodshed.

No, Tolofsson realised. Not quite a statue. Whilst Tegatchi stood immobile, his eyes were working furiously, ricocheting from left to right endlessly as he tried to drink in every square inch of his foe. The effect was faintly upsetting, as though Tegatchi kept his auspex inside his skull, and even now was processing data from his vision. Compiling information. Preparing his strategy.

“He is studying you,” Orfirsson noted unnecessarily, as he took the proffered vambrace from Tolofsson’s hand.

“Counting my scars,” Tolofsson agreed. “Either he’s looking for a weak point, or he believes he can gauge my fighting style from those places I have taken most damage.”

“I confess I had not considered that,” his companion admitted. “I must be getting slow.”

“You were always slow, Alkir,” Tolofsson told his old friend. “It is simply that you are finally wise enough to recognise it.” He paused momentarily before adding: “Though not too wise to prevent this charade, I notice.”

Orfirsson shrugged absently.

“Better I lose you than I cast aside the entire chapter.”

He took a moment to cast his own gaze over Tolofsson’s impressive array of scars.

“You are more callous than man,” he judged eventually. “What clear directions could come from such a cluttered map? What is there that Tegatchi can learn?”

Tolofsson smiled, slowly, baring the edges of his teeth.

“That I have fought a thousand adversaries, and I have killed them all.”

Tegatchi waited impatiently as his opponent removed his armour. He had been ready for several minutes now, standing as naked as his various armour plugs and monitor implants would allow. His hand flexed involuntarily as he resisted the urge to reach for his knife, buried in the stone floor a little distance from his foot. Watching the old man gradually strip away his protection. it seemed to Tegatchi that every plate of ceramite pulled from his opponent’s body revealed another messily healed wound. With each ugly jagged line of pale flesh, Tegatchi learned a new angle of attack. Every new second, he had a new plan, a new vision of how the battle would play out. Lunge. Strike. Parry. Stab at weakness in right ribcage ossification. Parry. Feint. Cut upwards towards jugular.

His eyes began to oscillate faster as his mind ran through ever more permutations. As one half of his artificially separated mind busied itself with evermore elaborate methods of dispatching his foe, the other watched with interest as Tolofsson’s alabaster skin began to darken, the melanochrome organ responding to its bearer’s exposure to air. He watched each ripple of colour as it burst outwards across his opponent’s torso, nodding in sympathy as the loyal organ attempted to protect its master. As it tried to adapt to new circumstances.

It was a noble effort, Tegatchi decided, and one presumably ignored entirely by its rigid, humourless owner. He felt a keen desire to see his own skin change so effectively, to prove his ability to adapt, but his skin had been far darker since birth than Tolofsson’s was even after the change. Perhaps his own melanochrome was defective, Tegatchi wondered. Or perhaps he had yet to find a situation in which pale skin would be of tactical advantage. That seemed strange, though. After all, there was so much of it scattered through the galaxy.

It didn’t matter. Tomorrow takes nothing from today, Tegatchi reminded himself, his tongue clicking subconsciously as he considered the old Caudan saying. And perhaps he was better off after all, he thought, noting with pleasure that the pale curves of Tolofsson’s scars remained stubbornly white, a map of weakness across the older marine’s body. The fracture in his solidified ribcage was even more obvious now.

At last, Tolofsson pulled away his last piece of armour, a dented, dilapidated vambrace that revealed a new patch of ugly scars, and handed the ceramite to his counterpart. They began whispering to each other earnestly. Tegatchi took a moment to consider the marines on either side of him, those born on Four Feathers to the left, and those that still enslaved themselves to Kringrimm’s memory on the right. Each one was stood still as death, waiting for what was about to happen.

In one motion, Tegatchi dropped to one knee, pulled his monomolecular-edged blade from the floor, and stood again, tossing the simplistic weapon from hand to hand. Trying not to think about the total absurdity of a genetically-enhanced warrior with access to lascannons and battle tanks choosing to slay his enemy with a piece of abnormally sharp metal, he resolved to break the silence first.

“That was certainly not over too quickly,” he called out. “I was worried old age would kill you before I could. It would have been quicker to step outside and let the ocean remove your armour by erosion.”

The older man sneered in disdain.

“Some day you will find that haste is not a luxury the Astartes can afford,” he responded, his tone no different from if he had been reading scripture in the Reclusiarium, save for an unmistakable skein of violent hatred. “Or at least, you would have, had you not chosen to throw away your life here.”

“Tomorrow takes nothing from today,” Tegatchi called back. “Only a fool gloats over a battle still to be fought.”

“This will be no battle,” Tolofsson told him. “I have killed more traitors than you have met loyal citizens. At most, washing your life’s blood from my skin will take so long it passes the point of amusement.”

Without bothering to look, Tolofsson extended his right arm, grabbed the handle of the knife Orfirsson was offering, and brought it in a short, savage arc to point at Tegatchi’s sternum.

“I was given this knife by Epistolary Svengirsson as he lay dying on Calliope,” Tolofsson informed him haughtily. “He himself received it from Brother Captain Agnisson just before they placed him in a dreadnought sarcophagus. I have watched more than four dozen enemies of the Imperium breathe their last with this blade buried in what passed for their heart.

“Impressive,” Tegatchi told him mockingly, before gesturing toward his own blade. “I took this knife from a table just before we hit atmosphere. It might even be mine.”

He allowed himself a tight smile at the look of shock and scorn that burst across Tolofsson’s face.

“You ignorant whelp!,“ the senior chaplain spluttered in outrage, “I shall carve the stories of my tribe into your bleeding chest!”

Tegatchi kept his face perfectly still in response. Then he said solemnly “I promise that when you lie dead at my feet , I won‘t let them burn your body either.”

Tolofsson’s first attack came so quickly Tegatchi didn’t even recognise his opponent had charged. It was only instinct that forced him sideways, brought up his knife to scrape along Tolofsson’s in a shower of sparks.

Grinning fiercely, Tegatchi pivoted on his left foot, and offered a lunge of his own.

It was time the Kringrimmi learned that tomorrow would not take them.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Remember That Health Care Thing?

So, I've been very quiet about healthcare for a while. That seemed only reasonable, since the Democrats have been very quiet about healthcare for a while too.

I think it's important to bear that silence in mind when reading this. We should also note that whatever else he is, Harry Reid is a deeply cautious Majority Leader. It seems close to unbelievable that he would say this without the necessary senate votes, especially after how angry he reportedly was after being punked by Lieberman. It's certainly possible that he's doing this to embarrass recalcitrant Senators into doing the right thing, but I'd say that was a pretty risky move for anyone, and far more risky by what seems to be Reid's standards.

So I'm far more optimistic today than I have been since Coakley managed to screw the entire country with her disinterested, whiny petulance ("Me? A politician? Canvass support by talking to peasants in snowstorms?"). In fact, more confident than I was before the Massachusetts debacle, since I never believed the process of combining the House and Senate bills would go even remotely smoothly once it became clear that we would have to deal with Stupak, Lieberman and Nelson being pricks all at the same time. [1]

In other words, I think there's a case to be made that persuading 50 Senators to use reconciliation after Masachusetts might actually be easier than persuading 60 of them to just not be dicks all the time. How Pelosi is swinging this in the House, though, and how it all slots in with reports that the White House is releasing its own bill, I have no idea.

I guess we're about to find out.

[1] Yes, I've added Nelson to the prick file. I was willing to grant him some slack on the grounds that I could understand his objections to abortion even if I don't agree with him. Then I remembered how transparent the bribe he was given to vote yes was, though, and realised it's pretty hard to respect a man who claims abortion is murder but is willing to put up with it so long as his state gets more money. You can claim that reducing abortion is more important than saving lives and just be wrong. You can't claim reducing arbortion is more important than saving lives but less important than your state getting tax exemptions for its insurance companies.

(Incidentally, I think that article is worth reading in full. I don't know whether Publius is right or not that the bill is the most corrupt in history, but I can believe it. The problem with Publius's outrage is that in America's political landscape, any legislation above the level of fine-tuning will be either corrupt or DOA. And Citizens United means it's only going to get worse.)

When Humans Be Things: Part The Sixth

Hmm. I've managed to go a whole week again without putting up my thoughts on Being Human.

Here's the thing, though; I'm just not thinking about it at all, anymore.

It's not that last week's episode was bad. In fact, you could make a case for it being one of the strongest episodes this series, if not the outright winner. It's just that "this series" qualifier that's the problem.

So Annie finds a mystic and uses him to help ghosts talk to their loved ones. That's a perfectly reasonable idea, and it was done well, but it's just kind of... ordinary (within the context of a fantastical show, I mean). There's nothing to say about it, other than it was genuinely emotionally affecting (this may or may not be reflective of still having my Granddad's passing still on my mind, of course). The same is true of George's decision to move in with his new girlfriend and her child. None of it was at all objectionable (and I'm really getting to like Molly), but it pretty much just slides off the mind entirely. As ridiculous as Werewolf Tourettes was, at least that was something you could talk about. Mitchell didn't even have a story, just a drawn out scene of travelling to somewhere we assume a story might be. By now I'm not really considering each aspect of the story as I see it, I'm just noting it.

Of course, we're about to start the descent into the series finale, so I guess getting an episode which just feels like treading water isn't entirely surprising. I rather thought though that an upside to only getting 6 to 8 episodes a season would be that the filler episode was no longer something show-runners needed to resort to.

I really hope the next two episodes pick up. Maybe, as some have suggested, this is all just difficult second album syndrome. Or maybe it's simply that once the show's central concept stops being unusual and different in itself, there isn't anywhere else to go (though the brilliance of the Gatekeepers plot suggests otherwise, and once again makes me wonder what the hell they were thinking wrapping that up in two episodes). In either case, the news that Toby Whithouse has recently completed the first script for Season Three fills me with total ambivalence, and that's pretty clear evidence that something is wrong.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

The Decade's First Distraction

It would be hard to describe just how bored I got today. My working day currently consists entirely of reading papers on the various intricacies of different "probability wheels", all of which invariably look like Trivial Pursuit pieces halfway through a game played by the colour-blind. I don't know how Ibb managed it for three and a half years.

In order to rest my aching, wheezing brain for a few minutes, I started writing this post, in which I go back to an old favourite that requires no actual thought. Well, not for me, at least.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen: it's the fourth in the series for the pointless meme I won't let go: the Song First Lines quiz!

Last time's effort currently stands at 32% complete. I'll give it another 48 hours to see if anyone wants a last stab at it, partially to see if anyone can beat Jamie's not particularly insurmountable score of 2 songs identified (Garathon is judged to be on 1.5), and partially because I realised one of the lines was actually incorrect (can anyone spot the change? DARE YOU RISK THE EXCITEMENT OVERLOAD!?!).

On to the latest attempt, then. This time it's fractionally different. I've banned multiple entries from the same band or artist (though artists who've appeared in multiple incarnations are allowed), since I was sick of somehow getting six songs from the same artist every time, no mean feat with almost 4000 songs to choose from. I've also put them in what I think is ascending order of difficulty, to see how well I can judge that. Thus, expect high-selling singles before low ones, which in turn appear before first popular and then less than popular albums, before we finally get to the weird stuff that exists on the fringes of my i-Pod.

Right, here we go.

1. "Someone told me it's all happening at the zoo." Simon & Garfunkel - At The Zoo (Tomsk)
2. "Sleep on and dream of love because it's the closest you will get to love." Morrissey - November Spawned A Monster
3. "I'm a realist, I'm a romantic." The Cribs - I'm A Realist
4. "Took a bite out of a mountain range." Biffy Clyro - Mountains
5. "Up on a hill, here's where we begin this little story."
The Strokes - The Modern Age
6. "It's you that I adore, you will always be my whore." The Smashing Pumpkins - Ava Adore (Midget_Yoda)
7. "Took the 60 bus out of downtown Cambell." Rancid - Roots Radicals

8. "A girl consumed by fire, we all know her desire." The Stone Roses - This Is The One (Tomsk)
9. "I'm seeing this girl and she just might be out of her mind." The Offspring - She's Got Issues
10. "Oh mirror mirror, you're coming in clear." Foo Fighters - Stacked Actors (S. Spielbergo)

11. "And the moment will come when composure returns." Belle & Sebastian - Sleep The Clock Around (Jamie)
12. "Please don't let this turn into something it's not." Snow Patrol - Make This Go On Forever
13. "Slow night so long, she's frenching out the flavor." Kings Of Leon - Slow Night, So Long (Chuck)
14. "I remember it well, the first time I saw your head round the door." Damien Rice - I Remember

15. "On a Sunday I'll think it through." Jimmy Eat World, A Sunday
16. "When I pick up my guitar this is the song that always comes." Ryan Adams and the Cardinals - Rosebud (Pause)
17. "In the lobby of the LRC, well I knew I'd find something." Band Of Horses - Ode To LRC (Jamie)
18. "When did you lose faith? Seems like yesterday when we were up against them all."
19. "I'm not gonna try and tell you that I'm different from all the rest." Propagandhi - Refusing To Be A Man
20. "He likes to act like he's all grown up." Alkaline Trio - Another Innocent Girl
21. "Let's go down to the fashion show." Eels - Fashion Awards
22. "The time has come for colds and overcoats." Brand New - I Will Play Our Game Underneath The Spin Light

23. "If you never leave the highlands like you're drowning under rain." Roddy Woomble - My Secret Is My Silence (Lynda)
24. "All you need is something I'll believe." Zwan - Come With Me

25. "Come here, please hold my hand for now." Blink 182 - Not Now

Of the above, four tracks are by solo artists, the other twenty-one, at least in theory, are full bands. Five are English, three (or arguably four) are Scottish, and sixteen are American. One song was released in the 60's, one in the 80's, and the rest are all from the last twenty years. Five of them contain the title of the song, and four more come pretty close. For my regular readers, you might like to know that five of the above songs exist on albums I have given to individuals amongst you, and in addition I know at least one of them are on albums that someone in your ranks owns (and I think I've seen two more amongst your collections). Moreover, I've seen five of these artists (in one form or another) live, and for four of them at least one other regular reader was present.

Right. Enough hints. Get to it.

Friday, 19 February 2010

As Far To Go As Has Been Gone

After experiencing first-hand its undoubted existence late this evening, I can in fact state with certainty that The Wolfman does, in fact, inhabit some kind of locus in our space time continuum. As a film, we cannot deny that it is.

No other description can be offered. Even to refer to it as "mediocre" would be to assign to it an adjective, an honour which Johnston's effort cannot claim to have earned. Simply put, this movie is in the middle. More than that; it is middle. It is the raw stuff with which middles are made.

If every film that was or is or ever shall be thanks to the efforts of man, alien, or the sentient cockroaches that will replace us as rulers of the globe were ranked in order of artistic worth, one would discover this film resting in the very centre of the list. If God Himself decided to reorder His DVD collection in ascending degree of viewing pleasure then The Wolfman would be found hovering at the Lagrange point of the gravitational fields of purest excellence and manifest wretchedness. If it transpired that such a median position is impossible, due to the sum total of all cinematic offerings proving to be an integer of the kind men label "even", then there would inexplicably be two copies of The Wolfman present, so as to prevent an implicit judgement that the film is considered closer to one extreme than the other.

In short, the film is a reality breaking paradox. The utility of making the effort to see a film should increase as each obstacle between you and that film is removed. Not so here. At any point, no matter how close or far one is to the cinema, or the screen itself, or how many cinema snacks have been purchased and expectations massaged, it is not possible to say that seeing the film is any more or less sensible than not seeing it. As every moment gobbles up another set of Planck constants between you and that first tepid frame of something-that-is-there, the advantages of staying the course are no greater nor lesser than turning around. And so it continues, as you are forced a billion times in each second of the 102 minutes you will neither enjoy nor waste to choose between watching and not watching. And always there is no reason whatsoever to choose one over the other, no metric applicable that will provide an answer, as though one were the eponymous nag in the donkey paradox, unable to choose between two bales of hay, or perhaps presented with food so unpalatable as for it to have no inherent advantage over starvation.

On the other hand, topless chick! The legacy of Hammer is in good hands...

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Debating Tips

Esther Inglis-Arkell takes some time out from her busy Batman-worshipping schedule (hey, she has her comic book obsession, I have mine) to slap down a particularly irritating form of internet argument she dislikes.

Basically, I think she's pretty close to being dead on, though I'd add that whilst "You have to consider my feelings, and I don't have to consider yours" is a pretty objectionable position to have, I think one can offer a similar argument of "Just because I have accidentally offended people does not give you carte blanche to deliberately offend me." That latter point has to be accompanied by an apology, otherwise Inglis-Arkell is entirely correct that it's just hypocritical whinging, but alongside an admission of guilt, it is possible to offer it without inconsistency (though whether or not anyone should be particularly sympathetic is another matter entirely).

There are two reasons why I mention this. The first is by way of suggesting people might want to read Scan_Daily's own response to the initial argument (which kicked off over comments regarding transgender people that were judged significantly - though almost certainly accidentally - offensive; there's a link so you can judge for yourself should you wish) which is a reminder both of how far we still have to go in creating a society in which we can all happily coexist, and how foolish it remains to argue that the attitudes of others only become issues when laws are broken.

The second reason is to add my own complaints over a specific form of internet tactic. Commentator Jason on the 4thletter thread attempts to (partially) defend those Inglis-Arkell is criticising by saying:
In a place like Scans_Daily you’re not talking to anyone in particular until someone responds to something you say. So “You have consider my feelings, and I don’t have to consider yours.” is actually, “I wasn’t talking to you specifically and didn’t mean to offend you, you are talking directly to me and you’re being rude/hurting my feelings.”
I very rarely visit Scans_Daily, and have never read the comments threads before today, but presumably Jason is right, and like all comment threads plenty of what is written there isn't intended to be a response to anyone in particular (though at least arguably every comment not specifically addressed to someone else is intended for the author of the post).

The problem I have with Jason's stance is that it lets far too many people off the hook, by implying you don't have to consider how people might interpret your opinions, accusations or judgments, just so long as there isn't a name in there. If you're listing your issues with a group of people, it should come as no surprise when individuals from that group (or indeed from outside that group, I can imagine plenty of scenarios in which I would object to someone specific being attacked even though I myself was not) take exception to what you're saying.

It's no less irksome when used to describe a particular opinion or standpoint, because it allows someone to deride others for holding a position and yet protest innocence when any specific holder of that position objects to the smear. At best it's just thoughtlessness ("I don't need to worry about whether this is a fair comment since I'm not throwing it at anyone specifically") and at worst it's a deliberate method for insulting/criticising people and then spluttering indignantly when they attempt to defend themselves. It's about one page before "I was only joking, and the fact that that was impossible to infer in the toneless world of internet forums is entirely your fault!" in 101 Ways To Avoid The Ramifications Of Your Behaviour On-Line.

Of course, people tend to take shortcuts, myself included, so I've no doubt one could dig up multiple examples of me seeming to generalise positions or not attribute them well enough to the people who generally hold them. My argument then is not so much that this shouldn't be done (though it should be limited, and in an ideal world people, including myself, wouldn't do it at all), it's that it is important to understand that those whom an example of this practice has offended have that right. If someone wants to have a go at me over my latest rant about conservatives, then either I'll agree with them or I won't, and then decide whether or not I think further explanation or even an apology is required. I might even point out that the qualifications on my rant preclude them as a target (though as mentioned above, that hardly invalidate their right to object). What I hope I never find myself doing is arguing that since they weren't specifically referenced, it is they who are acting unreasonably.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Shake #35: The Day The Shaking Stopped

Today's shake: Chocolate Fudge Brownie

Taste: 6
Texture: 7
Synergy: 8
Scorn: 2
Total Score: 7.25

General Comments: At long last my Scorn skills seem to have reached an adequate level. My working theory on this shake would be that it would work very well (given that people have been selling chocolate fudge brownie ice-cream for years with, to my knowledge, no casualties or riots causing problems), but that there was a distinct change of straw-blockage.

So it proved. Aside from the occasional need to remove the straw to dislodge pieces of soggy brownie, the shake is entirely palatable, with nice little bits of fudge and chocolate to chew on between mouthfuls.

And with that, I declare the shake experiment over (aside from some final number-crunching, which I'll get round to later in the week). The expansion of my waist-band is one reason to give up, as is the fact that I seem to mined several of the shake categories of anything particularly pleasant. Also, Shakeaholic is apparently about to change its menu (this was one of the few cakes that remained), and I really haven't the will to potentially start all over again.

I hope that this series has proved useful. I can't for the life of me imagine how it could, but I hope for it nonetheless.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Almost Forgot...

Happy St Skeletor's Day, everyone!

More Inaccurate Truths?

Sigh. Another day, another Guardian article on climate change inaccuracies (though this particular brouhaha has been in the news for a little while now). Seeing as how a lot of people are now breaking out the party hats and dancing on the grave of man-caused climate change, it might be wise to take a breath and consider where we actually are right now.

One of those times I found it most difficult to understand the thought processes of climate change skeptics/deniers[1] was during the flap over the nine "inaccuracies" in Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth. I put the word inaccuracies in quote marks mainly because a review of the nine points reveals a significant variation in how reasonable the term is. Some of them are clearly mistakes, others seem to involve the judge quibbling over the differences between possible, plausible and probable events, and whether or not sufficient evidence exists for what he believes Al Gores intended to imply to the audience. I don't want to get into an argument over whether we should allow judges to determine the validity of statistical conclusions, but it's at least arguable that three or four of the highlighted "errors" aren't really anything more than semantic arguments regarding the level of certainty with which the judge believes a given statement can be made compared to the level of certainty with which he believes Al Gore had made it, and one (the CO2 graph) that I think the judge is dead wrong on in any case.

That's not really the point, though. The point is that a fine-tooth comb analysis of the film revealed nine facts that could be refuted, quibbled with, or cast in alternative lights, to the point where they needed to be addressed. What I can't get my head around is skeptics cheering these flaws in the film, rather than turning white with terror that the detailed, in-depth analysis of the ninety minute film (I guess the slide-show itself is about an hour or so) had determined that everything else in it was true. Either the claimant's experts had decided not to challenge any other point, or they had and the judge had ruled that point was sufficiently backed up by the evidence. The judge went so far as to say "I have no doubt that Dr Stott, the Defendant's expert, is right when he says that: 'Al Gore's presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate.'"

It seems to me only the most lunatic of head-in-the-sand deniers could see that film and argue there wasn't anything to worry about because it was merely broadly accurate.

I mention all this because it's been looking a great deal like something very similar is going to happen again. This time, it's the IPCC report that's under fire, for including an unchecked prediction on how quickly the Himalayan glaciers will melt, including the hockey stick graph that is at the heart of the "climategate" screaming match, and (perhaps most ridiculously) misquoting the percentage of The Netherlands currently below sea level.

The first and third are clear mistakes (frankly, I can believe the latter is a simple typo), and it speaks poorly of those that composed the report allowed them to slip through. Both of them exist on the very fringe of theory, however. Getting either statistic wrong makes very little difference, because the former comes at the end of the process (prove the existence of climate change, demonstrate the degree to which its our fault, extrapolate what our continued actions will result in, and only then estimate how quickly the glaciers will melt), and the latter is only relevant if one believes that policy makers (or the general public) could be compelled to action in order to prevent half a country flooding, but not merely a quarter.

The hockey stick issue is more concerning, and I'm still digging through it all. To digress slightly, the problem here is that there are three separate issues that we must be careful not to conflate: 1) Is the previous methods by which that data was analysed objectively inferior, or was it literally the best one could do with that set, 2) assuming the second is true, how much else has been built on that analysis, since everything that has can now be viewed as coming along with a label that says "assuming our best guess is true, it follows that..." 3) if that really is the situation, and we decide that we're either heading for total disaster or we'll be totally fine, how sensible is it to conclude that there is no point doing anything to avert disaster because we can only say "Our best guess is that we're fucked?". For the record, though, my current position is 1) there seems to have ultimately been consensus that it was the best one, though that doesn't make it good (the argument boils down to the method being unreliable over the short term for predicting temperature and thus unsuitable for longer time periods as well vs. it's better than nothing, and over the long-term the problems might iron themselves out), 2) not as much as people think; the hockey stick seems to be the most commonly cited evidence that current global temperature levels are unprecedented, which is a separate issue from why temperatures are so hot now ("It's happened before" is obviously a non-answer when you're trying to determine a specific cause), and 3) you'd need some fairly intelligent people and powerful mathematics to run the cost analysis to answer that one, and it wouldn't matter because people would automatically attack the answer if they didn't like it, just as they are doing now.

Anyway, the point here is that the IPCC report is now being taken apart, attacked by an entire fleet of fine-tooth combs. The skeptics are most certainly over it like white on rice, and if climate scientists have an ounce of sense, they'll be doing it as well. If follows, then, that within a comparatively short space of time (a year or so, perhaps) we will be able to divide the document into two classes: the parts which have been held up as dodgy, and those that haven't because no-one has been able to fault them.

This is why Ian Katz - whose heart I think is in the right place - gets it so wrong when he suggests the whole case must be remade (he's far more persuasive on the narrower issue of increasing public access to data sets). There's simply no need; what is and isn't correct will be determined pretty quickly, and my money is on the vast majority of cases falling into the former category. Did anyone demand we reconsider whether F=ma when Newton's conception of planetary orbits turned out to be flawed? The constant drumbeat of complaints along the lines of "If that's not true, what else might be false?" is deeply unconvincing precisely because those other areas can be checked as well. It's not like finding salmonella in a consignment of eggs. We can, and no doubt will, check the entire body of literature on this topic (or at least those parts of it that are heavily relied upon by the IPCC). The alternative framing of the situation, "If your investigation found that that's not true, then why couldn't you find a problem anywhere else unless no problem existed?" makes far more sense to me, but it's all too rare.

[1] And deniers are almost always what they turn out to be, in my experience. It is possible to be a global warming skeptic, I don't doubt, but every time I've seen such a person pushed to explain their skepticism, they always reveal that they are cheerfully, wilfully accepting of anything other skeptics have told them. You are NOT a skeptic if you're only skeptical about one side of a debate, especially when your "skepticism" is rooted in believing only one side has ulterior motives (how people can tell me with a straight face that scientists and governments are colluding in an international conspiracy to raise taxes whilst holding up big oil-funded research as evidence against AGW is simply beyond me). You're just a denier. You might not like the label, but that's the price you pay for deciding how trustworthy someone is based on how much you like what they're telling you.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Sleeping In

I love this idea. I think it's an important charity, I think it's a nice alternative to Valentine's Day, but mainly, I think it's awesome that I can be driving through my home town and see a trio of Santas riding hogs in the opposite direction.

Always Remember, They Started It

At last! Some good news in our battle against Mother Nature!

It's been a tough few years for those of us who realise just how evil that mad bitch Gaia is. Monkeys controlling robots with their minds, mechanical fish patrolling the deep off the Iberian Peninsula, zombie wasps poised to invade arable farms the length and breadth of America. Sure, in each case well meaning "humans" have taken credit for these insane and dangerous breaches of good order, but I see the cunning manipulations of Tellus, as she prepares to sweep us from "her" world.

At last, then, we have decided to take the fight to the enemy. Starting with mosquitoes. Sure, they may be tiny, but they're everywhere, and they've killed a lot of people. So what are we gonna do about it?

We're gonna laser the fuck out of them.

Oh, that I might live to see the day that I can sit on my back porch, drinking fine Kentucky bourbon and allowing myself to be sent to sleep by the phht phht phht sound of thousands of tiny insects beyond shot from the air by barrages of indiscriminate laser fire. My dreams will be peaceful and contented.

I know what you're thinking! That I, SpaceSquid, in attempting to nullify the threats arrayed against us by a vindictive planet, am embracing the very technology that will spell our doom!

Not so! We have nothing to fear from our web of laser death! Why, it will be specifically programmed to leave us alive! " It would reject a butterfly or a human, for example." No, it is inconceivable that we should be concerned about putting such devices in the field. If anything, they're not destructive enough. Kill the butterflies as well, I say. Sure, they're not a threat yet, but evolution is a tricky bastard. There was a time when you could walk through a jungle without any fear of being eaten by tigers, or bitten by poisonous snakes. All right, none of was were there at that time, but it damn well existed.

Let's not take the chance. Let's get a little "prevenge" going. Take out the butterflies. And the moths. All of them. Let's immolate every last six-legged creature that flies. Then, after a sufficiently opulent party to celebrate our victory (we'll need to be careful we don't use up too much honey in the cooking, though, that shit's gonna get expensive fast), we can gather our brightest minds together, and get to work on the miniature plasma-bomb minefields we'll need to kill all the crawling ones.

For the first time in a long while, the future is looking up.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Schooling The Young 'Uns

As if turning 30 didn't make me feel old enough, I found myself in the tremendously depressing situation last night of discovering one of my newer colleagues is too young to have experienced what I would have considered a formative part of my teenage years: the comedy stylings of Stewart Lee and Richard Herring.

In fairness, they've both been off the radar for a long time now, televisually speaking, until recently at least. Herring has moved into writing whimsical comedy drama in-between starring in shows on the Poker Channel, and Stewart Lee's last TV foray was Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, which was periodically brilliant and sometimes genuinely new, though not often at the same time (for the record, when you've spent as long as Lee has crafting superior stand-up material to be played to audiences of a few dozen at a time, I've got no problem with the idea of recycling it when you have an opportunity to deliver it to potentially millions of people).

From 1995 to 1999, though, they were twin comedy colossi, casting their satirical, Rory Bremner eyes across the country. I re-watched the first series of Fist Of Fun recently (there were two series, followed in 1998 and 1999 by two series of This Morning With Richard Not Judy AKA Tumwurunjuh AKA TMWRN Judy), and it's genuinely amazing (to say nothing of depressing) how much what I consider humorous follows on directly from their routines (in fairness, since their routine consists of a scathing intellectual snob and a fat, sex-starved blunderer, I can appropriate their material and play both parts).

Since those halcyon days they've mostly been (separately) touring stand up shows, that are frequently very funny indeed. Of the two, I'd have to say Lee is the better (though it may simply be that now time has passed and he's gotten fat too, it's tipped the balance over which of the two I have the greatest chance of emulating in some pathetic, clearly unsatisfactory way), but Herring quite often does the business ("Oh Fuck! I'm Forty" was particularly good.) Thus, for the benefit of my younger readers, here are a few samples of what you've been missing all this time.

Warning: do not watch the clip below if you're still grieving over Princess Di. Or, for that matter, if you'd consider it offensive to hear a British man doggedly referring to 9/11 as "The ninth of November".

So much for the arch, smug half. Onto the childish idiocy.

And one last clip, which is a bit scattershot, but I can't find any clips from "Oh Fuck...", so this will have to do.

And lastly, the two of them together, reliving Tumwurunjuh by shamelessly recycling old material. Because they can.

What, you want new jokes? You want the Moon on a stick!!!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Friday 40K Blogging: The First Shoal

At long last, the first Squid squad stands ready for duty.
Eagle-eyed (and disturbingly obsessive) readers will notice that I've added the tactical arrow to the right shoulder pad. This was not my choice. Having been bought Assault on Black Reach by the Squid Seniors at Xmas I figured I'd use some of the tactical marines within to bolster all three of my nascent Space Marine forces.

Infuriatingly, said marines come with tactical arrows already modelled on.

Why? For the love of the Emperor, why? Not only does it completely unnecessarily limit one's choices if you want to paint up a non-Codex chapter, (I can't use them for Salamanders now, since the right pad is where the flame-burst goes) but the arrow itself is hideous, sprouting out of the ridge of the pad, instead of allowing space. This is deeply displeasing.

Also, it's worth noting that whilst I originally intended for this entire chapter to be black, I've decided it makes more sense two employ two skin tones; one for the taciturn warriors of Kringrimm, and the other for the more raucous brawlers of Four Feathers. I spent a while trying to decide which way round the tones should be, and whether I could somehow manage to accidentally send some unpalatable racial message by implying black people were either outdated and faded people typically subject to being massacred or former convicts now working for Chapter Master Whitey.

Eventually, though I decided that a) I was over-thinking it, and b) Three Chaplains is taking us to a place where a Kringrimm is unlikely to show up as a Sergeant in any case (even a veteran), so fuck it. Convicts and underdogs it'll have to be. Looks like their day's about to come in any case, though; the next chapter of the Krakens of Greyjoy is almost complete.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Quote Of The Day

One of these days, I'm going to Quote Of The Day a quote that isn't about about American politics. Shut up, I am.

Not today, though. This made me chuckle too much:

David Brooks: Gail, there I was watching the snow drift down on the Brooks estate in suburban Maryland last Saturday, when suddenly, after some spluttering and coughing, I was without power. Now I know how the Republicans feel.

Gail Collins: David, I think the Republican analogy would work only if your next step was to barricade yourself in the power station, turn off service to all the people who did have power and announce that nobody was going to do anything until the company promised to build its next generator on your block and employ all your family, friends and neighbors at handsome salaries to do the assembling. But I'm sorry, you were saying about the snow...

h/t Steve Benen.

Overly Humane

This is all getting a bit silly, isn't it?

Yes, yes, I know. I'm complaining about silliness in a show involving a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost sharing the same house (did they ever explain why Annie and her fiance were living in a three bedroom terrace, by the way?), and during a period where every genre TV writer in the country seems convinced that the only way to get anywhere these days is to spend half your time winking at the camera. Surely there's got to be a happy medium somewhere, though, right? How about the entirety of your own series to this point, for example?

Anyway. Let's start with the good stuff, shall we? Get that out of the way, make this all seem Fair and Balanced so that I can really put the boot in later (as always with these Being Human updates, spoilers aplenty below).


George! George was good! Well, he was alright. I give the show credit for having his entire storyline this week almost entirely separate from his identity as a werewolf. In fact, the only real reference to it in the entire episode was my favourite scene. Watching George mention almost casually that having children was on his old to-do list was more emotionally effective than any number of his squeaky tear-stained self-pity sessions, and a reminder of why I liked Tovey so much in the pilot (before they dialled up the histrionics to 11 for the first season). The most important thing to realise about George, at least as far as I can see, is that he's a deeply caring and thoughtful guy wrapped inside a petty self-involved pedant. You could get him to walk through fire for you, but you have to ask, otherwise he'll be too busy complaining that the flames have ruined his throw cushions. I really liked that about him, the fact that he could be so selfless and yet so self-absorbed simultaneously, and that seems to have been buried lately. It was nice to see that side to him again (well, it was still all about his plans and not Annie's, but it was a definite start). I'm not sure how long this thing with Sam can last (though that's partly the point, of course), but for now it's a welcome break from the constant moping.

Also worthy of praise: 1969. Lovely to see Herrick back (even if it did rather remind one that things haven't been as good since he got himself torn to bits), and although the parallels between then and now were a bit laboured and unsubtle, I'm willing to let all the blame for that fall on the contemporary scenes, since I plan on being very rude about them in any case. Oh, and let's cut it out with the naked dead girls. I defended it the first time as being at least theoretically thought provoking, but once a fortnight makes it seem tacky.

Right, onto the bollocks. And there are many bollocks with which to occupy our time. First, and most pressingly, the show really needs to decide what a ghost is. Is it a sorrowful, wretched spirit trapped in its own private purgatory, waiting for the world to avenge its death? Or is it a gossiping absent-minded blonde who needs a babysitter so she can try and talk a dead fireman into a spot of horizontal haunting?

The whole point of Annie's story is that she's alone. She has George and Mitchell to talk to, but she's still alone. Even more so now that she can't be seen by the living. Suddenly implying there's an entire ghost community out there (and if they're going on dates and gossiping about Annie beating the Gatekeepers, that sounds like there's at least something along those lines) makes her a curiosity, rather than a tragic figure. She used to be able to interact with the living but not the dead, and now she's swapped round. Aside from not being able to change her clothes too much or have a cup of tea, not really much has changed. The idea might be to contrast her with George (who is still having problems with the idea of being in a community at all) and Mitchell (who has a community, but a truly disturbing and messed-up one), but if that's the case, it seems like highlighting contrast at the expense of drama.

This is made worse by the idea that random ghosts may just show up at the flat. Annie's not just part of the ghost community, she's a ghost celebrity, meaning anyone might turn up any time as an alternative to actual plot coherence. This time it was ghost mother and ghost baby (raising all sorts of questions about how a baby becomes a ghost, and whether that can happen independently of their mother becoming one too; the idea of abandoned ghost babies crawling through the world is pretty horrible even for someone as cold-hearted as myself), because it was time for Annie to get broody, but who knows what's next? Maybe next week Annie will get upset over her inability to perform bodily functions after a random visit from an undead circus freak accompanied by two fecal-matter-stained ghostly monkeys. The beauty of Being Human lies in its ability to go from comedy to drama to horror in quick succession without (generally speaking) undermining itself, but each "comedy" encounter with a ghost runs the risk of damaging those latter two properties, especially when it's tagged with "Oh, they're just like us!" style punchlines. Once or twice might be fine, but the whole point is they're not supposed to be like us. You can't call your show Being Human once your characters may as well be human anyway.

All of the above is troubling enough without the storyline then developing to the point where Annie decides she wants to keep the baby and attempts to persuade (then trick) the mother into leaving him with her. At this point, Annie is not being cute, nor acting in a way amusingly incongruous with our conception of how ghost would behave. She is just being Full On Mad for the sake of cheap drama ("Aw, she doesn't want to give the baby away!") and cheap laughs ("Hah hah! As if anyone would forget the baby they specifically returned to collect!"). Must try harder, Being Human.

Also needing a good critical kicking this week: Mitchell and the increasingly ludicrous plotline of sulky shouting. Before we go any further, it's time to issue an edict. TV land writers: never, ever, ever demonstrate a character is morally compromised by showing him receive a blow-job from a vampire in an unlocked room. It's cheap, and it's nasty, and considering his very next move is to be so unpleasant about the idea of vampires being redeemable, it's totally nonsensical. This is what I get when I argue the show isn't deliberately gratuitous; moustache-twirling villains getting sucked off in funeral homes. Within one episode Chief Constable Wilson has devolved from a pleasingly grey-shaded character to a bizarre scheming apocalypse-minded sex-fiend. It makes fuck all sense that Mitchell would kill him (though fuck all sense was very much the theme for the episode), but after the damage they did to the poor guy it's probably for the best. Shame.

Seriously, though, what is going on with Mitchell. For a couple of episodes it's looked like he was treading the well-worn but at least trusty path of the "power corrupts" storyline. Now, though? Who the Hell can say? In one episode he went from "I'm too principled to kill paedos", to killing a police officer for being a bit crazy, to running away like a child, to confessing his true nature to Lucy in an effort to persuade her to be his blood-recovery sponsor and fuck-buddy. How does any of that make sense? At least with Josie he had some weird inverted Stockholm Syndrome style thing going on. All he has with Lucy is a single, awkward date. What could possibly make him think it was a good idea to admit he was a vampire? After five episodes of telling everyone it was absolutely imperative that they remain in hiding? Knowing she's been snooping around what she considers insufficiently well-explained deaths? How do his actions make any sense except for the fact that we know Lucy would have killed him had he lied?

And why would she do that? What exactly was her plan, anyway? To kill him before dinner? To kill him after the sexy sex? Why would it matter if he lied if she was just going to stake the shit out of him after the wild thing in any case? Is she just going to befriend vampires one at a time and hope that over a period of weeks she can persuade them round for a meal and then do them in? Is there really not a more efficient method? I get that she's supposed to be morally conflicted, but all she comes across as is dangerously incompetent; most obviously in her decision to not stake Mitchell but then leave the weapon in bed as she snuggles him.

Oh, and whilst I thought it was an excellent point to compare the mob's fear of paedos in the 21st Century to their fear of monsters in the 19th, actually comparing a main character's obsession with blood to a pederasts need to prey on young children is, whilst extremely brave, liable to be counter-productive. It presents a choice between not sympathising with your lead, and sympathising with a child molester. That in itself might actually work, but your comparing a child molester with a vampire who has literally relapsed minutes beforehand, and at that point the parallels get uncomfortable and hard to think about.

All in all, it was a distinctly mixed bag, and the bits that didn't work really didn't work. This season started poorly, really picked up, and is now slipping back into the doldrums. It's still got plenty to recommend it (and in fairness each character has had at least three excellent episodes each, it's just only been once or twice that they've managed it concurrently). Hopefully this is just a factor of increasing the show to eight episodes. By the end of next week, we should be at the top of the roller coaster, ready to plunge into the final two-parter.

I hope.