|Caution: costume may contain spoilers|
Sunday, 31 October 2010
There's not much to say about it, at least outside the context of a drunken afternoon's communal heckling. On the other hand, the trailer is fascinating, It's always interesting to see techniques you've invariably seen employed ironically being played at face value. I'm not sure what amuses me more, being warned that Dracula will hold me "IN A GRASP OF SHOCK!", or the stunningly chauvinistic introduction of the main characters.
Also, nice use of owls. More things in this world should involve owls.
Friday, 29 October 2010
We. Are. So. Fucked.
Still, not to worry. The magic of the Free Market will save us any second. After all, every company knows that people will stop buying their products if they break the fucking planet.
I don't think the lead single is too representative, though; it's far from the best song on there, and also the video is the twisted bastard lovechild of Lady Gaga and Blake's 7, with '70s era Top of the Pops as it's crazy uncle. Listen to this instead, an acoustic version of the first song on the album: "Heart Is Hard To Find".
Oh, and since I mentioned it, and because it's a truly brilliant song:
Thursday, 28 October 2010
In the book, a journalist asks Leonard if he believes AIDS to be a punishment from God. He says no, but adds that just as nature reacts when we abuse the environment, "when we mistreat human love, it ends up perhaps getting its revenge".Let's leave aside for the moment how strange it might seem to hear an archbishop draw a distinction between "God's punishment" and "Nature's revenge". Let's also bypass the fact that Leonard apparently doesn't want elderly priests held to account for child abuse as long as they've given up on it -not sure where Gaia's Vengeance is over that one. Leonard's bizarre suggestion got me thinking about an old intellectual stomping ground of mine - what is it about homosexuality that makes so many people think it's so massive a deal - in a new way.
First of all, I asked myself whether there's a difference between unnatural and sinful? I lack the theological chops to know whether all things natural are by definition non-sinful. It seems easy to assume that anything unnatural is sinful, but sin is after all inherent to our nature. Does that make some natural acts sinful? On the other hand, sins are rebelling against the word of God, which is exactly what we're not supposed to do. I don't know which way Christianity comes down on the subject, or even if all denominations work on the same principles. But if all sins are unnatural, why isn't nature striking everyone down with AIDS? Or something similar, at least? Why doesn't, say, stabbing someone in the chest lead to a heart condition?
Seriously, why aren't murderers getting themselves struck down with some horrendous malady that makes AIDS seem like a particularly irksome paper-cut? Is brutally slaying your fellow man more natural than being attracted to someone whose genitals match your own? Maybe it feels that way the world can seem when viewed through the prism of our particular obsessions in fiction, but truly?
It doesn't seem like considering the natural/unnatural divide is going to get us anywhere. In the process, though, I think we stumble across something important. Why does Leonard believe nature is out to slap around the gay and the promiscuous but not the slayers of their fellow man? Is it because we're already dealing with them ourselves?
This has never really occurred to me before (I've no idea why). I've written plenty of posts on how baffling I find the Christian Right's Javert-like obsession over homosexuality, but for some reason the penny never dropped. The issue isn't over how important a sin it is on the continuum of defying God, it's about how important a sin it is on the continuum of transgressions society has no interest in punishing. I'm not just talking about legal punishment, either. We haven't cut out people's tongues for lying for quite some time now, but we still drum it into our children that it's a bad thing to do.
In other words, I think this is a reaction to an attempt to, in their eyes, attempt to normalise a sin, to wipe away all stigma attached to it (as, indeed, is the aim of people like me). All this time I've been arguing that homosexuality shouldn't be considered a sin in any case, and that if it is it makes no sense to consider it as grave a sin as it is, without realising that my position itself is fuelling the madness.
Obviously, none of this cuts to the heart of the matter, which is that promiscuity, unsafe sex and drug use are things we tell our children are bad, and since that's what spreads HIV in the first place, it kind of undermines the idea that nature needs to take a hand like this. There's also the point I mentioned above about Leonard not believing former child abusers should be punished by society; it's difficult to credit the idea that he believes this action will create some kind of paedo-plague which will take care of the problem for us. In other words, he's still an arse and a hypocrite; merely one whose thought processes I think I can follow slightly more now. Lucky me...
Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Monday, 25 October 2010
So, I figured it might be fun to run a more specialised quiz this week. The idea is simple. Each of the twenty-five comments below makes reference to a specific X-Man amongst the thirty-six I've discussed so far. Some are obvious, some are not. Some, indeed, have been referenced in the posts themselves. All I want from you is which X-Man - codename or real name - goes with which comment (which, of course, means the quiz will get easier as we go along). I'm going to limit each player to two guesses per comment, to prevent answer-spamming, and to just one answer at a time, so as to stop someone with as ludicrous a degree of obsessive knowledge as me just swooping in and taking all the goodies.
Right, get to it!
Update: There seems to be some confusion regarding the rules; mainly this is my fault for not being clear. I'd like one answer per comment in the comments section, and will allow each player only two guesses overall at each numbered comment within the post.
Sorry to have been so confusing!
3. Once targeted for assassination by way of an explosive robot, disguised as a lisping toddler named Elsie Dee (get it?) Wolverine (Chris B)
4. Had both legs crushed fighting an alien warlord calling himself "Lucifer". Professor X (Christopher)
5. Was at one point brainwashed by the mad assassin Arcade into believing himself a capitalist-hating superhero named The Proletarian. Colossus (Anonymous)
6. Lost a duel for leadership of the X-Men to a depowered Storm. Cyclops (Ste)
7. The only X-Man to retain any memory of the Age of Apocalypse, in which he spent several decades following the time-altering murder of Charles Xavier. Bishop (Gooder)
9. Calls Logan "Wolvie" to his face and gets away with it. Jubilee (Allen)
10. Attempted to counteract the effects of M-Day by grafting superpowered genes into humans, with horrific results. Forge (Jamie)
11. Betrays team to the Super-Adaptoid, only to change sides again when they learns their new master intends to destroy all life, including them.
12. Got set on fire by a mad island, and burned to death. Wore green. Petra (Jamie)
13. Got set on fire by a mad island, and burned to death. Wore purple. Sway (Pause)
14. Impersonated Professor X whilst the latter prepared for invasion by the Z'Nox. Died whilst still undercover. Changeling (FireStillBurns)
15. Once tried busking as a juggler to raise money for a plane ticket to Europe. Iceman (Chris B)
16. Spent several years living in a lighthouse and pretending to be a pirate. Nightcrawler (Mozz)
17. Spent the Age of Apocalypse with a chip on their shoulder and a black bar-code on their face. Havok (Brutal Snake)
19. The only X-Man to have dropped the N-bomb. Kitty Pryde (Anonymous)
20. Had their mutant power activated by their exposure to the nuclear wasteland of Hiroshima. Sunfire (Brutal Snake)
21. One of the rare examples of an X-Man losing their powers on M Day, a fact they hid from the squad for several days in an attempt to seem useful.
22. Spent years under the impression that they were one of a race of immortal mutants, before everyone suddenly forgot about the idea. Cannonball (Chris B)
23. Can bake a lemon meringue pie with their feet. Beast (Chemie)
24. I got myself a PhD to prove this character could never possibly exist. Longshot (Chris B)
25. Died of the Legacy Virus and was never mentioned again for over two decades. Revanche (Mozz)
Sunday, 24 October 2010
(Also, only one in three participants know what a Sentinel is. Bloody kids today.)
We follow the same rules in our family, and one of them is: Always stop to buy lemonade from kids who are entrepreneurial enough to open up a little business...
The three young girls -- under the watchful eye of a nanny, sitting on the grass with them -- explained that they had regular lemonade, raspberry lemonade, and small chocolate candy bars.
Then my brother asked how much each item cost.
"Oh, no," they replied in unison, "they're all free!"
That really set me off, as my regular readers can imagine.Not just regular readers, as it happens. Nothing sets off those who are convinced their own selfishness and venality are good for the country more than finding out other people are deliberately donating their goods and time in order to be of use.
"No!" I exclaimed from the back seat. "That's not the spirit of giving. You can only really give when you give something you own. They're giving away their parents' things -- the lemonade, cups, candy. It's not theirs to give."Unless, of course, the parents gave them to the kids. Otherwise, the kids are petty thieves - along with their nanny, who presumably is a latter day Fagin - and I'd like to think even someone as logically unsound as Savage wouldn't believe that such criminal activity would really be OK just so long as these underage entrepreneurs were hawking their ill-gotten gains (the Savages of this world generally frown on selling what one does not own, at least, unless doing so gets you high enough up the FTSE index).
No wonder America is getting it all wrong when it comes to government, and taxes, and policy. We all act as if the "lemonade" or benefits we're "giving away" is free.
And so the voters demand more -- more subsidies for mortgages, more bailouts, more loan modification and longer periods of unemployment benefits.
They're all very nice. But these things aren't free.Savage is right. This is what's wrong with America. But it's not that the American people don't understand that benefits need to be paid for, it's that people like Savage - people too wilfully stupid to note that there's a difference between believing one should offer free services and believing one must receive them- are allowed access to a computer. And the internet. And, y'know, consonants.
Still, maybe Savage is being too pessimistic. Maybe having read
It's basically the perfect balance between needing good fortune, needing a sound plan, and being able to screw with people's heads. In other words: perfect. Plus, nice and short, too. I've been very clear on my love and need for ridiculously convoluted games that can take most of a day to play (indeed we moved from Citadels to BSG, with only short stops at Cthulhu Munchkin and supermarket pizza in between), but it's nice to have something on hand to use as a time filler, rather than as an endurance test.
Saturday, 23 October 2010
Ah, how I've missed the Tories. "Keep giving us more money, people; there's no telling how badly we'll piss away what we've already got!".
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Turns out you can easily make the same number of savings simply by scrapping our second new aircraft carrier, a wing of Typhoon fighters, and Trident in its entirety. Oh, and Wales and Scotland. I don't think that's too high a price to pay. We can just relabel extinction as "extreme devolution" (i.e. they're being devolved from, you know, living organisms) and we're good to go.
Though now I think about it, I've scrapped all the nukes, haven't I? Damn, this chancellor lark is a bit tougher than it looks on telly.
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Even with all those caveats, though, this is unquestionably pretty worrying. A direct link from EDL to Gellar to the Tea Party concerns me precisely because Douthat and company are so busy arguing the group is reasonable and responsible, and it's just that vicious liberals want to paint them as racists. Providing cover to this crap isn't their goal (it's just the standard "if liberals hate it there must be something wrong with it" line the American Right has been pedalling for decades), but it's certainly liable to be the result.
At this point, it's pretty clear that those arguing the Tea Party are merely concerned about deficits and public spending are deliberately ignoring the elephant in the room. You can argue the main interests of the Tea Party are bigotry-free. You can argue there are plenty within the group who despise Islamophobia and anti-immigrant feeling. But at this point, it's time to acknowledge the elephant in the room: Tea Party bigwigs (including Congressman Steve King) are paying for known bigots to show up and talk about why their bigotry is something the group should all get on board with. A group which silently tolerates such sickness in their ranks is no better than one that endorses it, something Gellar herself would agree with.
So long as that group were Palestinians, obviously.
Monday, 18 October 2010
SpaceSquid: Is this free cheese?
BigHead: I believe it's free cheese.
SS: Because it looks like free, y'know, orange rock.
Anonymous McNoname: I thought you loved all forms of cheese.
SS: Even I have limits.
Edenspresence: Yeah, it's not like you can't create really, really bad cheese. If you cut costs. You probably can't with honey, though.
SS: Yeah. Wait, what?
E: You can't make honey any more cheaply. I mean, you could make it more expensive-
Brutal Snake: I'd imagine you could do that pretty easily, actually.
SS: Make the honey pots out of diamond.
AMcN: Put your apiaries on Mars.
E: I'm just saying there's a baseline to-
SS: Hire the queen to tend the hives. She's probably pretty pricey.
E: She'd need her crown modified as well, to fit over the hat.
AMcN: Plus I don't think she'd be able to maintain much of a pace.
BS: And you'd have the Duke of Edinburgh hanging about, as well. Insulting the bees.
SS: "Why don't you all just piss off back to Beeland?"
AMcN: Surely the bees are indigenous to Britain, though?
SS: He won't care. They're black! And yellow! Two of his least favourite colours!
AMcN: This doesn't sound like it's good for the bees. If we're spending all this money, why don't we buy the hives plasma TVs instead?
BS: Or give every bee a computer. They could sign up to Facebook.
SS: "You have a friendship request from Bee #14838."
E: I'm not sure their updates would be worth reading, really.
SS: "The queen bee has laid an egg. The queen bee has laid an egg. The queen bee has laid an egg." "Bee #58796 likes this."
AMcN: That's actually oddly cute.
BH: It's almost a shame they'll all be dead soon.
SS: "The queen has updated her relationship status to 'Functionally Extinct.'"
AMcN: Aw. I'm sad now.
SS: Here. Have some free cheese.
Friday, 15 October 2010
OK, so it's just an advert, it doesn't have to make rigorous mathematical sense. And yes, I like watching monkeys messing around as the next person.
Still, must I tolerate such despicable warping of my specialist subject? Give enough monkeys enough coffee machines and they'll create every cup of coffee imaginable. And rather faster than they'll recreate Shakespeare, I would imagine, since they're clever and curious and will presumably soon become addicted to caffeine themselves. Sure, a lot of their efforts won't even constitute a cup of liquid, just as most of their typed pages would be random gibberish. Many of their cups of coffee will be entirely undrinkable, just as the monkeys are no more likely to rewrite As You Like It than they are to produce a copy of Littlejohn's Britain (though one imagines they might choose to tighten the prose here and there). But they'd get there in the end.
Unless Costa is arguing cottontop tamarins (or, as BT and I christened them, "Jimmy Saville monkeys") tend to like their coffee over-brewed, I suppose. Or that the perfect cup of coffee cannot physically exist. Which, I guess, is probably true, but unlikely to be what Costa is aiming for: "We can't make you the perfect coffee, but we'll make you a more or less acceptable one far faster than a troop of mandrills could".
In fact, I'm not even sure that's true. I'd suggest something even more humble: "Our staff are functionally indistinguishable from a baboon flange, but some of them look nicer, and they're trained not to fling their shit at you".
Actually, that's got me thinking. If you gave an infinite number of Shakespeares an infinite number of bananas and tyre rings, would they eventually start throwing poo at each other? ANSWER ME, SCIENCE!
Thursday, 14 October 2010
None of my family and friends is allowed to appear on Wheel of Fortune... If there’s not a real conflict of interest, there is, at least, the appearance of one... So should state workers be able to vote in state elections on matters that would benefit them directly?Quick answer: yes. Slightly more involved answer: Sajak can't have his kids appear on his show because there is a conflict between running a fair game and helping out his kids. There is no conflict whatsoever between having a job and wanting for that job to be better. It doesn't matter in the least that you are working for the guys who will implement the policy the voters choose.
Sajak has to be seen as not caring which contestant wins the game. State workers are under no obligation to pretend they don't care how their wages are determined. People do not require them to come to work every day asking themselves "Which of my life choices will benefit the state the most?", because the United States isn't, in fact, the inside of Lenin's head (a truth which one would assume Sajak would take some comfort in).
Of course we all have a stake in one way or another in most elections, and many of us tend to vote in favor of our own interests. However, if, for example, a ballot initiative appears that might cap the benefits of a certain group of state workers, should those workers be able to vote on the matter? Plainly, their interests as direct recipients of the benefits are far greater than the interests of others whose taxes support such benefits.Remarkably, Sajak is getting stupider. We should consider denying the vote to people whose interests are particularly on the line? None of the above really relates specifically to public sector employees anymore, Sajak just thinks we need to start thinking about how much someone wants something before they should be allowed to vote for it.
Of course, this prompts an obvious question. What would Pat Sajak consider to be those things in his life that are too important for him to have a say in?
I'm going to go out on a limb and say it'll be a pretty short list.
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
First, Nick Clegg is "facing accusations of hypocrisy" in the exact same way that you are "facing accusations of being turdwelders", in that I am calling you turdwelders. You turdwelders.
Second, according to part of the stated Liberal Democrat approach these matters is to make faith schools more accessible for those of other groups. Even if Clegg's children were atheists too, getting them into a Catholic school is in line with that position. In other words, trying to make faith schools more inclusive is not the same as trying to destroy them, and is not different to asking whether they'll take on Godless heathens.
Third, whilst you can at least colour an argument over it being bad practice for a politician to take advantage of a system he claims to want to change (which isn't a totally ridiculous point, though I get antsy around the idea that you should deliberately disadvantage your kids in order to make a political point), accusing atheist Clegg of hypocrisy for choosing a Catholic school only makes any sense if you immediately assume Clegg's Catholic wife should have no say as to how her children are educated.
In other words; fuck you, Daily Mail. Man, even the Express has this figured out. That's like Satan telling you to chill out and think happy thoughts.
In what year did Heart of Darkness first see publication as a three-part serial in Blackwood Magazine?
The winning team were only two years out. Good luck!
Update: It would seem Gooder has won by default. Which is kinda a shame, since his answer of 1900 was only a single year out (the actual answer being 1899). Shame on the rest of you for sullying his victory! That's like Usain Bolt trying to run 100m whilst the competition decide to lay down and sunbathe.
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
When I was eleven years old, I used to like sitting down with a pencil and a blank piece of paper and, realising that there was never any chance of me being able to draw anything alive, start drawing as many spaceships as I could. Inevitably, it would turn into a gigantic interstellar fracas, with ships from every source I could remember blowing seven shades of space-shit out of each other. It didn't matter that they came from different shows or films, it didn't matter that it made absolutely no sense that the Borg would join forces with the Empires both Cylon and Galactic. It just had everything in it, and everything is cooler than less than everything. Witness:
(Yes, not all of the ships above were actually around in 1991; but they're a lot prettier than a lot of the ones that were. Also, the version of this picture that's on my hard-drive is fucking awesome, but the bullshit Photoplus program I have refuses to adequately export. I hate it).
Anyway, that's what Crisis is. 360 pages of someone wanting to draw every hero and villain DC have ever created, and have them punch each other for no fucking reason at all.
Monday, 11 October 2010
Well, they're always difficult, of course. You can divide them into two groups: those that are too personal to write without pain, and those so impersonal you struggle to say anything at all.
Usually, it is only those of a clerical persuasion that have to deal with the latter. When my grandmother died, it was obvious that the minister (from my mother's church, of the Methodist persuasion) didn't really know the deceased well enough to offer much more than general platitudes (that wasn't her fault, my grandmother wasn't much of a church-goer, and the last thing she told the minister when she visited her in hospital was "I don't really believe in God, but let's try praying just on the off chance it works"). It seemed a shame that the last word on my mother's mother was comparatively impersonal, but that's the way it goes sometimes, and I always think that those who give such speeches without feeling they really knew the subject must find that really difficult, and maybe quite upsetting as well.
It never really occurred to me that I'd find myself in the same position.
Yesterday afternoon we buried my grandfather's ashes. I've spoken before about the kind of man he was, and how much lessened Middlesbrough is by his absence, so I won't go over that again, save to say that it was a short but satisfying service, and my grandmother chose an excellent resting place for his remains - just beside the reservoir that he and my father went fishing on when Dad was just a child, and again more recently when their constant butting of heads abated somewhat.
So I won't go over all of that again. I'm not here to talk about my grandfather directly in any case, but rather his estranged son.
The Crossman men are complicated beasts. This is clearly not the place for the airing of dirty laundry, but suffice it to say we tend to have father issues that would make the writers of Lost raise their eyebrows. I have the honour of being, at minimum, a third generation screw-up on that front (my great-grandfather died too soon for anyone to quiz him on the issue). That's not to say I don't love my father, or there's any reason to think he's anything other than a wonderful man who went to superhuman lengths to not repeat the mistakes of the past. Still, though, it's enough of a common thread to make me worried about the hypothetical (very, very hypothetical) day that I might be prepared to have children of my own.
My uncle left his wife and his two year old son in 1979, for which I don't think my father or grandfather ever forgave him. He started up a new family, which lasted for a few years and a few children, before he left them too for a third woman. I know little about his second family, who I have never met, and nothing about his third, who I don't believe anyone in the family has ever met. At some point in the early 80's, he disappeared off the radar completely, and no-one (save, as I learned in January, my grandmother) ever heard from him again.
At present there are two schools of thought; one that says I never met him, and one that says I met him once, before I was old enough to speak. I've always been curious about our black sheep (and my currently-undetermined number of extra cousins). My father always maintained I would be better off never running into him, and my grandfather only mentioned him once as far as I can recall, some comment about being sure he was, at least, bound to be having fun somewhere (i.e. drunk past the point of all logic). It's easy to say "I wish I'd never met him", but I'm entirely aware that this is an opinion entirely borne from the fact that I never had to meet him.
In any case, it doesn't matter any more. With typical ornery Crossman timing, Alan Crossman passed away yesterday morning, just hours before we left to give my grandfather to the ground. I considered letting this pass without comment, under the circumstances, but it felt wrong to have noted the loss of my father's father and not mention the passing of his eldest child. What's more, I think my grandfather - despite the rows and the heartbreak and the years of bitter silence - would agree with me on this. That's one of the many, many reasons I loved him as much as I did.
Type "Walter Crossman" into Google, and the very first hit is my grandfather. Alan, I cannot find at all. But he was still one of us. However much he tried not to be, he was one of us. I hope some part of him was OK with that.
Saturday, 9 October 2010
Friday, 8 October 2010
Honestly, that's just too damn brilliant to even get annoyed by. By far the most interesting part of the article is it's attempt to be even-handed and work out a potential rationale behind the accusation:
It may be that the clerics are understandably worried about rising levels of sex tourism in Samoa fuelled by cheap air travel and consequent rising energy consumption, though why this would be a gay-only problem is a mystery.Remember, people, local whores are the environmentally responsible choice!
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
Another month, another quiz. This time I've included the bonus round as well, because I am lovely. It's deliberately a bit easier this time around. 37 is the score to beat (three teams got all five of the bonus questions correct).
Round 1: Words
(Each answer is a word in which the letters are in ascending alphabetical order. Moreover, the five answers are themselves in alphabetical order).
1 To loathe or detest utterly. Abhor
2 To confront boldly, or approach with a greeting, question, or remark. Accost
3 The only venomous snake native to Britain. Adder
4 To roar, bawl, shout, or generally emit a loud utterence. Bellow (though I accepted "cry")
5 A word originating from French meaning "jewel" Bijou
Round 2: Redheads
1 Which fictional detective solved the case of the Red Headed League, a group which briefly offered meaningless but well-paid clerical work to the applicant with the reddest hair? Sherlock Holmes
2 Which implausibly-proportioned cartoon red-head told a disbelieving Eddie Valiant – played by Bob Hoskins -“I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way?” Jessica Rabbit
3 In what century was Frederick Barbarossa, also known as Frederick Redbeard, crowned as Holy Roman Emperor? 12th
4 Native to several countries, to which mountain range is the red panda endemic? The Himalayas
5 Which red-haired singer lost her life in a controversial boating accident off the coast of Mexico in December 2000? Kirsty MacColl
Round 3: Sharks
1 What skeletal feature separates sharks, along with their relations rays, skates and chimeras, from all other forms of jawed fish? They are made of cartilage
2 Which 2003 film included three sharks; Bruce, Anchor and Chum, who had formed an abstinence group under the slogan “Fish are friends, not food”? Finding Nemo
3 The surviving crew of which sunken American vessel, which went down on 30th July 1945 just after delivering parts for the first atomic bomb, found themselves enduring four days of repeated shark attacks before the remainder were rescued? USS Indiana
4 In which country has shark-fin soup been considered a delicacy for hundreds of years? China
5 Which English city's basketball team is nicknamed “the Sharks”, having changed from “the Forgers” in 1994? Sheffield
Round 4: Pigs In Fiction
1 Who gives her full name as “Pignathius Lee”? Miss Piggy
2 Which author wrote a series of books which feature Lord Emsworth, who owns a resplendent pig named “The Empress”, who lives at Blandings Castle? P. G. Woodhouse
3 Who defeated the Erymanthian Boar? Heracles/Hercules
4 In George Orwell's Animal Farm, on whom is the pig Snowball based? Leon Trotsky
5 In the original Winnie the Pooh illustrations by E.H.Shepherd, what colour was Piglet's jumper? Green
Round 5: Madonna
(Each answer is a song title, described here in a cryptic/lateral manner)
1 Vacation. Holiday
2 Weep Not Over My Fate, Buenos Aires. Don't Cry For Me Argentina
3 Cooled Into A Solid State. Frozen.
4 No Evangelising, Father. Papa Don't Preach
5 Non-Ugly Non-Acquaintance. Beautiful Stranger
Round 6: Japan
1 The failure of both of Kublai Khan's attempts to conquer Japan led to the first use of what Japanese term, used to describe the massive storms which badly mauled the Khan's invasion fleets? Kamikaze
2 Introduced first as a villain, which Japanese character soon became a defender of the Home Islands, fighting off attacks by robots, pterodactyls, giant moths, etc? Gojira/Godzilla
3 Seventh largest in the world and less populous only than Java, which is the largest of the Japanese Home Islands? Honshu
4 What name is given to the highly-stylised Japanese dance theatre well known for its elaborate make-up and costumes? Kabuki
5 In which decade was Crown-Prince Akihito raised to the rank of Emperor following the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito? 1980s
1 Who is the ghost of Slytherin House? The Bloody Baron
2 Lancaster, Pennsylvania became the capital of the nascent United States for one day when members of the Continental Congress fled which city, which had been captured by the British? Philadelphia
3 The two closest capitals in the world (excluding Vatican City) are Brazzaville and Kinshasa, which face each other across which (African) river? The Congo
4 Which musical was based on Puccini’s La Boheme by writer Jonathan Larson, and includes the song “Seasons of Love”? Rent
5 For how long was John Higgins suspended following a ruling he had brought the game of snooker into disrepute, including the time he spent suspended during the investigation itself? Six months
6 Who was recognised in 1991 by the American Institute of Architects as “The greatest American architect of all time?” Frank Lloyd Wright
7 What kind of creature was Puzzle, who the ape Shift persuaded to wear a lion skin and impersonate Aslan in The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis? A donkey
8 What exactly is a petard, by which people so often find themselves hoisted? A bomb, or grenade.
9 How many time-pieces can be seen in Salvador Dali’s painting “The Persistence of Memory”? 4 (3 are melting, 1 is covered in ants)
10 Frederick Kekule’s day-dream of a snake swallowing its own tail led to him deducing the molecular structure of which chemical compound? Benzene
(I'm going to give you the names of five films. I want the name of the book it was originally based on.)
1 The Golden Compass. The Northern Lights.
2 Apocalypse Now. Heart Of Darkness.
3 Total Recall. We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.
4 Clueless. Emma.
5 A Cock And Bull Story. The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
(Trust me, it was a lot more scary at night and whilst it's trying to GET INTO YOUR FUCKING CAR.)
Turns out, it's a "swallow-tailed moth", though frankly "Satan's Vampire Moth of Malevolence" would suit it somewhat better. Anyway, this time round Garathon has posed a question that warrants careful consideration. The Court of Justice of the EU has announced that it is "legally inappropriate" for insurance companies to vary their premiums on the grounds of gender. Although such things are currently legal, so long as there is sufficient actuarial and statistical ground, that might be about to change. Garathon pointed this out in reference to car insurance, so that's what I've been focussing my thinking on.
Since immediate inspiration eluded me, I decided to gather together my brain trust: BigHead, Brutal Snake, edenspresence, Crematorium del Masque, and Doc Zero (and by "gather together" I mean "go to coffee and harangue them"). I then demanded their takes, I'm still horribly confused. I asked C as well, just after a glorious 3-0 badminton victory that will echo through the ages, and I'm still not sure.
Having said that, though, I've a least least managed to pull together a few thoughts. First of all, whatever people may think of the necessity to prove a first order biological difference before allowing variable services according to sex, I don't see how you could come up with a blanket rule any other way. The argument that cultural distinction is not a good enough reason seems to me pretty sound. Otherwise, to take an American example, you could argue black people should be forced to pay more for health insurance because so many of them get shot or die of overdoses. Perhaps this would allow white people's premiums to go down, and it seems reasonable to assume insurance companies would be for it if they could (once you start refusing to offer coverage to people with minor medical issues they weren't even aware of, you lose any chance whatsoever of being given the benefit of the doubt), but that seems a sure-fire way to reinforce a status quo that we should be deeply disastified with.
(As an aside, this is also why I don't find myself convinced by C's argument that insurance companies shouldn't be made to act as if the world were perfect; there is plenty of evidence to suggest that equality follows legislation, rather than the other way round.)
So the law itself seems like a reasonable idea. I should also mention that I have a problem with the idea that differentiating on the grounds of gender is reasonable simply because it works and it's easy. I think the court is right to note the massive amount of other, less measurable variables that are far more important in judging one's aptitude. The idea that it would cost insurance companies more to check them is something I am not particularly bothered by, even if it would increase my premiums, though I realise that this is easily said without knowing exactly how much it would cost. Indeed, much of this comes down to degrees, most particulary how much statistical evidence courts would require - a problematic consideration if ever I heard one.
Moreover, there are two obvious problems to stating only clearly recognisable biological factors should be considered. The first is that if we're going to limit ourselves to what can be directly linked to biology, we might not be able to justify increased premiums for the very young, instead having to use non-decreasing functions to track people as they head inexorably towards their dotage. At least, I think that's what would happen, I'm hardly an expert; perhaps there really is a demonstrable biological cause behind being 17 years old and acting like a total dickhead. I'm not sure it would hold up in court, though.
The second, which I think is more important, is that my example of American insurance, besides being shaky (opinions differ on just how shaky) on the grounds that car insurance is optional for living in a way health insurance isn't (or at least, shouldn't have to be) fails to take into account the fact that UK anti-cartel laws are, to my understanding, a great deal stronger than the US equivalents, or lack thereof. We're not talking about people being unable to gain insurance. Considering age might work as a comparison to gender, but there exist insurance companies who specifically cater for older clients, assuming they have sufficifent no claims bonus. This is the advantage of the no claims idea, it actually provides a way of determining how good a driver one is (imperfect though it obviously is, but that's probability for you; a fickle mistress at the best of times).
Indeed, it occurs to me that there is a possible solution here to both the above problems, which is to increase the initial premiums, but then increase the degree to which those premiums fall after X years of no claims. I'm not claiming this is a brilliant solution - certainly I haven't put any number on it - but it's at least an alternative which would make one's payments more dependent on actual skill, rather than simply what demographic you can most easily be placed in. An alternative would be to put together a test which gives a percentage score to one's driving, and base the premiums on that. Of course, such tests already exist, more or less, and many (including myself) choose not to undertake them because of the cost involved. I suppose at that point we're talking about insurance companies discriminating against the fiscally unwise, which pretty much sounds like their perogative. Unless of course they discriminate against fiscally unwise men more.
But then again, I would say that, wouldn't I?
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
The one thing in there that was new, or at least a point I'd never considered in quite so clear and elegant a manner, was this (a quote from Bruce Sterling) :
I'll believe in people settling Mars at about the same time I see people settling the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert is about a thousand times as hospitable as Mars and five hundred times cheaper and easier to reach. Nobody ever writes "Gobi Desert Opera" because, well, it's just kind of plonkingly obvious that there's no good reason to go there and live. It's ugly, it's inhospitable and there's no way to make it pay. Mars is just the same, really. We just romanticize it because it's so hard to reach.Obviously, there are two comebacks to this; we would try to inhabit the Gobi Desert if we literally had no choice in the matter , and we'd probably be far happier to try it if the Gobi Desert proved to be sitting atop, say, massive gold reserves (I know we haven't found anything compelling on Mars yet, and it's hard to imagine anything being worth the cost of the trip, but...). Still, it's an excellent point, and as Stross notes, even the sudden discovery of pure awesometanium on Mars still won't make anyone want to stay there, any more than oil-riggers in the North Atlantic decide to stick around once their shifts are over.
Anyway, the whole thing is well worth reading.
(Image by Lynette Cook)
 The only part of the analysis I find particularly questionable is the idea that we should have no personal interest in the survival of the species after our own deaths. Whilst I understand how one could believe that, and even grant for the sake of argument that such a position is the most logical one to hold, I think arguing against such feelings is pissing in the wind as far as human nature is concerned. You might as well argue it's stupid to want to save cute puppies when there are so many ugly, ugly dogs still unsold.
Monday, 4 October 2010
Their answer: claim Islam isn't a religion, it's a political movement.
It's hard to decide which part of this desperate attempt to legalise bigotry is more ridiculous. It's definitely either the idea that a religion that demands a certain way of living is actually a political movement, or it's the idea that political movements aren't protected by the First Amendment in any case. You can toss a coin, pretty much.
I got this story from Glenn Greenwald's twitter feed, which he accompanied with a comment along the lines of "Look what the Republican big-wigs have wrought" (that's a paraphrase; I don't think Greenwald's the type to call someone a "big-wig". See, I think he's being unfair here, because if we look at what the Republicans are actually demanding:
DeMint said if someone is openly homosexual, they shouldn't be teaching in the classroom and he holds the same position on an unmarried woman who's sleeping with her boyfriend — she shouldn't be in the classroom.it becomes entirely clear that the last thing they want to do is stop religious movements from prescribing what the entire country can and can't allow. Remember, kids, we must make sure that Christians never lose their inalienable human right to not be taught by someone they don't like! Gays are icky! Unwed sexually active women are whores ! We must ensure our teachers are free from sin in order to conform to a religion that specifically states no-one is free of sin!
Doubtless DeMint will be denouncing these people any minute.
 Note that Jim DeMint doesn't stake out a position on batchelors who are getting laid. He's a despicable prick, but he's not totally stupid.
Friday, 1 October 2010
Arguably, I still don't. But I've spent the last three or four months putting together some reinforcements to my Tyranid horde, and I'm sick to death of them. I may as well get something out of them whilst I wait for C to blast them to pieces.
As always, they are purposefully "retro", which in my case is synonymous with "gaudy and poorly painted". Still, en masse I quite like them. I've put together a Broodlord (which is truly embarrassing in its simplicity, and sports authentic Patriarch colouring because I apparently still haven't realised we're out of the early '90s) and a brood of ten of the new plastic gargoyles.
Here's the plastics mixing with the older lead miniatures.
I know, I know. The 'Eavy Metal team will not be losing any sleep. And all these months of work translate into only a hundred points or so of models, if that. Still, this is all to make my horde large enough to work in concert with one of these babies, so in a few months, it should all be worth it.
(Also, I'm four models away from getting up to 1500 points with my Tau, which will be a good excuse for another army showcase, particularly since the first time I photographed my cadre, I still had no idea how to actually work the camera).
The initial trio of stories is now complete. We know who Lucifer is, what he wants, and exactly how really, really killed you'll be if you get in his way. It's time to raise the stakes.
No surprise what the theme is this time around: children and monsters, and how one becomes the other. We're given the answer very early on, actually, in the prologue to the story proper. Being trapped in the womb for 4 000 years, murdered each morning by miscarriage; that's the kind of thing you'd expect to fuck a kid up. Trapped in time and inside its mother, the foetus becomes something monstrous, a mindless killer, violent frustration personified.
Right from the start, then, we understand one thing very clearly: being trapped is bad.
This is important, because pretty much everyone in Children And Monsters' four issues are exactly that. The idea toyed with in A Six-Card Spread - that defining your life by your opposition to God is no less liberating than living entirely according to God's will - is back full force. This time, though, the point is generalised. We're no longer just talking about the way we define ourselves with regard to our God, but how we define ourselves with regard to our fathers.
For four of the characters in this story, of course, the two things are the same. Two, Michael and Amenadiel, are still loyal members of the Host. Two, Lucifer and Sandalphon, are renegades. All of them, though, are caught in the same trap. Living according to the boundaries their father has set. Obsessing over the rules their God has laid down for the cosmos.
Obviously, this preoccupation takes different forms for each. Amenadiel is sanguine and combative, a man desperately trying to please an absent father by travelling further and further along the path he is convinced his maker wants him to follow. Digging himself deeper and deeper under a mound of corpses. He negotiates with the Cherubim to alleviate the body count, but there is little doubt that he did so only to increase the chances of gaining the full support of the Host, and none whatsoever that he would have proceeded without them if necessary; killed anyone he had to in order to get to Lucifer. He spends untold numbers of angels in the attack, torn apart by Musubi's blades or swallowed whole by the ravenous spirit of Erishad's child, and he does it without blinking. He is doing his Father's work.
Sandalphon is the mirror image of Amenadiel; so unswerving, blindly dedicated to creating his army with which to raze Heaven the world has become reduced to a series of opportunities, obstacles, and irrelevances. He despises his father so much he is willing to sacrifice his children whenever it becomes convenient; indeed his master plan absolutely requires it. For him, this has never been about anything other than power. He moves his pawns, and mocks Michael for hesitating to kill his own brother. Where Lucifer wished only to be untouched by the power of others, Sandalphon wants that power for himself, but it comes to the same thing in the end. The sons must be rid of their father.
Caught in their traps, the children become monsters.
All appearances to the contrary, Michael actually begins the story free. He is chained in a pit by Sandalphon, yes, but that very fact allows him to exist outside his duty to God. Alone amongst the four angels, he is given the choice to be free, ironically enough by Lucifer, but chooses to return to service in the Silver City. He willingly walks back into the trap.
But can it be a trap if it is entered willingly? Is that the secret? Is that why Michael hesitated, why he did not become a monster? Perhaps. Nevertheless, he would undoubtedly have been more free in the second Creation. But if Micheal would been free had he stayed with Lucifer in his new cosmos, then how can Lucifer still be trapped?
It's because Lucifer has made a mistake. It will take him a long time to realise it, but he has erred. He has become a God in his own cosmos, because he believes that alone amongst the inhabitants of Creation, only God is free. Therefore, Lucifer needs his own reality to rule over, so that no-one can rule over him.
This, though, is faulty logic. The Morningstar knows that in a cosmos controlled by God, no-one else can be free. What he has missed is that whilst being God is a necessary condition for being free, there is no reason to believe it is also sufficient. Preventing everyone else from liberty does not guarantee that liberty for oneself. This is particularly true for Lucifer, who has progressed from defining himself in total opposition to God to instead simply setting up a rival business, offering the same product in different packaging. Some call Lucifer a monster already - he might not even trouble to argue the point. But things could get worse. Things can always get worse.
Having said all that, though, what alternatives are there? Even now, sixty issues and five years before Lucifer comes to the end of his journey, the solution seems to lie within Elaine. Almost every other character in this drama, from Lucifer to Cal, seems destined for ruination, either from blindly following or instinctively resisting the influences of their father. Elaine, though, has five father figures to juggle. There's the man she calls father, who took her in as a child, the one she spent her whole life believing had provided exactly half of the pieces necessary to build a jigsaw with her face upon it. There is the man who believes himself her true father, whose seed created the tiny cluster of cells which was pulled and twisted and kneaded and sculpted until it took her shape. Then we have Sandalphon and Michael, angels fallen or broken, the will and the fact behind her existence. That's a hell of a lot to contend with, even before we consider the fact that Elaine's grandmothers are disembodied bile-green immortal witches, and her grandfather gave birth to reality itself.
That's four. The fifth, perhaps surprisingly, is Lucifer himself. Certainly she cares more for him than the haggard, sleep-plagued man who travels across he ocean to meet her. And whilst Samael had no role in creating her, he has saved her life twice, and a life saved is a life given, after all. Lucifer might not return he affection - he has Mazikeen to kiss, and, like, loads of centaurs to make - but that doesn't seem to matter.
Perhaps that's what makes Elaine different - she doesn't seem particularly concerned about what she gets in return. Her life is about who she loves, not about what she believes she does or does not deserve from them, or how they can or must be forced to give them what they want or need. Perhaps having five father figures makes it impossible define yourselves within their intersection of their Venn diagram, any more than she could lie outside all five circles at once. Alternatively, it might be something within human nature that the angels, loyalist or rebel, cannot grasp. Or, in the end, it may simply be that Elaine is special, that though she keeps company with ghosts and witches and angels, it is she who is remarkable.
In other words, perhaps Elaine is an answer to a question Lucifer has yet to think to ask. In either case, Samael has created two things by the end of this story. His interest is fixed firmly upon his new universe, but somewhere in London, something else is growing inside a sleeping schoolgirl.
The story of Lucifer is now the story of Lucifer and Elaine.