Saturday, 31 July 2010

State Of Play

This will be my final missive from the original Casa del Calamari. Hopefully the conclusion of the epic move will allow me a little more time to write (I still have a lot of unpacking to do, but that can be done at a more leisurely pace). On the other hand, I'm unlikely to have internet access at home for about a month - and that assumes nothing will go wrong, which seems unlikely when BT are involved. Swings and roundabouts, I guess. I don't want another month to go past with so little posted (I haven't done as poorly as this month in over two years), but we'll have to see what happens.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Old World Skool

Impressions of Chaos In The Old World after my first game are actually pretty positive. It looks positively gorgeous, obviously, but then this is Fantasy Flight we're talking about. Awarding a Fantasy Flight game points for looking like a work of art is like giving points to haute cuisine for not letting you starve. Sure, that's nice and all, and no-one likes starving, but that wasn't what made you book a table, was it?

So what is there beyond an admittedly drool-inducing map of the Old World and some truly exquisite plastic miniatures for each of the four Chaos Gods (including all four breeds of minor and major demon)?

Well, quite a bit. T's complaints notwithstanding, it's not a massively complicated game (important note: my definition of "not massively complicated" means I have grasped all the rules and the basic strategy in time to have a shot at winning my first ever game). Your hapless cultists and gibbering demons skip gaily across the Old World, sowing terror and misery wherever they hang their rune-daubed hats. Points are awarded both for conquering realms, and for fucking them up to such an epic extent that they actually become uninhabitable. This latter option nets you big-time victory points, but once you've ruined a realm you can't use it to farm all those squishy human things you so love to squish between your toes, so the scorched earth option is something you want to consider each and every time, even if you'd be in a position to do so (it's not an easy task by any means).

As well as the land-grab options, the other way to advance on your road to total global domination is to advance your own agenda. These are very pleasingly logical and characterful. Khorne's "plan" is probably not even worthy of the name:

Slaanesh gets his jollies by persuading members of the Empire nobility to join his pervy "Pleasure Cult":

Nurgle turns up to the largest city he can find and unleashes as many plagues as possible upon the inhabitants:

And Tzeentch....


Well, um, the thing about Tzeentch....

OK. So Tzeentch is a bit shit. Can't have everything, can you?

Still, beyond the comparative lameness of The Quest For The Prettiest Pebble, the different agendas make for a basic and colourful way to govern interactions. Slaanesh needs to devote enough time and energy to ensnare the barony, but if there's a large city in the area he needs to watch out for Nurgle. And what if Tzeentch is in the next realm over stealing all the lovely, lovely rocks? Or what if the warpstone Tzeetch craves is in a realm fat with landed gentry, or a major population centre? Or both? Will Nurgle try and seize the city, or will he look for weaker prey elsewhere. And what will Khorne do when he realises -

Yeah, never mind.

All told, it's a comparively simply, comparatively quick (and again, bear in mind that the comparisons in question are with Arkham Horror and Battlestar Galactica, two of the most Byzantine games I've had the pleasure of playing) which, whilst it requires absolutely no knowledge of the Warhammer world, works best when you can play your chosen allegiance as (that particular) God intended.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Also, Dogs Should Be Made To Wear Trousers

My latest GeekPlanet article is up now, which concerns itself with the adventures of a plucky little octopus named Paul.

On a related subject, I learned from BigHead today that professional Jew-baiting nutcase Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has pointed at Paul as a example of everything that is wrong with Western civilisation. This may be because octopuses look a little bit like a balloon attached to eight ties (which he also hates), but I think something more subtle is going on here. I think he's trying to defame Paul, eroding his authority before the Americans have the chance to indulge in some "extraordinary rendition" and claim Paul for themselves.

After all, what better way for the US to decide which country to needlessly crush next than the say so of a clairvoyant octopus? As Bighead pointed out earlier, a system by which any given country has only a 50% chance of being invaded by bloodthirsty Americans could very easily be thought of as an improvement. I'd certainly take Paul over Mitt Romney any day of the week.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Wait, What?

One of the best things about having a hit counter on the blog is the number of ancillary statistics it generates. How many people arrive a day, who is new and who is returning, where in the world my readers come from; lots of nice things to look at and consider.

Possibly my favourite part though is the list of keyword searches people have put into Google or similar that have led them to visiting my site.

Usually these are exactly what you'd think: "Cosmic Calamari"; "Musings of the Cosmic Calamari"; basic things like that.

Except today, when I found "alas smith and jones million million"; "martian water giver in the olympics"; and, most alarmingly, "I FUCK MYJAPANESE MOTHER INKITCHEN".

I'd like to apologise to all three readers, who almost certainly didn't find what they were looking for. Though I think anyone who comes to their computer thinking "Man, I need to see a Nipponese man bang his mother but only on a kitchen table" is liable to be asking too much of the internet in any case.

Battlestar Galactitits

Thanks to Jamie, I had the opportunity to sit down and watch BSG: The Plan over the weekend. Spoilers below.




In brief: it is almost impossible to describe how wrong-headed the whole venture seems. Quite aside from it all feeling distinctly cheap - I'm willing to give plenty of credit for the designs of the Picon port and a new class of battlestar, but the CGI looks at least a generation behind that used by the series itself - it manages to do exactly the opposite of what it was intended to (and exactly what I was worried it would do) and actually do damage to the show it intends to be a coda for.

There is no clearer evidence of this than the fact that the scene from "Lay Down Your Burdens Pt. II" upon which this entire film is based, the conversation between the Colonials and the two Cavils in Galactica's brig, is re-edited to gloss over the fact that in the context of the show's final season and particularly The Plan itself said conversation makes no sense in the slightest. When the Cavil who accompanied Anders' resistance force on Caprica - who in truth is one of the best parts of the film - acknowledges to Adama and Roslin that occupying the colonies was a mistake, the Galactica based Cavil originally agrees. But now that we're told Galactica Cavil, who it's implied is the same One who talks to Ellen following her resurrection in the shows final episodes, is a frothing psychopath determined to destroy the fleet at all costs, that line has to go. This is the problem with the whole series in a nutshell, we're being asked to simultaneously remember scenes the writers can build on but forget the exact events that took place in them. It's certainly a problem in the context of The Plan. What good is presenting something as a companion piece to the first two seasons of the show if it requires you to rewrite those two seasons?

This strange paradox keeps springing up in smaller ways. We are reminded of the scene in the miniseries where Adama receives a note telling him "There are only twelve Cylon models", but we still don't get an explanation as to its intent or provenance. It's implied by the cut that Baltar is the writer (already the most logical candidate since he alone amongst humanity was aware of that particular fact), but we're still no closer to knowing whether that's the case, and why he (or whomever it was) chose to share the information. In other words, it recalls a mystery that's bugged people for years (and yes, I realise it isn't a major concern, but it's still a loose end) and doesn't deal with it in a remotely satisfactory way. The Plan reminds us that when Baltar is framed for murder in "Six Degrees of Separation" it was done so sloppily as to imply it was deliberate. The implication at the time (courtesy of Baltar's hypothesising and HeadSix's hints) is that the Cylons wanted to strengthen his position and ensure anyone who actually did know about his involvement in the holocaust would be dismissed as a Cylon agent. This time around, it's implied that the relevant Six did it because she has feelings for Baltar, despite there being no evidence that she'd ever even met him previous to arriving on Galactica's bridge armed with the tapes in question.

In fairness, whilst it's sloppily done in its particulars, Shelley Godfrey's tale does weave itself into the larger narrative that the Cylons were constantly undoing their own plans by falling into obsessive love with various humans. Perhaps that was the point; The Plan is not about what the plan really was, so much as how it began to unravel. When Galactica Cavil is raging at his brother inside the airlock, promising to box him over his human-tolerating heresy, there is no doubt that he's already lost. Caprica Cavil is the future.

If that's true, though, why call it The Plan? Why specifically reference the one thing the show promised for years and never followed through on, and then not follow through on it? Hell, the one part of the Cylon agenda we thought we knew about - their hideous "farming" of humans in an attempt to procreate in accordance with God's law - is now revealed to be simply a pet project of the scientific, clinical Fours. You actually come out of this feeling like you know less, and that's unforgivable considering the way the film was packaged. Actually, Razor suffered from a similar syndrome - a pointless retread of events we were already dimly aware of taking place off-camera - but at least that had a strong B-plot, and at least its failings weren't directly counter to its intent.

There are other small things to complain about: the Hybrid is even more annoying this time, her descriptions of the Twelve Colonies make them sound like they suffer from Lucas One World Climate Syndrome, Lucy Lawless is conspicuous in her absence (and again, this means rewriting what actually took place in the series), and the insistence that the Ones were the evil supervillains the whole time has rather reduced the Fives to bumbling henchmen, which is far inferior to the cold purveyors of quiet menace they were throughout the series (the line about burgandy jackets is a classic example of a RTD-style funny joke that also manages to undermine characterisation). There are also things to appreciate. Rick Worthy finally gets something to do as Four, which is nice to see. Even that, though, causes problems. Why did the Four on the fleet and the one on Caprica both choose the name "Simon"? Was it given to them by Ellen Tigh? And if so, why is Cavil prepared to use the name to refer to them? Again, I realise that this is a minor point, but it would really have been nice if the scriptwriters (and this applies to the series too) could have come up with a consistent method of naming the Cylons. The constant interchangeability of "One" and "Cavil" really got annoying after a while, and swapping around "Simon" and "Four", sometimes by the same character, is equally strange.

All told, it's really kind of a mess. Still, it's better than "Daybreak", so I guess there's something to be said for ending the story here. Just please, please, end it here.

Oh, and also, there's quite a lot of tits.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Tales Of Incompetence And Woe: Chapter The Third

Since I spent so much time complaining about the bathroom situation when it was going badly, I should mention that the plumbers responded to my latest complaint with commendable speed. The current theory (which strikes me as implausible, but then there's a reason why I've avoided any form 0f physically relevant maths for the last eleven years) is that a tiny hairline crack in the cistern is responsible for all the problems. They have therefore replaced the entire toilet, which is entirely welcome. Rather less welcome was their insistence on making me inspect my previous khazi, and point out the exact point where all the faeces had collected.

I'm a simple man, as you know. I like to believe everyone could get along if only the world was different. I like to think my computer is powered by benevolent pixies. And, at a bare minimum, I would like to live my life without anyone showing me a reservoir of shit. Not even my shit, for that matter, though I guess when faced with a container overflowing with crap the provenance of same is something of a secondary issue.

Regardless, despite the amount of time and effort this situation has demanded from me, and despite how difficult it is to persuade one's Other Half to stick around once the entire flat smells of shit, I am delighted that I finally have a replacement for that most essential of household features.

Unless it's still leaking, of course. I will check up on the situation when I get back from Oxford tomorrow. Hopes aren't high.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Tales Of Incompetence And Woe 2: When Floods Attack

Eleven days in, and moving house continues to be essentially a full time job (I'm pretty much just squeezing maths into whatever cracks I can at the moment). Having told my landlord last Friday that my en suite continued to gradually fill with water, I finally had the plumbers slouch into view yesterday morning.

The initial exchange was not promising. "D'ya have a mop?" they ask. "Yes", I reply, though my internal monologue's response was closer to "You left my bathroom flooded last week and you still didn't think to bring a mop?" I provide them with this apparently desperately rare technological marvel in the interests of a quiet life (and because having spent an hour using it the week before, I'm keen to see someone else apply a little elbow grease). I also give them my bucket, because that only seems polite.

"D'ya not have anything to rinse it out with?" they ask, in disgust.

No. No, I do not. Because - get this - I am not a professional fucking plumber. My available tools are sadly limited. This is probably why you should bring your own kit. I also don't have a monkey wrench, soldier rings, or ten yards of rubber tubing. Or any faith in your abilities.

Still, at least someone had shown up, I thought. Since we were dealing with my en suite, I essentially had the choice of staying in my room for the duration, or staying out of it. I opted for the former, since I still had some Lucifer left to read. This proved a fairly epic mistake, since at some point during a procedure entirely based around stopping clean water from leaking from the toilet (either the cistern or the bowl) my hapless minions managed to break open the sewage pipe. Those of a nature both mischievous and pedantic might point out that this did indeed stop clean water from seeping out onto my floor, since now an apparent raging torrent of sewage was doing it instead. The smell from twelve feet away (i.e. my bed) was appalling. From the wails and gnashing of teeth heard from the room itself, things were far worse at Ground Zero.

I sat there for twenty minutes or so, hoping that if I stared hard enough at my comic it might somehow cause my nose to go into standby, but to no avail. Eventually, just as I was considering dropping my television on my nose and solving the problem that way, the plumbers arrived to tell me they were finished, that the sewage was back inside the pipes where it belonged, and that the leak had been fixed. They also told me they had washed my floor with washing up liquid, since they had no bleach (whether this is more or less idiotic than not having a mop, I cannot decide), and made their exit.

My en suite still smelled pretty badly. There was also now a bucket filled with slightly brown water and apparently the only mop in Durham. I was briefly tempted to get to work scrubbing, but I decided to leave it for a day or two, just in case this most pernicious of leaks returned.

Needless to say, it has. I could have carved my own toilet by now.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Tuesday Gothic: Wings Of Blood

Yeah, this is more commonly a Friday thing, but I've been chipping away at my 'Nid army for weeks without anything worth photographing, and the Flat Issue continues to take up 90% of my free time, so I'm claiming a little leeway to bring out something that's actually finished. This is the first vessel in my Blood Angel fleet: the striker cruiser Trevelyan.

Once again, we're in the Carpet Nebula (the last time my ships will venture into that particular stellar phenomenon, which feels a little weird), though this time we're at the intersection of that particular gas cloud with the DVD/Cupboard Expanse. The most important world in this area is the homeworld of the Gooder Hegemony - pictured here - whose supreme ruler has bankrupted the planetary economy in order to redecorate the entire world as a giant replica of the ancient human game of "Sorcor" (note also the mad despot's creation of a massive orbital statue of his own foot).

I'm not 100% happy with this one, to be honest. My plan for shading (50:50 Red Gore and Blood Red with two Blood Red drybrush layers) hasn't really worked; it's all a bit too uniform. On the other hand, it does manage what I wanted the most, to make the Trevelyan obviously different from the organic monstrosities of Hive Fleet Tengu.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Tales Of Incompetence And Woe

Last night I spent my first sleep cycle in the new flat.

It's pretty damn nice, all things considered. Lovely comfy bed, plenty of space. There were, of course, a few trials and tribulations to overcome, however.

I mentioned earlier that my bathroom had a leak that wasn't fixed by Monday lunchtime. Well, by Monday afternoon, I was assured that the leak itself was sorted, but that regrettably the plumber hadn't actually removed the water, since they lacked a mop. I wondered for a few days just what kind of plumber would fail to bring a mop whilst plugging a leak, but this has proven to be a side issue. The truly important question is: what kind of plumber would fail to plug a leak whilst plugging a leak? I've mopped up the floor in there twice now, and the water keeps coming back (it's all a bit too Hideo Nakata, to be perfectly frank). I've been forced to use the main bathroom instead, or at least that was the plan before I turned on the shower in there and discovered that, inevitably, it leaks.

Also, my rough estimate is that we made it through a third of the night before The Other Half broke the bed. Well, she's blaming me, since I was the one who was getting up to visit the (at the time) unflooded bathroom when the ugly crack was heard, but the dislodged slat was on her side, so the laws of physics back me up entirely, I think.

As is so often the case, however, the greatest disaster was entirely my own fault. I hesitate to tell this story at all, so idiotic does it make me seem, but it might be good for a laugh, and God knows I don't have time to think up anything else funny right now. About seven years ago my parents bought me a combination DVD/video recorder as a Christmas present. It served me entirely faithfully for about four years, before the DVD player started to break down after only a few minutes of running. Ever since then, we've just been using it for videos, and employing various Gooder-sourced gadgets to play discs.

Somehow, it never occurred to me until yesterday afternoon that the problem might be the Sky Box we put on top of it at around the same time. It was sitting, as it transpires, almost directly above the entirety of the ventilation grille - presumably overheating was to blame. Excited at this very, very late revelation, I took the DVD player over to the new flat, so that the Other Half and I would have something to do beyond tutting over the state of the en suite.

Sure enough, when set running in the new flat, the player performed perfectly, easily outdistancing its earlier run-time limit. Unfortunately, we still couldn't actually watch anything, because of some unidentified problem with the SCART link up. After fiddling around for a while, I tried the Wii, which came through no problem, and I by retracing my steps, I was able to finally get the DVD player to work.

For about 0.3 seconds. Flush with my success, I failed to keep adequate hold of the TV, which is the weight of a medium sized horse, I reckon, and it tipped off the chest of drawers upon which it was perched, landing upon the DVD player and pretty much detonating the latter machine's entire rear.

The TV itself was fine. I was hopeful that the DVD player might make it, too. After all, plenty of devices can withstand major abuse to their outer casings without any real effect upon the internal workings. I turned it off and on again (the shock of impact having rather flummoxed it), and was amazed to see it flash up its usual MENU message. I pressed PLAY, and watched as the counter progressed in the fashion one might expect. Somehow, it had come through OK!

Then, with care borne of bitter recent experience, I placed the SCART lead back into the television. A picture appeared! Of the right scene! In the right colours! With perfect sound!

All that ruined this technological marvel was the fact that the action on-screen, rather than taking place in the rectangle one would expect, was and is now being shown across a shape I can only describe as an angular butterfly. It's like I'm watching the image reflected in a funhouse mirror. I don't even understand how that could be possible, but that's where we are.

Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying: still got an awful lot on.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Quz 5 Redux

The answers for the latest quiz are up now. The font problem seems to have gotten even worse, so my apologies for that.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Space Zombies Are The Coolest Zombies

Death Troopers is the sixth Star Wars novel I have read, not counting the novelisations of the Original Trilogy itself. The other five were all by Timothy Zahn, so Death Troopers is up against some healthy competition.

Or at least, it would be, if it was possible to judge them in remotely the same way. Frankly, conceiving them as being in the same universe - Star Wars' or our own - is tough enough. For the first third of the book, there's absolutely no reason in the slightest why the story needs to take place in the Extended Universe at all. Give me the original document, ten minutes, a list of Star Wars planets, races and ships, and a short-cut to "Find and Replace", and I could make this a Star Trek novel and nobody would be any the wiser. No-one would be asking why Commander Riker had force powers, or whether or not Worf would really have access to a lightsaber. Every name and object is entirely without context. The whole thing screams "Shameless cash-in" at the top of its zombie-infected lungs. If there are genuinely people out in the world who would consider a spaceship overrun by zombies insufficiently cool, then I say leave 'em to it. Certainly, I'd be leery of assuming adding "Also, the spaceship is a motherfucking Star Destroyer" is necessarily going to help:

Still, once you get past the pointlessness of the EU trappings, the actual build-up itself is pretty good. Nicely paced (I particularly liked the ADHD-sized chapters, though this might have something to do with only having just finished the decidedly thickly-sliced Accelerando) with some good jolts, and some fun atmosphere building. It's all entirely lightweight and pointless - and never claims to be anything else - but it keeps you entertained. Essentially, the plot runs as follows. An Imperial prison barge finds an abandoned, drifting Star Destroyer, and the resulting boarding party sent over to investigate comes back with a hideous gribbly virus that a) kills you with, like, 99.99% probability, and then b) makes you insane and determinted to eat the 0.01% of the population still wandering about. Not exactly original, obviously, but you could sensibly argue that the book gets let off complaints about its derivative nature since Schreiber is, at least, not following the established pattern of reshuffling the Original Trilogy into a fractionally different order and hope you simultaneously don't notice and love them forever for doing it.

Then we get to the part where the medical officer (miraculously one of those immune, but fuck it, this book does not care about coincidence - coincidence is getting its face eaten by a zombie stormtrooper) springs the two prisoners in solitary to give them her rather after-the-horse-has-bolted-y cure, and they turn out to be... wait for it... Han and Chewie!

That's right. You remember that scene in A New Hope where Han was all "I can't believe we're up to our necks in Imperials just a few months after we were nearly eaten alive by zombies!"? Well, now you know why.

(Actually, maybe that's unfair. Maybe Chewie is complaining about it all the time, and Han just keeps quiet because he's sick of his buddy's constant whining. Who knows what that lunatic Wookiee is actually saying. Sometimes I like to imagine he's talking exclusively in haiku).

As soon as our two favourite scoundrels show up, the whole thing takes a massive lurching dive from "Why is this a Star Wars book?" to "Why the Hell is this book taking itself seriously?" You've got Han Solo and Chewbacca fighting zombies. In what ludicrous crevice of the human mind could the idea be born that that is something to attempt to play straight? If you're going to make me believe the EU is the kind of place one might run into a zombie horde, fine. If you want me to believe two major characters will happen to be quite literally delivered to same catastrophe, OK. But for the love of God, know what it is you've got on your hands. Don't try to make me feel bad for the other survivors. I want to see Han Solo decapitate a zombie with a lightsaber he's found for no fucking good reason. I don't want to watch someone teetering back and forth on the brink of redemption. I want Chewbacca to punch a zombie in the stomach and then for that zombie's head to explode. Do not waste my time with anything else at all.

Not that this is a total disaster, or anything. It's just entirely throwaway when it could have been throwaway and hilarious.

Grumble Grumble Universe Can Go Fuck Itself Grumble

Still here, folks. In fact, I have loads of awesome things I want to put up. Tragically, though, the free trial version of Photoshop I downloaded in order to make me King of the Intertubes (I shall be a benevolent and loving dictator, I promise. Also: send me all your sexiest virgins) is entirely broken. This has delayed me for a while. Plus, there's still the house-moving fiasco going on. Currently, this process can be summed up as follows:

Friday lunch-time

Nice House Lady: Give me all the money in the world, please.
SpaceSquid: Here is all the money in the world. Do I have a flat now?
Nice House Lady: No. I also need my fee.
SpaceSquid: Then here is all the money in the world, plus some shiny rocks from the Krupier belt.
Nice House Lady: You can have a house in three days, if you're good.
SpaceSquid: YAY!
Nice House Lady: Now that I have removed all the money in the world and placed it in an invisible safe guarded by a robotic laser-crab, I can tell you that your bathroom has sprung a leak, so you can't move in.
SpaceSquid: Damn you, fickle fate!
Nice House Lady: Don't worry, it will be fixed by Monday.
SpaceSquid: Yay! Thank you, Nice House Lady.

Monday morning

Nice House Lady: Hi. So, guess what isn't fixed yet?

(This, by the way, was a story I was totally going to tell using Photoshop, but this is obviously goddamn fucking impossible).

So, yeah. Big plans for the blog, but they're going to have to wait at least a little while longer, whilst I continue to search for anyone in the world with the slightest scrap of competence.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Much Better Bloggers 2: Allie

Hyperbole and a Half is awesome in general, but this post is particularly brilliant, as well as in keeping with one of my increasingly recurring themes. I remember trying out a similar series of tests on Storm (I don't think we ever got the chance to study Josh) and being surprised that she was as smart as the results claimed she was. Don't get me wrong, I love her, but I've always worked on the principle that she's a particularly stupid dog. I mean, if that's above average intelligence, I fear for anyone with a guide dog.

Take some time to poke around the rest of the site, by the way. It's brilliant. It may also have galvanized me to increase the pace of a plan I've had buried in my head for a month or so now, involving a camera, Photoshop, and a multitude of furry sea creatures.

h/t to Balloon Juice.

Quz 5

This one proved pretty tough for my regulars, though generally speaking you guys seem to perform with perfect inverse correlation to my collection of grizzled bar-flies, so you might actually be OK. 31 is the score to beat...

(Edit: I have no idea why the font on this thing is being so annoying, but I don't have the time to fix it. Sorry.)

Round 1: Word

(Every word ends in “ball”)

1. To block, vote against, or socially ostracise. Blackball

2. An American term for anything considered cliché or overly sentimental. Cornball

3. To place in storage or render inactive. Mothball

4. A cocktail popular in the ‘70s made from Advocaat, lemonade, and lime juice. Snowball

5. A mixture of heroin and cocaine. Speedball

Round 2: South Africa

1. South Africa has three capitals. The executive capital is Pretoria
, and the legislative capital is Cape Town. Where is the judicial capital? Bloemfontein

2. Which significant landmark is featured on the flag of Cape Town and various local government insignia? Table Mountain

3. Which 1987 film, directed by Richard Attenbrough and set in '70s South Africa, is a fictionalised account of the friendship between the anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko and the journalist Donald Woods? Cry Freedom

4. The Second Boer War, more commonly referred to as simply The Boer War, lasted for two and a half years, and was fought between the British Empire on one side and an alliance of the Transvaal Republic and which other free state on the other? Orange Free State

5. Which album did Paul Simon record with the help of various South African musicians, leading to a controversy over whether doing so broke the cultural boycott being practised at the time? Graceland

Round 3: Great English Failures

1. Which legendary climber, when asked why he wanted to climb Mt Everest, replied "Because it's there!", but was lost on his 1924 ascent leaving it unclear whether he ever made the summit? George Herbert Leigh Mallory

2. From which UK port did Titanic leave for America? Southampton

3. Which member of Scott's Terra Nova expedition famously dies with the last words, "I am just going outside and may be some time."? Lawrence Oates

4. Which sporting competition took its name in 1882 from a satirical obituary mourning an English defeat at the hands of Australia? The Ashes

5. What was the full name of the British Martian lander which crash-landed and forever lost communication on Christmas Day 2003? Beagle II

Round 4: Other Worlds

1. Before landing on Earth to be found and raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent, from which planet’s violent destruction was an infant Superman saved? Krypton

2. According to Irish mythology, what world could be reached only by either an arduous voyage across the sea far to the West, or by the invitation of one of its faery inhabitants? Tir Nar Nog

3. Which character in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” hailed originally not from Narnia, but from Charn, a world obliterated entirely when they spoke aloud the Deplorable World? The White Witch

4. In “Alice in Wonderland“, written by Charles Lewis Dodgson under the pen name Lewis Carroll, which character is supposedly meant to represent the writer himself? The Dodo

5. Which alien race, created by Gene L Coon in the Sixties and with hundreds of film and television appearances since, hail from the Beta Quadrant world of Qo’nos? Klingons

Round 5: Sporting Trophies

The America’s Cup, the oldest active sporting trophy in the world, takes its name from what? A boat (the first one to win the race)

2. The Jules Rimet trophy, which was awarded to World Cup winners until replaced by the FIFA World Cup in 1974, is made from gold and lapis lazuli and features a depiction of which Goddess? (I'll accept her name, or what she is the Goddess of) Nike/Victoria, Goddess of Victory

3. The Venus Rosewater dish briefly given to each winner of the Wimbledon Women's Singles Tournament is in fact a replica made in 1864. The original, which was made from pewter in the 1500s, is currently kept in which European museum? The Louvre

4. In 1999 Evander Holyfield controversially retain the World Heavyweight Boxing Belt following his fight against whom at Madison Square Garden, which was declared a draw despite many people believing his opponent was the clear victor? Lennox Lewis

5. In which race does one competitor win the "combativity award" after each stage? Tour de France

Round 6: Face-Offs

1. What name did the Norse give to the apocalyptic battle they believed would ultimately consume all nine worlds? Ragnarok

2. At which Swiss waterfall did Professor James Moriarty meet his end, having tried unsuccessfully to kill Sherlock Holmes there? Reichenbach Falls

3. Who was the first and only President of the Confederate States of America, and thus Abraham Lincoln's opposite number during the American Civil War? Jefferson Davis

4. Who wrote the song "Spanish Train" in 1975, in which God and the Devil play first cards and then chess for the souls of the damned? Chris de Burgh

5. In 1942 Winston Churchill famously said "This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." About which large-scale and pivotal battle, fought most famously between Bernard Montgomery and Erwin Rommel, was he referring? El Alamein

General Knowledge

1. What is the name of Joe’s chief Aborigine? Bourneville

2. Third and largest of the Olympic-class ships of the White Star Line, which sister ship to the Titanic sank in 1916 after striking a mine off the Greek island of Kea? Britannic

3. How many syllables are contained in a haiku? 17

4. Which historical residence, about 45 kilometres Northwest of Madrid, was built by Philip II of Spain and is the burial site of most Spanish kings, both Bourbon and Habsburg, since that time? El Escorial

5. General David Petraeus replaced General Stanley McChrystal as Supreme Commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan this week after the former criticised President Obama in an interview with which magazine? Rolling Stone

6. Which Parisian hill bears the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur, and gives its name to the surrounding district famous for its long list of associated artists, which includes Dali, Monet, Picasso, and van Gogh? Montmarte

7. What was Harrison Ford's profession when George Lucas cast him in "American Graffiti"? Carpenter

8. First rediscovered in 1901, from which ancient city-state did the set of legal rules known as the Code of Hammurabi originate? Babylon

9. In the mid-eighteenth century British officers added a net to the traditional game of battledore and shuttlecock and hence created badminton. In which then British colony were they stationed at the time? India

10. What kind of food is the Japanese dish sashimi? Raw fish

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

A Day Late, A Buck Short

Grr. Having a million things to do is so irritating. I was all ready to go to town on this, for example. I've seen American politicians - and not just Republicans, by any means - do some lunatic things, but threatening to sue your opponent for preventing you hiding your own platform seemed pretty far out there even by US standards.

My immediate response to this was: why not publish anyway? Reid's chances of victory looked horribly bleak before Angle was chosen as his opponent, but the latter is such an obvious nutball the outlook has gotten somewhat brighter (though I'm not sure I'd put money on him keeping his seat). What better way to play on the lunatic angle (no pun intended) than enter into a noisy court battle?

Since then I've discovered that there were two issues, though; the copyright of Angle's crazy, and the possibility that the Reid campaign might end up with people accidentally giving their details thinking they were helping his opponent. Clearly, that latter part is a justifiable concern, so I'd changed my stance from "publish and be damned" to "publish absent detail collection and be damned" (which, admittedly, is somewhat less snappy).

So, that was going to be today's post. Annoyingly for me, though, Reid has already done it. I'm looking forward enormously to seeing what Angle does next. As far as I can see, this looks like being a story she should desperately want to kill as soon as possible.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010


It's time for another episode of "Worthless American Pundits" (previously featuring Charles "Can we ever know for sure bombing innocent brown people won't reduce terrorism?" Krauthammer). This time around, it's Mr David Brooks. Take it away, Dave:
Many economists say we need another stimulus bill. They debate about whether the stimulus should take the form of tax cuts or spending increases, but the ones in your party are committed to spending increases.
Well, "debate" might be too strong a term here, but OK, let's go with it:
These Demand Siders have very high I.Q.’s, but they seem to be strangers to doubt and modesty. They have total faith in their models. But all schools of economic thought have taken their lumps over the past few years. Are you really willing to risk national insolvency on the basis of a model?
First of all - and given the state of American economic discourse, this is critical - anyone calling Demand Siders dogmatic and immodest in comparison to those pushing for another round of tax cuts needs to go fuck themselves without delay. Krugman et al might not actually turn out to be right this time around, but the idea that any mistakes they make might have been avoided if only they'd been so reasonable and humble as those who are convinced as an article of faith that the US is behind the Laffer curve is as insulting as it is foolish.

Secondly "all schools of economic thought thave taken their lumps" is a term straight out of the false equivalency playbook: since no viewpoint is foolproof, they can all be considered equal. You know, like how if I toss a coin and call heads, I'm just as unreliable a predictor when it comes down tails as the guy next to me who guessed it would turn into a peacock.
The Demand Siders don’t have a good explanation for the past two years.
As Steve Benen points out, they most certainly do have a good explanation, it's just that Brooks doesn't understand it, or is claiming not to. He's not an expert, you see, which is why this entire column is dedicated to the argument that just because you're an expert, it doesn't mean you're necessarily right.

Which, y'know, d'uh. These people aren't Gods. But Brooks and his ilk always frame the discussion this way. "Why should we automatically believe an expert is right?". The formulation that's important, and Brooks is desperate to avoid, is very different "Why would you argue experts aren't likely to be right because non-experts don't agree?". Benen is annoyed over Brook's suggestion that Demand Siders are recommending a dangerous game:
[T]hreats about "national insolvency" from additional stimulus are silly.
Well, I wouldn't know, though it seems to me any attempt to solve this crisis carries attendant risks. That isn't really what's wrong with Brook's article, though. Brook's piece is worthless because he lacks the understanding and/or intellectual honesty to compare the risks of the strategies he's decrying with the strategies he's recommending. If he wants to tell me why the risks he wants to run are less likely and/or serious than the ones Krugman is prepared to accept, that would be different. But Brooks lacks the chops for that, of course, so instead he's reduced to arguing that because one approach is risky and potentially flawed, his alternate course of action can be deemed superior without inspection.

That on its own terms would be intellectually lazy and probably somewhat dishonest, but when you combine it with Brooks telling those more knowledgeable and more experienced, and who have put more work into the problem, that they're being "arrogant", one rather feels that he's pushed himself into the realm of outrageously pompous and self-deluded mendacious charlatans. Y'know, again.

Doubtless there will be many other pieces like this, from many other people, arguing that obviously superior experience, knowledge and intelligence is immediately worthless in the hands of someone who can't persuade "the people" (by which David Brooks means: David Brooks). Reading this kind of article is akin to watching a drunkard push Mozart away from a piano, whilst screaming his playing will entrance the audience far more because he'll be hitting the keys with monkeys that are on fire.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Busy Busy Busy

Man, this is an insanely busy month. On top of the standard crises (two papers to write, a quiz to put together, layman's statistics to compile), my esteemed flatmate and myself have a little less than four weeks to gather together all our worldly possessions and cart them over to our brand new flat. I mean, the flat itself is gorgeous; I'm really looking forward to living there. The actual process, however, is liable to kill me, and I've only been going for a few days.

This means that updates might be a little irregular over the course of the month. I'm not sure how much time I'll have to peruse Lucifer or consider Cannonball, and right now I can't find much of interest on the intertubes to write about.

Anyway, we'll see how it goes. Today, at least, I can offer this - via Obsidian Wings - in which Jim Henley laments that disturbing part of the human condition that leads it to conclude that diplomacy fails if it doesn't work immediately, and violence can only ever fail if we don't give it forever to work.

Friday, 2 July 2010