Friday, 31 August 2012

Radio Republican

Just in case anyone was wondering, I'm kind of keeping abreast of what's going on at the RNC Convention in Tampa.  Bits and pieces, you know? Actually commenting on it is pretty hard, though, since the whole thing comes across as a thuggish Thatcherite cheese dream with added grits.

I mean, how am I supposed to process the fact that a major pull at the convention is screenings of a "documentary" that
exposes the Occupy movement, revealing the “sinister, organized, and highly orchestrated nature of its leaders and their number-one goal: not just to change government, but to destroy it.”
What?  I thought the Tea party wanted to destroy government.  I thought that was, like, their entire thing, other than saying it's really unfair to call them racists just because 49% of them are and the other 51% don't seem to care about that fact at all.  If Occupy really was about the destruction of government - as oppose to destroying people's willingness to engage with government, which is its own problem - then wouldn't the "Taxed Enough Already!" people be happy to join forces with them?  Or is the real problem that once both groups had torn down DC some of the Occupy people would want to be gay in amongst the ruins?

One thing that all this swirling childish resentment has achieved is to clarify exactly why I despise Mitt Romney as a person, as oppose to just as a man determined to make his fellow citizens lives worse whilst lying to them about it.  It's all this "No apology" bullshit.  Romney won't apologise to other countries for killing their civilians.  He won't apologise to the working class for making a fuckton of money by sensibly timing the exact moment he could fuck them over and make the biggest profit.  Nor will he apologise for taking the money he extracted from vulnerable companies and stashing it in the Cayman Islands so that the government he claims to want to lead couldn't slice off its share in order to keep the country he claims to want to run actually, you know, fucking running.

In terms of personality defects (as oppose to actions), there is nothing, absolutely nothing, than I despise more than the idea that refusing to apologise represents strength of character. George W Bush was exactly the same way, of course; when asked about the worst moment of his presidency the rubber-faced mass-murderer had the neck to bitch about Kayne West being mean to him.  Gods forbid he choose anything that might be interpreted as something approaching regret.

Apologising is hard.  Not apologising is monumentally fucking easy.  Blaming other people is monumentally fucking easy.  Deciding you don't need to say "sorry" because the other guy is a dick anyway or because you've had a bad day or because other people do way worse stuff has been hardwired into our brains ever since the first homo erectus stole the mammoth meat from the second homo erectus on the basis of seniority.  "Stop apologising so much!" "Sorry!" is an easy joke in feeble sitcoms, but out here in the real world 99.9% of the population could stand to apologise more often and more sincerely than they do, and God I know I'm one, as the song goes.

Of course, this is all part of what, despite it's exist origins and associated difficulty of use, I genuinely can't think of a better name for than the Cult of Cuntiness.  The celebration of never apologising.  Of never showing gratitude.  Of giggling whilst the bombs are going off in central Baghdad.  The confusion of pathologies for virtue, and the idea that the worst angels of a nature are the ones that should be listened to above all others, and somehow that we should be impressed by those who do so.  This is by no means the exclusive province of the right, but it is the right that has institutionalised it.  It's in Thatcherism, root and branch.  It's in Osborne's "there is no Plan B" posturing.  And across the stormy Atlantic, in rain-streaked Tampa buildings, it suffuses the air like mustard gas, with no dissimilar promises of suffering.

In 67 days, we'll see just how far the cloud has spread.

Also, since it's Friday:

Thursday, 30 August 2012

SpaceSquid vs. The X-Men #41: The Shifting Psyche

Well, this has taken a while, hasn't it?

There are two reasons why I haven't come back to SS v X in over a year, and both of them involve today's focus: Danielle Moonstar.  The first is fairly simple; Mirage graduated to the X-Men a little over a decade ago, but she's never been around too much in the main books. Add that to the fact she's been a fan favourite in various spin-offs since she first appeared in the early '80s, and you have a character about which a great deal can be said by others, but not really by myself.

The other problem is perhaps somewhat more interesting.  Mirage, like Thunderbird and Forge before her, is a Native American, and I'm worried that I'm beginning to sound like a broken record when it comes to discussing that particular group in these articles.  Simply put, I'm concerned that repeatedly lamenting the similarities of their characters is in itself reinforcing the idea that Native American characters are all the same. Am I picking up on a genuine problem?  Or am I contributing to it with ham-fisted analysis?

Monday, 27 August 2012

A Tale Of Cocktails #31

Raspberry Tipple Plus
1 oz blue curacao
1 oz Chambord
5 oz lemonade
Taste: 7          
Look: 6          
Cost: 9      
Name: 8
Prep: 7
Alcohol: 2
Overall: 6.8

Preparation: Shake liqueurs and strain into cocktail glass holding ice. Add lemonade and stir.
General Comments: This is a tough one to judge. It's somewhat disappointing, but I can't tell if that's a fault of the drink itself or because of how much I enjoy blue curacao and Chambord separately. Certainly there's a sense that the two are working against each other as well, and the lemonade is no help there either. I don't want to be too down on the drink, it's nice and sweet and looks and sounds quite cool. It just should have been better than it is.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

When Dogs Are Gorgeous

Excited puppy dogs, it turns out, can be damn hard to pin down on camera.

After a great deal of trial and error, though, I can reveal the true unbearable cuteness of Molly the dog.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Friday Paint Of The Nation

I've not really finished anything for a little while now (other than a spare veteran for my Dark Angels), but I'm partway through enough projects that I thought it might be worth taking a look at whats on my painting table.

(Full credit to Jamie for (eventually) coming up with an excellent idea for improving my photography.  This probably isn't what The Other Half had in mind when she left her epidemiology notes on my lounge floor, but that just demonstrates the importance of cleaning up after oneself).

First up, I've finally finished the hull of the Heldenhammer.  I'm hoping I get the sails done more quickly (i.e. in less than eight and a half months), but I guess we'll see.

Also in progress are two Talisman miniatures; the flamboyant swashbuckler and the vicious werewolf:

(Dental hygiene is important for lycanthropes).

I'm also trying to increase my rate of Space Hulk painting to a bewildering two miniatures a year:

and I've re-based my Tully bannermen as well, ready for a new arrival which I'll be starting any day now.  Who will join their ranks this time?  I'll give you a clue: I now think I've sharpened my painting skills sufficiently for an attempt at rendering titties.

Edit: How strange.  It's not until looking at the pictures when the post had gone up that I noticed that the House Vance musician has misplaced his shield.  I wonder where that's ended up?

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Music Of The Spheres

I just learned that geometrist and Field medal-winner William Thurston passed away on Tuesday. I've never really got geometry.  Not the applications, of course, which are clear, varied and important.  Nor even the attraction, I suppose - I remember clearly the first time I learned of the Pythagorean Theorem, and just being blown away by the idea that mathematics could demonstrate such a thing; everything I'd learned up to that point being either intuitively obvious or simple enough to verify.

But I never really understood why anyone would dedicate their career to it.  Of course, probability is just the most mathematically rigorous way possible to fail to predict the future, so it's not like my choice is necessarily any better.  And looking at what Thurston achieved, it's hard to fault his choice.  Anyone who gets so good in a given field that everyone else stays away from it in case he solves the whole shebang before they've gotten a chance to play is worthy of some considerable respect (though I wish "Thurston's Monster Theorem" involved fewer closed hyperbolic 3-manifolds, and more minotaurs).

Plus, on top of everything, his work was interesting enough to inspire Grigori Perelman, the charmingly lunatic Russian geometrist who solved the Poincare Conjecture - which even I'd heard of - leading to him also being awarded the Field Medal, though he refused to accept it.

All Downhill From Here

One of these days I really should get around to slapping together a quick statistical analysis regarding GCSE results year by year.  Apparently this year they're actually down for a change, which, you know, is what can happen with such things as "variables".

Until I've had time to think and study past data, I've no intention of coming anywhere close to speculating whether this dip is significant, but I will confess to more than a little interest in how people spin this.  The Guardian's quotes seem to be going with the idea that this is too big a dip, which has been caused by overly harsh marking in order to bring about precisely this effect.  That's possible; I've no idea.

I'm looking forward to seeing what other people come up with.  What will those who have insisted year after year that the GCSEs are becoming easier claim this time round?  That this time the exam boards have got it right?  Or that this is proof that teachers are failing or that kids are getting less willing to sit down and learn?

A shiny penny for the first person to spot someone blaming "Broken Britain".

PS: Congratulations to everyone who got the grades they wanted.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Akin And King: Behind The Curtain

Ooh, that Akin guy's gotten everyone good and riled up, hasn't he?  It's almost like the science of pregnancy shouldn't get made up in the back room of the Crimped Cocklizard gentlemen's club.  It's almost as though publicly arguing pregnant women are automatically lying when they claim to be raped is something of a faux pas, even amongst Republicans. 

(Privately arguing that is no problem, obviously.  Then again, it's not obvious what you could say that would get you thrown out of a GOP cocktail party, other than calling Grover Norquist a dumbass.)

Given that, there seems little point me discussing it.  It's just too self-evidently repulsive, and self-evidently idiotic.  You might as well challenge a blancmange butterfly to a boxing match.  You know you'd win, but how would that even work?

The response to his comment is a little more illuminating.  Firstly, there's his follow-up statement, which is what passes in Republican circles for an apology, in which he lays the blame firmly where it belongs - Democrats, obviously - and argued that his mistake was his mistaken use of the phrase "legitimate rape", when obviously what he meant was "forcible rape".

This was not an off-the-cuff remark.  This is what he hoped would get him out of trouble. It is only the case that pregnant women are automatically lying when they claim to have been forcibly raped.  It's only those sluts who go and get drunk and taken advantage of that can wake up pregnant, and that's not really our problem, is it?

The charge from the right to defend Akin now he's switched from a clearly monstrous position to a monstrous position just slightly veiled has been deafening, and instructive.  The sheer hideousness of the "forcible rape" distinction - which, let's forget, something the Republicans actually tried to install as a legal turn - is made all the more obvious when it's used to pivot from Akin's comments, so obviously the right is fighting tooth and nail to suggest it's somehow progressives who are being unreasonable here.

That's all fairly obvious as well, though.  What I wanted to pick up was another GOP lawmaker's comments on abortion that might get lost in the rush to - entirely fairly - pound Akin into the ground.  ABL herself didn't miss it, which is how I found out myself: King told an Iowa reporter he’s never heard of a child getting pregnant from statutory rape or incest.

“Well I just haven’t heard of that being a circumstance that’s been brought to me in any personal way,” King told KMEG-TV Monday, “and I’d be open to discussion about that subject matter.”


Contacted by TPM, King’s office denied that King was saying he’d never heard of pregnancy resulting from statutory rape or incest. Rather, he had no direct, personal knowledge of such circumstances. “What he was saying was, he personally does not know a girl who was raped,” Brittany Lesser, a spokesperson for King said. “He never says, ‘I’ve never heard of that.’ There’s a fine line between ‘I’ve never heard of that’ and ‘I don’t know personally anybody who’s been raped. There’s a difference. There is a difference.”
(Snip in original)

Again, bear in mind that this is the supposed fixing of an off-the-cuff remark.  With the standard petulant bluster of Republicans (and no small number of Democrats, of course), King is clearly of the opinion that this is all the fault of other people for listening to the words he actually chose to say, but look at what's happening beyond that.  King is stressing, is clarifying, that he didn't mean to say there's no evidence that statutory rape or incest can't cause pregnancy, he's saying the evidence is merely statistical, not anecdotal.

This is what he wanted to be sure we understood.

It should be no surprise to anyone following American politics that many Republicans base the issues they care about entirely on their own experiences and those of the people in their social circles.  Dick Cheney, one of the most evil men alive today, is spectacularly strong on the issue of gay rights, and has a gay daughter.  John McCain, an incompetent dullard who willingly sold his soul for a shot at the Oval Office and is permanently pissed off that people remember him doing that, has an excellent record on both opposing torture and refusing to smear his opponent's families, both things of which he has had plenty of experience.

It's nice of King to demonstrate the formulation for us so explicitly, though.  Picking through the blackened, wind-blasted plains of the Republican mind can be tiring and upsetting, so I appreciate when the foundational principles are put so clearly on display.

Sunday, 19 August 2012


It has been decided by the upper echelons of the clan that it's time for a new doggy.  Behold Molly, slayer of rabbits!

(Top left: Spacesquid Senior.)

I'll see if I can get some action shots when I meet Molly next week.  Hopefully none of them will involve her pissing on my shoes, but we'll just have to see.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Hold Back The Night

With the help of some willing accomplices, last weekend The Other Half and I had our first game of Talisman with the new Blood Moon expansion added.

I love it, it's brilliant.  Crucially, though, it's only brilliant if you put some effort in.

There are two primary additions to the game here.  The first is the werewolf, who to be honest is a bit of a retread of the Grim Reaper from his similarly eponymous expansion.  Indeed, in some ways this is a step backwards; at least when Death was teleporting between players or occasionally helping them out, you could rationalise that.  A werewolf who shows up and heals you? Not so much.  There's also a nice idea here that certain people can be bitten and turned into lycanthropes, with various effects throughout the game, but the only real improvement from the Grim Reaper to the werewolf is that he'll pounce on any character he passes, so long as it's night.

Yes, the night.  Blood Moon's best idea by miles is exceptionally simple: play starts during the day, we switch to and from night each time an event card is played.  The actual logic of this is ridiculous, of course - twenty-minute nights followed by twenty-second days were not uncommon - but that hardly matters.  Monsters are slightly easier to kill when the sun is up, and slightly tougher to beat after sundown.  This adds an extra tactical consideration regarding play, as everyone tries to hoover up as many beasties as possible in the sunshine.  OK, we're not exactly talking deeply involved tactical thinking, here, but then this is Talisman.  The aim is always to just hit things until they stop moving, and hopefully drop a, well, talisman.

Anyway, it's not the tactics we should be focusing on, but the atmospherics.  I'd always wondered whether I'd find a decent use for the dimmer switches my flat came with (romantic dinners being a bit tricky when you lack a dining table), and at last that question has been answered: full illumination during the day, severely dimmed lights during the night.  I find the best level is a sliver below the point at which my girlfriend starts complaining she can't read the cards, but it's a personal thing.

Those with an interest in incidental music will profit enormously here, too.  Stealing shamelessly from a bloke named Richard who ran an excellent Cthulhu campaign I was lucky enough to take part in back in the mid '00s, I played an awful lot of the sublime Twin Peaks soundtrack, interspersed with Phillip Glass' wonderfully unsettling soundtrack for The Hours, courtesy of occasional commenter lyndagb.  The combination of the lighting, the music, and the increased difficulty of staying alive in the game worked brilliantly, if I say so myself.  I was less sure about what to play during the day; I settled for some up-tempo playlists I had lying around, but I'm certainly open to suggestions.

Give it a try.  It doesn't slow the game down too much (though how I long for a remote control for either my lights or my sound system), and it works really well.  If nothing else, the illusion of change and progress can be pretty important for a game of Talisman, as anyone who's played it with more than two other people knows full well.

Actually, since we're here and all, this might be a good time to put up my suggestions for speeding up Talisman.  After all, I love the game a great deal, but not to the degree where I can spend six hours playing it (Arkham Horror, on the other hand...)

The Other Half and I play with the standard rules when it's just the two of us, and that works out OK.  We can top three hours with a single game, but then we're using every expansion the game has, and we're pros.  Obviously, any ideas from those below you want to apply to your own two-player games, go right ahead.  Note also that the reduction in trophy exchanges is suggested by the rules themselves, so I'm including them because they work, not because I thought of them.

Three players

There is no limit to the Fate points one can expend to re-roll the same die as long as failing the roll would result in the death of the character.

When a character dies, the replacement character retains one third of their predecessor's strength tokens, rounding up, and their craft tokens likewise.  Thus characters with only one or two strength (or craft) tokens do not actually lose any of those tokens after death.

When placing a character on the board for the first time, they are given one extra strength or craft, whichever is initially lower.  If a character has equal initial strength and craft, the player may choose which one to increase in this way.  This additional strength or craft can be lost like other such tokens.

Four players

As above, with the following alterations:

When a character is placed on the board for the first time, they gain one extra strength and one extra craft, as oppose to the approach described above.

Trophies can now be exchanged when they total six points of strength (or six points of craft), rather than seven.

Five players

There is no limit to the Fate points one can expend to re-roll the same die as long as failing the roll would result in the death of the character.

When a character dies, the replacement character retains one half of their predecessor's strength tokens, rounding up, and their craft tokens likewise.  Thus characters with only one or two strength (or craft) tokens do not actually lose any of those tokens after death.

When placing a character on the board for the first time, they are given one extra strength or craft, whichever is initially lower.  If a character has equal initial strength and craft, the player may choose which one to increase in this way.  This additional strength or craft can be lost like other such tokens.  Once this is complete, the character gains one additional strength and craft.

Trophies can now be exchanged when they total six points of strength (or six points of craft), rather than seven.

Six players

There is no limit to the Fate points one can expend to re-roll the same die as long as failing the roll would result in the death of the character.

When a character dies, the replacement character retains two thirds of their predecessor's strength tokens, rounding up, and their craft tokens likewise.  Thus characters with one or two strength (or craft) tokens do not actually lose any of those tokens after death.

When placing a character on the board for the first time, they are given two extra strength or craft. This additional strength or craft can be lost like other such tokens.

Trophies can now be exchanged when they total five points of strength (or five points of craft), rather than seven.

Radio Friday: Hell On Wheels

Finally got myself a new car yesterday.  This, for those who don't already know, was to replace my last one, that failed its MOT at the end of June due to a slight case of being one switchback away from telling its steering column to piss off and going rogue.

Gaining new wheels proved to be quite the trial.  The first car I tried to go see turned out not to actually be on sale, or rather, the company displaying it on their website had no fucking clue where it actually was.  Possession might be nine tenths of the law, but the final 10% of knowing where the things you possess actually are is pretty important too.

The second car I homed in on at least had the common courtesy to exist at a known point in the space-time continuum, but there the good news ended.  It was in slightly more tattered a condition than I had been led to believe, but that wasn't particularly relevant, since the damn thing wouldn't actually start.  We sat in the warm whilst the poor schlub trying to sell this POS tried to recharge the battery in the pouring rain, before coming back in to tell us there was a definite electrical fault, and could we come back tomorrow after they'd fixed it.  Strangely, this suggestion did not appeal.

In one way, though, that was a shame, because I was really looking forward to buying a car whilst the sky was alive with lightning.  I figured I could call the car "Daenerys Stormbought", because that's the kind of thing a geek should do.  Alas, when I bought a car that was both where it should be and capable of moving someplace else, there was no more than a gentle shower humming on her rooftop.

Clearly, then, she has been named "April".  If anyone asks, I'll just say it was after this lady here, who is well worth being remembered:

(My God, is there a lot of cartoon porn surrounding that character.  I'd estimate about 5% of the images of her Google found were from the actual cartoon and comics, and the rest ever-more disturbing fan-art of a woman with boobs so big, I don't think she could even get her microphone close enough to her face to introduce a broadcast.)

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Wherein I Become Increasingly Irate

Via regular commenter Jamie, the Guardian has up a deeply uncomfortable but utterly necessary piece by American journalist Lynn Beisner on her sincere regret that her mother chose to bring her into the world.

Naturally, it's not an easy thing to read, but you all should read it anyway.  I'd want to flag it up for that reason alone, but if I can be permitted for expanding on such a personal and profoundly emotional piece with  one of my bouts of detached argument (by which I mean detached from the passion Beisner is showing, not that I won't be calling anyone a dick before this is over), I just wanted to pick up on this comment.
What makes [stories from those relieved their mother chose to keep them] so infuriating to me is that they are emotional blackmail. As readers or listeners, we are almost forced by these anti-choice versions of A Wonderful Life to say, "Oh, I am so glad you were born." And then by extension, we are soon forced into saying, "Yes, of course, every blastula of cells should be allowed to develop into a human being."
I'm not sure I'd say the stories themselves are infuriating so much as those who propagate them to score political points, but that's probably semantics. In any case, what infuriates me so much about those who push  these kinds of stories is so many of them are so totally sold on the "if you had your way I'd be dead" argument for this one topic, and treat it with so much utter contempt in any other context (I have no idea if either of the people Beisner discusses are so inclined, which is why I'd rather focus on those using the stories, rather than those providing them).

Where, for example, is there any difference in the formulation "I'm glad abortion was illegal when my mother was pregnant, or else I would not be alive" and "I'm glad refusing people health insurance for pre-existing conditions was illegal when my wife applied for a policy, or else she would not have the medicine keeping her alive"?  Or "I'm glad Obama didn't slash the food stamp program like many demanded he did, or else my children wouldn't have had anything to eat"? [1]

To be clear, I'm not suggesting all three statements should be equally persuasive; only one of those is bound up in denying people the right to control their own bodies, for example.  One can be affected by such appeals without concluding they warrant action.  One can certainly point out that, in fact, society is already managing the best balancing act it can on a given subject, with no action possible that would not cause entirely unacceptable consequences elsewhere (not that there's anything like balance regarding the state of abortion in the US, at an absolute minimum, that would require that people stopped shooting abortion doctors in the head).

No, the problem stems from the hideous idea that the progressive desire to lessen suffering is somewhere between naive "bleeding heart" foolishness and active sedition, irrespective of the testimonies of those who have been damaged beyond most people's imaginings by some policies and saved from that horrible fate by others, except in this one case where they're all heartless monsters who just need to think of the children.

If you want to be a empathy-free moral vacuum and blight upon humanity, that is your right.  But don't come to me with your crocodile tears waving sworn statements from people glad to be alive, telling me how much you're hurting in the name of the innocent.  Your list of those you're willing to see sacrificed is too long for that, and no small few of them match up with those you insisted deserved their chance at life.  I don't know how anyone could twist themselves into arguing "We must ensure these children are born so we can deny them food, housing and medicine once they arrive in the world", but congratulations; you found a way to do it.  Slow-clap for the vampire squids.  Now fuck off.

[1] This might be an appropriate moment to explain Glenn Greenwald's quote on blog banner, which came about when I pointed out to him that Obama's domestic agenda involves body-counts just as surely as his foreign policy does, and so there's only so far he can fight Congressional Democrats on the latter before he runs into problems with the former. 

This did not go down well with Greenwald, who's phenomenal skills with logical thought and argument crafting are entirely tossed aside the moment he's faced with a situation in which there's no one person he can point to as the clear villain.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Evil Empire

I'd like to take a moment to thank Mitt Romney for choosing Paul Ryan as his veep candidate.  It just got much harder for the US press to spin Romney as anything else than a money-grubbing figurehead for a new American aristocracy.

Not that they can't manage that, obviously.  It'll just be a tougher sell.  If you're trying to piece together a hagiography designed to cloak incoherent malevolence with the clear result of harming your fellow citizens, I think you should at least have to work up a sweat.

I'd also like to offer up a suggestion to a God or Gods or force or forces in which I don't believe: it would mean a lot to me and a lot of other people if you took every single person who praises Ryan without including the phrases "even though he wants abortion classified as first-degree murder" and "despite him wanting to introduce legislation requiring women with life-threatening pregnancies be left to die" be immediately killed through the painful insertion of poisonous scorpions into whatever bodily orifice you deem most appropriate.  I'd suggest the anus, personally, but it's not my place to advise on how you enact your righteous vengeance.

I don't know what makes my brain hurt more, the fact that Mitt Romney's choice to make the GOP ticket more likable is a man who's only problem with Soylent Green is that it smacks too much of recycling, or that in contemporary America, it's actually liable to work.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Radio Friday: Downtime Captain Musings Rap

Llama God's disgusting attempt to derail our discussions yesterday by injecting nuance and even-handedness reminded me of this video that he was kind enough to expose me to.  Here it is for anyone who didn't catch it the first couple of times.

Is he climbing the mountain to escape the young men with their sinewy bodies?  Or to find them?  We may never know.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

It Can't Be That Easy, Can It?

This can't work, right?  You can't just have a bill that cancels all other bills from a four year period, can you?

Because why stop there?  Why limit the "Americans for Family and Freedom Fingers In Our Ears Act" to Obama's term?  Why not declare null and void any legislation ever produced under a Democratic president?

I mean, FSM knows, I despise Bush Jr.  But it would never have occurred to me that it might be worth trying to pass the "Gore Actually Won And Was Just Really Quiet" bill in 2008.

How Far Has He Risen III: Think Of The Children

Last post on Dark Knight Rises, and then I promise I'll shut up.  This, as mentioned in the previous post, is my attempt at an analysis of the film's subtext which is both more plausible than my earlier offer, but also harder to justify.  In other words, this is either a sloppily assembled film with a reasonable message, or a precisely constructed film with a deeply offensive one.

Again, spoilers below the fold, but in brief (and thanks to runalongwomble and geekplanetmatt on Twitter for some useful comments): this is a film simultaneously about the dangers of avoiding confrontation, entering into confrontation, and focusing on confrontation.  It's the five Ws of punching, in other words.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

How Far Has He Risen II: The Right Approach

After spending some time working my neurons, I have further thoughts on The Dark Knight Rises and its subtext.  Some of this came out of an interesting (if all too brief) Twitter discussion, but I'll save the meat of that for a third post.  Here I want to confess to my mistake.  There is a way to view the film as having an entirely coherent political subtext; it's just so far from my way of thinking that it took me a while to piece it all together.  Since the interpretation I'm about to describe requires consideration of one of the film's biggest plot twists, I'm putting everything below the fold.  You have been warned.

Monday, 6 August 2012

How Far Has He Risen?

A scene carried over verbatim from Nolan's earlier, aborted project, Fat Asthmatic Del Boy takes Gotham.

One thing about having waited so long to see The Dark Knight Rises is the amount of information I had available when settling down in the cinema.  Somehow I'd stayed almost completely free of spoilers, but I was already well aware of how mixed the film's reception had been.  Some love it, some hate it, and plenty more seem to have liked it, but found it inferior to its prequel.

You can count me as being in the first camp. This film is shaping up to be as underrated as its predecessor is overrated.  The Dark Knight is an entertaining mess of a movie, brought desperately off-kilter by Heath Ledger.  Like just about everyone else, I found his performance absolutely phenomenal, but the downside is that the resulting piece feels like a bunch of heroes intruding in the Joker's world.  I'd pay good money to see a film like that (try Azzarello's Joker miniseries to get a taste of what that might be like), but it doesn't work in the context of The Dark Knight specifically, in which an awful lot of time is spent on Christian Bale not being very interesting in ways that aren't very interesting.

Ledger isn't the only aspect of the film that causes problems; he's merely the most obvious and the most forgivable. But discussing his last complete performance is useful, because it brings us naturally to the aspect of the current film that, from what I can gather, is the most problematic: Bane.  Lots of people don't like Bane.  A significant subsection of those seem to actively hate him. No-one, so far as I can tell, thinks he's a patch on Ledger's Joker.

Which, to be fair, he absolutely isn't.  It's difficult to imagine anyone could be.  And if you judge a superhero movie by the quality of its villains, I can completely understand why The Dark Knight Rises disappoints.

So here's the thing: I liked Bane.  A lot of people have criticised Hardy's delivery, and again, I understand that (though contrary to popular opinion, he doesn't sound like Ian McKellen; it's David Warner through and through).  A violent anarchist with near superhuman drive and physical presence should not sound like he's presenting The Outer Limits.  The overall package is ridiculously incongruous.  You actually have to like that fact, and I do.  Because the whole premise of these films is that you can take the ludicrous idea of a man spending years being punched by ninjas until he's ready to dress up as a bat, and play it entirely straight.  There's a strong argument to make that Hardy's performance makes it difficult to maintain the latter in the light of the former.  But that's not how it worked for me.  For me it was simply one more expression of the tension these films have maintained all along.

And if you can get past Bane's voice in particular, and the idea that there's a perfect correlation between a villain's quality and that of the film entire, this is definitely a better film that what came before.  Less flabby, less confused, and far more successful in juggling its supporting cast.  Even if Anne Hathaway wasn't extraordinarily easy on the eye (a fact the film is generally classy enough to avoid exploiting, though I'm not sure I'd have included quite so many shots of her - admittedly perfect - derriere as she drives around Gotham in a low-slung motorcycle), I'm sure I'd have preferred her inclusion to that of Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent, who, like almost everything else, found himself sidelined by Ledger's tour de force.

My biggest criticism of the film is that I was deeply confused as to what its political subtext was trying to tell me.  Now, the most obvious answer to that is "nothing".  This is the sort of thing I look for in almost any film I see, so I'm certainly not oblivious to the possibility that I'm struggling to interpret messages that are never even there.  Certainly the fact that I thought Dark Knight was similarly schizophrenic would support that hypothesis.  On the other hand, a film entirely put together after a global financial crash which involves more than one character either implying or outright stating that wealthy and the stock market are too powerful and too complacent, and due for a fall? It's really difficult to swallow the suggestion that there's nothing to be read into here.

If we assume there is a message, though, what can it be?  For the first third of the film, it really does seem to be that the rich are arrogant and thoughtless, and bound to be swept away by mobs baying for justice.  When Selina Kyle takes Bruce to task for ignoring the plight of the common man, the scene is structured so we're supposed to disagree because we know what Bruce is really like, not because her opinion of loaded socialites is erroneous in general.  When the shoe-shiner ignored by his snotty, besuited stock-jockey clientele proves to be a gun-wielding anarchist, the lesson to be learned is not that it's a mistake to let commoners of any kind near the ticker-tape machines.

All of which makes sense, except of course that the measures taken to sweep the corpulent felines out onto the street turn out to be disastrous.  The fact that a an angry mob can find its outrage easily enough does not mean they could locate their own arses with similar ease.  Which, again, is fine.  I've read about the Reign of Terror.  Understanding the need for change does not mean embracing every method by which that change might come about.

But if that's true, where are we putting Wayne, Fox, and Gordon?  The bourgeois?  The Scarlet Pimpernel?  The voice of moderation?  Only the last of those really works, but it's problematic to say the least to try and view a film in which a man dressed as a bat uses a helicopter shaped like a beetle to launch rockets at nuke shaped like a beach-ball controlled by a villain shaped like Tom Hardy as intended to be a comment on the importance of not taking things too far.

As I say, this isn't a problem The Dark Knight avoided either, but the obviousness of the historical analogies here makes things more difficult (not that there was no contemporary relevance to the argument about whether mass surveillance is OK so long as it's really really important).  All that said, the text is entirely absorbing enough to compensate for a muddled subtext, and that will do me.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Friday Talisman: Lead, Your Days Are Numbered

I really do need to find a camera better at taking pictures close up.  After about fourteen attempts, this is the best photo of my alchemist that I could manage.

See what I mean?  You can't even tell his ears are pointed.  Not that it makes any sense that they are, of course, but still...