Monday, 19 January 2015

The Mathematics Of Cowardice

Since Fliss the Long Suffering was kind enough to buy me the latest Blood Angels Codex for my birthday, I spent the weekend poring through its pages to see whether Games Workshop has continued to insist that the IX Legion are a troupe of quivering scaredy-pants.

And alas, they remain as terrified of getting their vambraces dented as ever they were.  One of the most noble Legions in Imperial history, reduced to skulking around the backwaters of the galaxy hoping to avoid stubbing their toes.

Perhaps it sounds implausible to you that Sanguinius' sons could be so unwilling to face the foes of humankind. If so, then I would respectfully ask you to FACE THE MATHS.

The gladiatorial games that provide the Blood Angels with their recruits take place in the Baal system only once every generation. Let's say for the sake of argument that generations tend to come around more quickly in a rad-strewn wasteland like that of Baal and its moons, there's no real way these games can be held any more frequently than once every fifteen years.  During these games, just fifty youths are chosen to become Astartes.  That's already capped the speed of replacement marines at fewer than 350 a century.  But then things get worse. Of the fifty initiates chosen every decade and a half, "many" do not survive their internment in the Golden Sarcophagi. Obviously "many" is a word open to interpretation, but it's hard to believe it could mean fewer than, say, twenty out of the bunch.  That reduces the chapter to fewer than 175 new marines every century. On average, the Blood Angels are doing well to gain seven new Astartes every four years.

That in itself would be fairly anaemic growth: if the Blood Angels had done literally nothing but play Twister on Baal following their near-extermination in 996M40 (only fifty of their marines survived a horrifically ill-timed picnic aboard a spaceship of special historical interest), it would have taken almost five and a half centuries to recover. But there's still more.  According to the Codex, each Blood Angels force loses "a handful" of Astartes to the Black Rage, a fate which means even if they somehow survive the comic battle, they'll be executed at the end of it. "Handful" isn't much more precise than "many", of course, but let's say it's at least three.  Three Space Marines, at the very least, die during or even immediately after every single battle the Chapter's forces take part in.

All of which means that, just to remain at strength, the Chapter can't be fighting more than three battles every four years.  One battle every sixteen months, that's all Dante can afford, and that's is literally no other Blood Angel gets himself killed. Which I suppose might be true a lot of the time, what with them cowering in Land Raiders whilst they send in the flying wizard-tanks, but sooner or later someone's gotta zig when they were supposed to zag and BAM: nartheciums on full, clean-up on aisle three. An attack bike accidentally drives down a Malefactor's gullet? No more warfare for the next three seasons. Tactical squad wander into axe-range of an ill-tempered Bloodthirster?  That's us at quota for the next five years. Better get back to tarting up your guns, lads!

And that's just to stay static.  To have rebuilt the Chapter after Space Hulk: Round One, there would have to have been even less in the way of interstellar punch-ups. Let's say Dante and his predecessor let the Blood Angels out to play just once every two years, and each time they were miraculously free of casualties (in fairness I imagine losing 95% of your troops is the kind of event that will prompt you to start following the British approach to war so memorably explained by Captain E. Blackadder), that's still an aggregate gain of only twenty-five marines a century; the whole damn operation would still be below one-third strength a millennium after the massacre.

The end result is inescapable.  The Blood Angels can stir themselves to battle only a dew times a decade, and only in situations so overwhelmingly favourable they need fear nothing but the grip of insanity. The entire Chapter is a nest of craven cowards, as proved by maths. Chapter Master Dante must be tracked down and brought to account for this abject failure to do his duty.

Only, erm... can someone else do it?

Friday, 16 January 2015

Radio Friday: Always Better With Mandolins

We've not done this for a while (or Friday miniatures either, though that's because we still can't find our damn camera charger).  I realise there may be large sections of my audience (to the extent anything to do with my viewership can sensibly be called "large") who don't give a damn about Green Day, and that plenty of those who do will think a Glen Campbell cover of said band's least representative song is somehow heretical.  But nuts to all of you.  This is the tastytimes.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie, Peut-être

Friend of the blog and all round super-brain Tomsk has himself up a series of links defending the reputation of Charlie Hebdo in wake of the wave of criticism that magazine has taken this week for some of its past cartoons. And whilst Tomsk is clearly correct that "Anglosplaining" is a great word, I'm forced to disagree with the idea that it's necessarily of much use here.
Simply put, the problem I have here is that a great amount of the criticism I am seeing directed at these cartoons is coming from people of colour. In my case, simply because of the directions my whims have taken me, the criticisers are also by and large American.  And I have a huge issue with the white people I've seen defending Charlie by telling black Americans they can't recognise racism when they see it because they're not French.  It's just too easy and glib and frankly patronising an answer, and not one black Americans are used to hearing in far too many similar forms.

I'm not saying there's no chance nuance is being lost, of course.  And I'm aware that as a white Englishman I can't speak with no greater authority on racial theory as espoused by non-white people than I can on the satirical history of our Gallic neighbours. I can say that the position that using the imagery of racism to mock racists is still hugely problematic is a common-held and entirely considered one, though, and that in everything I've seen - including some of the links Tomsk offers- that stance is being ignored or straw-manned so that black people can be lectured for "not getting it". Pointing that out isn't "Anglosplaining", it's simply noting that an argument has been made that I'm not seeing anyone refute. Various deconstructions of the French humour mechanism that generated these cartoons are on offer, but as to why drawing a black woman as a monkey is cool if you're doing it to mock racists, I'm still none the wiser. [1]

There's also the issue of Islamophobia to consider (the degree to which one cannot help but be racist if one demonstrates Islamophobic tendencies is an exercise I leave to the reader). The suggestion Charlie is Islamophobic is far from limited to non-French people; even current/former employees of the magazine have taken exception to its treatment of the religion after 9-11. I read an article this weekend that I'm desperately trying to locate from a former Charlie artist/writer staffer (Update: here it is) who took the magazine to task for a decade plus of increasing Islamophobia, for example.

Lastly, it should be remembered that one can hold explicitly anti-racist stances and still produce racist material. Indeed, this is essentially inevitable. Even worse, it can be more common for those of us on the left to do so than others, because we make mistakes whilst trying to engage with the problem whilst others ignore it entirely (I saw a depressing synecdoche for this on Twitter a couple of months ago when a black woman explained most of the racist tweets she got were from progressives, because they try and show solidarity in offensively incompetent ways, whilst at least the conservatives just completely bypass her). Hell, I've based this entire post on the theory that I have a half-decent working understanding of why so many black Americans are furious over these cartoons, which itself might be presumptuous of me to the point of racism. [2]

In short, I can completely respect an argument that says Charlie Hebdo is dedicated to the fight against racism.  I can respect an argument that says given that fact, we shouldn't rip apart its missteps in this regard, and recognise that taken holistically CH is a force for good (though as a white guy I don't get to decide how much anti-racist work counteracts even one racist cartoon). But defending these specific cartoons is a much harder job than I've seen anyone inclined to do so willing to admit to, and that job doesn't even seem to be being seriously attempted because their so-called defenders are more interested in building a hierarchy of authorities on recognising racism. Which, as I've noted, just so happens to have a bunch of predominantly white people at the very top. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

[1] See also the Suey Park/Stephen Colbert controversy last March, in which Colbert's twitter feed was jumped on after he mocked the Washington Redskins franchise's refusal to change its name by announcing he would "show the Asian-American community I care by starting the 'Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever'". My point here is not that Suey Park was clearly in the right, but that the argument that satirising bigots by appropriating their rhetoric (linguistic or visual) is something those on the shitty end of that bigotry can have a problem with. That's what needs addressing here, not whether this kind of appropriation is more common in France than elsewhere.

[2] It strikes me that at least some of the back-and-forth here stems from the conflation of "being racist" and "being a racist". I'm only interested in the first formulation, and a lot of the defences mounted on behalf of the magazine is that their staff clearly aren't racists. To be clear, I am criticising the cartoons, not the artists. I am insisting that everyone on the left - myself included - is capable of being racist, not that we're all racists. This is hardly an original point, but since I'm on the subject I shall bring it up once more: one consequence of our culture concluding racists are terrible people is that it's led most of us to assume we can't be racist, because we're clearly not a racist. The truth of course is vastly more complicated.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Fevre Dream II: The Emancipation Strikes Back

We watched this at the weekend, and I have (probably unnecessarily complicated) mixed feelings about it.  On its own terms, it's perfectly serviceable, being fully aware of how bonkers it is on every level.  I've been a sucker for spinning ludicrous fantasy/sci-fi conspiracy theories out of historical events ever since my teenage years and Dark Skies, and this film doesn't disgrace that absurdly narrowly-defined genre.  Rufus Sewell glowers, Mary Elizabeth Winstead charms, Jimmi Simpson puppy-dogs, all amongst a gloriously deranged plot that swings unrepentantly between po-faced recreations of abolition movement idealism and slow-motion vampire decapitations. Watching the attempts to make this a single coherent movie rather than two short films edited together at random is a large part of the fun, even if it a goal it never had any real chance of reaching.

But - and I know going into this that I'm about to start hanging issues onto a narrative too slight to hold them - do we really want to be dealing in fiction that suggests the slave plantations of the American South were being run as farms by malevolent vampires? Do we want - even for 105 minutes of nonsense - to imagine a world in which we could be absolved as a species for our own grotesque moral failings? This bothered me a little in Fevre Dream, too, but at least there it was just a single vampire who saw worth in running a plantation. Here the entire structure of slavery in the States exists because superhuman monsters want it that way. I get the same jitters signing off on that storyline as I do those that suggest Hitler was an alien stooge or a shape-changer.  The absolute worst way to respond to grotesque human evil is to suggest some qualitative difference between the evildoers and the rest of us.

On the other hand, though, it's a pretty hilarious slap in the face to every single unbearable fool who insists the Civil War didn't have the fight over slavery at its heart.  Of course it did, you idiots.  Why else were the vampires involved? "War of Northern Aggression"? You need to check your history kids. You picked the side with all the killer fucking vampires, and what's worse, you've done it retrospectively.

Hell, it's not even that the Southern gentry were aligned with the vampires; they were the vampires, gaining power they could never have forged for themselves by gorging themselves on the lives of others.  One could object to the film suggesting Lincoln was even more virtuous than his popular image insists. Here he not only took on the South purely for the benefit of others he did so despite knowing he was kicking an undead hornet's nest that might soon feel the need to start eating white folk. I can respect that viewpoint, but I think it's the wrong one, because it doesn't take into account all the advisers surrounding Lincoln here insisting the war is too great a risk because the vampires might attempt to subjugate the whole of the nation rather than just the slave states. Adapting for the comforting rules of real-world biology, this is exactly what Lincoln was told over and over: it simply wasn't worth the risk.  If the price of maintaining the union was letting the worst damn human beings in the country get to keep writing obscene cheques with human blood, then so be it.

Whatever his limitations, whatever his failures, whatever other factors were involved in the war, Lincoln would have none of it. He saw the worst damn people doing the worst damn things, and calling themselves countrymen and Christians whilst they did it. He watched engorged ticks build their balconies from the bones of people they considered property, and he watched them loudly trumpet their intention to murder their neighbours if those neighbours forced them to stop murdering the unpaid, unwilling help. He saw all that, and he stepped forward. He didn't step forward alone, of course - the "great men" never do - but still, he took that step. He took that step, and the Lost Cause was lost, drowned in a fraction of the blood it had spilled for generations, swept away in the same ocean they had once used to raise their slave ships.

It was just that simple. It was always just that simple. And whilst as mentioned I have my concerns about pretending anything separates us from the slavers but time and fortune, and whilst I'm well aware that the move that most enrages our enemies is not necessarily the move we should want to make, AL:VH does us all this one service. It takes the vampires and drags them screaming into the light.

Sunday, 11 January 2015


No messing around here. Nine pages in, the Admiral is dead. Totalitarian fascists are even bigger dicks than walking chrome toasters. Twenty-nine pages later, the long flight of the fleet has begun. If this is an obvious rewriting of the new Galactica (it is; Campbell’s claim 2006 and 2003 are “about the same time” is ridiculous), there’s no interest in redoing the miniseries, part one. Just no time. Fight, brood, fight, brood. Done. Readable in a weekend; a holiday book leaving you plenty of holiday when you've finished. Not smart (though perhaps pleasingly progressive), but fun.

And fast.