Monday, 31 January 2011

Schoolboy Errors

No-one needs me to tell them that the situation in Egypt is complicated and potentially disastrous. I don't know nearly enough about the current state of play or the history of the area to offer any kind of intelligent or coherent thoughts on the matter.

Having said all that, and recognising that it would be both distasteful and unwise to attempt to use Egypt as a political football, Maha's post on Republican reaction did get me thinking once again about their rhetorical strategies.
As Egypt continues to unravel, some rightie bloggers have seized a story at Huffington Post to bash the Obama Administration. The article says that in 2009 the Obama Administration deeply cut money for programs designed to promote democracy in Egypt, partly at the urging of the embassy in Cairo.

Now, in retrospect, the White House might deeply regret that decision. But, y’know, that’s how it is with cutting government programs. It isn’t painless.

Sen. Rand Paul last week (before Egypt began to unravel) was marching around boldly declaring that all foreign aid should be cut, which would include what’s left of the programs to promote democracy. And, y’know, in their speeches Republicans are gung-ho for cutting just about all government spending that’s not attached to a defense contract. 
 I wouldn't want to go too far down the Republican hypocrisy route on this occasion: it might be their defining feature, but having some of them calling for spending cuts whilst others (bloggers, no less) criticise the results of those cuts isn't hypocrisy a priori.

Having said that, if this does get picked up by the GOP establishment - and I'd be surprised if it doesn't, since a) "Obama is losing us Egypt" is already the party line and b) it's not like logic or shame has ever stopped these people before - it arguably won't be their demands for cuts across the board that will make them hypocritical.  That's mainly just incoherence.

What will make them hypocrites is their own former responses to things that went south after they tried/managed to cut the safeguards that were supposed to help.  Remember Bobby Jindal mocking the idea that the US needed volcano monitors in the official SOTU rebuttal? Just before Mt. Redoubt erupted? Awkward.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Punt And Dennis: They Should Get Out More

The Other Half took me to see this in York on Friday night as part of my birthday present.  I think we were a little nervous in case it turned out to be shit.  You don't want to go to all that work and expense just to find out two comedians your boyfriend loved when he was a teenager don't still impress him now he's turned 31. I was scared for similar reasons; concerned as I was that I would hate it and have to try to hide as much of my disgust as possible.

I mention this as scene-setting: I wasn't exactly in a relaxed "ready to laugh" mood.  Despite this, though, I really enjoyed myself.  Punt and Dennis aren't liable to offer up any curve-balls at this point -  there wasn't any joke there that couldn't have been written in the mid '90s with a few name changes - but then so long as the material itself doesn't seem dated, I don't see any necessity in complaining.

Judged by that standard, both halves hold themselves together very well.  Perhaps the show is a bit front-loaded (I definitely found my interest flagging a little roughly halfway through the post-intermission material), and it was a shame they finished the show with material that I suspect was taken almost unaltered from their '90s TV show.  Having said that, I say "suspect" because it's been so long that I can no longer remember specifics, so maybe it's time the material got a fresh airing in any case.

Such niggles aside, then, my only real issue with the performance was in its structure.  Hugh Dennis must have delivered something like 90% of the punchlines, jumping off from Steve Punt's build-up.  Indeed, most of the punchlines that Punt offered took place during the periods of time Dennis was off-stage, which happened several times during the show, along with similar periods of Puntlessness, which alternated with the Dennis droughts so precisely that one wonders whether it was written into a contract somewhere.

Throughout the show Dennis was gregarious, and Punt apparently somewhat nervous.  Doubtless this is in some sense determined by the persona each has developed in order to maintain a successful double act, but I'm sure I remember the Punt of yesteryear (yestermillenia?) being more punchy, and an overall tactic of alternating jokes, rather than predominantly reducing one comedian to little more than a straight man.  As one audience member observed during the interval, "It's all turning into 'The Hugh Dennis Show', isn't it?"

Even Punt himself seemed less than thrilled by this.  The Other Half and I both independently sensed some frustration at Dennis' tendency to go off-script.  Not that it didn't work, or didn't make me laugh, but it's difficult to laugh when you sense something like that - particularly when the promotional material might as well have said "See Hugh Dennis from Mock The Week, Outnumbered, and The Now Show, and Steve Punt, who sometimes is with him!"

Still.  Maybe I'm projecting.  I always thought Punt was the funnier of the two in any case, and I've always thought it a shame Dennis seems to get far more work.  It's also possible that my surprise at their current style reflects a lack of experience with The Now Show, which I am ashamed to admit I don't listen to nearly as often as I should.  In any case, anyone with a spare night to fill could do worse than seeking this show out.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Refusing To Change

It seems like a little while since people were howling in outrage over GOP misuse of the filibuster.  I suspect this is partially because the lame-duck session actually achieved something, and partially because in a situation where different parties control the Senate and the House, it becomes less meaningful.  The minority in the Senate don't really need the filibuster; because their colleagues in the House will vote down things they'd dislike in any event.

Regardless, given the sheer number of filibusters thrown up in the last twenty years, it's clear that such a situation can hardly be relied upon - to say nothing of how depressing it is to consider that the only time intra-house partisanship doesn't prevent obstruction is when the inter-house kind can do it instead.

So, given the ludicrous abuse of the filibuster in recent years, and it's total failure to work in anything like the way it was originally intended to, and how angry multiple Democratic figures got about it all, what's going to happen regarding reform?


This, of course, is deeply frustrating, but hardly surprising. Ezra Klein has an excellent piece up on why the Democrats have screwed this up so badly, but the only line you really need to read is here:
Both parties are more committed to being able to obstruct than they are to being able to govern.
Amen.  Despite the bitterness and filthiness of American politics, its hyperventilating and unchecked aggression, and the morass of bigotry and obvious mendacity, this is the part that genuinely makes me more depressed than anything else.  Both parties care less about running the country when they're asked to than making sure the guys that did get asked can can't get on with the job.

Friday Space Hulk: Better Late Than Never

Right.  It took long enough; but a mere 54 weeks after Pause, Jamie, Cocklick and Dr L found me a copy of Space Hulk for my 30th birthday, I've finally managed to paint up one of the miniatures.  Introducing: Brother Noctis.

Hopefully I'll speed up a little now that I know how I'm approaching these Terminators; otherwise we're looking at a full set at round about the time I turn 45.

Of course, that's not all I've been up to painting-wise.  Watch with baited breath as Noctis faces his greatest challenge yet - a fully functional Trygon!

Eek!  It's tough!  It's mean!  It eats Terminators for breakfast and picks the tactical dreadnought armour from its poop! How can Noctis defeat it?  Surely it is too powerful!  Its mighty jaws!  Its glistening fangs!  Diamond-hard razor sharp claws!  Oh, the humanity!  The hu-

Man!  Fuck you, comic reveal!  Fuck you!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Best... Comic... Ever!

Courtesy of my friend Count Libido:

Sheer genius.  I shall have to search this Stoos guy out...

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A Tale Of Cocktails #11

Morning Glory
3 1/2 oz champagne
1/2 oz Triple Sec
2 oz orange juice
Orange garnish
Taste: 8         
Look: 6         
Cost: 8          
Name: 7
Prep: 8
Alcohol: 3
Overall: 7
Preparation: Combine ingredients in a champagne glass and stir.  Add garnish and serve.
General Comments: Essentially, this is a slightly strong mimosa with added Triple Sec.  Not exactly a fascinating proposition.  On the other hand, adding more kick to a mimosa whilst also increasing the inherent orangey nature of the drink isn't a bad idea - indeed it works quite well.

Nice name, too.  Clearly in the long-standing tradition of suggestive cocktail titles, with the added bonus of implying this can be drunk for breakfast.  That's all the excuse I need...

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Things I Have Learned

Today I have learned two very important lessons.  Firstly, I can't write on blackboards for more than three hours without developing a blister.  Second, I can't talk for more than four hours out of every six without developing a serious sore throat.

Obviously, the fact that I am a total wimp is not particularly surprising.  On the other hand, it's genuinely interesting to have proved I must spend less than two thirds of my waking life talking.  Who would have guessed?

Infinite Cycle Crisis

Update: Thanks to my anonymous friend for pointing out my insistence on referring to Infinite Crisis as Final Crisis. DC's lack of imagination is no excuse for sloppy naming.  I've made the necessary alterations.

This week I read DC's Infinite Crisis, so as to cover it in issue #10 of Panel Talk.  Obviously, I'll go into more detail then, but I thought it was worth a post ahead of recording.

It's not a particularly good book.  It's certainly much better than the original, but then the original Crisis has a good excuse; it reads like the kind of hyperactive unthinking comic you'd find in the '80s because the '80s was when it was written.

On the other hand, Infinite Crisis is only five or six years old, and yet there's something very '90s about the whole enterprise.  The pointless deaths; the pages of bloodshed; the "all the evil people ever make friends and are extra evil" idea behind the Society (which are handled about, ooh, 2% as well as the Hood's bunch over in Marvel).  It thinks it's visceral, but somehow comes across as quaint, even a bit silly, even before we get to Batman having apparently built a giant satellite which has gone wrong and started making armies of cyborg killers (seriously: what?).

It all feels quite dated, in short.  That, combined with the sheer amount of stuff that went right over my head (just as with CoIE, I had no idea whether I was supposed to care about half the people who died, or where Bludhaven is, or what all the gnashing of teeth over the Spectre was about) made it less than thrilling to wade through.

It was only about four issues in that I realised what I was actually reading. According to some, the series is about the nature of heroism.  I don't think it is.  Comparing what the heroes were like in the Silver Age with how they are now isn't a discussion about heroism at all, any more than putting two oxen next to a tractor tells you something about farming.

What it tells you about is the nature of change.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Horrible Truth Revealed

I was watching Hitchcock's The Birds the other day and I realised just how implausible that film is.

Not because it suggests that our avian cousins desire our downfall, obviously.  That shit is of a nature we can only describe as factual.  No, the mistake Hitchcock made was to assume the birds would ever be so indiscreet as to attack humanity in the open.

A far more likely scenario would involve these hollow-boned bastards working behind the scenes.  Perhaps they might secretly ally themselves with a major military power, egging them on to ever greater acts of carnage in the name of conquest; the power behind the throne/on the nest that orchestrates the deaths of thousands of humans without getting its beak bloodied.

That's why, after years of scholarly labour, and at the risk of outright banishment from the academic community, a few brave souls have uncovered the truth about the Nazi/bird alliance; finally explored in a new board game:

Coming soon: the first expansion pack, "Escape From Sugar-Tits", in which Mel Gibson is transported back to 1944 Poland, and attempts to tell the emaciated survivors of the Jewish Ghettos that the last five years have actually been entirely their fault.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Friday 40K: Buzz, Buzz

Looking slightly lonely out on the desert plains of SkwydRuum X, my first Vespid Stingwing is in fact deliberately alone because all wasps are total fucking bastards, and he wants nothing to do with his fellows until such time as he needs to help some vicious female from sticking her eggs into a space caterpillar.

I actually based this design on two real-world wasp species; the cockroach egg wasp:

and an unidentified species of ichneumon wasp found by a fellow Blogspotter in Oxfordshire:

(Yes, it's unusual to find me posting pictures of insects, given my crippling entomophobia, but wasps oddly don't bother me too much, at least as photos.  Ichneumons are genuinely terrifying when you meet them in real life.)

While we're on the subject of 40K miniatures, and since I made my desire for one public last week; I should note that Chuck, Edenspresence and Josh Sapiens bought me a Trygon for my birthday, which is currently in the early stages of painting.

Thanks, guys!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

A Return To My Beloved Cracks

Issue #9 of Panel Talk is up now, on the subject of J. Michael Straczynski's Midnight Nation. I had intended to just read aloud my last two posts on the subject, but it turned out that Chris has some thoughts as well, so it actually ended up being more of a "conversation".

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A Tale Of Cocktails: Here Are The Facts (Part II)

We're now at ten cocktails, which means it's time for more charts and statistics!

I really need to get around to trying more cocktails without champagne in them.  A lot of the reason why I don't is that I currently lack a freezer and thus ice-making capacity, but I shouldn't let that stop me.

Anyway.  How is the cocktail awesomeness progressing these days?

Top Five

1.   Malibu Pop
=2. Fuzzy Navel  
=2. Mudslide
=4. Mimosa
=4. Kir Imperial
The updated list of ingredients used.


Blue Curacao
Irish Cream
Peach Schnapps
Rum (dark)
Triple Sec


Cranberry Juice
Lemon Juice
Lime Cordial
Orange Juice
Pineapple Juice


Whipped Cream



Estimated amount of ice used: 200 cubic centimetres.

A Tale Of Cocktails #10

Tomorrow We Sail
4 3/4 oz champagne
1/2 oz port
1/2 oz dark rum
1/4 oz Triple Sec
Orange garnish
Taste: 5         
Look: 7         
Cost: 7          
Name: 3
Prep: 7
Alcohol: 4
Overall: 5.7
Preparation: Combine ingredients in a champagne glass and stir.  Add garnish and serve.

General Comments: An interesting example of how language changes over time.  Three hundred years ago, "Tomorrow we sail!" would be an awesome thing to hear, because you were either a) a pirate, or b) in the Royal Navy and about to smack around the French.  These days, however, it is impossible to imagine hearing this unless you're a guffawing in-bred simpleton hoping to squeeze his cocktail through front teeth the size of a blue whale's baleen plates. 

Back when I'd still have reason to check my biscuits for weevils, then (not that I don't, obviously; complacency is the weevil's friend), this would have been a fine name.  Nowadays, it's shit.

At least the cocktail looks good: a nice red offset by the orange slice.  The taste is less impressive, though.  The port is almost entirely lost in the mix, and the Triple Sec entirely undetectable (though dropping the orange wedge into the drink helps with that).  Mainly, it just tastes of champagne and rum, which doesn't really work, and moreover adds to the suspicion that this is a drink for jumped-up Pimms-swilling punt lovers who have convinced themselves they're buccaneers.

One suspects that with some fiddling (I'd swap the Triple Sec and rum measures for a start) this could work very well, especially if it was given a better name ("Tomorrow Sailors Can Fuck Off"?).  In it's current incarnation, however, it's a bit of a disappointment.

(Having said all that, after exhaustive trials on New Year's Eve we concluded that this cocktail is far more palatable when the measures of Triple Sec and rum are reversed.  You can also exchange the Triple Sec for orange juice, which makes the cocktail slightly sweeter as well as less alcoholic).

A Call To Arms

Finally, someone gets it!  I am sickened and appalled by the systematic elimination of the double space from computer text.  Sentences need to be whole structures; they break writing down in the same way individual panels break down a comic, and that means the double space in text is just as important as the gutter is in a graphic novel.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Achievable Goals

With the presumed disbanding of The Desolation of Smaug following the departure of our recorder player/back-up myth weaver, it's time for me to start a solo career.  I'm thinking of dropping the symphonic metal approach entirely and going punk.  Thus I unveil my new band:

Obviously, this tactic has many advantages.  I don't even need to re-learn the five chords I once knew how to play; tuning my guitar is option (if not frowned on), and best of all I can record my entire debut album in the space of forty-five minutes with a mouth full of jelly beans and there'll still be some people stupid enough to buy it.

I think I'll put it together later tonight, actually.  Keep your eyes open for "I Flipped Your Bird The Bird" - available at specialist retailers from late Spring!

Saturday, 15 January 2011

It's That Time Again

It's my birthday today, so no posting.  Whether or not anything materialises tomorrow depends entirely on the amount of brain damage I take over the course of the day.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Friday 40K: A Little Extra Munching

Another boost for my growing Tyranid swarm this week: a brood of three of the newer breed of Ravener.  I'm still doggedly sticking to my simplistic colour scheme of the mid '90s, but one thing that has changed is my approach to bases.  After having seen some of Edenspresence's bases, I decided it was high time to break out the sand and flock myself.  Indeed, the only reason I started painting my bases with Gobin Green was that my mother wouldn't let me keep sand in the house; an issue that became moot some thirteen years ago.

I think E's approach works really well: a Vermin Brown undercoat followed by a coating of PVA and a dip in the sand pot, before adding a few dollops more PVA and dragging the model through some loose flock.

The horde begins to grow.  I'm determined to re-do all the bases in the swarm as quickly as possible.  This might take a little time considering the swarm has over one hundred models, but the six above have been done in less than five days, so we shall see.

Having now replaced my three old-style Raveners, I think I should possibly add to this new brood to make it a bit bigger.  Then it's on to something I've had my eye on for over a year now: a Trygon.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Arizona Question

It's now been five days since Gabrielle Giffords and several other people were shot (and in some cases killed) in Arizona, and I think enough time has passed for a clear picture to emerge regarding the general reaction.  I think there's an awful lot going on that's worth commenting on.

First of all, Kevin Drum is entirely right that anyone blaming Palin for this is an idiot.  Of course, I haven't actually seen anyone blame Palin directly, so much as argue she's an obvious example of political discourse gone toxic, which kind of makes his point a bit, well, pointless.  I do agree with his argument that Glenn Beck is far, far worse in terms of violent rhetoric, but Palin's high profile makes her slip-ups more apparent, and I don't have much patience for the argument that she shouldn't have to answer for them just because others have/are doing worse (especially since Giffords herself called attention to it at the time).

A much better consideration of Palin's rhetoric is here. I'd never heard of the rhetorical triangle before, but it makes intuitive sense.  Moreover, he does very well in explaining what many of the right are thoroughly able to grasp: context matters.  I'm sure it annoys conservatives that liberals might process gun metaphors differently, but then those are the same people who argue it's "reverse racism" that white people aren't supposed to say "nigger". 

Of course, false equivalency and victim complexes are the meat and drink for the American right.  That's how the spectacularly foolish Jack Shafer can insist that people calling for an end to violent rhetoric are attempting to "police" speech, which leads to he himself calling for an end to calling for an end. Holy obvious double standard, Batman!  Liberal requests to stop doing things is censorship and policing speech; his requests are... well, what exactly?
It's also why Ross Douthat is happy to argue that archery targets and gun-sights should be considered metaphorically equivalent, and that if neither side has exactly zero occurrences of Offence X, then both can be labelled as equally guilty (though I have no intention of defending the video he links to, and there's certainly truth to the idea that you need to be sure your house isn't made of glass before you chuck this stuff around).

None of this speaks to the larger point that we don't really know what happened, beyond the fact that a clearly deeply troubled individual attacked a congresswoman and the crowd she had gathered.  Did he do it for political reasons?  Authority issues?  Some twisted grab for fame?  To quote Jon Stewart: "I have no fucking idea."  Neither, so far as I can tell, does anyone else.

Here's my problem, though.  It seems to me unarguable that the heated rhetoric of the last two years could be responsible, and that it's been overwhelmingly coming from the Right.  Anyone arguing against either point is pushing an agenda and nothing more.  We need to talk about what happened, and discuss ideas as to why it did.  What's outrageous about the response of some on the right is their total refusal to even discuss the possibility.  Palin, for example, in addition to releasing a spectacularly narcissistic statement, had her PR guys tell the press the cross-hairs on her map were "surveyor's symbols". 

They weren't.  We know they weren't.  We know they weren't because Palin herself had previously referred to them as bullseyes.  As I said, Giffords herself objected to the map targeting her, and now she's been shot (yes, very likely by coincidence) Palin's response is to pretend she never said what she said, and whine about how she's being victimised.

If the allusions to guns and violence really are part of the problem here, then the total refusal of powerful conservatives to own their own words is another.  Bush's pathological inability to apologise and reflect was bad enough, but this is on a whole new level.

In short: I don't know whether there is a link between Palin and Loughton. Or the Republicans and Loughner.  All I know is that these people don't think a half dozen brutal murders and a dozen or so injuries are even worth an honest conversation.

While we're on the subject, Peter King can fuck right off.  I have little tolerance for the Second Amendment; I think it's been twisted beyond all recognition by the gun obsessed, and America would be better off were it to be consigned to the scrap-heap of history.  But if it is going to be held as some kind of sacred right, that right cannot be conditional on how close an elected official is.

I know the gun control debate is over, and we lost.  I know people will continue to insist that gun massacres could be stopped if only the citizenry were better armed, despite it making little sense.  But the idea that the best way to deal with six people being murdered is to ensure the most important one is less likely to be shot at again is just sickening.   Either the States needs gun control, or it doesn't.  You don't get to argue gun control is only necessary when the important people show up.

(I really am trying not to resort to an emotional appeal, here, but my mind keeps going back to that poor nine-year old child who died in the massacre, and wondering why King thinks girls like her should only get special protection if there's a someone from Congress standing over the road).

A Tale Of Cocktails #9

2 oz vodka
2 oz Kahlua
2 oz Irish cream
1 oz milk
Whipped cream
Grated chocolate
Taste: 9           
Look: 8            
Cost: 5              
Name: 6
Prep: 5
Alcohol: 6
Overall: 7
Preparation: Pour all alcoholic beverages into a cocktail shaker with three crushed ice-cubes.  Shake and pour unstrained into a highball glass.  Add milk.  Top with cream and sprinkle on grated chocolate.

General Comments:  You can make this cocktail without the milk, but it makes the vodka a fraction too strong.  You could also change the ratio to 2:3:3, if you want.

I recommend keeping it in, though.  With the milk, this drink is gorgeous; thick and creamy, chocolaty with a hint of coffee (and the vodka very low in the mix).  It's one of those drinks that you can tell is quite strong, but have to fight the urge to not just demolish in seconds - always a good sign.

It looks lovely as well, at least before you start licking the cream off (if that's how you roll, that is). It's like some gorgeous combination of cocktail and dessert.  What's not to love?

Well, it's a bit of an effort to make, I suppose, and the name isn't much more than serviceable.  Otherwise, though, this is a clear winner, which would probably top the charts were it not for its high cost.  Indeed, some people might be surprised by the idea that I consider a £5 cocktail at 20% a.b.v. to be inferior to a £4 one at 16%.

These people, of course, have forgotten my Yorkshire blood.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

A Familiar Madness

Amongst the various lovely trinkets, artifacts and confectionery feasts with which I was gifted this Christmas was a graphic novel adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's At The Mountains Of Madness, kindly donated by Mr Ross.

In all honesty, the story itself isn't tremendously engrossing in and of itself.  What makes its entirely fascinating is its historical importance.

There are a lot of important things I don't really get.  Try as I might, I can't find myself enjoying more than about ten percent of the Beatles' output.  I get that they revolutionised music, but the problem with creating a new form of art is that what you sketched out, others can fill in.  What you assembled, they can work on and polish.

Lovecraft is a similar case. Where the Beatles have "Penny Lane" and "Here Comes The Sun", Lovecraft has Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep.  His vision of a insane, hostile cosmos in which the laws of physics are mutable and ever-shifting was chillingly brilliant, and made all the more effective by his considerations of the psychological damage his horrors would wreak.  On the other hand, he had almost no interest in characterisation, and his stories all too often fit same pattern - the lead character begins an investigation into something freaky and gets drawn deeper and deeper until they die, go mad, or go mad and die.

It seems to me then that there might be more to gained by studying Lovecraft's world and methods than there might be in reading the stories strictly from the perspective of horror fiction.  To return to the earlier analogy, horror writers have had over eighty years to build and polish.

Indeed, the foreword alludes to this approach by pointing out how much of the Cthulhu Mythos is born or referenced in the story: Cthulhu; the Elder Things and their Shoggoths; the Mi-Go; giant sightless subterranean albino penguins.

I guess that last one never really caught on,

The blurb is right, of course, ... Mountains... does indeed contain a great deal of sketchy information about Lovecraft's universe (albeit extrapolated rather unconvincingly from a series of pictograms).  In truth, though, that's not really what's interesting here.  What's really fascinating is not how the story ties in with the history of Lovecraft's world, but how it ties in with the history of ours.

I had no idea just how important this book was to modern-day horror.  An expedition into the unknown?  A distant research base that stops broadcasting after finding something horrific?  A relief mission that finds everyone dead and falls foul of the cause?  There are dozens of stories that follow this template, from Aliens to Event Horizon to episodes of The X-Files and Stargate SG-1 (it's also a favourite plot in video games, too).  Aspects of the template appear even in non-horror films - check out Kirk's search of the Regulus Research Station in Star Trek II.

Given the time it took for Lovecraft's work to become well-known, it could be plausibly argued that this widespread dissemination of the idea originated not from the story itself, but from another source: John Carpenter's The Thing.

The similarities between the two are striking.  Set in Antarctica: check.  One research team goes off to check another team's base: check.  The latter team finds an alien frozen in the ice: check.  The alien comes to life and starts massacring people: check.  The surviving team realises that they cannot let what they've found get to civilisation: check.  Hell, even the idea that the dogs have a much better idea of what's going on than their masters do is in there.

In short, Carpenter (an acknowledged Lovecraft fan, who went so far as to call one of his films At The Mouth of Madness) could have called The Thing an adaptation of Lovecraft's novella, and the biggest issue fans of the original would be liable to have is how little the shape-shifting alien looks like an Elder Thing.  That, or the fact that the bizarre and unsettling alien city was replaced by a flying saucer.

Also, what happened to the penguins?  What is the point of that story without the penguins?

"ARGH!  I'm totally blind!"
 So, At the Mountains of Madness. Don't read it expecting surprise or new ideas [1], but as a piece of historical evidence.  There's an awful lot to consider in there.

[1] Though of course they were new at the time. In fact, there is one implicit idea in there that I hadn't really thought about before; the idea that the Elder Things are so alien (barrel chested flying creatures with tentacles for legs, starfish for heads, and rotational symmetry order five) that they can't tell the difference between humans and dogs (hairy quadrupeds with two eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth, though with very variable tail length), to the point that following their autopsies of the slaughtered camp inhabitants they actually accidentally put human and canine parts together when they try to reassemble their victims.

A Quiz Quiz

A brief riddle for you, based on tonight's entertainment.

Two teams participate in a quiz with fifty questions.  Each question is worth one mark, with no half marks allowed.  Team Squid gets 31 of the first 49 questions correct.  Team Old Man gets 30 of the first 49 questions correct.  Both teams put the same answer for Question 50.

a) Which of the two teams scored higher?

b) How could it have been impossible to explain the answer to the above question to the guy who was supposed to be running the quiz in the first place?

Sometimes I really do think I might as well try teaching butterflies to yodel.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Little Victories

Success! Thanks to deft office politicking and expert wrangling I have persuaded the department to scrap my 9am Tuesday tutorials.  This saves me from having to explain immediate annuities to twenty unwashed sex-crazed 20 year-olds before climbing Cardiac Hill (so named for the chances of coronary problems whilst struggling to the top) to tell seventy more unwashed sex-crazed 20-year olds the best way to calculate my odds of dying in the next year.  Maths problems and hill-climbing?  Throw in a Rubik's Cube and it's an episode of the fucking Krypton Factor.

Anyway.  That's all I have to say today.

Monday, 10 January 2011

The King's Speech

This is an understated but engaging film in which a lot of exceptionally talented people do very little for the entire run time, and you don't mind.  Rush is fabulous, Firth's at his best, and Bonham Carter manages to remind us all how talented (and beautiful) she is when not being forced into ludicrous shapes by her husband. 

Only Timothy Spall struck a bit of a bum note with his portrayal of Churchill.  Having said that, though, I'm struggling to think of a particularly good portrayal of the man.  Is he just inimitable?  Or has his imitations become their own entity.  In other words, how many actors play Churchill, and how many of them play the best impression of Churchill they've previously seen?

I was also amused by the fact that (according to my sources) the film played a German composition during the titular speech (though presumably the film's name has two meanings, which I like) in which "Bertie" justifies the war.  Furthermore, I'm not sure about how well the overall theme of understanding across the class divide - and the idea that the divide itself is easily negotiated - fit in with the finale's idea that King George VI needed to give a good speech otherwise all the commoners would flee in panic and Hitler would be shopping in Harrods by tea time the next day.

That's a minor niggle, though.  Overall the film plays around very smartly with the ideas of duty and deference.  In particular, it pulls off the fairly difficult juggling act of making us understand and relate to Edward VIII's need for freedom, without side-stepping the issue that considering the situation, his abdication was a monumentally selfish move (Guy Pearce does very well at eliciting both audience sympathy and frustration).   On the one hand, it's true that wealth and power don't guarantee either happiness or freedom.  On the other, he's had one of the most opulent, privileged lifestyles in the entire world for forty-one years under an implicit understanding that he reneges upon the instant it becomes inconvenient.

Anyway.  Little to see, a great deal to think about.  Makes for a nice change.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Friday Muppet Satire

I've been watching a lot of Seinfeld since my parents bought me the first two seasons for Christmas.  Who knew I could just watch this instead, and save myself a lot of time?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Stupidity Of Evil, Or The Evilness Of Stupidity?

It seems to me that a lot of time is spent arguing about whether Republicans, and indeed politicians in general, are actively aware of it when they lie, or are simply so spectacularly uniformed they don't know that what they're saying is obviously untrue (this is known amongst less polite observers as the "Stupid/Evil Meter").

This isn't something that I think about all that much. Whenever the topic comes up, I'm always reminded of the scene in Iain Bank's Complicity where one character (who I can't name for fear of spoiling the book) argues there is no functional difference between deliberate acts that damage others and those damaging events that occur without intent, but only because those who are responsible for preventing them failed to perform their duties with any diligence.

That's not to say failure can be equated to active mendacity.  I think there's a strong case to be made that wilful neglect can be, though.  Which brings us back to politics.  If a politician advocates pointless or destructive policies because they have failed to consider or investigate its potential ramifications, then they are no less culpable than those that actively hide the truth.

Anyway, this all came back when I started reading about the 112th Congress, and how the Republicans want to run it.
[House] [m]embers offering bills for new programs will have to explain how they will pay for them, not by raising new revenues but by finding other ways to cut costs. Each bill introduced will also have to cite the specific constitutional authority for its contents.

A big exception will be the bill to repeal the health care law that House Republicans plan to bring up next week... Republicans [won't] have to abide by their own new rules that compel them to offset the cost of new bills that add to the deficit; the health care repeal and tax cuts are not subject to this new rule.  
The heath care bit is just the standard gob-smacking hypocrisy we've come to expect from the GOP, obviously, but it's the tax cut part that got me thinking about Complicity.  Aside from a small but vocal minority who are convinced that the War of Independence was fought over taxes and therefore all taxes are bad (a position no less stupid than me arguing our victory in WWII means Germany should become part of Poland), I thought the standard Republican rhetoric is that tax cuts automatically increase revenue, because everyone gets richer and can spend more.

Obviously, that's not true, and so obviously not true it's mathematically provable.  But that's frequently the argument used regardless.

I mention that because the GOP's deliberate choice to exempt tax cuts from their new rules rather implies that they themselves don't have any faith that the cuts are self-paying, or at least have no faith that there's any way to demonstrate it to anyone's satisfaction.  Admittedly, that only holds if the phrase "raising new revenues" refers to new methods for acquiring money, rather than changing the system so the current methods raise more money, but that seems to be the contextual interpretation (feel free to let me know if you disagree).

In other words, it looks like House Republicans have moved from the dial from "Stupid" to "Evil" at the legal level.

Well, they have on the payment issue, anyway.  The "constitutional authority" bit is merely stupid; just one more attempt to treat the Constitution as a simply-written rules manual rather than a complicated mass of differing principles and ideas.  I suppose it's nice to see that the GOP are so intent on following it so religiously, though.

Oh, wait.
King’s measure would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act, ending automatic citizenship for anyone born in the country...  
Though others have called for changing the 14th Amendment, King said that ending birthright citizenship through statute makes sense because it’s easier to do.
It would be even easier for Senator King to just declare his law has been passed and fuck off to Bermuda.  The problem is that's not how laws work.  The Amendment itself, by the way, says "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."  I know the Senate is not the House, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for Boehner's mob to object.

The 112th Congress has been in existence for less than four days.

(h/t to LGM for the links).

P.S. I do have to give the Republicans credit for this, though.  I don't think I've ever seen anyone get out of a campaign promise (with a specific number attached, no less) by claiming it was "a hypothetical" before.  I've seen McArdle do it, obviously, because she's a talentless petulant hack.  First time for an entire political party, though.

A Tale Of Cocktails #8

Poinsettia Holiday

5 oz champagne
1/2 oz Triple Sec
Dash cranberry juice
Taste: 6        
Look: 5
Cost: 7
Name: 7
Prep: 8
Alcohol: 3
Overall: 6
Preparation: Pour in triple sec, then champagne, then cranberry juice into a champagne flute.  Stir.

General Comments: I don't really understand what the name is about.  On the other hand, I do like holidays, so that's something.

Basically, this is fizzy rose wine.  Which is fine, because fizzy rose wine is delicious. The only hints that aught is amiss is an increase of sweetness, and an aftertaste of orange, both of which are entirely welcome. In other words, there's nothing specific that one can criticise this cocktail.  It's just a bit... boring, frankly.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Holy Cause

Apparently there's this thing called "copyright" which means Zazzle took down my oh-so-hilarious Magneto t-shirt (at least, I assume it was copyright; it might just have been "taste").  In order to make amends with Nemain, who put together the shirt in the first place, I offered an alternative.

This new design is now available for purchase.  I think we can all agree that when it comes to leopards, no given species can be endangered enough...

The Spanish Main And Associated Health Risks

Scene: SpaceSquid is inspecting his new allergy medication.

SS: I like that this stuff has an active ingredient called "acrivastine".  Sounds like something a pirate would use.
Si: Acrivastine?
Si: What would a pirate even be allergic to? They were some pretty tough cookies.
SS: Pieces of eight?
Si: Oh, the humanity!
J-Dawg: Forced to don latex gloves whilst fondling their booty.
Si: Unable to bite the coins to test their authenticity without risking death.
SS: "Yaah!  I be in anaphylactic shock!  'Tis gold true an' pure!"
J-Dawg: It's probably a bit too early for epi pens, too.
SS: Epi cutlasses?
J-Dawg: Ouch!
SS: "Yaargh!  My heart be pierced but me sinuses be clear!"
Sam: Surely parrots would be a more plausible culprit.
SS: Can you get hypoallergenic parrots?
Sam: In 18th century Tortuga?  Good luck.
Si: They'd have to come pre-plucked.
SS: Maybe that's what all the beards were about.  To hide their parrot's shame.
Si: And then it turns out the parrots are allergic to beard hair.
SS: Man, being a pirate was hard.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Things Will Presumably Start Ending Eventually

I've said before that Stephen Donaldson is my favourite author.  Sometimes, though, I confess that it's hard to remember why.

Certainly, no-one is likely to ever recommend he be shortlisted for elegiac or poetic language, or even much in the way of variation (his Scrabble champion love for obscure words notwithstanding), and the Thomas Covenant novels are the most problematic in this regard.  Getting through an entire page can frequently be a chore; surviving a chapter could almost be considered as a new Olympic event.  Every character talks in ponderous, wooden tones, their dialogue so distant from human standards that the rare instances of American idioms are hideously jarring.

And when they're not talking, the characters are embarking on marathon sessions of cyclic self-reflection, turning the same mental stones over again and again, searching for solutions to insolvable problems.

Given all of that, then, it might seem strange that I even like Donaldson, much less consider him my favourite author.  Well, in truth I'd say Covenant novels to be far and away his weakest work (both The Gap Cycle and Mordant's Need are both massively superior and truly exceptional), but even within them, I find something unique.

The Covenant books are each two things simultaneously.  They're a description of a simply-sketched but well-considered fantasy world, one in which (unusually) the various peoples are differentiated from each other and ourselves not by pointy ears or blue skin but by the logical ramifications of their fundamental natures (the Haruchai in particular are one of my favourite fantasy races, despite looking and (nearly) sounding entirely human).  More than that, though, they're something I've never seen anywhere else: emotional and rational detective novels.  When Covenant or Linden work through their endless cycles of their existential crises, they're sifting through evidence.   Attempting to find a path through a metaphorical mine field of paradoxes and disaster. Where most fantasy novels (in a vague sense) concern themselves with attempting to gain power, to get to a place where power can be used, or to remove power from the opposition, the Covenant Chronicles deal with situations in which power is in ample supply, and the struggle is in resisting the temptation to use it.

This, as I've pointed out many times, is quite a Wagnerian idea (small wonder Donaldson adapted The Ring Cycle into The Gap Series), and one I find immensely attractive.

The main problem with Against All Things Ending, the third novel in the tetralogy which will apparently end Covenant's story (resulting in three series and ten novels overall) is that it demonstrates that whilst these ideas can be fascinating as part of a larger story, they make for a uniquely frustrating filler novel.

There is quite simply not enough here to justify almost eight hundred pages. Ironically, I can't express just how profound the problem is without referencing one of the book's few major spoilers, so from here on in, nothing is safe.

"I Just Care So Much About The People I Want To Care About"

Ross Douthat (AKA "reasonable" Conservative-for-hire) has an op-ed up on adoption and abortion that Amanda Marcotte found so distasteful she decided to demolish it twice.

I recommend reading both of Marcotte's articles in full; they're exactly the combination of intelligent argument and thorough subject knowledge that one needs to reveal subtle mendacity like Douthat's (I say subtle because I'm not sure Douthat even realises the tricks he's playing).

Clearly, Marcotte's perspective is profoundly valuable, and I wouldn't dream of attempting to augment it in areas in which she is so clearly more informed than I.  Having said that, I would like to add a more holistic point.  Douthat's attempt to pluck the heart-strings by asking us to cry over the testimonies of those unable to have their own children is deeply obnoxious.  Not because we should ignore suffering, obviously, but because of the highly selective nature of Douthat's concern.

I'm sure we could find testimony from people who found their families homeless during the recent financial crisis that would make one weep.  Douthat doesn't suggest the rich should give them the houses they don't use all that often, so those children can have beds.  Doubtless there are stories of parents unable to gain health insurance for their sick children.  Douthat hasn't argued that a portion of unclaimed insurance policies be concerted into free medicine, so that those children can walk, or breathe easily, or live. 

In other words, Douthat has decided what he personally believes is right - preventing abortion - and is pointing to those people whose suffering he thinks will be alleviated by his stance as proof that he is right.  Those people whose lives - whose ability to feed and clothe the babies he claims to care about - could be improved by policies he disagrees with are on their own.

So far as I can see, Douthat thinks multiple houses are fine,and that health insurance companies should be allowed to spend their profits however they choose, but abortion is fundamentally wrong.  That's his prerogative.  But pretending that he cares about the latter because of the effect it might theoretically have on a certain group of people is the co-opting of the suffering of others to his own ends.  Let the rich have as much real-estate as they want, and do what they want with their cash, but be damn well better force women to carry children to term.

In other words, Douthat can fuck right off.

PS: Just to be entirely clear, none of the above should be taken as an argument that seeing people suffering and wanting to do something about it is an inherently suspicious or foolish motive.  Quite the contrary.  It's just not the same thing to decide what you want to do first, and then start searching around for a group of people you think your choice will benefit.  Especially when your idea will simply switch suffering from one group to another, without any evidence that the latter group is smaller, will suffer less, or will be more easily able to cope with it.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Lucifer: A Dalliance With The Damned

"...Attrition amongst my enemies tends to be high.  And the few I've got left are beneath consideration."

One of the bravest decisions Mike Carey made when writing Lucifer involves how much of it isn't actually directly about the eponymous fallen angel.  This is quite frequently a risky strategy - people, after all, tend to like knowing what they're going to get - but I would think it's especially fraught with peril when your ostensible protagonist is as powerful and all-pervading as the Devil Himself.

In truth, there is less evidence of this in the first two novels, either because Carey was still deciding how to tell his story, or because he wanted to set up the ground rules first.  Frankly, I can easily believe the latter.  Between them, Devil in the Gateway and Children and Monsters established the cast of characters, the desires and attitude of Lucifer, and the price he would exact from those that crossed him.  In addition, they set up the board quite nicely as well, ending with the birth of Lucifer's Creation.

Triptych was our first clue that the Devil was not goimg to be our exclusive focus, concerning itself as it did with the potential paths of Mazikeen, Elaine Belloc, and the new Creation itself.  A Dalliance With The Damned is similar in at least one important respect: it's focus is not on Lucifer, but on those people whose lives intersect with his.

Xmas Quz Redux

Answers up now.  I was a little surprised no-one got the fairy lights anagram.  I suspect the fairies will be quite disappointed; in fact, they may see it as a... fairy slight?

Please yourselves.

Otherwise, another exemplary performance.  The round on pub quiz questions was a purposeful call-back to earlier questions from our weekly quiz, only one of which has appeared on this 'ere blog.

Anyway, get on with the music quiz.

A Tale Of Cocktails #7

French 75

6 oz champagne
2 oz gin
1 oz lemon juice
2 tsp sugar
Lemon slice garnish 
Taste: 7       
Look: 5       
Cost: 7        
Name: 9
Prep: 6
Alcohol: 4
Overall: 6.4
Preparation: Pour gin and lemon juice into the cocktail shaker, adding the sugar and cracked ice.  Shake and strain into highball glasses.  Add champagne, and then garnish.

General Comments: A cocktail named after an artillery piece?  How much more awesome can you get?

Well, from my score, it's obvious that you can get exactly one more awesome.  How?  Don't involve the French.

Otherwise, there are good points and bad points here.  In the plus column, it tastes pretty nice.  It's difficult to taste the gin, but then very few things taste better for adding gin (the exceptions being G&Ts and, well, gin); it's probably a good thing that it's so far down in the mix.  You get an overall sensation of sharpness that is quite nice, and the lemon makes it refreshing as well.

On the other hand, it looks fairly dull.  Not bad, by any means.  Just very, very average.  It doesn't look like anything has been mixed together, or any work has gone into it.  It just looks like someone is being a bit pretentious with their lemonade.

So; nice name, nice taste, dull appearance.  It's also reasonably alcoholic and not too expensive, though - especially if you use comparatively cheap champagne - which is always nice.  Overall, I'm declaring this one a success. Just.

Distraction 2011

Another year, another trawl through my music collection.  Once again, they're in approximate order of difficulty.

1. I'm the invisible man. Queen - The Invisible Man (lyndagb)
2. Put on my blue suede shoes and I boarded a plane.  Marc Cohn - Walking In Memphis (Senior Spielbergo/lyndagb)
3. You spurn my natural emotions, you make me feel like dirt and I'm hurt. The Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen In Love
4. Shyness is nice and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you'd like to. The Smiths - Ask (Chuck)
5. You can't kill the metal. Tenacious D - The Metal (Senior Spielbergo)
6. I got no regret right now (I'm feeling this!) Blink 182 - Feeling This (The Light Fantastic)
7. Hey Gloria, are you standing close to the edge? Green Day - Viva La Gloria (The Light Fantastic)
8. I change the key from C to D. The Red Hot Chili Peppers - Minor Thing
9. There's a destination a little up the road from the habitations and the towns we know. Beck - Where It's At (Jamie)
10. Looking at your watch a third time, waiting in the station for a bus. REM - (Don't Go Back To) Rockville (Jamie)
11. Made the fatal mistake, like I did once before. Joy Division - The Only Mistake
12. Well you shouldn't talk to yourself. Heatmiser - Half Right
13. On a plane, on a plane, off to see the city girls again. Kings of Leon - Rememo 
14. Give me back my broken night, my mirrored room, my secret life. Leonard Cohen - The Future
15. Dear Haley, can you save me from the borrowed cloud I'm on? Foo Fighters - Ain't It The Life
16. When you're on, I swear you're on, you rip my heart right out.  Jimmy Eat World - Your House (jamie)
17. Now we're out of time, I said it's my fault.  The Strokes - You Talk Way Too Much
18. I don't get many things right the first time. Ben Folds - The Luckiest (lyndagb)
19. I am on, switched on. Bloc Party - On
20. Joseph was travelling with a heavy load. Belle & Sebastian - Beyond The Sunrise
21. Tuck me in to where it's freezing. Alkaline Trio - 5-3-10-4
22. Our little secret just might be the kind of thing that you can't hide.  Semisonic - Act Naturally
23. I wait around for the "still small center". Taking Back Sunday - The Union
24. Hey, it's your ride, get your petals out and lay them in the aisle. Brand New - Limousine
25. I thought it was the only time you could look at me and say "This feels right". Reindeer Section - Where I Fall

This time round there are four solo artists, twenty bands, and what can best be described as a minor supergroup. Five acts are British English, two are Scottish, and one is Canadian.  The other 17 are all from the US. Five of the lines contain the title of the song within them, and two more come pretty close. This time all 25 lines are sung by men (or by two men in the case of #6).

Last time round you guys managed a record-breaking 14 out of 25.  Let's see if that figure can get smashed too.

Update: Halfway there!  Quite surprised no-one has #3 yet.  I would bet heavily in favour of any given person having heard it; at least anyone with an interest in English-language music.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

The Other Side

Excellent! Once again we've made it through another New Year without a single leopard attack and with the Cockpocalypse mercifully once more undawned.  Much has been learnt on the subject of cocktails, also.  This promises to be a good year...