Friday, 30 May 2014

Stone And Sky

Stupid naming conventions. This post should so be called
"The Falcon, the Mockingbird, and the Cuckoo".

After all that stressing last time around trying to decide whether to try picking apart the slim threads of the Greyjoy story this year, it turns out to have been quite fortuitous.  We might have seen precious little of everyone's favourite squid-worshippers in Season 4, but what has been there has helped underline one of the themes of this year: imprisonment.  Some people are imprisoned by their foes.  Others are imprisoned by the strictures of their own duty.  And some, like Lysa Arryn, are imprisoned by love.

(TV spoilers follow; book ones don't.)

Friday, 23 May 2014

Plunder And Amnesia

(Housekeeping note: I've gathered my various discussions of the Game of Thrones TV series and the original book series under one label: The Game's Afoot.  For those who have seen the show and are understandably nervous about spoilers in my book posts; rest assured that any post starting with a still from the show will be book-spoiler free. Otherwise, I suggest you steer clear.)

"Sweating and straining,
Oh it seemed so simple at the time." - Semisonic, "Never You Mind".

Longterm fans/hate-readers (which I think I have; it's hard to tell from cowardly subtweets) will be well aware of my attempts to tie the titles of my Game of Thrones posts together season by season.  The titles for seasons one and three have a trivial link, of course; season two requires only slightly more thought/music knowledge. So come season four, it was clear I'd have to come up with a new naming strategy.  And given a) season three's theme was plays on the third book's title and b) season four was spend the majority of its time on that same book, it seemed an obvious choice to stick to the same plan, only this time to riff off the paperback subtitles (which follow both linguistically and chronologically from the original single-volume title: see what I did there?)

(Show spoilers follow; book spoilers expunged)

Friday 40K: The Heavenly Host Descends

At long last, after a quite ridiculous amount of time, I've managed to paint up the standard bearer for my Sanguinary Guard , and thereby finish the squad off.  Eagle-eyed readers will note that the banner being carried is not actually the right colours for the Blood Angels chapter banner, but nuts to it; I prefer it this way.

With this squad and my Tervigon/Harpy taking both my Blood Angels and Tyranids well above 2000 points (I think they're about 2500 and 2250, respectively), I think it's high time to show my Dark Angels some love. Of course, I have practically the entirety of Dark Vengeance available to do that (the Dark Angels Captain is the only Imperial model I've painted so far from that particular box set), but since I already have Tactical Squads, a Deathwing Squad, and Ravenwing bikers, I'm thinking I should go for something a tad more esoteric.

Time to invest in a Land Speeder Vengeance, I reckon.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Content Warning: I Call Kevin Drum A Fool

So this really pissed me off.
As you might expect, I'm not especially sympathetic to the trigger warning movement, which seems more appropriate for explicitly safe spaces (counseling groups, internet forums, etc.) than for public venues like university campuses. But put that aside. What I don't get is what anyone thinks the point of this is. You're never going to have trigger warnings in ordinary life, right? So even if universities started adopting broad trigger policies, it would accomplish nothing except to semi-protect sensitive students for a few more years of their lives, instead of teaching them how to deal with upsetting material.
Now, you could make this same argument about a lot of things. But in other cases—for example, a university policy aimed at racism or disabilities or whatnot—it would presumably be done in the hope that it might influence public policy and eventually lead to changes in the wider world. But does anyone have this hope for trigger warnings? It doesn't even seem feasible to me.
But maybe I'm just demonstrating a lack of imagination here. In any case, I'm curious about what the ultimate point is. Are supporters of trigger warnings just hoping to give kids a few more years of refuge from the outside world? Or do they somehow think that these policies might spark the outside world to change? I've never really heard anyone explain what the end game is here, and I'd like to hear it
I realise Drum is respectfully asking for enlightenment here, but even so, this is so painfully stupid it hurt me to cut and paste it onto my blog. I just can't process someone who's implicit argument is that unless you can stop something, it makes no sense to lessen it.  The actual experience of being triggered is not at all pleasant, as anyone who's suffered it could tell Drum.  The idea that because it happens out there in the deserts of the real we're not really accomplishing anything by protecting people vulnerable to it where we can is utterly insane.  It's like saying you shouldn't tell lab techs to wear gloves when handling test-tubes filled with the flu virus because out there in the big, bad world, you'll never see the little gribblies coming.

We lessen suffering where we can, when we can.  We don't just throw our hands up and say "It'll hit you eventually" unless we're uncaring dicks. Especially in a situation like this, where the cost involved is almost nothing (those complaining in comments that they'd rather encounter a text in the way the creator intended might want to consider how fucking stupid that argument is when applied to courses specifically designed to dissect and reinterpret the text; if you're worried about spoilers in Huck Finn you are really doing English literature wrong).

In short: the end game is to try and reduce the number of triggers someone has to go through in their lives (Drum's argument seems to ignore frequency in favour of just whether they happen or not, of course, which is another big problem here).  If you can't see why that is of huge and real use in and of itself, there's not much anyone can do for you.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Fun With Owls...

And other flesh-tearing avians.  Fliss and I went to the imaginatively titled Falconry Experiences in Swadlincote, Derbyshire yesterday. There we got to hold an American kestrel, a (melanistic) barn owl, and a Harris hawk, stroke a burrowing owl, and sit and stare at a golden eagle and hope it didn't try to kill us.  We also learned the origin of the phrases "fed up", "end of their tether", "under the thumb" and "wrapped around your finger", learned that "Subbeteo" literally translates as "under-buzzard" (i.e. a hobby; Peter Adolph, you wag, you), and watched a falconer vault a barbed-wire fence to chase after a hawk which had fled the scene after a rather surprised baby rabbit (no animals were harmed in the making of this situation).

So all that was rather nice. Here are some photos of the two of us holding on to various feathered killers.

Flames And Death

With three scenes in the last four episodes either involving it or narrowly escaping it, season four of Game of Thrones seems destined to go down in history as "the rapey year". But such obvious and sustained unpleasantness isn't the only moral problem thrown up by the show this year.  Indeed the other major contender - Dany's imperialist hi-jinks in foreign climes - is an issue that's been brewing since the show's very beginning.

(TV spoilers follow; book spoilers strictly set aside.)

Friday, 16 May 2014

(I Pray For) A Lack Of Will

I've worked this beat before, but it's been a few years, I have new readers now, and anyways it's nice to take some time out every now and again to note what a fucking idiot George Will is, especially when we can use it to segue into what fucking idiots climate change deniers are.

Obviously everything Will says or has said or presumably ever will say on the subject of global warming is utterly vacuous and would embarrass even the most intellectually incurious nine-year-old were they to be picked up on it.  I guess nothing here quite matches his 2009 insistence that because 1980 was the hottest year on record, there had been no global warming in three decades [1]. I guess that by his own logic, the fact that his hilarious and  piteous ignorance peaked in 2009 means Will hasn't been a calamitous failure on every level when discussing climate science in the last five years. Which is nice for him, but for those of us not paid to make the world a worse place through smug self-immolation, I think we can consider the point proved.

So what's he up to this time, this worthless anti-science hack who can't even be bothered to bring his worthless schmuck A-game any more?
“If you want money from the biggest source of direct research in this country, the federal government, don’t question its orthodoxy.”
This - and I mention it because Will is bound to get on his high horse about it again soon enough - is why people laugh in conservatives' faces when they complain progressives treat them like idiots.  Yes, the federal government gives more money to climate scientists than do, say, petroleum companies. The annual bill to feed federal workers grossly outweighs that spent by the seven US restaurants with three Michelin stars, too, but if you think people interested in expensive ingredients should be chowing down at school canteens in central Baltimore, you're a fucking idiot.

You would hope a man so obviously and embarrassingly devoted to US conservative orthodoxy would understand higher paying jobs are both more rare and more tempting, but this is an opportunity to stick it to the Feds, so fuck it. [2]

But then, as always, Will is nothing if not a perfect microcosm of his tribe's political thought in general. There are two types of self-proclaimed "climate sceptic".  The first is at least approximately tolerable; they can be discerned as those who resolutely refuse to believe either side has yet made their case well enough. They're wrong, and in many cases they're wrong because they haven't bothered to actually listen to each side for long enough to slap together an informed opinion, but hey: there's plenty of issues in the world about which I know nothing and haven't attempted to correct the fact.  It wouldn't hurt for some of those people to be a little less smug and dismissive when confessing their ignorance, but at a basic level I'm uncomfortable telling others who might be outside my privileged position of having easy access to information (and, quite frankly, the kind of brain that can assimilate and weigh that information correctly) that they have a moral duty to read up on the kinds of things I think should be read up on. It's aggravating that their position is basically a licence to do nothing about climate change (every time they read an article saying everything is doomed, they can read another saying it's all a big fuss, then commend themselves for being so even-handed whilst they drive their 4x$ to the steakhouse), but there it is.

That's not Will, though, nor Krauthammer neither. They are not and never have been sceptics.  Sceptics require a greater level of proof before they believe something.  Will and Krauthammer requires absolutely no proof at all before they believe something, as long as they want to believe it.  They're as credulous as those people that still somehow mean the Nigerian prince email scam still seems to be worth pursuing.  It's just that their credulity makes them money rather than causing them to lose it.  Which is nice work if you can get it, I suppose (though I'm sure the Fed spends much more money on fact-spinning than does FOX News, so clearly Will must think he's made a terrible mistake somewhere in his career), but being covered in money for being a chump doesn't make your inherent chumpery any less obvious.  You can't spell "useful fucking idiot" without "fucking idiot".

Which is why the label "deniers" fits them like a studded ball-gag. No argument is too weak, no factoid too implausible, no equivalence so obviously false for these people to swallow faster than Chris Christie would a jam doughnut sprinkled with proof he masterminded the GW Bridge scandal.
Scepticism is about checking others are right.  Denialism is about desperately hoping others are right so that you don't have to change your opinions or behaviour. Scepticism is how science brought us every innovation for the last six hundred years. Denialism is how scientists got thrown in dungeons for asking whether the dude in the priest's robes really knew all that much about astronomy.

Scepticism, properly exercised scepticism that faces of against orthodoxy rather than simply avoiding it, is brave. Denialism is cowardly. And the fact that you can get rich through weaponising cowardice might actually be a stronger reason to believe mankind is ultimately doomed than any amount of evidence for climate change might be.

Just kidding. It's climate change that will screw us.  I know this because I bothered to check. 

[1] Except 1998 and 2002-2007, but who's counting?

[2] Were I dealing with anyone else, I'd point out his argument is logically indistinguishable from the argument that most of the world's resources are held by non-white people, and hence being white is a profound disadvantage. The problem, of course, is that not only am I concerned that might not actually be true - splendid work Europe, really - but that neither Will nor Krauthammer would have any problem with the idea that it's super-tough to be white and why is everyone always so mean to them?

Radio Friday: We Gots You Covered

Some Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox today I think, because damn...

Thursday, 15 May 2014

In Which I Lecture You About Lectures

As someone who is on record as thinking university lectures are overused and often very poorly put together, I read Donald Clark's Guardian piece with some interest.  Alas, interest does not imply approval, nor in this case, does it preclude disappointment. Throughout the article there's a refusal to separate problems lectures come with built-in and problems caused by bad lecturing. Take this quote for example:
Imagine if a movie were shown only once. Or your local newspaper was read out just once a day in the local square. Or novelists read their books out once to an invited audience. That's face-to-face lectures for you: it's that stupid.
Jeebus, those are some terrible analogies right there. Even if we bypass the fact that movies and novels don't fulfil the same roles as newspapers - let's just consider the strict subsets of documentaries and novels with some genuine thesis underlying them  - if a novelist divided their reading into twice-weekly chunks which came attached to group discussion and small Q&A sessions, there's a hell of a lot one could learn from that approach.  The problem isn't the effectiveness of the lecture as a tool, it's whether the surrounding context supports that tool, and whether the lectures themselves are of the necessary quality. For instance:
What's even worse is that, at many conferences I attend, someone reads out an entire lecture verbatim from their notes. Is there anything more pointless? It's a throwback to a non-literate age. I can read. In fact, I can read faster than they can speak. The whole thing is an insult to the audience.
That's where the problem is.  Not that lectures are used, but because there's a distressing number of academics who don't bother to distinguish between reciting notes and teaching students.

The same problem surfaces when we get into Clark's 10 reasons for why lectures allegedly suck.  Points 5 to 9 are probably reasonable criticisms of lectures in general, though 6 ignores the fact that other sessions exist in university courses to combat that problem (see above), and 8 and 9 are at worst double-edged swords - the benefits to peer communication of putting people in the same room at the same time to experience the same lecture should be entirely fucking obvious.  Points 2, 3 and 10 are entirely aimed at poor lecturing technique, with 2 and 10 in particular not even remotely being solved by switching to pre-recorded lectures (in fact, those problems might be exacerbated), and point 4 is similarly unsolvable by the proposed switch to MOOCs and the like. Point 1 is just point 3 reworded so as to look smarter by mentioning the Babylonians.

Out of the 10 points, it's really only 5 and 7 that definitely hit home as reasons why lectures are fundamentally flawed, as oppose to far too often delivered by gitlizards. The ability to take in lectures at one's own pace is incredibly important, and by insisting otherwise lecturers are guilty of ableism.  I'm perfectly happy with the idea that lectures should be recorded. Indeed, plenty of students do so here at my current place of employment, though I'm entirely receptive to an argument that we should be doing it ourselves with visual as well as audio (generally the students only record my voice) and sticking it up online after the event.  But whilst as educators (as well as minimally decent human beings) we should make every effort to ensure those who can't get the most from a live lecture as we'd like are in no way disadvantaged by that, the general benefits of delivering material to groups of people who can interact with each other and you immediately afterwards (I can't remember the last time I gave a lecture which didn't then lead to some short but useful conversations with students just after finishing up) are real and shouldn't be wished away, in the same way that realising some people require Braille isn't a sensible argument for giving up on printing presses.

Every approach has its advantages and its limitations. Supplementation and variation are the approaches we need to focus on. And if too many academics can't even deliver a half-decent lecture (and I am as disgusted as anyone by the fact that so many can't) we need to teach them to do it better lectures, or kick them to the curb. Because these goobers can't manage a lecture, how can we trust them to deliver anything more involved [1]? We can't make teaching better without making better teachers, even if we try to rely on the online causes that Clark just so happens to make his shekels slapping together.

[1] I'd also like to point out the irony in Clark trying to sell academics on the idea that MOOCs would reduce the amount of time they spend teaching instead of researching, when it's exactly that attitude of seeing teaching as an impediment to research that leads to shitty lecturers in the first place.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Things I Learned This Week

This last week was set aside for catching up with family and friends, so mainly I was reminded that my friends' child can be hilarious:
Everyone! I will now sing Fireman Sam!
But also somewhat terrifying:
I am a farmer OF PEOPLE!

I was also forced to confront the fact that my father's mind may now be wondering quite some way from the beaten path:

Dad: I heard this story you'd love.  There's this guy who has to go see a play being put on by this terrible but wealthy actress, who's hired a theatre and employed a cast so she can star in an adaptation of Anna Karenina.  Have you read the book?
SpaceSquid: I have not.
D: Well anyway.  They're all there handing out their Hanukkah presents.
SS: Hanukkah?
D: A sort of Jewish Christmas.
SS: I know what it is, I just don't think that-
D: And then the Gestapo arrive.
SS: What?
D: And our guy shouts "Look in the attic!"
SS: ...
D: What? Isn't it funny?
SS: Do you mean Anne Frank?
D: Er... yes.
SS: Now it's funny.

I suppose there is something oddly comforting in the idea that the generations above and below mine are just as bizarre as my own.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Steel And Snow

(Spoilers pretty much from the jump, people. As always, though, book spoilers will not appear)

The Boys Of Winter or This Isn't The Film You're Looking For

Fliss and I finally got around to watching the latest Marvel film last week. My basic impression of it is that the film is pretty solid, but probably overrated.  Potentially related to this, I also thin the common interpretation of the film is somewhat off-base.  Plenty of people seem to come away thinking Winter Soldier is at heart a paean to simpler, more honest times, when we didn't need a groaning, overbearing surveillance state hoovering up secrets and trampling over everyone's civil rights to stop our buildings from exploding, and we certainly didn't need those state organs launching bombing runs against people based on sketchy intelligence and a total disregard for due process.

Which isn't really what the film is about. Instead, I think the film is predominantly on the side of a groaning, overbearing surveillance state. It just wants it to be much better at its job.

(Spoilers follow).

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Dragon And The Hawk

Random thoughts on "Frontier in Space", voted as the best Jo Grant story (herself voted as best Pertwee companion) over in that SFX thread I've been participating in.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Friday 40K: G Vs E

It's a two for one deal this time around, as I continue to inch ever closer towards finishing my Sanguinary Guard squad (just the standard to paint now), and also at least reach the halfway point with my first gang of Red Corsairs Cultist.

For anyone interested, the Sanguinary Guard armour is painted with Balthasar Gold followed by two Gehenna Gold drybrushings with a Reikland Fleshade wash in-between, then a final drybrush with Auric Armour Gold.  The red cloth on the cultist is rather more simple; Red Gore (remember that?) with an Evil Sunz Scarlet highlight.

Thursday, 1 May 2014


This is why I hate them. This is why I always introduced my GCSE stats lessons as "lessons in lying". This is why I'm going back to statistics teaching (undergraduate level this time) full time in September.

FOX News:

Correct graph:

Note that they didn't just invert the y-axis.  Any fool can do that.  Note that they rearranged the x-axis to put events out of chronological order.  That's some high level bullshitting right there. 

(Important note: just because I've corrected this doesn't mean I think the correct graph is actually particularly useful; I don't.  But at least the information is honestly displayed.)

Update: forgot to h/t JJ and There's Coffee In That Nebula. My apologies, folks!

Update 2: Clay points out in comments quite persuasively that it's a fake, though a fake based on screenshots from another spectacularly bad FOX graphic.  Clearly I should have checked thoroughly before throwing this up.  We regret the error.