Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The Half-Life Of Falsehoods

Kevin Drum notes that far more people have a favourable opinion of Obama's healthcare bill (passed, you may remember, in mid March amongst much wailing and gnashing of teeth) than have an unfavourable opinion, and that we're not that far out from the favourables being a clear majority over the unfavourables and undecideds combined.

Obviously, that's good news, but it kind of makes me wonder whether anyone will remember to ask Megan McArdle if she wants to amend her idiotic column demanding no bill be passed unless the majority support it at the time of passage. I mean, I can't imagine she will, given she's already willfully blind enough to argue that bills should be vetoed by comparatively small majority objection but that massive majority preference shouldn't compel Congress to actually lift a finger, but it's still a logical bind I'd enjoy watching her trying to wriggle out of.

Cephalopodic Clairvoyance

It's always been my assumption that the animal most likely to topple mankind from our lofty perch of dominance over the planet is most definitely the octopus. Bollocks to the dolphins. I'm not afraid of anything that can't open doors or drive a tank. But those villainous molluscs? Handles and levers aren't going to be an obstacle. They're amongst right now, learning the ways of man from the cold brine of their aquariums. Every time I take a look at the giant Pacific octopus they have in Tynemouth, its cold dead eyes impart a simple message. "One day I will kill you, and the only reason you're still alive is that I haven't worked out how to make it really hurt yet."

Frankly, I'm pretty sure the only thing that's kept our civilisation safe all this time is the fact that octopuses hate each other almost as much as they do us. Global dominance is a hard trick to pull off by oneself, though I'd put down money that there's at least a couple of the cephalopodic bastards who have built their own volcano lairs - presumably staffed by hypnotised cuttlefish and guarded by cybernetic sharks.

In other words, the octopus was a scary enough prospect just when it was an eight-legged malevolent predator that could solve problems and squeeze into crevices. I don't have the words to describe how much more terrifying they've become now I know they can see the fucking future. Some naysayers might greet this terrifying development with full-scale denial, pointing out that four predictions in a row would happen once every sixteen times - easy enough for the population of even a small aquarium to manage. Others would wonder whether the Germans have also imployed squid to predict the stock market, or perhaps bet on Wimbledon winners with the aid of a pair of curious sea-cucumbers.

All those people are fools. The octopuses are now, at long last, demonstrating their true powers. And why would they do that - WHY - if not for their certain knowledge that for humanity it is already too late...

The Shake Experiment: Slight Return

With the World Cup now in full swing (and it's faintly depressing that my definition of "full swing" appears to be "England have gone"), it seemed like an opportune time to dust off The Shake Experiment for a day and try out the "World Cup Special", which rather pathetically is just the Mars Bar shake previously available (though buying it did give me the opportunity to talk to the shop keeper about football; it appears my ability to blag my way through such conversations is growing).

Today's shake: Mars Bar

Taste: 7
Texture: 5
Synergy: 6
Scorn: 2
Total Score: 6.5

General Comments: I figured this would work well, mainly because of a previous addiction to Mars Bar ice creams that I am still struggling to overcome (I probably shouldn't have had this shake at all, already I can feel the crabings kicking in). Unfortunately, the Mars Bar milkshake is a poor cousin to that most noble of frozen treats. There just isn't enough chocolate in there. It's like eating vanilla ice-cream mixed with caramel, and if that's what your into then fair play. I found it all rather sickly.

Still, I'm at least glad the proprietor hadn't chosen to stop selling it after Sunday, or to replace it with a steaming turd floating in a bowl of cream, as some might have been tempted to.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Natural But Insufficiently Super

With Future SpaceSquid back where he belongs (he left clutching coffee filters and a child's drum, whilst muttering darkly about radioactive sea lions), we can talk about another Season Five finale in a more traditional way. This time, it's Supernatural under the microscope. Spoilers below.




"Swan Song" is a tough episode to judge, because it's very difficult to decide exactly what criteria I should be using. As an actual Supernatural episode, it was entirely acceptable. Hell, it was one of the better ones. It pulled together the overall theme of the show - the importance of family - very successfully, and made the most important point very well, namely that one's family is not simply who one is related to by blood. Sam and Dean's relationship is obviously key to everything, and John Winchester casts a long shadow over the proceedings as always (the similarities between the brother's responses to their father and Lucifer and Michael's responses to God are once again driven home effectively, if perhaps rather unnecessarily), but the Winchester boy's family is more than that. It's Bobby. It's Castiel. It's the Impala. In a weird way, it's even us to, as represented by Chuck. I was never very convinced by the idea of a "prophet" telling the Winchester's story as Supernatural novels, it all seemed a bit precious, but having him narrate the "final" story makes a great deal of thematic sense.

Given how well all of that hangs together (and having Sam regain his wits after seeing the toy soldier in the car door was particularly nice, though it might have been a lot nicer had we been given more warning), it would be churlish to point out how easily Lucifer is dispatched. At least, it would be were this an average episode.

It isn't. It's the zenith of five years of story, each season building on the last, and of an entire year's worth of "Fucking Hell, Lucifer will destroy everything ever and he can't be stopped". If you're going to stake an entire half decade's worth of stories (albeit partially retroactively) on a single confrontation, you quite simply have to make it worth it. Babylon 5 had the same problem with "Into The Fire" after only three and a half years, and BSG after five (depending on how you count it) with "Daybreak". Both of them failed, in very different ways (though I think "Into The Fire" is a bit under-rated). Supernatural failed, too. It might seem petty to complain about Lucifer's short shrift when the rest of the episode worked, but the fact that The Morningstar's shadow loomed so large over everything is not the viewers' fault, but the writers'. In its own way, this is the same problem suffered by the end of Lost; the show repeatedly told us certain aspects of it were desperately important, and then apparently changed its mind. I've lamented before the way Supernatural drifted from fun and scary mini horror films into a long-running family drama with ghosts, but I saw it as a necessary evil to prevent the show from getting stuck in a rut [1]. If you're going to take this path, though, you need to have a much better picture of your endgame than this turned out to be.

Plus, as my esteemed flatmate pointed out, none of this is helped by Death showing up in the previous episode and being totally and unbelievably awesome. An episode of Sam and Dean trying to melvin Death? That I'd have liked to see.

[1] It also avoided to a great extent (though not entirely) the problem The X-Files quickly encountered, where each new "Monster of the Week" episode was either a paler retread of a previous concept (This guy can stretch his bones and eats livers! This guy can vomit acid and eats fatty tissue! This guy can fold himself in half and eats your pituitary glands!) or simply too bats-arse crazy to be taken seriously.

Monday, 28 June 2010

The Big Fizzle

Wow! Doctor Who, eh? WOW! What an adventure! What a thrill ride! What a brain-melting complex yet elegantly simple resolution! My reptile brain is fizzing! My cortex is aflame! My hippocampus is even more wiggly than I assume it previously was!



Gasp! An intruder! And... a Devilishly handsome one, as well. Who are you, oh impeccably manicured interloper?

It is I! Future SpaceSquid! I have returned to the Earth Year 2010 to stop you making a horrible mistake! Do not write about how much you enjoyed the Doctor Who finale! It was bollocks and you'll regret saying otherwise!

But... but... it was so brilliantly written! Rory guarding the Pandorica; River taunting that Dalek; "I wear a fez now". It all felt right, didn't it? The execution was exceptional.

But the concept was total arse. How is two thousand years without stars going to get us to the same present day? How did people navigate the oceans, for a start?

That's a bit picky. I mean -

And how is the whole universe destroyed immediately, but Earth survives exactly long enough for Amy to be the same age as when the Doctor met her and no longer.

Well, yes, that's weird, but -

And how are we supposed to believe you can extrapolate the entire universe from one box?

That's a nod to Douglas Adams, though. You can't object to a nod to Douglas Adams.

What about the nod to Bill and Ted? A film specifically designed to make time travel as ridiculous as possible. How can the Doctor ever be in trouble again, huh? At this point, every single time he ends up in mortal danger he himself can just show up and get himself out again.

That would make the show pretty boring.

Yes it would, but that's not the point. The point is that to get anywhere with Who from this point on you'll have to deliberately repress what happened this time around. The Doctor just got given the ultimate Get Out Of Jail card and you're going to have to spend every minute of every episode of Season Six onwards pretending he can't use it.

Maybe he can't, though. Maybe it was something inherent in River's bracelet -

So 51st Century human tech beats a TARDIS? Plus, let's not forget that the show has explicitly stated that time travellers can't return to somewhere they've already visited without risking horrible consequences.

What makes you think that?

Well, there was that episode with the Reapers showing up to eat the universe. Plus, the line in "The Girl In The Fireplace" about not being able to use time travel to reset things when they weren't going to your liking.

Really? Which idiot wrote that?

That would be Moffat.

...Ah. Then how come you're here?

We're not working by his rules. We're working by yours. And you've planned this through properly.

Yeah, I'm pretty smart.

You'll regret that cockiness during the First Science Wars.

Really? When's that happening?

I wouldn't have signed off on that new flat.

Eek! Anyway, to return to the subject at hand. If there's no universe, then there's no Reapers, right?

Maybe. Who knows what they are, exactly.

So maybe that means that time-loops are OK now. Even if they still make no sense.

Well, that's just about possible. But, see, now you're having to sit down and find a justification for what happened. You're having to search for loopholes. That's not the sign of a good story. As a matter of fact, it's the sign of a terrible story. Especially one that was set up as a mystery. How will the Doctor stop the cracks in reality? How will he save his TARDIS? What will happen when the Pandorica opens? You can't just deal with all of that by introducing something we've every reason to believe is possible without paving the way first. It's Chekov's Gun, Younger Me; if you're going to change the way time travel works in the show you need to signpost the change early on. I'm not sure the show fits the mystery format at all, to be honest, but once you've gone down that road you have a cardinal rule to follow. Your mystery can and should fool the audience. It cannot lie to them. Then you've got the Doctor zipping backwards in time after he seals the cracks.

I thought that was really well done, actually. That scene with poor blind Amy finally made sense.

Did it? Or did it just transform from unexplained to nonsensical? Why would the crack sealing knock the Doctor back in time?

Why do we need to know that?

Because everything depends on it. Aside from it being a comedy, and thus playing by different rules in any case, when Bill and Ted use the trashcan to escape Ted's father it isn't objectionable because the whole film wasn't building up to them needing to escape from Ted's father. It's a cheat, but it's so incidental to the film that it doesn't matter. Whereas here, we're being asked to believe that the hero of the show can be erased from existence - after twelve weeks of dire portents, as usual - but that he can come back if someone remembers him.

That was the theme of the whole season, though.

And as a metaphor it's perfectly fine. But whilst the show has been chuntering on about the importance of memory, it's also been telling a story. What good is staying consistent with the former if it blows the latter out of the water? Why make it literal?

Was there anything I'll like about the episode by this time last week?

Sure there is. A lot of the characterisation was pretty good. The above problems aside, the Doctor pretending to die to allow his earlier self to act as a diversion was brilliant. As I say, the metaphor itself worked really well. It's just that all of that is bolted on to a totally ludicrous, unworkable frame. And given how well-done everything else was, that's just a huge bloody shame, and that's what you're going to remember.

Oh. Well, thank you, Future Me. You've saved me from a hideously embarrassing blog post.

No problem, Past Me. You'll do the same for Extra Past Me. And My Future Me did the same for Actual Me, who you know as Me, Future Me.

...Time travel gives me a headache.

The Engamerising 2010

Just a couple of notes from this weekend's gaming experiences. The Pegasus expansion for the BSG board game is a curious beast (much like the ship herself). The actual battlestar in question adds comparatively little (mainly a few alternative ways to blow shit up, including your own ships). The New Caprica board is an interesting idea, but it makes an already potentially long game far longer, particularly with a lot of players. By the time the fleet had made it to New Caprica, everyone was just as exhausted as the Colonials they were playing. On the other hand, one could quite easily tweak the rules slightly and actually play it as its own mini game, by randomly deciding how many civilian ships have made it, and in what shape the Galactica's resources, air wing, and locations start off in.

I'm also not yet convinced about the Cylon Leaders idea. This might be because I had a uniquely poor agenda to follow, but I'm not convinced; I think it's just as likely that said agenda revealed the flaw in the system. Other than to make sure the Cylons won, my only aim was to either end the game in the brig or detention, or be executed at least once. This meant the potential double-dealing and politicking that might otherwise have been involved was replaced by deliberately trying to wreck as much shit as possible so I would be dragged to the nearest airlock and introduced to Mr Vacuum. The fact that I was neither able to do a massive amount of damage to the fleet whilst making no effort to hide was not particularly encouraging, but the main problem was that the human players were in agreement that sending me to either the brig or the void was a waste of time since I'd immediately come back in a different body in any case. If a punishment system is so unappealing that you don't want to consider it for a player desperately trying to wreck your entire game plan, then something has gone wrong somewhere.

On the other hand, Red November is great fun, a lovely little quick game with plenty of character. The mechanic of replacing turns with minutes, and thus always allowing the player furthest "back in time" to have the next move is brilliant, and in any case I think there's a strict limit on how much bad things you can say about a game that forces you to ponder whether or not you're already too pissed to down the bottle of grog you need to make stabbing a Kraken to death a little easier. Of course, my viewpoint is a little coloured. Not only was I slightly drunk when I played it (Ooh! Red November drinking game: every time your gnomes polishes off a bottle of grog, you have to drink a beer), but I had an eye on the England game, which means I could have been playing Monopoly (most hated of all games!) and I probably would have appreciated the distraction.

It's also worth noting that, according to Garathon, the game was originally conceived as "Rescue the Kursk", before presumably being considered too legally tricky/in bad taste. It does make me wonder how much the game changed between iterations, though. As difficult as it might be to sell a game based on the tragic deaths of over one hundred sailors, one imagines it would be exponentially harder once your core game mechanic involves fuelling your repair attempts by stealing the captain's vodka.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Much Better Bloggers

David Brothers over at 4thletter! is without a doubt one of my favourite comic bloggers. The guy is undeniably smart and knows how to put together a good argument.

Well, last week he wrote a post in response to something I had said to him, and having only just realised this fact today (clearly I chose the wrong week to bury myself in my work), I thought I'd flag it up. David's initial post is here, and his response to my question (which includes my own comment) is here.

I've emailed my response to David directly, so I won't repeat it in full here. The short version, however, is that I feel we may have been talking at cross purposes. David may be using "statistics" to refer to specific numerical soundbites rather than the discipline, which was the sense in which I was applying the term.

I also think we need to consider that whilst David's experience and knowledge regarding race in America means he could get further talking about the subject without statistics than I ever could with them, that reflects poorly on my knowledge of the subject, not on the use of statistics themselves. In other words, Squid + Statistics < David < David + Statistics.

Anyway, it's a great article, and I'm delighted I helped create it in some small way.

Friday Outrage: Go To The Mattresses

Today on "Friday Outrage", a nice little slice of American bigotry in the form of the State Republican Party of Texas releasing their party platform. It's not good. Their obsession with "protecting marriage" is still in full swing, transsexuals are the new bogeyman of choice, and most alarmingly, they want to make marrying two gay people (or any couple which includes a transsexual) a felony.

Three points:

a) Logically - and I’ll acknowledge up front the pointless of saying that - I think it’s a mistake to lump in transgender people along with homosexuals. I mean, the whole thing is a mistake from my perspective, but even from the GOP viewpoint, it seems unwise. Unless I’m missing something, of course. I’m willing to be corrected, but as far as I’m aware, whilst there exists several (well, what, two?) passages in the Bible that suggest homosexuality will make God irate, there’s nothing in there that says an operation to invert the penis will get you sent to the Infernal Pit for the rest of time. In other words, by suggesting transsexuals are just as problematic as teh gays, Texan Republicans make it even more obvious than it already was (which, y’know, was fucking extremely) that this is nothing to do with the Divine Rule of God, and entirely a result of sufficient white men getting grossed out by shit they don’t understand.

b) Ordinarily, I’d be saying that if the Democrats have any sense at all, they’ll start demanding the national GOP stands behind or refutes the Texan platform. “Lone Star State Republicans think presiding over a lesbian marriage should get you thrown in jail, how does that sit with you guys?” However, given that gay marriage only has narrow support nationally, may not have much support in the places Democrats are unlikely to win/hold on to, and the general inability of Democrats to do anything but pretend they want a watered-down version of what *Republicans* want, I’m not particularly hopeful. It would be unfair to say the Obama administration has done nothing for its gay constituents, but the game-plan always seems to be about nibbling around the edges and hoping the Republicans don’t notice.

c) Presiding over a lesbian marriage should get you thrown in jail. What do you even say to that? Around what pillar of that position do you wrap your argument? You might as well be talking to someone who says “Eating kumquats should carry the death penalty.” It’s too fucked-up bat-shit crazy to process. I’ve talked many times before about my problem with these people being less that they think homosexuality is a sin and more about their constant, lunatic screaming that homosexuality is such a major sin that every single one of the problems America has, from jaywalking to mine-disasters, can ultimately be traced back to one dude wanting to suck another dude’s cock. This is the first time I’ve seen them suggest presiding over a homosexual marriage should be a crime, though. You know that scene in 80% of gangster films where the mob boss tells a cop that he’s going after the cop’s friend ands family. That’s what GOP - TX are doing. Right now. They’re saying “We can’t legally stop you being in love, but if you try to do shit about it, your friends are getting locked up for a year at least.”

Like I say. Someone needs to hammer this home at the federal level. I’m clearly of the opinion that Republicans have crossed a whole host of lines a whole bunch of times, but I’d think attempting to criminalise clergymen for recognising love of a kind the GOP doesn’t like should be pretty clearly out of order for just about anyone with any sense/a shred of humanity.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

"Looks Like I Chose The Wrong Week To Quit Totalitarian Censorship Of All International Competition"

North Korea's choice for their first ever live broadcast of an international football game? Their 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Portugal. Worst... timing ...ever. One wonders whether they decided their near-draw (numerically speaking at least) against Brazil meant the Portugal match would be winnable?

Speaking of which, I have to note how amused I am by the idea that Brazil can scrape a win against the same team Portugal can beat into the ground like hog-tied cockroaches, but that most people would say Brazil vs Portugal would go to the former. There's just something so wonderfully non-transitive about it all (though as BigHead notes, that's just because these results are random variables and Brazil picked out a really, really unlikely one).

Lastly, my favourite American political blog sporting comment of the day (courtesy of Randinho over at Balloon Juice): who would have thought that by this stage in the tournament Landon Donovan would have scored more goals than Ronaldo, Rooney or Drogba? Also all of France?

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

SpaceSquid vs. The X-Men #33: The Ninja and the Fanboy

Man, do I have to do this one?

Well, at least it won't take very long, I suppose. This one has "contractual obligation" written all over it. Or maybe more like "for completists only". Given that few things define obsessive comic fans like their burning desire to own every issue even tangentially related to their particular favourites, regardless of price or quality (oh, how it is regardless of quality!) it seems entirely appropriate to dedicate an entire post to an X-Man who managed exactly one year on the team before being rather ignobly dispatched and never spoken of again, barring a brief ressurection so that Greg Land had one more chance to trace a photo of another porn star and pretend it was art. I don't care about her, you don't care about her, no-one misses her or wants her back. Hell, I've discussed this set of articles with major-league X-Fiends who have forgotten she existed. I might as well try to paint air. Dammit, though, she's on the list, and we're damn well going to discuss her.

Except that I can't, really. Ironically, my completism has failed me. Kwannon's entire tenure took place during the four year hole I still have in my X-Men collection, between my first ever foray into the X-Universe (UXM #323) and what is currently the final entry in the Essential X-Men series (which rather sadly seems to have ground to a halt, actually). I've read the first two issues of her legendarily confusing introduction three-part introduction, but that's all, and it wasn't really all that much help. We've talked a great deal about how the various X-Men introduced in the early '90s are both products and of their time, and despite her brief lifespan, Revanche is no different.

Right. Background. Near as I (or anyone) can figure, Kwannon’s story runs like this. After the few remaining X-Men attempted to escape their seemingly certain deaths by leaping into the Siege Perilous - a baffling mystic doohickey that wipes the mind and transports you randomly to some other part of the globe so as to allow you a chance at a second life (which it is apparently adamant you attempt without any clothes), Psylocke’s unconscious body is discovered by Japanese crime lord Matsu’o Tsurayaba. This comes as a fairly pleasant surprise for him, as he’s only just found himself in possession of a comatose girlfriend worryingly close to death’s door (he had been busy trying to kill her boss). He therefore pays Spiral - a sorceress/mystic/inter-dimensional lunatic for hire - to swap the two women’s brains around, allowing his girlfriend Kwannon to once again live, and in the body of a former British supermodel to boot.

Spiral, being deliciously psychotic, decides that simply switching two psyches around is far too boring, and instead leaves portions of both minds in each body. Rather unimpressively, Tsurayaba then hot-foots it with his girlfriend’s body (which doesn’t make any sense at all), and turns her into the perfect assassin. She then partially regains her memories following a fight with Wolverine, and returns to the X-Men.

The British body, however, is also convinced she’s the true Psylocke, thanks to misinformation from Nyoirin, the guy Tsurayaba had been trying to kill two paragraphs ago (still with me?), who had also been in love with Kwannon, who believed the purple-haired Caucasian contained her (so I’m not sure why he was so keen to make her believe otherwise). Having found out what she believes is the truth, Kwannon renames herself Revanche, and heads off to Westchester to kick some impostor arse. The resulting grudge match leads the X-Men to conclude they won’t get any peace until they sort all of this bonkers shit out.

Written down like that, it doesn’t seem too bad, I guess - a little dense, but not too insane. You have to read it to appreciate how ridiculously mind-bending it all is. Fake diaries, brainwashing, everyone being in love and simultaneously ignoring everyone else: it’s literally impossible to work out what Nicieza intended, what he threw in as red herrings, and what he was going with but changed his mind about at the last minute. It’s like the last five minutes of Clue, only it goes on for three months and it’s played impossibly, ridiculously straight. If Gambit was mystery plus attitude plus charm, and Bishop was mystery plus attitude plus murderous tendencies, then Kwannon was just endless mysteries, tying themselves and everything around them into knotted fractals, drowning everything in confusion and sword-fights and tits. Like I said, so '90s.

Perhaps there's some mileage to be had by considering the sheer depth of self-contradictory murky bewilderment, though. In employing character dissection as a cautionary tale. I mentioned whilst discussing Bishop that most of the decade's X-Books owed a significant debt to Twin Peaks, undisputed ruler of the "Answer a question with a question" business model for at least a decade plus change, until Lost stuck its ugly mush into the international psyche. Peaks unprecedented success - to say nothing of its quality [1] - must have made the decision a no-brainer, but being David Lynch is a harder job than it looks (it's not all monkey close-ups and lesbian sex, you know, though admittedly that's the lion's share of it). On the other hand, comic audiences refresh themselves rather more quickly than those of TV shows - plenty of fresh meat every few months, or at least there was back then - so an imperfect copy might still do the job.

Apparently, it did just fine, for a while at least. No issue was complete without a shadowy figure or vague allusion to an X-Man's past. Abandoned bases were also very much in vogue. Questions atop questions atop questions threatened to swallow entire comics whole, and they just kept coming. It became increasingly clear that the absolute best-case scenario was that some of them would be answered in a last-minute and desperately unsatisfactory fashion (usually in an expensive crossover, natch). Just as likely, you'd never find out at all. The Legacy virus was constantly built up for years, and almost cured at least twice (both storylines were quietly dropped) before the wrtiers lost interest, and finally wrapped it up in a couple of issues years afterwards in a move that, Colossus' death notwithstanding, was pretty obviously a house-clearing exercise - much as Kwannon's death at the hands of the virus itself was, now I come to think about it. Like Twin Peaks, or the X-Files "mythology" episodes, or Bendis' Avenger arcs, it was all build-up, no payoff. Every. Single. Time.

Except, and here's the thing; I knew all that, and it worked on me anyway. I was trying to work out why whilst thinking about this post (and how much I didn't really want to write it), and it occurred to me that the obsession I have with completing my collection and of cataloguing answers might actually stem from exactly the same place. I can't back that up with anything massively compelling, since I don't understand where either of them comes from in the first place, but a collection of comics is a collection of history, and so is a collection of answers. Maybe that's it. Or maybe it's just that bizarre competitive edge to collecting. I have more books than you. I know more secrets. It's all just assembling a jigsaw; why else do so many trade paperbacks have spines that form a picture once all of them are pushed together?

I guess my point is this. Revanche was pointless. No-one had any idea what to do with her other than spin out stories that didn't have any point to them because the characters they revolved around existed only to power those revolutions. The whole thing is better off forgotten. But, and this is a major but, more so even than the endless Wolverine copies (both literal and metaphorical) and vicious bloodbaths, she was the inevitable end-product of our own ridiculous obsessions. Surely every comic character is designed to appeal to comic fans, and some are designed to appeal to our - ahem - baser instincts. Kwannon, though, may be a comparatively rate example of a character designed to appeal to that very part of us that makes us want to collect comics. Which I guess demonstrates that, at last, there is at least one interesting thing that one can say about her.

So ends the fable of the ninja and the fanboy.

Next time around, it's back into well-established characters as we look at the first X-Man to join the roster after I myself had arrived in the Marvel universe: Cannonball.

[1] At least for the first season. It's hard to appreciate twenty years later just how good it was, but that's because almost everything in the world took what it did and reverse engineered it. It's like trying to get your head around the idea that at some point a South African was watching a football match and decided next time around he was going to bring a plastic horn to the game.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Note The Subtle References To A Change In My Social Status

Senior Spielbergo has already covered this, but I think it's worthy of more discussion. First of all, can I get this for my iTunes, or do I need an actual iPhone? Because whilst I am entirely aware of both the function and the location of my "PAUSE" button, I must confess a significant desire to get this app, and use it alongside some of my favourite DVDs to discover exactly what this thing deems unimportant.

I'd also like to know whether it starts freaking out if it decides you've been "otherwise engaged" for a mite too long. "Hurry up and finish this off, biznitch! Katherine Heigl is about to take her top off!"

And no, Heigl was not chosen at random. I rather enjoyed The Killers on Thursday, but it made it very clear that far more useful than an app that tells you when you're about to be bored would be one you could take on dates to warn you beautiful women are about to disrobe, and you had better not look at the screen if you want to avoid some serious cold shouldering.

It's An "Implies" Symbol, Folks

Following from Friday's grumpy rant against rabid Israeli apologists in the American government and media, let's try a little elementary set theory, shall we?

Current restricted list - New restricted list = "Radical change"

New restricted list > "Weapons and war-supporting materiel"

=> Current restricted list - "Weapons and war-supporting materiel" = Just what the fuck, exactly?

Needless to say, though, this is simply playing into Hamas' hands. They're only weeks away from building a nuclear weapon that can only be powered by dry strawberries.

Opening The Box

The more things change, the more they stay the same. A year after I was finally able to clamber trembling from my underground bunker, blinking hopefully in the sunlight as I gazed out into the dawn of a new, less Welsh-y era, I am once again sat considering the penultimate episode of a Doctor Who season and thinking "This could be really cool, so long as it doesn't all get reversed at the end of next week".

Major spoilers follow.




First of all, can we please find some way of ingraining onto the minds of all fiction writers across the globe that there is a world of difference between a connection and a reference. Revealing the Pandorica has been pushed on us by various alien races since the start of the season specifically to screw over the Doctor legitimately works as a cool reveal; evidence of a larger game plan. Sticking four of the characters who were in earlier episodes into this one is not. It's just as bad as RTD constantly confusing an overarching plot with repeatedly saying the same words: it doesn't make you think the writers are clever, it makes you think the writers are desperate enough to try anything that will make you think they're clever. And it doesn't work. Liz X was particularly ridiculous in this sense. Other than some hand-waving nonsense about Van Gogh's picture being in her treasure trove, there was literally nothing interesting about that scene that couldn't have been replicated by having River Song pop to the toilets and find Amy Pond's aunt sitting in the next stall.

In fairness, a lot of what happened actually worked pretty well. The fact that I managed to get so far as working out that the Doctor was actually perfectly suited for incarceration in the Pandorica but didn't follow it through was, I hope, evidence of the episode doing exactly what it was supposed to, getting you almost to the answer and then distracting you. Of particular note is the seeding of the idea that it was the Doctor who sealed the box, which you think of half a beat before the show points that possibility out, and then whips you off for more madness (much as I continue to despair over the thrice-exterminated alternate Cybermen once again showing up without explanation, the sequence with the disembodied head was very well done). You're offered a gob-shite awful non-explanation of why Rory is back just long enough before the truth is revealed that you have time to be pissed off at how bad it was, but not to try to figure out what's really going on. You raise your eyebrows at the Doctor successfully smack-talking 12 000 warships into turning tail, and roll your eyes at another instance of the show bigging up its hero to a baffling extent, only to learn at the conclusion that you were looking at deliberate tactics to keep the Doctor from having time to question what's really going on.

And yet...

There's still a lot we're not getting here. Why, if Rory was erased, is there a picture of him in Amy's house? Is the house the problem? Or Amy? In either event, why can Rory remember up to the moment he was killed? Amy hasn't been back to the house since then. Why set up so complicated a trap when the fleet could simply have obliterated Salisbury Plain (the most obvious - and interesting - response being that the Alliance Of Jerky Aliens Who Are Jerks are smart enough to try to keep the Doctor alive)? For that matter, why do both sides of this - the AJAWAJ and Mr Silence - both seem to have access to Amy (why else would the TARDIS break after returning to Ledworth, and why else would the Doctor have ended up meeting Amy to begin with, if not some heavy behind-the-scenes string-pulling by our mysterious Big Bad?)

Pick one or two of those questions, or potentially all of them in a better series, and I'd be genuinely intrigued. Looking at this, right now, and with BSG and Lost both still lurking in my mind as examples of how not to wrap up mystery-heavy situations, it's hard not to be concerned. I mean, it just about works because it was so much better than the ridiculous reference to random miracles offered just a few minutes beforehand, but it's not like Stone Tapes-style memory recordings are a particularly good explanation either.

The make-up of the AJAWAJ is a tad confusing, as well. At least one of the alien species depicted are little more than violent predators. It's hard to picture them as part of a massive, universe-spanning conspiracy to trap the Doctor in a box. Why are the Silurians there? Did they just wake up one day, find a crack in their wall, and decide to give the Daleks a call? Or are they from the far future too? With the Draconians, presumably, since it's a bit much to believe they could have predated our space-flight capability by two millenia and end up too scared of our power to wipe us out when we finally meet them in interstellar space. Does everyone have time-travel technology these days? I mean, it's a little hard to imagine the Daleks giving it out like Christmas presents, or guarding their knowledge of it any less jealously than did the Time Lords back in the day (or forwards in the day, or whatever. Timey wimey.) Speaking of the Draconians, it's a nice idea that they're there, since it makes the alien horde less of a Greatest Villain Parade and more of a legitimate interstellar intervention. Of course, only people who know of their origins from forty-odd years ago would know that, which makes it a shame no-one pointed out that they stuck out like sore thumbs amongst the Daleks, the Sycorax, and the Cybermen. Having said that, the Tereleptils and the Atraxi at least can be more fairly seen as totally unconcerned with human life than as out-and-out aggressors; and possibly the Zygons too. It seems a little lazy - if not counter-productive - to reel off such massively different alien species in one breath as though they're all exactly as vicious and unpleasant as each other.

For a brief moment, as the Auton Centurions began to reveal themselves and the true nature of the Pandorica was revealed, I was sure that this collection of totally incompatible alien species had finally decided that enough was enough, and that the Doctor had to go. It would certainly make sense in the context of the new interpretation of the show. Every time the Doctor pulls of a new act of outrageous, galactic-level interference, there must be plenty of people watching at a distance and thinking "Will we be next?" It's the First Law Of Harriet Harman (Former Prime Minister): Having the Doctor show up in the middle of a shit-storm and start throwing his weight around is the best possible thing that can happen to you right up until he decides that you are doing it wrong. At that point, you could be exactly as screwed as the bug-eyed monsters who are currently eating your drinking buddies. Having the Draconians and the Judoon (presumably working under the authority of the Shadow Proclamation) helping out the Daleks of all things would underline that point exceptionally well (remember, the former race almost started an interstellar war due to Dalek trickery, and the latter almost declared intergalactic war at the Daleks specifically after all that business with the stolen planets).

The trouble is, I actually like that idea far more than the one we got. Having the Doctor as an immediate universe-destroying threat makes things more exciting (at least for those poor fools who can't grasp that the correlation between greater jeopardy and greater excitement is actually all that high), but it would make for a far greater character point (in addition to making the legend of the Pandorica far more ironic and interesting) if this was simply the universe deciding We Have Had About Enough, Thanks. Perhaps AJAWAJ will do something more interesting next episode (though I doubt it, Moffat doesn't seem to have any interest in presenting them as interchangeable villains right now), but at present this is just Doctor Who's Greatest Villainous Hits. And even then it's Doctor Who's Greatest Villainous Hits: '05 - '10, at least on-screen. It might not be anywhere near as irritating as the soporific, endless self-pleasuring we were forced to endure as the Tenth Doctor stumbled around with the world's prettiest case of radiation sickness, but its dramatic DNA is a remarkably close match.

Of course, that would solve the mystery of the Pandorica, but you'd need something to take the place of the cracks. So I'm willing to wait and see whether the final whole works better than the alternate first half that my head gifted me (though is there any way we can end with the universe in flames and Amy shot without another reset being trotted out and making me want to kill myself?). Since the last time I found myself in this situation I got "Last Of The Time Lords", though (and before that, The Matrix Reloaded), I am somewhat less than massively optimistic.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Lucifer: A Six Card Spread

No-one can accuse Mike Carey of not thinking big. After spending his three issue introductory mini-series considering humanity’s desires by comparing them with those of the Devil, the demons, and the mad formless Gods we created with our own birth-pangs, the first tale of Lucifer proper ponders two questions: does anyone have free will? And if not, do we have anyone to blame but ourselves?

The Morningstar, as we discussed last time, needs freedom on a fundamental level that is difficult to understand by a species generally more concerned about where the next breath is coming from. Remiel is good enough to remind us of this in the first three pages: “Freedom is his obsession.” That’s how he’s ended up clutching a letter of passage from creation itself in his cool, smooth hands. Because for all his power it turns out that being essentially the firstborn of Yahweh hasn’t offered him the opportunity to be free. Perhaps even less chance, actually, if you consider that being higher up the celestial food chain means God will take a greater interest in your actions and affairs. In that sense, freedom is the knowledge of God’s complete disinterest, which of course in Lucifer’s case is genuinely impossible. I’m not sure he entirely realises it at this point, but the wood is certainly there, lost between the trees:

Twice now, I’ve walked out on him. And then both times I’ve let him recast me... and every time I try to improvise I find my moves were right there in the script all along.
If Lucifer cannot secure God’s disinterest, he will have to settle for rendering that interest toothless:

His omniscience only works because there is no alternative. I see that now.
Lucifer may be closer to the truth than he realises. After all, how can one conspire to escape when every conceivable tool was forged by your captor? I always thought the melodramatic moustache-twirling necromancers so favoured in lowest-common-denominator fantasy were idiots; trying to force order on the world through the application of something so fundamentally chaotic as the kind of magic that will raise the dead is clearly never going to work. The tools are by definition useless – if not counter-productive – to the task at hand.

Obviously, I wouldn’t want to call Lucifer an idiot to his face or anything, and of course he himself is aware of the contradiction, but does that make his attempts to find a loophole any less futile?

Regardless, Lucifer’s current tool of choice is the Basanos, a spectacularly powerful tarot deck created by one of his fellow fallen angels, Meleos. Inspired and informed by the book maintained by Destiny of the Endless, the Basanos proves deeply problematic on several levels.

The first is the most obvious: the Basanos crave freedom as much as Lucifer does, and have some fairly unpleasant ideas regarding what to do when they get it. The second problem is more complex. The Basanos, by their very nature, are an attempt to read the future. Meleos does not quite describe them in those terms, admittedly - his obsession has always been the past, much to Lucifer’s irritation – but both their provenance and their form makes the truth clear. And if the future can be read, can it really be changed? More to the point, can you ever actually be free of it? Lastly, does knowing it make you less free?

Perhaps the answer to that is dependent upon how one understands the concept of the future in the first place, whether it is literally unpredictable, or only unpredictable for the perspective of our limited conception. Personally, I find the idea of free will hard to grasp because I tend to think of each slice of Planck time experienced by the universe is entirely determined by the slice that came before. As I understand it the jury is still out on whether there truly are certain subatomic processes that can be truly called random, and one could colour an argument which says, conditional on their existence, such processes might, like the apocryphal storm-calling butterfly, lead to genuinely unpredictable configurations. Over the course of a single human lifespan, though, it seems unlikely to me that we’re truly anything more than the sum of our genes and our past experiences, driving us in the only direction we ever could have travelled. That might not be “destiny”, per se, for me that word implies outside interference, or at least the ability to observe the paths that stretch out ahead of us. But – to channel my father for a second - it sure ain’t free will, either, pal.

Whether or not this is how the Basanos see it, I don’t know. Well, perhaps not entirely. When Jill is suffused with their power, she sees peoples lives:

Their past straight like a wire. The future branching into a million filaments.
Of course, the fact that those filaments exist, like thousands of cats inside thousands of boxes, doesn’t mean that one of them hasn’t already been chosen already. When the Oracle tells Neo – in one of the few decent scenes in The Matrix: Reloaded –that “You didn’t come here to make the choice. You’ve already made it”, this is what she’s talking about. Free will is supposedly about what we could do, but the point where we get into what we could do and out of what we will do is always some way down the track, assuming it exists at all.

In any case, if The Morningstar Option was about the Devil claiming he alone wanted for nothing (or at least nothing the Velliety could offer), A Six Card Spread sees him insisting (not explicitly, of course, this is Lucifer we’re talking about here) that he alone is not bound by his past.

This is relevant because if the overall message of the story is not that the future must be determined by the past, then it must be that the whilst the future can be divorced from history, humanity almost invariable conspires to prevent that happening. Why else would the events surrounding Lucifer’s arrival in Hamburg at the turn of the millennium bear such uncanny, dreadful similarity to the early stages of Nazi Germany? Hell, not even that; it’s uncanny, dreadful similarity to a film that replicated those events. If history repeats itself as farce, that doesn’t mean those farces can’t be dangerous. "There is no present, of future, only the past, happening over and over again, now”, Eugene O'Neill said, and he should know.

Meleos too is trapped by his past. Again, this is both literally true – his greatest mistake is buried beneath his library and whispering poison on a daily basis - and accurate on another level as well. Meleos is so concerned with chronicling humanity (“Are they not wonderful, these humans with their mayfly lives and mad dreams?”), so obsessed with recording our memories, that he fails to recognise or work against the agony those memories cause, or the vicious tendency for that pain to replicate itself in the lives of others. It’s only after his library is wiped clean by Lucifer that he is forced to watch humanity itself rather than simply studying its trail, and almost immediately it horrifies him. Cynically speaking, of course, that means he finally understands:

One more piece of brutality makes no difference, I know. But it seems so typical. It seems to sum up so much.
What else can two million years of violence lead to, except for the next act of violence, and the one after that?

The Basanos understand this completely. Their sick games of twisting fate – their “only imperative” -are entirely predicated upon it. Inevitably, they attempt to bring about that next act of violence. Not by speaking of violence, naturally, but by preaching of “justice” and “retribution”, as such monsters always do. Their aim is to reduce the flow of history to a drunkard running across a see-saw, trying endlessly to balance himself by constantly changing the direction in which he is charging pointlessly forward. They take the easiest, cruellest, and most solipsistic of decisions possible and present it as the right choice. As Innocence herself says, “Those who believe in free will make the best puppets of all.”

So where does this leave Lucifer, whilst Meleos awakes, and all of Hamburg slips into the endless cycle of "justice" humanity never seems able to escape? Well, Meleos once told him, whilst the war in Heaven was still raging and he was posing as a model for one of Meleos' Basanos cards, that:
The mind and soul trace the the line that the hand must follow. But the movements that the hand does not make matter just as much. The drawing must subsume all undrawn lines and all potential figures into a perfect stasis.
Simply put, we are not defined merely by what we've done, but by what we haven't done. Not just by what our past has led us to, but by what it has led us to avoid. Escaping God is no different from embracing God, insofar as both as their root are defined by God. One could argue that the former includes the possibility that one could eventually escape enough, but then that's what everyone tells themselves about everything, forever. One more act of escape, we tell ourselves. Then the next. And the next.

In truth, to the independent observer it appears that Lucifer seems to be attempting a pretty balancing act of his own. He demands the prophecies of the Basanos, but then mocks the ones he receives unasked for. In part, this may well be because he is smart enough not to trust the cards (though it's interesting that he complains only after the fact), but one wonders whether he is also unable to bring himself to accept there is any way to predict what his next actions can be. We are reminded early on that "A man gains his first measure of wisdom when he admits his ignorance", but as we've talked about before, wisdom and freedom have a funny habit of working against each other.

On the other hand, absolute ignorance won't get you very far either. If free will exists anywhere, and if it's to mean anything at all, the landscape of the future must not be entirely mapped, but nor can it be wholly unexplored. The past cannot be obsessed over or idolised, but nor can it be entirely rejected.
In the end, it may be poor old Meleos, forced now to remember the past rather than store it, who may have learned the right lessons. As he tells Carl, the desperate youth so determined to deny his own sexuality he’s joined a worthless neo-Nazi street gang:
Atonement is at best a journey of uncertain length to an uncertain destination. But so is revenge, of course. We both embrace our own destruction.
Perhaps he is speaking directly to Carl. More likely, his message is for Lucifer, or for us. The key lies not with securing your destination, but with choosing your direction. Letting your mind and soul draw the line, with the past neither your master nor your foe, but your guide.

As the story ends Lucifer stands in the gateway that leads out of creation, jammed open against the trickery of God (and whatever the long-term philosophical ramifications of seeking the aid of the Basanos, clearly it was undeniably a good idea to double-check the Word of God), and casually discussing the possibility of the apocalypse. In truth, it is enough to conclude, even at this early stage, that Lucifer has made his decision.

Whether he realises that, of course, remains to be seen…

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

We Can Haz Internashunal Simpafy?

It may be that this isn't going to be considered much of a change, if indeed it materialises at all, but beyond being at least faintly pleased at the possibility of the Gaza blockade being slackened, it will be interesting to see what this announcement is going to do to Israel's insane cheerleading section. Do they condemn Israel's government as traitors to their own country - which whilst ridiculously and unpleasantly hyperbolic would at least imply they finally understand the concept that Israel was always potentially in danger of damage from Israel - or do they once again reflexively declare this the best thing to happen to the Middle East since sliced pita bread, which would mean tacitly agreeing that everyone who told them that the current situation was bullshit squared actually had a point, rather than being blood-crazed anti-Semitic quislings.

Just kidding, obviously. Ten Earth pounds says each and everyone of them loudly proclaims that this is a great idea after killing nine people, all of whom deserved it, whereas before the IDF flexed their muscles with a massacre of civilians on ships in international waters, relaxing the blockade would have brought the destruction of Israel within three months. Just you wait. Nothing like watching worthless lickspittles painting themselves into logical corners.

(As a side bar, I should mention that my previous couple of posts on this subject shouldn't be construed as implying I am unsympathetic to Israel. I am simply unsympathetic to ignorant turds. And whilst there are plenty of ignorant turds who blindly support Hamas, very few of them have columns in major American newspapers).

Monday, 14 June 2010

"Winter Is Coming" Is Coming

OK, so there's less than half a minute of it, it's almost impossible to work out what's going on, and all this is going to do is make me afraid the show will get cancelled in addition to George R. R. Martin keeling over/losing his talent to the brain-eater before he finally finishes his novels, but even so: I am ludicrously excited.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Like It's A Coincidence Those Teams Have "Left-Wingers"

As official American correspondent amongst the loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires and babies that make up my social circles (important note: I know no millionaires or billionaires, thought the number of babies is gradually increasing), I have taken it upon myself to keep an eye out for what our cousins across the pond are saying about the World Cup. Would their unique brand of distasteful nationalism win out of their petulant insistence that football is a girlie game in any case?

Well, I don't have a complete picture yet, but thanks to Media Matters, I can at least report one thing: the lunatic Right are apparently determined to outdo themselves.

I mean... it's just... well, goddamn. What can you possibly say about someone convinced that soccer is being forced onto Americans by the Left in order to prepare for when the Hispanics take over? Because it's a sport designed for poor people? Created by chopping the heads off of Caucasians, or something! I had to check Dan Gainor was a real person, and that he represented a real institute. And that I was reading a real website. And English was a real language, that these two could speak.

I have to say, though, I'm in awe of Liddy. It genuinely had never occurred to me that someone might argue liking football was a betrayal of American Exceptionalism. Remember, kids! Watching soccer isn't just pointless; it makes you a traitor!

Really, it's quite a trick. It's like Aesop's fable about the fox and the grapes, only in this case the fox is claiming he doesn't want the grapes anymore because he's recently learned they were planted by brown-skinned Communists in an attempt to poison Sarah Palin.

X posted over at Our Front Room.

Friday, 11 June 2010

I Declare This Fauna Mega

This week's Mad Science news is awesome for two reasons. Reason number 1: it involves giant motherfucking birds! Could a giant motherfucking bird beat a giant motherfucking snake, I hear you ask? There's only one way to find out! FIGHT! In the distant past!

Time to get cracking on that time machine, "science"! If I haven't seen a giant motherfucking bird fight a giant motherfucking snake by the end of the year, I will be building my own time machine, and I'll be using it to get my loving from your mommas! Back when they were young and pretty, that is, and not horribly twisted by the realisation that their darling baby boys and girls were going to grow up to clink test tubes and spew out sentences like "I'm not attempting to make an ontological argument."

Whilst we wait for our mega-fauna grudge match, however, we can consider the interesting snippet in the first link: Ben Gunn is now an archaeologist! How perfectly lovely for him! I was sure he'd gone irredeemably insane on Treasure Island, but damnit if he wasn't just the little sun-cooked castaway who could!

It does seem strange that he's still alive after all this time, though. Maybe Stevenson set his story on the same island as Lost. Perhaps Redruth got himself messed up by the smoke monster, and Smollett was just too much of a pussy to fess up. Or maybe Treasure Island is just Jacob's holiday getaway. Everyone deserves some time off after a few centuries of your brother trying to kill you, right?

h/t to umo.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Explain

I note via Drum that emaciated turtle skeleton Ike Skelton has a few things to say on the subject of repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell." What's the problem again, Congressman?
"What do mommas and daddies say to a seven-year-old child about this issue? I don't know," Skelton said. "I think it would be a family issue that would concern me the most... What they might see in their discussions among the kids."
Drum makes the obvious point in response:
WTF? Skelton thinks seven year olds are asking their parents about whether gays can serve in the military? What planet is this guy from?
This is is part of a larger problem, though, namely that even people who in all other circumstances seem to be entirely well-rounded, fair-minded individuals - including some I know personally - degenerate into slavering lunatics the very instant it is suggested someone might have to explain to their children what "a gay" is.

I must confess to be thoroughly confused as to where this comes from. "It seems incomprehensible to me", to quote Shaal Mayan. These people almost always preface (and follow) this kind of statement with "It's not that I'm homophobic, but" and I'd like to believe them - the classic nature of this obvious dodge notwithstanding - but the idea that gay people represent something children need to be shielded from leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Moreover, it doesn't make any sense the instant you start to think about it. Surely the absolute best time to explain to a child that there is such a thing as homosexuality in the world is before there's any chance they might start to experience it themselves? The realisation that some people grow up to be romantically interested in the same sex is absolutely something that someone needs to know before they discover that they themselves are in that bracket.

Note the use of the phrase "romantically interested." I chose those words very deliberately, because I think they help to illustrate what I believe is actually going on here. The best explanation I can find as to why people who genuinely are (or seem to be) fairly tolerant and liberal minded about alternative lifestyle choices have a problem over discussing it with their kids goes like this: I think there are a lot of people out there who genuinely can't make the distinction in their heads between homosexuality and homosexual intercourse. For whatever reason, they can't imagine discussing gayness with their children without it leading to all sorts of icky descriptions that they'd rather not have to articulate. The idea that you could describe homosexual relationships in whatever terms your child understands heterosexual ones doesn't seem to occur.

I'll confess up front that I don't have any direct evidence to support this theory, though there are a few data points of circumstantial evidence. Firstly, you have the remarkable similarities between complaints of exposing young children to homosexual behaviour and to overtly sexual behaviour. Secondly, to return to Kevin Drum, you have a number of otherwise incredibly intelligent, logical people who - until called on it - conflate being gay with sexual practices (in fairness to Drum, he did apologise).

In that sense, you could argue that what we're talking about genuinely isn't bigotry, or at least not "first-order" bigotry, so much as it's a misunderstanding of what it means to be gay combined with a Victorian-esque attitude to frank discussion of sex. But if all you see when you look at a homosexual is how awkward it would be to describe their foreplay to a child, there is definitely something screwy inside your brain. Sort yourself out, Skelton. After all, if I ever have children, I'd hate to be put in the position where one of them asked me to explain you.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Quz 4 Redux

Answers up now. This months most obvious topic for revision: islands west of the UK. A greater knowledge of the supernatural denizens of Scottish mountains should also be aimed for.

Fox News

Whilst I was waiting in our local sandwich shop for BigHead's latest insane bread-bounded crime against culinary science to be prepared, I caught sight of today's headline news regarding the two small children allegedly mauled by a fox in Hackney.

My immediate thought (well, immediate after thinking that that's a pretty shitty thing to happen to a family, of course) was that it surely wouldn't be long before someone started loudly screaming that a) this was proof the fox hunting ban is a stupid idea, and b) that we needed to start tracking down urban foxes and beating them to death with whatever we can find at hand (which, ironically, might be a small child).

Sure, enough, I get back to the office, and we're off to the races.

For the record, I have no particular love for foxes, of either the urban or the countryside variety. I do not clutch my pearls in horror each time a farmer fixes his sights on a fleeing vulpine and blows its brains out. And contra Mr Crowden (who is either a tosspot or tremendously badly served by this article), the degree of cuteness or beauty exhibited by an animal has very little bearing on how much I care whether it gets the shitty end of an organised cull.

But can we possibly just stop for a minute and think about this? The number of fox attacks on small children in the last forty years is apparently exactly zero. It would actually make far more sense based on the most plausible perpetrator of this attack to demand a cull of dogs, which rather begs the question: just who is it resisting the idea of mass animal slaughterings based on cuteness?

The larger point that urban fox populations are getting out of hand is one I can't claim any knowledge of. Maybe a cull was a good idea independently of what may or may not have taken place last night. If it is, however, and there are reasons to think it might be, I wonder whether it can really be animal rights groups that are the stumbling block, as oppose to cost and fears of replacing one problem with another (would there be an increase in the rat population, for instance, and is that something we'd really prefer to an abundance of foxes?)

This all feeds in to one of my general bugbears: people's refusal to accept that from time to time shit happens. Every now and again leaving the window open in your child's room is going to end spectacularly badly, whether it be a fox, a dog, or a kidnapper who gains entrance, or indeed the kid climbs out. This is the same instinct that has led to more and more absurdly draconian security measures being put into airports, despite the fact that we're long past the point where they're liable to have anything but the most pathetically marginal effects on people's safety (it's also what gives racist pricks in America the opportunity to demand brown people go through extra checks after checking in) . I got into a debate just last week with people convinced that the shootings in Cumbria were proof that something has to be done about murderous gun rampages, even though every suggestion they made ran the distinct risk of increasing the number of gun deaths this country suffers each year.

Some times, things are just as safe as they can realistically be, and all that's left is bad luck. One incident at most in forty years certainly sounds like it qualifies.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Over Siege?

I'm a little behind the times at the minute, but I finally got hold of and read the final issue of Siege this weekend. Spoilers will now be forthcoming. Watch them come forth!!!




Well... it was short. And it needed to be. Secret Invasion was, at the barest minimum, two issues too long. It also suffered, as I've discussed earlier, from being essentially one horribly extended battle of attrition with a Savage Land sideshow of no real importance to anything. The first issue was great, and the last set up Osborn in a reasonably interesting way, but everything else? Not Much There.

So bonus points for Siege being so much snappier. Of course, when I complained that ...Invasion needed some serious trimming, I wasn't suggesting jettisoning everything except the fighting.

Which is kind of how Siege reads; like they're replaying the main slugathon from ...Invasion with everything extraneous stripped away. The fact that Captain America, Iron Man and Thor all return to high-level superheroism at the same time and on the same side is nice of course, but even so you've essentially just got a single location (Valhalla) into which successively large/powerful groups of heroes and villains are being dropped (though, again, this is far less of a problem for something like two and a half issues than it is for six).

For three issues, it just about managed to hold itself together, simplistic though it undoubtedly was. Certainly, I appreciated the pay-off to first Mighty and then Dark Avengers of having Osborn end up too war-hungry for the God of War - until then one of his two powerhouses - only for said god to then be ripped in two by Osborn's other titanic force, the Sentry. It made sense both logically and dramatically, and probably did more than anything previous to make the Sentry seem genuinely terrifying. My only quibble is that sending Ares into battle by telling him Loki is running Asgard seems massively unlikely to work, though I guess you could argue Osborn needed him more for the planning than the actual war. Which is another healthy layer of irony, now I think about it, as well as a counter to everyone who spent their time whinging that Ares was a one-note concept.

By the end of issue three, the shine was beginning to wear off, but at least it ended on something big. Void big. Pure Evil With the Power of a Million Exploding Suns big. You know how you thought "ginormous" was big? Well this big would find that big and RIP IT THE FUCK IN HALF.

Satisfactory resolution was always going to be a problem. Still, you're at least supposed to try. The problem with Siege #4 is that it doesn't read like a comic. It reads like the bullet points of what Bendis wanted to have happen, directly transcribed and illustrated. Loki gives the superheroes extra powers. Loki dies. Tony Stark crashes the helicarrier into the Sentry's face, and essntially kills him (though Thor finishes him off). Captain America is promoted to Chief Hero Of All Heroes. The Asgardians prove surprisingly forgiving. THE END.

Nothing feels like it's happening in front of you. Rather, it feels like we're being told it's happening, by someone who got to watch it first hand. In fact, this is what it's like: it's like we're about to read Siege #5 but right now we're watching the "Previously On" segment summarising the previous episode. The Sentry/Void crisis has been building for years - Bob ripped Carnage in half all the way back in 2005 - it needs more than just dropping an airship on him, however heavy it might be. And no, I don't care that Thor had already softened him up, and then gets to finish the job whilst the Void is regenerating, or whatever the Hell. If anything, it absolutely needed to be the other way round. The Sentry had just spent the last four issues smashing apart Thor's home. Murdered his friends. Killed his half-brother, even if he did kind of have it coming. Letting Stark get the kill-shot is a nice inversion of Osborn finishing off the Skrull Queen in ...Invasion #7, but Thor was both more capable of taking on the Void, and had far more invested in doing so. Thor needed to beat the Void, not just finish him off.

In fact, there is one hero that it would have made even more sense to hand the final blow to: Phobos. A day or two after reading Siege #3 I wrote a brief synopsis over at the SFX Forum outlining where I would have taken the story, had it been up to me. The post in question has been eaten due to that site's recent decision to obliterate most of its history and severely limit its number of threads, but essentially it went like this. Not only does Phobos have a pretty major reason to hate the Sentry, who has only just killed his father, but his status as God of Fear gives him a unique in regarding the Void itself. The whole point of Bob Reynolds was that he was mortally afraid of the Void to the point of complete paralysis. But what about the Void? How afraid is he of Bob? Only one way to find out!

Doing it this way would have several significant advantages. Phobos getting to avenge his Dad would be one. Getting some mileage out of Phobos himself would be another; admittedly I've only read the first six issues of Secret Warriors but thus far all he's really done is let off a few cryptic prophecies and complained endlessly (though justifiably) that Fury won't actually let him do anything. It would make for something far more interesting than the usual "heroes beat up enemy before someone delivers the death blow" formula that Siege ultimately chose to follow in the laziest way possible (this is a wider problem with Bendis; his dialogue and characterisation are frequently more than passingly smart, but his resolutions to crises never really amount to much, see "Maria Hill turns up with a bazooka" back in Siege #2) - there were after all plenty of other super villains running around for them to smack down. And lastly, it would allow the Void to be finally beaten by the exact hero he always should have: the Sentry himself. Sure, Phobos would be the gun, but Bob would be - as Osborn was always so fond of calling him - the golden bullet. I don't for a moment think it would have been a smart move for the Sentry to actually survive the battle, but that doesn't mean he couldn't win it.

Instead, we're treated to magic rocks, the world's biggest head-on collision, and the distinct feeling that both the Sentry and the Void just got pissed away in the most weak-sauce way imaginable. And don't even get me started on The Sentry: Fallen Sun (which admittedly I have only read parts of). Just as with Rose Tyler, it should always start alarm bells ringing when a story is desperately throwing out reasons why the reader should care, rather than letting them make up their own mind.

All told, I guess I'd be pretty hard pressed to call Siege a disaster. Even "very poor" seems like too harsh a judgement. Certainly, though, it managed to miss a whole host of opportunities as it unfolded.

Still... it was short.

Update: Here's a 4th Letter post about Siege's conclusion that I decided not to read before I'd written the above, to make sure it didn't influence my thinking too much. Now that I've read it, and found out it's essentially the same piece only approximately thirty times smarter and more informed, I am regretting opening my mouth at all. Glad to know other people thought the Phobos angle was the right one, though.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Dog Chorus

Man, but this has been a busy weekend, filled with dogs and beer and picnics and cricket and fishies.

I have thus nothing of any great importance to say (even by my standards), so instead I'll just offer up a link from last week that I initially missed: Lou Reed's wife to use Sydney Opera House to hold concert for dogs.

I haven't yet decided what my favourite line in the article is. It's either "an inter-species social gathering on a scale never seen before in Australia" - which immediately begs the questions: what are the top five previous inter-species gatherings, and do any of us want to know exactly what went down there - or "The show... will last for 20 minutes as she says "dogs don't have a giant concentration span". " Since Sydney Opera House has a capacity of 1500, that's a potential 750 dogs plus their owners (at a minimum). I would respectfully suggest that the biggest issue of placing almost eight hundred dogs in the same room is not liable to be that under normal circumstances they can only sit quietly for twenty minutes.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Friday Outrage

Sometimes, I use a lot of words. Yeah, I know, pass the smelling salts, ‘old the phone, etc. My point is, I recognise the problem. From time to time, though, I like to see exactly how few words are needed to demolish an argument. With Jennifer Rubin, I reckon I can do it in eight. Well, I could do it in three, actually; “Fuck you, Rubin”, which I admit is hardly a compelling argument, but entirely in keeping with her intellectual level (which most closely resembles a crab with access to spell-check). But let’s rise above the level of our opponents, shall we (it’s not like it’s much of a job, in any case). Our subject bleats (even if she is quoting):
if you are not with Israel, you are against her. And if you do not oppose with every fiber of your being and every instrument at your disposal that which intends the Jewish state harm, you are enabling her destroyers.
and we respond: “What if we oppose the Jewish state harming itself?”

This is Larison’s territory, amongst others, so I shan’t stay long, save to note the obvious. Rubin is not defending Israel. She thinks she is, because she’s a hack and a fool, but she isn’t. She is defending the Israeli government, and hoping nobody notices. Actually, even that gives her too much credit. She’s defending the Israeli government and labelling anyone who queries her an Israeli-hater.

There is little in this world more tiring than someone who pretends the usual gaggle of bureaucrats, warmongers and sex addicts that sit atop a country can be conflated with the population itself. I suffered through enough of that idiocy during the Bush administration, thanks very much. Of course, my displeasure with this state of affairs really isn’t the issue. The issue is that Rubin can be so staggeringly, apoplexy-inducingly imbecilic as to argue criticism of Netanyahu and his cronies is equivalent to attacking Israel whilst simultaneously calling out Obama as a douche-bag.

There are only two alternatives, here. Rubin is either a traitor, or she is a grotesque hypocrite. I would tend to suspect the latter, actually. She can probably make her own mind up, of course, but it’s one or the other.

Israel’s goverment is quite simply killing Israel on the international stage, just as Bush skull-fucked the corpse of UN sympathy after 9/11, only Israel can afford it far, far less. Those of us with an interest in the state of the Israeli people will continue to point this out long after Rubin has forgotten this latest crisis amongst the the general morass of violence and lunacy and death. Assuming “Long after” is still a phrase that can be applied at all in this case, because sooner or later Rubin and her posse are going to support Israel into extinction. The fact that she will blame us for it will be fairly cold comfort all around.

It All Adds Up

The first article in my new regular series (which will be coming out at roughly fortnightly intervals) is up over at Geekplanet. Unsurprisingly, it's going to be based on statistics and probability, partially just as an exploration of the topics themselves, but also their application to what idiots say in the media (the fairly major black cloud to this silver lining is that it will mean reading a lot more tabloid bullshit so I can effectively tear it to bits).

I'm pretty proud of this one, and I'm hoping the others live up to it. Certainly they should be of a higher standard than my average blog post, both because I can afford to spend more time on them and because I have an editor/proofreader now.

Taking The... No, Too Obvious.

I believe my dog loving credentials are well-established. Hell, I have an entire tag devoted to them. I got into a drunken argument a couple of months ago with a friend when I confessed that I'd find it difficult to choose between the life of my dog and the life of a complete stranger - a truth, by the way, which I am in no way proud of, but is there nonetheless. I don't write poetry (unless it's about Ibb, of course), but I'm perhaps at my closest whenever there's a canine involved.

In short, I adore our myriad forms of domesticated wolf. Moreover, I am continually, deeply impressed by the multitude of ways they can be trained to be more helpful (I am still amazed by all the different things they can do for war veterans, for example). Even so, I'm finding it really difficult to be OK with the idea of them sniffing my urine for prostate cancer.

Perhaps this is my unqualified love of dogs clashing with my absurd hygiene issues, or maybe it's my firm belief that the degree of love I have for something should be inversely proportional to how happy I am for them to smell my piss.

Still, that's just my own craziness talking. For the rest of humanity, it can just be reason #457,658 why man's best friend is worthy of your adulation and praise.

h/t to Balloon Juice.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Quz 4

A relatively easy one this time around. 36 is the score to beat, though there are a potential 41 on offer.

Round 1: Words

(Every answer contains the word "Cat")

1. To formally renounce a throne, right, power, claim or responsibility. Abdicate

2. A violent upheaval or a sudden physical change in the earth's surface. Cataclysm

3. Something which calls up or produces memories or feelings. Evocative

4. A picture or description that ludicrously exaggerates the peculiarities or defects of the subject. Caricature

5. To chew or otherwise reduce to a pulp. Masticate

Round 2: Elephants

1. What is the English translation of the term "pachyderm", variously used to describe elephants, hippos and rhinos? Thick skinned

2. Whose medical condition was diagnosed by Victorian doctors as attributable to his mother being knocked over by an elephant whilst pregnant? (A bonus point for getting the name exactly right). The Elephant Man (whose name was actually Joseph Merrick)

3. Which Hindu God has the body of a man, albeit with two extra arms, and the head of an elephant? Ganesha

4. Which fictional elephant, who eventually became ruler of the elephant kingdom, was co-created by Jean and Cecile de Brunhoff, and appeared in stories illustrated by Jean and later his son Laurent, as well as a cartoon series and several animated films? BaBar

5. Which writer wrote a fictional origin story for the elephant which was published in 1902, and also composed a short poem titled "The Elephant" in which he describes the animal as "Our lord the Elephant, Chief of the ways of God." Rudyard Kipling

Round 3: Royal Deaths

1. What very regrettable thing happened to William the Conqueror during his funeral at Caen in 1087? He exploded

2. George II's eldest son Frederick died of a burst abscess believed to be caused by the impact of what object? A tennis/cricket ball

3. George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, died in 1478, reputedly by drowning in what? A butt of Malmsey wine

4. Which of Henry VIII's wives was the second one to be beheaded? Catherine Howard

5. Which monarch was reputedly murdered by a fundamental red hot poker? Edward II

Round 4: Music (Queen)

(Five Queen songs, each with the title written in an alternative fashion)

1. Ecstasy From West Of Moravia. Bohemian Rhapsody

2. Some Form Of Sorcery. A Kind Of Magic

3. Beneath Force. Under Pressure

4. Allow Me To Continue At Present. Don't Stop Me Now

5. No-One Goes To Hell. Heaven For Everyone

Round 5: Lost Things

1. What name did 19th century geologist Philip Sclater give to his supposed lost continent, which he believed could once be found in the Indian Ocean, and would account for the similarities in Indian and Madagascan fauna? Lemuria

2.The Bermuda Triangle, in which many ships and planes have been lost over the years, has one point in Bermuda itself, and one in Florida. It's third point lies on which Caribbean island? Puerto Rico

3. In which play is a character told "To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness."? The Importance Of Being Earnest

4. According to common legend, the Roman IXth Legion disappeared in the second century AD, presumably in battle with tribesman from what is now Scotland; their last official record, dated AD71, states they had settled in what became known as Eboracum, remnants of which can still be seen in which British city? York

5. The term "Lost Generation", attributed to Gertrude Stein overhearing a French car mechanic and popularised by Ernest Hemingway, came to be used in the US to describe those who came of age shortly after which conflict? World War I

Round 6: Mountains

1 Which peak, part of the Karakoram Range and located on the China/Pakistan border, has gained the nickname "The Savage Mountain" due to the exceptional difficulty involved in climbing it, and the high fatality rate amongst those who make the attempt? K2

2. The novella "At The Mountains of Madness", published in 1936, was written by which American horror author, best known for creating the extra-terrestrial monster Great Cthulhu? H.P. Lovecraft

3. Which mountain, the tallest in the Cairngorms, is said to be haunted by a malevolent entity that takes the form of a tall grey man, the sight of whom causes unbearable terror? Ben MacDui

4.What is the tallest known mountain in the Solar System, and on which celestial body is it found? Olympus Mons, on Mars

5. Who played Inman in the 2003 film Cold Mountain, which was adapted from the Charles Frazier book of the same name? Jude Law

General Knowledge

1. (From A Town Like Alice) What is the name of the family that Jean initially helps when they attempt to evacuate? Holland

2. Which German naturalist and explorer helped give birth to the field of biogeography, and gave his name to a penguin, a squid, a lily, a bay, a current, a river, and a peak, amongst other things? Humboldt

3. Who became world heavyweight champion in 1962 after knocking out Floyd Patterson in the first round, and though found dead on the 5th of January 1971 was judged to have died in December 1970 due to the number milk bottles and newspapers at the door? Charles L. "Sonny" Liston

4. Located in Venezuela and with a height of over a kilometre, what is the highest waterfall in the world? Angel Falls

5. Who resigned as first secretary of the treasury this weekend following revelations that he had claimed £40 000 for living in his partner's house? David Laws

6. What is the largest order of marsupials to be found outside of Australia? Possums

7. The House Of Keys is the lower house of which island's parliament? The Isle Of Man

8. The Robert Burns poem "Green Grow The Rushes, O" is cited as one possible origin for which slang term for foreigners employed by Spanish and Portuguese speakers, and most famously by Mexicans? Gringo

9. Martin Scorcese's 2005 film "No Direction Home" was a feature-length documentary about which American singer-songwriter? Bob Dylan

10. What kind of animal is a John Dory? A fish