Friday, 31 December 2010

Our Time Is At An End

Hell of a year.  On the personal scale, 2010 has seen me become a doctor, work on three separate projects, lose two family members and gain a new job in a new university.  On a larger canvas, we have a new government and a new Prime Minister, and a new international treaty regarding nuclear arms reduction.  Mixed blessings in other words.

I've also drunk an awful lot of cocktails.

What will next year hold?  Moving house, certainly.  New responsibilities and trials and opportunities, no doubt.  More cocktails are also inevitable.  I'm also working on a new project for this here blog (though it might eventually get its own site) that I'm very excited about, mainly because it's in collaboration with someone who gratifyingly unable to understand he's approximately seven times too talented to have to deal with me.

I hope everyone is able to look back on 2010 with fondness, but is looking forward to the New Year, too.  Everyone have fun tonight.

See you in January.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A Tale Of Cocktails #6

Fuzzy Navel

1 oz vodka
1/2 oz peach Schnapps
4 1/2 oz orange juice
Fruit garnish
Taste: 8        
Look: 6        
Cost: 9         
Name: 8
Prep: 6
Alcohol: 2
Overall: 7

Preparation: Pour everything but the cherry into a cocktail shaker with cracked ice.  Shake, and then pour into a cocktail glass before garnishing.

General Comments: Liking that name.  Apparently, it's there to remind you what needs to go into it.  "Fuzzy" for peach, and "Navel" for orange (apparently, that's a type of orange, or so The Other Half tells me).  Apparently, there's no interest in reminding people about the vodka.  Presumably because it's shite.

Beyond that, this is another one of those tremendously dangerous cocktails that are both very refreshing and difficult to recognise as alcoholic.  In other words, it wins drinks.  Well, it would if it wasn't so weak.  Frankly, though, that might be less of a flaw, and more of a public service.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Walking With Company

Issue #8 of Panel Talk is out now, and features Chris B and I discussing The Walking Dead's first two chapters, and how they measure up to the first season of the AMC TV series.

Offences Against Nature

How can marmite chocolate possibly exist in the world? With celery as a principal ingredient?  It literally tastes like normal chocolate dipped in marmite, which means it's about the best way to experience marmite possible but a total waste of perfectly serviceable chocolate.

If even that wasn't bad enough, though, the marmite after-taste outlives the chocolate for some five minutes.  If the chocolate is a welcome house guest, polite enough to leave early, then the marmite is a vicious scabies-ridden squatter, squeezing out black formless babies ten a time whilst they wait for a council flat to use as a spawning pool.

It's not good, is my point.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Xmas Quz

Tis the season, my friends!  As a slightly tardy Christmas present to you, I offer you a quasi-festive quiz.  None of which, I hasten to add, I actually bothered to write.  Big props to Mickey E and J for all the work that went into this.

Round 1: Words

The following are all anagrams of Christmas-related items, unscramble the anagram and give me the item.

1. Scratches Arm Rick. Christmas cracker

2. A Shifty Girl. Fairy lights

3. Quenches Pees. Queen's Speech

4. Let Sin. Tinsel

5. Drunker yet in. Turkey dinner

Round 2: Baking

1. What component of bread dough makes it elastic, and is developed by kneading? Gluten

2. What type of chemical reaction is worked on the sugars in dough by the action of yeast? Fermentation

3. What gas is produced by this reaction, causing doughs to rise? CO2

4. Which type of dough uses a culture of lactobacillus to create lactic acid to assist leavening? Sourdough

5. Which German Christmas biscuits traditionally include carbonate of potassium or ammonium as a raising agent? Lebkuchen

Round 3: Sacred Christmas Music

1. Which hymn always begins the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge? "Once In Royal David's City"

2. The Austrian carol "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht" is better known by what English title? "Silent Night"

3. The carol with the first line "Lully lullay, thou little tiny child" comes from the medieval mystery plays of which Midlands city? Coventry

4. Which oratorio by Handel is usually performed during advent, and is famous for its "Hallelujah!" chorus? "Messiah"

5. Which English poetess wrote the lyrics to "In the bleak midwinter"? Christina Rossetti

Round 4: Tea

1. Who wrote, in 1662, "And afterwards I did send for a Cupp of Tee (a China drink) of which I never drank before"? Samuel Pepys

2. What flavouring is added to black tea to make Earl Grey tea? Bergamot

3. Taiwanese Pearl Tea contains pearl-like globules made of which starch? Tapioca

4. Which country is the largest producer of tea in the world? India

5. Lapsang Souchong is a black tea with which distinctive (and very strong) flavour? Smokey

Round 5: Christmas Films

1. The first two films in which franchise starring Bruce Willis involve different buildings being seized by terrorists on Christmas Eve? Die Hard

2. Which film starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan involves the son of a widowed father calling a radio chat show on Christmas Eve to seek a new partner for his father? Sleepless In Seattle

3. In which rom-com does the title character meet Mark Darcy at a Christmas party hosted by her parents? Bridget Jones' Diary

4. Which oft-repeated 1984 horror comedy begins when a Christmas gift of a Mogwai gets wet? Gremlins

5. Which film (and stage show) involving drugs, AIDS, death and general misery in the East Village in New York City starts one Christmas Eve and ends the next one? Rent

Round 6: Classic Pub Quiz Questions

1. Who owns the territory of Rapa Nui? Chile

2. Which jazz singer was nicknamed Lady Day? Billie Holliday

3. Operation Just Cause was part of the conflict to remove General Noriega from which country? Panama

4. Coulrophobia is the fear of what? Clowns

5. Which seabird has the Latin name Puffinus puffinus? Manx Shearwater

General Knowledge

1. (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) Name any one of the five things Harry gets from the Wizard Christmas Crackers? White mice, a wizard chess set, a Rear-Admiral hat, a set of non-explodable luminous balloons, a grow-your-own-warts kit.

2. Isopachytes are lines of equal what? Thickness

3. What is the name of the business run by Mrs Precious Ramotswe? The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency

4. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys wrote a soundtrack to which classic Russian film, which was performed live at Swan Hunter shipyard in 2006? Battleship Potemkin

5. The reindeer Donner and Blitzen take their names from the German words for what? Thunder and lightning

6. What is the collective noun for rhinos? A crash

7. What was the name of the noted BBC correspondent who died this week, and who was famed for his reporting of the Falklands conflict? Brian Hanrahan

8. Which nut, (although it's not technically a nut), forms the basis of frangipane? Almond

9. Who was the first director of the FBI? J. Edgar Hoover

10. In radio technology, what does the acronym DAB stand for? Digital Audio Broadcast

A Christmas Cartlilage Fish

I figured I should probably put together a review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special, but in truth there isn't a great deal to say.  It's always easier to deconstruct a failure than it is a success - I guess when something works there's a fear that pulling it apart will break the toy forever.

And this year's special was definitely a success. I confess to being initially skeptical of the "Who does Christmas Carol" idea, and not just because even gorgeous redheads cannot be allowed to replace the Great Gonzo when it comes to adaptations of the tale.  I just didn't see how it was fit.

Clearly, I didn't think about it for long enough.  A Christmas Carol at its heart is already a story about time travel. Sure, the means by which Scrooge visits different Christmases is supernatural, but that doesn't really matter.  What matters is that Moffat's Christmas Carol takes what is often the best approach to taking classic stories and moulding them into something new: it asks one simple question and allows everything else to spin out from it.  In this case, the question is this: what if the Ghost of Christmas Past had allowed Scrooge to interact with his past self?

I'm pretty sure the result blows apart Moffat's own rules over when the TARDIS can be used.  In fact, combine this with the well-written but structurally unsound conclusion to the last season it's possible the series is on the point of breaking with any story logic whatsoever.  That's a problem for later, though.  I'm prepared to let Moffat off on this occasion, partially because the story was so good, partially because the central question was so smart, but also because the rule-breaking was set-up and not conclusion (I still don't understand how hard it is for so many people to realise the importance of the distinction). I suppose a little bit more lee-way can be given at Christmas - it's easier to note the wild inconsistencies when they occur within the same series.

Also, having re-written Dickens in a way that entirely makes sense and avoids dumping all over the source material, Moffat must have sat down for a few minutes and thought: "Fuck it, I'll put a flying shark in there".

This is definitely the guy I want running Who.

A Tribute

Mr Ross: Did you hear?  The creator of the Wombles has died.

P: What?  They've created a Wombles diet?

SpaceSquid: Yep.  You can only eat things that the everyday folk leave behind.


Rest in peace, Elisabeth.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

A Tale Of Cocktails: Here Are The Facts

Now that we're five cocktails in, it's probably time to process some information.  Since this time round we lack obvious categories, I'm going to have to come up with some myself.  I think the most sensible way is to do it by dominant booze.

I'm not sure whether the fact the Malibu pop is included twice should be considered a problem, actually.  But screw it, the drink was awesome, so I don't care.

We should consider as well how my enjoyment has fluctuated over the course of this tale.

I'm also going to be keeping a record of what are currently considered the top 5 cocktails.

Top Five

1.   Malibu Pop
=2. Mimosa
=2. Kir Imperial
4.   Snowball
5.   Champagne Cocktail

Finally, here's a list of everything we've used so far in the experiment.


Blue Curacao


Cranberry Juice
Lime Cordial
Orange Juice
Pineapple Juice





Estimated amount of ice used: 131 cubic centimetres.

A Tale Of Cocktails #5

Malibu Pop
3 1/2 oz blue Curacao
3 1/2 oz Malibu
Dash cranberry juice
Dash pineapple juice
Taste: 9         
Look: 7         
Cost:: 6          
Name: 8
Prep: 7
Alcohol: 5
Overall: 7.3
Preparation:  Combine the Malibu and Curacao and shake.  Then add the fruit juice dashes and pour over ice into high-ball glasses.

General Comments: Love that name. It seems to describe both its nature as a sweet drink (like many awesome cocktails, you can't even really tell there's any alcohol in there at all) and its unusually colourful appearance.

It also tastes great.  It might even slightly edge out Woo Woo, and that is saying something.   It's sweet, but not cloying; you can recognise all four of the ingredients without any one of them taking dominance.  It's wonderful.  Looks good, too.  Purple is the best colour for everything ever, as I'm sure you know.

Basically, this is going to be damn hard to beat.  A score of 7.3 might not sound like all that much, but given that a perfect ten requires a lethally strong cocktail that is pre-made and offered to me for free -whilst also tasting of the nectar of the Gods and resembling rainbow-faceted liquid crystal - I suspect it will be a while before the Malibu Pop loses its crown.

And no, this has nothing to do with it being the first drink to be suggested for this series by The Other Half...

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Seasons greetings, Adoring Fans!  May your supernatural forces of choice be kind to you this day.  Here's hoping I won't get blisters from all the snowball cocktails Mum will make me mix this evening...

"What If We Remake Sink The Bismarck Without Any German Ships?"

Remakes are tricky things to get a handle on.  A lot of a time it's difficult to see them as anything other than desperate money grabs.  But let's assume for the sake of argument that tonight's reworking of Whistle And I'll Come To You is a genuine attempt to introduce a new generation to M R James' classic ghost story, and the wonderful BBC adaptation that followed.

If that's the case, then, here's a very simple question: what the fuck happened to the fucking whistle?  The instrument isn't just a MacGuffin for the story to progress, BBC.  It's crucial that Parkins blows the whistle - what unleashes all the terror is his scientific curiosity, which makes him want to know what will come at the sound without any idea what that might be.  It has to be a voluntary process, in other words.  Happening to find a wedding band and being haunted afterwards knocks out the central idea that Parkins caused this because his intelligence was too narrow to conceive of what might happen.  I don't care how guilty he feels about leaving his borderline comatose wife in a care home.

In short, then, it's not just that Neil Cross would apparently re-write Lord of the Rings to replace the One Ring with the One Tongue Stud.  Nor is that he would still insist on calling it Lord of the Rings even though that no longer makes any sense.  It's that he'd change the plot so that Frodo is always invisible whether he has the tongue stud in or not.

Friday, 24 December 2010

SpaceSquid vs. The X-Men #38: Safe, Maat; Safe

It seems appropriate that we see 2010 out with the last of the 20th Century X-Men.  At least, I think it does, and I hope that you agree with me on that point. There's very little chance that you'll agree with anything else I have to say here, after all.

Mahatma Gandhi once said that "Even in a minority of one, the truth is still the truth".  Sure, he probably meant it regarding the inevitability of India's freedom from colonial rule, but I'd like to think he'd be thinking along similar lines if he'd lived long enough to see how often Maggott ends up at the top of "WORST X-MEN EVAH" lists.  I think it'd be his kind of thing.

People hate this guy.  They hate him with a passion that's almost impressive in its vitriol, given how little time Japeth was actually on the team (only around a year or so).  For the life of me, I've never understood why.  Given his comparatively short tenure, I could understand people not giving a damn.  I can see why having the mutant power of not being able to digest food might strike more than a few people as less than gripping.  Beyond that, though, I'm struggling to see the problem.

Of course, I would struggle to see the problem, because I believe that Maggott is genuinely awesome.  When the immanent return of Nightcrawler, Colossus and Shadowcat from the pages of Excalibur apparently necessitated the ousting of Cannonball, Cecila Reyes and Maggott, it was the latter whose loss I felt most keenly.  And given my deep and abiding love of Cecilia (I'm delighted she's back in the comics these days, even in the current "generic doctor" role she seems to be fulfilling), that's high praise indeed.

What follows, then, is a full-throated defense of the X-Universe's most underrated mutant.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

A Turd For The Ages

On Sunday I called John McCain a homophobe and a liar.  I feel bad about that.  Not because it's inaccurate, obviously.  But because I neglected to add vindictive prick.
Woods said "it hurts" McCain to vote against legislation like the Dream Act after years of working on reform but said the senator felt betrayed when Latinos overwhelmingly supported Obama in 2008. "When you carry that fight at great sacrifice year after year and then you are abandoned during the biggest fight of your life, it has to have some sort of effect on you," he said.
Man, poor old John McCain.  It must be so hard when it hurts him voting down legislation he previously worked on purely because the people it would benefit voted for someone else.

This of course makes him a vindictive racist prick, as well.  If your worldview is such that you blame all Hispanics for their general voting record - overwhelming or not - then that's all you are.

What's remarkable about this is that it's an article filled with people who are trying to defend  McCain, and they're still saying the man will vote agsainst something he believes to be right and he has put a significant amount of work into because he cannot bring himself to help people he's decided don't like him.

The man 45.7% of Americans wanted to be President, ladies and gentlemen. At least he likes sharks, I guess.

h/t to Balloon Juice.

A Tale Of Cocktails #4 (Xmas Special)

2 oz Advocaat
6 oz lemonade
1/4 oz lime cordial
Taste: 8  
Look: 2         
Cost: 9  
Name: 7
Prep: 8
Alcohol: 2
Overall: 6.3
Preparation: Since this is the first cocktail I've made that isn't just stirred (well, the champagne cocktail requires you start with the ice-cube and the bitters, but close enough), I should probably explain how to make it.  Besides, I got to use my brand new cocktail shaker given to me by The Other Half, and that's clearly worthy of celebration.

It's not too complicated. Just add the dash of lime cordial to the Advocaat and shake the shit out of it.  Pour into an ice-filled high-ball glass and top up with lemonade.

General Comments:  God, this doesn't look too good.  Between the yellow colour and the foam on top, it looks more like a diseased urine sample than a proper drink.

Once you get past that, it actually tastes really good.  It's somewhat on the thick side, which I'm not massively keen on, but otherwise it's genuinely tasty, albeit very difficult to describe (just as Advocaat itself is).  Of course, I'm somewhat biased.  My mother has been drinking snowballs over Christmas ever since I can remember.  I'm not so much mixing a drink as submitting to genetic programming here (it's also her fault I crave aniseed balls whenever I'm working).  Even my love of the name might have less to do with it being evocative of Christmas and more to do with some subconscious link between the word and comparative family harmony.

Yeah yeah, I know.  You come for cocktails, you get slightly disturbing family revelations.  At least we've steered clear of my father's crippling addiction to ocelots.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Happy Admissions

Looks like I was most certainly wrong to count out the new START treaty.  I do at least claim partial credit for noting that getting a given extra n GOP votes is much easier when you've already got a few in the bag.  Either the line was going to hold or it wasn't, and it didn't.

That's why I'd be a little (just a little) kinder o the Republicans than Kevin Drum is here.  I don't think the situation is indicative of cowardice, so much as pragmatism.  The Senate leadership was very clear that they wanted Obama beaten on this, and the Senators who were inclined to jump ship made damn sure they'd have some company when they did.

Having spent so much time complaining that the Democratic Caucus in the Senate are so completely unwilling to toe the party line, there's a limit to how much I can rage against the discipline in their Republican opposites.  I might despise their politics and their total lack of honesty, and I might be far happier if Senators would just fess up about their wish to follow their leaders' instructions rather than hear them spit out ludicrous contradictory bullshit (yeah, I know, might as well wish for the moon).  None of that changes the fact that it doesn't seem cowardly to overrule one's own inclinations for the sake of party unity.

Of course, Drum is entirely right that if there's any time you should blow off your boss, it's when they're trying to make the world a more dangerous place in order to damage their domestic opponents, so I get where he's coming from.  I'm just focussing on the big guns right now.vvMcConnell and Kyl deserve every ounce of contempt being directed at them right now.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

What Is This Human Process You Call "Plea Bargaining"?

My latest column is up at GeekPlanet, and discusses the probabalistic and psychological implications of using computers to replace juries (because if Blake's 7 had them, they must be possible).

Written In The Heavens

I found myself in something of a Donkey Paradox yesterday whilst buying the last present I needed to complete my Christmas shopping.  I knew the couple I was buying for are big into games, but in the end the game I wanted to buy for them wasn't available, and I couldn't decide between two very strong contenders for second place.

In the end, I bought them both (take that, utility theory) and took them to The Other Half's flat.  I figured I would show them both to her, see which one she most wanted to play, and wrap the other one up for my friends.

In the end, we plumped for The Stars Are Right, since it looked like another one of those very silly but exceptionally playable Steve Jackson games (though I don't play Munchkin much anymore, it just takes too long unless everyone else in the group knows the rules well enough to play with pace).

Handily, that's just what it is.  It's almost stupidly simple to play - one of those games that has slightly daunting rules that click into place almost immediately upon applying them.  Basically, the game revolves around a 5x5 grid representing the night sky.  Each square tile features one of multiple stellar objects; various numbers of stars, asteroid showers, eclipses both solar and lunar, and so on.  The tiles have different symbols on front and back, so all told there's something like fifty thousand trillion trillion trillion  combinations, though I'm cheating there because there are repeated symbols.

Anyway, this being a Cthulhu (sorry, Cthulhoo - don't want to get sued!) game, the arrangement of the constellations is critically important.  Each player (or "cultist") has a hand full of unholy creatures that can be summoned if various tile combinations are currently in play.  Rather than summoning a creature, though, one can discard it in order to gain the ability to "change the sky", which allows you to push, swap or flip tiles (depending on what you tossed aside).  The more powerful the creature, the less you'll want to burn one in this way, but the more changes doing so will allow you to alter the night sky.  To complicate matters, most summoned creatures can augment the changes given to you by your discard.

The ultimate aim, unsurprisingly, is to summon a Great Old One - in fact, it's quite difficult to win any other way (you get points for each of your summoned creatures, and you need ten points from at most six creatures - Old Ones are worth four, and nothing else is worth more than two).  Naturally, these mighty monsters require very complicated constellation patterns before they can arrive, but to make summoning them easier, you can use their Greater or Lesser Servitors to simplify the patterns.

And that, in essence, is it.  The complexity comes in working out the best creatures to summon: some are quick and easy, others difficult but more valuable.  The more effort you have to put into a constellation the greater the rewards, but the more likely it is that another cultist will accidentally or otherwise ruin the work you've put in (so far I've only played with one other player, I imagine the calculus gets a lot more complicated once there's four of you).  It's also very quick; after three games we've already cut our time down to just twenty minutes.

And finally, it looks very pretty.  It's the standard Jackson style of simple cartoon images, but still, they're lovely:

Honestly, who wouldn't want a cute fang-trunked elephant like that?

Monday, 20 December 2010

A Tale Of Cocktails #3

2 1/2 oz champagne
2 1/2 oz orange juice
Orange garnish
Taste: 7          
Look: 6          
Cost: 8          
Name: 7
Prep: 9
Alcohol: 2
Overall: 6.7
Preparation: Pour in ingredients and mix. Add garnish.
Preparation: Pour in ingredients and mix. Add garnish.

General Comments: There's something lyrical about the name "Mimosa".  Of course, in this case the lyrics in question were penned by the Fun Lovin' Criminals, but I suppose we can't blame the cocktail for that.

What we can blame it for is its thoroughly unacceptable dearth of alcohol.  I'm not even sure this should count as a cocktail, frankly, but the International Bartenders Association disagrees, and they scare me.  Basically, this is a Bucks Fizz with more oomph, which is a lot like gluing a snail to a toy car.  Sure, the snail is faster - at least downhill - but does that necessarily mean anyone is going to find it preferable to a Ferrari?

Still, it's cheap, it's easy to make, the orange slice garnish is a bit of fun (and an important source of vitamin C), and every sip reminds me of weddings.  That's enough for the drink to trouble the upper reaches of the sixes, I think.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Safe Bets

Following my earlier comments on DADT repeal, I thought I'd make a few predictions about the future.

2011: Every "serious" political commentator suddenly comes out in favour of the repeal, but also wonders aloud whether every single set-back in Afghanistan might have something to do with the new status quo.

2012: Multiple GOP Presidential candidates make reference to the DADT repeal in their stump speech as a classic example of federal overreach. Depending on the audience, they either decry the idea entirely, or argue it was a good idea done in the worst possible way.  No-one in the MSM highlights the contradiction.

2013-2016: The GOP quietly drop DADT as a talking point and double down on blocking gay marriage and gay adoption. A Republican takes the White House and immediately claims this gives them a mandate for blocking both ideas, despite an overwhelming majority in favour of gay marriage.

2030: The emaciated near-corpse of Glenn Beck claims the Republicans were in favour of repeal, and only voted against the measure as an objection to villainous Democrat chicanery. The Washington Post runs three dozen op-eds agreeing with him. FOX News runs a special report on how neither Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were both suspected homophobes.

2050: The cybernetic tricycle into which Beck's brain has been implanted hosts a rally in which he states the Republicans were the ones who passed DADT repeal.  Ross Douthat writes a scholarly article claiming the BECKOTRON 6000 is sort of right.

2060: A Republic President invades France without provocation.  The White House insists this is not a sexuality issue both throughout the first phase, Operation: Pussy Is Great, and during the "liberation" of Paris, Operation: Versace Got What Was Coming To Him. The mechanised scorpion that now bears Charles Krauthammer's face explains that all of this is OK because Parisian homosexuals are fundamentally anti-Semitic.  No-one objects for fear of reprisals from Mecha-Mossad.

I'm telling you, it's all going to happen...

That Rare Thing...

...Good news from the States.  "Don't Ask Don't Tell" has been a thoroughly self-defeating and viciously bigoted policy ever since Clinton put it in place in the theory that if you can't stop bigots you can at least make it harder for them to find their targets.  Even so, the fact that 31 Senators - including wretched homophobe and liar John McCain - chose to ignore the recommendations of the Secretary of Defense and the Pentagon and the clear will of the people including their own voters in order to defend legalised bigotry is another stark reminder of just how out of their fucking minds the Republicans have become (though respect is due to the six GOP Senators who did the right thing this time around).

The only bad news in all of this is that it probably confirms that the new START treaty is doomed.  This was very likely in any case, of course; there is just too much desire amongst Republican Senators to see Obama fail on the international stage.  I'd say this seals it, though.  My guess is that essentially the straight-up repeal bill was a quid pro quo for extending the entirety of the Bush tax cuts.  I think the White House looked at the three things they most wanted passed during the lame duck session (DADT repeal, START, and DREAM) and decided the first of them was the only thing liable to ever work.

I'm  not saying they made the wrong choice, and I certainly don't really want to think about whether I'd rather see the back of pointlessly hateful rules or a reduction in the number of times over the US can destroy the entire planet.  Still, it would be nice to live in a world where the American Right could be persuaded not to be pricks to the gays or the Russians.

UPDATE: Whilst hardly brimming with confidence, Steve Benen's head count and post suggests I may be wrong to entirely give up on the treaty.  Certainly, I think it's a lot easier to get from seven GOP votes to nine than it is to get from zero to two, because you already get to invoke the "B" word.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

A Tale Of Cocktails #2

Champagne Cocktail
4 1/2 oz champagne
1/2 oz brandy
Dash bitters
1 sugar cube
Cherry garnish
Taste: 4
Look: 6
Cost: 7
Name: 3
Prep: 7
Alcohol: 5
Overall: 5.3
General Comments: Hmm.  Not exactly the most interesting name, is it?  Hardly an auspicious start.  The only reason it got so high a score as 3 in that category is in the knowledge that stupefying dullness if preferable to active bullshit (in certain cases, at least).  Not exactly much to look at, either; though the red cherry is a nice touch.

Beyond that, this is a difficult cocktail to judge, because it's pretty dry, and I don't like my booze dry.  It's like asking a fish to list his top ten iPhone apps. Nor does the bitters help - I'm not much for ginger as a taste (though as a hair colour...) On the other hand, the sugar cube gradually dissolving at the bottom makes each taste sweeter than the last, which is good fun.  I suppose if I wanted to wait, I could have the whole thing at that level of sweetness,which might help.  Certainly, the glace cherry works exceptionally well in combination with the cocktail.

P.S. Apologies for the lack of a photo.  My camera has been stolen by leopards.  Rest assured that a crack team of old English sheepdogs and bearded collies are being assembled even now to bring the miscreants to justice.

UPDATE: Camera regained with minimal casualties.  Though someone will have to tell little Jimmy that Sir Barksalot won't be home for Christmas...

Friday, 17 December 2010

Friday Terrifying Bafflement

Blame The Other Half for this.  She didn't want to have to suffer alone.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


No posting today; I have celebrating to do!  Assuming things don't go tits up during the final stages (i.e. wrangling over the exact amount of time it will take me to get my arse down to the West Midlands), it would appear that a further three years of lovely, lovely money will soon be mine to enjoy!

For some reason this song seems appropriate, thought I'd hope any contributions I make to medical research are somewhat more constructive than getting drunk on water towers.  Not that that wouldn't be awesome.  (Also, it's that mad Doctor Who guy again: bonus).

Monday, 13 December 2010

Budget Kafka

Scene: The Other Half's admin office.

THE OTHER HALF: You're paying us early this month, right?
ANONYMOUS SECRETARY: That's right, what with it being Christmas and all.
TOH: Does that mean there's a different deadline to normal on when I can hand in my expenses forms?
AS: 'Fraid so.
TOH: So...
AS: So?
TOH: So when is it?
AS: We haven't decided.
TOS: Really.
AS: Nope.  It's probably before today, though.

Rest Stop

 Now that we've come to the end of the first fun-size series of The Walking Dead (which I'm insisting on calling "Days Gone Bye"), it's time to think about how the show measured up (spoilers for the last episode and the comic follow).

Friday, 10 December 2010

Friday Wardrobe

It's been a long time coming, but it's finally arrived: the very first Musings of the Cosmic Calamari merchandise!

Well, OK, so it doesn't mention anything to do with the site.  Nor do I actually get any money.  But still; it's about the X-Men!  And cocks!  Surely its provenance is clear (maximum props to Nemain for the design).

So what are you waiting for?  Confuse your friends!  Shock your parents!  Risk incurring the wrath of a major supervillain!

You'd also be donating to a worthy cause, namely getting Nemmie's Zazzle earnings up to £15, which is apparently what they need to be before they'll actually pay her any money.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Norman Situation

Issue 7 of Panel Talk is up now and, as mentioned, focuses upon Norman Osborn, and his rise to power.  Basically, it's a lot like last week's post, only this time I have someone to argue with, and the information will be delivered direct to your sound-holes in the way God intended.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


As part of GeekPlanet's Christmas Stocking series, Chris B and I have a mini-podcast up on the subject of the comics we received as children.  Warning: contains rabid anti-Scottish sentiments, and associated awful impressions.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Also, Let's Invade Narnia

I haven't said a great deal on the US political situation for a little while.  Nor will I today.  I did though want to point you towards the ever-readable John Seavey's post on the current situation, because while it's familiar territory, it's still an excellent primer.  If you don't have time for the whole post, Seavey pretty much nails the current problem in two lines:
If I say that we need to rebuild our nation’s highway system, and you say that we need to tax the Tooth Fairy to do that because the bitch is obviously loaded if she can afford to give away all those quarters, we’re clearly not going to get anywhere. Bipartisan compromise is impossible, because it’s not like we can agree to only get half our funding from the Tooth Fairy’s stash.

Quz 9 Redux

Answers to Quz 9 are now available.  This time round Team Musings managed to draw level with the winners of the quiz last Wednesday night, so it's time for the tie-breaker: how many times is the name "Cecilia" said in the Simon & Garfunkel song of the same name?


Another reason to believe that I am not entirely pissing away the money given to me.  Of course, this paper represents the end of my ability to coast on the work I put in for my PhD.  Time to do some more research, I guess.

Monday, 6 December 2010

A Tale Of Cocktails #1

Kir Imperial
4 1/2 oz champagne
1/2 oz chambord
Taste: 7
Look: 6
Cost: 6
Name: 8
Prep: 10
Alcohol: 4
Overall: 6.7
General Comments: Fairly impressive, overall.  It's certainly easy to make - indeed nothing's ever gonna get easier until I persuade the council to install taps providing hot and cold running pina colada.  It also looks quite nice, albeit a little bit dull (the price you pay for ease of preparation, I guess).  The same is true of the taste, really.  It's raspberry-tinged taste is genuinely quite nice, but a bit uninspiring; you can get sparkling fruit wines that are very similar, which is a little disappointing, especially considering the cost.

On the other hand, it did get The Other Half drunk pretty quickly, so it has that going for it.  Nice name, too.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

A Tale Of Cocktails

It's been a long while since we came to the end of the Shake Experiment, so it's high time we ran through another set of drinks in a freakishly anal manner.

And, as you can probably tell from this post's title (Chuck wanted me to go with "A Tale of Cocks", but then she's young, and so terribly innocent).  I shall post the first result tomorrow, but let's set up the ground rules first.  Each drink will be rated in six categories: taste, appearance, cost (calculated as 10 - cost per glass), difficulty in preparation and alcoholic content (where 0 is alcohol free, 10 is over 40%), and the degree to which their name amuses or disgusts me. 

They'll also get an overall score, but at the urging of SpaceSquid Senior, I'll be using a weighted average; taste getting three votes and appearance and cost two each.

Let the quest to find a superior alternative to Woo Woo commence!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The Rise And Fall Of The Norman Empire

Chris B and I recorded our latest podcast on Thursday - coming soon to an internet near you - on the subject of Norman Osborn.  In the end, though, I figured my notes were complete enough to forge into a post.

I've been trying to decide for a little while exactly what makes Osborn so interesting, and I think a lot of it boils down to a single question: What happens when you take a villain and make his success contingent on being heroic?

Friday, 3 December 2010

Your Friday Dose Of WTF

Seriously, what is going on here?  I'm deeply confused, and that's with full knowledge of what a Dalek looks like.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Confederates, Extortion And Doom

I just thought I'd share two things I've taken away from Mother Jones this week, which are kind of related.  First up, the world's most terrifying book since Babara Cartland passed away :

I know what the title really is, but I can't help reading that mish-mash as "Confederate Coloring and Book Learning".  ll you need do is drop that last "g" and you have a perfect encapsulation of the kind of people liable to want to buy this book for their kids.

Probably in the grand scheme of indoctrination this is far less worrying than Texas re-writing their school history text books to excise progressives to make room for more racists, but this ties into a lot of things that I've been seeing lately, a concerted attempt by various Southerners to rehabilitate the notion of the Confederacy by trying to redefine it (in fairness, such attempts have been going on for a loooooooong time).  Ta Nehisi Coates has a particularly good post on this up here.

Ultimately, of course, it's the same problem we see every time with aspects of the American Right (and aspects of the British Right, and to be fair the Left as well, though generally speaking progressive lunatics aren't generally elected into office).  If someone wanted to make the case that the Confederacy wasn't universally about continuing slavery (it wasn't), that it had issues with the US beyond slavery (it did), and that the Union Army hardly acted as paragons of virtue and racial tolerance (which it didn't), then that's worth a conversation.  But that's just too damn complicated for these people.  Too nuanced.  All they can manage is that slavery is bad, but the Confederacy was good, therefore the Confederacy can't have been about slavery.

And how have those that formed, ran and lost the CSA learned their lesson in the last 155 years?  Well, they've switched parties, but otherwise: not very well.  Tax cuts are always good, the President and a majority of Congress don't want to let the tax cuts expire, so the President and a majority of Congress must be stopped at all costs.

I'm still fairly new to this game, but I've never seen anything like this.  Nothing - literally nothing - will be allowed to reach a vote in the Senate unless the tax cuts are renewed.  The Democrats have already agreed to allow the cuts to continue on the middle class, but of course the Republicans have refused that compromise.  The rich must continue to enjoy the Bush tax cuts, or the government gets it. The filibuster has now officially progressed from emergency measure to standard procedure to a method of extortion.

Note as well that this is signed by every single Republican Senator.  Every. Single. One.  In a year when the GOP are screaming about fiscal responsibility (to the point of wanting to cut unemployment benefits), the entire Senate minority have determined that there can be no action taken by the federal government - including action to reduce the deficit - unless the tax cuts which contributed to a significant proportion of that deficit continue.

It's almost impossible at this point not to subscribe wholesale to Tom Friedman and Kevin Drum's incredibly cynical takes on the whole situation.  America is pretty much screwed, and nobody who has any chance of stopping it seems to have any interest in trying.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Quz 9

Have at it, people! No bonus round this time, I fear; since it involved spelling. (Edit: I should have mentioned, the top five scores last night were 33, 33, 30, 28, 28.  That's what you have to beat.)

Round 1: Words

(Each word is made up entirely of Roman numerals)

1. Amiably gentle or temperate in taste, sensation, or feeling or behaviour toward others. MILD

2. A perennial herb, sole member of the genus Anethum, with both leaves and seeds that are used in preparing food. DILL

3.  To imitate or copy in action, speech, or appearance. MIMIC

4.  Enraged or furiously angry. LIVID

5.  Of or pertaining to a city or to citizenship. CIVIC\CIVIL

Round 2: Yellow

1. Which fictional villain with a distinctive moustache has appeared extensively in cinema, television, radio and comic books since being created in the 1930s – despite unfortunate racist overtones - and has been described as “The yellow peril incarnate in one man”? Fu Manchu

2. What was the name of Coldplay’s debut album, from which their second single “Yellow” was taken, giving the band their first top ten hit? "Parachutes"

3. Which DC Comics superhero has a magical “power ring” which has almost infinite potential, but which for many years was entirely powerless against yellow objects? Green Lantern

4. What reason did Frenchman Louis Bobet offer when he initially refused to wear the first yellow jersey he had won in the Tour de France? The jersey included synthetic fibres, and Bobet demanded pure wool

5. Authorised in 1853 and first completed in 1884, which London Underground line is coloured yellow on maps of the system? Circle

Round 3: Insults

1. Which politician did the late comedian Linda Smith describe as "Satan's bearded folk-singer"? David Blunkett

2. According to the French knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of..."what? Elderberries

3. Which poet reputedly died of an insult to brain caused by eighteen straight whiskies on top of serious pneumonia? Dylan Thomas

4. Which crime under defamation law is defined as a harmful statement in a transitory form, especially speech? Slander

5. Which politician, when accused of drunkenness by MP Bessie Braddock, replied, "Bessie, you're ugly; but tomorrow morning, I shall be sober."? Winston Churchill

Round 4: Women in song

(For each question I want to know the name of the woman being sung about.)

1.”Died in the church and was buried along with her name.” Elanor Rigby

2. ”Jubilation, she loves me again; I fall on the floor and I’m laughing.” Cecilia

3. “Well I’m not dumb but I can’t understand why she walked like a woman but talked like a man.” Lola

4. “You had the grace to hold yourself while those around you crawled.” Norma Jean (Marilyn Monroe)

5. “As she deceived me I watched and went out of my mind.” Delilah

Round 5: Strange Ends

1. Which American actress and sex-symbol of the ‘50s died when her car passed under a suddenly-breaking trailer, crushing her head? Jayne Mansfield

2. Which philosopher was found guilty of corrupting the minds of youth and subsequently sentenced to death by drinking a mixture including hemlock? Socrates

3. Hanged in 1829 for his role in a spate of grisly murders, what became of the body of William Burke? His body was given over to medical science

4. Which animal finally put an end to famous snake-botherer and crocodile-enrager Steve Irwin? A sting-ray

5. After surviving a plunge down Niagara Falls in a barrel, Englishman Bobby Leach died in another fall after slipping on what? Orange peel

Round 6: Bavaria

1. The Bavarian flag and its lesser coat of arms both consist of which two colours? Blue and white

2. Bavaria shares a border with Switzerland across lake Constance, but which two other Europeans countries does the region border? Austria and the Czech Republic

3. Which team did Bayern Munich beat 4-0 in Berlin this May to win the German Cup? Werner Bremen

4. Protected until recently by a “purity law” first established in Munich in 1487, which drink is consumed in Bavaria at an average annual rate of 170 litres per person? Beer

5. Which member of the Christian Social Union and Minister President in Bavaria died in 1988, and gave his name to the newly constructed Munich Airport in 1992? Franz Josef Strauss

GK Round

1. (Harry Potter) What kind of dragon is Norbert? Norwegian Ridgeback

2. Which is the only number which when written in English has its letters in alphabetical order? Forty

3. Proteus, Despina and Thalassa are all moons of which planet? Neptune

4. Which South American capital city has the distinction of being the highest capital city above sea level in the world? La Paz

5. Which element has the chemical symbol W? Tungsten

6. According to popular legend, whose final words were “Pardon monsieur”, as they stepped on their executioner’s foot on the way to their death? Marie Antoinette

7. Which board game was originally released in France in 1957 as La Conquete du Monde? "Risk"

8. Which former majority leader of the US House of Representatives was convicted by a Texas court this week for money laundering? Tom DeLay

9. Robert Thompson Craftsmen Ltd produces oak furniture, each piece of which famously includes a carving of what animal? Mouse

10. What kind of animal is a Devil’s coach-horse? Insect (beetle)

Best Research Ever

I briefly mentioned this before, but the main plus point to my week in Munich is that it allowed me to fulfil a life-long dream and apply genuine maths research to the X-Men (note that I didn't claim this dream wasn't sad, merely long-held).

Because I care, and I know you're interested, I shall now display the results of my labours to the world.  Essentially, I've used my New Maths (TM) to create a method of classifying the X-Men into two groups: alive (A) and dead (D).  The actual method is too complicated to repeat here, but here's a small taste.  Simply choose your favourite X-Man, follow the prompts, and discover whether or not they've shuffled off this mortal coil.

Obviously, there are problems.  Deciding how many times a character has "died" would be worth another SS v X series in itself. The issue count only includes X-Men (as oppose to UXM) issues if the character didn't appear in UXM that month, and furthermore only counts when a character was on the roster, rather than enjoying a guest appearance.  Also, this tree was created using data from 20th Century X-Men, so it might not work too well with some of the new additions (plus, the presentation is shit, but it's late on Tuesday night and I'm passed the point of caring). 

One thing that isn't a bug, rather a feature, is the fact that sometimes the tree essentially just shrugs its shoulders and returns "dunno" (?).  My speciality lies in differentiating between situations when a single answer can be justified, and when it can't.

In any case, it's something for you to mess around with on a particularly slow day.