Friday, 30 August 2013

D CDs #484: Actually I'm Middle Aged; Thanks For Bringing That Up

This is one I approached with trepidation.  A CD best known for (essentially) two cover versions, one of which the album is named after?  That's enough to ring alarm bells.  Not for reasons of musical snobbishness - which isn't to say that isn't in the mix at all - but it's simple logic: if your best known songs are from other people, there's nothing to hang one's expectations on, and no baseline from which to work.

Let's get "Sweet Jane" and "All The Young Dudes" out of the way first, then.  Both are wonderful songs. Both are strong enough and important enough to generate a feeling of '70s life even for someone like me who only experienced the very end of the '70s, and that was while in utero.  None of this is in dispute.  The question is, though, how well do these songs hold up to the originals, or, in the case of "...Dudes", what we might plausibly expect the original to have been?

In both cases, the answer seems the same. Comparing this version of "Sweet Jane" to the Velvet Underground original, two things immediately stand out.  First, Mott the Hoople were a damn tight outfit when they needed to be.  The Underground had a tendency to play their stuff with a feeling of slight decompression, and always on the edge of unspooling. MtH replace this louche faux-indifference with a laser-like focus. Second, it turns out doing that drains the song of some of its charm.  I once had a friend who asked me why Stevie Jackson didn't sing every Belle and Sebastian song, his voice being so much clearer and stronger that Stuart Murdoch's.  The answer is here.  Songs are not quests for technical perfection, even if often - as here - there is some value in giving that a go.

"...Dudes" demonstrates the same... I don't want to say "problem"... quality. It runs entirely like one would expect a Bowie song to run if it was being played by an exceptionally good Bowie tribute act, but one where aping Bowie was more important than inhabiting him.  I know of no truly great cover song which is lauded for not straying too far from the original.

Be that as it may, though, Bowie made his choice, and MtH hit the result out of the park, for all I might suspect Bowie's own swing would have taken the song further still.  This seems to me the case for the album as a whole.  Even at its absolute least inspiring - the pleasant but drawn-out "Sucker", the filthy keyboard-led dirge of "Soft Ground" - what you have is a bunch of guys with immensely solid musical chops belting out smartly-crafted songs.  Hell, they even prove they can unwind where necessary with the tasty stoner-stomp "Momma's Little Jewel", though the aborted intro and associated bickering suggests they might be trying a little too hard to appear spontaneous.

In short, there is a great deal to like here, and more still to admire, even if such feelings tend to fade out rather earlier than the songs do. Finding things to love is a little harder.  "Jerkin' Crocus" and the aforementioned "...Jewel"  get the blood pumping (though the former's obsession with nads pulling and judo holds on the scrotum means any increase in a man's heart rate may simply be attributable to nerves), but elsewhere the disc is in danger of collapsing under its own weight.  Too much is too similar, and for too long. "One Of The Boys" is a nifty bit of glitter-heavy grooving but its false end four minutes in really should have been where it stopped for real. It and the other six-minute slices on offer here simply aren't interesting enough to sustain their momentum.  To be sure, picking on MtH for what was a common '70s approach - take a simple, funky idea and extend it to ludicrous lengths - seems a bit unfair, but if they wanted to avoid me sniping at them for it they should've written an album that got further into this list. A problem doesn't disappear once it seeps into the mainstream.

In the final analysis, it's only the waves of string and percussion lapping over Ian Hunter's lament on "Sea Diver" that troubles the disc's outsourced songs.  It's heartfelt, and it builds and fades with commendable speed.  It's proof that the band could indeed stand on its own two feet, that it didn't have to lean on Bowie and Reed to get the job done.  They had the chops after all to make a great album.

I just don't think this is it.

Five tentacles.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Bachman's Turning Overdrive

Via the utterly irreplaceable Charlie Pierce, this video is spectacularly childish but also about as funny as something can be when it focuses on the upcoming destruction of human civilisation.

Some of the comments below the video are just as hilarious:

"They would take over the free world with this hoax if everyone was as gullible as their converts."

"They didn't have the consensus to back Global Cooling so they literally just changed the name."

"Would you care to explain what caused the end of the ice age and melting of glaciers? No man, no power plants, no autos, etc."

"If you reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, what will take its place? Something must and you're just hoping it is good."

Every day it becomes more clear to me that our planet is nothing but a sitcom for other, less insane sentients to watch in fits of hysterics. 'Sit down and be quiet, podlings!  "Earth vs Earthlings" is about to start, and this is Sweeps Week, so they're bound to obliterate some low-lying Pacific islands at the very least!'

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Even Arrested Development Couldn't Make It Funny

I've always known that Monopoly is simply too horrifically dull a game to have been designed to entertain people, and via Erik Loomis, I finally have the proof.  It was dreamt up by Lizzie Magie at the start of the twentieth century, and it came with two rules sets: one where the aim is to have all the money and grind your opponents into the brick dust left over from building your hotels over their childhood homes, and another where the aim is to collectively generate wealth and live in a socialist utopia of your own construction.

No-one bothered playing the second game.

It's a really neat idea. Offer people the chance to work together or screw each other over and watch as they stampede towards the latter option, even at the expense of playing a shitty, shitty game.  Monopoly, it turns out, is the game our species deserves.  There is little even the most hardened cynic could say that would top that.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

A Tale Of Cocktails #40

Woo Woo

3 oz vodka
1 1/2 oz peach Schnapps
6 oz cranberry juice
1 lime wedge
Taste: 10
Look: 7    
Cost: 8
Name: 10
Prep: 8
Alcohol: 4
Overall: 8.2

Preparation: Combine ingredients with ice and stir. Add lime wedge to garnish.
General Comments: At last, we reach the apex of cocktail technology.  Something sweet, and tart, and with added citrus just in case you didn't get the message. It looks good, too, and while some people might object to ridiculous onomatopoeia like "Woo Woo", those people are dead inside.

This drink wins everything.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Horrb Truth About Engih

Whilst wasting time at work the other day Youtube was kind enough to recommend some clips from The Ricky Gervais Show.  Which was OK, I guess, if you're not bothered about two immensely rich and famous people basing a show around being a dick to their mate.

Which is pretty unfair, really, because Karl Pilkington is clearly a genius thinker, whose mind is simply too far beyond our puny comprehensions to understand.  His fear, for example, that we are gradually running out of words strikes me as entirely reasonable.  Consider, for example, that with only 26 letters, there can be only 456 976 distinct words. With over a quarter of a million words in our language, that's... er, well, that's enough, I guess.

Except shut up!  Every word has to have at least one vowel, right, or a "y" at least.  That excludes fully 160 000 words, leaving us with just under three hundred thousand words... which is still enough.  But that's still not good enough.  I can't imagine four letter words with three consecutive consonants catching on. There's a possible 96 000 of those, which gets us down to 200 976. And that's insufficient

Or is it? Not every word would have to be exactly four letters long, after all.  If we allow three letter words as well, that gives us extra options. There are 17 576 three letter combinations, though 8 000 of them have no vowels and can be discarded. That gets us to around 21 000 words, which is still not enough. We could add in two letter words (276) and single-word letters (the six vowels, say), but that's still not enough.

Which means, people of the world, that the English language cannot be condensed into a series of (theoretically, at least barely) pronounceable words of fewer than five letters! And once you insist on at least one vowel and no more than three consecutive consonants, there's only 676 1376 of those.

So, really, we could replace our entire dictionary with words of five or fewer letters, many of which the human mouth would have some chance of pronouncing!  I recommend this happen as quickly as possible, to allow us to sensibly track the progress of the language, and to drastically shorten all books in existence. Yes, many will object, but since the word "object" won't exist by the time we're done, it doesn't really matter. Er, mattr.  Right?

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Watashi Wa Wolverine Wakarimasen

Step one in any self-respecting hero's journey to Japan:
head down a well; fuck up Sadako.
Given my stated interests, I should probably say something about The Wolverine.  I'm finding myself oddly unmotivated, though.  Not because it's a bad film - it's definitely better than the first and third X-Men films, and there's a case to be made that it's better than it's predecessor.  I don't know where this malaise has come from.  Maybe the Avengers juggernaut and the surprisingly funny Iron Man 3 have set the bar a bit high. Maybe I've just seen enough superhero films for now. Maybe it's just that after almost three hours of dental surgery yesterday the film would have to really stink for it to really register.

And it certainly doesn't stink.  There's a lot to be said in its favour.  The frequent action scenes are tight, and the script is perfectly serviceable, if a wee bit workmanlike.  The Japanese setting is utterly gorgeous, but without the kind of dismissive "this is just a pretty view spoiled by weird locals" [1] approach American cinema took a long time to shake off, if indeed it every really did.  There's obviously a limit to how much cultural exploration one can fit into a film fundamentally about slashing shit with claws, but there's some nice little touches here, like the home-cooked meal scene, or the beautifully bizarre (and bizarrely shaped) hotel featured halfway through.

In most ways, then, The Wolverine is probably a better film than its predecessor, which in itself was a perfectly decent film.  There's just two problems that stop me from being more enthusiastic with the movie than I am (spoilers below):

Friday, 16 August 2013

In Which I Hate Everything

It's been kind of a shitty week for progressives, or really anyone with souls.  First off, Starbucks in the States decides there's just no fun in drinking a soy latte if you can't stir it with gun barrel.  Which, in itself is up to them, though I hope they make it exceptionally clear to their patrons just who it's' been decided they'll be safe sitting next to.  Of course, the NRA - one of those organisations so horrifically unpleasant at its highest echelons it's difficult to feel for those members who object to being lumped in with their mickity-mucks - decided this was reason to celebrate, and the best way to get their gun-lovin' a goin' was to head off for a day trip to the Starbucks at - and you know where this is going - Newtown.

The bloody-minded insistence that a country can only be safe when it's packing enough lead to sink Grenada (actually, they tried that in the '80s, I think) strikes me as pretty much entirely untethered from anything I can recognise as reality, but fair enough. People can believe it honestly, and they can believe it completely.  Showing up to gloat about their victories in a town that lost twenty six lives in a school shooting just eight months earlier?  That's about just wanting to be dicks.  Every time Aaron Sorkin gets on his high horse about liberals just plain not liking people who like guns, I think of instances like this, and I think "Well, gee, chief, why do you think that is?".

Naturally, when the Starbucks in question shut early, the NRA complained they were being victimised. Because freedom doesn't just mean getting to carry guns, it means being forced to sell coffee to gun-carriers who should be spat upon in the street.

(And not for nothing, but Charles Pierce absolutely nails it here: how can a Muslim-sponsored building near Ground Zero be a profound offensive to the survivors of 9/11, but sending armed caffeine-addicts into Newtown to remind them how utterly, completely their horrific tragedy has mattered to anyone with any power is what the Constitution is all about?)

Sticking with America and guns - because really, how could you run out of material that way? - we stumble across some delightful anti-abortion protesters (via Maha) who are attempting to get an abortion clinic in Wichita moved.  Their justifications for this contain two of the most perfect encapsulations of far-right thought I can remember reading:
[I]t is inappropriate for schoolchildren commuting past the clinic to see protest signs depicting graphic images relating to abortion.

[T]he South Wind Women’s Center is allowing volunteers to escort women into the clinic in hopes that they will harass the anti-abortion protesters outside and provoke a shooting. He said Julie Burkhart, the founder and owner of the clinic, would blame the incident on the protesters in order to raise money.
I'm not sure there's any point in playing Wingnut Bingo ever again.  What right-wing bromides, soundbites, insults or accusations could compare to these statements, these masters of the form.  This victim-complex as artwork.  Abortion protesters should get what they want because otherwise they'll show horrible photographs to passing children?  Volunteers are deliberately exposing themselves to gunfire so that if they're shot they can blame the protesters?  It's not that I've never heard this kind of argument before - I've seen Reservoir Dogs - but there's a reason "If they hadn't have done what I told them not to do they'd still be alive" is a line from an actor playing a psychopath rather than a comment offered to the local press.  It gets hard to listen to the far right complain liberals all think they're smarter than them whilst they also insist they can't be expected to see a worker at an abortion clinic offering support for victimised women without blowing their heads off.

Guns don't kill people, people doing things wingnuts hate where wingnuts can see it being done do.

But let's not pick on the US. Terrible arguments and terrible treatment of people is the sport everyone can get in on nowadays.  Unless they're gay, obviously.  To say that this is an unbelievably cowardly decision by the IOC seems a waste of breath, but it's the decision's basis in a rule banning "propaganda" that turns it from snivelling wretchedness into an out-and-out "fuck you".  Because in an entire country just been told to round up their homosexuals and keep quiet if it makes them queasy, nothing says "presenting only one side of an argument" like the idea there should be one building in six and a half million square miles where people can sit without fear of being beaten to a pulp for the crime of making Vladimir Putin feel icky.

Gods, but I loathe this world.

Friday Gothic: Angel's End

Time to head back to the stars with a third Blood Angels Strike Cruiser.

Alas, this might be the largest this fleet gets for a good long while, since Games Workshop have decided to a) stop selling Battlefleet Gothic miniatures b) tell no-one they were doing it.  The game still has pages on their website, they've just been taking down ships one by one - presumably as the back stock has been exhausted - as quietly as they can.  That this is a shitty way to deal with customers who will almost entirely be fairly long term is, of course, no surprise.

Monday, 12 August 2013

"Everyone Is Exactly Like Me, Right?"

If you get the chance, try reading this.  It's absolutely hilarious.  Well, it might be.  It might also be massively blood-boiling.  It depends.  But the whole thing is so utterly devoid of logic - people who shush you in cinemas is the real antisocial activity - that those are really your only two options. 

Bless him, Seitz has a go at taking this enormous pile of  self-entitled crap apart piece by piece, but really, such effort is pointless.  Dash is not a man with whom one can reason, because he quite simply cannot view the world in the way you need to if you're going to interact on the topic of your own behaviour.  He's like my friend who years ago came to my house for a video night (like I said, years ago) and talked his way through the film he didn't want to see, and shushed his way through the one he did.  He's the prick who turns up late to a party and immediately replaces the music a dozen people are listening to with whatever he's brought.  He's the inveterate gossip who becomes irate when he finds out others have discussed him behind his back.

He is, in short, the man who simply cannot grasp the fundamental concept that his own reality is no more valid than any other.  You'd think you could defeat this kind of nonsense by pointing out his interruptions are no more reasonable than those who interrupt him, but you'll get nowhere. What he does is fine because he does it.  You could point out that there are movies he'd hate to have interrupted, but he'll argue he's smart enough to wait for those to come out on DVD.  The fact that everyone taking that approach would mean anything more highbrow than The Smurfs would suddenly become financially non-viable is of no concern, because nothing has any consequences outside his own entertainment.

Still, maybe there's a way everyone can get their way.   How about we start having arsehole screenings.  They're half-price, and everyone gets to make as much noise and cast around as much light as they want. Meanwhile, everyone who messes with any actual films can be dragged into the streets and beaten to death with cinema hot dog buns.

And at long last, the world can be at harmony.

This Will Get Me A Thousand Hits Minimum

Because who am I kidding, y'all are here for the cute animals.  This here is my parents Old English Sheepdog, Molly.  The voice on the video is my father, demonstrating the power of positive reinforcement.  Which, considering last time they played together she ran into his leg so hard he was on crutches for weeks, is actually pretty good of him.

Further delightful images.

Greatest dog alive.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Stupid Has Degrees, Stupid!

I listened to Radio 4's Science, Right or Left this evening as I was driving back from a weekend of statistics and playing with children (not concurrently; that can lead to poor modelling choices and children pawing carelessly at colourful graphs).  It wasn't very good, annoyingly.  The topic was the reasons why various political positions find themselves at odd with science (by which is meant scientists), but no real effort went into trying to figure out why such conflicts arise, in favour of merely noting them.

In among the presenter shaking his head sadly that laypeople are too dismissive of scientists and scientists are too full of themselves, the BBC found time to construct one of the most awesome false equivalences I've seen them manage, utterly dropping the ball in the process.  Looking for someone to present the climate change sceptic side (itself a ridiculous term, but that's not Radio 4's fault), the programme trotted out someone to offer the old saw that there could be loads of research demonstrating global warming isn't our fault, if only the government would start funding it.

In fairness, that might just have been a pre-recorded soundbite, leaving the program makes no chance to directly point out to this guy the obvious flaw in thinking all science research is public funding.  And if you can't confront the commentator directly, there is perhaps some problem in inserting a comment immediately after to the tune of "Of course, this is transparent bullshit" [1].

Trying to fold it into a false equivalence in the hope of seeming balanced, though?  That's pretty weaksauce.  With the utter refusal of wide swathes of the international right to countenance the possibility of climate change, it was time to look at a more left-wing phenomenon: profound suspicion of GM food.

Now, I know almost noting about the ins and outs of GM.  I haven't anything even close to an informed opinion. Maybe it's entirely safe, and those who don't believe that are terribly misguided, I've no idea. But the central tenet of those that object to GM is this - private enterprise has strangled fair research on the topic.

See the trick?  The right thinks vast international coalitions with access to phenomenal monetary and political resources have too little power.  The left thinks they have too much power.  A pox on both their houses!

The program is even good enough to make this explicit by asking one of the GM haters why he believes scientists are wrong about GM but right about GW. A more sensible way to phrase the question would be "If commercial interests failed to throw enough money at the theory of climate change to kill it, why do you think they have managed  it here?"  Because, you know, fair question.

But any time you're trying to argue politicians being in hock to the rich and powerful is as deluded as the idea that politicians ignore those people completely, then it's not just those can't tell a scientist from a snake-oil salesman who need to be paying more attention.

[1] This is the only explanation for why the programme rebroadcast Owen Patterson's claim from his Any Questions appearance that there has been no climate change in the last seventeen years without adding "In the same way that there's less light pollution this century because we haven't had another Tunguska fucking Event".

Friday, 9 August 2013

Dawkins Go Home

Can we please retire Richard Dawkins, already?

Look, I get that he has his uses.  There are plenty of people in the world who are under more social pressure - or even threat, explicit or otherwise - than myself, and certainly many people with a more valid beef with religion than my own - I regret my parents having taken me to church for fifteen years, but the worst it ever led to was severe boredom.  For these people, having a strident voice calling out various religious figures for their inconstancy and refusal to aid society's ills (or even to add to them) makes sense to me.

But just as I get tired of the constant broadsides against religion itself - which, unlike specific religious figures, cannot possibly be dismissed as a clear negative; whether it's actually a net negative is a question way above my pay grade - one can't simply point to the fact that Dawkins has a role to play and leave it at that. The next two questions are these: does it have to be him performing the role, and how well is he performing it anyway?

Because the decline in Dawkin's critical thinking (as presented  to the world) has been utterly amazing and distinctly unpleasant to watch.  I will defend to my dying breath The Blind Watchmaker, which contains the best arguments for the theory of evolution I've come across, not just in form, but in  presentation.  How does the man who wrote that come to tweet crap like this:
All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.
As Nesrine Malik says,where does one start? How about the fact that though the Nobels have been running for 112 years, fully half the Muslim Nobel Prizes were awarded in the last 13 years?  Have Muslims suddenly become far more intelligent, industrious and  peaceful than they were in the 20th Century?  Or is there, just maybe, something else going on?

I mean, what could possibly lead a western institution filled with westerners chosen by other westerners to focus more on contributions from the west than elsewhere?  What could possibly explain why western places of learning might have natural and obvious advantages over their counterparts elsewhere?  Why, when Jewish recipients receive ten times as many prizes as they should based on global population alone, has Dawkins not hailed them as some kind of super race?

The answer, I'm afraid, is neither particularly difficult or particularly pleasant.  Dawkins has tipped his hand on this before, remember, back in 2011, when he lambasted a woman who'd complained about an incident at a conference she had been speaking at.  She wanted to make a point about it not being cool to follow women into elevators and proposition them.  Because, hey, that's a shitty thing to do, and if you do it, you're making it clear that you don't care how something might look  to a woman you're interested in, your  manly man-view  of the situation should carry all.

In response, Dawkins decided he wanted to make his own point: Watson's experience pales massively into comparison to some of  the shit  Muslim women have to go through.  What does this have to do with the original incident?  Nothing.  Dawkins apparently didn't believe it even needed to be addressed at all.  But it sure as hell gave him the chance to have a pop at those crazy Muslims!

The same process seems to be in evidence here, except it's far, far worse (in logical terms, I mean; his response to Watson strikes me as much more unpleasant).  Look at what he's doing here.  He's using a college created following a religious power grab that cost the lives of thousands, which was a recruiting ground for the "Cambridge Apostles", which has benefited handsomely over the years from associations with the Church of England, which saw its Master awarded the Templeton Prize - for "affirming life's spiritual dimension" - just two years ago, which is named after the fucking Trinity, as a club to beat Muslims with.

And he wants us to believe this is a point about how religion is bad?

Nope.  Ain't gonna wash.  I'm not trying to have a pop at Trinity itself, here.  That place is amazing.  But it didn't get to be amazing because no-one working there had to stop to pray five times a day.  Pretending otherwise is the absolute worst kind of half-considered prejudice.  Which coming from a man who insists religions exist only due to a lack of critical thinking skills, is pretty reprehensible.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

People Who Take Pictures of Food

It's been very quiet round here, I know.  That's mainly due to the four days I took to play through Diablo 3 with various vidheads, but it'll be going on for a little while longer whilst I visit my mother (who just turned sixty-one) and occasional commenter Chris.

In the meantime, here is a picture of a battenberg cake I made for my mother.  I did a test run last week that actually turned out a bit tastier than this one,butthis is the one  I'll be giving to Parental Unit Beta because a) it's newer, b) it's more symmetrical, and c) Fliss hasn't dropped it on the floor.

(Note that this picture is already out of date, since we smothered it in melted Galaxy chocolate moments later.  I decided not to go with a picture of the finished product, though, because it could basically be anything under there.  No-one is going to believe I baked a cake without overwhelming evidence.)

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Cornetto's End

Caught The World's End last night with Fliss, and was pleasantly surprised.  Not just because it's a definite improvement over the rather overrated Hot Fuzz (a fantastically funny 90 minute comedy stretched into a two-hour mess), but because it turns out there's rather a lot to be said about it.

Of course, pretty much all of that requires spoilers, so head across the jump at your own peril.