Monday, 29 November 2010

Just How Many Pandas Do We Need, Anyhow?

Anyone with forty minutes to spare might want to try going through this psychological survey for my old uni colleague JayVee.  It's not exactly a fascinating experience, but by completing it, you'll be helping out at least one charity (even if that might implicitly entail shafting two others).  Plus, you can do the same thing I do every time Dr L gives me something along these lines, and try to discern exactly what the designers are trying to prove.

Update: Thanks to Chuck for pointing out my link was faulty.  I blame this morning's ice-related head trauma.

Walk Like Robert Kirkman

On to Episode 4 of The Walking Dead, the first installment to have been written by the comic's creator, Robert Kirkman.  I was curious as to how natural a fit he would be for television, partly because I think his dialogue is one of the weakest elements of the comic itself (great ideas, strong characterisation, lousy words).  So how did he do? Spoilers follow...

Friday, 26 November 2010

Radio Friday: The National

This has been rattling around my brain pan for over two days, and I have no idea why.  Perhaps posting this will dispell it.  Besides, it's an awesome song.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Just Keep On Walking

We're halfway through The Walking Dead's first season, so it's probably time to have another look at what's going on.  Once again, spoilers under the fold.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

SpaceSquid vs. The X-Men #37: The Unlovely Bones

There is a brilliant moment in an episode of The Simpsons - one of the earlier ones, obviously, when the show was still skewering tired institutions rather than being one - when Homer puts down a copy of Andy Capp and says with amused fondness: "Ah, Andy Capp.  You wife-beating drunk".

Marrow could be said to inspire a similar reaction. "Ah, Marrow.  You unrepentant mass-murderer".  The X-Men isn't intended to be light-hearted comedy, of course, but arguably it's no less incongruous to include the orchestrator of a nightclub massacre on a superhero team than it is to make spousal abuse into a Sunday paper cartoon punchline.

Frankly, I don't think there's any way to consider Marrow without dealing with that fundamental problem.  Nor is it easy to solve, given the blood and violence involved.  Perhaps we can at least find a way to consider it, though, by returning to a topic we've covered before regarding both Gambit and Joseph: redemption.

Ze German Joke

Having spent the vast majority of my week in Munich either working on my X-Men classification tree or lying in bed dosed to the eyeballs with the Bavarian Lemsip equivalent (which is much nicer and more effective, but also twice as expensive), I wasn/t able to make it to the English Gardens this time around.  It was thus left to my boss to wander through them and take this picture.

It's definitely nice of our Teutonic cousins to consider how cold it gets cracking out a George Michael in November, but I can't help feeling those windows are insufficiently frosted.  Of course, one way to frost them more thoroughly would be - no, never mind.  Even I can be only so disgusting...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Risen From The Dead

Yes, I know.  Any excuse.  Shut up.

A Buffy reboot, huh? At first, I'll admit, this news left me cold.  Sure, BSG worked, but that was an update of something a quarter of a century old. Buffy itself drew to a close seven years ago.  It's pretty difficult to imagine this being sufficient time for a new iteration of the idea to, y'know, be legitimately new (it's also why MGK's comparison of those not happy with this idea as being comparable to those who hated Girly-Starbuck or Chris Pine-Kirk doesn't really work).  There is quite simply no way you can credit the idea that Moore put together the Galactica mini-series because he hoped to milk the original fan base.  The same does not apply here.

Having said that, after a little consideration, I realised I was being too gloomy.  Maybe there is some way for this new iteration to say something unique.  After all, BSG managed it by focusing on contemporary society's struggle between faith and secularism, and repeatedly commented on the war on terror and the nature of armed struggle. All Buffy needs to do is the same thing!  Drop all of that fascinating agony-of-growing-up stuff, and deal instead with one of the myriad crises of contemporary life.  For instance:

Buffghanistan:  Buffy and the Scoobies spend ninety minutes chasing vampire Taliban members around Tora Bora, only to realise once battle is joined that they've been given the wrong kind of stakes. After ten fruitless minutes of pelting the vamps with filet mignon, the Scoobies retreat, only for Xander is killed randomly by a roadside explosive. At the climax to the film, Buffy returns home only to find that no-one even knew she was out there, having been watching Spike rampage through Tikrit in a blacked-out Humvee instead.

The Color Of Blood Money: Buffy vows to clean up Wall Street when she learns the financial catastrophe was in fact engineered by a secret cabal of evil wizards determined to destroy all of civilisation in order to feed their own debauched appetites.  So a true story, basically, just with wizards.

Red Dawn: Buffy learns that the true horror in today's society is the runaway menace of yoof culture when Dawn becomes a smack-addicted vampire teenage prostitute, played by either Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan.  Or both.  Whatever.  It's Dawn, for God's sake.  How much damage can we do?

Blue Blood Runs Red: Buffy discovers Kate Middleton has been turned into a vampire by Cockney bloodsuckers just one day before her wedding to Prince William.  Buffy teams up with an irascible Duke of Edinburgh (who constantly refers to her as "That Sugar-Tits Yank") to prevent the scandal of the century.  Only 24 hours remain before our king-to-be from marries someone now swimming with commoner's blood!

Fangs For Nothing: Buffy's world is turned upside-down when President Obama pushes through legislation forcing her to work full time as a government employed slayer, and hand out her life-savings entirely free of charge.  Within six months this Commie-loving blow to the free market causes the total destruction of the United States, and Obama is revealed to be Shaitan himself, the Muslim Lord of Darkness.  Buffy attempts to leave California so as to confront Obama in an epic duel to the death in the White House Rose Garden, but is foiled when she realises the Democrats have let gay terrorists crash all the planes.  A chilling vision of an all-too possible future.

Any other suggestions?

A Brief Return To Torturous Logic

Charli Carpenter does a masterful job of obliterating Marc Thiessen's latest paper-thin attempt to justify torturing one's prisoners.  The battered remnants of Thiessen's sophistry are sufficiently damaged to make piling on seem almost ungentlemanly, but even so I'd like to make one point in addition:
For the torture claim, Thiessen relies on the US definition of torture in the War Crimes Act, as well as a “common-sense definition of torture” as he put it in our panel discussion: “if you are willing to try it yourself, it’s not torture.” He also argues waterboarding can’t be torture, because it if is the military would be guilty of torturing its SERE trainees.

In making these claims, Thiessen wilfully overlooks the elements of the international torture definition that pertain to the context of torture...
I don't disagree with any of that, of course, but whilst Carpenter's factual argument is right on the money, it's the logical aspect that I think is more telling: Thiessen is arguing that we can conclude any act of personal violation does not count as torture as soon as we find a volunteer willing to undergo it.  In a country of around three hundred million people, one imagines you could find at least one American willing to undergo almost anything, especially if either offered money or told it was their patriotic duty. 

As Carpenter points out, this is in some sense a side issue, since Thiessen's argument boils down to "And even if was torture, so what", but the sheer vapidity of his attempts to cloud the issue gives a useful insight into the degree of intellectual honesty that has gone into the endeavour as a whole.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Talking And Travelling

Hopefully, this will be my last day on the continent.  I may have written enough maths here to qualify as a thesis chapter (how the Hell did it take three and a half years the first time round?), but I long to return home to some proper cider.

Anyway, here's our latest Panel Talk for your consumption, in which we consider the various Batman-related output of Frank "I will now go motherfucking crazy" Miller.  Chris B has wisely pointed out that it doesn't make 100% sense since the first segment is being held over until later in the year, so for the benefit of total clarity; I believe the mildly offensive Scottish reference was "Jings and crivens, ahm addicted tae smack!".  Said in my least convincing Glaswegian accent, obviously.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Deep Thought

You know you've diverged significantly from the rest of humanity when you walk happily by a large crowd of people hungrily taking in a police team and film crew in the middle of a drugs bust, but stop just after the press has passed when you realise that's the best place to watch the police doggies.

In my defense, German Shepherds are even cooler in their namesake country.

There's also some fun to be had running German spell checks on these posts, just to see which words exist in German too.

But back to work, I think.  I'm in the process of achieving my ultimate dream and actually putting together a coherent example of New Maths which takes the X-Men as a data set.  Nerdvana attained!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Bavarian Adventures

Nothing much to report from the continent, I'm afraid; though generally speaking with my journeys abroad no news is generally good news.  Munich is essentially as I left it, beautiful and filled with beer, and though somewhat chilly almost entirely without wind, which goes a long way to help.

Hopefully there'll be some Panel Talk to keep you occupied in a little while: Chris B is experiencing technical difficulties which have delayed its arrival. I'll be back in Durham some time late Monday evening, at which time normal service will hopefully be resumed.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Lucifer: Three Of A Kind

Is it through planning or simply happy coincidence that the third book of Lucifer begins with "Triptych"? It seems oddly in keeping with the comic itself that we can't be sure.  Certainly, the word is of crucial importance. These stories do not form a trilogy, nor a mere trio. Triptychs come in three parts as well, of course, but always the centre is the anchor, the root, and commonly the largest - or at least most important - piece.

Perhaps then it is puzzling that the central story should not be Lucifer's, but Elaine's.  Even beyond his position as eponymous character, Lucifer is engaged in the rather weighty matter of crafting a new universe.  For that matter, Mazikeen is on trial, possibly for her life.  In such surroundings, a tale of a little girl, whatever her provenance, searching for her dead friend might perhaps seem of somewhat small importance.

But then that's the problem.  You can't say "Apart from her provenance Elaine is unimportant" any more you can say "Apart from its water, the ocean is dry".  Elaine's ancestry is critical here, because it directly outlines what these three stories are all about: potential.

Quz 8 Redux

I've put up the answers to Quz 8 today because a) I'll be travelling tomorrow and b) you people got all but two of the forty-five questions right in any case.  That's spectacularly impressive.  All I can recommend in "areas to improve" is that the old Universal Studios horror movies are worthy of your time, and also that questions of the form "What is X to the nearest Y metres" are always worthy of at least a punt.

Too Late For Oktoberfest, Though

Tomorrow lunchtime I set off for a week of mathematical frolics in Munich, so posting is liable to be light.  Everyone play nice whilst I'm away!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Wasn't Robin Hood A Terrorist?

So, the entire Twitterverse has exploded in rage over the upholding of the conviction of a man who made a dumb joke about bombing Robin Hood Airport back in January.  A lot of people are clearly very worried about the free speech allegations, but I think it was Chris B who hit the nail on the head yesterday when he said "Are we really saying that bomb threats we believe should be taken seriously are only worth a £1000 fine?"

Well, according to the Guardian, that's easily explained:
[T]he Crown Prosecution Service caused controversy by using a law aimed against nuisance calls – originally to protect "female telephonists at the Post Office" in the 1930s – rather than specific bomb hoax legislation, which requires stronger evidence of intent.  
Obviously, that might enrage some people; probably the kind of people who can tell the difference between deliberately aggravating phone calls and a single comment theoretically readable by anyone.  But to those people I say: don't look at this as a problem.  Look at it as an opportunity.

We now have the chance to precisely calibrate just how overwhelmingly hyper-sensitive the law has now become to any form of tangential terrorist reference.  All we need is a few people with sufficient spine and disposable income to send one or more of the following tweets:
  • "I'm gonna blow up the Houses of Parliament using explosive orangutans!"
  • "I'm gonna pack three dozen suicide bombers into a rocket and detonate the Moon!"
  • "I'm gonna build a time machine and use it to assassinate Jesus!"[1]
  • "I'm gonna build a time machine, meet Muhammad, and have him put "Death to infidels, especially those who watch X-Factor" into the Qur'an!"
  • "I'm gonna collect all the tears wept in rage over this bullshit verdict and use them to flood Robin Hood Airport anyway."
Then, all we have to do is see how much money is gauged out of our noble volunteers, and we'll be able to determine exactly which elements of obvious jokes (funny or otherwise) are causing the problem.

(And they are jokes, British Justice System.  Don't fine me and make me lose my job. Please.  I mean, they're obviously ridiculous.  Work on my explosive orangutans hasn't even reached beta testing.)

[1] Copyright Chris B.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Canon To The Left Of Them

Fellow GeekPlanet writer Pete MacKenzie has an interesting article on canon up this week, and I thought the issue of "retconning" was worth discussing.

Like Pete, I need to have retroactive continuity explained. The "shit happens" approach espoused by his other half is one I find deeply unsatisfying, partially because I have trouble with the idea that mistakes are ignorable simply because they're inevitable, but mainly because I am convinced that every single human being across the world with access to fiction has a story they regard so highly, and love so fervently, that attempts to continue that story without checking the two slot together would lead to serious problems.  This, indeed, is one of the many very good reasons people are often leery (to say the least) about sequels to their most beloved works of fiction.

To me, whilst such mistakes are inevitable, they are generally speaking a sign of a someone screwing up, and should be judged as such.  Screen-writing slip-ups are no less fair game than wobbly sets, hammy acting, or gratuitous nudity.  Some mistakes bother some people more than others.  It might not necessarily be fair to blame the writer themselves, checking the entirety of a TV show's run is probably a bit much to demand of someone writing their first episode during the seventh season, but someone certainly dropped the ball somewhere.

This isn't the whole story, of course.  Sometimes mistakes are deliberately made following the conscious decision that it will improve the story.  Clarke did this with each sequel to 2001, believing it more important that the stories kept up with the times than that they stayed true to each other.  On a much smaller scale, Joss Whedon admits in a BtVS DVD commentary that he deliberately removing all the dead bodies for the final shot in the Bronze in "The Harvest" because it somewhat ruined the elation over Buffy's triumph to have her wading through the corpses of those she was too late to save because her mother had grounded her.

Obviously, mileages may vary.  I don't like Clarke's approach but I'm fine with Whedons (not doubt in large part because Whedon had to point it out before I noticed).  In truth, however, I'm not sure either of these examples gets us to the heart of why I generally dislike retconning.

It's here that I diverge from Pete's viewpoint (though we meet back up again at the end; I've been complaining about airbrushing out historical bigotry ever since the whole Vic Fontaine debacle on DS9).  I freely acknowledge that retcons can work very well, and further that they can be necessary tools to smooth over mistakes and rough edges, or to simply erase spectacular creative mis-steps that have otherwise irrepairably damaged your fictional world.  Sometimes you really do need to reach for the Etch-a-Sketch and start shaking, and sometimes the "it was only a dream" ending can be forgiven because you're so desperate for an ending of any kind.

Despite recognising all that - and here's why Clarke and Whedon aren't great examples - my problem with retconning is that frequently it amounts to one writer deciding that their ideas are so good they justify tampering with another writers' work.

Obviously, they might be right.  There are many examples of backstory tweaking that improves the situation.  Of course, there are far more that make things worse.  The worst kinds of sequels aren't those that simply suck, it's those that actively damage what came before.  Alien3 springs immediately to mind.  Not only is it a difficult film to love on its own merits (though it is certainly not entirely without merit) the deaths of Hicks and (especially) Newt at the start of the film makes the conclusion of Aliens far less satisfying. I realise that in this particular case it wasn't a creative decision to do away with Hicks and Newt, I believe Carrie Henn and Michael Biehn just didn't want to come back.  Having said that, how hard would it have been to have Ripley's pod jettisoned (possibly alongside Bishop's) but leave the other two safely on board?

Even when an author fiddles with their own work, it can bug me, since generally speaking its their fans love for what has gone before that keeps them in the money they need to keep writing, but it's far worse when the latest head honcho decides to start cutting and pasting their ideas over those of others.  It is, quite simply, rude. And I don't think that's changed by the fact that from time to time, a little rudeness is called for.

Quz 8

Update:  Only two questions remain unanswered.  Anyone who knows the answers to question 5 in either rounds 2 or 6; this is your chance! 

This month’s quz is now available for your perusal.  I finally pitched this one at the right level for our local, but it’s anybody’s guess as to how well that will translate to you people.  The top three scores last night were 34, 31 and 29.  I’ve added the bonus round in again because it involves horror and is therefore awesome.  The highest mark for that round was 4, so there’s room for improvement if you know your Draculas.

Right.  Off you go.

(And yes, I stole a question idea off of Tomsk’s blog.  That should guarantee at least correct answer, I would hope).

Round 1: Words

(Each word contains the letters “DEL”)

1. A decorative or even ornate light fixture which hangs from the ceiling and commonly has multiple branched supports for its lights. (Chandelier)

2. A fortress or stronghold which commands a city, and is used to control the inhabitants and to aid in the city’s defence. (Citadel)

3. A nearly flat plain of alluvial deposit between diverging branches of the mouth of a river. (Delta)

4. A flower with deeply notched leaves which commonly considered a weed, and which is edible in its entirety. (Dandelion)

5. Denoting a heightened or altered state of sensory perception, often whilst under the effects of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD. (Psychedelic/delirium)

Round 2: Hammers
1. What is the name of Thor’s hammer, with which the Norse God could level mountains and control lightning? (Mjollnir)

2. In what year of the 1990’s did MC Hammer release “U Can’t Touch This”? (1990)

3. What football club was originally founded as “Thames Ironworks Football Club” in 1895 (West Ham)

4. Which American steel-driver and folk hero raced against a steam-powered hammer and won, only to die immediately afterward with his hammer in his hand? (John Henry)

5. Set by Yuriy Sedykh in 1986, what is the world record distance for men’s hammer throwing to the nearest ten metres? (90m)

Round 3: Bats

1. What name is given to the dung of bats, along with that of seabirds and seals, and can be used in various compounds including fertilisers, fungicides, and even gunpowder? (Guano)

2. The logo of which spirits company is a black and gold bat inside a red circle with a gold outline? (Bacardi)

3. What wood is most commonly used to create baseball bats, though maple wood bats are now becoming increasingly wide-spread? (Ash)

4. Who wrote the 1874 comic operetta “The Bat”, known in the original German as “Die Fledermaus”? (Johann Strauss)

5. Who played Batman in the original 1960s television series? (Adam West)

Round 4: Musical Cats

1. Which group released the song “The Lovecats” in 1983? (The Cure)

2. Which was the last animated film to bear the phrase “A Walt Disney Production”? (The Aristocats)

3. How many members are there currently in the Pussycat Dolls? (5)

4. Following his conversion to Islam, to what did Cat Stevens change his name? (Yusuf Islam)

5. Who in 1989 released “Opposites Attract” from her debut album “Forever Your Girl”, accompanied by a Grammy award-winning video in which she dances with an animated character named “MC Skat Cat”? (Paula Abdul)

Round 5: Green

1. Which ‘80s comic anti-hero was one of only three people who could produce nuggets of purest green at will? (Blackadder, though Lord Percy and Baldrick will do)

2. The flag of which nation is the only one in the world to be one uniform colour, in this case green? (Libya)

3. Which American rock band released the album “Green” in 1988, which despite its name was coloured orange and featured the song “Orange Crush”? (R.E.M.)

4. Which legendary location is a heaven for sailors, being filled with music, alcohol, and “accommodating ladies”? (Fiddler's Green)

5. In 1989 elements of the US Army‘s “Green Berets” formed part of Operation Just Cause, an attempt to depose Manuel Noriega. Which Central American country did he rule at the time? (Panama)

Round 6: Stuff What Got Set On Fire

1. The Great Fire of London began at the bakery of Thomas Farriner in which London street? (Pudding Lane)

2. First founded in 1966 in Belmont, which bakery lost its principal production plant to a fire in 2004? (Peter's)

3. Who played architect Doug Roberts in the 1974 disaster film The Towering Inferno? (Paul Newman)

4. He was the God of Hellfire, and he gave you: fire! What was his name? (Arthur Brown)

5. In which French city was Joan of Arc burned at the stake for heresy? (Rouen)

General Knowledge

1. How do Ron and Harry rescue Hermione from the troll in the dungeon? (They levitate its own club and hit him over the head with it)

2. The mathematical constant e, also called Euler’s Constant after the 18th Century Swiss mathematician, lies between which two whole numbers? (2 and 3)

3. Software developers released a program last week that automatically offers objections and counter-evidence to anyone denying global warming on what internet social network? (Twitter)

4. Which African country comes first alphabetically? (Algeria)

5. The tetralogy Down With Skool, How To Be Topp, Whizz For Atomms and Back In The Jug Agane chronicle the exploits of which mischievous schoolboy, created by Geoffrey Willans? (Nigel Molesworth)

6. Which spice is ground from chilli peppers, or from bell peppers, which in some languages are given the same name as the spice itself? (Paprika)

7. What name is given to the unit of distance equal to the average distance between the Sun and the Earth? (Astronomical Unit)

8. Which Belgian surrealist artist painted “The Human Condition” and “The Son Of Man”, and at one point was reduced to printing forged bank-notes to acquire money? (Rene Magritte)

9. The national sport of Bangladesh, in which game do two teams occupy opposite halves of a field, and take turns sending one player into the other half, who attempts to tag an opposing player whilst holding their breath (Kabadi)

10. Who killed Cock Robin? (The Sparrow)

Bonus Round

(Each of these five actors who have played Dracula.  In each case I want to know the name of the actor who played Van Helsing opposite them.)

1. Christopher Lee (Peter Cushing)

2. Gary Oldman (Anthony Hopkins)

3. Leslie Nielsen (Mel Brooks)

4. Bela Lugosi (Edward van Sloan)

5. Richard Roxburgh (Hugh Jackman)

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A Worthy Goal

Pause warned me about this insect-eating clock a week or so ago, concerned that it could only be a matter of time (no pun intended) before the machines realise they could get a great deal more power by devouring the succulent flesh of their human masters.

Well, maybe!  Not sure what a clock would need that much power for.  Flight, maybe?  "What time is it, Mr Clock?" "Fuck off, I can fly!"  I guess it's a possibility worth considering.

Still, whilst we're waiting for our chronometric overlords to rise, there are other ways we can make use of this technology.  What about an insect-powered snake-killer, for example?  That way both myself and the Other Half can get a good night's sleep, secure in the knowledge that every mosquito in a half-mile radius has been sucked into oblivion so as to crispy-fry encroaching ophidians. You could advertise it on televisions powered by murdering cockroaches (that's cockroaches that have been murdered, not the Mimic kind), in homes lit by the tiny burning bodies of tens of thousands of thunderbugs.

Sure, eventually we'll use up so many arthropods that the food chain collapses, destroying pretty much all life.   But it's pretty clear at this point that we've irreversibly fucked the planet in any case.  May as well take the insects down first.

Sixty Second Film Corner: The Social Network

Almost certainly the absolute best film one could make from the source material: which is to say it's a pretty compelling take on a guy ending up in two legal battles after writing computer code because girls won't fuck him.  Also contains the exact right amount of Sorkinisms, resulting in a film that is neither too dry, nor too heavy with his very impressive yet increasingly familiar array of tricks.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Two Walks

This has been a very good week for me (or a very bad one, depending on your perspective) zombie-wise.  Not only did I get to see the first episode of the television adaptation of The Walking Dead, but I also picked up and read the sixth volume in the hard cover series, containing issues #61 to #72.

Obviously this ghoulish glut is the perfect opportunity to wax lyrical about Kirkman's baby and Darabont's treatment of it.  The first half of this post contains a few very vague spoilers for the pilot episode.  The second half will spoil the ever-loving shit out of "Fear The Hunters" and "Life Among Them", along with all that has gone before (though rejoice! Blogspot has finally added the ability to hide things after the jump).

On first viewing, the Walking Dead series seems to have worked out exactly what it needs to be doing; taking the bare bones of a fairly decompressed 22-page comic and using it as a blueprint (indeed, from what I can gather from the Wikipedia article the first series is six issues long, which may or may not mean the season ends in the same place as "Days Gone Bye" does). It manages to very successfully tread the fine line between offending purists and being very much its own story.

In fact, it's potentially telling that the best scenes in the pilot are those that owe least to what's contained in the comic.  Morgan and Duane's predicament in particular - the regular return of the "walker" that was once wife and mother - is genuinely affecting, and makes a fascinating character out of someone who existed for almost nothing more then exposition in the comic version of "Days Gone Bye".  I already care what happens to these characters, whereas the comic took most of the first two chapters to convince me that it was anything other than a pale retread of 28 Days Later.

Speaking of which, the pilot episode retains the most obviously cribbed idea from Danny Boyle's film; hero-wakes-up-in-abandoned-hospital, but Darabont has enough fun with it to make it entirely forgivable.  Especially pleasing is the pitch-black stairwell descent, a four-match journey in which you're sure that each light struck will reveal something monstrous; only for Rick to escape unmolested into an ocean of filled body-bags and a wrecked military outpost.  It's a nice way to avoid cliche and/or impose reality, much like not having anyone throw up at the sight of dead bodies or having gunshot inside a tank cause ear damage (the one mis-step: a couple who killed themselves after writing "GOD FORGIVE US" in blood on their own walls. This seems to be a traditional part of post-apocalyptic fiction, but I refuse to believe that anybody would ever actually do it.)

Further, Rick himself works better than I'd expected.  I've generally had a hard time taking Andrew Lincoln seriously as anything other than a well-meaning, immature bumbler (This Life, Teachers), but he might just be able to turn me around this time.  He hasn't sold me yet, but nor does such a sale seem impossible to imagine.

In short: so far, so good.  Can't wait to see what happens next.

(I mean it, people; MASSIVE SPOILERS ahead)

Serious Considerations

Up now: issue #5 of Panel Talk, in which Chris B and myself discuss the Holocaust chronicle Maus with all the sensitivity and seriousness we can muster.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Friday Warhammer Blogging: Green Gavem Roote

At long last (i.e. after ten months) my River Lords force has gained its fifth knight, meaning my Tully bannermen have themselves a champion, and that I finally have a Knights of the Realm unit that is theoretically fieldable at 144 points (minus whatever magical gubbins I might want to lavish upon them).

Green Gawen Roote himself got his name when he was knighted by his father, Ser Benjen Roote, only two days after Gawen's fourteenth name-day, and following his first ever battle, in which he led a left flank which was almost untouched by battle, resulting in various other knights (and even more so their squires) muttering into their cups that Gawen was far too "green" to be a knight.

In the seven years which have followed Gawen has proven his valor and skills in countless engagements, yet the name remains, either as an affectionate term or in reference to House Roote's green-on-green coat of arms.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Stormy Present

Well, that sucked to an unbelievable extent.  Considering there was no realistic chance of the Republicans taking the Senate, yesterday has to qualify as fairly close to a worse case scenario.

Unsurprisingly, this has left me pretty down, as it should anyone who likes the idea of nuclear disarmament and not setting fire to the atmosphere.   But what does it mean in real terms?

I can think of at least three questions buried inside the one above.  First of all, what does it mean for the political landscape in 2012?  What specifically does it mean for President Obama?  And lastly, what does it mean for the people of the United States (and the world) for the next 24 months?

The answer to that first question depends on which of three scenarios play out.  The first is that the Republicans fail to fix the economy, and indeed make it worse.  Considering they share a great deal of the blame for getting the US into these straits in the first place, and various GOP big-hitters have turned a refusal to accept they did anything wrong into campaign pledges, this what I think is most likely to take place, and would hopefully lead to another major swing; this time in a direction slightly less pleasing to Ayn Rand, John Galt, and pretty much Satan himself. 

The second option is the exact opposite; the Republican House actually does turn the economy around.  I'll believe it when I see it (and I'll want some fairly significant analysis of the situation even then), but if they can do it, then they deserved to take back the House, and I'll just have to live with the fallout elsewhere. Much as I dislike the GOP, and actively despise some of their most high-profile members, this election was predominantly about the economy [1], and if they can fix it, they'll have done what they were asked to do.

The worst possible result purely in political terms (I'd much rather the economy was fixed than my guys win) is that the GOP does nothing to repair the economy but it rebounds due to other factors, giving the layman the impression that this ridiculous willingness to hand the car keys back to the drunk who crashed the car was a good idea.  I don't know how likely that is, because I'm not an economist, but that's the thought that's going to keep me up at night.  The first scenario, whilst unpleasant, is the most likely, and will at least have the advantage of potentially handing the House back to the Democrats in 2012.  The second will almost certainly never happen, but it would demonstrate that the Republicans have finally worked out how to responsibly govern again, something I'm not sure has been particularly true since Nixon.  The idea that the GOP watches the economy repair itself and then gets a few more years to set gays on fire and hurl them into mosques is more than I can stand.

Next: what of Obama?  Certainly, he's going to have real trouble getting things through the House, but then he was having exceptional trouble getting things through the Senate in any case.  Frankly, if there's one good thing to come out of yesterday's catastrophe, it's that the House has become more relevant.  Sure, it's done it by becoming just as overwhelmingly fucking mental as the Senate is, but the latter's despicable refusal to ignore the other half of the legislative branch was a disgrace for reasons beyond party lines.  One would hope that what is liable to be a reduction (potentially a significant reduction) of filibustering in the next two years will make people realise that the last Senate's refusal to do one goddamn single fucking thing had nothing to do with opposing the "tyranny of the majority" and everything to do with partisan politics.  Naturally, this is unlikely to ever happen, but I guess there's always hope that a critical mass of people will start paying enough attention (of course, it was assuming that was a possibility that informed my predictions in the last post, and we saw how wrong they were...)

Given this, then, and the fact that the expectation is always that Presidents get their most important goals out of the way before the first midterms, I'm not sure how much difference it will make.  Depending on whether the GOP distinguish or disgrace themselves in the next 24 months, it may affect Obama's re-election chances a little, but I don't think it will make a huge difference.  The crop of potential Republican presidential candidates is as anaemic as it was on Monday, and that's what makes me fairly confident of Obama being re-elected.  A lot of pundits are predicting an attempt by the Republican House to impeach Obama - based on comments various Republican leaders have made - but for now I think it's pretty unlikely.  There's just no there there, y'know?  The people who want Obama impeached for literally anything (and don't kid yourself, there are thousands of people exactly that stupid) are going to vote for his opponent in 2012 in any case, and I doubt you could peel off more than a fraction of a percent of the potential "undecideds" by holding hearings into Obama's over-use of Post-It notes, or whatever the Hell they decide they're going to throw at him.

That's politics in 2012 dealt with.  This still leaves the fairly major question of exactly how boned the American populace is.  I'm going to guess "extremely", but maybe I'm wrong this time.  Maybe it's a case of "better the devil you know", though of course in this case it's a bit closer to "better the Devil you know fucked your entire country".

See also.

[1] Well, it was in very large part (see this post for a nice graphical explanation).  I think there's also something to be said for this interpretation as well.  It would be a mistake to put too much weight on the "Confederate Party" angle - those sorts of accusations are too serious to be thrown around trivially - but it's not hard to believe it played more of a  role than anyone on the Right is prepared to admit.  You only need to look at the tactics that swept Nixon into power to see that, and whilst we've had more than four decades of progress since then, it's not at all clear to me that all those years compensate for having a black man in the Whitehouse.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Midterm Election Prediction

Well, things aren't looking remotely rosy over in the States right now.  I've been saying for a while that there was some hope of the Democrats holding on to the House by the skin of their teeth, but that's looking increasingly unlikely.  Without having looked at any exit poll data just yet (voting hasn't been underway for too long in any case), I'm going to go for the Democrats/Independents keeping the Senate 53-47, and losing the House 216-219.

Let's see how badly we're fucked this time around...

Hat In Hand

So, my interview went well.  Not well, enough, though, so I am still apparently fated for a life of miserable destitution.

That is, of course, unless you give just five pounds a month to sponsor a mathematician!

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