Sunday, 30 September 2012

SpaceSquid vs. The X Men #42: Basic Errors

20 INPUT "Are we sure you want to do this?", A$
30 IF A=N GOTO 520
40 INPUT "Are you quite sure?  This is going to be really, REALLY boring.", B$
50 IF B=N GOTO 520
60 PRINT "Fine. Just don't come crying to me once you realise you've wasted your time."
70 PRINT "Without question, the central aspect to Sage (also Tessa, no last name supplied) is the time she spent as an undercover agent of Xavier's from before the very first issue of 'Uncanny X-Men' (or just' X-Men' as it was at the time).  This was revealed in the somewhat unlovely 'X-Treme X-Men' series that kicked off in 2001, more than twenty years after she first appeared. In-between, she was the primary confidant and servant to Sebastian Shaw, Black King of the Hellfire Club (well, usually)."
80 PRINT "The thing is, though, none of that was remotely evident at the time. It's not at all hard to come up with multiple examples of altercations with Shaw that could have ended up with an X-Man or a New Mutant killed, and in none of these cases did Sage think it worth sending warning ahead. Even worse, as UXM.Net point out, had Sage told the team Mastermind was gradually turning Jean Grey's mind into Eton mess, it might have saved a great deal of bother for an awful lot of people (they do their best to come up with a justification, but - and your mileage may vary - I don't buy it for a second)."
90 PRINT "What can be said about Sage, then, depends almost entirely on whether or not you can swallow the idea that a character whose inaction nearly cost the lives of various mutants, and allowed Jean Grey (or the being everyone thought was Jean Grey at the time) to explode into a madness that ultimately killed billions of sentient beings, was working for the X-Men all along."
100 INPUT "Sound plausible to you?", C$
110 IF C=N GOTO 130
120 IF C=Y GOTO 160
130 PRINT "Yeah, I don't blame you.  And the problem here is that once you put aside that idea out of sheer disbelief, there's really very little left to hang the character on.  Each new revelation about her past just compounds the problem.  This in itself wouldn't necessarily be too great a problem, except that the Sage biography put together by UXM.Net (a resource even more valuable to this series than normal this time around, since I gave up on 'X-Treme X-Men' pretty quickly and in some disappointment) demonstrates that the vast majority of storylines focusing on Sage revolved around new information surfacing regarding her past.  Once you've concluded that said past doesn't make any sense in any case, there's a real difficulty in connecting with any of this."
140 PRINT "But the fact that Claremont (the only writer who really seemed that keen on using the character very much) revisited this well so many times seems to me symptomatic of the real problem with Sage, which is that as a character, there's just not enough there."
150 GOTO 190
160 PRINT "Well, OK.  That's not how I see it, but it certainly isn't difficult to find people less concerned about such contradictions than I am.  Moreover, I'll readily concede that if a writer wants to use a character retcon at the start of a '00s so as to make their new comic more interest, and realises it will cause problems with two decade-old events in an entirely different book that they wrote in any case, "Fuck it" is a legitimate artistic stance to take on the matter."
170 PRINT "And if that is how you see all this, then the idea certainly has legs. There's perhaps little original in the central idea of a hero having been so deep undercover for so long in a villain's lair that plenty of sympathetic people are wrongly after their head, but then there's all sorts of plots across the line that would be revealed as far more hoary than they seem once you took all the mutant powers out of it.  We needn't worry about the concept's provenance right now."
180 PRINT "What remains relevant, of course, is whether or not the idea is smartly done.  Here, in fact, I can't really say much, given I've read so little of those stories.  My own experience with 'X-Treme X-Men' and its general reception doesn't exactly fill me with hope, but I've no real evidence to go on.  That said, at least some of my doubts in this regard spring not from what the stories themselves contain, but my problems with the nature of Sage's character itself.
190 PRINT "The problem with the concept of Sage in terms of who she is - rather than who she was, which seems to have done all the heavy lifting during her time on the team - is two-fold.  Or maybe not, depending on how you look at it.  There's definitely two major problems, but one is entirely contained within the other, like a Russian doll of conceptual difficulties."
200 PRINT "First, consider how Sage's mutant powers operate.  Firstly, she has a photographic memory.  Which is cool and all, but so did Doctor Sam Beckett.  And Doctor Sheldon Cooper.  That's not a character hook, that's a coat of paint on a hook you've installed already.  Which, in this case, is that Tessa is capable of processing information from a position of perfect logic - essentially, as though her brain were a computer. That's much more interesting, but only potentially. Just by way of example, a woman who can control the weather or a man who can transform his skin into steel are ideas that are going to work immediately. Ruthlessly logical thought processes is more of a seasoning; something you add to food that already has to be there and be appealing if you're going to end up with a tasty dish.  Oh, and sometimes she has telepathy, which is probably the second least interesting and imaginative mutant ability imaginable, after generic energy-casting."
210 PRINT "My point here is no to argue that all X-Men must have unique and fascinating power sets in order to be interesting.  Indeed, as the years have gone by and more and more mutants have been created, it's increasingly difficult to come up with abilities that are original without being self-consciously weird or ludicrously specific.  But as that has become increasingly obvious (and of course M-Day has reduced this problem to at least some extent), the solution applied by many writers is to just make sure the characters themselves are interesting, independently of how their powers operate.  Which is probably how it should have been done all along, and what led to the best results when it was applied.  I'm not the biggest fan of Gambit, by any means, but I can recognise why so many love him, and it's not that he creates bombs out of objects.  It's that he chooses to use cards as ammunition, and that this choice acts as a window onto his whole outlook."
220 PRINT "So it's not that I find the mind of a Vulcan and the memory of an elephant just too boring.  It's that once you remove Sage's past, Claremont seems to think those powers alone are enough to keep people interested.  And that doesn't work.
230 INPUT "I didn't mention Vulcans as a quick aside, in fact. If we're going to talk about how to make logical thinking interesting to the observer, I'm not sure one can consider a better test case. So, here's a question: who's your favourite green-blooded main character?  Spock (type 'S'), Tuvok (type 'T'), or T'Pol (type 'DD')?" , D$
240 IF D=S GOTO 270
250  IF D=T GOTO 330
260 GOTO 400
270 PRINT "Well, obviously. Neither Tim Russ nor Jolene Blalock could fairly be called poor actors, but neither of them got anywhere close to the kind of still gravitas offered by Leonard Nimoy. There's no doubt that watching Nimoy's restrained performance was frequently a treat.  But of course, that immediately sketches out the problem we have with regards to Sage: no-one is playing her.  Everyone is still on paper.  It's taken artists generations to figure out ways to generate the illusion of activity and passion within the panels of a comic strip, which makes Sage feel like more of a regression than anything else."
280 PRINT "That's only half the problem, though. The other thing missing from Sage's adventures is someone to take the Dr McCoy role. The genius of the original Star Trek was to pit McCoy and Spock against each other, with Kirk in the middle.  When done right, it was never possible to point to either character and state they were entirely in the right.  Kirk, as captain, needed both passion and logic (which might have been more strong an subtext had he not also needed far more than his share of exotic space booty, but let's put that aside).  Again, this requires a strong actor (and DeForest Kelley was exceptionally strong) to make work, and isn't a model anyone should expect to have worked on the page, even if Claremont had been interested in trying it, rather than just have everyone constantly suspecting Sage of being evil."
290 INPUT "To read the Tuvok entry, type 'T'. To read the T'Pol entry, type 'DD'.  To move on from the consideration of Vulcans, type 'M'.", E$
300 IF E=T GOTO 330
310 IF E=DD  GOTO 400
320 GOTO 500
330 PRINT "Interesting choice.  Actually, I don't dislike Tuvok as much as I do, you know, everything else to do with 'Voyager', but I'd argue he worked better in concept than execution (again, I'm not inclined to blame Tim Russ for that). There are two things that are genuinely interesting about Tuvok, though really they're the same thing from two different angles. There are at least two instances in the first season alone (about the only one I remember particularly well, since I saw it twice) in which Tuvok comes up with something that sounds utterly illogical, but argues his case to the hilt.  He doesn't do too bad a job of it, either, which leads me to my point. Tuvok does exactly what needed to be done with the Vulcans by demonstrating that the value of their logical strings are only as useful as the axioms they started with in the first place. 'Enterprise' took this further by introducing the axiom that humans are a bit of a pain in the arse, but let's stick with Tuvok right now."
340 PRINT "The idea here is a fascinating one; a race of totally logical beings that will still end up disagreeing based on their initial assumptions.  Indeed, Tuvok already demonstrated this by going undercover as a Maquis and Chakotay and Torres (among others) not being suspicious in the least. Either they're idiots, all Vulcans support the Maquis, or these variations are commonplace."
350 PRINT "So how does this have anything to do with Sage? Well, because of what it says about Tuvok, which is that his most interesting character traits lay in how he differed from a previous character who we'd been led to think he wouldn't differ from at all.  This isn't an idea that can keep a character interesting indefinitely (and indeed Tuvok didn't), but it's at least something, and Sage never had that. The only people we have to compare Sage with are actual PEOPLE, which is where the problem comes in."
360 INPUT "To read the Spock entry, type 'S'. To read the T'Pol entry, type 'DD'.  To move on from the consideration of Vulcans, type 'M'.", F$
370 IF F=S GOTO 270
380 IF F=DD  GOTO 400
390 GOTO 500
400 PRINT "Heh.  'Go to 400'. If this were a Fighting Fantasy game book, you'd have just won right now.  Of course, what you've won here is some nice boobs."
410 PRINT "I'm kidding, obviously, even if I'm perhaps the first person in the world to work a titty joke into his BASIC coding (note: there's no way I'm the first person in the world to do that). That said, I don't think there's any real doubt that for an awful lot of people, T'Pol's gender is a non-trivial part of what makes her appealing.  And the fact that out of all Star Trek female stars, she has the most... 'comic-like' proportions (other than Jeri Ryan, of course) makes her particularly relevant when talking about Sage, the umpteenth example of the mutant gene having a notable and impractical effect upon human mammary glands."
420 PRINT "I realise that what I'm about to say is unabashedly a straight male perspective.  Then again, I AM a straight male, and there's no getting around that.  More to the point, I'm who both superhero comics and sci-fi TV shows are generally aimed at - an observation, of course, not a note of approval - so while my perspective is no more valid than that of anyone else, it is more in tune with the vast majority of authorial intent - again, I'm noting this, not nodding approvingly. From this viewpoint, then, the pitch line for T'Pol is this: she's a creature of pure logic, but also disgracefully hot."
430 PRINT "Already we begin to see a problem. To the best of my knowledge, Tim Russ isn't considered a remarkably attractive man. Even if he was, the decontamination body-rubs T'Pol had to both receive and perform more than once during the 'Enterprise' run most certainly demonstrated that this was not intended to be business as usual - to the show's significant discredit."
440 PRINT "But this gets us to a central problem with Sage as well. In the world of comics - as oppose to the otherwise all-human crew of the original Enterprise - the idea that anyone would come up with male X-Man who's only unique skill was to be very logical would be utterly ridiculous.  That's not a superhuman ability, it's the stereotype of an academic. The implication that by putting that brain into an attractive woman constitutes sufficient hook for a character strikes me as problematic to say the least. I know gorgeous women who can think rings around me, who have a skill for mathematics I can only dream of.  The idea that this is remarkable because of how they look bothers me, and neither 'Entrprise' nor Sage seem free of this idea, especially when you consider a major part of T'Pol's development was that her desire to have sexy times with Trip interfered with her ability to think straight.  Hell, we've all been there, but again, the optics are problematic."
450 "If this sounds a bit like I'm slamming T'Pol, and trying to paint Sage with the same brush, then that's not unreasonable. I maintain though that if one were to swap around the powers of, say, Sage and Xavier, then no-one would think the founder of the X-Men to be remotely interesting."
460 INPUT "To read the Spock entry, type 'S'. To read the Tuvok entry, type 'T'.  To move on from the consideration of Vulcans, type 'M'.", G$
470 IF G=S GOTO 270
480 IF G=T  GOTO 330
490 GOTO 500
510 PRINT "Which, blissfully, brings us to the end of our discussion.  Sage was an acceptable second-tier villain, but a tepid main character, and the difficulty in transferring her from the former to the latter role really makes one wonder how Claremont could possibly have thought it worth the effort."
520 PRINT "We have now survived Sage. Let us never speak of her again."
530 PRINT "Next time we take a look at another female former member of the Hellfire Club now living with the X-Men, and luckily Grant Morrison will be on hand to demonstrate how this is supposed to be done."
540 STOP


Friday, 28 September 2012

Radio Friday: The Occasional Snippet Of News That Is Good

Since I seem to be stuck on a Jimmy Eat World kick in any case, I may as well give in to it.  Think of this video as my shout out to the process of grubbing around patient data until you find something you can use to help people out. I should know in the next few days whether I get to keep doing that until 2018 at least. I'm somewhat optimistic, if only because I share a wall with my boss and I can't hear him weeping in anquish.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Two In A Row, And A Hole In One

Continuing this blog's recent decision to be all sports, all the time, here's something interesting from Mitt Romney: the best athlete of the 20th century?  A white guy.

My first thought here was "great way to ramp up that 0% share of the black vote you're currently enjoying" (this is not an exaggeration). Then again, he was talking to Nicklaus at the time.  There's every chance Mitt Romney would call me the greatest athlete in a hundred years if I was thinking about cutting him a cheque.  A cynical part of me even wondered if Romney is trying to capture more of the vital racist vote that barring an asteroid striking the economy (a difficult thing to arrange given the vastness of space and the non-physical nature of the target) is literally his only path to victory.  I've been wanting to ask every Republican presidential candidate from Nixon onwards why realising you need the racists isn't prima facie evidence that you need to change your thinking, but there you go.

But after all that, the ABC article I linked to goes on to tell me that Sports Illustrated thinks the same thing.  Nicklaus really is the doggiest of dog's bollocks, nineteen hundreds wise.

Personally, I would think that to be a truly mighty athlete you need to a) carry your own kit, and b) walk to where you're going to be swinging shit about, but that's just me.  If there was an alternative title of Accurate-est Motherfucker, I'd be far happier handing that over to the guy.  Though Steve Davis might not agree.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Gasp! Another Sports Post!, Well, Kinda...

Man, I wished I watched NFL Football so that I could start boycotting it now.

Of course, one benefit to the current fight between the NFL ref's union and the billionaires who sometimes deign to sign their paychecks (as many better commentators than me have already pointed out) is that America finally gets to see how things turn out when you bust a union so you can rip your workforce off to the maximum possible extent.

Or, to put it another way (via Scott Lemieux):

If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.  Here disguised as magpies, but the point stands.

Also, this (via Paul Campos, a LGM man like Lemieux): a quick back-of-the-envelope look at the money at stake.  The cash the higher echelon of NFL owners are fighting to retain as a percentage of income the equivalent of me (i.e. adjusting for income, geography, and culture) getting £20 off the price of a Boro season ticket (around 5%, though that would go down if I wanted to watch a team that was, you know, worth watching).  That seems like small fry even if the deal doesn't seem to be £20 off in exchange for passing the whistle to someone you wouldn't trust to navigate the start menu to FIFA '12.   Personally, I say add £20 on, and use the extra revenue to construct an infallible robo-ref, with built in flamethrowers to discourage pitch invasions, but that's just me.

Were it not for the very real safety issues involved here, I'm not sure what I'd be laughing at harder; NFL bosses enraging both their players and their public for the sake of pocket change, or Republican politicians who are also football fans trying to work out what to actually say about any of this.  Naturally, the best they've come up with is a dose of Underpants Gnome logic; it was a good idea to crush the unions because:
  1. Destroy ref's union;
  2. ???;
  3. Get better refs than you started with.
There's also a suggestion from the right that the scab refs are deliberately doing pisspoor jobs in order to make their locked-out buddies look better. Presumably then these guys will need to be chucked too. Which won't be difficult, because they ain't in the union.  The only problem, of course, is who will replace them?

You can't possibly tell me that doesn't make sense.

UPDATE: Who could possibly have forseen that my 1500th post on this blog would be about sport?  Talk about your long odds...

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Judgment On The Day Before

Right, this isn't going to take long.

"Come To Judgement", the tenth story arc in Lucifer, isn't one that particularly lends itself to thorough, expansive analysis.  A great deal of that is simply because it's so short - only two issues long, though "Bearing Gifts", the single-issue story that precedes it, works best when considered a prologue.  Just as important, though, is the fact that, relatively speaking, really not all that much happens in it. A man claiming to be God's own gumshoe investigates Elaine Belloc's murder, and Lucifer bribes and threatens his way through Norse backwaters to get himself a ship.  Plot-wise, there's little more to be said.

It's similarly barren thematically, at least so far as I can see.  Oddly, though, I don't mean that as a criticism, because the extreme simplicity of what we're seeing works to underline the one point these issues are insisting we see.  This is not a story.  It is a warning.

It's Still Raining In My Bathroom

I'll warn you going in to this one that there's absolutely no point to this post other than allowing me to vent against a bunch of incompetent turdbricks making my life difficult.

It has now been a fortnight since my landlady's choice of surveyor assured us that my bathroom ceiling wouldn't collapse, and at least a week and a half since it did exactly that.  It is eight days since the same collection of amateurs and hacks put in the barest minimum effort into cleaning the mess their incompetence was responsible for.  It is seven days since, after repeated attempts to contact them, said goobers explained they couldn't work out where the leak was coming from in any case, but would try and work it out.  It has been a day and a half since the leak expanded from just being water to apparently containing someone's hair, which for someone who watches as much J-Horror as I do is distinctly unsettling:

It has also now been a day and a half since I did their job for them, clambering onto a slippery bath in the dead of night with a torch and tracing the leak to -surprise! - the large hole in the plasterboard of the true ceiling directly above the large hole in the plasterboard of the false ceiling which my bathroom boasts, or did until recently. It's almost as thought he leak has eaten through one barrier and moved onto the next. And left a fucking shit-ton of evidence, as well.

It has now been a day since this information was passed on, and a day since I learned that the only contact my letting agency or my landlord has received from the surveyors is a bill for what they've done so far. Whether this is just for the two functions they failed to perform, or for both those and the clean-up job necessitated by said failures, I do not know.

Tomorrow morning they will be returning to the flat, for reasons unspecified.  I'm not even willing to assume they'll want to work on the ceiling at this point.  They may just want to charge me for their time as well. Or install the angry ghost of a dead Japanese schoolgirl.  If I weren't moving out in a month or two anyway, I'd have released the lawyers already.

Monday, 24 September 2012

It Eludes Me

This idea sounds like it was custom-made to utterly confuse and distress me on every possible level.  I just can't process the thought that someone thinks there's untapped potential in all those people who wake up some days thinking "If only I could spend three and a half grand to be allowed to cycle 200 miles so as to make gay people's lives harder."

But then, I have Yorkshire blood in my veins, and a fat lazy arse inside my jeans.  Oh, and I'm not determined to damage other people's lives based on a sophistic reading of an ancient text used to justify my own blinkered parochial worldview. So I'm guessing I'm not exactly the target audience.

(Via ABL.)

Don't Try And Win Me Over With Basic Maths

There's something painfully, aggravatingly ironic in writing this post after a Doctor Who episode in which everyone's favourite Time Lord (after Drax, obviously) insists that humanity learns from its myriad mistakes.  If nothing else, after the flap that broke out following Mark Gatiss' "The Unquiet Dead" - even if that was kicked off by Lawrence Miles, a man so outspoken in fandom he makes Ian Levine look like Ian Martyr - you'd think the show would be a little more careful about how it handles immigration.

Chris Chibnall is not a very good writer.  He has written some good stuff (I have very little bad to say about "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship"), but his best work isn't nearly impressive enough to justify risking getting his worst work, which is very, very bad indeed.  The two seasons of Torchwood he helmed were, in order, utterly fucking atrocious, and just about bearable so long as it was mocking its first series, which was utterly fucking atrocious.  Prior to "Dinosaurs..." his absolute career peak as regards the Whoniverse was "42", which was competent rather than impressive, and I seem to be in the distinct minority giving it even that much praise.

But there's a difference between failing to write a good Doctor Who script, and actually having no idea what Doctor Who is supposed to be in the first place.  So here's a hint: if a massive but apparently entirely benign influx of alien matter arrives on Earth, the Doctor will not immediately buy into the idea that they're dangerous.  Fuck that.  Fuck that with a ten-foot sonic screwdriver. This is a character who when played by Jon Pertwee - an actor with no little backstage clout who under which the Doctor was more authoritarian and downright Tory as he's been in any period throughout the show's run - spent several episodes of his second story being told a race of subterranean reptiles were murdering humans only to try to shake the hand of the first Silurian he met.  The Doctor is the ultimate deterrent.  He is not a weapon for UNIT to point at things they've yet to understand.

Miles' key objection to "The Unquiet Dead" was that the Doctor, initially friendly towards the Gelth, admits that Rose was right to be unthinkingly xenophobic, because on this one occasion that kind of knee-jerk bigotry happened to be correct.  Had JM Keynes still been alive, he'd have gone round to Gatiss' house and personally punched him in the face for that. "Innocent until proven guilty" does not become a stupid principle once it turns out someone is, in fact guilty.  Keynes understood that.  The law understands that.  The Doctor understands that, except that Chibnall thinks the Doctor would wish he'd burned every single alien interloper before he'd actually discovered their malign intent.

I mean, sure, I've watched enough film and TV to know that cubes are rarely good news:

but allowing the Doctor to buy into our provincial xenophobia implicitly justifies it - and if a story has a Godlike alien operating under a clear principle unchallenged by anyone or anything, then that's at least an implicit justification - and that misses the point of the series by several light years.

The Doctor spends a year on Earth, ignoring all the other possible adventures he could have, all the other people he could save, because he's worried an influx of confusing alien artifice might turn out to be bad news for his British friends.  Roll that around your head for a while.  Then add in the idea that the cubes were clever enough to pretend to be benign for a while because people would hope for and assume the best until it was time for the dark-skinned interlopers to show their true nature.

Fuck, as I may have said above, that.

Also: suggesting someone from south of Lincolnshire was responsible for Yorkshire pudding?  That's the most racist racism of all, right there. For shame!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Friday Talisman: How The Fuck Does One Swash, Anyhow?

Hot on the heels of the fearsome werewolf; a guy in silly clothes waving a sword around. Bathos, thy name is random choice of Talisman miniatures to paint:

 Also just out of the oven: things get worse and worse aboard the Sin of Damnation's corridors (and not just because that Terminator has apparently found wooden decks with bulkheads made of cheap cardboard)...

and the Heldenhammer continues to slowly approach completion, or at least the point at which everything will be glued on and so harder to lose.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Well That's Alright Then

Shorter Nick Clegg: I promise I've learned that promises are bad, and I promise I won't make any more promises unless my party promises it's something they can promise. Pinky swear!

Presumably by "no easy way to say this", he means the difficulty in sneaking this past anyone capable of putting on a hat unaided.


I'm really not sure how to feel about this. On the one hand, this is clearly despicable propaganda assembled by the dog-hating forces of naughtiness, who would have us believe the rules of human society can hold these magnificent canine specimens as they stand over our civilisation like colossi, and occasionally lick their balls.

On the other hand, them doggies sure is cute.

There's one for cats, too, obviously, but this too is propaganda, merely in the other direction.  A site showing real feline criminals would look much more like this:

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Forever Whatever

As I continue to run through my backlog of books bought for me by people with rather faster book rates than mine, I've taken another visit to the Jamie pile, and made my way through Joe Haldeman's Forever trilogy, Forever War, Forever Free, and Forever Peace (that's the order they're presented in the omnibus, which is neither publication order nor narrative order, mainly because ...Peace isn't anything to do with ...War or ...Free, except thematically, kinda).

The Forever War, of course, is generally considered to be one of the all-time classic science-fiction novels, and I have no intention of upsetting that particular apple-cart.  It's fast, it's streamlined, and it uses its one big idea - an interstellar war requiring relativistic speeds means soldiers get shore-leave once every few centuries from Earth's perspective - allows Haldeman to cram the narrative with all sorts of smaller ideas, though that phrase does him a disservice; most of the strange forms of Earth William Mandella returns to could easily support entire novels on their own. The worst thing to be said about it is that there's a trace of sexism underlying some of this - women are fully integrated into the army but expected to screw male soldiers any night they ask for it (though they can choose from the assembled line-up).

This makes for uncomfortable reading, especially how low-key its presentation is, as though it's just something that happens now.  That said, the the book is first-person, and so well-realised that criticism of the book's approach here can be sidelined into criticism of Mandella's worldview, which indeed the book does later on, during a nice exchange when he finds himself in a future in which almost the entire population is homosexual: "Yes, your profile shows that you... think you're tolerant."

Beyond that niggle, and an ending that stops a few millimetres short of completely making sense, there's nothing much more to complain about. Well, maybe one could spend some time wondering whether it's true that given the choice, an army would rather have postgrads as foot-troops, but then Haldeman has both a physics degree and military experience, and I most certainly do not.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Another Turdbrick In The Wall Street Pocket

Let's briefly dip into the teacher's strike going on right now in Chicago. Charlie Pierce has the jig pretty well nailed down here in any case, but it's worth summarising and repeating: anyone who looks at a profession suffering combined funding and recruiting crises and figures the best thing to do is start reducing the work-force has replaced their brain with bubbling tar.

One of the biggest problems in education - and I admit upfront I only have anecdotal evidence to link my experiences to that of teachers in Illinois - is that the best teachers are often found at the best schools.  This can hardly be considered surprising, of course, this kind of like-with-like clustering is true of almost any profession other than politics and whatever the fuck Mitt Romney tells himself he did before he spent seven years telling people he should be president because black people hate working for a living.

What this means in practice is the better the school, the easier it will find it to replace a teacher they don't think is bisecting the brassica seeds. Which inevitably makes it harder for the schools not having so good a time of it.  Schools that would melt your face if you spent ten minutes in their playground.  Schools where Cthulhu would cry into his tentacles if they asked him to cover a PE lesson.

These schools are often filled with wonderful pupils, and wonderful teachers, doing their best under circumstances that would crack most of us like a tea-cup between Megatron's thighs. This is a better recipe for producing Bolivian throat-warbling than it is high test scores.

So what happens when all those teachers get fired? Who do you persuade to replace the people who just got shit-canned for having miserable working conditions and stress levels that tend to be one student assault away from turning teachers into that poor fuck from Scanners?  These places are already hurricanes of anguish and exhaustion and ingratitude and actual physical danger (a colleague of mine was once poisoned by a student who'd showed up early for a voluntary GCSE revision session), and the best idea these people can come up with is to decrease job security? You might as well try and deal with a beef shortage by banning goat meat.

Teaching is a tough job. Not everyone who wants to do it is going to be able to. It is not clear to me how we address this by making it less likely people are going to want to try.

P.S. Charlie is on the money with his observations about average wage, as well.  It's always been a favourite tool of the right to utterly screw half the people over, then use their anger to justify screwing over the other half in the name of "fairness" (which, as Tomsk pointed out a while ago, is a concept which Cameron and Osborne have as much interest in as the ratio of gases in the Horsehead Nebula).  And right now it's certainly not a trick limited to the the right-wingers in government over the pond, either.

Monday, 17 September 2012

We Shall Consult The List

For those desperate for more information as to why that last post kicked off with so much rage: what's wrong with you?  Still, I'm going to tell you, because the last 36 hours have been a horrifying shit show in all ways but one, but that one is damned important.

So, in chronological order:

  1. Fuck you, Easyjet.  If you're running two flights within 25 minutes of each other, and you have a 45 minute queue at check-in an hour before the first of those flights closes its gate, you may wish to have more than two desks in operation. A third desk for "speedy boarding" does not count, unless you can summon up the brainpower to realise that when the line for speedy boarding includes no passengers, that desk can take some of the prole overflow.  It is the ease with which that desk can be reached that some people will pay more for.  The desk itself is indistinguishable from the others, save the fact that a fucking idiot is sitting behind it.
  2. Fuck you, Munich Airport. Your signs are confusing and infrequent, and your insistence on multiple security checkpoints with letter designations in addition to your check-in desks with lettered designations seems deliberately unhelpful.  That said, though, the real reason you're in the shit is for running three passport readers when three flight-loads of people are trying to get through, two thirds of whom just got delayed at check-in by a jellybrain. Further fuck-you points are awarded for letting people push in if they're on a fractionally earlier flight than those further back, because these errant fuckwits decided that with half an hour before their gate closes the best plan would be to pick up a Big Mac and fries.

    Oh, and fuck you, woman who took my bag at security.  There's hundreds of people trying to get through behind me, and you're moving at a snail's pace and getting shirty with anyone clearly trying to keep things moving.  The most important lesson to learn from House is that you can only be a twatasaurus if you're actually any good at your job.
  3. Speaking of which, fuck you, surveyors who my landlady employs.  Don't think the fact I don't know your name is getting you off the hook.  When I phone in a possible leaking/decomposing bathroom ceiling, I expect you to show up even if it is a Saturday.  Failing that, I expect that, when you finally bother to show up, you will successfully diagnose the condition of my ceiling.  You will not go home,  tell my estate agents that there's no real hurry, and put your feet up with a beer whilst my fucking ceiling collapses.

    Replying to messages left on a Monday morning saying "Our tenant informs us his fucking ceiling has fucking collapsed, you fuckers" would also be a good idea.  There's no reason why the rest of the ceiling won't come down any minute.  Or even the guy upstairs.  Which would be unfortunate.  He's a prick.
  4. Fuck you, the guy upstairs.  You're a prick. I hope this time around I won't have to explain to you that legal liability extends to things you're responsible for even if you don't give a shit about them.
  5. Fuck you, Sky Go. If you're going to spend twenty five minutes (at the very least) buffering every time you reach an ad break, you could at least not randomly restart the program every now and again, only to take longer buffering the second time around.  Took me four hours to watch The Newsroom and Supernatural yesterday. It's fortunate circumstances had ensured this could not eat into bath time.
So that's everything that really pissed me off since yesterday morning.  Except for one more thing, which was that an extremely good piece of news looked distinctly wobbly for most of today, for reasons we won't go into.  Fortunately, it all came together in the end, so it can now be announced: The Other Half and I are moving in together.

This is my first time living with someone I've had any interest in kissing (sorry Louise! Sorry Susie! Sorry my sister!), so I expect it will be a most instructive experience.  Depending on start dates for her new job, TOH and I could be ensconced as early as next month, or as late as New Year.  More details nearer the time, if only when I start panicking over not being able to scratch my testicles with my egg-whisk anymore, or whatever.

Hilarious update: visited the bathroom at midnight to find it was raining in there, meaning these people not only failed to predict my ceiling collapsing, but rather exaggerated when they suggested leaking wasn't going to be a problem.  Though in fairness, the guy above might have just lied about getting it fixed, like the turd he is.  This is so fun!

The Quick And The Presumed Dead

I'm catching up on my stories, now that I've arrived safely from Munich (just about; fuck Easyjet and Munich Airport, by the way), and first on the list was this.  Well, actually it wasn't, but it was first on the list that I actually got to see (fuck Sky Go, as well).

From what little I've seen of fan opinion whilst being away, this seems to have been the least well-received of the three episodes from this season to date. I'm not entirely inclined to disagree, though I think that says more about the first two episodes being fairly strong (despite my reservations regarding "Asylum of the Daleks"), and this one being perhaps a little too silly. No, Doctor, you do not speak horse.  Shut it down.

Really, though, "A Town Called Mercy" is only particularly disappointing because it has so many excellent concepts but fails to make them mesh.  I'm not talking about Wild West cyborgs, obviously. I know a certain section of fandom (those endlessly irritating people who confuse a show determined to include children in its audience with a show only children can be qualified to judge) always argues any recycled idea is fair game since the kiddies won't have seen it before, but robots in the Wild West are so ridiculously common that at a certain point you have to just accept their use as being a wee bit uninspiring.

Nor of course am I talking about the Doctor being mistaken for someone or something else following his "death", a trick the new season has pulled twice in three episodes, possibly in an attempt to make even Russell T Davies seem light-touch with his ideas by comparison.

No, what made this episode close to something special was the same thing that dragged it down: the confusion inherent in deciding who gets mercy, and who does not.

(Spoilers after the fold.)

Friday, 14 September 2012

Radio Munich 2012

Huzzah! One more Munich maths workshop done and dusted. This one was a real killer; got an awful lot done, planned some exciting new collaborations, and drank my own weight in German beer (and then measured the resulting increase in my weight and drank that too). I only just have enough energy left to type, (which in truth may be at least tangentially connected to being challenged to a drinking competition last night by some poor sod who'd never heard of Teesside - it's a shame BigHead wasn't there to warn him, though this way I at least got the other half of his 12% beer when he suddenly felt compelled to leave the bar), so I'm pretty glad it's quitting time. As is Mark Erelli:

That's from his 2008 album Delivered, by the way, which has more than a couple of really strong tracks on it.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Eastbound And Dino

As previously mentioned, I'll be in Munich from this evening until next Sunday afternoon.  Again, I'd expect little in the way of posting, especially as I really want to get some work in on the other blog before it gets too dusty.

Also, since I have no intention of writing a full post about it, a quick comment on last night's Doctor Who: Chris Chibnall turned in a career-high script that finally wasn't noticeably more prosaic and/or terribly written than what surrounded it (though I'll admit having a soft spot for "42").  That said, I'm not sure this is evidence he's finally rearing his head above the level of basic competence, so much as it's proof that being handed dinosaurs, spaceships, and Mitchell and Webb is a brief not even the guy who wrote "Cyberwoman" could screw up.

Also, Mark Williams managed to do much better here than
in Being Human, for which we should all be grateful.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Five Things I Learned In Dublin

1. Irish pelican crossings are awesome.  They start off with a laser noise straight out of Buck Rogers, and shift into a repeating burble most reminiscent of giant ants scurrying around in '50s B movies.  There's also a yellow man in-between his two more famous colleagues, though he doesn't really bring anything to the party.
2. If you tell a Dublin folk singer you're from County Durham (which I'm not, but close enough), his first response will be to demand you shut down Sellafield.  I mean, I'm not completely against the idea of invading Cumbria, but...
3. The coming-next-year Guinness Lager Black is terrible, far and away the worst lager I've ever tasted. Saying that, it's still less hideously undrinkable than Guinness itself, so I suppose that's progress.
4. The largest pint glass in the world has a capacity of 14.3 million pints.  Whether one is enraged by the liberties this takes with the English language, or is relieved to have escaped the monumentally ugly phrase "pint-glass shaped glass" is a personal choice.  Either way, said glass has openings every few metres, so it's totally fucking useless independent of linguistic convention.  Damn fine view from the top, though:

5. There is a peacock roaming Dublin zoo that's become a sufficiently permanent fixture to be given a name: Percy. In the early afternoon he can be found among the Humboldt penguins, stealing their food.  I'm not sure all the tail feathers in the world are going to get him laid when he comes at peahens with his stinky fish breath, but ornithological mating rituals are somewhat out of my wheelhouse.

Deep Thought: Do What Thou Wilt Edition

Just outside our hotel in Dublin I came across a poster announcing "An anarchist world is possible." The bottom half had been torn off, so I don't know who or what was responsible for this campaign, but I'd like to take this moment to announce that I agree.

On the other hand, an anarchist world wouldn't be all that different from a world of synchronised orgasm: it'd be hell to arrange, you'd be trying to get people to co-operate in self-gratification, you couldn't possibly keep it going for more than a few minutes, and the mess after it all came to an end doesn't bear thinking about.

Still a better idea than Tory rule, though, obviously.

Friday Talisman: Hungry Like The Wolf


I hope everyone's been behaving themselves these last few days.  The werewolf has agreed to savage anyone who has stepped out of line.  I'll be handing him a list once I've checked up on you all.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Westward Bound

Light or even no blogging over the next four days, chaps/chapettes, as The Other Half and I are hopping over to Ireland, to spend some time among drinkers who really know what the fuck they're doing.  My battered remains will be back on Friday, just in time to sober up and fly to Munich, where the beer and red squirrels run freely.

Sometimes it is tough to be me...

Monday, 3 September 2012


This has to smart, having a guy who won a Nobel Prize in the discipline you're supposedly conversant in tell you you're not just wrong, you're not just an idiot, but you're so idiotically wrong you bring to mind a man who'd be a punchline in America were he not so appallingly dangerous.

Makes you wonder if Osborne likes Rage Against the Machine, too.  Or games of Cornhole.  Or legislation stopping rape victims getting abortions.

D CDs #498: This Single Point In Time

Number #498 of the Rolling Stones "Greatest Albums of all Time!" list that we're using (having eschewed the most recent iteration because I'm interested to see how many of the discs there were clearly thrown in due to contemporary hype), it's the Stone Roses' debut.

Four albums into this series (having accidentally covered #492 first, like an idiot), we come to multiple milestones in the list: the first album I've heard, the first album I've owned, and the first album I've loved almost unconditionally.  And even when I say "almost", I just mean that you could remove "Elizabeth My Dear" from the track list and literally no-one in the world would mind.

So let's do that, then.  "Elizabeth..." is a pointless minute-long re-write of "Scarborough Fair", in which the original lyrics about going to buy herbs and telling some woman you're friends with her ex-squeeze have been replaced with an entirely uninteresting anti-monarchy rant.  "I won't rest 'til she's lost her throne", Ian Brown tells us solemnly, which is pretty funny when you remember he rested for five fucking years before he even bothered getting round to a second album, which John Squire did all the work for anyway.  "It's curtains for you, Elizabeth, my dear" he tells us, followed by the snip of a silenced pistol, perhaps added for fear that the song would prove too difficult to interpret without sound effects.

In short, it's one of the kinds of song I dislike intellectually rather than emotionally; staking out a once-controversial position without depth or subtlety.  "God Save The Queen" had bite in 1977.  In mid 1989, just 30 months before the start of Ms. Windsor-Gl├╝cksburg's "annus horribilis", this is tepid and pointless, like those early 21st century Madonna gigs where she despoiled various Catholic icons [1].  Either do something really shocking, or have an intelligent point, or fuck off.

Let's consider our new version of The Stone Roses - all of 59 seconds shorter - then.  Well, , now we're talking.  The album kicks off with possibly the best four opening tracks of any record I've ever heard, and finishes just as well with the sublime double of "This is the One" and "I am the Resurrection".  It's tough to describe exactly why these six songs are so wonderful - though the strange move of writing one of the best guitar-pop tunes of all time and then just playing it backwards for the very next song is a move of astonishing confidence that works out beautifully - both because it's easier to work out how things fail than how they succeed, and because after listening to them so many times in the last decade I'm just too close to the subject.

One can gain some clues, though, by listening to Second Coming and figuring out why that album by and large doesn't work.  A lot of it is in the change to Brown's delivery; more of a sneering snarl than the soaring melancholy of, say, "Waterfall".  Squire's riffs are no less crisp, but here his guitar grumbles rather than chimes or echoes.  Those are obvious changes, though.  Less noted but just as important is the relegation of the rhythm section, who seem to simply set the pace where once they built atmosphere.  Just listen to the space they carve out as the album lopes through its long, sublime intro, accompanied by the slow sighs of an electronic breeze.  This isn't a song, it's a place where a song lives when you're not listening to it.  We don't play it, we visit.  It's ninety seconds before Squire first moves his plectrum, and the song needs every one of them.

They play a similar trick in the early stages of "This is the One", and join up with Squire's endlessly inventive chicanery at the close of "I am the Resurrection".  There's a distinct feeling here of four separate artists, all at the absolute top of their game.  Fairly or not, Second Coming sounds like three guys willing to humour John Squire. 

Crucially, it's also the album in which the band sound overly arrogant.  That might be a strange accusation to level at their sophomore effort, considering their first disc ends with a song in which Brown announces "I am the resurrection and I am the life!" - now that's how you provoke people - but what makes it bearable the first time around is partially their total willingness to fess up to what's going on here ("I wanna be adored", indeed), but mainly the fact that they're every bit as good as they're claiming to be.  The certainly of one's own brilliance almost always comes back to bite you in the end - and it's worth noting even here that the middle of the album is merely entertaining and little more - but in these moments, stretched across two studios in London and one in Wales, there's just no way to claim they didn't earn the right to front like all hell.
Nine and a half tentacles.

[1] Someone at the time (I've long forgotten who) pointed out that if she really wanted to be provocative, Madonna should switch all the Christian iconography in her stage show to their closest Islamic equivalents.  This would, indeed, have created uproar.  It also would have demonstrated how tasteless the whole enterprise was.  I'd have objected to actually doing it, because I'm not at all comfortable with the idea of a white girl from Michigan insulting a religion she isn't intimately familiar with, but that's just one more reason to drop the idea entirely.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Remember Me?

If I have understood the internet's endlessly fascinating argot correctly, I believe the apposite term here is "meh."  Taken entirely on its own terms, "Asylum of the Daleks" probably wouldn't have struck me as worth writing anything about, which as a Moffat season opener would be more than a little surprising.  The whole thing had an air of the perfunctory, which again isn't great news.  The latest iteration of the Robomen was suitably creepy, and the dust-buried Daleks within the asylum itself were tremendously atmospheric, but creepy and arresting images are what Moffat does in his sleep.

Maybe I'm just spoiled after two seasons of Who which stand up as among the best in the show's history, but watching the seventh season opener, suddenly finding the quick-fire quirk of Moffat dialogue wearying in its familiarity, I couldn't shake the question: "Is this it?"

(Spoilers below)