Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Leader

The promise of power and the thought of sex.

Some episodes of Game of Thrones are harder to find general talking points for others.  Thankfully, this time around a character is good enough to spell things out for us: how does one hold power without friends?

(Yaar! Spoilers ahead, m'lads!)

Taking The... Redux

I see dogs and urine are once again in the news (clearly this is a combination with potential).  This time round, it's because the study of doggy wee has led to breakthroughs in the understanding of human kidney behaviour, which in turn has helped out with regard to type 2 diabetes.

Much as I love our canine companions, of course, can I just mention how depressing it is to realise the nine months I've spent trying to smash a huge data set into shape so as to detect the effects of new diabetes treatments has turned out to have been less use than a dog pissing into a bottle?

Research fellows: for when no dog is available, or none of those nearby fancy emptying their bladders.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Radio Friday: Interpreting The Classics

Posted purely because I've been watching this vid for over a week and I still can't stop laughing whenever I play it.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Vote Evil, Children!

I tend to be agnostic (no pun intended) on the subject of faith schools, because there are so many angles to consider that I can never slice through them.   Clearly, though, they have can cause problems , and this story from New Humanist illustrates one such instance:
[P]upils at St Philomena’s Catholic High School for Girls, a Catholic state school for 11 to 18 year-olds in South London, have been urged by the headmistress to sign the Coalition for Marriage petition against the legalisation of gay marriage. This followed a request from the Catholic Education Service, which sent a letter to all Catholic secondary schools asking them to draw attention to the petition and the Catholic leadership's opposition to the reforms.   
Not only were several of the pupils present themselves gay - which must be difficult enough in a Catholic school - it doesn't seem particularly unreasonable to suggest that a secular society allowing faith schools is different to allowing faith schools to engage in political activity. People would be furious, and rightly so, if a secular school's head teacher were to encourage their students to vote for or otherwise support anything but the most anodyne of political initiatives (and by "anodyne", I essentially mean no-one in parliament is objecting to the idea). 

If this woman simply wanted to point out the Catholic church isn't in favour of same-sex marriage, I'd say (like normal) that it's a ridiculous thing to get worked up about and makes the speaker seem paranoid at best, and I'd also point out (as does Philomena student Katherine) that it's kind of a shitty thing to do when talking to kids who might be gay and want to get married themselves one day, but that would at least arguably be what faith schools get to do. Attempting to mobilise one's students for a political cause seems unambiguously bad. 

(This would be true if she'd been "urging" them to sign the petition going in the opposite direction, of course, though if she'd wanted to put together an assembly calling for acceptance of homosexuality, that'd be fine.  It's brandishing the paperwork at the end that's the problem.)

Update: Had to edit the penultimate paragraph so it actually scanned.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Rebel Waltz

A voice that called ,"Stand 'til we fall!
We stand 'til all the boys fall!"

Last week we discussed the difficulties that arise from trying to protect some assets at the risk of others; the idea that the exercise of power (however it is being manifested at the time) is often a balancing act.  In "What is Dead may Never Die", that thought is returned to more than once.  In addition, however, we take a look at some of the inhabitants of Westeros who either don't realise that balance is required, or who are aware of the idea in theory and yet choose to ignore it completely.

(Spoilers below.)

Prior Data Conflict

My friend Gero (pictured here - and I still don't have my prize money, BTW) works in the field of prior data conflict.  To simplify extraordinarily, this deals with the situation in which you've begun collecting data under certain assumptions about what you're going to find, and your first few results look like that theory is going to be blown out of the water.

I mention this purely because I just heard a snippet of Front Row on Radio 4 in which I received my first information about Joss Whedon's The Avengers: it's an embarrassment to feminism with terrible dialogue and a strongly right-wing message.  So claims John Wilson, at least, about which I know nothing (save to say that anyone who precedes quoting MacBeth by pointing out he's about to use Shakespeare's words is either condescending, foolish or, on Shakespeare's "birthday", being entirely too cute).

I could phone Gero and ask him how to handle the exceptionally tricky task of figuring out exactly how to alter my preconceptions.  Or, I could just read more reviews.  It's almost as though all the stuff Gero (and I, and BigHead, and Ibb) work on turn out to not be useful in daily life.  How strange...

Obvious Objections

Whilst we're (briefly) on the subject of warmonger for hire Charles Krauthammer, his latest column makes me once again of alternative editorial systems.  In a perfect world, anyone wanting to write a piece of political commentary would be forced to answer one question on what they'd written.  The question would be determined by vote, and failing to answer the question would result in your piece being pulled.  I'd be quite happy suggesting this idea across the political spectrum; the immediate curtailment of the careers of Krauthammer, William Kristol, David Brooks et al would surely be worth whomever we might lose on the left.

Regarding Krauthammer's ridiculous lament over the scaling-back of US space-power (which naturally isn't just stupid but actively misleading), I'm struggling to decide between Kevin Drum's "would you still argue this if rich people's taxes were raised to pay for it?", and Daniel Larison's "How does planning to do something 56 years after America managed it qualify as 'overtaking'?", but the universe would be a less frustrating place if people were required to place opinions in context, and whilst using the actual meaning of words.  You'd think that would be an editor's job, actually, but here we are anyway.

Right, I'm off to take my Corsa to the northern Mediterranean, drive round Circuit de Monaco, and therefore overtake Stirling Moss and win the 1956 Grand Prix.  That'll be a great result to have, though of course I can't be sure I'll retain it until we reach 2068.


No matter how clearly you write anything, there's always someone willing to deliberately fail to understand it.

For those of you unfamiliar with "The Buffet Rule", American billionaire Warren Buffet said a few months ago that he believed the US tax code is unfair and, at a bare minimum, he should be paying a higher tax rate than his secretary.

Obviously, this led to a round of boos from the Right, along with the usual cries of hypocrisy over the idea that a rich guy might care about less rich people [1].  That's so transparently idiotic that it isn't worth spending any real time over.

There are two more arguments that might seem slightly less ridiculous at first glance, however, and given the vast amount of time major conservative pundits put into slapping together such sleight-of-hand bullshit dumps, it's always worth pushing back against them.

Will Wilkinson has done just that with this piece, in which he takes on the witless argument that if Buffet believes his taxes should be higher, he should make voluntary donations to the government.  Even as a general argument, this doesn't pass muster, as Will explains: if worsening one's own financial situation would only be of benefit to others if done en masse, it's perfectly reasonable to argue it should be done without going through it alone.

In Buffet's case, however, it's even more stupid, because Buffet already gives a spectacularly large amount of money to charity.  This is where the other argument comes in.  Buffet is choosing to donate to charity instead of to the federal government.  Therefore, Buffet must think that charities can spend money better than can the Feds.

This would be a poor argument under the best of circumstances.  To make it after having read Wilkinson's column is an act of wilful misunderstanding.  Buffet's behaviour tells us the following about his preferences:
forced payment to Fed > voluntary payment to charity > voluntary payment to Fed.
Firstly, and most importantly, there is no reason in the world to believe Buffet doesn't also believe forced payment to charity > forced payment to Fed, which means the argument is already dead in the water.  Propose increasing the tax rate on billionaires and giving the proceeds entirely to charity, and see what Buffet says, and until you've done that, fuck off.

Secondly, even ignoring that the ordering above is incomplete, let's talk about why, just maybe, someone might think their donations are best going to charity whilst also asking to be forced to give more money to the government.  Imagine you want the government to put in place a national blood donation scheme, with state of the art equipment and facilities, a database allowing immediate flagging of local and national requirements, rapid processing of donated plasma, and a massive advertising campaign.  Suppose you know it would take a thousand people of your level of income to pay for all that.

So, do you pay for 0.1% of the new system, and hope there are 999 like-minded billionaires out there to make this thing a reality?  Or do you suggest the government takes the necessary funding from all 1000 of you, and, whilst you're waiting, buy and distribute as many band-aids as you possibly can?

(More to the point, why aren't these same idiots arguing that no-one should be allowed to argue in favour of bombing Iran unless they're tweeting it from a jetski in the Persian Gulf just before they lob Molotov cocktails into Bushehr?  Why is Charles Krauthammer bitching about the US giving up on manned spaceflight when he hasn't so much as designed thrusters for a home-made rocket?  Actually, come to think of it, if accepting this ridiculous argument would mean sending Krauthammer into space - where, let us not forget, no-one can hear you being a bloodthirsty, warmongering arsehole - then it might just be worth taking the hit.)

There are some things that cannot be sensibly accomplished by individuals.  Those individuals are neither required to attempt it anyway, nor to sit on their hands and do nothing because their ideal scenario isn't yet possible.  Arguing to the contrary is just one more turd in the endless torrent of sewage excreted by certain conservative "thinkers" who not only want you to believe you shouldn't give a damn about those worse off than you, but that those who do don't really mean it anyway.

[1] You know the score: white people are phonies for caring about racism, men who claim to care about the gender pay gap are cynical trouble makers, etc. etc. etc.  See also: John Edwards; disgraceful media treatment of.  I mean, before he turned out to be a cheating douche, obviously.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Man Som Hatar Kvinnor

The Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson's 2005 novel is an interesting beast.  As a general rule, I tend to think script quality is a little undervalued in general discussions of film - though I accept this is almost certainly a function of my own interest in and love of writing, rather than a position that could withstand much scrutiny from anyone who knows what they're talking about.

Either way, if we accept for the sake of argument that my position has any merit, this film would still stand as a definite counter-example.  Niels Arden Oplev has worked small miracles making something deeply affecting out of what is basically a whodunnit that's been dressed up not with clever twists, but with a massive amount of hyperbolic misogyny.  The fact that Larsson was working through his own guilt over failing to help a teenage girl he saw being raped explains this to a point, but the repeated displays and references to rape and lustful murders starts off feeling unnecessary and poorly-judged and ends up just deadening through eye-rolling repetition.  Needless to say, the reaction to learning a character has been sexually abused by their father should not lead to the response "Christ, her too?".

(All that said, of course, the original title of both novel and film translates literally as "Men who Hate Women", so if nothing else, I can't claim the story was mis-sold.)

In Oplev's hands, though, the story gains an awful lot of style, and generates a strange sense of uneasiness through very clever use of visuals.  The plot centres around an attempt to solve a murder from almost forty years ago, and relies heavily on attempts to discover information through savvy use of multiple photographs taken just before the crime.  Oplev uses this idea quite masterfully, employing overlays, close-ups and a sort of flickbook effect to bring into focus (no pun intended, mostly) a story four decades old.  The gradual build-up of evidence and the repeated returns to blurry faces of the victim and her assumed killer is genuinely chilling in a manner reminiscent of nothing so much as the psychic flashbacks in the original Japanese adaptation of The Ring, which is high praise indeed.  I've mentioned before on this blog that strange way that being one step removed from terror can be all the more scary, and Oplev uses that to maximum advantage.  Indeed, one could almost say that this is a thriller somehow assembled from two disparate horror films - one based firmly in psychology, the other a deeply unpleasant revenge story, that meet in the middle through a shared theme of, yes, men who hate women.

Were I Oplev, I might have rewritten some of the early scenes to make them less staggeringly tasteless - though The Other Half tells me that this would cause problems for adapting the second two novels.  Still, between his efforts and two solid leads (Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, playing a character who according to the books is a real ladies' man but here looks like Alan Tudyk after the four worst years of his life), a fairly unremarkable story has been forged into a distinctly above average film.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Friday 40K: Wings Of Fire

It's appeared a few times half-finished, but here's my completed Ravenwing Land Speeder, with an underslung heavy flamer.

And here is his with his big brother.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Piss Off With Your Piss Tests

Over at the Washington Monthly, Ed Kilgore absolutely nails American conservatives over something I've talked about in general terms before.  In brief, Florida decided it would be hilarious wheeze to force benefits claimants to pass a drugs test before getting their money.  Their justification at the time was to save money, since less benefits would be given out.

What actually happened was that the number of claimants refused hardly went down at all, and the costs of the drug trials meant the whole program was actually costing a good deal more than before.  Like I've said more than once: if you want to reduce the amount of money hoovered up by the welfare state, you need to find a policing method that costs less than the money you save by wheedling out false claims and criminals.  I continue to be baffled by those people who obsess about this sort of thing, but it would help if someone could come up with a proposal that's even remotely ergonomic.

Anyway, when presented with the fact that their little scheme was actually costing the taxpayer more than it would to just let these people (who, it turned out, actually use illegal drugs less often than the rest of the population) collect their cheques, the politicians who supported the idea then changed their tune.  It isn't the money, it's the principle.  Taxpayers money shouldn't go to drug addicts.

Well, yeah.  Fine.  Except, as Kilgore points out, this law is checking that police officers don't have a skinful of skag, or that state tax collectors aren't taking bribes via brown envelopes stashed with unmarked E tablets.  Or, for that matter, that these worthless spine-deficient politicians aren't dosed to the eyeballs when they decide who they're going to screw over yet.

Welcome to Florida, folks!  Where you can't get welfare until we're sure you're not shooting up, but shooting up a black teenager gets you face time with Sean Hannity.  Kilgore even points out that Indiana tried to pass a similar law that was then pushed to one side after Democrats added an amendment saying that state politicians would have to take whizz tests as well.  Gods, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during that discussion.  "Shit, lads, we're screwed!  We can't piss all over the poor without us having to let Senator Cokemonster piss into a cup too!"

This isn't about saving money, and it isn't about any principle either, unless we've changed the definition of that word to mean spending one's life identifying those people who have life the toughest, and dedicating ourselves to making it a little tougher still.

Doctors Can Be Frauds And Supervillains

Kevin Drum has a very interesting post up right now on the upward trend of retracted papers in the biomedical community and, more importantly, the rise of papers retracted due to fabricated results.  Whether this means more results are being fabricated, or just that scrutiny has intensified, I don't know.  Indeed, Drum's suggestion that it's time to "clear house", as it were, might already be happening: one would assume such an effort would lead to a large retraction spike in any case.

Either way, though, it all makes for interesting reading (I've lifted the relevant chart and stuck it to the right).  All that said, I think the most interesting part of it is the fact that this investigation was run by Doctors Ferric Fang and Arcturo Casadevall.  If those two names showed up in a comic book, I'd be pissed off about how little effort had gone into hiding the fact they were clearly evil.  I can only presume Ferric Fang is fighting fraud in the academic community only because he can't fight Wolverine over possession of the adamantium bonding process.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

A Tale Of Cocktails #28

Black Forest


1/2 cup mik
1 oz chocolate liqueur
1 oz amaretto

Taste: 7
Look: 4
Cost: 8
Name: 5
Prep: 9
Alcohol: 3
Overall:  6.2

Preparation: Pour milk into a Collins glass and add in ice and alcohol.  Stir and serve.

General Comments:  Oddly, this doesn't taste nearly so much like a black forest cake than the chocolate hurricane did.  If anything, it's more of a liquid chocolate battenburg cake.  That's hardly a bad thing, of course, but it does mean the name loses points for accuracy.  The bigger problem of course is the drink looks kind of boring, and the taste doesn't really make up for that.  It's all so depressingly average.

In Which Walker Counts Off Each Numbered Day By Shitting On A Different Group At Midnight

My thanks to Jamie (angry as it's made me) for reminding me of the latest horrors perpetrated by Scott Walker, current governor of Wisconsin and a man desperate to relegate Senator Joe McCarthy to second place in history's list of biggest douchebadgers.  My thanks for the link as well, which probably does better at expressing my outrage over the situation than I'd be able to manage myself (quick version: Walker just repealed the state's equal pay for women law).

Just a couple of additional thoughts.  First, Proxima Thule is quite right when she says this:
[S]top thinking you’re special and it can never happen in your country. That is how America got like this in the first place. By thinking we were special, specially liberated and enlightened and awesome and only those other lamer countries had problems. That arrogance allows us to continue to let everything circle the drain, because we’re the best and OBVIOUSLY we’re not really sexist and stuff, it’ll get fixed, don’t worry. Our system can’t have been redesigned to let a few people destroy our economy–we have the best economy! USA! Everything’s fine! GROWTH 4EVAH.
I hate that shit. I know you hate that shit. So stop telling me Americans are so weird and where you live this could never happen. It could. If you’re not vigilant, like we haven’t been, it will. 
Or, to paraphrase Strong Guy (nothing like a comics reference in the middle of political tack-spitting): the only reason things like this ever happen is because everyone's too busy saying it never can happen to stop it when it does.

Walker, for those who don't know, is the spineless gimpjelly who broke his campaign promises so badly that it was stunning even by political standards, and is now having to fight for his seat in a recall election.   Most of his time is now spent raising money from out-of-state conservatives, because he knows he can't successfully hold on to control of Wisconsin if only Wisconsinites are involved.

Basically, this man has locked himself into full-on re-election mode.  Nothing he does isn't focused on the fact he's going to have to publicly re-apply for his job having broken the only promise that let him get it in the first place.  Given all that, what exactly is his rationale in striking this law down?  Is it because he thinks revoking a woman's right to receive equal pay is going to win him votes?  Even I don't think that little of Republicans, and I've turned calling them fuckwits into both a hobby and a metaphorical stress-ball over the last four years.  Or is it another one in his increasingly long line of "Fuck yous" to the Democratic voters who had the nerve to point out that he couldn't be more full of shit if you screwed his skull to a sewer-pipe?

Maybe a clue can be found in the fact that he repealed the law in the dead of night, when no-one was watching.  I hope there was a thunderstorm, at least.  As bargain-basement as this endless stream of Republican super-villains seems to be, there should at least be some concessions to evil chic...

Monday, 16 April 2012

The Magnificent Seven

Cold water in your face
Brings you back to this awful place

With the scene-setting done, it's time to be welcomed to season 2 of Game of Thrones proper.  And what does that mean?  It means squids galore!

(Oh, and spoilers, obviously).

Friday, 13 April 2012

Five Things...

... I learned in Granada. 
  1. The Hotel Granada Center is beautiful, a tall triangular prism of gold and glass, punctuated with vegetation.  I have a mini-bar, too, which is always appreciated: it might be too expensive to actually drink anything out of there, but the ability to stick one's head in a fridge after a hot Spanish afternoon should not be undervalued.
  2. This technically is something I already knew, but it bears repeating: the old city on the east side of the current city boundaries is exceptionally attractive, all statues and fountains and strangely designed streetlights.  You take your life into your hands whenever you wander around there - the mix of narrow streets and Spanish drivers is not conducive to pedestrian safety - but it's still worth your time, and it's on the way to the Alhambra as well (which once again I lacked the time to really visit).
  3. If you do end up at that end of town, the Albhaca restaurant is stunningly good, and not too expensive by Granada standards.  The staff are very friendly, too, even when faced with the baffling foreign concept of "a vegetarian" (who's also "a pain in the arse", but that's another story).
  4. The western half of the city is still two thirds roadworks, one third feral dogs (whose attacks may or may not explain why there's been absolutely no progress at all on the half-built tram network since I was last here two years ago).  Naturally, this is where the Department of Information Science and Artificial Intelligence is located.
  5. Goddamn, but food is expensive here.  I don't know how much of that is standard and how much is due to the current bevy of financial crises rippling through the country, but it's a good job I have access to the university canteen [1]; otherwise, if I wanted anything beyond a diet of plastic-wrapped sarnies, I'd be lucky to get by on less than 20 Euros a day.
[1] Two plates of food with fruit and wine for 3.50?  That'll do!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

A Tale Of Cocktails #27

Chocolate Hurricane 


1 oz chocolate liqueur
1 oz Malibu
1 oz orange juice
Dash lemon juice

Taste: 8
Look: 4
Cost: 7
Name: 7
Prep: 8
Alcohol: 4
Overall: 6.5

Preparation:  Place all ingredients in a cockail shaker and shake along with crushed ice.  Strain and serve.

General Comments: This is very tasty.  Somehow it's very reminiscent of a black forest gateaux, the combination of orange and lemon juice apparently fooling the taste-buds into thinking cherries are involved.  The coconut from the Malibu should rather break the illusion, but it's buried deep enough into the mix that it doesn't cause problems.  On the other hand, it's a bit boring to look at, and a little pricey.  Tasty and fast to make, though.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Almost Out The Door

I hope everyone had a good Easter weekend.  I'm about to head off to sunny Granada for a few days, for a very important research trip which definitely won't involve drinking any Alhambra beer out in the sun.  I should have been going yesterday, of course, but after six years of international travel I suppose I was about due for one of those "We've chucked you off your flight because we can and also fuck you" emails that are so much fun to read less than a week before your departure.

Anyway, expect very light blogging until next week.  To keep you going, here (via Balloon Juice) is a video of a baby penguin being tickled.  Chemie may need oxygen after this.

Friday, 6 April 2012

A Tale Of Cocktails: These Are The New Facts

Top Ten

1.     Brain Hemmorhage
2.     Fuzzy Shark
3.     Choc Berry
=4.   Baby Guiness
=4.   Dennis the Menace
6.     Malibu Pop
=7.   Angel Delight
=7.   Kir Royale
=7.   After Six
=10. Ume Royale
=10. Midori Sour

Worst Cocktail

Champagne Cocktail


Mean = 6.80
Median = 6.8
Range = 3.1
Standard deviation = 0.70


(Not too far from normally distributed, is it?)

Supplies Consumed


Blue Curacao
Creme de Cassis
Creme de Menthe
Elderflower liquor
Irish Cream (Baileys)
Peach Schnapps
Plum wine
Rum (dark)
Sloe Gin
Tia Maria
Triple Sec


Cranberry Juice
Lemon Juice
Lime Cordial
Orange Juice
Pineapple Juice
Vanilla syrup


Mint Matchmaker
Whipped cream
A shark



Estimated amount of ice used: 305 cubic centimetres.

Friday Talisman: Ser Nathan

Another knight for the realm of Talisman, and this one has rather more flesh on his bones. 

Actually, he reminds me a little of regular commentor BigHead.  Something about the jawline, I think.

The whole gang:

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

A Tale Of Cocktails #26

Midori Sour 


1 oz genadine syrup
3 oz Midori
2 oz lemon juice

Taste: 9
Look: 8
Cost: 6
Name: 4
Prep: 6
Alcohol: 3
Overall: 6.8

Preparation:  Pour the Grenadine into a sugar-rimmed collins glass.  Layer on the Midori, and then the lemon juice on top of that.

General Comments: Remember when you were a kid, and eating Skittles one at a time just wasn't excitin' enough, and you stuffed every different flavour into your mouth at the same time and began clumsily masticating your way though a giant grainy ball of tangled flavours?  This is like that, only with added sugar, because God knows, that's what Skittles needed.

Also, there's alcohol.  Delicious!  On the other  hand, that's not much of an inventive name, and it's a pain to prepare (I've really not got the hang of this layering business).  It's a bit expensive too, though if you're OK with that, it's worth it in the end.

"Remove Your Clothes In The Name Of Freedom!"

Via LGM, an excellent article which nails down something that's been hanging nebulously around my synapses for a while: what Harcourt calls the difference between police-state logic and political-state logic.  To simplify a great deal, police-state logic assumes that any threat to the order of society, irrespective of its frequency or severity, requires granting law enforcement whatever powers are necessary to prevent it.  Political-state logic recognises that giving any new power to law enforcement may encroach upon the rights and freedom of the citizenry, and weighs up the necessity of new powers in that context.

Harcourt wrote the article in response to the US Supreme Court ruling (5 to 4, natch) that police can perform strip-searches on people arrested for misdemeanours (think a broken tail-light, for example), essentially because the number of people so arrested who have then smuggled or helped smuggle weapons or illicit substances into jail is known to be non-zero [1].  That said, there's plenty of other examples of this kind of thinking on both sides of the pond - Labour's attempt to increase the time one can spend under arrest without charge to 54 days comes immediately to mind.

To add my two cents, this is why people arguing "If you're not guilty, there's nothing to worry about" wind me up so much.  Quite aside from it being close to impossible to believe that those who say that stick to the idea invariably and independently of the law under discussion - those who cheer on arbitrary strip-searches often turn pale when it's suggested their emails come under scrutiny - it's an implicit argument that the political-state approach is pointless, because the trade-offs it considers don't actually exist.

It really shouldn't be difficult, even without reading Harcourt's piece, to understand why that position is deeply problematic, and potentially exceptionally dangerous.

[1] Since such minor infractions include public indecency, one could say that Harcourt is searching for how to strip police of the power to search for strippers to strip-search.  Wrap your brain around that for a second.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

North And South

We're diggin' a foundation
For a future to be made
There's gonna be a killin'

It's back!  At long last, winter is once again coming.  But should we care?  How do - and should - we judge "The North Remembers."

(Season 1 spoilers throughout)

I suspect a lot of that comes down to how one views season openers. A decade and more of year-end cliffhangers and immediate (or near-immediate) resolutions have perhaps led us to certain expectations regarding how the action should resume once we settle around the television once again.  Even shows that are, comparatively speaking, more interested in using an opener as an on-ramp for the year to come (think X-Files, or middle period SG1) tend to at least resolve the immediate situation, in order to bring some closure whilst teasing about what comes next.

"The North Remembers" doesn't work that way.  Which is no surprise, of course; books have their own rules.  What it means though is that for anyone (which includes me) who recently re-watched "Fire and Blood" (or even watched it for the first time) as preparation for this new bushel of episodes have found themselves going from an expert ramping up of tensions - Robb's crowning, Dany's dragons, the Night's Watch sallying forth to face the White Walkers, the potential three-way war between King Robert's two younger brothers and the boy he mistakenly thought his son, and the fates of Sansa and Arya - to a full episode of breath-catching; of being told "this is where we are now."

Once you get over the gear shift, which is no less sudden for happening over a period long enough to create and receive a child in, the only relevant questions are this: how well is the new status quo presented, and how much is included in addition to make future viewings anything more than an aide memoire?

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Humanity Passing By

Pause asked me today what I thought about the season finale of Being Human. As I've mentioned before, the lack of a post on something I've regularly posted on before is usually a comment in and of itself - I didn't either love or hate the episode enough to be inspired to write about it. 

Still, if anyone wants a more specific judgement, here it is: Season 4 came up with the most obvious storyline possible, and saw it through to its conclusion in the most obvious way possible.  The resulting experience was in no way unpleasant, but it wasn't really very arresting, either.  Reasonable people can disagree on the debate over whether season arcs really work or not (and they do, at great length), but an abundance of stand-alone episodes is one thing, and an abundance of filler something else. 

The off-screen shake-ups can't have helped, admittedly, but that's a reason to understand why things went wrong, not to pretend that everything is fine.  Had Season proved the final hurrah for the series (which was a distinct possibility), I suspect it would have been viewed as a distinctly sub-par coda.  Now that we know there will indeed be a Season 5, this year feels like an incredibly drawn-out explanation for the new status quo, which is so similar to how the show began in its first season, the whole enterprise seems distinctly unnecessary.  I remember a friend of mind once complaining about how cheated he felt when he first watched Episode 1 of Red Dwarf III, as a unreadably fast block of scrolling text explained all the things that had happened off-screen.  This is the exact opposite - eight episodes devoted to setting up changes that could be explained in three paragraphs and some clever exposition come Season 5.

Oh, and two more spoiler-filled points: