Monday, 28 September 2015

Hearts And Minds

"Gee, and we had all hoped those crazy kids would make it work."

(Major Who spoilers from jump.)

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Haldane Paradox

Haldane's the one on the left. I think. It's been a while.
(Spoilers for last week's Doctor Who below.)

Never let it be said that Space Precinct never did anything for anyone. Quite aside from its storming theme tune, it waskind enough to give 15 year old Mini-Squid an important lesson in narrative structure.

Six episodes in, perhaps realising the set-up Gerry Anderson had laid out for them wasn't really going to get the job done, some of the show's writers said to themselves "Sod it; let's just do Terminator", and put together a story in which an unstoppable cyborg goes back in time to murder the shit out of everyone.

And it does pretty well. Within minutes of arrival, one of the main characters is gunned down and killed. Mini-Squid was impressed. It was a bold and surprising move. Main characters just didn't die like that, not back then. A frankly unbearably creaky show, a relic of an era long dead, finally seemed to be doing something new and interesting.

Then a second main character, Jack Haldane, got himself rubbed out, and I worked out what was going on.

I named what I learned the Haldane Paradox, which very simply says that the higher the stakes, the lower the stakes. When a villain announces she will blow up a building, she might succeed. When she announces she will blow up the world, she will obviously fail. When a minor character dies, it might well stick; when multiple headline characters die, it will obviously be a temporary state of affairs.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.1.3 - "The Chalet Lines" (Belle & Sebastian)

Trigger warning for sexual assault.

"He raped me in the chalet lines"

This is sad song against which all sad songs are measured, something so depressing it needed five seconds of near-silence at the start of the track and a throwaway piece of fluff following on from it just so it didn't bleed across the rest of the album. The rape that forms the foundation of the song's story is mentioned in the very first line, before the first piano key is touched. The piano remains firmly in the background throughout, a sparse, simple refrain marking time as the story spills out of the desperate, exhausted narrator.  It will take two full verses for another instrument to arrive, a mournful cello wandering through and below the story.

"I had just said no for the final time."

Stuart Murdoch is no stranger to the slow and sorrowful, but this heartbreaking of a woman sexually assaulted at a holiday camp demonstrates just how far removed his - and everyone else's - songs about the problems with fitting in and finding love really are in the grand scheme of things. It's just a taste - the song clocks in at under 160 seconds - of what true injustice and misery is, but it so winds its story so tightly across its thirty-three lines there's a sense you couldn't survive any more.

"Although it's last month it's like yesterday"

What I love most about this song is its focus on the aftermath of the rape rather than the act itself.  The obvious rejoinder to those fools (sadly now including Alan Moore) who argue it's ridiculous for artists to shy away from depicting rape whilst so happily showing killing is that murder, by definition, doesn't require any thought regarding how it will effect the victim. There is no equivalent term for "rape survivor", for obvious reasons. Which means writing about a rape for shock value and/or with no idea how to sensitively tackle what follows is much, much worse than just liberally salting your script with bullets.

There is none of that here. Just a heartbreaking series of incidental details.

"I'm feeling sick, fuck this
I've felt this way for a week"

It's those tiny, horrible details that stick in the heart. The way she still remembers how wonderful the night was before suddenly it wasn't. How she's not sure if the nausea she's feeling is a delayed reaction to what she's experienced, or something much worse.  How she longs to murder her attacker whilst simultaneously seeing no benefit in reporting him to the police.

"She caught the bus"

Then, right as the song approaches its end, we begin to distance ourselves from this poor woman as the song shifts from first to third person. I remember being taught something similar to this in drama lessons - if you spend too long locked inside your character you have to spend a little time recognising them as a distinct person to you.  You can't just stop being them, you have to be you whilst looking at them. It's also here a reminder that whilst we've felt some small slice of this girl's misery, we are not her. Most of us get to breathe in these final lines and remember how lucky we are that we can't truly understand this woman's pain.

Most of us.

"Her face was just a smear on the pane"

And look, you can argue that a man's perspective of a woman being sexually assaulted isn't what we need (we might want to idly wonder why neither of the group's two female vocalists sang the song, but that's none of our business).  But what having Murdoch (with a little help from Stevie Jackson) sing this does though is further throw into relief just how lightweight and self-involved the standard woe-is-me pattern of male singer-songwriters really is.  It highlights not just how totally we bury this kind of story, but the tonnes of solipsistic self-pitying bullshit we use to do it. It reminds us that this is something far too rare concerning itself with something far too common.

It reminds us that this is what art is supposed to be for.

Plus bonus video:

Monday, 21 September 2015

A Prime Minister Makes Love To A Pig

First the laughter...

...then the inevitable "well, actually..." beard-stroking. Because I'm less interested in whether or not David Cameron did actually have sex with the mouth of a dead pig than I am about why the pig was dead in the first place.  Isn't it arguable that once you kill a pig for the purpose of eating it, also using it for alternative pleasures is actually a net positive? I mean, it's transparently obvious that no-one at the event needed to kill a pig in order to live; they'd have no difficulty switching to a vegetarian diet. That pig, in other words, had already died for the sake of people's enjoyment. I'm not sure how much business I have sneering or even giggling at people who want to get two very different forms of pleasure from something I only enjoy in one way.

Put another way, "Man who has pigs killed for his own pleasure disgusted at man who has pigs killed for those pleasures AND others" doesn't strike me as the sturdiest of platforms from which to spit at someone, even someone who so desperately needs to be spat upon at all times by all people. I'm not saying no-one can express moral outrage at this, only that I can't be one of them.  I'm too compromised.

Of course, I can still find it uproariously funny, at least until it's revealed that Cameron has been struggling for years to keep his bestiality tendencies under control. At that point, I might even feel sorry for the guy.

I can't promise anything, though.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Friday Talisman: A Pint Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisped Gnome-Toes

On the blog this week we have the Talisman Tavern Maid, presumably so called because as a society we have proven ourselves unable to responsibly use the word "wench". Which strikes me as a horrible shame, so I've deliberately painted this model to resemble self-indentified wench and Inner Circle member Talia. The fight to reclaim wenchdom continues!

(I'm desperately trying to remember what that pink light is behind the miniature, but I've got no idea.)

Thursday, 17 September 2015

D CDs #476: Ain't Arrogance If You're Right

Now I get it.

After the endless beige nightmare of Down Every Road, the thought of launching into another multi-disc album filled me with exhaustion. More fool me.  Life after Death is not the best album ever made - though it's exceptionally fucking good - but in the shallower pool of the "Best Double Album EVAH!" stakes (to not so much mix my metaphors as use a spiked mace to whisk them in a bowl of acid), I'm struggling to think of anything short of Mellon Collie... that could possibly outclass it.

Hell, even the Pumpkins greatest work loses out in a few respects. Biggie's last album might not reach its dizzying heights, but neither does it suffer its occasional lows. The absolute closest this album comes to filler in its... ooh, let's say 21 actual musical platters is the somewhat spartan "I'm Going Back To Cali". Even that manages to insult Tupac twice before the rap even starts, first by using voice modulation to encroach on Tupac's hit "California Love", and then by association making it clear that this track's title is about B.I.G. returning to the subject of loving California so he can rap about it right. A double gut-punch before Biggie even has to open his mouth? That is cold genius.

And everything else here is better (well, maybe not "Ten Crack Commandments..."). Yes, my baseline lack of interest in music so obsessed with masculinity and the acquisition of wealth remains in force (and as always, fuck homophobia in rap as in everywhere else). But the mark of the best lyricists is that they can make something you give absolutely no fucks about and make it interesting, and B.I.G. clearly had the knack for that. His boasts have just enough self-awareness, his tales of cold-blooded gangster excess are punctuated by moments of tragedy and comedy (see "Somebody's Got To Die" and "Niggas Bleed" respectively), and throughout the quality of wordplay is so superlative it seems churlish to argue for a greater range of topics. I mean, Rap Genius points out one of the songs here has a quadruple entendre. Biggie has essentially won English. How can I turn my nose up at the arrogance spilling from every line here when it's so obviously and completely justified?

Life After Death also gains points for structure.  Where many double albums are a messy splurge of output - even those like Mellon Collie... that have some ostensible theme to each disc - the two CDs in this pair have different focuses. The first disc is more thrilling, more brutal; the second CD is in many ways a more laid-back affair, closer to what, say Snoop (oops!) got famous doing.  There are crossovers in the atmosphere between the two discs, of course, but there's a clear get up/sit down separation here, which saves this from the long-player fatigue of most albums by those who refuse to believe they have less than seventy-three minutes of high quality product to shift. If I'm honest, I return to the first disc more than the second, but that's no criticism of the album's tail end ("The World is Filled..." is a particular highlight, and closing track "You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)" would be a storming closer even without the horrible connotations it had already acquired by the time of the album's release), just an admission that it doesn't include anything quite as superlative as "Hypnotize". Or "I Love the Dough". Or, naturally, "Mo' Money Mo' Problems", which thoroughly proves the old saw that "genius steals" as it sharpens the already fierce guitar pulse and strutting bass-line of Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out" to unconquerable effect, keeping you hooked right up until the song hits the Kelly Price-sung chorus and somehow becomes even better.

Looking back at my short list of favourites, actually, it occurs to me that Biggie is at his best here paired with a powerful female voice to contrast against his deep, thick almost-drawl. Certainly Lil' Kim is the secret weapon in "Another", turning an otherwise ugly song about viciously disrespecting your ex-girlfriend into a far more interesting "he said, she said" about how two people can so easily believe the other one was one hundred percent to blame. It's still disquieting in tone, but, as with the tales of criminal violence, the full-throttle unpleasantness is undercut just enough to save things.

More often, though, nothing here needs saving in the slightest, and the female voices here are just sharp spice to an already delicious, satisfying meal.  It was, of course, the last meal Biggie ever got to cook, which makes its sublime nature all the harder to bear. But these 109 minutes survive him as a greater monument than many could manage had they worked for a lifetime.

B.I.G. is dead. B.I.G. is immortal.

Nine tentacles.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

I For One Welcome Our New Marxist Overlord

Well not really, obviously. With Corbyn to my right, and Marx to my left, we can safely dispense with the idea that Corbyn's chief aim will be the inevitable overthrow of the bourgeoisie.

But it's precisely this inability of many in the country to accurately pin down Corbyn's leftist positions (either through ignorance or mendacity) that gives me hope for the following five years. I'm not talking about hope that Labour will win the election. Absent a major scandal and/or another financial crisis, Corbyn isn't going to take Number 10. But then neither were any of the other candidates. A second pure Tory term is close to inevitable at this point; with Cameron and Osborne having been re-elected despite years of teetering on the brink of further collapse, they should have no trouble winning another election in waters that are comparatively calm [1]. So no, Corbyn has not cost Labour the next election, any more than King Canute cost his people what the ocean reclaimed. Indeed, he may even increase Labour's share of MPs come the next election, if only because he's the last best hope of Scottish voters returning to the party they abandoned in droves four months ago.

Once we accept - as we should - that Corbyn's leadership will not make the difference between winning and losing in 2020, then, the question becomes how good Corbyn will be for the organised left. Here, I am cautiously optimistic. There are many people currently predicting a half decade of giggling and guffawing at each of Corbyn's "Loony Left" pronouncements. I'm quite sure that will happen, though right now there seems to be some confusion as to whether the narrative will be that Corbyn is a bumbling out-of-touch idiot or the greatest threat to British democracy since Operation Sea Lion [2]. But crucially, in order for your ideas to be laughed at they have to actually reach people. The attempts to brand Corbyn as some kind of proto-Marxist are only possible when no-one knows what being left of centre actually involves in practice, and that knowledge can be disseminated only when the Labour Party actually start espousing leftist views, rather than hoping they can win elections by being just a little bit less of an appalling bunch of self-interested money-grubbing shits. To make use of the classic Gandhi quote, we've been ignored for long enough; being laughed at is a step in the right direction.

That's my hope for the next five years. Not that it will end with Cameron being toppled - not that I don't live in hope, of course - but that genuine alternative ideas to austerity politics and neoliberal sneering are forcibly injected into public discourse. Yes, many will laugh. Yes, we can't even trust The Guardian any more to be happy talking about the value of being to the left of Ronald Reagan. But if this leadership contest has shown us anything, it's that all the hysterical hand-waving and boys crying "killer flaming Marxist wolf !" won't necessarily stop people from seeing what's really going on.

Whether Corbyn can be as successful planting ideas in the general electorate as he looks like he'll be in his own party remains to be seen. It's barren ground out there right now for those who would sew the seeds of economic justice. To my great shame, vast swathes of England seem to have totally abandoned the idea that we the less fortunate should receive anything but our scorn and judgment. But that has to stop sometime. And contra Burnham, Kendall, Cooper, you do not change anyone's mind by agreeing with them.

The counter to all the above  (as Jack Graham has already pointed out on Twitter) is that when Corbyn loses the election, it will be taken as a sign that a Leftist approach was always a bad fit for the modern Labour Party, and the only remaining credible threat to the Conservatives will once more promise to be just as cruel as the Tories, only whilst enjoying it less. Thus the party will have a Cameron Lite in charge just in time for Cameron Classic to finally run out of steam, leading to the second consecutive ousting of a Tory government corresponding to a right wing shift by Labour. This is a real concern, and I don't want to suggest otherwise. Crucially, though, it seems clear to me that had Burnham or Kendall or Cooper challenged Cameron in 2020 and lost (as they each would have), we'd still be hearing that the next stage for Labour would be to move further right. That's simply the narrative of the times; each time the right wins, it's taken as proof that the right can move more right, and that everyone else has to follow them into the valley of the shadow of endless sneering viciousness. It's a vicious circle building to a hurricane of evil as it moves eastward. consuming everything. Which means right now, our choice was between being told we [3] were being rejected after our views got an airing, and being told we were being rejected after another half decade of being utterly ignored.

I am certainly inclined to take the trade.

[1] Yes, that's an economical mixed metaphor. But then economics is all about mixtures anyway, specifically the mixture between obvious common sense and the reading of chicken entrails.

[2] In fairness, it's possible for someone to both be hilariously inept and a truly terrifying prospect for command; just look at Donald Trump.

[3] I'm using an exceptionally broad definition of "we" here, obviously. Corbyn isn't my desired mouthpiece for Leftist politics, he's just the least wrong politician with access to a decent-sized bullhorn.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Lazy Cat Blogging

In both senses; is there any topic for blog posts that requires less thought or effort? Still, I figured it was worth announcing the arrival of our new housemate, if only to give some context to later complaints about scratched furniture and nibbled miniatures.

So it's a grand Musings welcome for Splodge-cat. Long may she reign.

Thursday, 3 September 2015


General stuff out of the way first; It Follows is a great film, filled with smart ideas and neat little touches, with the standard cheap shocks almost totally absent in favour of unusually structured scares and a strange but unsettling electronic score (imagine Malcolm Clarke was alive today and re-scoring "The Sea Devils" to scare the absolute shit out of people). It's based around the astonishingly simple dream logic idea (by which I mean I've actually had this dream) of a creature that always knows where you are, and is always walking towards you. As well as being a literal nightmare, of course, this is the ultimate extent of the standard horror trope of a killer that never moves at more than a walk but somehow always gets in front of you.  The latter is discarded here in favour of simpler logic; whatever is following you is easy to evade, but impossible to shake off.

(Spoilers below the fold.)