Saturday, 31 December 2011

Booze Hound

As something of a left-field but certainly not unappreciated Christmas present, the Other Half has chosen to pass to me full responsibility for the world's shiniest canine polymath, Professor Steeldog.

That photo was taken during Professor Steeldog's inaugural lecture "Scrambled Eggs Are Delicious".  Note that the professor is delivering his talk whilst simultaneously preparing scrambled eggs as an after-lecture snack, and whilst powered by a bottle of Blaxland Estate Shiraz.  That's not really all that much for a proper academic, actually, but then he's a very small dog, and allowances must be made.

Besides, see how sad he looks once the plonk has gone:

In fairness, the bitter horror of rapidly coalescing reality isn't the only reason for his shrinking posture.  Steeldog's lecture has started off a veritable intellectual shit-storm, and both Professors Ironcat and Vanadiumsquirrel-Smith are on the warpath.  It's tough being a drunken carnivore trying to justify high cholesterol breakfast snacks.

Fortunately, Professor Steeldog has a secondary career to fall back on, as a cybernetic battlesuit.

Unstoppable war-suit modelled by Misty the dog.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Trial By Fire

Having tried out the latest Talisman expansion last night, I got to thinking about the nature of board games.  The catalyst for this consideration was my immediate reaction to the change in experience the new rules offer, which is best described as "Making a long game even longer."

Obviously, a man who'll sing the praises of Arkham Horror to anyone who'll listen can't complain too much about games that suck up time.  Not all examples of time dilation of time are equally welcome, however. The problem with "The Dragon" isn't that it ramps up the difficulty per se, it's that in doing so, it makes the game even lonelier than it was before.

Let me explain.  Some competitive games are lonely, and others are not.  Snakes and Ladders , for example, is as lonely as they come.  If one were so inclined, one could email the same S&L board to a half dozen of your friends, have them play it alone, and then compare the number of dice rolls each of you required to get to whichever corner you were aiming for.  That, I would argue, is a lonely game.

Care must be taken here, of course.  S&L is not only a lonely game, but one entirely devoid of skill, and it's important not to confuse the two.  Talisman is not devoid of skill, by any means, (contra my friend R, who is convinced the whole exercise is nothing more than Ludo played on a gigantic and exceptionally entertaining board) but it can still be a somewhat lonely game, in the sense that one's interaction with the other players is fairly minimal compared to one's interaction with the game itself.  How many times do you encounter another player and attack them, or cast a spell designed to impair their progress, compared to how often your turn revolves around only where you've moved to, and what happens to you there?

"The Dragon" skews the proportion even more in favour of strategic solipsism.  It takes the game one step closer to being played independently, with everyone involved simply noting how long it takes for them to beat their own personal Dragon King, and comparing times.

That, irrespective of how interesting the new rules, cards and characters prove to be, strikes me as something of a shame.

Monday, 26 December 2011

The Caretaker, The Sexist, And The Dishonorably Dischargeable

Well, that wasn't too bad at all.  Maybe a bit slow moving for a Christmas Special (I was all stuffed with meat, parsnips and wine, so staying awake was a definite problem) and a little to saccharin for my tastes, but it had some nice ideas (there has to be naturally occurring Christmas trees somewhere being my favourite), some great visuals, a typically excellent turn from Matt Smith and better child acting than the BBC is usually known for.  Also, I have to admit there did come a point where I realised to my own bafflement that I had a lump in my throat.

A few more unordered thoughts:
  • Man, Androzani Major's military must be permanently undergoing a funding crisis.  First they couldn't manage to clear a few dozen androids out of a cave system in order to secure their most treasured natural resource, and now they send overweight bunglers to guard their fuel sources.  Two soldiers in full armour can't overpower a civilian with a service revolver?  Please.  I presume they're only using acid rain to melt the forest because none of them can be trusted to swing an axe without disemboweling themselves.
  • I'd have hoped we'd moved beyond plot tropes like "only a woman is strong enough to commune with nature".  Doubtless it's well-meant, but at least as far as I'm concerned it always comes across as rather patronising.  "See, we respect you, life givers that you are!"  It's also slightly difficult to process a story in which the Doctor can't carry a sentient forest in his head, but Arabella Weir is considered fit for service.
  • Having said the above, it's nice to see a story in which the Doctor isn't the last-minute saviour everyone is praying for. I suppose one could point out that this deliberate (if exceptionally vague) aping of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has swapped in the Doctor as a replacement for Jesus, of course.  Or note that linking your story to one of the finest moments in the entirety of the show's history isn't an act of humility and understatement.  But let's not search too hard to find things to raise our eyebrows over: it's Christmas, after all, and at least this time round no-one's told me people think killing the Doctor is worse than the Holocaust.
  • Speaking of the Doctor's death, having him refer to himself as "the Caretaker" was a nice idea - a way of dealing, at least for now, with the idea that he is now operating undercover.  It certainly helps me buy the idea that a time-traveller can fake their own death.   I'd be surprised if they keep it up for Season 7, but at least it's delayed the problem for a little while. 

Friday, 23 December 2011

Merry Quizmas

Since it doesn't look like this "Christmas" idea is going anywhere, we might as well embrace it. Have yourselves a Christmas quiz. The highest score when I ran this at the pub on Wednesday was 32. Good luck!

Round 1: Chranagrams

(Five anagrams of things associated with Christmas)

1. Hell wrath, yo!  (Holly wreath)

2. Ethnic girls  (Christingle)

3. Most elite  (Mistletoe)

4. Staunchest sort  (Roast chestnuts)

5. He doddered sheerer unlit porn  (Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer)

Round 2: December

1. In which Russian city did the Decembrist uprising take place in Senate Square in December 1825, which led a century later to the location being renamed Decembrist Square until 2008?  (St Petersburg)

2. "A Long December" was a 1996 single release for which band, whose back catalogue also includes the 1993 hit "Mr Jones", and the song "Accidentally In Love", which was Oscar nominated following its appearance in the film Shrek 2?  (Counting Crows)

3. People born in December have either the starsign Sagittarius or Capricorn, depending on the day. Which two planets are associated with these signs? (1/2 for each) (Jupiter and Saturn)

4. "Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December" is a line from which poem?  "The Raven"

5. In the evening of which date in December do the Dutch begin the celebration of Sinterklaas?  5th

Round 3: The Ghost of Christmas Past

1. Former Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were executed on Christmas Day 1989, under a wide range of charges, in which country?  (Romania)

2. Which British physicist, mathematician, natural philosopher, theologian and occult obsessive was born on Christmas Day 1642 (Julian calender), and shares credit with Gottfried Leibniz for developing differential and integral calculus? (Isaac Newton)

3. Which space probe stopped trasmitting on Christmas Day 2003, just before its scheduled landing on Mars?  (Beagle 2)

4. On Christmas Day 1941 the Free French liberated their first piece of former French territory, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, by successfully defeating a different group of French people. Saint Pierre and Miquelon lies just off the coast of which country?  (Canada)

5. Which R&B and soul singer, who passed away on Christmas Day 2006, was known amongst other things as "The hardest working man in showbusiness", having released well over sixty albums over a career spanning six decades?  (James Brown)

Round 4: Cake

1. Which '90s satirical series featured an earnest Bruno Brookes warning us that "Only an idiot would enter the nightmare of Cake."  (Brass Eye)

2. In what decade of the 18th Century was Marie Antoinette executed, after her cake-based prescription for society's ills was found wanting?  (1790s)

3. Yellowcake is a concentrate powder primarly made up of which radioactive element, atomic number 92?  (Uranium)

4. What do the eleven marzipan balls atop a simnel cake represent? (The original disciples of Jesus, minus Judas)

5. Who sang "MacArthur Park" in 1968, in which a cake is left out in the rain, causing great consternation to the singer, who has for some reason misplaced the recipe?  (Richard Harris)

Round 5: All I Want For Christmas... Is Another One Of Squid's Increasingly Unoriginal Music Rounds

(Five Xmas songs that have been laterally/cryptically renamed. Half a mark each for the real title, and the artists who recorded it).

1. "A Made-Up Story From South Of Albany"  ("Fairytale of New York", The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl)

2. "3,200 km"  ("2,000 Miles", The Pretenders)

3. "Perambulation Without A Surface" ("Walking in the Air", Aled Jones (though Peter Auty sang the original version in The Snowman))

4. "Poison Plants And Fermented Fruit"  ("Mistletoe and Wine", Cliff Richard)

5. "Arrest Those Men on Horseback" ("Stop the Cavalry", Jona Lewie)

Round 6: Santa-Shaped (AKA "Who ate all the mince pies?")

1. Who played Fat Bastard in the second and third Austin Powers movies?  (Mike Myers)

2. Who was reputed to hold important wartime meetings whilst still in his bath?  (Winston Churchill)

3. Sumo wrestling, a noble sport in which two expansive gentlemen pit themselves against each other in martial combat, requires that the competitors cleanse the dohyo, or ring, with what substance prior to each bout?  (Salt)

4. What was the nickname of prepubsecent obesonaut Billy Bunter?  (The Fat Owl of the Remove)

5. Which foodstuff is created by forcibly turning geese or ducks into horrible fatties and then removing their livers? (Foie gras)

General Knowledge

1. Who won this year's Crucible World Snooker Championship Final? (John Higgins)

2. What is kudzu? (A weed)

3. Which planet has moons named after characters from the works of Shakespeare and Alexander Pope? (Uranus) 

4. Modern-day Romania is made up of three former principalities of autonomous regions: Moldova, Transylvania, and which third region, which is sometimes further diivied into Muntenia and Oltenia?  (Wallachia)

5. Which instrument represents the duck in Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf?  (Oboe)

6. Jonquil, Mikado and Naples are all shades of what colout?  (Yellow)

7. According to popular legend, for whom is a "Dead Man's Hand" in poker named? (Wild Bill Hiccock)

8. For what crime was former French President Jacques Chirac convicted last week? (Embezzlement)

9. What shape is the playing field in Australian Rules Footaball? (Oval)

10. What is the square root of 841? (29)

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Day Job

Gosh.  This place is falling dangerously quiet, huh?

I do have an excuse, though.  I'm currently in the middle of a hideous chain-reaction of ever more horrifying catastrophes at the office. I haven't been this dumbfounded by the degree to which things can go off the rails since I was asked to teach algebra to kids who recoiled in horror at the thought of multiplication.

It looks like I've put a lid on the chaos, though.  Just.  Who knows what will burst into flames once more the instant I've left for Christmas.  Surely it can't be as bad as what happened last week, when our external expert revealed a shift in position meant he was no longer external, and that on careful reflection his field is too far from ours for him to constitute an expert.  Like hiring a stripper for a stag do (I hear stories), and finding out she won't take off her underwear.  And she's your sister.

Oh, and you only have three days to find another stripper, or the wedding's off.  Some people have the strangest pre-nups...

Sunday, 18 December 2011

I'd Hope My Life Would Read Rather Better

Hmm.  I have to say I was somewhat underwhelmed by this Ted Chiang collection, considering the amount of praise that's been heaped upon it.  The rear cover promises much: "Here are stories that explore the boundaries between science and religion, between determinism and our ability to choose, between words and the entities they describe." 
That's not entirely inaccurate, insofar as there is a story about how science and religion would view very differently the ability to animate entities by discovering their "true names".  Indeed, that story - "Seventy-Two Letters" - is almost certainly the best of the seven on offer here (I'm discounting "The Evolution of Human Science", which at three pages is simply a nod to what could be a story rather than a narrative in itself).  This tale is base on two excellent and solid concepts. First is that the method by which the golems of Jewish myth is both real and obeys rigid logical laws, allowing it to be studied as both a scientific discipline, and as a method for unveiling the secret code through which God fashioned Creation. 

The second is the idea that the capacity for all life was brought into being at the same time - that foetuses are not created, merely enlarged, generation after generation being already prepacked and stored like Russian dolls.   The drive of the story is the discovery made by French scientists that humanity's supply of foetuses is five generations away from drying up entirely.

This concern with the difference between form and life and energy and control is used to great effect, and manages to say some quite interesting things about the way humanity views the world along the way.  More importantly, however, it's genuinely a story, with a beginning, a strong impetus, a revelation and a conclusion.

Not every story here is constructed so well.  "Division By Zero" simply stops, apparently because Chiang believes he's made his point.  Said point is this: mathematicians would probably go completely bonkers with misery were arithmetic to be proven to not be consistent (essentially, that 1+1 need not equal 2).  Obviously, I have no problem believing that to be the case, but it might have saved some time had Chiang simply told us that straight out rather than trying to fashion a story from it.  Indeed, Chiang does say it in the story notes that conclude the collection, rendering the entire exercise (interesting mathematical asides notwithstanding) seem rather pointless.

"Story of your Life", too, also simply seems to peter out once The Big Idea (spoiler: that learning a language which can only be read holistically would give one the ability to perfectly predict the future, which I assume is why the above blurb refers - somewhat disingenously - to deerminism vs free will) has been fully deployed.  There's some intellectual challenge in realising that that is what's going on, and in piecing together the purposefully jumbled narrative, but in order to set up his good-but-not-that-good payoff, Chiang introduces a fascinating cultural exchange between an equally absorbing alien race who visit Earth, and then simply disappear at the story's conclusion. I suspect this in particular is simply down to personal taste, but it does feel like the most interesting aspect of the story - the how and why of these delightfully impossible creatures - has been hastily jettisoned once they're no longer needed for Chiang's pet idea.

It also doesn't help that Chiang's technique isn't really good enough to overcome the obvious difficulty of describing languages and attendant concepts that exist beyond what we can readily conceive.  "Understand" suffers to an even greater degree from the same problem - a first-person story about a super-intelligent human attempting to assemble the perfect language which is written in English is problematic enough, and Chiang's rather utilitarian prose simply compounds the issue.  

Worse still, there's really nothing particularly original in the tale, either.  "The Tower of Babylon" is better, with some nice ideas about the nature of a tower tall enough to include multiple settlements with their own lifestyles, but the language isn't good enough to sustain the journey, nor the ending sufficiently strong to impress with its arrival. 

The collection does pick up in the second half.  We've discussed "Seventy-Two Letters" already, but there's also "Hell is the Absence of God" and "Liking What you See: a Documentary".   The former is built around a rock-solid core: even if God's existence s irrefutable, it still wouldn't make it simple to love someone so unpredictable and seemingly disinterested in your welfare.  The latter features multiple testimonials about the possibilities offered by a method that blinds one to human beauty, but ultimately takes a left turn and becomes something far more interesting. 

Even so, the same problems resurface: uninspiring prose, and a significant difficulty in avoiding bland info-dumps.  Even within the confines of a fictional documentary, the exposition feels too thick to easily swallow.  In the end, I rather suspect whether or not one likes any of these stories is based entirely on how interesting one finds the one (or if you're very lucky, two) ideas Chiang is spinning out.  There's simply too little else here to hang your interest on.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

There's Definitely A Very Slim Hope Of Being Like Us

It would seem an awful lot of the denizens of the internet are pissed off with Gene Marks, for what they see as a tone-deaf article dripping with patronising platitudes and white privilege.

I'm not sure what all the fuss is about.  I mean sure, if I were an ex-teacher, I might want to point out that assuming the conceptual framework of adulthood is available during childhood is to fundamentally mistake how the human mind develops.  If I were someone who dealt with probability for a living, I'd likely be enraged by the suggestion that because two groups of people both have a strictly positive chance of achieving the same goals, the difference between those chances isn't what should be focused on.  And if I was someone with any kind of racial awareness whatsoever, I'd point out a) it's one thing to offer advice to black kids, and another to presume to tell them how you would act as one of them, and b) if you've written that advice for Forbes, you're not actually offering advice to the black population, you're offering comforting "we're not to blame" bullshit to well-off white guys.

Since I'm clearly not any of those things, however, I say we should applaud Marks for being unafraid to deal with significant obstacles and nigh-insurmountable power imbalances by offering advices both obvious and unrealistic.

And yes, I realise that from a certain angle, I've just equated the struggle of black youth to prove themselves sufficiently exceptional as to be permitted to earn the same breaks in life white people take entirely for granted with the struggle of Bill Clinton not have interns suck his dick.

Don't shoot the messenger, people.  I'm not responsible for what went on in the 42nd President's head.

Dude looooved getting his dick sucked.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

For The Record

Two important points regarding this week's episode of Misfits:
  1. Zombies are so, so much more unsettling when they can talk, and remember who they were, and even try to resist the urge to feed;
  2. It doesn't matter how stylish the execution, it's still a bad idea to write stories in which a main character gets her heart broken and over a dozen people are murdered, all on account of a freak wanking accident.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Support Wars: Return Of The Tech-Jedi

Yesterday saw the final instalment of the Support Wars Trilogy, as I took to the highways to seek out Master Garathon, a fearsomely powerful Tech-Jedi currently residing in the hideous swamps of Dagobah Shropshire.  Within moments my worst fears seemed to have been realised; the problem was indeed so simple that a child could have solved it (indeed, as Garathon noted, an eight year old child is probably exactly what the situation needed), though apparently not a man whose only job is to successfully deal with such things.

A quick re-plugging of a component later (apparently my technique for checking sound connections is insufficiently robust), and everything was solved.

Or was it?  Connecting the stack to a spare monitor revealed no joy.  Not only was there no evidence that the CD drive was fixed, but now there was no evidence that the computer was working at all.  What I now had, in fact, was either an intolerably noisy and ridiculously delicate portable heater, or the world's most power-hungry and unconvincing wasp simulator.

Needless to say, this was all very embarrassing.  I'd already promised Garathon payment in the form of a slap-up meal at the location of his choice (he chose not to pick "your mother", which proves he is a far more mature man than I), but that was based on the seemingly reasonable assumption that even if he failed to deal with the CD drive issue, he would at least avoid demonstrating the Mad Hatter approach to delicate repair work.  Could I renege in the face of his clear incompetence?  Or was the decent thing to buy him dinner, but lace it with paraquat?  Etiquette is a tricky business.

Fortunately, this incredibly awkward situation/upcoming homicide attempt was eventually dealt with once it was discovered exactly where the problem lay: a loose RAM connection.

So, to summarise, PC World:
  1. Sold me the wrong hard-drive;
  2. Failed to contact me on the telephone, or using the email address I gave them;
  3. Were two days late in putting in the new drive and transferring the data on top of the delay from the hard-drive mix up;
  4. Failed to reconnect either my RAM or my CD drive;
  5. Demanded I give them one week and fifty quid to clean up their own mistake.
Presumably if I had given them their money to deal with the CD drive, the loose RAM would still have fallen out, and they'd have extorted a further fifty pounds in order to fix that, whilst no doubt frying the power supply or trapping an orphan inside the stack in the process.  That's potentially £100 and a fortnight for them to sort out their own mess.  Garathon did it for under a tenner in about the same time as a round trip to the computer store.

Fuck you, PC World.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Our Inevitable Doom: Liveblogged

Regular commentator and all round smart guy Tomsk79 has asked that I update his blog in the "Fellow Travellers" section, which I have done.  I urge you all to go read him at his new place, assuming of course that you have a burning desire to become immediately suicidal at the thought of what Europe's about to have to go through. 

Or if you just fancy a bit of political commentary that's far less focussed on a) America and b) exciting experiments in unecessary profanity.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Idiocy In Every Direction

Sometimes I have trouble keeping my food down:
Just when you thought Barack Obama couldn’t get any more out of touch with America’s values, AP reports his administration wants to make foreign aid decisions based on gay rights...
Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money.

... Investing tax dollars promoting a lifestyle many Americas of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong.
President Obama has again mistaken America’s tolerance for different lifestyles with an endorsement of those lifestyles.
That's from the campaign of Governor Rick Perry, who you may or may not know as Dubya with better hair, the man who disbanded a committee investigating the possibility that he let an innocent man be executed, or the guy whose hunting lodge is called "Niggerhead" but doesn't see why that's a big deal. Oh, and the guy who'll happily use the hatred of gays as a route to power.  In short, when Perry lands in Hell, Satan will probably ask for his autograph, though he'll probably ask that it be made out to Beelzebub so as to avoid embarrassment.

For a few weeks, he was first in the race for Republican presidential candidate.

And what is the announcement from Pennsylvania Avenue that has this murder-happy mentally deficient Machiavelli so outraged?
President Obama will direct all U.S. agencies abroad to make certain diplomacy and aid programs "promote and protect" the rights of homosexuals. 
This is why these gitchimps can't be reasoned with.  The barriers between us and them aren't merely political, or philosophical, or even theological.  They're linguistic.  Perry sees a plan being mooted by which American money is contingent on people not hanging or imprisoning or refusing to hire homosexuals, and he starts claiming these are "special rights."  Because God knows there are enough countries out there that execute or lock up people for being straight.  I promise that the exact instant Lesbos becomes its own country and starts getting up to its old tricks, I will immediately take Perry's side (as well as a holiday to said island paradise).  We went through this with Santorum not so long ago, but I still cannot wrap my head around the idea that people might hate gays so much that they insist on arguing removing laws and practises aimed against them constitutes a special privilege.

Of course, it's easier to believe (or it would be, if Perry wasn't so stupid he thinks ambiance is something you get by dialling 911, though in his state you can only get one if you're white) that Perry's just cynically manipulating this in the hope of getting back some of those votes he's been hemorrhaging, ever since he accidentally revealed that being white wasn't a necessary condition for him to listen to what you're saying.  That's not really any better, though.  In fact, it's arguably worse, since it would replace a disgusting yet honestly held conviction with a degree of disinterest so pronounced it leads to using the lives of tens of thousands of people as a stick to beat your opponents with.  I'd lament the death of the principle of politics ending at the water's edge, had the GOP not already proved it was quite happy to risk the deaths of tens of thousands of US citizens to get its way.

So, like I said: not vomiting with rage and disgust is becoming tougher and tougher.

Still, at least that food I'm having trouble with isn't Asian, amirite?  What could be worse on the anniversary of Pearl Harbour than to eat food from the continent that started all that Tora Tora Tora bullshit?

The answer, of course, is letting the President's children eat it!

Apparently, this is a genuine source of outrage in some quarters, which is genuinely terrifying.  Not because I have any particular interest in ensuring American children get to taste teriyaki chicken (though it's pretty damn tasty, of course), but because I find it difficult to imagine that there is anyone in the States who's wound up about this who isn't also desperate to reintroduce internment camps.

(Also: for fuck's sake, Blogspot, it's December 2011.  Add Barack Obama to your spellchecker, would you?  Y'all a bunch of racists!)

Monday, 5 December 2011

Three Weeks Late

Somewhere in the darkest yet most well-decorated rooms of the BBC.

Ricky Gervais:  Stephen!  Glad you could meet me.  I know you've got a lot of winsomely charming voice-overs on the go, right now, so that's clearly keeping you busy -

Stephen Merchant: Go fuck yourself, Gervais.  I hate you.  I hate you so much.  All you ever do is show up, play yourself, rake in the cash, and tell everyone you could probably have done it without me.

Ricky Gervais: That's not up to me to decide, really.  So, though, if the public want to brand me as -

Stephen Merchant:  There's no way you could have done it without me, Richard.  I could have done it without you, though. Easily.  Because there's only one cocksucker in this room who knows how to be funny deliberately, and we both know it isn't you.

Ricky Gervais: Don't call me Richard.

Stephen Merchant: Give me two hundred grand of the money you owe me for making people think your petulant fucking bullying is fucking fucking hilarious, and I'll think about it.

Ricky Gervais: Anyway -

Stephen Merchant: Prick.

Ricky Gervais: Anyway.  I've got an idea for a new show.

Stephen Merchant: Do you?  Or do you just want to do The Office again with all your famous mates and pretend it's a new show?

Ricky Gervais: Are you talking about Extras?

Stephen Merchant: No, I'm talking about you being a worthless ballsack.  Extras is just Exhibit fucking-A.

Ricky Gervais:

Stephen Merchant: Will it be about an egotistical loser completely unable to recognise his lack of talent, good looks, or comic ability?

Ricky Gervais:... Maybe.

Stephen Merchant: Will it be stuffed to the gills with your famous mates pretending to be idiots so people can get a cheap laugh?

Ricky Gervais:... To an extent.

Stephen Merchant: So what's different about it?

Ricky Gervais: This time we'll be taking the piss out of dwarves.

Stephen Merchant: Wait, what?

Ricky Gervais: We'll get Warwick Davies to do it.  It'll be hilarious.  He's a dwarf, but we'll make him a David Brent style prick!  Literally the same!  That way no-one will feel sympathy when we mock him for being small!

Stephen Merchant... Well, at least it'll make a change for you to not -

Ricky Gervais: I'll be in it.

Stephen Merchant: Oh, of course you will.

Ricky Gervais: And you. And our famous mates will keep popping in to see us.

Stephen Merchant: So why do we need Warwick Davies in this at all?

A very long pause

Ricky Gervais: Liam Neeson say's he'll do the first episode.

Stephen Merchant:  Urrrrrrgh.  OK, fine.  I'll write that bit so it's absolutely fucking awesome.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Great Minds/Stopped Clocks

This, right here, is a thing of awesome, inspired beauty.  Indeed, it's so good, I can't believe I didn't think of it myself until less than three years ago.

Mind you, they've clearly put exponentially more effort in.  Especially since I had Senior Spielbergo do all the actual, y'know, work.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Those Wacky Colonials

Earlier this week I had a brief email exchange with an American political journalist, and he asked me if I had any particular insights on how the upcoming presidential election (now only eleven months away and its attendant mishigas was viewed across the pond.

After chewing the question over for a little while, I wondered whether I'm necessarily well-placed to answer this question, since I spend far more time listening to Americans describe their political system than I do to British people trying to interpret it. 

So, perhaps you can help me out.  Any answers to some or all of the following queries would be greatly appreciated:

1. What do you think of President Obama's first three years in charge?

2. What (if anything) do you think of the Republicans currently vying for the right to be his opponent year, and do you have an opinion of which one will (or should) be chosen?

3. What do you think are the chances of Obama retaking the Oval, and is that something you'd want to happen?

Please note that "I don't know nuffink" and "I couldn't give two shits" are both entirely acceptable answers. If it turns out no-one on this side of the Atlantic could care less who gets to put his feet up on the resolute desk, then that's still useful information.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Rain Of Blame Falls Mostly On The Cain

At the time of writing this post it's not clear whether or not Herman Cain will shut down his campaign for the Republican presidential candidacy over allegations of a thirteen-year affair (he's "reassessing", something he might have tried after he accidentally revealed he doesn't know which country Libya is), but given the howls of outrage coming from his former followers, it's worth revisiting what I said three weeks ago: far, far too many people consider a man committing adultery to be a much worse activity than a man pressuring uninterested women into sleeping with them.

Adultery is a "sex scandal", and as such, I don't give a shit about it.  I feel bad for the man's wife, because it's not going to be much fun for her in the next few weeks/months.  But that's it.  Maybe she knew, maybe she didn't.  Maybe she'll forgive him, maybe she won't.  Maybe there'll be a divorce.  Hell, maybe it isn't even true (though apparently Cain's lawyer's statement is somewhat damning - I've not read it myself).

Sexual harassment is not a "sex scandal".  It is merely scandalous behaviour which happens to involve the pursuit of sex.  And it's scandalous not because it offends the Victorian mores of certain groups of the population, but because it's the deliberate refusal to respect the feelings and motivations of another person on an intimate subject in order to get exactly what you want without any of that complicated business of actually finding out how someone feels.

And every time someone tries to equate the two, they're implicitly making the argument that all that matters is whether a man is attempting to cheat on his wife, and any other women in the story is simply a mechanism by which that man's goal can succeed or fail.

See also.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Xth Iteration

Depending on how one looks at it, Uncanny X-Men #1 has either two jobs, or three.  The first is the most obvious: it has to work as a jumping on point for new readers.  The second and third jobs are to still be recognisable as part of the progression of a book now in its forty-second consecutive year, and to justify the fuss and bother of a) removing half of the characters and setting them down on the other side of the country and b) renumbering a book which was only five months away from reaching UXM #550 [1]. One could argue that the second task is contained within the third, but whatever.  This book has shit to do.

(Spoilers after the jump)

Saturday, 26 November 2011


I've been playing a lot of Streets of Rage 3 lately, since I bought it three years ago and still haven't gotten around to finishing it (or even getting more than halfway through).  My initial opinion was that it was a big disappointment, but I decided to give it another chance whilst sober, rather than just playing it at 1am after everyone else has passed out, as I've been doing up until now.
(Note how the black kid has been left off the cover art
in favour of a marsupial.  That's some racist BS right there.)
 Turns out I was right the first time.  I can't believe how successful Sega were in making literally every aspect of the game worse than its predecessor.  The previously wonderful music (one level's music was so good that I used to pause the game at that point and sit and read with it in the background) is now a nightmarish jumble of nonsense - apparently a random note generator was employed, and my God you can tell.  The sprites have been enlarged for no real reason, meaning the limited frames used in animation are more obvious and, more critically, you can have fewer opponents on screen at any given time.
That ties into another problem.  The real fun in Streets of Rage 2 lay in cranking up the difficulty so that the screen became flooded with a host of villainous scumbags all practically begging to be punched in the face.  This game has drastically downgraded the damage each of your moves does, meaning the game is both harder (though some of that might just be my difficulty in shaking the tactics I settled on in the first game), and features significantly fewer enemies.  Moreover, there's fewer kinds of foes, which is completely unforgivable.  Even the naming conventions are less interesting: the prancing shuriken-throwing ninjas from the last installment are back, but back then they all had their own names.  Not anymore.  There also seems to be less variety even of moves, the Thai kickboxers (all with their own names, natch) have been replaced with flame-haired fashion victims with a fraction of the repertoire.

The only slight improvements are the ability to run and roll, which speeds the game up, and the inclusion of more interactive backdrops.  Even this causes more problems than it seems, though, the controls (at least in the Wii version) are too sensitive, meaning that all those lovely new pits and cargo-carriers are too difficult to avoid - one moment you're happily kicking some fat fucker in the gonads, the next you've dropped into a forward roll and tumbled yourself into the path of an oncoming vehicle.  Plus, once you get past the increased interaction, the backgrounds themselves are massively boring.  Gone are the days of stabbing muggers on a pirate ship, I can tell you.

Still, it's not a complete write-off.  You do at least have the option to play as a violence-crazed slap-happy kangaroo (a master of the... martsupial arts?)  On the other hand, you don't have the option to play as a character in a particularly good game.  Which is a shame.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Requiem For Podsixia

This may require knowledge of two entirely different cult TV shows to work at maximum effectiveness, where "maximum effectiveness" is defined as "laughing your ribs through your lungs".  On the other hand, you may just have to be a BSG fan.  Let's find out.

(As soon as this video started, I knew Gaeta was going to end up being Hesh).

h/t to Gooder, for finding this and bringing it to my attention.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Mitt & Al

Steve Benen (amongst others) pulls Mitt Romney up on the latest of lapses of truthfulness.

Benen notes that claiming that your middle name is actually your first name is hardly a big lie.  I'd go further, in fact, and say it's a total non-event, especially when, as in this video, it's at least arguable that Romney is making a joke.

Basically, there's no "there" there.  So why am I even mentioning it?  Because the incident brings to mind two thoughts.  Firstly, had Albert Arnold Gore, Jr. claimed that his first name was "Al", would it have been ignored, or would the press have sunk their teeth into it as another piece of evidence that the man was a congenital liar?  (Hint: it's that second one.)

Second, why is the "Mitt is a liar" narrative not caught on the same way it did with Gore in 2000.  It's certainly not been totally ignored (once George Will calls a Republican a liar, you know things have gotten bad), but it's not reached anything like the lunatic fever pitch that Gore went through.  Is it because Romney is merely the presumptive nominee right now, as oppose to the chosen candidate?

And if the latter is true, what happens when (and it surely is when) Romney gets the nod?  Will the storyline take hold, or will it actually be dropped entirely as "old news" (which, of course, means "a storyline we're bored of and OH LOOK YOU GUYS A SHINY PENNY!").

I'm guessing it will be, actually.  Someone needs to keep an eye on Bob Somerby; I'm not sure his heart can take what's coming.

Still Unsupported

Sorry for the paucity of posts around here right now.  I actually had something in mind to write about last night, but I got caught up fighting with my CD drive again.  Through the application of a knackered external CD-RW drive I found buried in my gubbins, I have now successfully demonstrated that my computer can recognise CD drives (unfortunately said drive is too knackered to be of use otherwise).  The hunt for why it refuses to recognise the internal hard drive continues.

Also, thanks for the various offers of tech support and suggestions for what to try next.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

True Facts

Insomnia, insomnia
There's clearly something wrong wi' ya
Tomorrow I'll be a zombie, yeah
Just shoot me in the head.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Statistics Is Fun And Easy

This caught my eye (from multiple sources; original here) today: a handy graph proving that you can underline some of the most serious obstacles to economic justice without even having to reach for a protractor.

Could the above have some connection to some US billionaires having a de facto 1% tax rate?  We report, you decide!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Fire And Balls

I had been planning to use this post for a quick review of Stephen Donaldson's Gildenfire, which I picked up from Barter Books a little while ago.  That plan lasted right up until I actually read it.  Billed as "an untold episode from The Illearth War", it's pretty much a single chapter that Donaldson cut from the book, with the print blown up so it can fill a 94 page hardback book.

It's not bad, by any means (Donaldson cut it for narrative reasons, and entirely correctly), but I feel slightly ripped off just for paying £3.50 for it second hand.  It hardly helps that the "missing" story it purports to tell was actually three times as long, with this slice being apparently the least interesting.

That's pretty much all there is to say on the subject.  So let's talk about something altogether more awesome: power snooker!

I had no idea this existed until I happened to stumble across this year's semi-final between O'Sullivan and Robertson.  It's like someone watched those "Extra time multi-ball!" ads from a few years ago and decided to apply it to snooker.  Instead of a frame limit, the game has a half hour clock.  Instead of counting the frames, the scores just keep being added to until the timer runs out (O'Sullivan was north of 500 by the time the match ended).  There's only twenty seconds allowed per shot (on pain of a 20 point penalty), and only nine reds at break-off, but what makes it really insane is that one of the red balls is the "power ball", which once potted doubles the score of all other balls for the next two minutes, irrespective of who's at the table. In addition, anything potted from behind the baulk line is worth double points as well (quadruple once the power ball is in effect).

The whole thing is ludicrously, delightfully mental, and the crowd are encouraged to add to the madness with chants and boos.  Apparently the game is only a shade over a year old, but I hope it becomes a permanent fixture.  As much as I love snooker, when the funniest moment your game of choice has to offer is "Snooker Loopy", it's time to shake things up a little.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Tech Lack Of Support

The scene: SpaceSquid arrives at the PC World help desk, his desktop stack clutched in his slightly effeminate hands.

Friendly Assistant #1: Can I help you, sir?

SpaceSquid: Yes.  I paid you guys to transfer my data to a new hard drive, and the CD drive wasn't working when it came back.

FA#1: That's odd.

SS: Yes.

FA#1: It's probably a connection issue.  Or the software.

SS: ...Yes.

FA#1: I guess those are the only two options anyway.

SS: Indeed.  A haunting would be my next guess, but it's a distant third.

FA#1: Well, I'll hand you over to the tech guy.

SS: Thanks.

Friendly Assistant #2: Can I help you, sir?

SS: Yes.  As I was saying, you guys were kind enough to transfer my data to a new hard drive not long ago, but the CD drive no longer works.

FA#2: Oh.

SS: ...Yes.  And I was wondering if you could fix it?

FA#2: Well, we're not allowed to do that kind of thing in-store anymore.  We'll have to send it away.

SS: Really?

FA#2: 'Fraid so.  Should take about a week, cost fifty quid.

SS: Fifty quid?

FA#2: Fifty quid.

SS: I'm finding it hard to understand why you expect me to pay for a repair that only became necessary after you got your hands on my PC.

FA#2: Well, do you have an agreement with us.

SS: Meaning?

FA#2: Do you pay us every month?

SS: No.

FA#2: Then it's not our responsibility.

SS: It's not your responsibility to do the job you say you'll do after I give you money?

FA#2: That wasn't the job you paid for.  You paid for the hard drive.

SS: Yes, because the CD drive was working when I gave it to you!  How is "Don't break anything" not implicit?

FA#2: I'm saying we did the hard drive job.  Think of it like in a garage.  You come in, pay us to fix a wheel, we fix a wheel.  But then you want your suspension fixed: that's a new job.

SS:  Fine.  If this a garage, then this is what happened:  I came in, paid you to fix a wheel, and whilst you were fixing the wheel, you set the car on fire.  And now you want me to pay to borrow a hose.

This goes on for some time, and ends in stalemate.  No money changes hands, but I still can't access by back-up CDs or listen to "Ashes & Fire".  Balls.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Lies Of Leonidas

This is a very interesting article by David Brin, in which he essentially tells Frank Miller to go fuck himself. Obviously, anyone telling Frank The Dark Knight Strikes Again Miller to go fuck himself is entirely welcome, because Frank Miller going and fucking himself is literally the most aesthetically worthy thing Frank Miller can still be considered capable of.

It's the specific reasons David Brin suggests Frank Miller go fuck himself that are worthy of note, though.  The news that 300 is about as representative of the actual Battle of Thermopylae as Plants vs Zombies is of horticulture during a pandemic can hardly be considered surprising.  But I think Brin is dead right when he suggests there are different categories into which fiction which is at least nominally historical can be placed.  There are various ways one could do this, of course, but let's consider the following four:
  • Striving for as much accuracy as is feasible (Changeling, Cry Freedom, Zodiac)
  • Not really interested in accuracy (U-571, Evita)
  • Actually goes so far as to invert the truth
  • As above, but for specific political ends (Jud Suss)
There's definitely grey areas between each of those, of course, depending on how one defines "political ends", what one does and doesn't consider "sufficient" accuracy, and of course how well a film tallies with your own personal opinions of historical events and figures (you'll have a job finding a Republican who thinks Road To 9/11 lacks accuracy, for instance).  Nevertheless, they do give us a framework with which to operate upon.

Assuming Brin's description of the surrounding history is accurate (and it quite closely to what I dimly remember from primary school - I suspect Jamie might have more to say on the issue), then I think there's ample evidence that 300 has failed the tests necessary to place it in either of the first two categories.  The important questions are this: has the film, as Brin alleges, actually fallen into the fourth class, and become propaganda, and does it really matter if it has?

Regarding the first question, I can certainly see an argument - Miller clearly hates the idea of people protesting against dire economic conditions when they should be signing up to fight Al Queda, which certainly ties in with 300's contempt for any form of civilian (even those willing to fight) in comparison to career soldiers.  The moral of the tale (such as it is) must surely be that we need as many batshit-insane heavily-bronzed murderous motherfuckers on hand as we possibly can for the day we're attacked by brown people riding hijacked planes prehistoric rhinos, and any form of civic consideration in the meantime is just going to get in the way.  Well, that, and that those who advocate peace are traitors and rapists.  It may not be a slam-dunk, but it's certainly a plausible case.

The second question is harder to answer.  Should we care?  We're not required to like the politics of a given artist, or even the art itself, to enjoy it (though of course there's a difference between disagreement and taking objection to).  And, like all such films, it's hard to expect anyone who knew nothing about the second Persian invasion of Greece to care much upon learning that it didn't happen the way Miller and Snyder have told them it did.  There's also the fact that the narrative bookmarks itself as propaganda, by having Dilios telling the story of Thermopylae to fellow Spartans he is specifically trying to encourage and inspire ("Leonidas was a bit shit but the Athenians really saved our arses!" isn't likely to lead to same swelling of one's martial pride).  And to be entirely frank, just how much intellectual damage can be done by a film which is bursting at the seams with painted-on abs?

So does that let 300 off the hook?  It's too ridiculous and divorced from reality to be taken seriously as propaganda?  Would it make a difference if Miller had written about three hundred Space Spartans fighting off an alien horde on the planet Thermopylae IX (cf. Heinlein's Starship Troopers)? 

I admit I haven't made my mind up yet, but it's certainly all food for thought, as we all sit around waiting for the violent self-fucking Miller so obviously deserves...

Monday, 14 November 2011

Old Man River

Fevre Dream is very intentionally a novel of two parts, to the point where I'm not entirely sure why Martin didn't make the split more explicit.  Having said that, I think doing so would have made the main problem with the novel all the more explicit: the break in the action robs the story of almost all of its forward momentum.  The narrative manages to claw itself back into full gear, but only just - pretty much the very instant we're back at full speed, the main story ends, and we're left with only a brief epilogue to round things off.

Which is a real shame, because for most of its run, the book is very good indeed.  As is common with Martin, the narrative is third-person limited; our windows into the story are Abner Marsh - a spectacularly ugly but formidable steamboat captain, and Sour Billy Tipton - a depraved slave master with eyes on rising above his station.  Abner is a nice creation, dogged loyalty and grim determination warring constantly with a volatile temper and knuckle-dragging masculinity.  Sour Billy is somewhat less interesting, a fairly standard sadistic bastard, but his observations are critical to the novel, and are interesting enough in their own right.

It's the basic theme that's the real winner here.  Using the unthinking, endless erosion of the Mississippi River as a metaphor for the immortal power of vampires is an inspired idea.  The river itself is constant, but by gouging out new channels as it erodes it surroundings, it ends up changing itself.  The same is true of Martin's vampires - they cannot change themselves, but by the gradual accumulation of their actions, they find themselves changed from without, and not simply because mankind is desperate to kill them whenever possible.

Contrasted with this are humans like Abner.  Their surfaces are as changeable as that of the Ohio - calm or turbulent, pale or cloudy or dangerously dark, or even frozen entirely, but underneath it all, they are the same river.  Part of the point of the arresting stop partway through the book seems to be an attempt to drive this home as explicitly as possible, which is a shame, because it was working exceptionally well as subtext, and isn't well-served by the sledge-hammer approach.

That gripe aside, however (I'd say this issue reduces the book from a four and a half star work to one that just scrapes four stars), the constant intertwining of stasis and change provides the perfect backdrop for what is, at heart, perhaps not the most original vampire tale one could imagine, and combined with the vivid atmosphere provided by the moonlit river and by Martin's descriptive skill, it's a story well worth reading.  Especially since the ending, if rushed, is solidly built, both surprising upon initial encounter and completely obvious upon reflection.  Martin has proven already with A Song of Ice and Fire that he's more than capable of seeding sufficient clues into a tale to make the reader slap themselves when they finally figure out what's going on, and Fevre Dream pulls off the same trick.

Plus, it's a full-length Martin story that has actually ended.  That's worth celebrating in itself.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

What Happens Tomorrow

I remember a lot of people raving about Let The Right One In when it first came out three years ago, and having finally gotten to see it, I can see why.  It features two very impressive child actors - Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson -  in what can't have exactly been easy roles (Leandersson, in particular, manages to maintain the balance of vulnerability and danger playing a lonely twelve-year old serial killer demands), who manage to carry the film more or less entirely on their own.

This is important because, the occasional tweaking of the vampire myth aside, this is a film almost entirely about how lonely it can be to be a child.  Oskar is almost entirely disconnected from his parents, his father by distance, and his mother by, well, I'm not entirely sure what, but there's definitely some kind of problem (one wonders whether Oskar took his father's side during the split).  Eli, for her part, has only Hakan for company, a loyal assistant who nevertheless has become too old to help her as well as she requires.

(Spoilers follow)

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Advent Of Destruction

After I returned from voluntary exile on Arran, I stopped in to visit lyndagb and James, along with their gorgeous spawn.  In between games of "Who's phoning Thea?", it was brought to my attention that I haven't passed judgement on the season finale of Doctor Who.  Even my Supernatural post wasn't so tardy. 

We therefore jump in our SIDRAT (what? They're much more reliable!), and consider the conclusion to Season 6.  Spoilers, obviously, follow.

Actually, and sorry for all the effort you went to clicking on "Read more", there's really not a lot to say.  By my lights, this was by some distance the least irritating season closer since the show returned, but that's faint praise, given that a) it didn't include a Bill and Ted temporal get-out clause in order to disguise having written oneself into a corner, and b) it wasn't written by someone who holds their audience and logic itself in equal contempt. 

It should also be noted that after five years of being disappointed by the new series (though in fairness Season 5 was a massive improvement on what had gone before), I've made the conscious choice to watch the show in as dispassionate a manner as possible, viewing it as a weekly curiosity rather than the continuation of what was for much of my childhood unquestionably my favourite show.  Has Doctor Who improved over the last two years, of have I simply stopped caring?  It's difficult to say.

Still, we all bring something by way of baggage and training to any show we return to, so perhaps it doesn't matter all that much. "The Wedding of River Song" was fast-paced, funny, and gave us as many answers as we could have possibly expected (again, this is training: Moffat will feed us tidbits at the end of a year, RTD will explain it all, but it will be shit and make no sense).  It seems from looking at the explosion of internet traffic that followed the finale that for the majority of people, whether or not one enjoyed the finale was almost perfectly correlated with whether or not one considered the Doctor's escape from certain death a BS swindle.

Personally, whilst I completely understood why so many people were annoyed, I was OK with it, because as convenient as the Tessalector's sudden arrival was (and how come it was suddenly able to fake the Arton energy that surrounds a regeneration these days?), this mattered less than the realisation that the Doctor was planning to fake his own death.  Compare that with, say, the Season 4 finale, in which the Doctor suddenly claims he doesn't have to change his form if he doesn't want to so long as there's a severed hand around and that hand can then turn into him so he can fuck Billie Piper.  At least Moffat's dodge was motivated by coherent characterisation, and not the apparent desire to write a show's slash fiction into the programme itself.

I suspect, in fact, that I would have forgiven much worse under the circumstances, because Moffat was doing exactly what a good showrunner should: finding the most interesting and entertaining way possible to fix a serious problem with the narrative.  That problem, of course, was the evermore ludicrous "lonely God" angle to the Doctor's character, that was fascinating when it was nodded to during the McCoy yeas, and absolutely unbearable when RTD took it and, like everything else, smashed it into our skulls with a mallet.  Moffat is not blameless himself (witness "Forest of the Dead"), but he saw a problem, and now he's fixed it, and managed to have fun doing so.

All in all, then, it was a pretty good conclusion.  The real problem now is where to go next.  If the Doctor is now believed to be dead by the universe, what's going to happen the next time he fights the Daleks?  Is he going to have to wear a disguise? ("I wear a Groucho Marx mask now.  Groucho Marx masks are coo - wait, forget I said that").

I hope not.  Indeed, I hope the Daleks remain in blissful ignorance of his survival from this point on.  Not just because their latest designs are utter shit, but because I love the idea that the scions of Skaro have believed since the beginning that they only had to weather "The Oncoming Storm" until he hit his eleventh incarnation...

Friday, 11 November 2011

Friday Redheads

Well, it might be auburn, actually.  I've been making an effort to increase my painting speed, which has dropped precipitously in recent months.  Here's the first miniature off the production line (aside from a few extra Ultramarines who will doubtless show up at some point) the cheeky Rogue from Talisman's Highland expansion.

(I apologise for the photo not being particularly brilliant - I'm having trouble getting it to do what I actually want it to.  All the rest are worse, if you can belive it.)

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Thank God We Have White Guys To Explain How Women And Black People Should Act

I don't have enough time (though I certainly have sufficient vitriol) to tear apart this horrendously inaccurate and occasionally creepy National Review article on the subject of Herman Cain's recent troubles over multiple charges of sexual harassment  Fortunately, Charles P. Pierce has done a lot of the work already, with his characteristic flair.  It's particularly impressive to watch someone argue that contracting a disease with a 30% chance of survival should count against five women alleging sexual harassment or sexual assault against them.  Presumably, if that number had fallen to 10%, he could have gotten away with chasing them into the bathrooms and slapping their faces with "little Cain".

One thing I did want to pick up on, though, was this quote here:
Cain, who has not as of yet actually been accused of engaging in sexual intercourse with a female subordinate, finds himself in the "sexual harassment" labyrinth, from which there are few paths out in the present era.
This is indicative of the confusion that lies at the heart of much of the white noise that endlessly hisses away throughout these free-for-alls: the Puritanical inability (or refusal) to comprehend that sexual harassment and sexual intercourse aren't remotely the same thing.  Indeed, it's pretty difficult to manage both of them at the same time with the same person.  The majority of this article - when it isn't busy trying to persuade us that it's actually the people in power who are the victims of all those hot little pieces of pert young ass - is the lament that for some reason, it's harder to get away with telling women they won't be hired if they don't put out than it is finding people who want to sleep with you, and then sleeping with them.

It's almost as if in Hanson's deranged mind Cain deserves credit for the fact that he's too unattractive to have managed to commit adultery.  "Sure, he kept trying to get his subordinates to fuck him, but no-one's even suggested he was ever successful."  Of course, the true giveaway as to what's really going on here is this:
Monica Lewinsky[s] ... subordinate status in an asymmetrical relationship with her putative boss should, in terms of doctrinaire sexual harassment, have made her a victim and the president a predator, irrespective of her eager consent. 
Let's take a moment to let that sink in: "doctrinaire sexual harassment" shouldn't take into account whether both parties were eager to get their freak on.  I'm not particularly interested in defending Clinton's actions in general, but the above quote is a flashing warning light - this is an article about how extra-marital sex and sexual harassment both have "sex" in their names, and sex is icky.

Until these people pull themselves together and start making distinctions between behaviour they find appalling as observers, and behaviour people find appalling as victims of it, we're going to have to face this nonsense every time. Moreover, until they reach enlightenment, Hanson and his ilk are going to continue to remain hilariously unaware of their implicit sexism: "Why is horndoggery more acceptable just because the woman's into it"?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Hypocrisy Two-Step

I read Steve "The Machine" Benen's defence of Elizabeth Warren against some typically unhinged conservative attack lines this morning, and it got me thinking.

A narrow and pedantic point, first: I don't think Rick Manning actually is using the word "hypocrisy" incorrectly.  To be sure, the charge of hypocrisy he is levelling against Warren is total bullshit, but that's because he's straight-up lying about what Warren has actually said and done.  If I called George Osborn a hypocrite for decrying domestic violence despite him holding his extended family captive in a windowless basement so he can drink deep from their arteries in strict rotation, it wouldn't be the word itself that would be the problem, but the invention of a mode of behaviour out of whole cloth.  I'm not saying Osborn doesn't have an underground lair filled with emaciated thralls kept alive merely to provide him with an alternative to consuming back-benchers live on camera, I just assume they'll be no-mark peasants, rather than members of his Secret Barony of the Ebon Heart.

However, both Benen (and Krugman before him) are right in the wider context that any attempt by a wealthy American to actually suggest wealthy Americans should use that wealth to stop the country falling apart and all the peons starving to death is immediately condemned as being a hypocrite.

Obviously, this is a feature, not a bug.  It's the second stage of Operation: Plutocrats Uber Alles that's always and everywhere underway, but is close to total success over in the States.  Stage one, of course, was to ensure that meaningful political participation in the US is all but impossible without being a millionaire oneself (or being close friends with a whole mess of them). Stage two is to ensure any millionaire with interests outside their economic bracket is labelled a hypocrite, and hence discredited.  Watching media outlets like Politico pretend not to understand this as they help out their obscenely wealthy overlords is endlessly frustrating, but it's not particularly difficult to work out what's going on.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Supernatural Supreme

So I heard tell that various peeps across the internet were dissin' up Supernatural Season 6 during the first half of its run, and I decided to jump right on that and offer a full-throated defence a mere three months too late.  Punctuality is not how I roll!

Well, there's that, and the fact that the sixth year of the show is really something that has to be viewed as a whole. Frankly, I'm not sure I'm particularly happy about that fact: I'm on the record (so, so many times) as feeling a little disappointed that this series has become so wrapped up in its year-long stories that the only time we take a break for something different it's invariably a "comedy" episode, which don't always work as well as people think ("The French Mistake" isn't funny, it's just several dozen people shouting "We can take a joke!" straight at the camera), and can become rather irritating in bulk.  Like the X-Files before it, this show needs a string to its bow besides "mythology" episodes and taking the piss (though admittedly Supernatural does both significantly better than its spiritual antecedent).

In any event, I might not necessarily be entirely happy with the direction the show took somewhere around Season 3, it is what it is, and that has to be recognised.  And, viewed in its entirety, I think Season 6 is probably the best year the show has put out since Jeffrey Dean Morgan stopped showing up for work.

From this point on, spoilers are abroad.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Walking In Circles

It's been a little while since we talked about any comics over here, so let's fix that with a look at The Walking Dead.  Specifically, Volume 13: "Too Far Gone", since I've finally gotten hold of the seventh hardback volume this weekend.

Spoilers for the entire run up to this point - and likely by extension, the TV show - after the jump.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Friday Compare-And-Contrast

Further proof today that those claiming the Tories and Lib Des have become indistinguishable now they're in power together have gotten it badly wrong, Animal Farm quotes notwithstanding.  Yes, they're both willing to throw away confidential documents without reference to security or basic common sense, but only the minority partners will recycle whilst they're doing it.

(Much as I've recycled this "joke", in fact).

This calls for another Friday song, naturally.  Something nice and relaxing, and tangentially related.  Emphasis on "tangential", I assure you, but if we can't agree that we should be recyling air, then who would be?

(Maybe conservative white males, actually).

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Valid Comparisons

Just a brief (well, not really) note on one aspect of the struggle for gay rights in America, because once MGK is missing the point [1], then it's a fair bet other people are as well, and an interesting signal is getting lost in the noise.

George Takei is in MGK's sights for sarcastically noting that the ten weeks Kim Kardashian managed to be married before filing for divorce is clearly proof that what would really demean the entire institution would be letting gay people get hitched. MGK's stance is that since KK is pro-gay marriage, calling her a hypocrite over this is spectacularly unfair.  My stance (along with several other people) is that Takei's point has nothing to do with whether Kardashian is a hypocrite, and everything to do with hypocrisy in general.

And that's what needs to be focused on.  How can a society which is willing to allow two people to get divorced after less time married than "Umbrella" was at number one also hold that marriage is so sacred an institution, so foundational to society, that it needs to be legally protected from people not treating it the "right" way?

That's a question I'd like to ask every single American politician who stands opposed to gay marriage (as, presumably, would this guy). Would they favour a legal minimum on the amount of time between tying the knot and filing for divorce? (One might already exist, of course, in which case you could ask whether they'd favour it being longer than the average HBO season).  How long a period of time would be necessary to avoid demeaning marriage to the same extent as allowing two people of the same gender to devote their lives to each other? Ten weeks?  Ten days?  Ten minutes?

For that matter, would they favour making adultery illegal?  I'm pretty sure Newt Gingrich has slept with more women than Portia de Rossi since their respective wedding days.  I've not seen much support for putting playin' away back in the statute book.  We'd rather just tut about it and get back to our lunch, thanks.

It would be nice to force politicians to take stances on these things.  Much like abortion, these incoherent positions can only come about by pretending to not understand the logical endpoint.  If two men getting married damages marriage as a concept, then so does cheating on your wife whilst she's dying of cancer.  If abortion is murder, then women who have them are accessories and co-conspirators, and need to locked up.  Let's see how those ideas poll, shall we?

We can go further, and link this into another desperately aggravating argument regularly trotted out by those in power: "what we did wasn't technically illegal, so what's the problem?", as though legal and illegal were the only measures of one's behaviour in society. The truth, of course, is that (very roughly speaking) behaviours fall into one of six categories: encouraged, approved of, shrugged at, disapproved of, discouraged, and illegal [2].  Leaving aside the fact that not everyone will agree on what goes where, and what should go where, and the fact that society itself is more clear on some issues than on others, all of these arguments are based around the idea that anything they want discouraged should be illegal, and anything legal they do should be approved of. 

Justice by solipsism, basically.  Everything else that comes out of their mouth is just a smoke-screen for that fundamental fact.  Why they want it is irrelevant.  What would logically follow from what they want is irrelevant. 

All that matters is that what they want, they must have.  And if they can't have it all, because no-one is going to get elected by promising to bring back jail sentences for cheating on your wife is going to get themselves elected outside of Georgia (and maybe Utah; I've never completely understood the exact circumstances in which it's permissable to double dip your flesh celery over there), then they'll at least make sure the groups they can beat up on without consequence are going to feel their wrath.

Why else do you think they bristle when you call them bigots?  It's not about their bigotry, it's about society's bigotry allowing them to be insufferable fuckers selectively on issues for which they'd rather be insufferable fuckers across the board.

[1] Actually, to be fair, I'm sure he does get the point, he's just focussing on defending one celebrity over a snark attack by idiots on Twitter by pretending they're aping another celebrity, who in fact hasn't said what MGK thinks he has.  I don't have any problem with "people are idiots on the internet!" posts, but I think they should be fairly labelled as such, rather than conflated with other, more intelligent positions.

[2] If people wanted to argue that "approved" and "encouraged" are essentially the same thing (and the same with their opposites), then I might not argue too hard.

Crazy Like A Fox!

This is interesting.  I had no idea Fox had links to ALEC.  Certainly shifts the balance still further away from "compassionate Conservatism" and towards "labour-hating wannabe plutocrats [1]" as regards Cameron's crew, huh?

[1] A word I got wrong last week due to being so drunk I confused it with autocrat.  Let this be a lesson: only play Cranium on at most one bottle of wine.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Five Things I Learned On Arran

1.  Weather reports for the Firth of Clyde are dangerously skewed by local experience.  On Arran "good weather" means that though rainstorms are inevitable, you might get to see a rainbow when it stops for a bit.

2.  During the sky's brief pauses for breath/reloading (depending on your choice of metaphor), the best way to see red squirrels is not, as is suggested, to walk through the woods in total silence.  Instead, creep up to a random hedgerow and begin ranting at the top of your voice.  You're bound to flush something out, and it might even be a squirrel.  My rant was on the difficulty in understanding my girlfriend when she refuses to include nouns in her sentences, but that's probably not a necessary condition.

3.  Further, wildlife observing on the whole island is harder than you might believe.  I saw more species from my bedroom window (swans, white-fronted geese, curlews, oystercatchers, kittiwakes, ducks, crows both common and hooded) than the rest of the island combined (admittedly, there wasn't too much time spent more than twenty feet from the booze supply).  Hell, I saw more naval vessels from my bedroom window than I did species anywhere else.  We spotted at least one Daring class destroyer (presumably the HMS Defender), two more similar ships of unknown class, and what looked like a Vanguard class submarine (though it might have been the Astute, which presumably thought it was somewhere east of Madagascar).

4.  Attack the Block is immensely silly, throwaway fun; Downton Abbey is entirely absurd period melodrama that at least looks gorgeous, and High School 3 Senior Year DANCE! for the Wii is so miserably terrible that I resent the amount of time it took to type the name in order for me to diss it (sorry, Chemie!).

5.  It is not possible to adequately play Mario Kart with one's feet, even if someone is willing to operate as gunner.

The Silent Call

Whilst on Arran, the Other Half and I had a chance to watch the silent-film adaptation of Call of Cthulhu, made by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society ( HPLHS) silent-film adaptation of Call of Cthulhu.  I have to say I'm impressed. There were a number of hurdles that this film had to clear, perhaps more than are readily apparent. 

The most obvious of those is financial, of course, but that's not really particularly of interest.  Years of watching '60s and '70s Doctor Who has pretty much inured me to cheap SFX, as oppose to cheap-looking SFX, or sub-par SFX which have been used as a lazy stand-in for imaginative approaches (see Jackson's King Kong, for a good example of this: close-ups of actors by cliffs do not require that the rock face be CG-fucking-I).

Indeed, the only way in which this issue becomes relevant is in conjunction with a larger and much more interesting consideration: how well does the film recreate the artistic ethos and production approach of the 1920's.  The answer to that, from my admittedly limited experience, is "pretty damn well, actually."  The island of Ry'leh, all unsettling asymmetry and contempt for right angles, looks like it came directly out of German Expressionism.  The heavy make-up and slightly overstated body language likewise is reminiscent of, say, Metropolis (though from the clips I've seen of Rudolph Valentino's work it's just as likely - and intuitively reasonable - that this was a general silent movie trend), and both of us independently thought that some of the lines we saw being spoken were actually German from their delivery.  This ultimately proved not to be the case, but it's interesting that we both had that same reaction, despite The Other Half both being fluent in German and never seen any silent cinema.

In general, then, the illusion is expertly maintained.  The only real problem on display was, as I read it, a difficulty in deciding upon exactly what budget the '20s film they were pretending to make actually had.  This is where the budget issue does become relevant.  The effects of the Emma as she arrives and leaves Ry'leh look desperately cheap, but would probably seem entirely of a piece with say, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.  In contrast, some of the (gasp!) green screen work is both very shoddy (hardly surprising) but clearly intended to give a sense of scale to the Ry'leh sequences that might conceivably have been possible with actual sets had the film been on the scale of Metropolis.  Even then, I'm not completely convinced it would have been feasible.  I was willing to forgive this film almost anything if it had been clearly done in the service of aping its chosen style, but every now and then the film over-reaches itself, and doesn't really have any good reason why.

That's a minor quibble, though.  This is an excellent stab at dramatising Lovecraft's story, especially since - the final hurdle - I've long considered it to be very close to unfilmable.  Three distinct stories, of which only two have real conclusions (and one of those is entirely free of suspense given the nature of the person telling it)?  An ending which is absolutely reliant on the relationship the reader develops with the narrator?  Those are difficulties enough without the extra level of dissociation from the events on-screen that silent movies suffer from, and this is compounded still further by the degree of information that must be imparted to the viewer.

Despite all these potential pit-falls, though, the HPLHS have managed to pull this project off with a truly impressive amount of success.  Definitely recommended, especially for those amongst us who can watch Metropolis without bitching about all those biplanes.