Monday, 31 March 2008

When Grown Men Wear Costumes

Currently watching Wrestlemania, according to editorial fiat (i.e. demanded by B). I believe the apposite phrase is: "WTF"?

Update: I should mention that if your particular brand of fakery involves a sell-by date by "defeat", then there is honour in bowing out, however fabricated the method. Goodbye Ric Flair.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Shit-Start Second

Finally began the task of working my way through the DVD's I was so kindly given over Christmas by my lovely friends, who really deserve a higher percentage chance of use from their well thought-out presents than I generally tend to offer them.

Actually, there are presents specifically tailored to someone's sense of enjoyment, and then there's presents specifically tailored to someone's sense of sadomasochism. "Blood on Satan's Claw", a seasonal offering from Vomiting Mike, is most certainly in the latter category. Knowing of my dogged insistance on watching the crappest, campest, schlockiest (if it wasn't a word, I submit that it is now) horror films I can get my hands on, he managed to drag what looked like a true abomination of cinema into the light, presumably from out of whatever pit of Hell the mighty Beelzebub has reserved for 70's Hammer Horror knockoffs (the "critical essay", for want of a better term, which came in the box, claims that the film is often mistaken for a Hammer effort, although I would think it's probably more often mistaken for a cheese-induced nightmare dictated by a lisping, weeping child to a drunken idiot desperately trying to write shorthand with a wax crayon whilst wearing boxing gloves).

So, given I knew the film would be terrible from the start, I decided it might be an opportune time to play my Squid-patented "Shit-Start Second" game. The rules are pretty basic, you simply attempt to pinpoint the exact second in a film's running time at which it reveals itself to be total shit. Still with me?

To be clear, some films make you nervous from the get-go. You can have a bad feeling from opening credits for instance (or to go at it from the other direction, Big G swears he realised he was going to love "Brick" from a single shot only 54 seconds in). The idea here is to find the moment where your fears crystallise into certainty (the arrival of a given name in the credits does not count, an actor might not need to speak to ruin a film, but as a general rule we should at least give them the courtesy of waiting for them to arrive).

The current holder of the SSS record is the nightmare of celluloid men refer to in choking whispers as "Spawn". I was too traumatised by the experience of watching it to remember the exact timing, but it was the moment the evil clown started making fun of Martin Sheen. Somewhere around the four minute mark, I think.

Not that it matters, because I can now report that BoSC is our new reigning champion. The scene is as follows: Roger Dawltrey look-alike Ralph Gower is tilling a field when he notices some crows a little distance off. Finding the appearance of a small number of naturally-occuring fauna overpoweringly suspicious, he abandons his work to investigate, and finds that they've been bothering the decaying remains of some hideous quasi-human face. Except of course that what they've actually been doing is standing indolently atop a plaster-of-paris replica of a gargoyle's face with added blue paint and a glass eye. I know it's generally bad form to mock a film from the Seventies over its effects, but there's cheap-but-imaginative, and then there's stealing your props from children's parties (strange, twisted children, who grew up to go clubbing with chloroform and , but even so).

Time-stamp: 98 seconds. This will be tough to beat, I think.

Note also that you can sing the game title to the tune of "New York Minute" by the Eagles, which I stubbornly maintain is both cool and awesome. "In a shit-start second (oo-wee-ooooh) every film can change."

Suit yourselves.

As for the film itself, it was atrocious beyond belief. The increasingly ineptly named critical essay (if ever a film needed criticising, it was this one) claims it was originally written as three short stories hastily rearranged into one narrative, which certainly explains why the crazy-eyed sappy woman with the worrying similarity to T showed up, went nuts, got some kind of awesome claw-thing and then disappeared. Really though the problems were two-fold; firstly the plot didn't really go anywhere (kids go all witchy, try to resurrect Satan, fail), and secondly the "erotic" quotient of the film consisted of two topless women (one of whom, in fairness, was tremendously attractive, but even then attractive in the graceful beauty sort of way I've always liked that doesn't really lend itself to grubby gratuitous tog-shedding) and a profoundly disturbing rape scene (beyond the standard level of unease, obviously). Disturbing a) because the victim quickly started enjoying it (which you can wave away as being SATAN'S INFLUENCE, I suppose, but if there are films that can get away with the idea of a woman enjoying sexual assault (A History of Violence? Opinion is divided) it most certainly can't be one that already treats its female characters as all being hapless victims, bothersome old maids, and vicious conniving temptresses with big tits) and b) because the victim was Zoe from Doctor Who, and that's just not something my dreamy childhood memories can really sustain. The scene really wasn't helped by watching Betty from "Some Mother's Do Have 'Em" apparently reach orgasm as she watches all this, nostalgia really took quite a beating.

So a miss, all things considered. The only real highlight was learning that the DoP was named Dick Bush, which is probably my favourite name since Tokyo Sexwale.

Thursday, 27 March 2008


Like a lot of people, I find myself somewhat confused when it comes to my love of my family, in that whilst I would be devastated should anything befall any of them, I can really only tolerate them through the mediums of alcohol or of distance.

Regardless, I wanted to note that today is my paternal grandparent's diamond wedding anniversary. A slap-up meal awaits me, presumably to be held in awkward silence.

In all honest my grandparent's marriage, insofar as I am able to judge, having been alive for less than half of it and possessing no real metric upon which to judge it for perhaps half of the remainder, is remarkable in no real way than its sheer longevity. At present their marital recipe seems to be 60% fighting and 40% sleeping, which they presumably do in increasing fear that one of them will finally snap and claw the other's eyes out whilst they lie prone. On the other hand, it's worth noting that there is nobody in my generation (with, just maybe, the exception of C & T) who are liable to reach their diamond anniversary, not because all my married friends are headed for divorce (although a number of them have already fallen by an increasingly packed wayside), but because no-one did it early enough for both parties to realistically be alive long enough to hit the aforementioned milestone. I recognise that a long-lasting marriage is not necessarily the same as a happy one, and that getting married before you're old enough to drive a HGV is probably not the best idea society ever came up with, but it's still worth noting that until we find some way to live forever as cyborgs, or at least how to grow replacement organs from stem cells, my grandparents are liable to have achieved something their descendants will find very difficult to replicate.

Assuming, of course, they haven't got divorced before we've gotten to the fish course.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

SpaceSquid (plus R) vs Hollywood No. 1

Title: Cod Almighty!

Hollywood Formula Pitch: (Bonfire of the Vanities + Jaws) x From Dusk Till Dawn

Synopsis: The touching yet hard-nosed story of how the executive at the No Catch cod farm pissed away a small fortune snorting cocaine off hookers' tits rather than engage robotically in the far nobler aim of continuing the genocide of an entire fish species. Goggle with nauseating jealously as the suits fritter away their expense accounts, and engage in golf games during the working day. Then watch with smug satisfaction as their immoral but faintly boring antics lead them into a spiral of failure and self-recrimination.

Oh, also; the director of the company is secretly developing mutated zombie cod that attack humans on sight, leading to a ludicrous twist in the third act where shoals of cruelly twisted gadidae attack the hero (whomever he is), and the big-titted heroine who is probably a journalist or something.

This will also be lead into a tacked-on romantic subplot which will give the ladies something to enjoy.

Money shot(s): A low-speed golf-cart chase ending in one cart careening into a bunker and detonating unconvincingly. A secret underground zombie cod factory in which several one-hit-point characters meet a grizzly end. A gratuitous sex scene, filmed underwater in a cod-hatchery.

Tagline: Time to get battered.

Shah Shah!

Soon doubtless to be filed under "Spoke too soon", I just thought I'd put up a quick post to celebrate the completion of my first academic paper. It's already been reviewed, this was just me responding to their comments, in addition to trimming the paper to the editor's increasingly far-fetched demands for brevity. I may have it back at some point if spell-checking sets bells ringing, but seriously, how hard is it to spell inhomogeneity, anyway?

It's not a very good paper, in truth, although I'm reliably informed that it will read better to the economists who read it than the mathematicians that wrote it, but it does mean that I will soon no longer be working towards being a published academic, I will be a published academic, albeit one with only a single published work which a lot of people think is a bit shit.

Clinton's Coup

OK, I went back to work for, like, three minutes, and it didn't end well. On with the ranting.

A lot of people on the left (and for all I know, the right, although I find it hard to believe they really care one way or the other) are concerned that Clinton's only successful strategy for winning the Democratic nomination is what's being referred to as "coup by super-delegate". Now, if everything stays the same as it is right now, those commentators are almost certainly correct. And the general feeling seems to be that if she did somehow pull that off (which can safely be considered a Hail Mary play at this point), it will rip the party apart, because the super-delegates will essentially have looked at which candidate won the most primaries, the most caucuses, the most states, and the most actual votes, and said "Fuck you, American citizenry". Of course, that part the right really is interested in, much in the same way I'm interested in getting laid tonight. It isn't something I'm really expecting, but I'm certainly prepared to consider as a pleasing hypothetical.

But the key phrase in all the above is "if everything stays the same." There is a second method by which Clinton can get the nomination, and that's by Obama being completely destroyed by some upcoming scandal. The Reverend Wright situation proved that there are chinks his armour; he has so far weathered the latest storm fairly well (in fact in my view at least has become a more attractive candidate), but the idea his campaign is an unstoppable juggernaut is clearly incorrect.

What it is, is unstoppable by Clinton directly (and she needs to give up on some of the attempts she's been making recently; Clinton > Obama is an entirely reasonable strategy, but Clinton = McCain > Obama most certainly isn't). But that doesn't mean something else won't take him out between now and the convention, and whilst it's hardly fair on him to point out the odds of that are increased because he is black, it doesn't make it any less true, and that's hardly Clinton's fault.

So she keeps doing her best to remain competitive, and (more importantly at this stage) to remind people that she exists, and no-one has to feel like it's Obama or nothing at this point. Is just holding on until the convention in the hope Obama goes aground somehow a feasible strategy? Not really. But at this point I don't see it as demonstrably less likely to work out than persuading the super delegates to snatch her out of the fire will.

The attractiveness of this theory is that Clinton obviously can't say that she's doing it. If at any point she throws up her hands and says "Fine; I'm only still in this race on the off chance Obama's horse might tread on a mine", then she really has had it. Her share of the primary votes will plummet, and even if lightning does strike the Republicans will never let her forget that that's how she secured the nomination (not that they would anyhow, but it would be a lot harder to shrug off once she admitted it herself). If this is her plan, she would do exactly what she is doing; fighting a state, then trying to minimise the loss of face if she fails, and making overtures to the superdelegates. Delaying tactics, essentially. Many are calling for her to give up, so that we know who our candidate is going to be and we can start gearing up to fight McCain, but I've never really bought into that. Continuing the primaries robs McCain of some of his air-time (and the recent gaffes and irregularities that the media have bent over backwards trying to explain, forgive or disappear proves that lack of attention on him is probably the best we can hope for right now), and it would be a poor political operative indeed who found themselves unable to create strategies and talking points for the coming general that wouldn't serve either candidate. Notwithstanding the constant low-level sniping from Clinton, which as I say she should knock-off, and the fact that I personally am tired of the whole thing and want it over with, I genuinely see no compelling reason why this has to be wrapped up ASAP. It's also worth noting, as many have, that the only reason Clinton is still running is the number of super-delegates who have yet to endorse either candidate is high enough to mean the coup strategy (whether it's a bluff or not) has legs. She's still running because she wants to be president and that isn't yet impossible to achieve. The undecided super-delegates are deliberately extending that run, presumably in the hope that they won't have to come down on one side or another if Clinton finally gives up. Which, since it's pretty much their job to pick sides, makes me wonder if Clinton is the right target for the anger of those who want this settled sooner rather than later.

Of course, I'm pretty confident it won't work, and Obama will make it to the convention without imploding. (or, alternatively, will eventually pick up enough super-delegates for it to finally be a done deal). It's only then that we'll get to see whether or not Clinton's strategy is genuinely what so many people believe it to be. She may just use her first address to the conference delegates to tell them she's packing it all in, and thanks for the memories, which will make everyone who's convinced her political goals are more important to her than the democratic party (and let's not forget that she needs the latter to gain the former in any event, because her goal is to become President, and that requires more than the nomination, a fact she is certainly aware of) look pretty stupid, and somewhat mean-spirited too.

The short version of all of this is: perhaps we shouldn't assume Clinton is too batshit insane to care about starting a civil war until she starts a civil war. I'm not discounting the possibility, but I certainly object to it being characterised as a self-evident truth.

Update: The Daily Kos agrees with me, too. So there.

In Which "Dick" Puns Are Avoided

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Richard Cheney:

" "The president carries the biggest burden, obviously," Cheney said. "He's the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans, but we are fortunate to have a group of men and women, the all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm's way for the rest of us." "
(Quote from ABC News).

Leaving aside for a moment my general feeling that one has to be careful about treating the military as a completely infallible and immaculate entity that one cannot criticise without being unpatriotic, it's a pretty hard sell that President Bush has a harder time of it in the war than the soldiers do. Especially when you consider that Bush mentioned only a week or so ago that he thought fighting on the ground war must be somewhat romantic.

Seriously, if a Democratic administration tried to make the case that war was tougher on them than it was on the troops, they'd be rounded up and fired into the sun. Hypocrisy is pretty hard to avoid in politics, but germs are pretty hard to avoid in bathrooms, and you should still have enough sense not to gargle from the toilet bowl.

PS: Note also the emphasis that the American soldiers volunteered to join the military. Well, sure, if you ignore the number of people who sign up to the army because they can't get a job anywhere else (well, I guess the women could become hookers, but let's put that aside), and you ignore the fact that signing up to a job doesn't mean anything your boss decides to make you do is automatically OK, then yes, these men and women did in fact volunteer. But how is that relevant here? No-one forced Bush to become president. In fact, a metric fuck-ton of people actively tried to stop him becoming president, to the point where his party had to cheat in order to get him over the finish line. Linking "it's harder to send people to die than it is to be sent to die" to "and anyway it's not like they didn't have a choice" is a pretty distasteful attempt to simultaneously engender sympathy for the guy that demands the sacrifices and lessen the relevance of the sacrifices themselves.

Anyway, I really should get back to work.

Update: I just read an interesting article that suggested that for a lot of people signing up for the army "economic need" equates less to "serve or starve" than it does "serve to break through into the middle class". It's an interesting distinction, so perhaps we should change "hookers" to "call girls" in the above.

A Second Rant Regarding Confusing Oppression With Just Thinking You're A Dick

I should also mention, partially because I apparently can't rant enough about the topic, that this phenomenon can be extended beyond the already fairly nebulous and reactionary concept of "The PC Brigade" and into popular perception in general. Arguing about science (and particularly about global warming and second-hand smoking, for example) immediately gets you into the same territory. Discredited theories and "experts" in the pay of oil companies are wheeled out again and again, their vast outnumbering in the academic world dismissed as an international conspiracy by the governments of pretty much every developed nation (including the US at this point, after the Pentagon woke up one day and realised all the troop procurement in the world is of limited use in fighting the Sun) to pretend the problem exists as an excuse to raise taxes. Such minor details as the fact that the international community can never agree on anything (upto and including whether genocide is worth worrying about) and that the Bush administration is the only US administration in history to cut taxes in the middle of a war, which makes them ludicrously tax-hostile even by American standards, and yet it is still now, somewhat belatedly, confessing to the dangers (it's promised to lead the world in fighting climate change, which is nice, I'm pretty sure the rest of us just headed off at random in the direction of lets-not-entirely-fuck-our-own-planet, so it'll be really sweet to have them holding the compass from fifty miles back), apparently don't register. Conventional scientific thinking must be challenged (I made some points last week as to what I think part of that idea springs from), and if anyone disagrees, we must be attempting to silence them, as oppose to requesting that they back-up their shit-talking. Really, it's a neat rhetorical trick. Choose a position a priori, (we have no adverse effect on the environment) listen only to those who already agree with you (helped by the media of course, who seem unable or unwilling to not use the label "some experts" when what they mean is "a tiny minority of researchers and academics with frequently suspect incomes and theories that are invariably shot full of holes"; you could strain peas with Svensmark/Friis-Christensen), strip arguments of context and flense trends from proportion and present them as fact or as common knowledge ("Mars is warming!" "This is the same thing that happened in the Middle Ages"), and then refuse to participate in any attempt to challenge your opinions, demanding repeatedly that it is your right to hold them. I wonder if there's anyone out there convinced blacks are responsible for causing global warming. It would be oddly amusing to discover that this imbecilic arc of douche-baggery has in some sense come full circle.

Update: Not to extend this already ridiculously long post, but it struck me that I should probably make it clear that the latter half of the above diatribe should not be taken as an indication that I consider scientific theory to be unassailable. I'm as aware as anyone else of the voyage of the Beagle. My point is that there seems to be a common misconception that it is someone anyone can do, irrespective of intelligence, talent or, and this is the real one I have trouble with, of knowledge. And just deciding you don't agree with a given theory and finding links to other people that don't agree either isn't research, and if you think it is you need to shut up because adults are talking.

I'm also not suggesting that no-one should have an opinion on scientific proclamations unless they immerse themselves in the details. Certainly some pronouncements from the ivory tower seem more plausible than others (of course, unless it's probability theory or maybe statistics I'll be viewing the discussion through the lens of the media like everyone else). Sometimes I'll read a theory and think "That makes perfect sense" (much of The Blind Watchmaker falls into that bracket, I really do wish Dawkins had stuck to defending evolution instead of attacking religion); Sometimes I read a theory and think "That's pretty hard to swallow, I wonder what the evidence looks like?" I can't possibly fault others who tend to fall in the latter camp more often than I do.

But here's the kicker. If you read over your cornflakes that scientists think bacteria has a role in shaping the weather, and you don't believe it, I don't care, because your opinion makes no difference. If, like me, you don't smoke, and you don't buy into the existance of passive smoking, then I don't care, because the worst you can do with that bit of (incorrect) thinking is manage to do your own lungs some damage.

If you don't by into the arguments regarding climate change, then it's my problem. And everybody else's too. If a theory is developed that suggests your behaviour could be harmful to others, it becomes your responsibility to investigate whether it is genuinely true or not. You no longer get to shrug your shoulders and say "I'm not convinced", because what you're saying at that point is "Until I can be convinced 100% that I am harming others, I will assume I am not". And that's a pretty cavalier attitude to the planet (not least because whenever I meet people who tell me they aren't convinced, they are completely unable to tell me under what circumstances they would be convinced). These things don't exist in a vacuum, the more people resist change, the easier it gets for change to be resisted, and at the forefront of that particular battle aren't the people who may actually believe climate change is real but lie about it for profit, but the people who aren't sure and don't want to be sure because it will make their lives harder.

It is, in short, the easy way out. And you should always be suspicious of the easy way out. You can, I guess, point out that there is so much going on in the world that some of this stuff just has to go on the back-burner, and that sometimes if you worry about everything you end up powerless (one example I read a little while ago was choosing between African grown and locally grown fruit, since choosing the latter goes against the spirit of Fair Trade but the latter has a much larger carbon footprint); I tend to think of this as the Wotan Principle. And at least that's honest. But to pretend that the scientific community has failed to convince you and that somehow the fault lies with them is just baldly dishonest.

"It's Political Correctness Gone Mad!" Gone Mad or Richard Littlejohn, I'm Looking At You

Scott Lemieux over at Lawyers, Guns and Money makes an excellent point about those that complain about the "PC" police, or use the endlessly idiotic IPCGM!!!1!!1 phrase reproduced above, almost (and by almost I mean invariably in my experience to date) use it as a mask for the fact that their stated opinion (often punctuated as "fact") cannot stand up to even the closest scrutiny. When someone says "Islam will find it difficult to be accepted by Western governments until the general Muslim population decries its militant elements more forcefully", then you have the oppurtunity to debate. Are many Muslims too willing to keep quiet about members of their own faith in favour of criticising others? Is that to some extent just a feature of human nature? Is ignoring the problems in your own house ultimately self-destructive? The problem is a complex and multi-layered one, I've read articles on it taking several different positions, and I'm not sure there ever can be one answer, which in turn means I can accept very different viewpoints as all having validity, to greater or lesser extents.

When somebody asserts seemingly at random that "Islam is a fundamentally evil religion because their religious text demands all non-Muslims be executed", though, you're no longer in the same game. Suddenly you're facing an ugly mix of rumour and innuendo and lack of research and often sheer invention, which is then conflated to a ridiculous extent because that way any attempt at nuance or scrutiny can be bypassed. And at that point, there often isn't much you can do beyond shouting foul.

Frequently, of course, those who do so are accused of attempting to silence critics, of cutting off their right to free speech. Well, leaving aside that I'm British, so that the vast majority of people I meet who use that argument have no right to free speech, it demonstrates the sheer poorness of a person's deductive skills that they are unable to differentiate between attempting to deny them their ability to speak, and using our ability to speak to contradict them. If a crappy line of reasoning is expoused, it will be torn to shreds, because no-one is honour-bound to leave opinion unchallenged for fear they will upset the originator of that reasoning (I shall manfully resist the urge to expand this diatribe to include religion). If your ideas aren't getting traction in the real world, it is not proof that people are deliberately quashing them. It's proof that hardly anyone agrees with you.

Or, as Mr Lemieux put it, " "PC" has come to mean (if it ever meant anything else) nothing more than "bigotry that is indefensible on the merits shouldn't be subject to any critical scrutiny." " His contribution comes in response to a list of reasons (up at Instapunk) why one white man thinks other white men (and presumably women) might have a problem with black people. We're talking insights along the lines of "Would it kill you if your kid fixated on Sandy Koufax, Mozart, or Shakespeare rather than Mays, Armstrong, or Jay-Z? Does being black really have to be a full-time job?", here. So black people like black cultural products, and only black cultural products, and we object to that idea. Apparently. The quote combines the two problems I mentioned earlier: a fairly idiotic idea stripped of subtlety (namely that black culture and white culture are two wholly seperate entities which in no way feed off each other, and further that to choose consciously or subconsciously to favour one over the other is somehow wrong) and then generalises it to a idiotic extent (this is something all the blacks do to the maximum possible extent and we don't). It's an argument flawed on so many levels that picking it apart still leaves you with a tangled web of nonsense, and sometimes you're better off just pointing that out at once.

It's worth noting that the above quote is not the most ludicrous one in the rant, too.

Update: I've decided to split this post into two, since although the arguments are linked, I think they hold up better seperately.

Friday, 21 March 2008

The Moral Maize

Holy Hell, but Zimbabwe is buggered. Screwed to the point where Mugabe is currently tempting the voters to flock to him by bribing them with food.

In ninety-nine percent of cases, the story here would be a corrupt dictator rigging the ballot boxes. Here it's that an entire country is so totally fucking fucked that its grotesque tyrant hopes to gain the support of the masses by briefly delaying their imminent starvation.

Personally, I blame Zimbabwe's 100,000% interest rate. And no, that is not a mistype.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Idiotic Adverts Number 1

Message to Lynx: the Salt 'n' Shake principle was idiotic enough when applied to crisps. Expecting us to create our deodorant is nothing short of batshit.

f(n)=(3n)! Proves That You're A Dick

Just had someone slap me down on a forum over my insistence on using mathematics in the middle of arguments. The specific objections are that "no-one cares", and "how are you proving anything?" The implication being, presumably, that any single argument in a discussion can only be persuasive if it can be wholly expressed in plain English, without recourse to anything as crass as probability theory.

This has got me thinking about the way we view mathematics as individuals and as a society. Any scientist will tell you that it is often difficult to talk about what they consider reasonably basic concepts without people's eyes glazing over, but it seems to me that even by general standards, mathematicians get the short end of the stick. I've lost count of the number of times someone has told me "I was never any good at maths". Some do it with a sense of remorse, recognising a potential skill they never really grasped, and I don't have a problem with that. I was always rubbish at geography, for instance, and I was renowned as a football player for scoring at least eighty percent of my goals against my own team. But often the confession is accompanied by total indifference, or worse, inexplicable smugness. The latter always takes me back to my days on the front lines of teaching, in which the denizens of many classes had an implicit pact that maths was so irksome a subject that to be poor at it was somehow a point of pride. Children demand constantly to be told what use mathematics will be in later life, rarely thinking to ask the same question to their German or history teachers. A top-heavy fraction is seen as far less relevant that the exact date of the Battle of Arsuf, presumably because the former rarely involves Muslims with scimitars.

It seems to me that some people never quite move out of that mind-set. Mockery of academic accomplishment is everywhere. Wingnuts on blogs criticise liberals for being "educated". Scientists are accused of "not living in the real world". Douglas Adams once wrote sadly of a stand-up whose act including dissing flight engineers (something about how if black boxes are indestructible, why not make planes out of it?), which he described as a conscious decision by a group to band together and laugh at people smarter than they were. Maybe he overplayed his case, but I can certainly see where he's coming from.

Nobody likes to feel stupid. So, when faced by something you obviously can't grasp (or can't grasp yet), some people pull up their socks, some people ignore it until it goes away, and others mock it. The difficult is deliberately, consciously or otherwise, equated with the irrelevant and the boring. Academics are labeled as pointless at best, and untrustworthy at worst, for if their arguments cannot be easily understood, then how can they be believed? And then, by extension, the wielding of academic knowledge of any type becomes frowned upon.

Even within this phenomenon, though, there exists a hierarchy, with mathematics squarely at the bottom. One can make reference to the more basic physics concepts (for the sake of argument; gravimetric acceleration; nuclear fission; magnetism; basic relativity) within discussion without being called on it, in general. But bring in the most simple of probability concepts (binomial distribution, for example), and suddenly it's all "who cares?" and "that doesn't prove anything!". Those writing political speeches to persuade the masses as to the worthiness of their cause are specifically told to avoid an over-reliance on statistics. We constantly refresh the charge that maths is dull (the closest we've ever come to busting that myth is probably Numb3rs, which wasn't exactly to us what Indiana Jones was to archeology), because if it wasn't dull, why would so many people be unable to do it.

It makes me crazy. I recognise that feeling superior to people because you know more about something is a fairly unpleasant personality trait, and all things being equal, I'd like to be a lot less smug about such things. But to have a superiority complex about knowing less about something is patently insane. It's an attempt to damage that which you can't possess, or more frequently simply don't possess, and it's based on nothing more than a mob mentality that says once you knock someone over for having too theoretical a viewpoint, an awful lot of spectators are likely to cheer you on.

To summarise: what the fuck are people doing trying to wage an us v them war against the smart?

End of rant.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Never Done

Dinner with DB tonight (amongst others). Neutral territory, to the extent to which T's house can be considered neutral. Not sure if this little shindig has been set up because DB is feeling miserable again, or if T just needs some company whilst her husband is studying rocks in the Lake District, but I thought I'd made my "non-engagement" strategy pretty clear after the last time I was invited to something like this. If T had suggested the idea to me before inviting us all over Facebook, I would have tried to nip it in the bud, or at least asked what it was in aid of. As it is, I had to choose between turning up and making it clear that I wouldn't be going. T was nice enough to agree to scrap the whole thing if I didn't want to do it, but it's a little late now, y'know, which I suspect she knew from the beginning. I hate being the sort of guy who starts avoiding women when things don't work out, but there genuinely are times when the cleanest possible break is really the absolute best case scenario (where "best case" at this point essentially means "least bloodstained"). I can't do that if I have to keep seeing her all the time on the grounds that if I wanted to avoid her I have to deliberately make a point of it rather than it just being understood that having us both in the same room won't be a good idea for a while.

Some might point out (not without a case) that I'm arguing for the coward's solution, i.e. I get to cast her aside without having to confront her about it or deal with the fact that actions (specifically mine) have consequences. But given the alternative is that we keep getting thrown together until one of us (not necessarily me) explodes and we have another firestorm on our hands, I think the "cowardly" approach is also the best one. You can't heal a broken heart by aversion therapy. And if you have to keep seeing each other the best you can do, to borrow a phrase from Studio 60, is to turn "walking away" into "burning down the house". I still keep hoping I can avoid that.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Musings On Galactica

Ended up in a quite interesting (well, assuming that you're as nerdish as I am, at any rate) discussion about Battlestar Galactica on Friday (for those who've yet to see the entirety of Season 3 and Razor, now would be a good time to make yourself some tea). The topic of said conversation is one that I've covered several times, as presumably has pretty much every fan out there: what the Hell is up with the Final Five? One of the biggest questions, namely how can Tigh be a Cylon, is potentially the least problematic development. We know thanks to Razor that the Cylons were creating human replicas much earlier than we realised. Back when we can first confirm Tigh existed as a person was during the first war, so apparently his status as a Cylon isn't totally beyond the realms of possibility. And at the time, of course, he was a healthy young man, placed inside the military, a fairly logical choice for a sleeper agent. So I guess I can just about buy it there.

What gets harder to believe is that he would end up on the same Battlestar as two more Final Five models, and in the same fleet as another. Given our losses were around the 99.99% mark, that's pretty tough to swallow. Now, to some extent we might just have to accept that this is the nature of television series, sooner or later the coincidences have to mount up otherwise not much can really happen. But there is another alternative: we know the Final Five are "different" from the other Cylons. Whose to say they are limited to just one body? Perhaps they slotted themselves in at a later date. Certainly whilst on New Caprica there was time to replace Tori and Tyrol. The same is true of Anders, although an equally viable idea there is that he was replaced on Caprica between Starbuck's visits. Given RayCylon's (can't remember his actual name) obesssion with Starbuck, maybe they thought getting someone close to her would be a good idea. And of courss, Tyrol is critical to the Galactica and Tori is right beside the president almost constantly (a problem with this line of thought is that it would have been just as easy to replace the president herself), so that again is of obvious value to the Cylons. Hell, at this point you can wonder whether Tigh has been a Cylon forever, or if he was replaced too, whilst banged up in the NC Detention Facility. This would have the double advantage of making coincidences disappear and not totally shitting on the established backstory.

I am pretty convinced, of course, that the "real" story will be signifantly less sensible, although probably pretty cool.

Policing Your Own

I realise I'm a bit behind the curve on this one (partially because my computer detonated itself yesterday morning, and it's taken Senior Spielbergo and Big G most of the weekend to fix it, which was very nice of them), but I wanted to log my surprise at the reactions some people seem to have had to Keith Olbermann's special report over the Ferrarro fiasco (I never get tired of typing that).

Some have criticised Olbermann's style, which is a sufficiently subjective topic for it not to really be worth adding my tuppence worth. Others (The Daily Howler, for example) objected to Olbermann's assumption that it is/was Clinton's advisors who were the problem, rather than the candidate itself. I can't possibly claim to understand the workings of a presidential campaign to the stage where I would be comfortable judging the truth of that idea, although I would point out that making attempts to dissect organisations from the outside in an attempt to apportion blame is liable to be a mug's game.

What I find a little odd is the idea I've seen expressed or implied several times on various websites that Ferraro shouldn't really be on our radar, because we have, y'know, an actual enemy to fight, and we should all join hands to fight the villainous McCain. This argument pops up a lot, not least because the Democrats do genuinely have a problem with constant infighting and backstabbing, and it can be more than a little irritating to look across the aisle and see the Republicans presenting a united front. As long as the have liberals to bash, it seems plenty of them are happy to ignore whatever unpleasantness is being perpetrated by their own people.

And yes, obviously, it would be nice if we could get our shit together and act a little more like a cohesive unit and a little less like screaming children. But the key thing to remember is that working together only makes you virtuous if you're acting virtuously. If someone in your camp is clearly doing something they shouldn't, you have to at least try to get them to knock that shit off. Or demand they resign, or set up an inquiry, or whatever. Those Democrats who are insistant about keeping their house in order go a good way towards demonstrating that we genuinely have picked the right side in this. Loyalty is generally seen as a virtue, but of course it all rather depends on those that you are loyal to. There's a reason why most people have a higher opinion of von Stauffenberg than of Goebbels (an analogy not meant to imply parity between the Republicans and the Nazis, I'm as leary of Godwin's Law as anyone else, I'm just saying loyalty to a cause can probably only be as noble as the cause itself).

Of course, it's one thing to infight over genuine wrongdoing, it's quite another to do it over differing opinions on approach or policy. If the Democrats have a problem in this, that's where it lies. Policing your own is a pretty good idea, eating your young not so much.

Saturday, 15 March 2008


The Umbrella Chronicles is a weird game (and I'm not just talking about the fact that the narrator sounds like the unholy progeny of Vincent Price and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall). At least as far as Big G and I are concerned, if a zombie walks into your sights, all well and good, but the objective of the game is clearly to shoot as many lamps, strip-lights and chandeliers as is humanly possible.

Friday, 14 March 2008

My Second Favourite Irrational Number

Happy Pi Day, by the way. I'm reliably informed we should be expecting steaks and blow-jobs, too, but I think we all realise what's truly important here.

Academic Sabotage

Ibb has become convinced that people are stealing homework scripts from the folder on her office door. This hypothesis has been reached due to the number of students from various tutor groups claiming to have handed work which they have not yet had returned to them. One might at this point conclude that a) they are lying scum, much like all teenagers, and have in fact neglected to produce the required work in favour of smoking crack and tagging walls and engaging in promiscuous sex (or what have you), or b) Ibb has now outdone herself in the idiocy stakes to the point where transferring paper from point A to point B, five metres distant, is no longer a task she can perform with a better than 90% chance of success.

Having said all that, Ibb is insistent that the honesty of at least some of those affected is above reproach, and you'd have to be imbecilic even by her standards to manage to lose scripts twixt door and desk. So maybe theft is the genuine cause. Rumours are circulating of a vast conspiracy in which undergraduates remove homework from folders, copy it, and then replace. Perhaps one of these ne'er-do-wells, already lacking the necessary nous to realise their scheme is liable to be a short-term fix at best, has taken the next step down the crime highway and has started burning the original scripts to prevent comparison. This person, who we shall henceforth refer to as "The Cuckoo", never strikes the same target twice, presumably because they are so bad at their chosen subject that they can't even recognise a decent attempt when they see it.

Needless to say, in her desperate attempt to cover her own shapely ass, Ibb has found a potential suspect, entirely based on the fact that "no-one talks to her, and she looks really weird". Pretty damning, I think you'll agree. When pressed, the only further slice of evidence Ibb could provide is that the suspect never hands in any work. My esteemed colleague J-Dog then pointed out that this immediately disqualifies her as a suspect in a plagiarism case, and at worst the girl in question might simply be stealing scripts and hoarding them in her room. More Magpie than Cuckoo, although in general the utilitarian process of a magpie (shiny=better) is somewhat more easy to grasp than whatever selection process is applied to the theft of mathematics homework.

Regardless, Ibb has cranked it up a notch and is now engaged in discussion with the gentleman who runs the course as to how security can be beefed up in the Maths department. I await the results, which I trust will involve DNA scanners, armed guards, and/or compulsory anal probing for all undergraduates.

SpaceSquid Productions

My aforementioned hapless director (whom I in fact love dearly, and shall henceforth be referred to on these pages as Senior Spielbergo) will be arriving this evening, equipment in hand, to allow us to record the DVD commentary for our masterpiece. Doubtless the increasingly complex DVD cases Spielbergo has been designing will state "Features commentary from director, producer, and screen-writer", although it might be closer to the truth were it to read "Three drunken twenty-somethings attempt to MST3000 their own film."

The current plan (mine at least, Spielbergo might have other ideas; ditto my executive producer/flatmate, herein referred to as Big G) is to record three versions, possibly (read: inevitably) in increasing states of agitation and inebriation. Then we can slap it together in whatever order embarrasses the least (quite a challenge). We may add sections of Brian Blessed's Flash Gordon commentary as well, to fill gaps, essentially because said article is easily the greatest film commentary ever created. Should Spielbergo, Big G or myself somehow run out of words at any point in the proceedings (anyone who has ever met us either together or separately will know that this is unlikely) it gives us comfort to know Voltan will be on hand to praise our actor's purity, or laugh uncontrollably in a faintly disturbing fashion.

Plus, of course, this may give me the necessary push I've been needing to sign up for NaNoWriMo's Script Frenzy. Writing that novel back in November almost killed me, but it also served as a pretty useful distraction to some of the less fun aspects of my existence. Maybe I can stave off reality to the same extent with this.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Token Gestures

I see the Clinton campaign has finally rid itself of Ferraro. Which means I lose a fiver, since I bet last night it wouldn't happen until she finally blurted out that Obama is only running for president because he's run out of cars to steal, and because he's been told by various playas that the Commander and Chief gets, like, mad bling, yo.

Update: I do notice though that her "resignation" letter is less an apology and more a promise to form a partisan movement. Classy.

Teaching And Learning

DB broke radio silence last night to check how my exam went. Since I managed a twenty-minute text conversation without throwing the phone across the room, it looks like at the very least I'm doing better than I was New Year's Eve. Although since I was drunk at that point, I may be guilty of external confounding. Time, most like, will tell.

On a more positive note, I'm about to teach my last tutorial this term. Which, a pair of revision lessons at the end of April, is pretty much my last teaching job for the remainder of my PhD. I shall miss the money, but not the time-sink.

Hell, is that the time? Best go do a job.

Update: A spontaneous outburst of gratitude from my assembled tutees. That was nice...

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Zero Hour

Less than an hour to go before my fourth and likely final Japanese exam. I am now in a state of rising panic. Not to the extent that I can be bothered reading through my notes again, apparently, but then there's only so much good the last-minute cram can do anyway.

I've really enjoyed the classes over the last two years, but in many ways I'll be glad when it's all over. With this out of the way I can focus more fully upon completing my thesis, and subconsciously sabotaging my own love life.

Always a good idea to stick to what you know.

Update: Crud! Ah blew it! The listening paper went very well, but the writing? Fah! In fairness, it seems like an odd idea to reduce the time from the usual hour to thirty-five minutes, whilst keeping the paper the same length, increasing the amount of Japanese script, and testing twice the level of knowledge. But then it must have been a deliberate move, since we had time before the nightmare to watch an episode of Japanorama (K suggested it was irritating that the BBC spends our license fee to pay for Jonathan Ross to go to Japan, but I think the BBC made its mistake in paying for him to come back). At least I now know that I... am... otaku, which clearly is a good thing.

First Steps

I've thought long and hard as to whether or not to set up my own blog, mainly because it isn't immediately apparent as to what exactly I can bring to the sphere as a whole. I had hoped I could sell myself as offering an above-average number of dick jokes, but considering some of the competition I have in that regard, I might be setting the bar a little high.

Eventually, though, I decided not to worry about it. Time will tell as to whether or not this exercise is entirely futile. I guess at this point some kind of introduction is in order. So, in order of importance, the following things can, in a very rough sense, be considered the parts of which I, SpaceSquid, am the sum.

1. Mathematics

Specifically, probability. The theoretical behemoth through which I (just about) eke out a living. I'm not idiotic enough to be liable to discuss probability in great depth here, so you can breathe easy on that score, but it is worth noting that it tends to creep into my thinking whenever statistics are presented by politicians, journalists, or foaming-mouthed amateurs.

2. Writing

Prose, mainly. Well, exclusively, in effect, since every poem I have ever written has been bilge of the highest order (I eventually switched to haikus, since they at least are over too quickly for anyone to be too disgusted). I've done a lot of short stories, one novella, one novel (that is in desperate need of an edit and a proper ending), and a screen-play for a short film which we shot last September, and which could have been a lot worse than it turned out to be. Of course, this may be down to the director, assuming you buy into the Auteur theory, and further buy into the idea that it applies to drunken insurance agents waving a camera at his actors essentially at random.

3. Politics

US politics, mainly, because their endless ideological war is far more interesting than our tendency to agree on almost everything, and respectfully agree to disagree on the rest. Remember how much trouble the Tories got into over "New Labour, New Danger?" Our American cousins would pull that shit in an election for class president, unless the guy they were running against was black, in which case they'd come up with something substantially worse.

4. Japanese

About to take the exam for the end of my second year, which means I can navigate, order food, state preferences, and read two of their three alphabets. Since the third one contains upwards of fifty thousand symbols, I might choose to give it a miss, and just spend my first trip there pretending to be blind.

5. Guitar

This is towards the bottom of the list for the simple reason that I am awful at it. Right now, I can play exactly three songs, and maybe a fourth if I can ever remember the chord progression in the chorus, which currently puts me at the talent level of a drunken hobo busking with a penny-whistle. I am only a bridge-figuring-out away from reaching the legendary fifth song, at which point I will have reached the talent level of Mark Ronson. Seriously, listening to the aural abortion that was his version of The Smith's Stop Me... was like hearing your old friend's baby being beaten to death by a crack-addled cyborg using a microphone with the gain turned up as far as it'll go. Maybe it was irony that led to the song choice ("Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before"), but the actual arrangement is shit, and you can't equate irony with shit unless you're Alanis Morissette, at which point you're still doing it simply due to an inadequate grasp of the English language. Still, you have to admire the brass testes it takes to murder both The Smiths and Radiohead with consecutive releases. Anyway, I digress.

6. Digression.

Not so much a skill, talent or hobby as an inevitable occurrence. Consider yourselves warned.

7. Single.

That's right ladies, SpaceSquid is open for business. For now, anyways; previous experience has taught me that it could be as little as three years before I'm snapped up again, so book early to avoid disappointment. Or, to be more plausible, to change the packaging in which your disappointment will be delivered.

Right, well I guess that about covers it as an introduction. I'll be back when I can think of something more specific to scribble down.