Thursday, 31 May 2012

Illegal Truths

I'd planned on not posting anything else today, but then this was flagged on LGM, and I concluded it could not pass without comment.  Various panjandrums in North Carolina are hoping to pass a bill that outlaws various statistical methods for the prediction of sea-level change.

OK, "outlaws" is a bit strong.  Scientists can still use the methods, they just can't use them in anything the state will actually officially look at.  And what are these deeply questionable, pseudo-sorcerous approaches that must be refuted as the bunkum they are?

Well, let me ask you a question: what comes next in the following sequence:

1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, ...

Last Night Something Pretty Bad Happened...

We lost a dog.

Sometimes cancer is a horrible malingering presence, slicing off the pieces of a loved one until there's nothing left but a shivering nub, alive in spite of itself.  Other times, it rips through someone so quickly that you still haven't processed its arrival by the time it's already gone, having torn out something irreplaceable along the way.

So it was with Storm, who went from dozing contently in shafts of sunlight to passing away on the operating table in less than a fortnight.  She could have kept fighting, sitting immobile for months on end as the vets fought to save the front half of her body, but we decided she deserved better than that.  A dog who uses her front paws to signal her love and need to be loved should not have to learn to live without them, especially since the exchange of limbs for a few more months of life was a gamble no sensible haunter of Vegas casinos would have taken.

What does one say about The First Dog?  Some experiences cannot be repeated, not really.  We like to pretend they can - that's why we have alcohol - but twelve and a half years after she first bounded into our lives, all nervous barks and melodramatic sighs, there is now just Storm, and every other dog.

Some people thought Storm an unintelligent dog.  To be sure, she frequently gave that impression.  Once upon a time she would stare in incomprehension as her adopted brother Josh (another Old English Sheepdog, who preceded her in crossing over to the Land of Infinite Milkbones) would show her how to open doors.  She never did work it out.  Just recently she adopted the habit of deliberately trapping her head behind my father's chair, forcing him to move it so she could pass, despite quicker and father-free alternative routes available.

I never thought she was stupid, though.  She was just exceptionally good at tactical thinking.  Why walk quietly into the front room when you could force others to move aside, demonstrating your superiority?  It takes a supremely superior canine mind to develop a bark that clearly expresses "I don't want this toast unless you put some scrambled egg on it, humans."  Put simply, Storm was as smart as she needed to be to have everyone else do things for her.  Like Paris Hilton only, you know, of some worth.

We gave Storm, I hope, a very happy decade and a quarter.  In return, she gave us what a dog gives.  If you've experienced it, no description is necessary.  If you haven't, no description will suffice.

Sleep well, Storm.  We loved you a great deal.

Storm "Stormy Dog" Crossman 1999 -2012

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Equaliser

As you get weaker, it will get harder.

War, eh?  That's a big old sausage-fest, am I right?  And with the whole length of Game of Thrones' second season been in large part the ramp-up to what looks to be a truly apocalyptic battle, there might not be a great deal for the women to do come Episode 9.

In the interests of balance, then, "The Prince of Winterfell" is (almost) all about Eve.

Friday, 25 May 2012

A Brief Comment...

On Jim Parson's decision to come out.  I got into a conversation about celebrities choosing to reveal their sexualities when Zachary Quinto made this choice at the end of last year.  There can be a temptation to respond to this news with a shrug of the shoulders and a comment along the lines of "So, who cares?" 

I'd suggest this isn't actually a good response.  If I can be permitted to speculate for a moment, I think a lot of people react this way because they're not a fan of the kind of micro-study of celebrities every act, finding (as I do) the obsession with such gossip a distraction at best, and unhealthy at worst.  There's also the fact that suggesting learning of Parson's sexual orientation makes any difference to you could be interpreted by others as homophobic.

There is nothing wrong, of course, with thinking Parson's announcement makes no real difference to you.  But let's not forget the people for who it might make a difference to: young gay people for whom the normalisation of homosexuality is a pressing concern, and for whom - particularly in America - the knowledge that respected, high-profile people can discuss their sexuality without their world collapsing around them.  We've come a long way from the 80s, when I grew up, in which the choice of role-models for young gay men wasn't too wide, or as impressive as it is now (I'm ashamed to admit that this was pointed out to me by a gay acquaintance of mine; I was far too busy staring at Pamle Anderson et al to notice), but there's still plenty of work to be done.

Quinto himself said he'd chosen to come out because he'd felt he'd done as much as he could to advance the cause of gay rights without pinning his own colours to the mast.  Whilst knowing the actor who plays Sheldon is gay will be a supreme irrelevance the next time I watch Big Bang Theory, I congratulate Parsons on his decision, and hope that it will make the lives of those suffering from unreasoning bigotry that little bit easier.

Update: I think I should have been clearer, actually.  I'm trying to say that public stating this news isn't worthy of consideration is a bad idea.

For God's Sake

Seems there's some debates goin' on over this series of tubes regarding the debt modern liberalism owes to Christianity.  This is worth getting into more detail over (though no promises; The Other Half and I have friends to visit and cider to consume this weekend), but for the moment I just want to consider this comment from Ross Douthat, which Larison has highlighted.
Indeed, it’s completely obvious that absent the Christian faith, there would be no liberalism at all. No ideal of universal human rights without Jesus’ radical upending of social hierarchies (including his death alongside common criminals on the cross). No separation of church and state without the gospels’ “render unto Caesar” and St. Augustine’s two cities. No liberal confidence about the march of historical progress without the Judeo-Christian interpretation of history as an unfolding story rather than an endlessly repeating wheel.
Larison notes that the progress of liberalism has indeed gone hand in hand with the development of our civilisation, which until recently has been explicitly Christian.  It would be pretty hard, I think, to argue liberalism in the exact form we currently recognise it (to the extent that such nebulous concepts can be described as "exactly" anything) would have evolved without Christian influence.

It's much harder, to put it mildly, to believe that absent Christianity, liberalism in some form wouldn't exist.  Indeed, Douthat's argument isn't "completely obvious", it's somewhere between a completely unproveable counter-factual and an assertion which is absurd on its face. 

Whenever an atheist argues that without Christianity there'd have been no Crusades, no Inquisition, and no Nazi Party, it pisses me off.  The human desire for power, wealth, and the subjugation and hence neutralisation of the "other" is sufficiently ingrained in our lizard brains for it to be easily arguable that Christianity has provided an excuse for atrocity, not been the cause.  At least some of the Crusades were undertaken for no better reason than the Holy Church wanted more power, and whilst the glib (and common) response to that is to point out that, yes, the church is explicity Christian, the concentration of so much power in the hands of so few on the grounds that God wants it that way is just further evidence that religion can be applied as a tool by some very, very bad people.

Douthat's claim seems to be the mirror image of that approach.  Those who forged the philosophy of liberalism did so through reference to the Bible, therefore the Bible deserves the credit.

Consider what would have happened were Christianity removed from world history.  Would the West be atheist from coast to coast?  This seems vanishingly unlikely, given the way religions spread.  I'd assume we'd be Muslims, or possibly Hindu.  Does Douthat really want to argue that universal human rights aren't something any other religion could conceive of?  Does he really want to tell the descendents of Gandhi that he owes his view of the universal dignity of man to the religion of his colonial oppressors?  Really?  Even the famously peaceful Gandhi would have wanted to tell him to fuck off for that one, I'd have thought.  Ditto the tens of thousands of human rights activists in jail across the world right now, an awful lot of them who aren't Christian, and would be fairly outraged to learn they owe their deep convictions to Jesus.

I realise that Douthat is making these comments in the middle of a conversation about the American approach to liberalism, but that's precisely why his sweeping generalisations are so problematic; he's writing off the entirety of non-Western culture as being philosophically incapable of even conceiving of human rights or the separation of church and state.  It's that latter point, by the way, that confirms he's insisting these ideas are generated by Christianity specifically, and not religion in general, since without religion of any kind there indeed wouldn't be a concept of separation of church and state, for the same reason there'd be no concept of anti-aircraft guns without anyone ever having built a flying machine.

I'd actually really like to see a consideration of how a society without any kind of religion could generate what for shorthand I'll call humanist principles.  That isn't what Douthat is doing, though.  He's claiming Western civilisation has a copyright on a decidedly global concern, and in the process arguing that those who for so long were oppressed by Christians could only conceive of their right to be free because of the religion their oppressors brought with them.  Nice.

Friday Talisman: My Eyes, My Eyes

This week on Friday Talisman: the conjurer!

I have to say, I really don't like this model.  No amount of pockets or cute bunnies can distract from the fact that this woman looks like an Uruk-Hai in a wig.  Unless she can disappear her own fucking face, I don't see much of a career for her in showbiz, or anywhere else where people can be generally be assumed to have the gift of sight.

Really not convinced about the colour scheme, either.  Admittedly, I have to take the rap for sticking so closely to the picture on her card.  I've actually toned it down a little, would you believe?

Elsewhere on the paint table, my Dark Angels reinforcements continue to gradually build:

And the Heldenhammer finally gets its mechanical prow done up all purdy:

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

A Suggestion

It has come to my attention that the Sun is giving away teeny tiny Star Wars Lego toys today and Sunday.  They're gorgeous: I love 'em.

Unfortunately, of course, the Sun is evil, a villainous attempt to simulate the inner workings of the mind of a horny twelve-year old sociopath, who also likes football.

So, if you couldn't resist the temptation of the galaxy's tiniest Star Destroyers, might I suggest you donate at least the cost of the disgraceful rag you've purchased to charity.  Preferably a charity than stands in proud opposition to the schoolyard cruelty of Rupert Murdoch's stupidest vassal.

Like this one, for example.

Also, fun fact: this dinky Lego Star Destroyer is about 32 000 times shorter than the "real thing"; in order to fill an actual Star Destroyer with these toys, the Sun would have to give one away with every issue for the next thirty five thousand years.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Stay Free

Go easy... step lightly... stay free

Welcome to the second half of Game of Thrones' two-part consideration of the nature of captivity and freedom, as we dive into: "A Man Without Honor".

(Spoilers swim beneath the surface.)

The Icy Touch

I'm having to wade through an awful lot of mind-numbing data-handling tasks at work right now, so to keep me sane, I'm branching out into some new music.  I figured I'd take a look a the Rolling Stones Top 500 Albums (their earlier list, not the new one which I might have to actually pay for).

First up, we have this offering from 1983:

I was a bit on the young side during the Eurythmics heyday, about all I caught first time around was "17 Again", which I actually really loved (I still have a CD single of it somewhere).  Since then, the only Lennox/Stewart song anyone ever seems to talk about is "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)", which isn't unreasonable, since it's a great song.  It does seem to overshadow everything else they did though.

Which isn't necessarily fair, actually.  The opening track (and third single) on Touch, "Here Comes The Rain Again", is I think the better song.  Indeed, I'd argue that its first three minutes represent the best music Eurythmics ever released as a single.

It's a shame it lasts over five minutes, then.  If there's a problem with Touch overall, it's this: more than a few of the tracks don't overcome their basically repetitive natures.  It might be a bit unfair to single this album out for criticism - New Wave as a genre wasn't exactly known for thrilling compositional deviation.  It's also true that there's sufficient variation between tracks - from funk-tinged "Cool Blue" to calypso-filled "Right By Your Side", to cold ballad "Who's That Girl" - that this issue haunts the album rather than torpedoing it.  All that said, though, I think there's something amiss when there's not a single song on a disc that ends before you want it to.

That gripe out of the way, there's an awful lot to like here.  I've mentioned "Here Comes..." already, but "Right By Your Side" is almost as good, combining guitars, synthesised steel drums, tenor sax, whistles and occasional demented vocal yelping from Lennox to create one of music history's most ridiculously upbeat songs on the need for company during an outbreak of depression.  "Who's That Girl" is perhaps a little too underbaked (musically and lyrically) and occasionally reminiscent of "Sweet Dreams..." but it's still worthwhile for the smooth power of Lennox's vocals.  Even the comparatively unremarkable "The First Cut" - the closest this album comes to a throwaway track - contains a chugging riff that sounds like nothing so much as rhythmic gargling.  There's always something going on here, even if sometimes it's going on too long.

Each song has plenty to recommend it, then.  As a complete work, Touch is a little problematic; it's really too tightly controlled and frosty to be truly enjoyable (the most common feeling the music seems to espouse is "Fuck it, whatever; like I care anyway"), though a lack of direct emotional connection shouldn't automatically be considered a bad thing, and as the album passes into its final third you long for it to go all bug-eyed calypso-mental again, just to give your heart some exercise.  Its final track just about does the job; the seven and a half "Paint a Rumour" combines pseudo-Egyptian synthesised pipes and Krafwerk-style computer beeps to sufficiently powerful effect to be almost worth its runtime.

That said, the album still feels pretty front loaded, though I'm not sure if that's actually the case, or whether I just lack the necessary sang-froid to make it to the end without my soul itching to put something on it can dance to, or at least weep uncontrollably through.

Seven tentacles, I think.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Radio Friday: Diminishing Returns

Half a year late, I've finally gotten hold of We Were Promised Jetpacks second album, In the Pit of the Stomach.  In all honesty, it's a bit disappointing.  Not bad, by any means, but their debut was so magnificent that a front-loaded disc with only two genuinely great songs ("Medicine" and "Act on Impulse") and at least three that don't quicken the pulse at all doesn't really cut the mustard.  Sigh.

Anyway, here's the best track on the album to blow away any lingering Friday lethargy.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

White Riot

All the power's in the hands
Of people rich enough to buy it

This week, we're going to be talking about captives, imprisonment, and how difficult it can sometimes be to realise that we might be trapped, because bars and cells are not always as obvious as those beneath the Red Keep.  Indeed, I'd have been tempted to call this post "Stockholm Syndrome", were it not for the fact that the Clash never sang about that.

(WHERE ARE MY SPOILERS!?!  Oh, wait.  They're below, as usual).

Blow Things Up, Blow Things Up, Blow Things Up

Picked this up on Twitter via Loudmouthman, and figured it must be shared.  It's a blisteringly accurate simulation of how the various Olympic missile batteries installed across London will be used to deter unrest during the 2012 games.

Protect the games, citizen!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

In Which We Cry Out With One Voice: "Enough, Already!"

There's been a number of articles and news stories about Christianity and homosexuality in America, and the scorched, barren earth that seems to be pretty much all that's left of the intersection between.

The good news pretty much everyone knows: Obama has come out in favour of gay marriage.  Not to the extent one might like (I'd be interested to see how he'd respond to the idea that it should be left to the states to decide whether a black man and a white woman can get married), but historic progress is historic progress, and I'd suggest we take what we can get, for the moment at least.

The rest of the week's developments have been less encouraging, not just for gay rights activists but for Christians too (and I'm not ignoring the fact that there are plenty of people who are both, indeed given the demographics of the US, I'd be more surprised if the majority of gay activists weren't Christian).  A new survey lists the number one description of Christianity among 16-29 year-olds, and among all non Christians, as "anti-homosexual".

Think about that for a moment.  Nothing about loving thy neighbour, or peace on Earth, or even making sure the Philistines get a damn good kicking.  When young people and those outside the faith think of Christianity, their first thought is of the subsection of the population that a vast swath of a religion has dedicated itself to treating as shittily as possible.  Pro-tip, church bigwigs, when more people think you primarily stand in opposition to gay people than think you're against tyrants, the greedy, and those who worship graven images ( the American flag ) you have fucked up, and I make no apologies for my choice of phrase, to a Biblical extent.

And it keeps getting worse.  A man who made a fortune - which Jesus said he shouldn't want and should give away if he got it - by screwing over as many of the people God told him to help as he possibly could is busy suggesting that five centuries of theological differences (to say nothing of a few decent-sized and exceptionally bloody wars) should be swept aside in the face of the true enemy; men deciding they only want to bum one other man for their entire remaining span in this veil of tears.   He's by no means alone in his crusade; the goldhugging Catholic muckity-mucks in Vatican City (national motto:-"If we can't engage in criminal conspiracies to protect those who abuse children, then those who want the right to love who they choose have already won") have been sending "Disgusted of Italia" letters to American convents, expressing their outrage that these be-wimpled ladies spend so much time healing the sick and helping the poor and take so little opportunity to tell homosexuals and pro-choice women that they're going to burn for eternity, along with the Protestants and Muslims and everyone stupid enough to violate their oaths of care in the most hideous way possible before being ordained.

(Also, while we're on the subject?  Fuck off out of secular concerns, 'K?  Is there any more disgusting insight into the current Republican id than them arguing they didn't reject someone for the bench because they're gay, but because they're gay and think they should be allowed to get married?  Well, the answer is "yes", actually, since they're worthless, unrepentant fuckers.)

The various Christian hierarchies treatment of the issue of gay marriage has long since moved past busybody nose-poking, driven past obsession, and has become an all-consuming hunger for getting their own way not seen since Captain Ahab decided that getting himself some white whale-skin slippers was totally worth being smashed to a paste and/or drowning.  If the Christian Right keeps on down this road, it's only a matter of time before they realise they've made the same decision.  I say the arc of history bends towards justice, but they say their God will roast them in fire for all eternity for being douches.  

Which you'd think would give them pause, quite frankly, but maybe not.  Maybe they've finally realised their time on this earth is coming to a close, and it's simply a matter of being as colossal a group of dicks as possible before time swallows them forever, leaving a footnote that simply reads "Hundreds of thousands of citizens wanted public recognition of their vows to love their partners for the rest of their natural lives; these people stood against that."

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

One day is fine, next is black.

Well, that changed everything, huh?  It's a good job it's taken me two weeks to write down my thoughts on "The Ghost of Harrenhal", because at least we might all have gotten our breath back.

Today's topic: when do you stand fast, when do you cut and run, and when do you realise that choice is no longer available to you?

(Spoilers below the fold)

Monday, 14 May 2012

A Quick Question

What's cooler than Paul the Octopus, a cephalopod with precognitive powers?

I shall tell you.  It's Doctor Paul T. Octopus, MD.

Man, that invertebrate is so acerbic and tormented. But there's no-one in the country who's better at diagnostic medicine, who's also an octopus.

Killing Off The Killing

There's a story I dimly remember from my childhood in which a man is killed, and three different people confess the murder to the rajah, only to find out the man had been dead all along, and the three men had, in increasingly implausible way, concurrently "killed" a corpse.  As a piece of storytelling, it was admirable in structure, but it had no interest in wandering into anything in the vicinity of plausibility.

That story went through my mind as we at long last finished off watching The Killing following a seven-hour binge this weekend, partially because the show finally built up steam in its final spurt, but mainly because, as The Other Half said, "I just want it to be over." [1]

The Killing reminded me of that tale, even though the victim in the central murder investigation was very much alive when she was driven into the river to drown.  In order to keep the police investigation both on the move and not getting anywhere close to the identity of the actual murderer, The Killing had to rely on slowly revealing an increasingly ridiculous patchwork of events, in which a half dozen suspects all turned out to have lied about the events leading up to the murder, and a healthy sub-section of those proved to have done things it was originally assumed was the work of the killer.

Of course, as I say, that's the only way a serial of this kind can work, short of revealing the murderer earlier than expected and turning the show into a man-hunt rather than a detective serial, which causes its own problems in terms of tonal shift and audience drop-off (see Twin Peaks season 2 for the exemplar case of how things can go entirely off the rails once a killer is unmasked).  A certain degree of suspension of disbelief is required, one that sits uneasily with the kind of gritty, filter-heavy atmosphere the show wants to evoke. 

Much like my position on The Avengers, I'd say The Killing comes close to having made the best possible job of presenting something inescapably problematic.  The show does an excellent job of making us care about the characters, lessening the frustration when each new piece of evidence leads to yet another blind alley, and the inclusion of the political angle with Troels Hartmann's mayoral campaign provides a sufficiently new angle to avoid this feeling too much like treading over long-familiar ground.  That said, the inclusion of the campaign combined with the focus on the grieving Birk Larsons brings along its own problems, a kind of Catch 22 whereby each of the ancillary story lines either feel too far removed from the investigation, or which brush up against it so many times that credibility is stretched still further.

The show is also much better at remembering its own past and avoiding ridiculous left-field developments than many similar shows, including, from what I've gathered from angry reviewers, its own American remake.  The final reveal of the killer leaves several unanswered questions (at least two of which should have been real priorities), and negates a long-running implication without mentioning it or explaining it away.  I can't say much more about the latter without giving away too much, but imagine if the last episode of BSG revealed Baltar really had just been delusional all this time, and Head Six had no purpose or direction after all (not that what we got was much better, of course, but that's a conversation we've had many times before).  That's not quite a fair comparison, we're talking about something less pivotal than Baltar's visions, but you get the idea.

In short, then, the series is strong but flawed, and whilst much of the praise it has been given has been hyperbolic, were I to rate entertainment using the five star system, this would comfortably get four, and on occasion look like stealing another half.  It could have easily been done with a shorter series, and indeed that would have allowed at least one prime suspect red-herring to be done away with, but it keeps you interested, really picks up speed about two thirds in, and at least manages to keep you guessing (even if I had the murderer pegged by their second appearance on screen).

I'm curious to try at least a bit of the American version as well.  Howls of outrage from the critics notwithstanding, I'm intrigued by what I know of it, which basically suggests they took a show that was already heavily indebted to Twin Peaks and decided to increase that debt by throwing in brothels on Indian land, a flurry of hyperbolic cliffhangers, and a refusal to actually answer the one question they're pretty much trading the whole show on.  That's about as Peaksy as you can get, though apparently they forgot to include the most important part of Lynch's show: it wasn't boring as shit.  Still, we always forget something, right?

[1] In fairness, I think she was referring more to how difficult it is to concentrate on a serial when circumstances dictate we can only watch it every fortnight or so, but we certainly could've gotten through it faster had we felt the motivation to do so.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Too Dark To See

There are certain things I just do not get about a certain brand of conservatives.  A lot of what the right says I find selfish, or heartless, or stupid, or often some or all of those together, but I can at least comprehend the kind of person who would come to such conclusions - hell, I can probably comprehend circumstances under which I would have come to such conclusions myself.

Sometimes, though, something comes along that makes so little sense to me that it might as well have come from the mouth of a particularly unpleasant Klingon.  How am I supposed to process the fact that Josh Trevino got out of bed one day and thought "It's time I defend people who pin teenagers to the floor and forcibly cut their hair for fun"?  Via Erik Loomis:
What this ludicrous story on Young Mitt represents is the intersection of the political hit piece with the anti-bullying hysteria... I actually feel better about Mitt, knowing he’ll forcibly cut hippies’ hair. 
How is it humanly possible Trevino didn't stop to wonder whether this was a road he wanted to go down.  Limiting himself to the "it was a long time ago, and he was still in high-school" is at least a defensible position - almost every teenage boy is an arsehole, and some grow out of it faster than others, though this is pretty vile even by such low standards.  Instead, Trevino decided to go on record and argue that assaulting people in order to force them to conform is a good thing, and objecting to such attacks is "hysteria."

I just don't get it.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Uncivil Wars

It's already been recalled due to the massive (and entirely predictable and warranted) outcry, but Kate Sheppard thought it worth a little time to talk about the American Heartland's latest billboard:

As I say, a lot of people were pissed as hell about this.  Quite a few other people seem to be mainly amused that anyone could be so stupid as to have conceived of this as an ad campaign - the national multi-million-dollar equivalent of the drunk guy at a party shouting "You know who else was a vegetarian? Motherfucking Hitler!"

Sheppard's take on all this is interesting, and ties into something I've been thinking about for a while: how does something as pointlessly offensive and stupid come out the same offices that just a few months ago was complaining that those who accept the existence of global warming don't want to have a respectful and honest debate on the issues.

The fact that places like Heartland are disgracefully hypocritical isn't particularly surprising, of course.  But these constant calls to "civility" - which you'll find in almost any political or cultural debate of any real degree of contention - should always be considered in the wider context.  There's no doubt that sometimes it's necessary to tell people to sit down, stop shouting, and take a few deep breaths.  That's not what Heartland (or David Brooks, or George Will, or the late David Broder, or...) is aiming for.

The "incivility" approach is just one more arrow in the quiver of those people who don't actually want - or realise they can't afford - to actually craft a coherent and robust argument.  It's one of a great number of lazy debating techniques that together form what I call "minimum-effort arguing."  The commentator knows what they want to say, then chooses the fastest way of getting there in a way that isn't obviously stupid to just about everyone.  If that means stating their opponents are too loud and aggressive (or even worse, "shrill") to talk to, that's what they'll use.  If that means suggesting there isn't really a problem here at all, or that both sides are pretty much in agreement, they'll stick that in instead.

If those can't quite get them to the finish post, they'll try the next easiest approach.  George Will demonstrated this in epic style a couple of years ago, when he argued that because 1998 was the hottest year on record, there couldn't have been global warming since then.  This isn't just an obviously stupid statement, it's an obviously stupid statement that, were you to slightly re-jig it and play it back to him, Will wouldn't buy for a second.  If you told him Babe Ruth's home-run record proved every new batting technique since the '30s has been a waste of time, he'd laugh you out of the room.

But the objective isn't to craft a position using logical planks that they'd consider firm in all circumstances.  Just as when they complain their opponents are being too mean, the only aim is to put as little effort as possible into dealing with an argument they want to avoid, but don't want to look like they're avoiding.  Sometimes it's a Catch-22 like "civility" (Catch-22 because any argument that can't be dismissed as uncivil can be taken as evidence that the topic of discussion can't be all that important), and sometimes it's pretending that scientific concepts as advanced as variance don't exist.  Sometimes it's to point out the opponent has an ideological bias, as though that alone means the arguments being put forward can't be valid.  Sometimes, you get someone like Ross Douthat, who's at least clever enough to ensure his arguments are locally sound, and only fall apart when you compare them over, say, a whole book.

But it all comes from the same place, a desire to justify what one believes - or more often, what one is selling - using the quickest method you can expect the rubes to swallow.  The fact that these people keep pushing this crap isn't remotely surprising (which isn't to say we should stop pushing against it), but the willingness of people to internalise this endless wave of ad hominem crap is a shame they must bear for themselves.

PS: someone should really write up an online Heartland Billboard Generator, like someone did with the Tory election ads last year.  Think of the fun we could have with history's greatest monsters:

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Deconstructing The Assembly

Right.  Now that I've seen The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble, if we must), my little prior data conflict problem from a few weeks ago has now been resolved.

Let's start by comparing Wilson's comments on the film with what I like to call "objective reality."  Wilson's comments can be divided into three groups: bafflingly stupid, deliberately mendacious, and actual unquestionable falsehoods.  His least ridiculous claim is that the film has weak dialogue.  That's certainly a position I disagree with pretty strongly, but whatever floats one's boat, right? Of course, his one actual example of crappy dialogue "They're gods, basically!" is misquoted, mis-stressed, and shorn of context, but at least all those words did appear in the same sentence at some point.  Not all of his objections are so grounded in fact.

Wilson's next objection is that the film is deeply anti-feminist.  I suspect he has at least a ghost of a point here (though as his co-host pointed out, he's basically complaining that Whedon hasn't done enough of a job restructuring the sausage-fest source material), but he undercuts whatever argument he could sensibly construct on the topic by crafting his examples from whole cloth.  There is not only one female character unless you whisper under your breath "who's an official member of the Avengers."  I'd not argue for a second if Wilson were to suggest Maria Hill deserved more screen time, but just pretending she doesn't exist to make the claim of sexism easier to apply is the work of a hack.  Pepper Potts gets little more than a cameo, but in her brief time on screen she shows herself completely able to stand up to Stark's overwhelming charm and force of will, and frankly beats him down more than once as well.

(From here on in, there are minor spoilers, folks)

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Vital Booze Update

The Other Half and I haunted a small beer festival at the weekend, and on this occasion I managed not to lose my increasingly illegible, burger-grease-smeared notes in the process.

A quick appraisal of the delights on offer, then.  Ahem.

1. Yorkshire Blond (Osset Ossett Brewery). "A lager-like beer." I shall hand over reviewing duties to the Other Half: "If I wanted to drink flat lager seasoned with fag-ends, I'd have stayed in Stockton-on-Tees this weekend."

2. White Sea (Newby Wyke). "A pale beer with grapefruit and citrus." This time the flat lager is untroubled by a fag-butt aftertaste.  Somewhat depressing that this constitutes progress. Can taste the citrus, at least, though I wasn't sure why I was supposed to care.

3. Lincolnshire (Skidbrooke Cyder Co.). "A sophisticated mellow character." This is utterly undrinkable. It tastes like you're swigging back diluted ethanol whilst hanging around Ambassador Kosh's quarters.

"How will this end?"
"With a kebab. Of scampering."

4. Bushels Kentish Cider (Biddenham). "Sweet, still, strong cider."  Ding ding ding! We have a winner.  This is clear and light and, as advertised, sweet.  It's almost a perry, and how can that be a bad thing? The answer is IT CANNOT! Call off the search!

Wait!  We still have five more beer tokens.  Resume the search!

5. Heck's Farmhouse Cider (Hecks.)  You know that burnt-orange quasi-crack stuff they dust over BBQ Pringles to make them so moreish?  Imagine covering oak branches with it instead, and then liquidising the results.  Then making me drink that.

Heck's is a little bit worse than that sounds.

6. Expresso Stout (Dark Star). "A black beer brewed with roasted barley malt and challenger hops... ground Arabica coffee beans... are added".  The shittiest coffee imaginable, stirred into the shittiest beer imaginable.  The Other Half really liked it though, and in the interests of science I'd be prepared to try it again, as long as milk and sugar had been added.

7. Navelgazer (Orchard Pig). Tastes like water drunk from a condom.

8. Jaipur IPA (Thornbridge Brewery). "Citrus dominated." Existed as a drink.  No further comments.

9. Boxing Dog (Mr Whitehead's Cider Co.) A serviceable scrumpy, moderately refreshing, but slightly bland, like cold diet lemonade on a hot day, or a blowjob from a particularly struggling asthmatic.

Monday, 7 May 2012


It's been ages since I had a music quiz up here, so let's give it another whirl.  Another variation on the theme this time around.  Rather than giving you first lines and asking for song and artist, I'm going to give you the first word of the first line, then the rest of the line as initials, together with the initials of song, artist and album (in that order). One point each for title, band, album and the full first line.  One hundred points in all; how neat.

No idea whether this will work, but I figure it's worth a go.  This time round I'm not putting them in any order, but once again no artist appears more than once.

1.   "When YLOYS" YLTT - JB - ROE  "When you look over your shoulder" Running on Empty - Jackson Browne - Running on Empty (Mozz/BigHead/lyndagb)
2.   "Can YHTWITTF" NE - I - MAW  "Can you hear the worlds I'm trying to find" No Emotion -  Idlewild - Make Another World (Jamie/lyndagb)
3.   "A GPWC" FPT - R - TB  "A green plastic watering can" Fake Plastic Trees - Radiohead - The Bends (edenspresence/Jamie)
4.   "I DKIIT" A - MSP - EMG "I don't know if I'm tired" Australia - Manic Street Preachers - Everything Must Go (Mozz)
5.   "As IWGOTCAKM" WITJ - M - GI "As I was going over the Cork and Kerry mountains" Whiskey in the Jar - Metallica - Garage, Inc. (BigHead)
6.   "The KADUABNH" CFTC - E - ESB  "The kids are digging up a brand new hole" Cancer for the Cure - Eels - Electro-Shock Blues (edenspresence)
7.   "Crazy BIBRTT" M - FF - IYH  "Crazy but I'm relieved this time" Miracle - Foo Fighters - In Your Honor (BigHead/Fries'n'Shake)
8.   "We SSAOI" NDL - S - ATW "We should stay and order in" No Deliveries List - Styrofoam - A Thousand Words (BigHead)
9.   "Everybody HCFS" SS - R - A  "Everybody here comes from somewhere" Supernatural Superserious - REM - Accelerate (Jamie)
10. "We NV (O)" V -  BN - D "We need vices (oh)" Vices - Brand New - Daisy (James)
11. "I GSBI" U - RA&TC - I/I  "I get some bad ideas" Users - Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - III/IV (Mozz)
12. "I SMTS" SD - J - GM  "I sing myself to sleep" Sit Down - James - Gold Mother (Mozz)
13. "I WALOAND" ISWM - B&S - DCW "I wrote a letter on a nothing day" If She Wants Me - Belle & Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Mozz)
14. "You WLATB" SD - AT - AT "You were like a toilet bowl" Sundials - Alkaline Trio - Alkaline Trio (Mozz)
15. "Sail LOW" SK - TC - TC "Sail lightly on winds" Skeleton Key - The Coral - The Coral (James)
16. "Meet HBTR" SD - B - S "Meet him by the road" Slow Dog - Belly - Star (James)
17. "Elysium, IECAYC" E - M - W  "Elysium, is everyone chipping at your cordiality?" Elysium - Madness - Wonderful (edenspresence)
18. "Woke UITT" PJ - THS - AKM  "Woke up in the twenties" Positive Jam - The Hold Steady - Almost Killed Me (edenspresence/Kirsty)
19. "Hey MYKIRO" BH - TO - S "Hey man you know I'm really okay" Bad Habit - The Offspring - Smash (BigHead)
20. "Listen HN" LPM - SS - DHM "Listen here, now" Last Po' Man - Seasick Steve - Dog House Music (James)
21. "You CMTYA" WAYF - TP - S  "You consider me the young apprentice" Wrapped Around Your Finger - The Police - Sychronicity (edenspresence/Mozz) 
22. "Someone TMW" TF - GBV - DTC "Someone tell me why" Teenage FBI - Guided By Voices - Do The Collapse (Mozz)
23. "Summer HCAP" WMUWSE - GD - AI  "Summer has come and passed" Wake Me Up When September Ends - Green Day - American Idiot (edenspresence)
24. "I WSPTTW" IBTGTM - SP - EO  "I wanted something that's purer than the water" It's Beginning To Get To Me - Snow Patrol - Eyes Open - Mozz
25. "I WAFTSSC" TU - TBS - WYWTB "I wait around for the still small center" The Union - Taking Back Sunday - Where You Want To Be (Kirsty)

We got fifteen American artists, five English, three (predominantly) Scottish, one Welsh, and one Belgian.  Two solo artists (arguably three), the rest are at least nominally bands.  One song is a cover.

Good luck!

Update: 38 down already!  Much respect to edenspresence, Mozz and BigHead (who also gets an award for coolest comment).  Just so everyone knows, it's more than fine to finish off a partial answer.  It shouldn't be too hard I'd think, for example, for someone to work out which song from the Foo's In Your Honor #7 is, its two discs notwithstanding.  Plenty of first lines from identified songs up there as well.

Update II: 49! One more to get halfway, with some low-hanging fruit still to be picked!  No-one knows the track list from Eyes Open?  Or Make Another World, now?

Update III: Up to 62 now, and thanks to BigHead, there's plenty more partial answers and (in the comments) possible hints and clues.  There are at least seven more points that shouldn't be much of a problem.

Update IV: 75%. Boom.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Road Is Long

Rather sick of hearing Mitt Romney bleating about how "even Jimmy Carter" would have given the order to take out bin Laden when the chance came.  Robert Farley has done a good job pointing out the fact that Obama's decision wasn't the unambiguously correct one at the time, and James Fallows has pointed out that Carter already made the same choice, with disastrous consequences (in fairness, I can just about believe Romney is trying to say "even Jimmy Carter would have made that call the day after Operation Eagle Claw").

There are legitimate conversations to be had on whether "I was the guy who ordered bin Laden be shot to death" is a kosher topic to run on, though it beats seven shades of shit out of Bush's re-election campaign message of "I've invaded a country for no reason and slaughtered tens of thousands of its civilians - do you really want to risk changing who's in charge right now?".  That's not really a debate anyone in the GOP can credibly participate in, not that that's stopped McCain. "Heroes don't brag", he tells us, which presumably means his approximately 215,472,838,111 references to his time in the Hanoi Hilton were just reminding us the guy can't fly for shit.

What's really being lost in all this though is the sense of a process.  It's not like both President Obama and Bizarro-States President mcCain would both have gotten the same call on the same day because an American tourist happened to see bin Laden popping to the shops in downtown Kabul.  The final call was the end result of three years of other decisions made by Obama's administration.  Maybe Romney was actually right in 2007 when he said hunting down Osama wasn't worth the time and money that could be otherwise be spent shattering Al-Qaeda as a whole.  Maybe President McCain's top secret for catching Osama (remember, heroes don't brag, but they do claim they alone can catch mass-murderers but won't say how unless they're put in charge of the country) would actually have gotten him faster than Obama managed.  These kind of counter-factuals are generally quite unpersuasive, but they're at least arguable.

What you don't get to do, though, is note that after three years of work, the last hurdle was really easy.  Even if that were true, and it wasn't, Mitt may as well pour scorn on FDR on the grounds that it was a no-brainer to have MacArthur and Nimitz sign off on the Japanese surrender.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Sacrifice The Stragglers

Tremble, feeble humanity!  We have become wise to your tricks!  The article might blame weather conditions for the lack of squid-seizing, but in truth we were all the seabed drawing up our plans for total subjugation of the Earth's surface.

Sleep lightly.

(Also, too: £210 for that thing?  If I'd found that in a seafood wrap, I'd think someone was taking the piss.)

(h/t Ibb)

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Private Dick Work

Hmm.  This is a difficult story to take a stance on (my hilarious summary: a dick is forced to give up working for another dick because a bunch of other dicks don't like his opinions on dick.  You're welcome, comedy).  On the one hand, this guy shares my first name.  On the other, he is by all accounts a staggering arsehole.  On a third hand (appendage?  Am I still pretending to be a squid, I forget), the guy got hounded out of his job purely because he's gay.  And on another hand again (imagine I'm playing pattycake with an exact duplicate of myself.  No, actually, don't do that), dude knew he was signing on to work for a guy who was quite happy to let homophobes run rampant at his debates in the hopes it'd get him five more votes when it comes to November.

If it weren't for the human cost here (Grenell's awesome gittitude notwithstanding), I'd say I was quite happy about this development, if only because it proves once again (and there are still some people who haven't been paying attention) that the American right's problem with homosexuality is not some ridiculous nit-picking over the possible extrapolations of changing marriage law, it's that they don't like gays, full stop.  The only thing we don't yet know is which of the following three options is their favourite:

  1. No homosexual should be allowed to work for a politician conservatives wish to vote for;
  2. No homosexual should be allowed to work in any position where normal people might have to talk to them, and maybe even shake hands;
  3. No homosexual should be allowed to work.
(Actually, I'm pretty sure we already know it's gotten at least as far as number two, given the insane response to Ellen DeGeneres being hired to advertise something completely unrelated to sexuality.)