Thursday, 29 December 2016

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 5.1.3

It's the last IDFC of the year. Shame it couldn't have been a more interesting episode, really. This is classic Voyager being Voyager, which is to say not really anything interesting at all.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Friday Talisman: REPENT!

My latest miniature for Fantasy Flight's ever-more unwieldy Talisman is finally done. 

This guy is the Harbinger from the eponymous expansion, and actually I think that's the last add-on I'll be getting (depending on what Santa provides me with in 48 hours, of course). Now the game has seen fit to literally replace the original board, there's a Theseus' Ship/Sugababes vibe to the whole thing that leaves me cold.  Best to finish here, I think - I still have about 40 miniatures still to paint, after all, and that doesn't include the toads.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 4.1.3

Since most of us will have some spare time this week, here's 5000 or so words on Deep Space Nine to keep you busy. Happy holidays!

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 2.1.3

This week I take a look at "One Of Our Planets Is Missing", which is silly and slight, but has some pretty good moments.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

No Apologies for the Infinite Radness 1.1.18 - "My Sundown" (Jimmy Eat World)

A song about calling time and moving on.

My copy of this album isn't called "Bleed American", because I didn't buy it until 2002. By then it had been renamed - de-named, really - in the wake of September 11th. I got the album as my final term as an undergraduate began. I listened to it multiple times a day in between studying for the last exams I would ever take, staring out into a world that had become unrecognisable. Changes dripped from the walls and covered the skin, and every change felt like an ending.

Leaving university felt profoundly strange. For most of us it was the first community we had any meaningful choice about living in. I loved my school friends with the kind of fierceness only the young and ignorant can manage - these days it's uncommon for me to so much as nod at them on Facebook - but surviving the local comprehensive together felt less like forming a network of the like-minded and more like survivors of a shipwreck banding together to avoid being eaten by bears. Maybe it was just because of how many of us were forced to read Lord of the Flies at the time.

University was different. This was a place we'd chosen. The social structures we formed over the years we were there we built because we wanted to be there, and wanted being there to mean as much as it could. 

And now it was about to end, just as the world had finally revealed its chaos so completely that even a sheltered middle-class white boy couldn't fail to notice it any more.

"My Sundown" lives in the intersection of two realisations: that it's time to move on, but that there's no way of knowing what you're moving on to. The narrator says goodbye at sundown, and that means they're travelling by night. Departure imminent, destination unknown. All that matters is that things can't stay as they are. 

Everything here is shot through with bittersweetness. You don't choose sundown as your metaphor if you're overjoyed about what's coming next, after all. But it's also clear that unsolvable problems have been revealed by he light of day. Nobody seems to care about whatever progress you're making here. You can't really move on unless you're leaving something behind.

There's an ethereal, calming quality to the song, too. The slow strum, the soft, airy vocals, the constant flow of synthesised noise bubbling underneath everything. This is a dream of how a pop-rock album should end. It's a lullaby you sing to yourself. The need to become more than what you are eventually bleeds out into your sleep.

It was the summer of 2002, and every day saw me further into the dusk. I was about to leave almost everything I knew behind, and travel out into a world that I had never found so scary. Sundown was coming any minute.

I dreamed of becoming something more.

No Apologies for the Infinite Radness 1.1: Sad Bastard Music

Here's your b-side. Something nice for us to make our way out to.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Friday Dreadfleet: The Swordfysh

It's been a long time since I've shown you anything from my paint bench, I realise. The reason behind this will probably shock no-one who follows the blog or knows me in the meatsphere - turns out nothing curtails your painting time so much as a cat who loves to drink paint water, throw brushes to the ground, and gnaw on small plastic objects. It's also a pretty drawn out process for me to get through a Dreadfleet ship at the best of times. This is only the third I've completed since I got the game five years ago, and if I remember rightly I first base-coated the Swordfysh back in 2014.

Still, she's done now, and I'm rather fond of her.

Below is the whole of my painting efforts for the game to date, minus the Curse of Zandri that hasn't got past me spraying it black and painting its base.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 1.1.3

Back to the Original Series, and the very first episode William Shatner shot. Rather better on gender issues than its reputation suggests, but you'll have to click the link to find out why.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Monday, 21 November 2016

Friday, 11 November 2016

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 4.1.2

My latest Star Trek piece is up at Geek Syndicate, and talks about the similarities between Tahna Los and the Kohn-Ma and our very own Nigel Farage and his Purple Fascists.

"I Have Tried, In My Way, To Be Free"

Fourteen years more or less to the day I was doing my diagnostic teaching practice ("diagnostic" basically meaning "determining whether you'll fold more or less immediately upon actually coming in contact with students").  The school I was working at was not an easy one. 26% A*s to C at GCSE, major discipline issues, a catchment area utterly ravaged by Thatcher murdering the mining industry.

I dreaded every day I spent there.

So did the two other trainee teachers I used to hitch a lift with. Every journey into work felt like a vigil. It was the most important time for us to give each other emotional support, and the time at which we felt the most dejected and drained and alone and unable to reach out. We tried, but even working in the same building, there was just too much distance between the specifics of what we were facing.

Then one day Vivienne took her eyes off the road for long enough to grab for a CD.

"Check this out, Ric," she called back to me. "This guy is just so bitter and sarcastic."

The disc went in.

"You'll love him."

And this song started up. And he was, and I did.

Goodbye, Mr Cohen. You helped when we needed helping. Thank you for that.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

No Apologies for the Infinite Radness 1.1.17 - "Gone To The Movies" (Semisonic)

This is a difficult day to write, or to think, or to suck in air. It's been less than 30 hours since I woke up yesterday afternoon and reached for my phone to confirm what had seemed more or less inevitable in the early hours of the morning.  Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.

There's a Xander quote rolling round my head all the time right now.
  ...First she stopped his heart, then she replaced it with darkness, then she made him live his life like that. But he still had to go do his job and see his friends and wake up in the morning and go to bed at night, but he had to do it all empty. Without anything to look forward to. Ever.
Harris isn't talking about shitty political news, obviously. Still though, the similarity is clear. You go about your day, because you have to go about your day. But something profoundly important just doesn't feel like it's there anymore.

"Gone To The Movies" is a sweet, sad song, and I will never not be in the market for sweet, sad songs. Even the fairly obvious ones. The acoustic guitar picking, the slowly-building swirl of strings, the white guy singing about loneliness - only the defiantly uncool licks of slide guitar can even hope to claim themselves more than cliche. Still, it works because it works.

Besides, it's the lyrics here that matter. It might be one more song about a dude who's lost his girl, but it's also about all the things in his life going on around that loss. It's about standing by the window and noticing that it's leaking. It's about looking around your bedsit flat and realising you never even had the time/space/money to stick a chair in there. It's about knowing your car is on the verge of collapse and having to plan for alternate transport in the morning. Because you've still got work tomorrow, no matter how pointless heading out seems right now.

It's about not being allowed to stop. It's about having to do it all empty.


Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Blue And The Orange

US Presidental Election 2016 Liveblog

05:37 OK, my friends. I realise that final result hasn't been called, but the news outlets have shifted into speculating about when President Trump will give his victory speech, and I have no interest in sticking around for that. My thanks to those of you who were brave enough to tune into what turned our to be the third live-blog in a row where I - and anyone who isn't a fan of bigotry - got their heads thoroughly handed to them.

Maybe we can still win this. But I'm a probabilist. I recognise the writing on the wall when I see it. I'm going to bed. Everyone be kind to each other. It's the only way that one day. one far off day - more far off than we could have imagined six years ago - that we will finally win.

05:35 (Just, like, 99% fucking appalling.)

05:34 Apparently this election cycle saw the first Lantina woman elected to the Senate. So it isn't all bad.

05:27 (We ALL have skin in the game one way or another, and fuck anyone who says we don't.)

05:26 Clinton wins Nevada. I can't see us winning, but we'll lose well. Small comfort, I know. And that's for a white cis-het man from another country. I can't imagine how horrible this is for people with skin directly in the game.

05:19 Wee bit of good news: Harry Reid's retirement hasn't cost the Democrats a seat.

05:16 Not a great time to be a fan of equality.

05:06 Still on the BBC and fuuuuuuuuuuuuck you for letting someone make a distinction between those who live in coastal states and "ordinary Americans".

05:00 You know, quite aside from anything else, I profoundly resent the fact that so many electorates this year have provided Nigel Farage with a throbbing erection. Or as he calls it, an Iron Eagle.

04:54 At this point we're somewhere between Trump being effectively unstoppable and him actually having taken the Oval. Which would be bad enough, but to make things worse, no-one with access to a microphone has any idea has it happened. It would be nice to think that out of this calamitous disaster, the Left could forge a new alliance, but I don't even see that happening. We're still too busy dealing with Leftists who manage somehow to still be racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or transphobic, or ableist.

We don't deserve to win. Our enemy, of course, deserves to win far, far, far less. But apparently that doesn't matter.

04:44 Bear this in mind.

04:38 BBC just said Clinton needs to win a range of races. Misheard that as "range of racists", and frankly, I think that makes more sense.

04:34 Of course, if Trump does win, there's going to be approximately two centuries of experts telling us how it means women can never be president. Or at least there would be, if global anarchy wasn't going to kick of by 2040.

04:32 That probably undersells how close things are. Clinton is behind by seven electoral votes with 425 declared.

04:30 Clinton beats Romney! Not the actual Republican candidate she's up against, but it's a start.

04:20 Keep the faith, my friends! Clinton is only 10 electoral votes from doing better than Mitt Romney!

04:14 Interesting in the abstract to watch someone simultaneously commend logical thinking and condemn those who aren't "plain spoken".

04:12 Someone genuinely just said on the BBC - and this time I've checked that I haven't just gotten too drunk to recognise letters - that Trump isn't far-right. WHAT THE FUCK IS SHE DEFINING AS FAR RIGHT?

04:03 Apparently I've been on ITV for ages. Only found out when Farage showed up and I grabbed for my remote.

04:00 Florida for Trump. Hooray for voter suppression, I guess.

03:56 Let's be clear. There's nothing at all wrong with asking how Melania Trump would handle the responsibility of being First Lady. But when your first comments are about her posing nude and her grasp of English, it's maybe possible that you're not actually part of the solution, grok?

03:47 Trump takes North Carolina, Clinton takes Virginia. Given tonight's results, I think that's a trade Clinton will take.

03:46 Idle thought: I spend a lot of time on my Decision Theory module talking about the difference between relative results and absolute results. Tonight is an absolute triumph for those who can't compare relative positions. "Emails." But calling Mexicans rapists." "Emails." "But insisting on banning Muslims from the country." "Emails". "But literally confessing to sexual assault. "EMAILS".

Again, there are genuine reasons to not be willing to vote for Clinton. But I think we all know those aren't the reasons that has Trump doing so well.

03:37 Hooray for Colorado.

03:36 That said, there's plenty of blame to go around. I have the upmost sympathy for those less privileged than me who felt incapable of voting for Clinton. They knew what they were risking with a Trump administration rather than a Clinton one, and they made that choice. It's not my place to criticise it.

03:34 Watching anti-Trump Republicans on Twitter agreeing this is Clinton's fault. Because Gods forbid they interrogate their own positions.

03:26 Ah. BBC (ITV: I suck) calls Virginia for Clinton. This is still a fight.

03:22 Kudos to the Beeb for choosing a picture of Trump to keep showing that looks like an alpha
orangutan being blown by a gamma orangutan. Small victories at this point.

03:18 We're now onto adultery being equivalent to racism. And yet someone tomorrow will tell me how liberal the BBC is (again: this was ITV).

03:13 That was a lot of capital letters, on reflection. Sorry. I'm a bit on edge.

03:09 HOLY SHIT a Trump shill just got to say on the BBC (edit: it was ITV, and I'm an idiot; still)  that HILLARY CLINTON is suspect for using a charitable foundation to enrich herself. A TRUMP SHILL. We need a new phrase; post-truth politics just doesn't cover it.

03:07 New Mexico called for Clinton. So that's nice. See below RE Brexit Fulcrum.

02:56 "I've been looking so long at these pictures of Trump,
           That I almost believe that's he's real.
           I've been living so long with these pictures of Trump,
           That I almost believe this is one deal he's certain to seal."

02:55 Back to ITV to avoid pictures of Trump.

02:51 It's interesting - or at least it would be interesting were I not gripped with existential terror - that Trump is doing better in blue states than any other Republican has done since the '80s.  I guess the hardliners were right - the best shot for the White House for a Republican is just to be the most obvious racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic (FUCK YOU BLOGSPOT FOR STILL SAYING THAT ISN'T A WORD) anti-intellectual monster possible. It's almost as though fascism needs to be fought rather than ignored...

02:40 The Trump spokesperson on the Beeb just threatened a third party breaking off from the Republican Party if Trump doesn't take the Oval and that's legitimately the best news I've heard since New Hampshire declaring for Clinton which I turned out to have been wrong about anyway.

02:31 Looks like we are rapidly arriving at the Brexit Fulcrum: can the urban areas that take longer to tally counteract the rural counties that have already declared for Trump. Obviously my choice of metaphor gives you some idea of my level of confidence.

02:21 Michigan turning red. That's terrifying.

02:15 And now she's saying southern NY state is in "agonising poverty" because of insufficient fracking. My thing is, if everyone is so keen on grabbing at someone who correctly diagnoses the problem but can't possibly provide a solution, why aren't Marxists the dominant political force?

02:13 A Trump spokesperson on the BBC right now explaining how Trump's big idea is to increase fossil fuel production. Fun times.

02:08 Back to BBC, assuming Farage has been put back in his swastika-shaped hole.

02:03 And New Hampshire too. That's an important result considering the earlier vacillating.

02:00 Illinois goes to Clinton. The exact opposite of a surprise, once more.

01:59 I don't want to depress people any more than they already are given how close things are, but even if Clinton wins tonight - and I still think she will - this strikes me as evidence that the White House will probably belong to the Republicans in four year, and will definitely be theirs in eight. The desire to punish the not-we is simply too strong.

01:47 But then ITV has a Trump supporter talking about how the GOP needs to bring in the liberally-minded. Which is depressing as all hell. And yes, I realise there is no shortage of liberals who are also racist to fuck, but that just makes it all worse.

01:45 No, BBC. Nigel Farage is an immediate red card.

01:42 Not going well for the Democrats attempt to take the Senate, and the Republicans keep the House, because why would we ever have anything nice?

01:37 Where is Times Square getting its data from?

01:33 (I may be drifting off the subject.)

01:32 YES YES YES. He also had a beard. But being less scrupulous than Hitler in maintaining your facial fuzz can hardly be considered a point in your favour.

01:31 I'm being unfair. I am totally open to input from fascist-friendly Christians sporting toothbrush mustaches. Because how could that possibly go wrong?

01:27 Apparently the problem here is that insufficient people have accepted Jesus. Good to know, BBC.

01:26 When I went - pre-interview - to discuss the job I'm currently doing with the man I am currently doing it for, he kept having to correct himself. He kept saying "You will have to - that is, the candidate will have to...". That's what the BBC commentators sound like every time they let slip the fact they don't think Trump has any real chance.

01:17 Texas isn't going to go blue, obviously. But still, that's pretty funny.


01:13 Finally, South Carolina declares for Trump. So obviously, fuck South Carolina (standard caveats regarding non-Trump voters apply). As I said, though, the amount of time that took is instructive.

01:09 Data now showing Texas leaning Trump. In more surprising news, data also shows the Tower of Pisa is leaning towards the ground.

01:07 The projected results for the eastern states look like they've been determined by tossing a coin handed to an idiot by an obscure trickster god.

01:05 Durham County is going to get its voting extension. Unambiguously the right decision. I look forward to Republicans explaining why it represents the death of democracy.

01:03 OK. That didn't suck. Not seeing any surprises in the slew of new results, though.

00:58 Oh, that's a good question from Person McBBC. Why are Latinx voters so united against Trump when they have such diverse interests and priorities? Answer: because Trump is a racist toss-stain, and that takes priority.

00:57 Chat right now about the Hispanic turnout tipping the election. Please please PLEASE let that be true. I'll donate an organ for this to be true. Take a kidney. It's black and withered and stinks of Strongbow anyway, so...

00:51 Always a bleak kind of fun in watching Republicans trying to argue that somehow Trump doesn't represent his party, after he won the nomination and has already won almost 5% of the electoral votes of the entire damn country.

00:49 Plus the Guardian is now suggesting Clinton is in contention in South Carolina. That's approaching a Red Wedding level of betrayal.

00:47 For the Brexit-burned, it's worth pointing out that by this stage in the count (with due adjustments for the difference in kind) the BBC talking heads were much, much more cagey about Remain's chances than they are right now about Clinton.

00:45 New Hampshire now leaning Democrat.

00:39 Why not just interview Dracula and ask whether he thinks enough nubile virgins are being offered up to vampires?

00:38 Oh goody. An interview with a Trump supporter on the BBC. And guess what? He's furious that immigrants are getting all the money.

00:33 Quick congress update: Democrats ahead in both declared Senate and House races.

00:31 West Virginia called for Trump. Another unsurprising result - I've not forgotten how badly Obama bombed there back in 2008. Anyone else remember that Daily Show interview with a WV native? "I don't like that Hussein thing. I've had ENOUGH of Hussein!"

00:28 Shit, the TV only wants to talk about Florida too. Mainly they're saying Trump is in trouble down there, though, so it could be worse.

00:27 Not even the news can keep up with Florida at this point. I shall try to find something else to talk about accordingly.

00:24 BBC has seen sense and is using an actual upstanding map for the electoral college. As always, the Republicans win Blockbusters, but Clinton has the edge.

00:23 Florida once again leaning Trump. I hate you Florida.

00:20 And now Florida is leaning towards Clinton. This is, in case it wasn't already obvious, going to be a very long night.

00:17 Virginia leaning Democrat. That's good news for Silver and Wang's models, and for, you know, humanity.

00:16 Though that said, Dan has a good point in comments: South Carolina not calling for the Republicans already is unusual, from what I dimly recall.

00:14 Trump leading in Florida right now is not brilliant news. It's early days, obviously, but I'm more worried by Florida than I am reassured by Georgia.

00:11 ITV interviewing the Khans, and starting with Mrs Khan. Assuming she's happy to do so, that's fucking brilliant.

00:07 (All my apologies and sympathies and solidarity to those in Indiana and Kentucky who didn't vote for Trump. I've lived my entire life in safe seats for the less evil major party. I can't imagine how hideous it must be to lumbered with the electorate you all have to suffer.)

00:06 Actual results. Indiana and Kentucky go Trump, and Vermont Clinton. None of these are surprising given both historical context and statistical models. Even so, it's important to say: fuck you, Kentucky. Fuck you, Indiana. You voted for a fascist, and not even a smart one.

00:01 Haq just said "It helps to have Tim Kaine", which is surely the first time anyone has ever said that, ever, including at a Time Kaine-lookalike contest.


23:55 Back on ITV for more chat about everyone hating Clinton. Apparently the Obama's campaigning for her is evidence of her weakness, as oppose to the Bush's not campaigning for Trump being evidence that he's utterly unacceptable even to his own party's bigwigs.

23:49 Fucking hell. I hope my earlier joke has only been rendered in horrible taste, and not actively prophetic. I hope everyone injured makes a full recovery.

23:45 Talking head (keep missing the names) on BBC1 talking about the college-educated/non college-educated split in Wisconsin being the greatest recorded (in modern times? Not sure). Never found a way to comment on that kind of thing without sounding like an unbearable elite with rooms in the the most gleaming of ivory towers, but I thought I'd pass it on.

23:40 How do you talk about people voting for Trump because they're sick of rich people playing to different rules and not address the paradox?

23:38 Almost forty minutes into the election coverage before Benghazi got its first name-check. You can tell I live outside the US.

23:37 There are plenty of reasons to be massively anti-Clinton on purely policy ground, obviously. But that's clearly not what's going on in general.

23:36 Good to see someone blame anti-Clinton animus on sexism.

23:31 Reports of people being turned away from the polls in Florida illegally. Not to worry, though. Florida's not a big college town.

23:29 The BBC virtual map is desperately unimpressive. Just put a map up, for God's sake. You don't need a guy looking like he's standing on the damn thing.

23:24 Indiana too, though again this is in the "unsurprising category". First talking head on BBC1 taking time out to tell us that the Trump voters she's met have been intelligent and thoughtful people who don't like what he says on immigrants, but are desperate enough to roll the dice on him. Not mentioned: they're not the people who'll be screwed over if the dice come up snake eyes.

23:22 I'm not saying New Hampshire going for Trump is astonishing. But I am saying that if it does call for Trump, there are a number of other battleground states that are very likely to be Trump's too.

23:20 Early results looking good for Trump in Kentucky and New Hampshire.  The first was entirely predictable. The second, not so much.

23:15 Flicking over to BBC1 whilst ITV are on a break, and "Election Night In America" turns out to be an episode of Room 101. Which is either a catastrophic scheduling fuck-up or the most profound comment on the American election Auntie Beeb has managed yet.

23:14 (American money, I mean. Not our British money that doesn't have value any more.)

23:13 Not sure Trump has the semiotic depth to possess themes, but otherwise Haq is right on the money here.

23:12 Oh, how nice. An actual American gets to comment (YES I AM AWARE OF THE IRONY) and they immediately nail Trump for being a filthy racist.

23:11 Wow. Apparently the issue is Trump's threat to the current political system. Not, for instance, to people who aren't white.

23:10 Still on ITV. Amazing to hear so many talking heads talk about this being an abnormal election and yet none of them are willing to admit that's because Trump is a fascist.

23:05 ITV are reporting a higher than expected minority turnout. One wonders who was expecting fewer non-white people to show up to tell Trump to go screw himself.

23:04 Excellent. UK terrestrial TV has begun its coverage. This will give me plenty of material.

23:01 Right then. First polls closed.

22:52 The Guardian is reporting - with appropriate caution - that turnout seems to comparable to 2012, and that this is liable to be good news for Clinton. They don't say why, but I assume the logic is that a depressed turn-out would suggest Democratic fatigue, and a decent turn-out is unlikely to mean people who didn't vote for Romney are desperate to vote for Pussy-Grab Magoo.

22:46 (I know. As a joke that's both cliche and cheap. I just get instinctively annoyed about a country that trumpets its commitment to democracy but insists on doing it on the cheap.)

22:45 Reports of issues with voting/registers now not just in Durham County NC but also in Colorado. If only the US was one of those rich countries that could afford a robust and efficient voting system, huh?

22:35 I see FOX has turned to "Mr Brexit" in their coverage, hoping to gain magical powers from their proximity to an inexpertly-carved mahogany dildo possessed by Satan's stupidest nephew.

22:27 (That's funny because you will never see that much yellow on a political map of Britain again, ever.)

22:26 CNN calling a surprising number of states for the Lib Dems.

22:17 Lindsey Graham, too. A man who would vote for the Babadook if it promised to only scare Muslims decides Trump is just a step too far.

22:16 Political analogy of the decade, there.

22:15 Rather indecently amused by a spokesperson confirming George W Bush didn't vote for Trump. That's like Hordak finding out Skeletor won't help out with fighting She-Ra.

22:10 Maybe adding R's is just Donald's thing. Maybe he thought he'd been secretly working for Usher all this time. Though given Usher's skin-tone, probably not.

22:09 Apparently Trump has jimmied the lock on the safe his people put his phone in and has begun tweeting once more. Already he's insisting there are problems with voting machines across the country, based on a CNN report. The CNN report was referring to a single county.

22:05 So far the biggest surprise on election day is that there's no sign anyone has been shot at the polls by armed Trump "observers". That doesn't erase how horrifically successful the Republicans have been at suppressing the "wrong people's" ability to vote, of course. And yes, the "wrong people" are exactly who you think they are.

21:56 (538 might be talking about a historical loss for the Republican candidate, of course, in which case the low-water mark for the modern GOP would be Barry Goldwater against Lyndon B Johnson in '64. Goldwater carried just six states and 52 electoral votes. Of course, he was running against a man who'd stepped up to lead the country after his enormously popular boss had been murdered in Dallas. Trump is running against someone who dares to own a vagina.)

21:52 Addendum to last: obviously just winning the Senate wouldn't mean Clinton's problems would be over. There's still the issue of the filibuster, and the fact that ousting Republicans from control of the House will be exceptionally difficult. 538 suggests that it would require Trump to lose by a historical margin, and when history includes Walter Mondale losing 59 states against Ronald Reagan in '84, that kind of margin really means something, damn it.

21:42 I'll give you a break from the statistics and move into some political noodling. The big issue for most of this cycle wasn't actually whether Clinton would beat Trump - that was always the way to bet, and still is right now. Obviously defeating Trump is crucial, but it wasn't the toughest fight for Democrats. Winning back the Senate was. Without that, there's almost no chance a hypothetical President Clinton can get a damn thing done, given the Republican's clear preference for letting first the federal government and ultimately the entire country collapse over being seen to agree with Democrats on any issue whatsoever.

A little over a fortnight ago on October 23rd, the chances of the Democrats doing that were almost as high as Clinton's own, at 68%. Since then, the chances have collapsed to 52% (both of these stats come from the New York Times). I've heard it said the collapse is mainly and perhaps almost entirely due to the after-effects of the FBI "re-opening" their investigation into Clinton's emails. The result of that almost comically ill-timed announcement (or well-timed, depending on your position, I guess) may well be that Clinton takes the Oval, and can't do a damn thing for at least two years, at which point the Democrats will almost certainly lose ground in the Senate anyway.

Naturally, some people are suggesting this was exactly FBI Director Comey's aim.

21:32 Ah, OK. The argument is about how likely the electoral college estimates are to result in one candidate or the other winning. Wang thinks Clinton is an inevitable winner, Silver thinks she "only" has a 70% chance. There's more here, which also contains an explanation of the limitations of both models. I've only skimmed it, so I won't bet my reputation on it being correct in the details, but the basic problem of such a high number of variables and such an infrequent rate of observations is indeed, well, a problem. Title's bullshit, obviously, but such is par for the course for pop stats articles.

21:24 Here's the prediction from Sam Wang's stable. Not too much difference, beyond not wanting to call North Carolina and a little more certainty about Wisconsin and Washington State breaking for Clinton. Wang and Silver have been showing some interesting differences recently, but if they still have major disagreements as to the result, it's not translating into a quick eyeball of their electoral college predictions.

21:16 Now let's check in on the statisticians. Nate Silver's 538 site offers this forecast of the electoral college. Note that the states not coloured in the previous map are split between Clinton and Trump, but not evenly. More of them are blue than red, and those that are red seem more pale than their blue equivalents. Again, though, these are just different knife-edges of different sharpness, and when the cuts come, their likely to mostly come from the same side.

21:09 Unfortunately, the electoral college polls are a bit less comforting, although Clinton still clearly has the edge. The problem, of course, is that battleground states are not independent - the vast majority of them are likely to all break the same way.

21:04 Let's kick off with the image I've been taking comfort from all day; the final image from the RealClearPolitics aggregate polls for this election cycle. It shows Hillary Clinton having one more good day amidst an almost uninterrupted run of good days since last summer.

21:00 Welcome, everyone, to the blog's quadrennial dive into the ins and outs of the US Presidential Election and the surrounding Senate and House races.  The rules are simple: no abuse, no fascists. Otherwise, have at it in comments. Delighted to have you aboard.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Monday, 24 October 2016

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 1.1.2

On Thursday I kicked off the second cycle of Trek episode comparisons with the awful-but-accidentally-prescient "Charlie X". Go check it out.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 5.1.1

In which I guess I'm contractually obligated to write about the time I was contractually obligated to watch "Caretaker"... twice.

No Apologies for the Infinite Radness 1.1.16 - "I Miss You" (Blink-182)

One of those songs with a meaning that has changed over the years. Back in the winter of 2004, when "I Miss You" played within ten minutes of every time I tuned into MTV2, this was just one more sweet little alternative love song. A good one, sure, for lots of reasons. There's the echoing bass line and the ethereal piano. There's the heart-swelling climb of the cello that sweeps us into the chorus. There's the cribs from Caroline Thompson that underline the objective fact that Halloween is superior to Christmas. And there's the quite gorgeous line from Tom DeLonge about trying to fall asleep by counting the spiderwebs in his otherwise empty bedroom. It's a lovely little song. A triumph of - forgive me - all the small things. Ultimately, though, it's pretty familiar; one more tune about boys who have lost girls.

These days it reads rather differently. DeLonge has left the band twice now, and the song has shifted from two different boys missing their departed lovers to two men missing each other. Two broken relationships become one broken band. And really, it makes so more sense this way. Hoppus chants "I miss you" like he's spinning up a seance, summoning his band mate's shade. DeLonge fades in, guitar barely registering, and sings about the loneliness that suffuses wherever it is that he's ended up. He's missing and missed even whilst he's here; a singer haunting his own band as they mourn his passing.

Michael Stipe said once that what he was going to miss most following the breakup of R.E.M. was singing songs without Mike Mills harmonising beside him. He'd gotten so used to their duets that singing solo simply felt wrong. He could still hear Mills' voice in his head. Maybe that's the point where a band needs to disperse? When your band-mates are lodged so deep in your head that you hear their voice whether they're with you or not, what else is there for you to do together?

Don't waste your time. I can't not hear your voice anyway.

And then he's gone. A self-exorcism performed by singing his own leaving note. Hoppus' singing is no longer enough to keep him anchored. Better to burn out and fade away. Better to be missed when you're still here. Better to let the voice in your head slip into the shadows in the background.

He came back, of course. That's another story, though. One I probably won't tell. The reunion wasn't a disaster, and neither is the band's latest incarnation featuring Matt Skiba (someone I definitely will tell stories involving one day).  But none of it is what it once was.

None of it is what I miss.

B-side: I don't know who these young 'uns are but I like that one of them knows how to play the miniature gym-horse.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 3.1.1/4.1.1

We reach our first slice of Star Trek's imperial phase with a look at "Emissary".  And since I somehow forgot to link to it at the time, here's my unrepentant defence of "Encounter At Farpoint" as well.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Fruit Filker Prime

Oh my little fruity one, my fruity one
When ya gonna give me some fine sharoni?
In fruit salads they'd be dumb, they'd be dumb

Just soak them in the water of limes: sharoni.

(Cheers to my friend Jon for the photo.)

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Geek Syndicate Review: House Of Penance #6

In which I review the final issue of my favourite miniseries in years, not that I read all that many. As so often happens, the ending doesn't quite live up to the rest of the story, but it's still a sold end to an exceptional tale.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 2.1.1

A haunted house mystery for Kirk's peeps this week, as well as some basic language issues, in "Beyond the Farthest Star".  Check it out!

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 1.1.1

To celebrate Star Trek's 50th anniversary, my first real essay in my IDFC series is now up at Geek Syndicate. It's on "The Man Trap", which I'm sort of fond of in a lot of ways, for all that objectively there's some pretty fundamental issues with it.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Geek Syndicate Feature: Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations

My long look at the first years of all six Star Trek TV shows (so far) has kicked off with an introductory article over at Geek Syndicate.  Why not check it out?

Sunday, 21 August 2016

No Apologies for the Infinite Radness 1.1.15 - "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" (Green Day)

Man, this was just everywhere in the late '90s. A recurring medical condition that would flare up at every other open mic set across the student bars of Durham, over a year after Nimrod was released. Every third soulless singer-songwriter would play it with the exact same arrangement, i.e. identical to the original but with all the nice picking at the start cast aside because it was too tricky. Cowards and hacks, that's what we were back then. How completely we failed to understand anything we were presented with.

The thing is, though, once you cut away the picking that brackets the song, and remove the swooping strings (however understandable doing that is when you're at uni and you've got no money and no mates), what you're left with is a fairly simple strum-along. Which is still charming, don't get me wrong. A lot of that charm comes from its purposeful vagueness, though. This is a song for pretty much everyone who's ever dumped somebody and told themselves what follows will be some kind of bittersweet knowledge you did what was best for both of you that fades into precious memories of when things were good.

And that can happen, obviously. In practice, though, I'm not sure we should be all that keen on the odds.  I don't think it's any coincidence that this was the imposed soundtrack of our first year at university. The place was stuffed to bursting with people working out how to dump the other halves they were with before they arrived in the land of booze and bonking, and each of them was trying to come up with a more romantic justification for moving on than the place they were moving on to being stuffed with silky totty.

Which gives Green Day the last laugh. They saw those jokers coming a mile away. The song itself might be about wistful, melancholy break-ups where you wish the best for each other and carry on happily but separately, but the actual title - which could have come long after the song was recorded, of course - is "Good Riddance". That feeling of positivity rarely lasts. For most of the people I had to sit through singing this song whilst missing the point on every level possible, I imagine it would survive until, at longest, their next trip home for the holidays, when they actually had to interact with their former loves. That's when you're force-fed your guilt and shit it out as anger. That's when "it was worth all the while" tends to turn into "All that while was worthless".

I don't remember seeing any of those smug wannabe-troubadours polluting bars with their sweet laments to faded love once I got into my second year and changed my social habits.

Good riddance.


Thursday, 18 August 2016

Geek Syndicate Review: House of Penance #5

Still pretty much at the top of its, or anyone else's, game. Check my review out.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Lee's Love Song

Amazing Thrace, Cylons inbound
Your Viper's prepped for thee
Face each toaster, and shoot them down
And then fly home to me.

(It's probably better if you imagine Felix Gaeta singing it.)

(I promise I'll stop eventually.)

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Five Things I Learned At Nine Worlds 2016

1. The Duke Mitchell "Night of the Trailers" was problematic af, with several of the trailers completely inappropriate for a crowd who sees nothing wrong with cross-dressing or queer coding, and rather a lot wrong with catering for the male gaze.

That said, both the short films shown were rather nice, and the second in particular was delightfully sweet and melancholy. I've embedded it below, and strongly suggest you give it a try; it's only fifteen minutes long, and entirely lovely.

It's also worth noting that we got to vote on whether to see this. We had the choice between this, described as "funny and sweet", or two sci-fi films, one "weird" and the other "gritty". We went with this one. Which, honestly, how cool is that? How many other screening sessions at a sci-fi/fantasy convention are going to plump for "sweet" over "weird" and "gritty"?

This is why Nine Worlds is my home now.

2. A depressingly small number of Trek fans understand the difference between utopianism and utopia, conflict versus disagreement, and realism versus adolescent grimdark. I feel really bad about saying I hoped Star Trek Discovery returned to the utopianism of early-mid TNG, because it led to a dozen or more people to drone on about how the Federation should be considered venal and corrupt, as though that were mutually exclusive to the ship's utopianism. I mean, there's probably worse things to say in a discussion about Star Trek than "the human race is built on conflict", but I'm not sure what they'd be, short of actual bigotry.

Still, at least I knew I wasn't the worst (albeit accidental) derailing specialist in the room; that prize went to someone two seats from me who'd decided the queuing system to speak put in place by the (rather excellent) panel didn't apply to them, so long as they were correcting somebody else. Needless to say, more than one of their corrections were incomplete, or flat-out incorrect. So well done, self-appointed fact-checker! You're an arsehole and useless at your job!

3. Red Seven is a rather nice game, even if its name makes it a rather cruel trick to suggest playing it during a sci-fi convention (clearly an AU tie-in opportunity there). Jamie described it as a better-designed Fluxx, I called it a child's primer to R. Scott Bakker's benjuka, because I'm pretentious.

Either way, it's one of those games where your actions change the rules themselves. Players receive seven cards, each a unique combination of colour (red to violet) and number (1 to 7), hence the name of the game. Each card can be played in front of you (in your "palette") or be placed on top of the rules deck to change how the game is operating - each colour has its own winning condition. You can play a maximum of one card to each location a turn, so there's never more than 98 strategies you can enact when it's your go.  By the end of your go, you have to be winning by the current rules, or you're out. So either you have to play a winning card under the current rules, change the rules so you're now winning, or do both.

Which is pretty straightforward, with none of your turns requiring more than two minutes to work out what combinations will keep you alive for another round. The part where it gets interesting is knowing that every card you use to improve your palette is one you can't use to change the rules, and vice versa. Having the red seven (the most powerful card in the game since there's a colour hierarchy with red on top) is really useful under red rules (highest card wins), of no more use in general than any other under blue rules ("most different colours wins"), and an active drag factor under violet rules ("most cards under 4"). If you play it in your palette, you can't use it to switch to the red rules which it's an automatic winning card. If you play it on the rules pile so that highest card wins, you'll need a different high card to avoid going out. Your resources keep dwindling, in other words, and it's made more difficult by knowing every card you give up could be the one you need when someone else changes the rules, and that every time you have to change the rules and play to your palette to be winning, you've used two of the seven cards you started with, which could leave you unable to take a turn whilst others still have cards left to play.

It's immensely elegant, tactical without being overwhelming, and all over in five minutes. Very much recommended.

4. A more serious one here: the talk and subsequent discussion on fat representation in genre fiction was absolutely fascinating.  I took away a few recommendations (I'm more eager than ever to find a way to experience Steven Universe without having to pay a ludicrous amount for it) and acquired some useful zingers/responses for future use. Mainly though, I was amazed at how little tolerance people in the room had for any of the "nicer" synonyms for fat, insisting that fat was what they were, and this was fine, and trying to find other ways to say it is just an attempt by people to separate the fat people they like from the fat people they don't.  Which is so obvious a point I'm amazed it had taken me so long to encounter it.

Which I guess is to say: I am fat.

(I also learned from someone in the audience that in her experience she got far more anti-fat remarks directed at her whilst presenting as feminine than she did when presenting as butch. This is the sort of thing that even decades of getting crap over your weight can't lead you to understand when you're a cis-het white guy.)

5. The history and uses of filk are both great fun to learn about, and common meter is incredibly useful:

"Oh Elven grace, how sweet the ground
In Rivendell I see.
I once was lost, but now I've found
A homely house for me."

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Second Rebellion

It can be difficult, as an atheist, to talk to people of faith. Richard Dawkins and his associates have sown too much salt in the places that seeds of conversation might otherwise flower. The distinction between atheist and anti-theist is one not always picked up on, even by those who want to engage in good faith (no pun intended).

So as always, the standard disclaimer: disbelief is not disrespect. But - and this is where I sweep away my carefully-laid cloak to reveal a sheer drop into the Bog of Eternal Stench - there are certain ideas central to the religious beliefs of hundreds of thousands of people that my political philosophy requires me to take strong exception to. To not merely state that I don't believe in the God that allegedly espouses these ideas, but to argue their very existence makes the world a worse place.

One of the worst of such notions is that suffering is necessary or even good for us.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Sometimes They Come Back

I haven't really written much about Trump's rise to public leader of the Republican Party because, really, what's the point? No-one who reads this is remotely likely to disagree with my opinion of the man, and if by chance a Trump supporter gets so lost among the internet weeds that they stumble onto my blog, what hope have I of persuading them of their error?

But that doesn't mean I haven't been paying attention. It doesn't mean I'm not concerned. And not just about Trump himself. Yes, clearly, the prospect of President Trump is beyond terrifying. Last I checked Nate Silver has Trump's chance of victory at around 15%. Long odds if you're betting your life savings in a casino, sure, but still vastly too high for me to sleep properly until November. Sure, it's only half the chance Silver gave Romney four years ago, and Mitt was resoundingly thumped come the day. Still, though. 15%. If you get pregnant today, it's more likely your child will be born under a Trump presidency than they'll be born on a Sunday.

That's not why I'm writing this post, though. What terrifies me - what truly scares out every atom of waste product my body contains - isn't Trump. It's the guy who comes after Trump.

Because what Trump has demonstrated, utterly beyond argument, is that the Republican nomination AND a minimum of 131 electoral votes (just under half of what's needed to win) is more or less automatically yours if you run as a fascist, even if your campaign is incompetent and your candidate is an idiot thug. Seventeen states, including the second-most populous in the union, will happily wave in a new era of bigoted tyranny even if the new generalissimo doesn't seem capable of tying his own shoelaces, let alone negotiating an international treaty.  In the current political climate the only way in which you might fail to secure the nomination is if someone else runs who's better at being a fascist than you are.

That's what terrifies me. Not that Trump will win, but that next time around everyone will be a Trump. But smarter Trumps. More well-disciplined Trumps. Trumps who knows when to reach for the dog-whistle. Trumps the GOP and its media allies can pretend aren't even Trumps at all.

This is not a wild hypothetical devoid of supporting evidence. The politicians and media on America's rightmost flank faced what I'm sure was an ugly choice in the weeks since Trump's coronation. They could admit this cluster-cuss was the inevitable result of two decades of rightward drift, political tribalism, and the cynical embrace of white supremacy. Or they could insist Trump was an aberration, something never to be repeated following his inevitable defeat.

To no-one's surprise, many if not most immediately made a mass dash for door number 2. The solidifying narrative in the right-leaning media would seem to be that Trump is not only an obvious political outlier, but one created by the left. When your reaction to seeing an actual fascist take control [1] is to blame your political opponents for claiming the last three guys also had some pretty extreme tendencies, you reveal yourself completely. You don't want to avoid horrifying extremists. You want to avoid horrifying extremists you can't give cover to. You don't want better people. You want better masks.

Well Ted Cruz is busy carving his mask right now, and he won't be the only one.

And that's just the crimes of those who've admitted anything is amiss. Plenty of career arseholes are acting as though this is simply business as usual. Mark Rubio, Paul Ryan and Chris Christie have all endorsed Trump (admittedly with varying degrees of enthusiasm). In doing so they leave us with only two possible conclusions: either these career-politicians would actually prefer Trump to Clinton, or that they secretly want him to fail but think a future in the modern GOP requires them to establish fascistic bona fides. The difference isn't really all that important. It doesn't matter if they want it themselves or just know their voters want it. Either way, the future isn't fewer Trumps. It's "better" Trumps.

Defeating Trump is of course utterly necessary to prevent the arrival of fascism in the United States. But it isn't sufficient. Sending Trump packing come November isn't a final victory, any more than the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch represented the end of Nazism (yes, I went full Godwin; fuck you). Hell, Hitler went to jail, and he still got to take control of an entire nation. At best, Trump [2] is just going to lose a national vote, and that by far less than he should.

Fascism doesn't slink away to die when you knock it down. It comes back. It comes back smarter. It learns where it went wrong and it adapts, like a flu virus in jackboots. And it keeps coming back until eventually it's smart enough or even just lucky enough to win.

And the people who once thought they controlled the American Right have decided they can live with that.

[1] Albeit one so lacking a coherent political philosophy that actually nailing down what type of fascist he is proves difficult, though incompatible goals and positions are nothing new to fascistic thought in general. 

[2] Who is almost certainly not going to be the next Hitler. But he might be the next Hitler's test-case.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Geek Syndicate Review: House Of Penance #4

This series is awesome and you should stuff it into your brainbox: part four.

Friday, 22 July 2016

No Apologies for the Infinite Radness 1.1.14 - "So Alive" (Ryan Adams)

A taste of where we're headed.

This is a song with an interesting history, one of those "right place, right time" kind of deals, where here the right place was the Twin Towers, and the right time was the first week of September, 2001. Ryan filmed the video for "New York, New York" there, the debut single from his second solo album. Following the terrorist attack a week later, it was decided there would be no reshoot. That the video would go out as it was made, accompanying a love song to a city united in tragedy and defiance. Let the towers stand again.

The resulting resonances pushed the song into minor hit territory. Which is fair enough; even without the associations of the time it's a strong, up-tempo song drenched in the kind of hyper-condensed nostalgia one can only experience in a place that moves forwards with as much velocity as major cities do. But the additional context it took on - almost drowned in, really - warped what the public expected from Adams. Or didn't, probably, but it certainly warped what his label thought the public expected from him. Despite his first band being expert purveyors of alt-country misery, despite his debut solo album being so drenched in bourbon-and-tears American folk influence its title of Heartbreaker seemed like an understatement, despite the disc "New York, New York" having more than its share of misery-fests - the apotheosis of which being a song in which the narrator is so depressed dating Sylvia Plath seems like a good way to cheer himself up - his label was convinced Adams was now someone whose talents lay in making people feel better about themselves.

So when Adams turned in his proposed third solo album, the title-as-spoiler Love Is Hell, a low-key ramble through tales of alienation and loss, the label were somewhat less than impressed. How dare one of their artists sound like themselves instead of how they'd marketed him as sounding? They didn't want slowness and misery (neither of which the album offered up uniformly, but never mind). They wanted heart! They wanted power! They wanted rock and roll!

So Adams gave them it, agreeing to release Love Is Hell as two EPs (the first sublime, the second less so) only after a new studio album - called Rock N Roll, obviously - which Adams slapped together over a fortnight by simply recycling every rock style he could think of, from Marr to Gallagher. He even tossed off an obvious lead single almost utterly unlike everything else on the album (though he more-or-less recycled its main riff for another song, presumably to make a point), simply because that's what his label wanted, and because he so effortlessly could.

Which finally brings us to "So Alive".

(I can't help but be amused that I've done the same thing every other commentator on Adams has, and discussed his past output just as much as what I'm nominally discussing. Uniquely, though, I've done it without so much as mentioning how frequently he released albums in the mid to late '00s. Seriously, just try to find a review of any Adams disc since 29 that doesn't bring it up. It's close to impossible.)

The thing is, no matter how cynical his record label was in insisting it be written, and how cynical Adams was in writing it, "So Alive" is an absolute killer. It's about as precise a piece of guitar-work as exists, and yet the sheer forward momentum of the central riff and the gloriously unhinged structure under each verse makes everything feel barely under control, a precisely-painted picture of exploding chaos. I've been repeatedly told that, in keeping with the general approach of the album, this is Adams' impression of U2, but I've never really believed that. When U2 pick up speed it sounds like bombast. This sounds like desperation.

Which means Adams had the last laugh, even before music critics more or less unanimously agreed Love Is Hell was an act of minor genius and Rock N Roll is a glib collision of other people's ideas (inevitably, neither of these positions is correct, but we'll put that to one side). "So Alive" is utterly not the kind of song you'd want to put out in an effort to recreate the reaction to "New York, New York". I mean, you never could do that anyway, obviously, unless one had a crystal ball willing to give you the skinny on the next horrific terrorist atrocity. That said, you don't actually need a 9/11 to write love-songs to a place and time that resonate. If you're minded to try,

Instead, though, Adams abandons entirely the sense of upbeat belonging and warm nostalgia for something entirely different. On the most surface level "So Alive" can maybe be read as being optimistic about a new relationship as it begins - love is NOT hell - but the focus isn't really right for that. Adams is promising to soon belong to someone, but *their* feelings on the matter go strangely unrecorded. Are they similarly interested? Do they even know this song is about them? Devoting yourself to someone doesn't mean they come close to seeing you in the same light. Deciding you want to chase something doesn't mean they want you to catch them. When Adams falsetto-yells that he's on their side, it can't be read as gleeful romantic posing. It's a demand to be noticed. I'm on your side. I'm so alive. Just see, please, who I am and what I could be for you. It's a plea for recognition.

Or maybe not. Maybe I'm bringing myself into this too much. I have the most vivid memory of listening to this track - not for the first time, I must have burned through dozens of spins already - as I walked in the cold dark from the shitty terrace house in which I was living to the shitty off-license from which I was buying shitty drinks, trying to hold myself together over a woman I was utterly consumed by. She never saw me the way I wanted her to see me. She was too busy planning a future with a man who barely seemed to be on her side at all. Barely seemed alive. But then maybe that was a case of misrecognition as well.

Actually I guess that with such an indelible sense of place and mood burned into me, you could argue Adams really did repeat what happened with "New York, New York". 9/11 was a tragedy the entire western world shared in, or told itself it shared in (this isn't the time or place to start picking at any of that). But we share just as much the scars, or even the still-open wounds, of having to watch the one we're convinced should be with us be instead with them. We share the dreadful memories of bleeding out in a corner for someone who never seems to notice.

Perhaps Adams did pull off the same trick twice. Perhaps he just switched targets.

Either way, bargain-bin U2 this absolutely never was.

Friday, 8 July 2016

December 1577

My final Game of Thrones piece for the year (unless something else comes up) is now available at Geek Syndicate.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

5th February, 1938

I know we're all in the post-finale chill right now, but my bumper-size discussion of "Battle of the Bastards" is now up at Geek Syndicate.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Geek Syndicate Review: House Of Penance #3

Not the most fun time to be in the UK, is it? Still, take your minds of it by reading about an unravelling fictional nightmare.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Referendumbing Down

04:29 OK. It would most certainly seem that I have run out of interesting things to say. This wasn't what I wanted, but I'm well aware that I'm lucky enough for my transition to be far less problematic than many, many others. But it's half past four, and I have to be at work tomorrow and pretend that everything is OK for my students' sake.

Everyone be well.


There once was a man from Allesley
Who decided inclusion was key
So though he likethed it not
He went to throw in his lot
With the marginally less shit Tory

If you can vote, and you haven't, please do.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

11th February 1903

My piece on "No One" is up at Geek Syndicate now, as if anyone still wants to talk about that episode after yesterday. Still, I've allowed my politics to bleed into this one just a wee bit more than usual, so there's that.

Monday, 20 June 2016

No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.1.13 - "Your Sweet Voice" (Reindeer Section)

Reindeer Section was an idea of quiet genius. Throw together members of the best Scottish indy outfits - which at the time meant the best indy outfits in the world, and I will pull your hair in the most fey manner possible if you disagree - and see what they can come up with under the direction of Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody.

Somehow, though, it didn't quite work the first time. Y'all Get Scared Now, Y'Hear! felt more like a throat-clearing exercise than a coherent album. Fortunately, their second effort Son of Evil Reindeer proved an absolute triumph. Give too many cooks one broth and they'll spoil it. Ask them to put on a banquet and you'll be stuffing your face indefinitely.

"Your Sweet Voice" is not the sweetest morsel on this platter, but it's certainly the saddest, a short story about what happens once a relationship is over, but your former has left neither your heart nor your life. It's a standard slice of Lightbody's trademark bake of vague allusion to profound yearning, but there's a reason that got him as far as it did. Plus, as with his best songs, the meanings here change dramatically depending on where you think the speech marks should go. My advice: choose the conversation that sounds most devastatingly sad.

I remember with crystal clarity where I was when I heard this song; I was alone in my parent's house and had the album on whilst waiting to head off to a friend's house.  What I can't recall, at all, was who it was I thought of when one of my all-time favourite self-absorbed-white-boy-unlucky-in-love lyrics dropped:
I can't call you a friend
Cause when you left me here
You left me here to die
Don't worry I wont call you again
Cause when I take a hint
I take it pretty hard
And when you broke my heart
You broke it into shards of glass
Solipsistic? Sure. But it's indy music. That's defining yourself by what you don't have from day one. In any event, that's just fucking crushing. And it was crushing in a way that resonated with me. I felt my heart fall from its previous rhythm like a drunk punk drummer.

I don't remember why anymore. I know there was someone. I know there was someone and this reminded me of her and it was beautiful and awful. That memory, and that feeling, has survived over a decade past any connection to my love interest at the time.

And what is this kind of music for, if not to keep you pleasantly miserable long past your ability to remember why?

B-side: another track from Son Of Evil Reindeer that didn't quite make the cut for this series, but is still wonderful.

"Realistically I'm already halfway gone."

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Grammar Is Important

"Shouldn't that be search and destroy?"
"Nah, mate. We're actually searching an actual place called Destroy. It's at one end of the Search and Destroy valley."
"That seems a little confusing. What happens if we destroy Destroy?"
"Don't destroy Destroy! How would we search it?"
"We could just search Search instead, and say we searched Destroy."
"We can't search Search."
"Why not?"
"Search was destroyed by people from Destroy. That's why we're here. We're searching Destroy for people the who destroyed Search. Then we'll destroy them."
"So shouldn't that be search and destroy?"

Monday, 13 June 2016

1st March 1563

My piece on "The Broken Man" is up at Geek Syndicate, y'all. Now featuring already-disproved hypotheses!

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Reason I'm Voting Remain...

...Is actually pretty simple. I mean, it'd have to be; I'm terrible at economics. Fortunately, I don't particularly care about whether "the UK" would be better off economically if we left the EU - not least because this idea that we're a single unit who would all be better off following a withdrawal is a fantasy wielded by my enemies. My thing is this: far, far, far too many in the Brexit camp are salivating over the prospect of us leaving the EU because it will let us toss away various human rights for our citizens. I couldn't give half a loose stool sample whether we would also be in a stronger position economically (I don't think we would, but what do I know?) - the Brexit Tories are looking around the UK in all its austerity-ravaged, empathically-challenged, immigrant-hating, disability-mocking, poor-bashing dystopian horror and hoping there's a way they can be crueler to people.

Fuck. That. Shit.

Monday, 6 June 2016

"Oh Woah-Oh Woah-Oh! Mysterium Game!" /Peter Andre Reference

This place is turning into a bit of a link dump for my stuff elsewhere, isn't it? Here, dear readers; have yourselves some Exclusive Content.  At the weekend F and I joined some friends to play Mysterium.  This is a board-game that feels very much of the type in vogue, for a couple of reasons. Firstly it takes a very old idea and gives it the sort of update sixty-plus years of gaming innovation allows.  Secondly, that update involves the kind of conceptual-linking process that have turned up in several recent releases like Concept and Dixit.

There's also a killer premise, no pun intended. The basic idea here is that someone has been brutally murdered, and you have to solve the crime through the time-honoured tradition of determining the killer, the murder weapon, and the scene of the crime.  Usually this is the point where I would argue any investigator who cannot tell whether a body was strangled in the library or shot in the billiard room has no business sniffing around a chalk outline, but here the objection becomes irrelevant, because you're all playing psychic investigators, which means a) you're possibly not even at the scene of the crime, and b) even if you are, it's entirely believable that you don't know the first thing about criminology. Why check a house for blood-stains when you can dangle a pendant over a candle, or whatever?

Obviously this unorthodox approach to crime-fighting (CSI: Crystal-Staring Intently) can make it difficult to acquire useful information.  That's where the ghost comes in. Did I say you're all playing mediums? Not quite. One of you gets to play the murder victim, who has a very real psychic link to one of the other players. Only one, though. The other tarot-flingers and ouija-fondlers are simply frauds, cranks or opium addicts.  Crucially though, no-one knows which of the players is the real deal for most of the game, including the ghost. Rather than there being a single combination of killer, room and weapon that is correct from the beginning, there is one combination for each psychic, known only to the ghost. Each player's combination is distinct at every tier, so if my visions are leading me to Evil Felicity Kendall as the perpetrator of the deed, then no-one else would be guided in that direction, focusing instead perhaps on Human Pepe-Le-Pew, Dispeptic Sherlock Holmes Werewolf, Septon Unella, or Giraffe Angela Lansbury.

Each turn the ghost will give you a vision aimed at pointing you to your suspect, with said vision taking the form of a piece of abstract artwork the ghost player hopes will put you in mind of your quarry. Once that's done, you each choose who you think your suspect is. Then you ask the ghost who is right, with those who are progressing on to figuring out the room in which the murder happened, and to weaponry after that, and those incorrect forced to guess again next time with the benefit of an additional piece of artwork to guide them.

As well as making your own guesses, though, you have (limited) markers to put next to other players, bearing a tick if you agree with that player's choice and a cross otherwise (you get to see everyone's visions to give you some idea of how accurate or otherwise their current thinking is). Once that's done the ghost lets you know who's brain-hot and who's brain-not. The game recommends knocking spookily once for right and twice for wrong, but I prefer to underline the Clue link by playing them as Ghostly Tim Curry with swivel eyes and scoff-laugh both set to maximum. Anyway, if you've correctly called the veracity of another player's guess; congratulations! You are awarded a psychic point for your indomitable mento-smarts, which allows you more visions at game's end.

So yeah, game's end. There's basically a boss fight coming up here. First though, every psychic has to have found their combination in just seven turns, otherwise it's game over for you all - I didn't catch why a bunch of mediums that can literally agree on nothing have formed a crime-fighting team rather than engaging in competitive hearse-chasing; maybe that's explained in the rules. In any case, that's a pretty tall order when you start off with 216 possible combinations, though admittedly it gets easier as other, more psychic psychics get off the ground, eliminating options.

Ge through that, though, and you reach the final phase. Remember, all but one of the psychics are just neck-deep in the DTs or suffering acid flashbacks; only one of the combinations represents the actual truth. Once everyone has worked out their own combination the ghost determines which is correct, and then selects one last set of visions to let the players know which of them has seen the truth. The ghost sets out three cards face down, one each for culprit, room and weapon (with only the ghost knowing which is which). It's at this point your recently-accrued (or not) psychic gift-tokens come in handy; the more you've amassed, the more of those three cards you can look at, with poor performers seeing just one, and gifted clairvoyants getting hold of all three. Once you've seen what you're allowed to, everyone votes, with the game only one if the majority of players correctly figure out the true combination, with the most psychically-gifted player calling the result in case of a tie.

And that's pretty much the it of it. If you're not into this kind of concept-linking game, I don't really see anything here that would change your mind. If you dig the idea, though, this is a fun little riff on it. Especially since it so entertainingly nods at the central question that arises in so many "vengeful ghost" stories: why can the spirit of some murdered chump blow-out light bulbs and scrawl "REVENGE" in blood across a mirror but not pick up a pen and jot down "Steve did it"? It's perhaps a rather obscure piece of genre criticism to spin into a board game, but it works fairly well in practice, especially in the late game where you find the ghost is learning from your earlier interpretations and is sending out more useful visions. So it's Clue, Dixit, and How To Train Your Ghostie. Works for me.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

4 December 1184

My write-up of "Blood of My Blood" is now clogging up Geek Syndicate's intertubes.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Geek Syndicate Review: House Of Penance #2

I took some time away from chronicling the new Game of Thrones season with a review of Tomasi and Betram's House of Penance #2. It's a title that is shaping up very nicely indeed. Check it out.

Monday, 23 May 2016

26th January, 1820

My review of "Book Of The Stranger" is up now at Geek Syndicate.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.1.12 - "Underneath The Weeping Willow" (Grandaddy)

A moment of rest amid the tears and histrionics. Music's Eye of Harmony, at least for me.

The stresses are still there, the endless underlying scratching at our brains, appearing here as the nervous jitter of the opening piano line that never actually goes away. But it's boxed in by the rest of the song, a gorgeous slow progression of warm chords and the warmest, prettiest vocal Jason Lytle has given us to date.  It's not exactly a happy song, but it is a hopeful one, about sleeping through the rough hours in a place you love until you wake up in a better mood. About letting your sadness quietly slide away to somewhere else. Sleep is the great healer, so long as you know you are sheltered. That you can be safe.

I bought "The Sophtware Slump" almost precisely 14 years ago, in the run up to the last exams I ever took. The capstone - or gravestone - for four years of my life. I was a fizzing mess, running on cola and coffee, snapping at everyone, trying to deal with a change in my medication that didn't so much improve my foul moods as concentrate them into shorter, more vicious bursts.  Every evening I would play this song as part of a ritual to at least try and stop bubbling over. The fact that after all that, every time I hear this song I still feel calm is astonishing. It's not that the song escaped being coloured by how I first encountered it - it might make me calm, but it's an exhausted calm, like the climb-down from an adrenaline high. But the accompanying manic sadness never surfaces, transmuted every time by what I'm hearing. Like the weeping willow herself, the song does all the crying for me.

And I can be happy again.

B side

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

11th December, 1936

My review of "Oathbreaker" (which I forgot to give a score to; let's say 3/5 again) is up now at Geek Syndicate.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Remember Tokyo: How Do You Measure A Year?

(Thanks to Sion for the photo)

A few hours later
Our birds are home and sulking
And I get called in.

"Can you explain this?"
Asks the PM, who I kept
Far out of the loop.

I take a long, deep breath.
"This about nicking POTUS?
Our role's off the books."

"Jakarta ran it,
Jakarta lost him to Seoul.
But we're in the clear."

"Sounds thrilling," he says.
"You must tell me more sometime.
"But what I meant was..."

He turns on the news.
"LIVE: Japan assassinates
US president."

Friday Talisman: Queenie

My camera phone refused to focus on this one, presumably because her hideous evilness was simply too much for it to bear. But is it really fair for the game to label her as "evil" in the first place? Can't nice people enjoy hanging out with spiders?  Spiders are awesome: they eat all the terrifying bugs that do so much to ruin life on this planet.  I think they'd do better in a democracy than a monarchy, but that's not really any of my business. As an ally of spiders, it is not my place to judge.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Friday, 6 May 2016

Remember Tokyo: Our Nuclear Winter Of Discontent

As Westerners say
With pleasing efficiency
I just lost my shit.

"How fucking perfect.
Just who the hell needs zombies
When you have the States?"

I tune out replies
Heard one Yank cheer mass murder
And you've heard them all.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

PCC And Me

When it comes to policing
(As oppose to vote-fleecing)
Politicians add nowt, I'm afraid.

So straight off I've conceded
PCC's just aren't needed
And the choices? A a piss-poor parade.

But I'd ask it be noted
That I have indeed voted
Though claims there's no point are well made.

For it still seems my duty
To wipe democracy's booty
So the shit-stain of Tories might fade.

No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.1.11 - "Raining In Baltimore" (Counting Crows)

If there was ever going to be an act to appear twice in this first, none-more-wallowing-in-whiteboy-misery chapter (and this will be the only one) it was always going to be the Crows. Here we have another almost ridiculously sparse musical landscape dominated by Duritz's choked vocals. Only Charlie Gillingham's utterly beautiful accordion reminds us there's even other people in this band. We're in familiar territory here, both lyrically and emotionally, but somehow "Raining in Baltimore" manages to be even more filled with alienation than "Round Here" was. At least there Duritz could compare his feelings of not fitting in to those of various other outcasts and oddballs. Belonging through not belonging was a group activity.

Here, there's no-one around but him. It was bad enough when the circus was somewhere you risked falling, but now even that possibility for change is gone. It's just one more abandoned space now, one more place he can't go anymore. When people stop visiting the circus, it's time to pull the top down. You've had your fun, but it's time to admit it isn't working anymore.

Once you know the back-story to the Crows song "Anna Begins" from the same album - American boy meets Australian girl on long holiday in Europe, and they fall completely in love despite both having to return home come summer's end - it's very hard not to see "Raining in Baltimore" as a sequel to that song. The desire for travel to be back with his love is obvious. Duritz needs his sunburn. He needs his plane ride. But it's more complicated than that. Australia is about 10 000 miles from the States, not 3 500. Duritz isn't thinking of the girl across the Pacific right now, but the one that was once across the Atlantic.  He misses a time as much as a place.

Sure, he says he needs a phone-call, to connect to her in the present, but their conversations don't go anywhere these days. It's the same territory over and over again; nothing to talk about but how the weather is getting worse. If he can't get a sunburn, he'll settle for a raincoat. Something that will let him function in the present. Because yes, the past just isn't working any more, but right now isn't going any better. And so here he sits, watching his memories fade, with nothing and no-one around to replace them.

I ran into this song - absolutely cannoned into it, really - at exactly the right time, which is to say: exactly the wrong time. It was exam term of my first year in university, and I was having a hard time dealing with the separation from my girlfriend back home, who was studying for her A-levels.  Six weeks passed without us seeing each other whilst we trudged through our respective revision calendars. Neither of us had a reliable mobile. I'd phone her house from a payphone in the middle of a hallway, my mind addled by hours of equations and theorems, and hope her parents would tell me she was in.  Sure, it wasn't 3,500 miles, just 40 or so.  But when you have no car, and she has no car, and you both have exams, and you're both young as hell, that feels fucking far enough.

Looking back though, just like Duritz, things were already starting to shut down. Eight months of me being in my new home more often than my old one had taken its toll. The relationship was bleeding to death. Slowly, a few drops of blood at a time, but it was still dying. The following summer was all awkward silences and pointless sniping while we tried to figure out why what used to work didn't anymore. The break-up arrived about a month after her results did. I know now I wasn't missing her so much as I was missing the functioning relationship we'd had before I'd had to leave. Which didn't make breaking up hurt any less, obviously.

It was another Counting Crows that got me back on my feet after that, actually. But I'll tell that story some other day. The sun came out eventually, it almost always does. Sometimes, though, I still want to listen to the rain.


Monday, 2 May 2016

15th January, 1966

My piece on Game of Thrones 6.1: "The Red Woman" is up now at Geek Syndicate.