Sunday, 27 April 2014

D CDs #479: From The Brain On Down

By all rights, Maggot Brain should just be about "Maggot Brain". A ten-minute opening title track? That level of stall-setting all too often suggests a band with only one real bullet in a clip otherwise filled with blanks.  And for sure, "Maggot Brain" is proper ordnance, a restrained soulful wah-wah freakout from guitarist Eddie Hazel that ultimately builds to the point where the already minimal backing realises what's going on and quite properly fades out.  It's glorious. It's Maggot Brain! What else could we fairly expect from an album but this?

Except that almost everything else here is phenomenal too.  "Can You Get To That" is pure, joyous funk, making the most of multiple vocalists and tight guitar to wring out every endorphin your grey matter possesses. I haven't sufficient experience with the genre to confidently assert that it wins funk forever, but surely it has to be in with a shot. The killer keys make "Hit It And Quit It" almost as good even before you factor in the riffs, which are hard and sharp as Wolverine's claws in an ice storm. By track four, Funkadelic has remembered that saxophones exist, and we are lost forever.

And if maybe - maybe - the album coasts for the next two tracks, it's only in the sense of working within a pattern so flawless that taking the foot off the accelerator is an action neither unearned nor damaging. "You like that", the disc asks, "Try some more of the same".  And we do, and it's all fine.

Besides, there's one last trick in the bag to break out, in the form of another ten-minute wig-out to cap the album. Cuckoo clocks, squeaky wheels and what mayor may not be a lawnmower engine appear to fill out a track few other bands could have called "Wars of Armageddon" and made it sound like understatement. It is quite simply sounds like nothing else I've ever heard; an end of the world in the sense that this was recorded on the last day the world didn't wake up with "Wars of Armageddon" existing. Many bands have plumped for the "kitchen sink thrown in by a drunken idiot" approach to an  LPs final track, but few have nailed the landing quite like this.

In short, it's phenomenal.  Seven tracks is a little on the light side - there are so many albums which would shine so much brighter if we were able to excise four or five of their least inspiring offerings - but with so much to enjoy here, and with the whole so aware of itself as a complete work, it seems ridiculous to bemoan the fact that they could have stuck some filler on here too.

Eight and half tentacles.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Sun And Sand

Episode 3 of Game of Thrones' fourth season contained an awful lot of scenes.  Exactly two of them have been discussed in any detail so far online. One because it did so much to further suspicions regarding who was responsible for last week's scene that everyone was talking about.  The other because... well, because it was hideous and gratuitous and spoiled everything.

So I guess I'm going to have to talk about those scenes. They are not, however, what I want to focus on.

(TV spoilers follow, book spoilers are mercifully absent.)

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Initiquz Redux

Huh.  It's been eighteen months since the last music quiz on this 'ere blog.  Looking back at it, it was clearly too fiendishly difficult. As much as a calibration exercise as anything else, then, let's try something a little simpler.

Last time I gave you the initials of twenty five song titles (and their first word), along with the initials of their artists and albums.  This time I'll shake things up by a) giving you an idea of the number of missing letters, and b) linking all 24 songs.  There will be one point each for a song title, artist or album, another point for getting the first line correct (you don't need to give me all four for each song). The remaining four points goes to the first person to see the link.

As usual Google is permitted to check hunches and to get the exact wording of answers you already know.  Otherwise, keep off!

Here we go:

1. "They say that Richard Corey owns half of this whole town" - 'Richard Corey' - Simon and Garfunkel- Sounds Of Silence (Jamie)

2. "We stank O_ H___ D__ A__ A______" - 'D___ L_______ B____' - The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree (Jamie)

3."That's when Wendell Gee takes a tug upon the string" - 'Wendell Gee' - REM - Fables Of The Reconstruction (Jamie/Tara)

4. "You came I___ T__ P___- W___ A L___ B____ S____" - 'S_____ N__' - The Hold Steady - S_________ S_____ (Jamie)

5. "The cut-rate mime walking through the dirty streets" - 'Grace Kelly Blues' - Eels - Daisies Of The Galaxy (edenspresence)

6. "I never knew her name- 'Billy Davey's Daughter' - Stereophonics - Word Gets Around (Jamie)

7. "Doctor, what is happening to me?" - 'Just like Fred Astaire' - James - Millionaires (Fonz)

8. "Let's take T__ B___ O__ O_ T__ B__" - 'W____ C____' - Blink-182 - Enema Of The State (Jamie)

9. "Julie C______ T__ R_____ A__ T___" - T__ C________ - Yo La Tengo - E____ -O- P___ (Jamie)

10. "Out here in the fields I fight for my meals" - 'Baba O'Riley' - The Who - Who's Next (Fonz)

11. "This is F__ M_ B___" - 'F_____ K______' - R_____ - R______ I_ R______ B________

12. "Seymour Stein I've been lonely" - 'Seymour Stein' - Belle & Sebastian - The Boy With The Arab Strap (Jamie)

13. "Come A__ I__ T___ Y__ U____" - 'Hey, Johnny Park!' - Foo Fighters - The Color And The Shape (Jamie)

14. "Echoes O_ R_____ C_____ T______ M_ B______ W___" - 'R___ S___' - R_____ - ...A__ O__ C___ T__ W_____

15. "I was waiting for a cross-town train in the London underground when it struck me" - 'Clark Gable' - The Postal Service - Give Up (edenspresence)

16. "He's walking W____ I_ A_____ I D___ K___" - 'M______ C____' - M______ - K___ M_____

17. "I wish I H__ A S_____ P____" - 'S_____ P____' - R___ A____ - G___

18. "Goldenrod A__ T__ 4_ S____" - 'C______ P______ D__' - S_____ S______ - C___ O_ F___ T__ I________

19. "What would Brian Boitano do if he was here right now?" - 'What Would Brian Boitano Do?' - Trey Parker & Matt Stone - South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut Soundtrack (Fonz/Jamie)

20. "Whatever P______ I_ T___ B_____ W___ L____ M_ B_____ S___ A__ S____" - 'J___ L__ A__ A S______ A____' - B____ N__ - Y___ F_______ W_____

21. "Who sees the interiors like young Willem once did?" - 'Interiors (Song For Willem De Kooning)' - Manic Street Preachers - Everything Must Go (Tara)

22. "I drove F___ M________ T_ A_______" - 'S______ R_____' - D_____ J_____ - N__ T___ I_ I_ Y___ S_____

23. "Like M____ D____ I__ B___ S_____ B_ T__ C___" - 'M____ D____ A__ T__ C___' - T__ G_______ A_____ - T__ 5_ S____

24. "Is everybody happy now?" - 'Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes To Hollywood)' - Counting Crows - Hard Candy (Fonz)

Link: full names in song titles (Fonz)

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Things We Should've Learned From WE3

I utterly adore this article (h/t Jane Carnall).  Cats might be smarter than dogs, but no-one can tell because they're such colossal arseholes they defy analysis.

I know more than a few academics who have the same problem, of course. I wonder how many studies have been performed on them have had to be abandoned because the test subjects were just too unbearably prickish to allow the experiment to continue and/or immediately attempted to seize control of the experiment to further their own lunatic theories.

Cats and academics both make for terrible people.

(It's interesting that they've shown dogs understand finger-pointing, though.  None of the canids my parents have brought home have ever managed that.  Mind you, old English sheepdogs can be painfully obtuse animals, so our anecdotal evidence should be viewed with caution).

Monday, 21 April 2014

A Tale Of Cocktails #48

Easter Bunny


1 1/2 oz crème de cacao
1/2 oz vodka
1 teaspoon chocolate syrup
1 teaspoon cherry liqueur

Taste: 8
Look: 6  
Cost: 7
Name: 8
Prep: 7
Alcohol: 8
Overall: 7.3 

Preparation: Shake all ingredients over ice and pour.

General Comments: Well, this is rather tasty. The vodka is perhaps a little heavy in the mix, but the various chocolate flavours still come through easily, and the sweetness of the syrup offsets any sourness from the cherry liqueur.  Like all the best chocolate cocktails, this is almost as easy to imagine as a dessert sauce as a drink, though the fact this includes chocolate syrup renders that observation rather redundant.

But yeah, tasty drink.  I like the name as well, too, as it combines the two best elements of Easter; the pre-Christian celebration of spring (cherry blossoms) and the post-Christian celebration of far too much chocolate.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Ghost Who Couldn't Believe In Herself

Well, that was all a bit underwhelming, wasn't it?


For a while I was tempted to leave the post there.  I figured if I'm going to ape the impression the show instills, then that would the most appropriate response to the finale.  Let's at least do a little digging, though, and see if we can pinpoint where things went wrong.

(Spoilers follow, unsurprisingly.)

Really, I think it all comes down to a problem of scale. Not necessarily in the way you might think, though.  Given my clear love (at least, it's clear if you've wasted enough of your time here, or with me in general) of the Cthulhu Mythos, you would be forgiven for thinking the bug up my butt had a tentacled head and ate d6 investigators a round.

And that's not entirely incorrect, I suppose.  I'm not going to pretend I'm not disappointed to achieve my dream of seeing a high-quality Cthulhu TV series, or even a reworking of the Twin Peaks model of gradually gathering darkness and insanity growing from the shell of an apparently "normal" show.  But even leaving aside the technicality that the Yellow King and Carcosa are references that predate the works of HP Lovecraft (first appearing in the works of Robert W Chambers in the dying days of the nineteenth century), it became pretty clear after the halfway point of the season that this wasn't a show about dark forces abusing the young, so much as a show demonstrating that the abuse of the young is so horrifica and unspeakable that we've no need to drag supernatural forces into the issue.

Indeed, the final episode rather explicitly suggests that shrugging one's shoulders and blaming things on extra-dimensional horrors can blind you to what you need to see.  If the green-eared spaghetti monster had simply been some king of horror beyond space and time, there would have been no further need to consider it, and the link to fresh paint that finally cracked the case would never have been made. The amount of time this show spent in the mid '90s is rather fittin, actually, considering that this a leaf direct out of the Agent Scully playbook. It doesn't matter whether the evidence seems to suggest something conventionally inexplicable, you have to assume right up until the last possible moment that everything is operating within standard parameters. The deductive process is too important to unnecessarily contaminate with the assumption that it's all just magic, innit? This is a pretty close corollary to Cohle's insistence in the stupidity of assigning events to a divine being, as well as his own failings in generating entirely unprovable theories about the unbearable darkness of all existence.

So far so coherent, then. The problem here isn't the borrowing of the iconography of cosmic horror, but that of the conspiracy theory. For seven episodes we've been told about how no-one can be trusted, about the horrifying extent of the "sprawl" spread over who knows how many parishes and how many decades. A culture of indimidation so deep it can swallow sheriffs and inspire criminals to agonising suicide. A series of crimes so despicable they can drag a man into obsession, and persuade the guy whose wife he's shagged to join up.

Setting all that up and delivering one guy in a dilapidatted house before shrugging and saying "We were never going to get them all" seems tailor-made to be thoroughly unsatisfying - the word "trolling" has appeared in places. It's particularly frustrating given the show's interest elsewhere in demonstrating over-egging the pudding in a crime show is not merely unnecessary, but perhaps counter-productive.  The result is an ending which feels very much unlike the rest of the season, selling out the overall approach in exchange for a pat ending. Boo.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Ragweeds And Dandelions

Last week, I talked about the Lannisters never having had it so good as Season 4 opened. And of course much the same can be said of the Tyrells. But although they've ended up in almost as strong as position as their neighbours to the north-west, they've done it using radically different tactics.

(Major spoilers follow, though once again I'll steer clear of any book facts that take place after what we saw this week.)

Friday, 18 April 2014

(Good) Friday 40K: The Third Dimension

Whilst you puny meatsacks are sunning yourself in the spring weather and discussing how to waste twice as much time as your weeks normally allow you, the Great Devourer has been hard at work. Behold: the Harpy!

Of course, now that I have one flyer, all my other armies are going to feel aggrieved.  Currently trying to decide whether to offer my Dark Angels a Nephilim, or follow through with my plan to paint up a Land Speeder Vengeance. I know they don't last very long, but those ridiculous cannons just look so tempting...

Thursday, 17 April 2014


Fun fact: someone somewhere will STILL say that this gives too much away
Everyone's talking about spoilers this week, mainly because everyone's talking about a spoiler this week, shown above with the offending aspects digitally removed at great expense.  I've been meaning to write about spoilers for ages now, because it's such an oddly fascinating subject, and this seems like the perfect time.

So, in no particularly rational order, here are some thoughts.

1. Can't We All Just Get Along?

Christopher Bird has a post up at his place (which is based around the Game of Thrones spoiler that has so many people pissed off this week, so view with caution) which is hilariously wrongheaded in several places, but he does have at least one solid point, which is that it should be perfectly possible to both take someone to task over being spoiled and to respond to same without being a total dickcobbler. As MGK points out, the vast majority of spoiling incidents occur because someone is enthused about something they have experienced, and want to share it. That's a perfectly natural desire.  Moreover, it is a useful desire in many ways, because you can hook other people in with it.  The current degree of spoilerphobia exhibited across the geek spectrum has the unfortunate side-effect of making it harder to coherently recommend shows to others, which - in a roundabout and admittedly often deeply suboptimal way - is often part of what is intended.

2. The Spoiler Scale

Related to the first point, it cannot be stressed enough that everyone has their own line in the sand.  Some people couldn't give a toss about spoilers, especially when their interest in a given piece of art is aesthetic or structural rather than immersive. For example, I can't imagine anyone could actually have spoiled Gravity for me in any meaningful sense, because the actual plot was entirely incidental.  It would be like trying to spoil a Van Gogh.

At the other end of the scale, I know a guy who is so hyperbolic in his spoilerphobia that he actually insisted a Doctor Who forum not label upcoming episode discussions with the episode's titles because they gave too much away.  I mention all this by way of saying that the definition of a dick is not someone who happens to have their personal line a couple of inches to either side of yours.  Spoiler hypocrisy is common and deserves to be pilloried, but a coherent position that differs from yours isn't some great crime against the natural order.  Moreover, the fact that such extreme spoilerphobia exists is proof that expecting everyone to be as careful with this stuff as you personally would like them to be is - depending on your position on the spoiler scale - transparently unworkable and liable to lead to blood pressure issues.

3. Muddy Windows

The previous point isn't remotely original, of course; I think it's pretty clear to just about everyone that some kind of compromise is necessary.  One suggested approach to this is the "spoiler window", whereby it's understood that there should be some kind of moratorium on spoilers until a decent amount of time has passed for everyone else to catch up.  In the previously linked piece, MGK has a go at crafting some of these, but he runs up against huge problems.  The most obvious of these is just how short those windows actually are (one day for a TV show? Seriously?), but there are deeper issues here as well.

The fundamental problem with spoiler discussions is the same as the fundamental problem with all internet discussions, which is that they are predominantly driven by comparatively affluent and able-bodied people. Giving people a day, or even a week or a month, to absorb a given episode of a show from a subscription channel is not just telling people they should have the same viewing priorities as you, but they should be willing and able to spend the necessary money to deal with those priorities.  My family has never been poor, but for a while in my early teens our household was certainly sufficiently strapped for cash that the idea of a Sky subscription was laughable.  If Twitter had been around in the early '90s there would have been any number of shows that I would have loved to be able to watch but physically incapable of doing (legally, at least, since in this hypothetical I guess illegal downloads would be a possibility as well).  These days we're doing much better, thanks for asking, and I've got a Sky subscription (my parents have switched to Virgin, for reasons I don't understand, especially since it means I have to keep lending my Thrones DVDs to my dad). Bully for me; not everyone is so lucky. Watching Game of Thrones as its broadcast in the UK will set you back more than £70. Yes, you'll get other shows along with that, but if you a) are very short on cash and b) have very few shows you're willing to shell out for, it makes far more sense to wait until the DVDs come out for £30 or so. And quite frankly fuck anyone who tells you you've lost your right to watch that show unspoiled because of this.

In other words, anything other than the most generous of spoiler windows (as I've mentioned before, TV shows and films get a five year spoiler window on this blog) include an element of economic privilege.  Moreover, because there's an obvious link between problems with income and various forms of disability - and to my eternal shame, someone had to point out to me on Tuesday that even the act of physically just watching a show can require more time for some than others - it's an ableist position as well.

(And in addition to all that, of course, it fails to take into account that not everyone in every country gets things at the same time. Twitter is delightfully multinational; TV schedules are not.  A one-day moratorium on spoilers is basically saying "Fuck you" to anyone not from a select group of countries.)

4. In Which The Maths Comes Out

All of that said, of course, MGK is quite right when he points out that the nature of both Twitter and of humans is that if you want to use Twitter whilst not keeping up with major pop culture phenomena, you're going to get spoiled eventually. 

But whilst this is true, it's also exceptionally limited. To take the most obvious point first, Twitter is more valuable to some people than others.  For some people it's a bit of fun.  To others it's a vital part of their social lives.  Not vital in the "I couldn't live without the latest smartphone" sense, genuinely vital because just getting outside of the house or looking people in the eyes is a significant challenge. Telling those people they're bound to get spoiled using Twitter is like telling women their bound to encounter breathtaking misogyny if they have any kind of popular web presence.  It's clearly true, but a) they know that a hell of a lot better than you, and b) there are any number of other situations in which it would be incredibly obvious that the fact something cannot be stopped isn't a reason to not attempt to minimise it.

This seems to be a distressingly common misconception in general, actually, so let's break it down. First of all, being spoiled is not a binary condition. We are not "spoiled" or "unspoiled".  There are many levels of spoiler.  The most anodyne is what we might term "narrative conforming" spoilers.  These are at the level of saying a romcom ends with the guy getting the girl, or that a major character from book 1 also appears in book 2.  These are technically spoilers, but they are so baked into how fiction works that complaining you now know that there hasn't been a seismic shift in narrative rules for this particular work strikes me as taking things way too far.  Telling someone Adric dies is a spoiler.  Telling them Tegan makes it to the next season isn't.

(Though of course as with all comments about spoilers, this isn't an immutable rule. I can certainly see the argument that when dealing with writers like Martin or Robert Kirkman who both constantly put their characters in peril and who will kill them off with gleeful abandon, the "narrative conforming" spoiler is actually more dangerous.  I'm not sure how much I agree, and I'd note that in Martin's case at least there is a clear set of narrative principles being invoked; it's just that they're intentionally inverted from the norm.)

For any given person, then, there is a weighting system for how much each given piece of information constitutes a spoiler.  There is also a given probability of encountering the information, based on how far behind an episode's first broadcast you are, and where and for how long you hang out online or in the real world.  What we should be aiming for is reducing the probabilities of spoiling others (and getting ourselves spoiled), with particular focus on the big-ticket items.

The most obvious way to do this is to recognise the distribution of spoilers themselves. It's now been four days since "The Lion and the Rose" was broadcast in the US, and three since we caught it in the UK.  I've trawled through the last four days worth of #GoT tweets which named... well, you know, from this morning to noon on Monday (which is as far back as this laptop would go without pitching a fit) to see how many of them give the game away. The results, in tweets per eight hour period, are below: the first known instance of a genuine spoiler distribution.

As we can see, the number of spoiler tweets reduces by half between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, and settles down to around one tweet every ten minutes - globally, mind you - by Tuesday afternoon.

This means that rather than the MGK model of keeping quiet for a day and then jumping in, it might actually make more sense to consider the first 48 hours after a global (or, even more helpfully, national) premiere as spoiler time, and then suggest people settle down. That way the process actually works with the correlation between people who are likely to prioritise watching as early as possible and  those who want to splurge about it all over Twitter - that's a hell of a lot more sensible than trying to shut up the completely into it until they reach the time-zone of the "not necessarily all that bothered". Following the 48 - 60 hour period, spoilers should be avoided wherever possible until a bare minimum of a year has passed.  The area in-between could then be declared a safe zone for whomever wants to use it and for whatever reason.

Sure, it won't solve all our problems, but then the problem is unsolvable anyway.  It's all about the numbers.

5. You're Welcome

Of course, that's just a friendly suggestion. And again, I'm hardly being original here, though at least I went to the effort of backing it up with a ludicrously irrelevant data trawl.  I obviously don't get to tell people how they should balance all of this. And I'm fully aware of course that the best solution to all of this is just for people in the know to think a little harder before they deploy their 140 characters.

With all that said, then, I'd like to make a general request.  Can we please get over this ridiculous damn idea that constantly asking people to keep their traps shut doesn't incur some kind of cost at the other end?  I like Game of Thrones.  I like talking about Game of Thrones.  I also like Twitter.  There are people on Twitter I like talking to about Game of Thrones which I like and like talking about.  The constant suggestion that I should have to scurry off to some other, Game of Thrones-centric location to jaw about the show has the obvious problem that I'm not necessarily going to be comfortable with suggesting various Twitter peeps follow me there, or even DMing them every time I want to discuss some particularly choice scene.

None of that is a major hassle, at least to me - it's possible there is some intersection between people who share my approach to Twitter and who have a far greater reliance upon it, but of course I don't get to talk for those people or use them as a foundation for my own arguments - but it does result in a certain low level frustration, particularly over adaptations like this one. As MGK notes, the event people are up in arms over having had spoiled for them has existed in print since before the turn of the millennium.  There are people getting ready for their GCSEs that weren't born when A Storm of Swords offered up its shocks. It's not that I begrudge the fact that a decade and a half of talking up the books - which essentially led to them being judged worth making into a TV show in the first case - now has to be curtailed because the very people benefiting from that early work want a pure experience.  I'd just like it recognised that we're putting effort into keeping you happy.  Especially if you're someone who uses Twitter as a way to increase one's own viewing figures, which means that limiting the pop culture references you can spin into jokes and hopefully hits can result in a quite literal price.

Now, since we all want this particular favour returned - though according to our own lights, of course, see section 2 - screwing this up means failing to hold up our side of the bargain, and I've no problem whatsoever in crtiticising people who do that (and obviously fuck those hypocritical in their approach and what my friend JJ wonderfully called the "I've seen it, who wants to touch me" Eric Cartman-type people).  I just think a wee bit less entitlement on the side of the spoilerphobic might be in order.

6. Futher Solutions

Speaking of JJ, she was kind enough to dig out some  concrete methods by which spoilers can be filtered out on Twitter, and which I plan to adopt myself as soon as my Luddite brain can wrap itself around the intricacies involved. Whilst again noting that no approach can be utterly foolproof - and again noting that that's really not the point - these look really useful.  One minimises the chances of spoilers by inverting text so it can't easily be accidentally read; the other lets you tag certain tweets so that those with specific filters won't see those tweets show up in their TL.  Of course that rather shifts the argument from "can there be a universally recognised spoiler code" to "can their be a universally recognised spoiler tag for a given show", but at least the second seems theoretically achievable.


Damn, but that was a lot of words.  Clearly this has been eating away at me for a long time.  If I might be permitted to draw this all together - don't be dicks, keep an eye on when shows you don't want to be spoiled are getting their premieres, remember both sides of this discussion have a point at least in general, and get to work figuring out

And with that done, it's time for me to get to work writing up the GoT episode that started all this.  Honestly, I'm not sure what there is to write about other than how awesome Natalie Dormer's hair was, but I'm sure something will come to me.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

We Are What We Have Always Been

"There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now" - Eugene O'Neill.

But if that's right; if there really is nothing lying below and beyond the Louisiana murders than an all too human monster, then what force has kept all this secret for so long? What could so damage a woman as to allow you to terrify her decades after the event simply by showing her strategically arranged sticks?  Why would a man voluntarily rip open his arteries on a broken sink in his jail cell rather than spill what little he knows?  If the Yellow King is, at long last, just an overweight drawling yokel on a motorised lawnmower,  why does everyone exposed to the secrets of Irath go silent, or go mad? If the crimes of those dwelling in Carcosa are so hyperbolic in their horror - if the rape and murder of children is proof that we have no need to invent monsters at all - what can possibly bring about the overwhelming effort sunk into letting it continue?

Is it the link to political power? Please. Chris Christie couldn't annoy people with a bridge closure without it blowing up his future career. Orders from the top can't do the job here. It is not the trappings of the present that block every alley down which Hart and Cohle might turn.  It is the past.

It is history itself, condensed and weaponised. A black-hearted lie practised for so long and with such total dedication that it has brought itself forward into the realm of truth by sheer force of will.  It is the natural endpoint of allowing cruelty to first become commonplace, then traditional, and then unquestionable.  This has always been a favourite tactic of opponents of change within the former Confederacy - to ritualise a problem and thereby deny any problem exists. Animal masks are just hoods with a longer history.

So whilst Hart is attempting to rewrite his own history, and Cohle is attempting to erase his with whatever he can jam into his system, the Yellow King goes about his work of sharpening history to a point; creating a spear he can use to threaten whomever he needs to. "This is how it was," he tells you. "This is how it always was.  This is how it will always be".  The flat circle never needed some extra-dimensional being to make it real. It just needed our own inability to distinguish tradition from wisdom and antiquity from power.

"King" is a hereditary title. If the Yellow King's family have lived on the coast for a long, long time, then the King has been there for all that time, too. Putting on his mask. Shaping the future to look as much like the past as possible. Buying stasis in a growing lake of blood, which congeals and sets and becomes the bedrock; stratified layers as unique and telling as a murderer's fingerprint. Another age of horror and cruelty, justified by the one before, on and on; an inductive proof of the nightmare of man.

Unless Martin Hart and Rustin Cohle can stop it all, of course. History cannot be destroyed, but it can be written over so completely that the distinction becomes meaningless.  The Yellow King has always relied on that. Perhaps now, in this age, it can finally be turned against him.

Blood And Gold

"When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives." - Eddard Stark

"Two Swords" is not about two swords, so much as about two pairs of swords. That much is obvious, of course.  What is more difficult is deciding what the second pair of swords is.  In this sense "Two Swords" may be no more helpful a description than was "The Two Towers".

(Show spoilers below the fold: no book spoilers, I promise.)

A Bird In The Studio

It's not every day you're confronted with your white privilege by learning the local waterfowl are only leaving you be because of the colour of your skin.

Where some may see this as a problem, I say we treat it as an opportunity.  There seems no sign of the BBC abandoning its plan to piss all over its claims of balance by taking every possible opportunity to slap Nigel Farage's cylindrical smirk-factory all over our screens, but perhaps they could be persuaded to swap out the cigar-chomping fraud for a racist swan. It'd be more photogenic and more coherent, and forcing Nick Clegg to risk having both arms broken is pretty much the only way to make another traitor vs bigot debate even close to bearable.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Excluded Middle

"We're good guys, but we can't be good every night" - The Hold Steady, Our Whole Lives.

I think I'm going to have to come out of character for this one.

For the first five episodes of True Detective, I took great pains not to discuss it as a show, but to take apart in as portentous a manner as possible, to reflect both the show's tone and the legion of fans who took to the internet to discuss in the greatest detail what the hell was actually going on.

Because, really, what else can you do with a show that seems so clearly destined to disappoint fans of the supernatural thriller by never really getting anywhere supernatural than by pretending to take it utterly at face value?

Fun though this approach was, it's not something I can employ for episode six, precisely because the Neelyian aspects, already little more than window-dressing, were essentially missing entirely. Yes, there's that genuinely unpleasant scene when Cohle tracks down a former victim in a mental hospital, but that aside this is all about how Cohle and Hart fall out.  You could replace the warmed-over remains of the Dora Lang case with pretty much any other crime and it not really make a difference to what is going on here.

Except that this, quite pointedly, isn't true.  I'm hardly either alone or original in pointing out this show's similarity to the first season of Twin Peaks - the slow drip of kind-of-maybe supernatural goings on, the focus on a murder performed under disturbing ritual circumstances. Hell, even the names of the murdered girls sound similar. This is the Lynch Frost masterpiece with the humour and warmth stripped out to allow for more fucking. But this comparison is dangerous, because it threatens to lead us down the wrong path.  The obvious questions to ask after noting the similarities are whether the show will, like Twin Peaks, ultimately jump with both feet into a lake of queasy weirdness, and whether the whole damn thing will disintegrate as soon as answers arrive.

My guesses on those questions are "no" and "quite possibly", for the record, but they're not what we should really be focusing on, as I say.  Consider what else Twin Peaks was. The resolution to the Laura Palmer case (as oppose to what followed) is sufficiently fascinating that I'll break my own blog laws and avoid spoilers as much as possible here, despite the show being way past my five-year rule for television. Alas, I do have to reveal though that during the second season and especially during the film prequel Fire Walk With Me, the topic of sexual abuse within a family reared its head.  The actress who played the victim of same has talked in interviews about how victims of abuse have come up to her and complemented the show for its handling of the subject, saying it helped them deal with their own circumstances.  In the end, at least while Lynch was at the reins (before quitting at watching the show go into free-fall without him), the fantastical elements of the show were just wrapping to both blunt the force of and explore the darkness of what is ultimately and horribly a merely human problem.

Ultimately, I think True Detective is taking the same approach, with even less interest in the trappings than Lynch showed.  And there's a reason for that disinterest. TD is a far more coherent show than TP (I don't mean that as an insult to the latter; I've always rather loved Lynch's dream-logic chaotic sprawls, at least until he started taking the piss with INLAND EMPIRE).  It's mission is more clear; to offer up a desperately fucked-up scenario of children being kidnapped, abused, terrorised and murdered, and to cloak it all in religious practice and imagery.

There are two immediate consequences of this, only one of which is crushingly obvious: another dissection of Christian optimism in the face of the crimes of its hierarchy. In this, True Detective is quite some distance from original, of course. Hell, Twin Peaks itself did something not entirely dissimilar, just from a familial rather than theological angle. Films and TV shows featuring depraved priests and preachers are two a penny, to the point where devout characters who are neither villains nor fools are actually hard to come by.

Where the show breaks from the pack a little way is in how smartly it links the hypocrisy of those who would cloak themselves in religious authority whilst abusing children as just the inevitable end result of a society which can only function through lying to itself and keeping order through violence. The cops are punching suspects.  The fathers are slapping their children. Everyone is telling themselves they're a good person at heart, meaning their innumerable fuck-ups should be considered isolated incidents and forgotten about immediately. It's not so much that being a man of God and taking photos of sleeping naked kids is worse than someone else doing it, it's that being a man of God makes doing it and getting away with it more easy. Priests don't become paedophiles; paedophiles become priests, and everyone else believes whatever lies they can to tell themselves this is all part of a plan that will one day make sense to us all.

This brings us to the second, far more hidden corollary to the show's foundation: Cohle is every bit as deluded as everyone else, just in entirely the opposite direction.  While Hart is busy telling himself lies about the grace of God and the importance of his family, Cohle is regurgitating the scariest, bleakest shit he can find to justify his belief that life is somewhere between wretched and useless, and actively designed to torture us (he's also pissing away his smug moral authority by screwing his partner's wife as well, of course; one wonders how his none-more-black philosophy is going to spin that particular dalliance).

If the proper response to those who insist God is necessary for a fulfilled life is to throw Douglas Adams at them, then the dark image of that approach holds for Cohle.  Why would we possibly need fringe theories about extra-dimensional observers to realise that this life can profoundly suck?  And, following on inevitably from that idea, why would we need the Yellow King to be a servant of some insane gibbering scion of madness from outside time for us to realise how utterly fucking horrifying he is?

That, it seems, is what True Detective is doing.  Not using the barest minimum of horror-fantasy trappings to ease the bitterness of the pill by placing it at a remove from our everyday experiences, but to point out that for some of us the everyday experience is so chillingly, unimaginably terrible and terrifying as to render attempts to dress it up as the work of unknowable forces utterly redundant.   It is, just as faith can be, a security blanket, a way of imagining a world that's even worse than ours is to make us feel better about what we've got.

Hart is not the deluded man of faith and Cohle the cynical observer.  Both of them are deluded, in opposite directions, for exactly the same damn reason.  And perhaps the show is working to try and wrap us all up in this delusion too. We don't need BOB in a world that produced John Wayne Gacy Jr. There is no monster at the end of the dream, because there is no dream.  There is just reality, cold and rational and unbearable.

The Yellow King is fake whether he is real or not.

Monday, 7 April 2014

A Tale Of Cocktails #47

Mel's Swing


1 oz Midori
1 oz crème de cassis
4 oz grapefruit juice

Taste: 4
Look: 4  
Cost: 8
Name: 6
Prep: 8
Alcohol: 3
Overall: 5.3

Preparation: Shake all ingredients over ice and pour.

General Comments: Dear me, no.  There's an art to get sweetness and sourness working together, and it takes more than adding something ridiculously syrupy to something sour.  Rather than working together the crème de cassis and the grapefruit juice create some kind of hideous comment on Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle; you can't identify the mediocre sourness without losing it in cloying syrup, and vice versa. Occasionally the midori shines through, presumably as an attempt to apologise, but it's nowhere near enough.

Oh, and it looks terrible too. Avoid.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Everything Old Is New Again

The Yellow King has always been, and always will be.  Out amongst the black stars; the ones that take a single moment and stretch it to infinity.  With enough black stars you could capture the universe; hold every point in time forever. Through black stars, you can escape the circle.  You kill down the telephone line.

We call it "ancient" and tremble at the thought, but it is still nothing more than one more lie to comfort us.  The Yellow King is beyond age, beyond time itself.  It exists for us through time in the same way as a man does to the photographs in his albums. He sees them in any order that he wants, as often as he wants; windows that cannot close, running contrary to time's arrow.

It has seen every death of every human, an infinite number of times.  The Purdue's want to believe it is pleased by the sacrifices performed in its name.  But how can it be?  Besides the fact that its name is a lie to begin with, how can a few more drops of blood make any difference, just because they are offered as gifts. After you've read your favourite novel for the fifteenth time, does it any longer make a difference whether it was given to you by a friend?  The Yellow King watched us crawl from the swamps, watched an erect ape reach for a sharp tree branch and so invent the murder weapon. We cannot please him.  We cannot make him notice us.  He lies outside the circle.

Or so Cohle would tell us, wrapped up as he is in one more form of addictive self-destruction.  That is the enduring frustration with the man.  He can cut through the self-serving bullshit of others with remarkable speed and effectiveness.  But a psychiatrist cannot turn their critical gaze inward, even those of the amateur drunken arsehole stripe.  Sometimes his refusal to tell himself the same lies everyone around him seems to leads to genuine enlightenment.  Other times, he's just twisting the knife in to hear himself bleed.

Because what good does any of this do?  We cannot learn from the circle. We can't escape it. We can't see it or know that it is there. How are we improved, how are our failures limited, by the suggestion every life repeats itself endlessly like a rock tumbling through space?  Perhaps it's true. Perhaps that little girl is trapped in Carcosa forever; will always be brought back to a filthy corrugated shack in the Louisiana backwaters.  Perhaps she will never truly escape the Purdues any more than her dead cellmate could.  So what? It all gets us nowhere, by definition.

Once you refuse to accept the chain of cause and effect has any real bearing on your actions, it gets a lot easier to convince yourself that it doesn't matter if the AK-47 opens up before or after its owner has been shot in the head. Further, if everything plays out the same way, again and again, then we're not to blame when things go wrong. Not really. We can't escape the circle.  So after all this time spent picking Hart apart for his disgraceful self-deception, is Cohle really any better? Is he any more clear-eyed about the world, or does he simply choose more esoteric and more quiet forms of shirking responsibility. Hallucinogenic drugs, atheism, a claim to understand the secret fate of all life.  An escape attempt through the black star of Jung's nightmares that can never lead anywhere.

None of this detracts from Hart's failures, of course.  Whatever Cohle may believe, for Hart time is still a line. A more common belief, though a madness should not be considered mitigated by popularity, but it holds its own dangers.  Fixate on that metaphysical model, and you stare so long at your past failures and grudges that you miss the present entirely, missing every drop of the future as it drips past you and adds to the growing body of water of the past; a dead lake on an alien world. You become lost in your own history, picking through the choices then that might not have led you here.  But here is all there is. What does it matter where Hart might have turned a different way and ended up with a teenage daughter he felt more capable of relating to?  What matters is that he slaps her in the present. That he protects his daughter from voluntary pleasure through enforced pain.  And that this is one more mistake he will refuse to learn from.

Which means he's as trapped in himself as he would be were Cohle right anyway.  Like the Yellow King, the flat circle theory is true whether it is true or not. A mapping of mutually exclusive possibilities into a single certainty. The impossible contradictions of quantum theory blown up to the human level.

The realisation that sanity is simply the madness we are born with.