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.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Complete Set

Senator Lindsey Graham is a worthless, bloodthirsty warmonger.  I don't think I've mentioned him before here, but that's only because he's one third of the American Worthless Bloodthirsty Warmonger Olympic team, and is the least interesting of all three since he neither sold his soul and decency to try to become President, or attempted to block legislation he supported six months earlier and that would save the lives of tens of thousands of Americans just to say "fuck you" to his previous party.

So congratulations, L Grizzle!  You've finally gotten yourself on here by being such a vicious, mindless grave-robber that I couldn't ignore you any more!
If we could have kept American air power in the fight it would have been over quicker. Sixty-thousand Libyans have been wounded, 3,000 maimed, 25,000 killed. Let’s get in on the ground. There is a lot of money to be made in the future in Libya. Lot of oil to be produced. Let’s get on the ground and help the Libyan people establish a democracy and a functioning economy based on free market principles.
Note the swivel here.  Literally immediately noting how many thousands of Libyans have been killed or injured in their struggle against a repressive regime, Lindsey recommends the US sends in people to start making money.

I'd also like to add my utter amazement at the idea that an increased military presence by the Americans would have led to fewer civilian casualties. 

I'll grant Gadaffi might have fallen faster with an increased US role.  That would also be true had the States simply nuked Tripoli.  There is no doubt in my mind that whether or not Graham would have signed up for that approach would depend entirely on whether a nuclear explosion would have contaminated the surrounding crude.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Blown Roses

I'm delighted that three quarters of the Stone Roses have allowed themselves to be in the same room for long enough to acquire enormous amounts of cash, but I don't care how impressive a voice actor he is, or how brilliant Spinal Tap was, it's not OK to pretend the whole band has reformed by sticking Christopher Guest in a Squire wig and hoping no-one notices.

Also, I note that Mani is now most of the way through his decades-long transformation from cheeky Manc scamp to the shrunken-headed ghost from Beetlejuice...

That's Bobby Gillespie on the left, obviously.

Friday Filching

Courtesy of Senior Spielbergo, the delightful site of a wonderfully cute penguin robbing its neighbours blind.

What I find hard to believe is the director's description of this activity as "occasional".  The penguins at Edinburgh Zoo are always engaging in a bit of three-toed discount at each other's expense.  Maybe it's something brought on by captivity.  Or, you know, exposure to the Scottish.

Just look at how happy that little bird is with his ill-gotten gains.  Clearly he's more well adjusted than similarly criminally-minded jackdaws, who I've read sink into deep bouts of paranoia that everyone else is as crooked as they are. 

Actually, that might have been Al Capone.

Posting might be very light for the next week, as I'm off on holiday with the Other Half, along with Chemie, Tomsk, Moddy Dhoo and various other members of our less than savoury gang.  Everyone be nice whilst I'm away.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Chaplain Conundrum

This is an interesting article/interview, about the viability of atheist chaplains in the US military. Farley's brief comment on the idea is interesting as well.  In a sense, Farley's point about definitions is pretty much irrelevant in practical terms (and I don't think Farley is arguing otherwise): if atheist soldiers want someone to attend to their spiritual needs, and if they want to call them "chaplains", then that's pretty much all their is to it.  Unless of course enough other atheists weren't happy with the title, but that comes down to weighing opinion, rather than sticking to strict use of language (I can imagine BigHead reading this and reaching for the shotgun, obviously).

And yes, I very much believe that atheism can have a spiritual aspect.  It doesn't have to, indeed if I were to be asked, I say that I don't think my personal variant does.  That doesn't mean it can't.  Of course, others would disagree, possibly depending on how they view the word "spirituality", and also how they define what it means to be an atheist, rather than an agnostic. Whilst such discussions of nomenclature can be very interesting, though- I've engaged in them myself many times - on the kind of practical level we're discussing here, then I'm not sure it's particularly helpful.  Again, it doesn't really matter whether I'm correct in terms of cold, unyielding definitions (and adjectives of this type must always be used carefully - human experience is a continuum that's generally too complex for these terms to be completely prescriptive), all that matters is that enough people agree with me, then we need to make sure those people are considered when putting together systems of support.

I can see why Farley is asking whether a chaplain without the faith might as well be a counsellor, but (to use anecdotal evidence) none of the counsellors that have guided me over the years ever really came close to discussing my religious views [1].  That's by no means intended as a criticism, I'm simply drawing a distinction between people who don't talk about faith and those who talk about a lack of it.  I think the idea of someone who has been trained to get people through a world without a God is a brilliant idea.  Certainly, to draw once again from my own experience, I wish that I'd had more experience of listening to the thoughts of other atheists whilst I was younger, rather than those of people who were pretty much just anti-religion (Richie D; I'm looking at you!)

Put simply, I can see why "chaplain" might seem like a strange title for such a role (though does it really make sense to talk about Jewish or Islamic chaplains either?), but "counsellor" isn't going to cut it either.

[1] I believe that they all knew I was an atheist, though (except for the counsellor I saw as a child), so for all I know they used different approaches when talking to those with faith.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

This Long And Bitter War

One of those rare examples of unambiguously good news, as we learn that science is close to perfecting a malaria vaccine.  50% efficacy isn't brilliant by medical standards - certainly we're a long way from doing to malaria what we did to smallpox, but the number of lives that stand to be saved by this drug is truly astonishing.

Naturally, however, there are knock-on effects. In response to the hobbling of its mosquito foot-troops, the Insect Overlord (currently believed to exist in a blood-soaked wasp hive somewhere in war-torn Congo, or possibly Jan Moir's chest cavity) has struck back by arraying a mighty invasion force of Asian hornets across the French coast, ready to invade at a moment's notice.

I know what you're thinking. We beat the Nazis, we can beat some trumped-up foreign-johnny wasps who've gotten above themselves.  But hornets, unlike Messerschmitts, don't show up on radar.  We may never know when their vespidated take on Operation: Sea Lion is finally launched.

Plus, say what you want about the Luftwaffe, they never sent over pilots heavily pregnant with the next generation of National Socialists.  That may have only been due to ejection issues, but still...

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Cain Scrutiny: Holiday Special

Having already broken the seal by mentioning the dreaded Xmas last week, I don't feel too bad bringing this article to your attention, courtesy of Daily Kos.  It's from last Christmas, in fact, but I missed it at the time, probably because even I had too much respect for Republicans to think they'd end up with Herman Cain as one of their top two presidential candidates (albeit temporarily - please, FSM, tell me it's just temporarily).

It's actually truly impressive, in terms of its construction.  Trying to run Jesus' life through a hard-right prism is always liable to raise some laughs, but Cain's variant is in a league of its own.  It's not worth the necessary ergs of intellectual processing to consider Cain's contention that Jesus was sentenced to death by a "liberal" court, any more than it would be worthwhile arguing with a Steve Irwin fan convinced his hero was stabbed to death by a Nazi stingray (IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Nazi stingrays would be awesome), but the "Jesus didn't need big government" line of argument has to be read to be believed.

Yes, Mr Cain.  Jesus didn't require food stamps, or a healthcare system, or social workers.  You know why?  Because he had magical fucking powers!  The very moment - the very nanosecond - that you work out how conservatives can cure cancer by touching people, I promise you I'll be willing to revisit the idea of universal health coverage.

Monday, 17 October 2011

If Someone Would Pay Me, I'd Make It Myself

I support this idea whole-heartedly.  No-one is a perfect prognosticator, obviously, but some people (koff - William Kristol - koff) are so frequently wrong, and on such a thoroughly large scale, that there should be some kind of resource somewhere in which their levels of stupidity can be indexed.

Maybe we need something like the h-index in academia.  The h-index is equal to the number of papers you have with at least that many citations.  So someone with an h-index of four has four papers with at least four citations in other works, and at most four papers with five citations or more (my h-index, rather abysmally, is either 2 or 3, I think).

Let's do something similar for political predictions: the p-index, equal to the number of mistakes you've made at an equivalently bone-headed level (working out the bone-head scale is the tricky part).

I also think McCain's ignoble display on the subject of DADT is a good place to start.  Whilst vile and scabrous turds like Rick Santorum rely on "logic" to vomit their contemptible bilious swill across American politics ("Treating a minority like they're the majority is granting them special rights!"), McCain's ilk prefer to tie their miserable bigotry to actual testable hypotheses.

 In the last three years, we were told that the US military couldn't work with DADT gone because the American forces work differently to all those allied countries who got rid of such policies without consequence, which was a little insulting to the US allies McCain et al are usually so keen to pay lip-service to.  Then we were told that the problem is that gays can't keep their hands to themselves, which was insulting to homosexuals, and that the military would be unable to maintain discipline, which was insulting to the military itself (nice going guys).  As a final, last-ditch effort, the argument was then switched to a fear that recruitment would become impossible, which at a time of double-digit employment, is pretty much insulting to fucking arithmetic.

Much as I give the American press a hard time, I don't think it should necessarily be their job to demand explanations for every mistaken prediction.  Life's too short, and we've all been wrong at least once (with the possible exception of Paul Krugman) - my predictions regarding the midterms alone should guarantee a place on the board of shame somewhere.

But the next time John McCain opens his freakishly wide mouth to tell the people what calamity will befall the military if they fail to do exactly what he says they should do (bombing Iran, probably), someone should possibly have the presence of mind to ask whether we can avoid said catastrophe by deploying an elite unit of all those gay soldiers McCain swore on his soul would destroy the armed forces as we knew them.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

A Long And Noble History

So a few months ago, I promised the incomparably lovely Talia that I'd put together a post on wenching for her.  I don't remember why exactly, it probably involved cider.  But a deal's a deal.  The only problem was: what the hell am I supposed to actually say?

I thought about cheating, actually, and discussing the life and work of Professor Wen Ching Li, but then I remembered that number theory is the very mathematics of Satan, and therefore deserving not of a post on this blog, but of utter extermination throughout all tine and space (though in fairness it's still better than mathematical physics).  So that's out.

Part of the problem is defining what a wench actually is.  Like so many historical terms, the word has picked up an awful lot of meanings, some of them less than complimentary.  There are undertones of low social status and prostitution in there, because, well, of course there are.  I doubt you'll find any concept of women providing any kind of service without it eventually turning into some kind of implication that they're providing that service.  Why else are so many pixels taken up across the internet with "sexy" nurses and French maids? [1]

So let's stick with the less unpleasant reading of the term: an attractive woman serving you beer, possibly whilst on board a pirate ship.  Honest to God, what could possibly be more awesome than that?  The answer, quite clearly, is nothing, as the chart below ably demonstrates:

So let's hear it for wenches!  The most perfect combination of my endless love for the ocean, my borderline addiction to alcohol, and my entirely unsurprising interest in pretty ladies.  May their overflowing tankards and ribald jests (seriously, how awesome a word is "ribald") remain a feature of this world until the sun itself
goes dim.

Next week on Unexpected Sexytime Blogging: slatterns; is it time we gave them another chance?

[1] I know that the standard belief is that there's something inherently sexy in the uniform.  I confess that I've never been able to understand that.  Sure, I get how the various Anne Summers-style costumes work, but that's got nothing to do with anything other than the fact that men like plunging necklines, short skirts and stockings.  Which of course is pretty much how people imagine the "sexy wench" in the first place, of course.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Friday Issues

Who cares whether Letwin is dumping sensitive material in park bins?  All I want to know is: why isn't he recycling?

Anyway, in honour of the man's antics, let's have ourselves some good ol' Wille Nelson.

(OK, so it's a stretch. You try finding a song about government officials being insufficiently discreet with their official papers. At least this song has paper in it.  Also, ignoring the homeless, so it definitely fits in with Letwin's loathsome brood.  And yes, it's a bit early for Christmas songs, but there's only ten weeks to go, and frankly,that's far too fucking nigh for my liking.)

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Fading Back In

Hurrah!  Three of the most important (SPOILERY) questions in The Fades answered! To whit:
  1. If the Fades need human flesh in order to touch, how could they ever start grabbing people to eat them in the first place?
  2. Why do the Angelics have weapons to fight spirits that until recently they never thought could be of any danger to anyone?
  3. Is Paul too horribly, indescribably stupid to live?
Honest to God, you Angelic douchebag.  If Hannibal Lector tells you he's switching to Muesli, you don't buy him steak knives and an instant barbeque set by way of celebration...

(This episode also rather confirmed my long-held conviction that butterflies are totally evil.  Just sayin').

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

"I Don't Think We're Safe In Kansas Anymore, Toto..."

I realise this is my third post in a row on the ongoing American shit-storm.  I'm also aware that this is currently at the discussion phase, and in media terms that word can include anything down to the level of "one guy said this and wasn't immediately cast to the pavement by an outraged mob".

Still, it sounds like the discussion went further than that on this occasion.  And even if it didn't go very far, and even if this never comes close to becoming enacted, the very fact it's even on the radar scares the absolute crap out of me: in order to save money, Topeka City Council is considering striking the ban on domestic abuse from the city code, so as not to have to pay the costs associated with prosecuting offenders.

It's wouldn't be a complete free-for-all out there, from what I can tell, since the laws regarding more serious levels of violence will remain in place.  Obviously, though, that's horribly cold comfort for anyone being effectively told "Don't worry, we'll only tolerate your spouse beating you up to a point".

The United States of America, ladies and gentlemen.  Tens of thousands of deaths a year due to lack of health care, thirteen million children below the poverty line, and coming soon: a strictly positive value for the number of times your other half will be allowed to punch you in the face.

(h/t Balloon Juice)

Update: By a vote of 7 to 3, the City Council repealed the local law that makes domestic violence a crime.

The Cain Scrutiny

I am getting heartily sick of Herman Cain AKA Mr "Let's simultaneous decimate the federal budget and increase tax rates on the poor by a factor of nine". Zandar does a fine job of dismembering his "racism is dead" bullshit here. [1]  Zandar, as I understand it, is black, so I'll let him or her dissect the degree to which Cain's nonsense is especially surprising and aggravating coming from a black man. 

I will note however that one does not need any personal experience of the pain of racism to realise that Cain claiming that his rise to wealth and power is proof that the playing field is level is ludicrous.  It's exactly as logical as Frodo returning to the Shire and announcing any hobbit who can't make the trip to Mount Doom is a feeble-minded, unmotivated pussy, because he's done it, Sam's done it, and all those raspy, scraping Nazgul don't seem to have any trouble with it either.

Newsflash, Mr Baggins: you didn't get there on positivity alone.  As Zandar notes, we don't know whether Gandalf the Grey represents affirmative action in this metaphor, or just an astonishingly impressive run of good luck, but either way, that dude was there, keeping the Balrog off your back whilst you gritted your teeth and applied yourself.  To turn round and announce the moral of your story is that you have proved the uselessness of wizards doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Cain's loyal coterie of defenders can piss off as well, while we're at it.  Every time someone argues the Republicans can't be racist because Lincoln freed the slaves (Pierce eviscerates one such fool here), it makes me wish Honest Abe had left a seven course banquet sealed up somewhere in the Whitehouse, just so we could feed its dust and bones to these idiotic fuckers and demand they claim it's still the hautest of haute cuisine.  You might as well cite Friedrich Ebert as proof that Hitler was a fan of political compromise and coalition building to ensure peace.

[1] Is there any more perfect encapsulation of Republican thought than "Now I've passed beyond the need for something, it's high time that it was removed?"  See also the wretched husk of humanity men call George "No global warming since 1991" Will.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Choose Your Targets Wisely

I've been following the Occupy Wall Street/"We are the 99%" protests for a little while now, and I think I understand the situation.  For a while there, I was baffled as to why the Tea Party was covered in so much more detail during it's early stages than OWS has been.

I think I've got it, though.  Becoming disgusted at watching the banks almost destroy the world before demanding public money and demanding President Obama be held accountable = grass-roots movement of real Americans.  Becoming disgusted at watching the banks almost destroy the world before demanding public money  and demanding the banks be held accountable = bunch of unwashed hippies with no clear agenda.

Does that about cover it?

(Also, I'm not sure this guy is really following a winning strategy here.  Others with a greater knowledge of the period than I might have a different reading, but I'm struggling to see what King could be referring to other than the Civil Rights Act.  I can't see how "Last time we let this happen, them Negroes got themselves equality under the law" is going to be much of a rallying call to action.  Or at least, not any action in the direction he's hoping for).

Sunday, 9 October 2011

By Any Other Name

The Other Half and I watched The Descent: Part 2 earlier (SPOILERS FOLLOW).  To review it as quickly as possible:

First third: pretty good, and successfully evokes the combination of the vast wilderness of the Appalachians with the claustrophobic terror of the cave system used to such great effect in the first film (and once again, the caves themselves are at least as dangerous an enemy as the crawlers).

Second third: fairly boring.  Part of the problem with horror sequels is the difficult tight-rope that always has to be walked.  You can't stick too closely to the last film, or the scares will be lessened by simple familiarity.  On the other hand, it's far too easy to overcompensate for this and end up chucking in too much new stuff that doesn't sit well with what's gone before, or even helps to undermine it (Tremors 2 parodies this problem by having its giant subterranean worms turn out to be incubation chambers for voracious heat-seeking velociraptor-beetles, or something).  TDP2 sticks very much to the first of these options, which really means you're just watching the exact same film again with less interesting characters.

Final third: this actually does something new, by forcing the survivors to start thinking about what - and who - will need to be sacrificed in order to ensure at least someone escapes.  There's a scene in which one character is forced to chop off another's hand with an ice axe (a somewhat unergonomic utensil with which to perform the task, to say the least) which is both hideously difficult to watch and probably the most grimly realistic idea in the whole film (why she actually needed to do the cutting is another story).

Plus, Juno is back, which is awesome because a) Natalie Mendoza is astonishingly pretty (even covered in grime and crawler blood) and b) she uses her gymnastic skills in the fight against evil.  It also gives Sarah and Juno some closure, which the first film wasn't exactly crying out for, I suppose, but at least lets us know at exactly which point Sarah went mad (so far as I can tell, she escaped from the caves and only her tremendously serendipitous finding of the car wasn't actually real).

Having said all that, the film does have one major problem.  It's not the director's fault, or the screen-writers', or any of the actors' (always good to see Gavan O'Herlihy in action, whether he's fighting crawlers, the French, or the Nockmaar army that destroyed Galadoorn).

No.  The person to blame is Diablo Cody, because thanks to her, all I could think of whilst watching the last half hour of the film was this:

You win this round, Cody...

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Careless Words

I've held off on posting about this article by Brooks, mainly because the excerpts of it I'd read were so horrific I got too angry to type.  I promised myself I'd calm down, read the piece in full, and then comment.

I'm glad I did, because it isn't as bad as I'd thought.  Not quite, anyway, in that it's merely contradictory and ill-considered, rather than desperately offensive.

Still, though, I have to wonder what is it Brooks is ingesting to make hm seem lucid despite his total amnesia about what he's written just a few sentences earlier.

Brooks writes that the US is currently in the grip of an "empathy craze", where you can't move in a bookstore without stubbing your toe on a book on the subject that presumably is expecting you to apologise to it.  Brooks thinks this is proof that people over-value empathy.  I'd be more inclined to think that it's an obvious reaction to a country in which people deride the president for saying judges are better when they can understand the experiences of other people, and in which one entire political party has concluded that lowering unemployment or funding disaster relief for those hit by hurricanes are things only pussies would want.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that Brook is right, though.  What's his point?  That empathy alone isn't going to get you anywhere. 

Thanks for that, Davey boy.  Really fucking insightful.  You know what I've seen recently?  An awful lot of cook-books.  You know what didn't go through my mind? "Don't these people realise they'll need an oven as well?"

The crux of Brooks "argument" is that unconsidered, spontaneous empathy might not be as much use as a firm moral code, and that the world would be a better place if we could just respect each others core beliefs (man, if only there were a word to describe understanding other people's convictions are as important to them as ours are to us, huh?).  He "demonstrates" this in several ways, but the two that stand out are a) that Nazi prison guards sometimes wept when machine-gunning prisoners, but that didn't stop them, and b) it turns out that happiness/good fortune actually makes one more likely to be charitable than empathy, under certain conditions.

The degree of cognitive dissidence to include these arguments in a piece based on stressing the importance of a moral code is truly staggering.  To take the second example first, any first year student of any course requiring any logic whatsoever would be able to point out that "A is better than B because B doesn't do so well as C" is a fallacy of the most egregious and embarrassing kind.  It can't possibly matter that people are more likely to give money to tramps if they've found it on the street than just because their empathic, unless you also prove that whatever moral rules you live your life by clear the hurdle empathy fell at.

Moving on to the Nazi example first (I can't believe I even have to type that sentence), either the prison guards were obeying orders for fear of being imprisoned or executed (in which case it's not proof of anything), or they did it because their moral code told them obeying orders was more important than their personal feelings.

The fact that Nazi soldiers massacred civilians despite finding it abhorrent isn't proof that empathy isn't sufficient, it's that a moral code divorced from empathy can lead to murderous, even genocidal outcomes.  Whether the guards felt empathy for their prisoners is irrelevant, what matters is that Adolf Hitler, who moulded the moral code on which Germany under the Nazis was based, clearly didn't. 

This is where Brooks argument completely collapses.  He assumes a priori that a moral code is important, and empathy "a sideshow", without stopping to think for a second that maybe empathy's real use is in shaping moral codes to begin with [1].  Brooks suggests we think of people we admire, and then note that what drives them is liable to be a moral/religious conviction rather than empathy, but the people I admire - take Martin Luther King, Jr., for example - based their convictions on the simple truth that empathy is the bedrock of human society.  Remind me again, who was it who said "Love thy neighbour as thyself?", again?

Which brings me back to Brooks initial reason for writing the article - the sudden explosion of "empathy" books in America.  In response, I'd point out two things.  First:: I will bet all the money in my pockets that books on Christianity outweigh those on secular empathy by a considerable degree. Second: the vast majority of American citizens are religious, which means the moral codes that Brooks is so fixated on have already permeated US society.  We don't need more people to have codes, we need more people to act on those codes in a consistent, thoughtful way.  Every one of the major religions in the United States is quite clear on the idea that being nice to people is good, and suffering is something we should take steps to avoid.  The fact that some people don't do this in a sufficiently cool-headed way for David Brooks (a man whose moral code, let's not forget, puts politicians being nice to each other above attempts to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans without health insurance) is almost indescribably less concerning a problem than those who claim to belong to a religion demands empathy, but who  demand the children of immigrants be deported, Iranian citizens be killed so as to teach their leaders a lesson, homosexuals are booed for daring to want to serve their country, young women die of cervical diseases for which vaccines are freely available, etc., etc., et-fucking-c.

It's like Brooks has seen people drinking tonic water in bars, and lambasted them for not realising how great a drink gin and tonic is, all whilst pretending not to notice that his friends have gotten themselves completely wasted on Bombay Sapphire, and killed a stripper.  Actually, it's worse - it's like Brooks has deliberately launched into his "just because it cures malaria doesn't mean you can order it on the rocks!" tirade specifically to give his buddies time to dump Candi's corpse into the Potomac.

Which, of course, makes David Brooks the real sideshow.  The fact that this is rhetorically satisfying is cold comfort to say the least.

[1] This is what Davey does almost every time, of course.  Hell, we should call this the Brooks-Douthat Inversion.  Every time Republicans in Congress or high-profile positions in "grassroots" organisations say something thoroughly abhorrent, Brooks and/or Douthat will crap out a colum arguing that the exact opposite position might be pretty bad as well.  If Bush had nuked San Francisco, Brooks would have pointed out that hating radiation might lead to a loss of business for banana farmers. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Perfect Score

Excellent!  My most popular Lucifer post just reached 666 views since it was first published.

No-one is to view it again!  Here, have a link to it to ensure you know exactly which article must never again be seen by human eyes!

Update: Goddamnit, you guys!

Update 2: Seriously; stop that!  What the hell, people?

Monday, 3 October 2011

Satire With Bite

For the last couple of days I've been trying to figure out what exactly I thought of Teeth.  It's difficult to go into any detail without discussing large chunks of the film, and since the five year rule still applies (though only for three more months), I'll stick my thoughts after the jump.

The gentlemen in the audience should consider themselves warned, however - grown men have run weeping in terror from the merest glance at the DVD box.   This is not a film for the faint of heart...