Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Dog Bites Man (But Was Aiming For Bacon Butty)

Via Balloon Juice, important new research has been revealed to the public in the field of studying doggies:
The dogs that are most bonded to their owners turn out to be most likely to observe their owner in order to steal food.
This reminds me of something an old colleague of mine - a Russian mathematician, with all that implies - used to say: "This is not only obvious, it is possible to prove."

Or, as someone once put it:

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Brave Attempts

Given my well-known dislike of Scotland and curly-haired redheads, it's hardly surprising I haven't bothered catching up with Brave before now.  Indeed, for the last five or six months, it's been the only Pixar film I'd not seen (excluding sequels). I'm glad I've finally gotten around to watching it, but I don't think in twenty years time people will be talking about it as one of Pixar's greatest efforts.  Even Pixar's lesser offerings - say, for example, Cars - are entirely solid examples of 21st century film-making, and Brave belongs in the same category: it doesn't put much of a foot wrong, but these days that's not really enough, even if the world simply cannot have too many films featuring Kelly MacDonald.

In fact, perhaps the harshest thing I can think to say about the film is that it isn't as interesting as the reaction it sparked.  When details of the project first came out, it was noted that it was a missed opportunity for Pixar to base their first film involving a female protagonist around the story of an unhappy princess.  Where, it was asked, was the kind of imagination that created a world populated by talking cars, a rat with the desire to cook his own food, or the most astonishing impressive feat animation has perhaps ever managed; a heart-breaking assemblage of boxes and wires?

It's an interesting point, but I think it's missing the real issue.  Cars is about the nature of friendship, Ratatouille deals with how we chase our dreams, and Wall-E is... well, that seemed to be a case of starting with a character and building a film out of him, though given the character in question I don't see a problem with that.

Brave, in contrast, is about traditional gender roles.  And if a film is going to focus on that, replacing human characters with sentient vehicles or talking toys actually weakens the point, because unlike many of Pixar's other films, the aim is not to make a point about a universal concept (we all rely on our friends, we all have ambitions others would laugh at us for, we all suffer jealously when confronted by new people our friends seem to like more than us), but to argue against something that shouldn't exist at all. 

This is particularly true because the film makes the point that in the society in which Merida lives is one where her expected role is actually vital in keeping the peace.  To recognise her entirely reasonable desire to live the life she chooses does not mean ignoring the fact that at worst, her rebellion could lead to a civil war.  In the film as is, this makes Merida's mother more than just an obvious antagonist (however well meaning).  Were the film to exist in some clearly fantastical realm (as oppose to one that is almost our own, just with more people turning into bears than you might expect), you run into the problem of creating a world in which you want to talk about gender stereotypes in which you also suggest there might be a point to them.  That is, to say the least, problematic.

None of this is offered as a justification for Pixar's choice.  It's just that any problem that exists stems not from the choice of setting, but from the choice of theme.  The former follows pretty logically from the latter.  And whilst the question "Why did Pixar choose it's first female-led film to explore gender issues" is an interesting one, I think it's less damning than "What, a princess, really?" might suggest.

Indeed, the obvious problem with the film's focus lies elsewhere.  If you're going to put together a film about the difficulties faced by women in a patriarchal society, I think you rather undercut that by focusing on a girl who's unquestionably much, much better off than almost any man could dream of.  How do you think the men rowing their immensely fat chieftains across to the castle would respond to the idea that the child of the king might feel a bit limited in her choices?  You think the man who's stood so long at his post he's fallen asleep (allowing the king's sons to play a mean practical joke upon him) would feel terrible when he learned the richest wife-to-be in the entire realm might not get hitched to someone of her choosing?  What about the guys almost eaten by a giant demon bear because the king didn't choose his picnic ground a bit more carefully?

This is not to suggest we should be unsympathetic to Merida's position.  It's just worth noting that choosing a time period in which class distinction led to such deplorable and gigantic differences in life experience, choosing to focus on the absolute most luckiest girl in the kingdom and asking us to feel bad because her second greatest of all possible options would be better were she a man doesn't really strike me as particularly compelling.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

A Cyclone Of Control

Considering that ending, there was never much chance I'd spend this post talking about much else (at least now that my rage over Podgate has begun to abate).  But, as usual, not every instance of this episode's general theme was as obvious as the ceremonial transferal of control from one person to another.  Take a moment to check who's strings you pull, and who pulls yours, and then let's talk awhile about "And Now His Watch Is Ended".

(TV spoilers after the jump).

Exercises In Maths Smackdown

Just passing this along from Kevin Drum.  Like him, and an awful lot of other people, I don't believe anyone promising to cut government waste or demanding others cut it should be given the time of day unless and until they can give a single example of actual, you know, waste. 

Pissing away one four millionth of the budget isn't going to cut it.  Drum's example gets the job done expertly; a more cider-related analogy (and we're all about the cider here, Gods know) would be demanding a serving wench be replaced because she spills one millilitre for every ten thousand pints she pulls.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Nothing Bad Has Happened Since The Last Bad Thing

Via Balloon Juice, how are people still able to write comments like this that then appear in publications with editors?
Unlike Obama’s tenure, there was no successful attack [under Bush] on the homeland after 9/11.

Unlike Tiger Woods, Henry VIII was fairly reasonable husband after that second execution.

Unlike Roosevelt, Hitler didn't invade any countries after his Eastern Front collapsed.

Unlike under Grand Admiral Thrawn's leadership, the Empire suffered absolutely no setbacks after the destruction of two Death Stars, a Super Star Destroyer, and the Emperor's death.

As the good Shepherd Book might say: there's a place for people like Rubin in a very special hell.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Benioff And Weiss Are Terrible People

My thoughts on last night's Game Of Thrones episode are coming together ahead of schedule this week, so I hope they'll be up before the weekend.  Right now, though, I want to take a little time to discuss one particular scene, because it made me so utterly furious that including it with my other thoughts would derail the entire post.  So let's have a brief break from the ongoing storyline, and talk about sexism in Game Of Thrones.

TV spoilers below.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

A Tornado Of Transactions

With one of our characters getting themselves a promotion to Master of Coins this week, "Walk of Punishment" was always going to be an episode in which thoughts of economy and currency were going to intrude.  Apparently the show-runners weren't at all unafraid to jump into this particularly murky lake with both feet, though as usual some parts of the overall theme were less literal than others.  Check your coin-purse is secure and your allies have received their customary bribes, then, as we ask ourselves what's for sale, what the price is, and whether or not we can ever hope to afford it.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Radio Friday: Missing Links

The exact middle ground (well, kind of) between yesterday's D CDs review and the next one.  If nothing else, this series has led to some delightfully random comparisons.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

D CDs #488: Punk Fucking Rock!

At long last, in this increasingly rambling and autobiographical review of what may or may not be the best 500 albums ever produced, we get to a topic I can really sink my teeth into.

The music with which one most identifies is a major topic of conversation amongst the young, which means that the most common phrase I heard during my sixth form days could well have been "but you don't look like a punk". Actually, it's much harder to not look like a punk than they thought.  Like any artistic movement worth it's salt, punk has a philosophy bolted onto it, but like any musical genre worth thorough exploration, the philosophy and the material often only loosely hang together.  To limit punk is not punk.  "Question everything" does not mean "question everything so long as you're dangling safety pins from your mohawk".  I never understood why they never understood.

Punk is not about ring-fencing itself, it's about knocking down as many other fences as possible just to see what happens.  That's what makes the truly great punk albums such eclectic grab-bags of ideas and approaches.  Why else did the Clash finish up the joyfully eclectic nineteen-track London's Calling and say to themselves "we'd better make sure the next album's got some real variety to it"?

New Day Rising burst five years later from a similar ethos.  Want straight-up punk rock?  Try "Folk Lore".  Want to see why REM cite Husker Du as a major influence (and see how Idlewild's early days were sketched out a full decade earlier?  Check out "I Apologize".  Curious to hear the band accidentally inventing Yo La Tengo's entire career? "Perfect Example" is the cut for you!  And all of that is on the disc's first side.

So too is the ridiculously simple but ridiculously charged "New Day Rising".  It takes chops Joe Strummer would have been proud of to not just name an album after the idea of forging a new dawn, but the lead-off track as well, and then not even bothering to write any lyrics for it other than "New day rising!!!" over and over.  The mid '80s were never the creative wasteland they're so often described as, but with a culture obsessed with thoughtless avarice and a music scene chained to synthesiser banks the size of small cliff faces, Husker Du's third album promises a great deal.

It almost delivers.

The biggest problem with this "try anything" approach - as the Clash discovered - is that there's only so much casting around for new directions before you start to lose a tight grip on quality control.  The first side of New Day Rising could probably stand to lose "If I Told You" without anyone being too upset, but it's the second half that causes real problems. " 59 Times The Pain" is exactly the kind of uninspired trudge through distorted guitars Husker Du's "hardcore punk" label would suggest, and the final four tracks manage between them to utterly kill dead the album's momentum.  "I Don't Know What You're Talking About" is a respectable enough slice of punk, strangely paced though it occasionally is, but "How To Skin A Cat" weds fascinatingly disturbing lyrics to an utterly unbearable backing track (which may have been the point, but that doesn't really help), and both "Whatcha Drinkin'" and "Plans I Make" are merely formless shoutalongs.

It's not as though the tail end of the disc is without merit.  "Terms Of Psychic Warfare" brilliantly charts the course halfway between The Clash and Bob Dylan, using a Wurlitzer as a compass, and the two-punch combo of the spectral-but-muscular "Powerline" and the barroom stomp "Books About UFOs" is remarkably effective.  There's a tremendously strong (if very short) ten-track album in here, and even at twelve tracks you'd have something very tight.  Ultimately, though, as with Sandinista! four years earlier and Rancid's Life Won't Wait a decade and change later, the sprawl of invention eventually causes the bottom to fall out.

But hey.  Not fucking around with punk to the maximum extent is not punk.  If Brand New Day can't claim to be one of the best punk albums, it can certainly be regarded as an album of punk at its best.

Seven and a half tentacles.

Tragedy Business (Asshole Edition)

Holy crap, could the Fates consider giving America a break for a minute or two?  Nothing says a bad week for country like two fatal explosions on opposite sides of the country.  Like Erik Loomis, I have my own views as to what we might be able to deduce from the terrible events in West, Texas, but in the absence of further information I'd suggest now isn't the time to start waxing lyrical about causes - that'd be, you know, when the cause is known

Everything he says about zoning issues is obviously and immediately true, of course, but as sympathetic as I am to unions in general, and to Loomis's belief that stronger unions mean stronger safety records, I don't think this is the time to say Texas' hatred of unions is to blame any more than people should be hyperventilating on Twitter about the evil Muslims coming to destroy Boston.

Speaking of which, Kevin Drum passes along security expert Bruce Schneier's advice on what legislators should do in response to Monday's horrific events:
Sign me up for a slice of that, please.  This gets said after every terrorist attack, whether or not it's foiled in time, but then it always needs to be said: sometimes a murderous prick is going to get lucky.  That's a tough line to sell, and it's not remotely hard to understand why.  Still, it has the benefits both of being right, and being roughly thirteen million times less destructive than the standard freak-out of those paid to be sell guns or to push xenophobia, whose response to such hideous events I have summarised for you below.

Every. Single. Time.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Defying Explanation

Let me get this straight.  So this is the touching story of how eight different races got together and decided to live in harmony, partially because war is just so tiring, but maybe also so they had other people to shove under all the falling spaceship bits.  Or maybe to feed to the spiderdogs. Spiderdogs are a great idea, by the way.  They can fetch a stick and liquefy it with their venom sacs!  They can spin poop-bags from their own silk!  Agility classes only take half the time! And so on...

So like I said, there's eight races.  There's us, natch, and some sulking redheads, some sneaky white-haired sneering types, some albino IRA terrorists, a furry housekeeper, and Ludo from Labyrinth.  I don't know who the others are.  There's one roided-up bald guy who's got pneumonia so bad he's not just turned blue but his balls have apparently shrunk back into his anus, but I don't think he counts.  Even though he has numbers on his chest.

Anyway, between them these people have set themselves up a kind of frontier town, with the frontier being literalised as some weird shield-fence that presumably keeps out the spaceship bits and killer spiderdogs. Behind this barrier they spend all their time attending interpretive dance parties, watching people get beaten up, or going to the brothel to bang hot chicks.  This is totally fine and feminist, though, because in the future you're not allowed to pay some woman to pretend she enjoyed you fucking her unless you've had a shower first.  Girl power!

Speaking of girl power, though, at least the major of the town is a woman, so there's that, even if she (and everyone else) keeps saying "Feel me" all the time, which sounds stupid. Mind you, that's probably because in the future The Wire has become a religion, which is not only an awesome idea, but already true if you read the Guardian.

Meanwhile, Han Solo arrives with his adopted alien daughter Gingebacca, and they need cash so they can buy big enough guns and/or Winalot treats to deal with the spiderdogs, and recover the glowing d20 they've stolen from one of the crashed spaceship bits that blew up a little bit less than usual when it crashed. Post-terraforming First World problems, amirite?  Fortunately there's a man murdered by being half-dipped in brown paint for them to investigate, and an opportunity to relive old times by taking a reward and running before certain death arrives.  Princess Juleia Benz won't be happy!

Also there's some nasty robot monkeys wearing football helmets and/or tanks called the Bulge, I think. And a big tower that houses a giant hyper-dimensional game of Blockbusters (and no, two extra dimensions do not make up for the lack of Bob Holness).  Then everything explodes.

Is that about right?

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Mellon Collie And The Infinite Subsets

Found out yesterday that there's a guy working for BBC Midlands called Michael Collie. Presumably he's the one responsible for the Traffic Reports of Infinite Sadness, though in his defence, the potholes around here don't leave him much choice on the matter.

Whilst we're on the subject of history's greatest double album, let's talk about distillation.  I've heard a fair few double albums in my time (I'm talking double CDs right now, because that is how I roll), and almost all of them could've have had more impact if the artists had reined themselves in a little.  But how to assemble such a streamlined disc? 

Mellon Collie is the most obvious counter-example, and thus a perfect place to start: if we can do it to the Pumpkins magnum opus, we can do it to anything.

So here's the rules. Each of you can leave in comments up to five tracks from the album you consider utterly untouchable. Only one such vote guarantees the safety of a song: we are now the United Nations Security Council of Mellon Collie tracks.  Each of you may also leave up to five songs you'd not miss if they dropped off the album.  The final track listing will consist of those songs either no-one chose to drop, or at least one person chose to keep.

I've been running this idea for a few days already, and had a couple of responses.  My own choice for five essentials are "Zero", "Muzzle", "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans", "Thirty-three" and "1979", and I wouldn't bat an eyelid if "Here Is No Why", "To Forgive", "Love", "Tales Of A Scorched Earth" and "X.Y.U." were erased from the timestream tomorrow.

On the other hand, JJ wants so save "Fuck You (An Ode To No-one)", "Galapagos", "Porcelina", "Thru The Eyes Of Ruby" and "XYU".  This, tragically, already guarantees a place for "X.YU.", one of the worst songs ever created by human hands - and one that's desperately unfair to jackals, as well - but them's the breaks.  JJ is willing (for a given value of willing) to dispense with "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" (unacceptable!), "Love", "Cupid de Locke" (fair enough), "Take Me Down" (somewhere in America James Iha just started crying and he doesn't know why) and "Beautiful" (also fair enough).

But wait!  Fonz is here to complicate the issue, saving "Here Is No Why" (actually, there's a lot of why; like, WHY!?!), "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" , "Galapagos", "In The Arms Of Sleep" and "Thru The Eyes Of Ruby".  He'll also let me drop "Tales Of A Scorched Earth", which is something, I suppose.

As it stands, then we have two track lists. The absolute bare minimum are in green:

Tonight Tonight (Update: now safe thanks to Jamie)
Here Is No Why
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
Fuck You (An Ode To No-one)
Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans
Where Boys Fear To Tread
In The Arms Of Sleep
Thru The Eyes Of Ruby

We Only Come Out At Night
By Starlight
Farewell And Goodnight

At present our essentials would be a single album, but with only agreed upon chaff removed, we're still at the double album stage.  But c'mon, people!  There must be other Pumpkins fans out there.  Let's mindsmash this thing!  Once we've shaved off or saved a few more songs, it'll be time to start figuring out a new track order, and that's where the fun really starts...

Monday, 15 April 2013

A Mistral Of Masks

Of course, the disadvantage in taking the "slow reveal" approach to season openers demonstrated by "Valar Dohaeris" is pretty obvious: it's slow.  One fifth of the way through Season 3, and we're still just seeing the very start of some character's journeys.

Fortunately, that's not all we're seeing.  "Dark Wings, Dark Words" continued the theme of pauses for consideration - and to mourn - but more than that, it offered us glimpses behind a whole hosts of masks, generating revelations that will take us through this season and beyond. Some masks we've already seen behind, others we've long suspected we had deciphered.  Some were new to us, but more importantly, almost all of them were new to our characters, and we can learn a great deal from their reactions as these layers are penetrated, or unwound like the parchment from a raven's leg.

(Spoilers below, but I'll steer clear of discussing the books - this post is TV viewer friendly).

Sunday, 14 April 2013

A New Ice Age

Just a random assortment of thoughts about last night's Doctor Who.  Of course, once my thoughts enter your thoughts, there may be trouble if you have no thoughts of your own.  You know, because you haven't watched it.  Or you're an idiot.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Friday 40K: Senior Squid

Today on my paint bench,the long-delayed Space Squid Captain, who decided to push his way to the front of the paint queue after my last set of shots.  Painting a sword purple has always been one of my dearest dreams, and I'm delighted that I've finally managed to get it done.




Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Dawn Of The New Iron Age

After I posted yesterday's comments on the passing of Thatcher, I found the topic still weighed on my mind quite a bit.  Once again, not so much the actual event, as the media storm surrounding it.  I spent some time on the drive to work this morning pushing things around in my head, but ultimately I think Glenn Greenwald and djw have pretty much nailed what I wanted to say.  Even leaving aside the breathtaking hypocrisy on show - there is zero chance, none, that Louise Mensch won't be an intolerable dribbling arse on the day someone she hates dies - the problem with all this ink spilled in condemnation of people spitting on Thatcher's legacy is that it's effectively ring-fencing hagiography and propaganda.  As the links above say, there are real-world consequences to the veneration of public figures - if a Roman citizen were transported to contemporary Washington DC, he would quickly conclude that Reagan were a local god - and asking those with philosophical and moral reasons to want to avoid such a occurrence to hold off for few days so the hacks can get a head start isn't something we should feel compelled to agree too.

There is, of course, a difference between criticising Thatcher's legacy and breaking out a hornpipe before her gravestone.  Even so, the idea that those celebrating a woman's death should be repeatedly criticised whilst those whitewashing the history of so divisive and destructive a figure be given a pass because we shouldn't speak ill of the dead strikes me as far more insulting than any number of poor-taste jokes.

And as for the idea that we should all be playing nicely in our various sandpits because we should feel bad for Thatcher's family: bullshit.  Margaret Thatcher's family have suffered the kind of horrible loss that sooner or later every family feels.  That is undeniably real, and horrible.  But whilst they suffer following the death of a loved one, they do it from the exceptionally fortunate position of having no kind of problematic financial repercussions to work through, and they do it from the immensely rare position of being surrounded on all sides by media voices telling the world that they're loss is shared by millions around the world, who will be keeping them in their prayers.

When my mother dies, maybe a few hundred people will give a shit.  My mother, who has dedicated her life to helping her family and her community, who writes books about the importance of coming together as a town and as a church to help others, will if she's supremely lucky get a couple of lines in our local paper.  Many of the people who would be not just bereaved but financially imperilled by the loss of a love one because of Thatcher's actions will get still less than that.

Greenwald quotes David Wearing's satirical comment from yesterday: "People praising Thatcher's legacy should show some respect for her victims. Tasteless."  It's not just a nice reversal, it's the very heart of the matter.  Hundreds of thousands of people are worse off in this country today as a direct result of Thatcher's policies.  Some of them, in fact, will be bereaved right now, as lives lived under the crushing weight of economic ruin and social disinterest wink out like any other light.  Today, we're told, is not for those losses.  Those losses don't matter.  No-one knew who they were.  Those are not the families we are to spend the next few days sympathising with.

The idea I shouldn't point this out because a bunch of very well-off people directly benefited by the exact same political moves that laid waste to an entire quadrant of England and God alone knows how much of Scotland might feel bad about it is one of the most offensive ideas I've heard in quite some time.  Fuck, as they say, that.

Monday, 8 April 2013

The End Of The Iron Age

The death of Margaret Thatcher has divided us all.

There are basically four main camps of reaction; those same four camps that spring up whenever any major political figure passes away.  There's the one's who genuinely feel a great person has passed beyond the mortal veil, that someone for whom our country is better off is no longer drawing breath.  I have nothing to say about those people other than to note how violently I disagree.  The second group are simply noting that they're not particularly affected by the news.  That's actually the group I fall into, or at least I would, if the resulting shitstorm hadn't drawn so much of my attention.

The other two groups are those that are actively celebrating the news, and those that are criticising those that are actively celebrating the news.  And it's those reactions that I wanted to linger on for a little while.  Because there's a world of difference between not liking the idea of celebrating another human beings death, and actually telling the people doing the celebrating that they are bad people for doing it.

In between the autumn of 2002 and the summer of 2003, I did my teacher training in two schools in County Durham whose catchment areas were either exclusively or almost exclusively former mining towns.  And it was just heartbreaking.  An entire generation of school children just marking time until they could go on the dole like their parents.  Hundreds and hundreds of young minds convinced there was nothing for them in this world except to drink and smoke and fuck and collect their benefits until they died of old age or were stabbed to death on the high street.  Like any other school, these places had their smarter kids and their less smart kids, the motivated and the unmotivated.  Living in those areas wasn't a death sentence, or an inescapable prison, and I'd be doing great damage to suggest otherwise.  Some could and did find their ways out.  Others could and did stay in these places where they were born and make something of their lives.  This was not a Dickens novel, written to prove a point.  It was messy reality where hope was something one had to scrabble to find.

The damage done by Thatcher's government in those places is as clear today as it was in 2003, or it was in 1993.  I am not immune to the arguments that say Thatcher does not deserve all the blame, but a historical debate on the true complexities of the early '80s political scene is not something I'm angling for here.  The point that I am making is that for over twenty years, the worst parts of the worst places in Washington and Spennymoor, or in Willington and Crook, have basically been ignored by the country in general.  For almost three decades it must have seemed to them that no-one in the wider UK gave two shits that the Conservative government ripped out their economic innards and left them to bleed to death in the cold.

Now that Thatcher has died, we're suddenly all paying attention again. We've remembered.  Those that have spent a generation remembering the effects of Thatcher's government every day - because they are still living through the aftershocks - are now being watched by a thousand thousand hawks ready to criticise the ferocity of their refusal to mourn. I know a lot of those observers have the very best of intentions, and want nothing more than to live in a world where the passing of a senile old woman doesn't cause a spike in the consumption of champagne and Doritos.

But too many of these self-appointed guardians of civility come from outside the working class.  Too many come from outside the barren, nicotine-stained North East.  Too many of them have only realised that those horrifically damaged by the Thatcher government still exist so that they can lecture them on the finer points of public discussion.  Every post by every white middle class guy telling those haunted by Thatcher's legacy that they should be nicer about the chief architect of their economic hellstorm might just as well have written "Christ, are you still here?"

I don't want to be the guy who celebrates the death of another human being. But that's nowhere near as bad as being the guy who tells people who've experienced the sky falling on their communities heads again and again over two dozen years and change that they should be reacting to this news the way I think least gauche.

Because two weeks from now almost everyone will have forgotten about the jokes and cheers that rippled out across the country this day.  And I can guarantee you almost everyone will forget about what motivated that reaction faster still.

Except, of course, for the ones that can't.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

A Storm Of Selah

It's that time again! It's a new year, and a new opportunity to dissect the Game of Thrones season opener and pointlessly attempt extrapolation as to the quality of the next nine episodes.

Which of course is my way of admitting up front that there's little point in trying to do that. Given the sheer density of and variation in plotlines the show needs to juggle, the pattern it seems to have fallen into was probably inevitable: bring the hammer down in episode 9, spend the season finale shuffling things into place for the next season, then spend the following season's premiere reminding people exactly where that shuffling left everyone. Given that there's not really a great deal to talk about regarding "Valar Dohaeris", any more than "The North Remembers", other than to ask how well it fulfilled its thankless but unavoidable task.

Well, that's not quite true...

(Totes spoils below, obvs.)

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

I Am Not A Bigot

I've been havering for a while about writing this post, because it seems sometimes that there's no-one left in the country willing to have a sensible and serious conversation on the subject of marriage.  It's all too easy to point fingers yelling "hatemonger!" the instant a dissenting view is proffered; sitting snugly in one's cocoon of moral righteousness rather than leaning forward to hear the thoughts of the silent majority.

Well, I will be silent no longer.  I have consulted my conscience, and I have consulted religious leaders of far greater wisdom and comprehension than you or I, and I have come to an inescapable conclusion: Marmite eaters should not be allowed to get married.

Already I hear the howls of the outraged as they skim those words, preparing to launch screed after badly-composed screed against me in my comments section, demanding I confess to secret  yeastophobia, an unreasoning primordial hate clouding my higher brain functions.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I have not the slightest problem with those that love Marmite. Some of my best friends love Marmite.  I'm certainly not one of those people who objects to seeing Marmite being eaten, even in public, though I think I speak for many that it can creep us out to see it being done, and I don't think we should be judged too harshly for that.  After thirty-three years of eating no Marmite, it's hardly a surprise that I react to its nearby consumption with, well, surprise.

Despite this, however, I do not believe that Marmite eating is compatible with the institution of marriage.  Partially this is a matter of tradition.  Human society, and in particular the mighty civilisations of the west, have gotten on perfectly well without recourse to Marmite for thousands of years.  Alexander the Great conquered the known world with nothing smeared on his pitta bread but a light layer of honey.  Wellington smashed Napoleon from the face of western Europe, and he managed quite well with his marmalade, thank you very much.  For almost nineteen hundred years since the birth of Christ, not one single historical, technological nor sociological accomplishment of note was achieved by a man - or woman - with black yeast derivative smeared across their lips.

It is more than simply a question of tradition, however, for to nod to the practises of our forefathers cannot be enough in itself. It is the very central role marriage plays in society; a role so fundamental and foundational that one could hardly think of a worse candidate for headstrong sociological experimentation.  Were I to be married, and whilst sitting with my wonderful spouse munching hot buttered toast learn that the couple next door were tucking into Marmite-violated muffins, how could I enjoy my own breakfast?  Marriage is, at heart, about the sharing of one's experiences with one's partner, a promise to live one's life in the heart and soul of another.  How can that experience not be lessened by the realisation that the very nature of those experiences has become weakened by alternatives incompatible with our shared activities?

And will not someone, at long last, think of the children?  Marmite is still new to the world, still seen as different, as non-standard.  In time, like all new ideas, the world will come to tolerate it, even accept it, but that time is not this time.  How are children to explain to their friends that their parents voluntarily consume waste products not thought fit for the bottom of a Guinness Extra Cold cask?  How will they mask their shame at Sports Day when their beloved father pulls out a black-oozing sandwich and starts munching it during the egg and spoon race?  What damage could result when a child reaches puberty and their parents have to admit "We've never actually eaten jam, but we'll do our best to explain a Swiss roll to you"? 

If marriage is not to be a place of experimentation, that same truth must hold double for the raising of a family.  Particularly when doing so in what still remains, I believe, a strongly Christian country.  When Jesus took five loaves and used them to feed the multitude, did he whip out a jar of Marmite and ask for a butter knife?  No.  No he did not. 

At the end of the day, can any argument be more powerful?

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Balon Greyjoy Wasn't Even Born On The Mainland!

I know none of you slept last night out of eagerness to hear my thoughts on the Game of Thrones Season 3 opener, but you'll have to wait a bit for me to write that particular post (short version: best start to a season so far, but no more than solid overall).  In the meantime, how about enjoying another one of those fortuitous intersections of my particular obsessions: attack ads villifying various contenders to the Seven Kingdoms.

The demands to see Joffrey Baratheon's birth certificate are probably my favourite part, though there's a couple of other nods to the 2008 and 2012 US presidential elections hidden away in there too.  Also in there are spoilers for the first two seasons.