Friday, 28 February 2014

Radio Friday: That South Sound Sound

These last few weeks have seen me chained to my desk running through endless data-sets to assemble a report.  I'm not doing anything complicated; the problem is simply one of scale.

That means I need a soundtrack to keep me awake whilst I shovel categorical variables into tables, and British Sea Power were kind enough to provide it.

BSP haven't impressed me at all with their studio albums since 2005's Open Season,  but the soundtrack they put together for the 1934 film Man of Aran is absolutely gorgeous; all melancholy violin and piano, with the sea surrounding it all.  I shall have to take it up with me the next time I haunt an island to see how well it works as a backdrop.  I can't promise it won't persuade me to never come back...

Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Familiarity Curse

What is it about surprise horror hits that generates such a large amount of terrible sequels? Sequels are generally inferior anyway, of course, I haven't forgotten, but this particular sub-division of the horror genre seems awash in awful reprises.  Blair Witch 2 is amongst the very worst films I have ever watched. Hypercube isn't quite as bad as its reputation suggests, but it very nearly is.  Battle Royale 2 is a ridiculous mess.  Pitch Black - which we can count as horror with a wee bit of squinting - was followed by the plodding, po-faced Chronicles of Riddick.  The Japanese and American sequels to Ringu/Ring are horribly messy and horribly messy plus quite dull, respectively - and that's before we get into the fact that Ringu had an earlier sequel, Rasen, which is so legendarily bad it's been deleted from the public consciousness like a Star Wars Holiday Special based on spending Christmas with a dead chick down a well.

As of last week, I can now add REC2 to the list of horribly disappointing second instalments.  But what makes horror movies so abnormally susceptible to the curse of the shitty sequel? [1]

I actually think REC and its sequel make a good case study on where the problem lies.  To that end I'm going to spoil both films reasonably thoroughly, and therefore my musings are going below the fold.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

History Is - I Am Awesome! - Important

Does falling between two stools always have to be a bad thing?  Interpreted one way, doesn't it just mean you avoided the shit on either side?

Grant Morrison's Supergods falls between two stools, and it certainly isn't shit.  Yes, it spends too much time considering events Morrison was uninvolved in (or even not yet alive for) to be an autobiography, and too concerned with the minutiae of Morrison's rise to global almost-dominance to be a detached history text, but so what? It would be a strange edict indeed to insist that history cannot be explained by those who shape it.  This way, you get your revelations straight from the source and, whilst the resulting bias is likely greater, at least it's easier to spot and correct for. If that's the price to be paid for reading one of the greatest ever comics writers discuss the work of his contemporaries (and reading this whilst Alan Moore launched a fairly punishing broadside at Morrison gave the experience a little extra kick), then it would be hard to argue it is too steep a fee.

Besides, this is Grant Morrison, a man who could probably have eked out a living trading in mysterious pronouncements and egomaniacal overkill even if he hadn't been writing best-selling comics along with them.  If anyone has demonstrated the writing chops for a dabble in gonzo journalism, it's him, though I confess the link may have only occurred to me due to Morrison's detailed-to-the-point-of-tedium descriptions of his various life-changing drug trips.

Except... what makes gonzo writing work at its best is the degree to which the subject and the writer overlap and merge. Morrison manages that more than once here, but more often the two strands sit uneasily next to each other, as though the author has grown bored of writing about the general scene and decided it's time for another expose of life in the world of Morrison.  This is compounded by the fact that Morrison's insights into the development of superheroes as a genre are far more gripping than his own story which, while hardly devoid of interest, are comparatively prosaic.  Particularly in the later chapters, when the struggle of a working-class Glaswegian to break into comics (an inspiring story, if not a particularly remarkable one except insofar as it worked out) is replaced by the tale of a rich man jetting around the world and deciding if he can be bothered to write another best-seller, interest rapidly wanes; again, this is not helped by Morrison's lengthy descriptions of his drug-birthed hallucinations, which are nowhere near intriguing or illuminating enough to justify the pages dedicated to them.

Morrison states in the afterword here that the book was originally conceived of as being closer to an autobiography, and only later was it decided to focus as well on the overall evolution of the superhero genre.  Judging the twin concerns of the book, it's difficult to argue this was a mistake. Still, whether it be because already-written material was not revisited, or for some other reason, the fault-lines extending from where the new concept was shoved into the old one are all too visible. It's like reading two books chopped up and clumsily stuck together.  Yes, one book is competent, and the other is pretty impressive, but a little more work on sensible splicing the two and a ride could have been smooth as well as pretty.

This Blog Endorses...

...This nice little rant over at Aimai's I SPY... blog.  In particular, the phrase "People really don't take any moral or intellectual responsibility for the logical implications of the acts they support or the legislation they write." should be written in the sky in blood-coloured smoke over the house of person who supported this bill. Except it shouldn't, because actually that would contribute to climate change!  DO YOU SEE HOW THIS WORKS, PEOPLE?

Also, too, this: "They are acting from what they perceive as a position of weakness, like a child that strikes out at a parent, breaks a lamp, and then wails "I didn't mean it!"" is deadly accurate.  The insistence among children and teenagers that they should only be held responsible for premeditated acts is one of the more frustrating elements of teaching. I have a friend who sometimes tells a story about the day he taught temperature curves by having kids heat water and regularly measure the temperature. "Don't put the thermometers directly into the flame for no fucking reason", he told them clearly (I may not be quoting him perfectly, though I imagine that's how he told the story to me).

So one kid decides to do just that, because of course he does.  A few seconds later he's showered in broken glass and hot mercury.

But it wasn't his fault. No-one had told him a thermometer explodes when placed in a flame!  He didn't know the specific bad results of his action.  He knew there would be some, because the man charged with his safety had told him so.  But he didn't no the actual bad thing that would happen, so deliberately causing it to occur can't possibly have been his fault!

The kind of conservative mind who gloms onto this kind of bill is no more developed than that second-set Year 10 chemistry student. It's entirely reasonable to do something others are warning have bad consequences so long as you don't know - or even work out; a kid of that age and intelligence has no business claiming he couldn't predict glass under heat would expand and shatter - exactly what will happen.  Possible problems don't count. Warnings from people who've thought about this more than you have don't count.  You are not responsible for what you do, only for what you intended to do.  And if you spend your life refusing to consider your intent beyond wanting to feed the beast of superstition and tribalism that has wrapped itself around your cortex, that leaves very little motivation for analysing your intent.

So nothing needs to be considered, and nothing can ever be your fault.  Thus does a culture drown itself.  Thus do the teenagers burn down the world.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Back Into The Swamp

Erick Erickson - AKA the world's most cowardly Viking - has a new screed up at RedState (I'm not linking to RedState, but it has the characteristically subtle title of "Shibboleths of the Damned") that's an almost perfect example of violating SpaceSquid's Sin Standard.  He starts off making what is genuinely a reasonable point (made in a thoroughly unreasonable way, natch); there's little point in haranguing homophobic Christians over their dislike of homosexuality by quoting Leviticus at them.  These people are hiding behind the New Testament as cover for their prejudices, hitting them with the Old Testament isn't going to get the job done.

With this small victory won, Erickson proceeds to entirely fall apart, by insisting Christian supporters who believe gay marriage is acceptable are deliberately ignoring Matthew 19:4-5.
"Haven't you read, he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'. 
(It's always "ignoring" with these people, isn't it? Never disagreeing. Never realising words offer themselves up to multiple interpretations.  I wonder what it's like to live in so wretchedly simple a world).

Notice anything strange about that extract? Seems to be a missing quotation mark, doesn't there? That's because Matthew 19:4-6 says

"Haven't you read, he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 
Erickson is quoting a passage on the Bible banning divorce to prove Christianity defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

I don't even want to bother with arguing as to whether that quote actually justifies refusing to accept that marriage need not be between a man and a woman.  I mean, you'd think if Jesus had a strong position on the matter he might have wanted to explain a bit better; "No backsies on them nuptials, pal, and while I'm on the subject; gay sex is totes icky." (I may not have gotten a handle on Biblical dialogue.) Because it doesn't matter here. Erickson's hilarious attempts at truncation aside (well done trying to FOX News Jesus, dickhead), Jesus clearly considers gay marriage as a less pressing issue than divorce.  Jesus says, right there; no divorce.

So if divorce is more clearly wrong than gay marriage, and given that divorce is clearly more common than gay marriage is ever likely to be (though doubtless the intersection that is gay divorces must give Erickson the chills), and given that gay marriage is being talked about at the secular level when divorce is already permitted by the vast majority of churches, why in God's name (quite literally) would you conclude the most important use of your time is speaking out against gay marriage rather than divorce?

Because you're a coward and a bigot, is why.  Because this battle looks like an easier battle than the other one.  Because this is the always the first impulse of men who refuse to understand what Jesus tried to explain to them again and again: you never punch down,

I've said before that the "God of the gaps" idea is a truly awful one; a shrinking cloud of proofs by contradiction that squeezes an Almighty being into an ever-smaller space as we learn more about the universe.  What, we're supposed to believe God wants us to find our own way to faith unless we happen to look at a particularly complicated shrimp-tail? Please.

What's even worse, though, is the God of the society gaps approach bullies like Erickson cling to. This is the idea that says anything society has agreed on for sufficiently long - e.g. divorce, but also for example bombing the shit out of innocent people because we don't like their leader, or insisting there is something noble in pulling in dollars faster than a singularity inside Scrooge McDuck's money-bin - must be something God wants, or it wouldn't have happened, and anything that hasn't happened yet must be against God's will.  There are many ways to do Christianity wrong, but working from the principle that the machineries of humanity derive divinity simply through success  must surely be one of the worst.

Friday Dreadfleet: Aa'll Tel Ye 'Boot The Worm

This being the creature in question: the leech wyrm. It doesn't do much in the game except slightly annoy people and die, but it was faster to paint than another warship, so it had that going for it.

Also in today's post: the rusted wreck of a Dwarven vessel.  What destroyed it?  The leech wyrm?  Who can say? I mean, Dwarves, man.  For all we know they all just happened to drink themselves to death at the same time.

Here's all four of my currently painted Dreadfleet miniatures arranged in some kind of fracas.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

"If I Can't Ruin People's Freedom, How Can I Know I'm Free?"

I profoundly dislike Andrew Sullivan.  He's the living definition of a man who doesn't give a shit about anyone's problems until they become his own, and he has a nasty sideline in smearing those he disagrees with as liars and traitors.

Still, when something lands in the areas he actively cares about, he can do a fine job.
The law empowers any individual or business to refuse to interact with, do business with, or in any way come into contact with anyone who may have some connection to a gay civil union, or civil marriage or … well any “similar arrangement” (room-mates?). It gives the full backing of the law to any restaurant or bar-owner who puts up a sign that says “No Gays Served”. It empowers employees of the state government to refuse to interact with gay citizens as a group. Its scope is vast: it allows anyone to refuse to provide “services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits” to anyone suspected of being complicit in celebrating or enabling the commitment of any kind of a gay couple...
If you want to taint the Republican right as nasty bigots who would do to gays today what Southerners did to segregated African-Americans in the past, you’ve now got a text-book case. The incidents of discrimination will surely follow, and, under the law, be seen to have impunity. Someone will be denied a seat at a lunch counter. The next day, dozens of customers will replace him. The state will have to enforce the owner’s right to refuse service. You can imagine the scenes. Or someone will be fired for marrying the person they love. The next day, his neighbors and friends will rally around.
If you were devising a strategy to make the Republicans look like the Bull Connors of our time, you just stumbled across a winner.
As always in these cases, this law fails the SpaceSquid Sin Standard: if you want to deny access to homosexuals, you have to do it with all forms of sin.  And not even sin currently being carried out - there is exactly zero chance this law was written because of a pandemic of people having their dirty gay sexy-sex on lunch counters and restaurant tables.  And if you want to keep people out because they have sinned, and because they will sin, then... what are you left with?

It is long past time we gave up trying to humour these people.  Considering homosexuality a sin bothers me, but hell, it's your life, to fill up with as much pointless fretting as you want. Considering a homosexuality as so great a sin as to require legislation to guarantee you can be a dick to people?  That's all on you, pal.  You could choose to focus on the people who kill, or who hoard their wealth, or who bear false witness - starting with the arseholes who drafted this bill, perhaps - but you don't.  You decided your time was better spent raging against people who do the least harm, but who also happen to have the least power.  You deliberately chose the "moral stance" that would be easiest for you, and most harmful to the people you bully.

Fuck each and every one of you.  Sullivan is right.  You're Bull Connors with a crucifix.  You are the last rampage of the dinosaur who just watched the sky darken and doesn't understand why.  You are the coward who realises making his life better would be hard, but making other lives worse would be easy, and has chosen accordingly.  In thirty years all you will be is mocked; in a hundred you will be forgotten forever, mourned only by those who can no longer use you to make the world worse.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

A Faded Future

Over at the SFX Forum people have embarked on a plan to rewatch one story from each of the previous Doctors whilst we wait impatiently for Malcolm Tucker to start spitting in Dalek's eyestalks.  The twist here is that each Doctor's story is being chosen by two votes - who his best companion was, and what was his/her best story.

After some deliberation, the decision was made that Hartnell's finest travelling companion was Vicki (narrowly beating Barbara, and it'd be a difficult job to argue against those as the top two), which pretty much means the "Space Museum", for her glorious services to anti-imperial revolution.

As it happens, I think that story gets a bad rep.  And, since I've been explaining why at the forum (episode by episode, since living with my not-we girlfriend which limits viewing time), I figured I'd put my thoughts up here.  I'll put them below the fold for space-saving reasons; I can't believe there can be many people in the world desperate to avoid spoilers for mid '60s Who.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Monday Pessimus: Is This The End?

Being a giant shape-changing alien robot doesn't preclude the odd dabble in the beautiful art of haiku.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Slight Return

So I had planned on writing up another ale festival this week, what with there having been one thrown on Warwick campus this week.

Ultimately, though, the booze was by far the least interesting part of the evening.  I can confirm that peach wine does indeed taste of peaches; lemon and lime cider is functionally equivalent of poorly diluted lime cordial, at least until you start having problems moving your eyes in tandem; and chocolate and vanilla ale is not so much less than the sum of its parts than a stinking wasteland in which the parts have slaughtered each other with shit-smeared swords.

Mainly, though, it served as a reminder of why I thought so little of student-run events back when I was an undergrad. These people have no idea how to run a bar.  You don't stand chatting with your punters when they're backed up eight layers deep to buy a drink.  You number your casks so it doesn't take you precious seconds to locate the particular brand of booze one of your umpteen patrons has just asked for. You certainly don't put together a bill of fare that apes the standard ale/cider ratio found at CAMRA festivals and then act surprised when the youngsters all want to try the sweet strong stuff.  One couldn't move in the cramped SU for young gentlemen challenging each other to feats of alcoholic excess that even I thought imprudent. Twenty-five minutes is a long time to wait for a half-pint of mango cider when surrounded by idiot men convinced overindulgence at university is somehow remarkable, and idiot women apparently all too willing to indulge them in their fantasy.

On the other hand, these people know how to book a band.  What says ale-sloshing like rousing shanties belted out by a musical troupe featuring three tambourine players?  What, you think that's too many tambourines? Fuck you, you wretched folk-vacuum!  The only reason these cats didn't employ five tambourines was because two of them had to bank sticks covered in tiny cymbals on the floor.

And the songs.  Not even Metallica dared put so much grinning, bawdy oomph into "Whiskey in the Jar" [1].  Nothing shows dedication to your craft like hiring an actual postman to be on-stage - not doing anything, mind you - during some shambolic ditty about delivering packages to women.  Or waving plastic chickens around during your oh-so-clever song about cocks.  The entendres aren't exactly two-deep here.

Plus, nothing promotes international harmony like your Mexican drinking buddy grabbing your arm and shouting drunkenly "These people are pirates!" at you.  Apparently piracy is second only to football in its universal applications.  Long may that continue.

[1] That's a thought, actually: drunken folk covers of Metallica songs.  Until you've slurred Enter Sandman in a bad Somerset action, you simply have not lived.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Pass. The. Damn. Bill (2014)

It's been a little while since we checked in on the US political scene; I wonder what they're up to?

Oh.  A debt ceiling fight. How quaint.

Let us remind ourselves of the stakes here.  if the US defaults on its debt the global financial consequences will be somewhere between severe and apocalyptic.  There is no-one in this fight who does not know this - though a few of the more eye-swivelling Republicans are pretending not to get it.

So, just like the last debt ceiling crisis - which ended less than 17 weeks ago, if you're counting - the debt limit has to be increased, or 2008 could end up looking like the last scene in Return of the Jedi.  And what was the Republican plan? To reverse a pension cut to former US veterans they themselves forced through previously so that they can look like heroes when the benefits are reinstated.

Read that again.  The Republican leadership is so unhappy with the idea of not destroying the world's economy that they need to cancel out their own fucking over of veterans to make them feel good about it.

Which is both cynical and pathetic, however you slice it.  Apparently it doesn't matter though, since within a day the plans had been scrapped because too many of the rank-and-file Republicans claimed this was a shitty plan because it would make them look heartless when they voted for not helping vets and wrecking the world at the same time.

Every time I see the Telegraph insisting the Tories could learn a lot from the Republicans I start wondering if I'd really find a lobotomy as bad as people say.

Monday, 10 February 2014

On Allenegations

Since people I otherwise very much respect seem to be getting this wrong, a few comments on the Woody Allen/Dylan Farrow story currently in the news.  I'll be steering clear of references to Allen's alleged actions, but even so, those for whom this subject acts as a trigger might want to skip this post.

We'll start off with the obvious: I have absolutely no idea where the truth lies here. I do know that if you assume every accusation of child abuse is true, you'll be far more right than wrong (bastion of dispassionate fact Wikipedia suggests the false accusation rate is under 10%; for example), but that doesn't translate into the suggestion that we should automatically dismiss Allen's claims of innocence.

But it is one thing to privately take an agnostic position on the matter, and another to start pushing that publicly, and lecturing those more inclined to believe Farrow than you are that they are participating in mob justice.

It is a fact somewhere between inarguable and indescribably obvious that our culture does not respond well to those who make allegations of sexual assault against people we happen to find entertaining.  Even for those who aren't fortunate enough to be internationally respected and sitting atop huge piles of cash, the chances the majority will side with your accuser rather than you are pretty damn small. A significant majority of people will either ignore a victim's claims, or actively persecute them for speaking out.

Given that the clear majority of those making accusations are telling the truth, and given that the clear majority of people who hear those accusations do nothing positive with them, why on earth would you want to spend your time haranguing those people who haven't dismissed what they've been told? Why  would you conclude that the biggest problem in sexual abuse cases is that the accusers are given too much support and benefit of the doubt? Why would you spend your time worrying about how the rich and powerful must feel about nasty twitter messages?

If it comes to it, Allen deserves the presumption of innocence in court.  Out of court, that principle no longer applies.  It's fine to remind people that no-one should prepare themselves for a bout of vigilante justice here, but simply beating the shit out of Allen's reputation hardly counts as taking the law into one's own hands. No-one is under any obligation to assume Allen's innocence. Indeed it's ridiculous to expect people to hold to the presumption of innocence in general. If your friend tells you she's sure a garage stiffed him over car repairs, and you take your car to that same garage, guess what? You're a fucking idiot. You don't haughtily tell her she has no proof and so you must assume the garage is run honestly. You go to a different garage.

The same is true here, magnified a thousand fold.  If someone risks social ostracism and vicious attacks (Farrow had to change her name to escape being hounded over her claims) in order to label someone as a predator, the reflexive desire to argue no-one can be sure it's true runs the risk of silencing the voice of genuine victims, and making it easier for predators to pick up their next victim, secure in the knowledge that those who don't ignore the next accusation will actively smear their target.

Yes, Allen might be innocent. Yes, his description of events might be the correct one.  He is managing perfectly well to get that story out without your help. If you're not sure who is offering the true version of events, you're more than welcome to keep your mouth shut. Otherwise you risk making things more difficult for the victims of sexual abuse because you want to make it easier for victims of unpleasant Twitter-storms.  That's a prioritisation you might want to reconsider.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

SpaceSquid vs. The X-Men #46: Just Some Streetwalker

The late '90s and early '00s were not an easy time for Marvel.  Titles were hemorrhaging sales in the wake of the great comics crash, and the tricks cynical writers had used to keep superhero stories afloat since the late '80s had finally been mined out. Even if the hyper-violent boobpocalypse hadn't reached their respective reductio ad absurdum endpoints, comics found themselves crowded out by the continuing rise of video games and the arrival of online porn, which both offered more... direct doses to the consumer.

But old habits die hard.  One of the truly remarkable things about the cataracts of blood that stained a decade of comics was how easily people bought into the idea that it somehow represented "maturity".  It was a bizarre form of arguing by inversion: children's literature features very few deaths, therefore bodycounts that would have seemed excessive in the later Rambo films must somehow occupy the other end of the spectrum. The next step in the "maturing" of comics followed the same misguided logic: if children's stories were completely devoid of sex, the most mature angle possible would be to include a character who had as much sex as possible.

It was time to move the conception of super-being sex beyond coy glances thrown at pneumatic-chested models.  It was time for a hooker superhero.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Deep Thought: Comedy Hijinks

The more I watch the later epsiodes of Big Bang Theory - which I find rather sweet, despite understanding why it winds up so many geeks/academics - the more clear it becomes that the only real difference between a lot of US comedy and US drama is that in the latter you're actually aloud to punch someone who's being an intolerable douche, rather than have to play along for the sake of setting up jokes.

How about it, Chuck Lorre?  Dip into the drama pool a little. Consider the conflict-resolution advantages offered by a good sock to the jaw.  If there is any character in modern sitcoms who needs a fist in the face more than Sheldon Cooper, they have managed to avoid showing up on my radar.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

For The Record...

... I don't remotely begrudge an American telling the English press what he wants for Scotland, all whilst running a business named after the whole island.  But can we at least all agree that a man who doesn't see the point in guarding against the uncertainty of his oil rigs exploding, he can fuck right off whining how uncertainty in local economics has him worried.

Mind you, momentarily inconveniencing this turdaraptor might just be the best reason to vote "yes" anyone has come up with. In fact, I reckon we could run the rest of the world from this moment on according to what enrages oil barons the most, and be sipping champagne on Mars will all mankind within the decade.