Friday, 31 May 2013

"Get Into That Kitchen And Make Me A Natural BLT, Woman!"

I'm feeling lazy today (as well as stressed; I've got a meeting coming up with the second-worst PhD student I've ever met because I'm at the shitty end of an extremely long list of people who've passed the buck on him), so how about I just pick on an obvious idiot: Erick Erickson
After a Pew Research report found that mothers were the sole breadwinners in 40% of American households with children, Erick Erickson said on Fox Business that it is “anti-science” to suggest that’s acceptable.
Said Erickson: “I’m so used to liberals telling conservatives that they’re anti-science. But liberals who defend this and say it is not a bad thing are very anti-science. When you look at biology — when you look at the natural world — the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it’s not antithesis, or it’s not competing, it’s a complementary role.”
This is so hilarious a misunderstanding of the words "natural" and "science" it almost qualifies as art.  When Erickson looks around this society we've artificially created to look inside the houses we've artificially constructed, he's horrified to learn that the person gaining the money we've artificially given meaning to isn't being collected by the natural people?  "Natural breadwinner" is no less an oxymoron than "natural shuttle-pilot".

It's the invocation of science that's truly wonderful, however.  Science, we now learn, simply means that the most common occurrences are the right occurrences.  That shit be biology, yo!

In celebration of this brave new face of the scientific method, I propose the following list of Erickson's Laws, each of which details behaviour or concepts that only those dabbling in anti-science would even consider:
  • Women making money
  • Cooked food
  • Objecting to people fucking in public
  • DVDs
  • Antibiotics
  • Giving birth
  • Spines
Once again, science is victorious!

Friday Talisman: Cults Never Seem To Work Out

Fresh off the paint bench this week, it's the Dark Cultist, who as a Talisman character I've always found a bit boring, but which gave me the chance to try a rather nice colour scheme.  It's pretty similar to the one on her character card, with the major alteration being me giving her tights and boots.  I don't think bare legs and sandals are responsible choices when your dark rituals might end up splashing demonic acid all over the place, or some such.

I'm particularly proud of the weird energy sloshing around her staff's head, but I like the base quite a bit as well.  It's just Stirland Mud with a little Burnt Grass stuck to it, but it seems suitable for the kind of blasted heath I imagine these cultists meet up on to get up to whatever it is they do.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Briar Around The Slide

Sooner or later this increasingly irregular series of posts is going to come to an end.  Eight or so more and I'll have polished off the whole of Lucifer, and be casting around for something else to discuss at tedious length.  The obvious choice is Carey's latest series, The Unwritten, and indeed that's exactly what I'm going to be looking at.  When we get there, an awful lot of time and space is going to get used up talking about the nature of stories, which is great for me, as it's just the kind of meta-commentary I like doing.

In fact, I like it so much that I'm going to start now.  In my defence, that's because this is the point where Carey started as well, or at least where he brought it to the surface.  Lucifer concerned itself with many themes over the course of its run - hence why this series of posts exists - but as the Morningstar began to set more and more time was dedicated to the meaning stories have upon our lives, to the point where it's difficult in the extreme not to conclude Carey realised what he was going to write next once it started bleeding in to what he was doing at the time.

Essentially, the intertwined "Stitchglass Slide" and "Wire, Briar, Limber Lock" represent the stage at which Carey stops merely telling stories, and begins to pull them apart and reassemble them.

(Spoilers below)

Monday, 27 May 2013

A Tale Of Cocktails #40

Long Island Iced Tea


2 oz vodka
1 oz tequila
1 oz gin
1 oz white rum
1/2 oz white creme de menthe
6 oz coke
2 oz lemon juice
1 tsp sugar syrup
Lime slice

Taste: 9
Look: 7
Cost: 7
Name: 8
Prep: 5
Alcohol: 3
Overall: 7.1

Preparation: First, syrup your sugar.  Then shake all non-fizzy liquids over ice and strain into ice filled glasses.  Add coke and lime slice garnish.
General Comments: This is a lot of work to put together, but it's worth it.  It's not tremendously difficult to mix sweet and bitter in such a way as to impress some people, but doing it so that it works across the board.  That's exactly what the LIIT does, and it does it both with style, and with gin.  Opinions can differ which of those is the most important.

(Not really.  It's a trick question: gin is style.)

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Heretical Adaptations

Without wishing to sound even more insufferable than usual, I'm not really one for what could be described as "popcorn books".  I've nothing against the idea of lightweight fluff in general, I should stress; no-one with the kind of comic book recommendations I get each time I sign into Amazon could claim that.  But that's the point, perhaps.  I prefer my brain-on-hold entertainment to come from a comic book one can polish off in fifteen minutes, or a film that'll be done inside two hours.  Four hundred pages of text seems like quite a commitment when the aim is to get as little permanent as possible from the experience.

Games Workshop's Horus Heresy novels struck me as a potential exception.  The tale of how Warmaster Horus turned what should have been humanity's finest hour into a war that almost exterminated mankind might not be the best story GW have ever told, but I wouldn't want to be the guy having to make that case. Curiosity to learn more - the second-most common downfall of a geek, after bizarre ultra-defensive sexist rants triggered by entirely innocuous statements - led me to investigate (along with help from Chris, who lent me the first three novels).

Obviously, there are two angles GW needed to consider: people reading the books as an introduction to the 40th Millennium (actually the 30th Millennium here, but what's ten thousand years between friends?), and people already familiar with the broad strokes of the story looking for particulars.  Equally obviously, it's not easy for me to judge how well the books do capturing the first group.  My gut says pretty well; by focusing almost entirely on the Luna Wolves/Sons of Horus and - to a much lesser extent - the Emperor's Children means the sprawling nature of the Great Crusade doesn't overwhelm, and the savvy use of a dramatis personae at the beginning of the first book (pointlessly and inaccurately used in later novels presumably out of slavish devotion to anything Dan Abnett does) is helpful in that regard too.

Mainly, though, I wonder if I'm assuming the books work well for newcomers because their biggest failing might be failing to surprise savvy readers.  It's hard to get too worked up about which way a Space Marine's loyalty will swing when he has his own entry in Codex: Chaos.

Actually, that might be unfair, for two reasons, one redemptive, the other the opposite.  The redemptive argument is that these are three books (Horus Rising, about the eponymous character's increased dissatisfaction with his role, False Gods, in which that dissatisfaction is twisted by outside forces, and Galaxy in Flames, in which everything explodes in quick succession) are based on the unstoppable force of hubris turning to tragedy, with some cool action scenes scattered about.  One does not read a tragedy to be surprised; the clue is in the name.

None of that means though that surprise and tragedy cannot be combined.  Why stuff a trilogy with, at minimum, a dozen major Astartes characters and not make any effort to keep the audience guessing as to which way they'll jump?  Instead, almost every Space Marine in the books can be sorted into "loyalist" and "traitor" within five lines of their first appearance.  Even the exceptions don't surprise, they merely take the more likely of two options.  The absolute biggest shock of the whole trilogy comes from an Astartes who seemed a sure bet for treachery waiting for longer to turn traitor than one might have thought.

This is the far less charitable reading: that the trilogy doesn't suffer if you know how the story ends, it suffers if you know how the most cliche-ridden works imaginable end.  A story about brother betraying brother is an ideal opportunity to work some twists into the tale, but really what we end up with is little more than a handy flow-chart for spotting potential traitors.

All of which makes our nominal heroes seem rather thick and complacent.  Indeed, at least once during "False Gods" it becomes clear that they have the goods on at least one traitor, but they decide not to do anything until they have more to go on; a baffling decision that screams "authorial intent" as the books head towards thousands of loyalist Space Marines dying mainly because their commanders are just too stupid to live.

There is one big exception to the five-line rule, and it happens at the finale of the first book.  Which is to say, as no-one familiar with Black Library (that's GW's fiction wing, for the uninitiated) will be surprised by, Dan Abnett is the only one truly delivering the goods here.  His significant skill is obvious throughout Horus Rising, in which characters get multiple strands to their personalities and even the most depraved and evil figures who feature in the Heresy are shown to have their virtues before the treachery takes root.  It's not clear why Abnett didn't write the whole trilogy (perhaps he hadn't the time, or GW wanted all three novels written more or less concurrently), but it certainly suffers for his absence in the later books.  Indeed, one could make a very strong case for the idea that the quality of authors drops linearly.  Abnett isn't exactly a flashy or sophisticated writer, but he's perfect for the kind of high-octane action Black Library wants to churn out, and he's more than capable of making the machinations that occur between engagements interesting and layered.  Graham McNeill lacks Abnett's solid characterisation skills, and it hurts his book.   The major and surprising reveal of a trusted adviser proving to have a sinister agenda at the end of the first book is utterly undone by having that character suddenly become all sinister moustache twirling as the second begins.  Worse still, McNeill fumbles the all-important turn of Horus; the noble optimist of the first book becomes a brooding malcontent without explanation between novels, making his ultimate decision to rebel against the man he previously considered his father feel unearned.  That said, McNeill can still craft a good set-piece when he needs to.

Ben Counter, though, is no better than McNeill at characterisation, and even his action scenes cause problems.  To often they're both rushed and sparsely described.  Yes, long sentences of flowery prose aren't what you want when you're reading about desperate hand-to-hand fighting amidst a ruined city, but there's a skill to parsimoniously evoking a scene that Counter lacks.  The best thing that can be said about him is that he's enough of a writer to not spoil the exceptionally strong material he's been given - the battle of Istvaan III being close to author-proof, but even then he does his best.  One of the novels' major characters has his final duel to the death off-screen.  Another major character - really, the most important character to not make it out alive - is summarily dealt with in a few lines.  The glorious last stand of the loyalist marines never takes place because Horus - for which read Counter - gets bored and decides to just bomb them all instead.  There's more than a few aspects to these books I would have done differently had I been in charge, but the only truly baffling decision is to wrap up the centrepiece of the entire trilogy in two short chapters.  Surely one would never catch Abnett making so egregious a mistake.

All that said, given the action to dialogue ratio increases with each instalment, perhaps it makes sense to give the first novel to Abnett and the last to Counter.  Somewhere in another dimension exists a mirror trilogy in which Galaxy in Flames is the greatest novel Games Workshop has ever produced.  It's just that it caps a trilogy that starts with the most turgid and predictable potboiler imaginable.

I don't want to come across as relentlessly negative.  The steady reduction in writing talent is ameliorated to a large extent by the plot's increasing stakes.  The most important question adaptations of well-loved but nebulous story is this: has it made things worse?  Should the untold tale have remained untold?  Has this aspect of the tale, in fact, betrayed the whole?  The answer here is, fortunately, no, though it is not a no without qualification.  A failure to fuck-up is not the same thing as a success, and this trilogy drifts ever closer towards the latter as it progresses, until it finally crosses that line some forty pages before the end.

Friday, 24 May 2013


Ah, X-Box Carcassonne, you is so pretty.  But why you hurt me so?

Let's leave aside the question of whose bright idea it was to emulate a turn-based game and require each player to use a separate controller, and get to the real meat of the problem; the games utter inability to even plausibly mimic random tile allocation.

For those who haven't played this game before, the idea is that each player in turn is given a tile, on which can be one or more of three features: part of a city, a length of road, or a cloister.  The tile is then placed next to the tiles already on the board, so that e.g. a city piece is adjacent to another city piece.  Completing cities and roads gets you points; cloisters give you points when you surround them, monks being agoraphobics, presumably.  You can also place farmers in the fields, who get points if they have nearby cities to sell corn to.

It's all pretty simple, but it rather relies on the idea that each player has the same chance (more or less; the tiles don't always quite divide equally) of getting each tile.  Specifically, cloisters are often the most sought after items, because they can be quite valuable, and you can sort of leave them to themselves whilst you build other structures around them.

In my last three River games against four AI players, I have received precisely zero cloisters of the seven per game available.  The chances of this are less than 2%.  In my last game I came second, losing to an AI by 19 points.  26 of his points came from the three cloisters he acquired, of the seven available to five players.  The chances of this are less than 15%.  Yes, I confess that falls short of significant, but I figure if I whine about this now, I'll either collect more evidence in later games, or the universe will try to spite me by proving me wrong, and actually allow me to win a gorram game.

Those of you who suspect I'm simply applying basic statistics to a case of sore losing may not be entirely devoid of a point.  This doesn't mean you can't all piss off, though.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Annoying All The Right People

Well, this is interesting.  It would be wrong of me to claim this is the most encouraging thing I've heard the new Pope say since his arrival; that towould be him dissing rapacious capitalism.  Nor will either of these rather surprisingly sensible positions be enough if he continues the Vatican's appalling policies on contraception, though apparently there's some hope that he won't.

Nevertheless, to me personally, this is kind of a big deal. It's always been my feeling that atheists and Christians should be able to work together on any number of causes, focussing on what needs to be done rather than why we think we should do it.  This is harder than it should be in practice.  Partially this is due to anti-religious sentiment amongst some atheists, but also partly responsible is the view held by some Christians that the real-world effects of such alliances are less important than the knowledge those they're working alongside have no interest in their theology.  The memory of attending a Christian talk three years ago in which the audience was told atheists are more deserving of heavenly punishment than Hitler springs immediately to mind.

So here's hoping that Pope Francis' words on the subject are a first step in mutual co-operation.  It's not like we couldn't get anything done with that.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Swords Are Not The Only Storm

It's been a pretty horrible day over at Casa del Calamari, so here's something delightful, a small moment of joy amidst the rubble in Oklahoma City.

Speaking of the tornado, one side-effect of the disaster is the sudden pressure on representatives of Oklahoma over in DC to try and acquire federal relief.  Just one problem, of course, they just couldn't shut themselves up at Christmas about how federal relief for Hurricane Sandy was a waste of money.

Tough spot, right?  What do you do?  Do you stick to your principles and insist poor Oklahomans should be just as utterly fucked as poor New Yorkers, because there's only enough money left in the budget to bomb Iran?  Or do you spray out the most obvious bullshit conceivable so as to argue disaster relief is fine so long as is for a state without a coastline?

Right now the score is tied at one all.  Which of Inhofe and Cockburn are most deserving of your disgust is a decision each of you can make for yourselves.

Monday, 20 May 2013

A) Aggravating, Or B) Aggravating And Enraging

Here's an interesting study dug up by bspencer over at Lawyers, Guns and Money, who right now is embroiled in a massive sprawling multi-thread discussion on what it means when men complain about feminists being dismissive of them.

On that more general point, I don't want to say too much (short version: there is a big difference between recognising some people can use "check your privilege" as a way to shut down male comments and thinking it's so major and commonplace a problem as to make it worth mentioning in your introductory talk for a secular conference for women, because they'll totally never have thought about that), but the secularist issue has spawned some interesting tangents, including bspenser's suggestion that, per the link above, Americans dislike atheists more than they do Muslims.

Again, this isn't something I want to dwell on - there's all sorts of reasons why labelling of a hypothetical person as a Muslim does not translate into how actual Muslims (for which one can frequently simple read: brown people) are considered, and of course there's a greater distance still between how people feel about a minority and how oppressed that minority is (I should note that bspenser isn't claiming otherwise on that score).

I'm mentioning all of this because the suggestion that atheists are more reviled than Muslims struck me as so ludicrous on the face of it that the Patheos link proves strikes me as very important (though it really demonstrates a lack of trust than hatred, I think).  Even with - or maybe because of - the amount of time I spend reading up on American culture and politics, I have to continually remind myself how very differently atheism is viewed in (some or much of) the United States to my own experiences in Britain, especially since it's so completely counter to how one would expect things to be given which of those two countries has Christianity as its official state religion.

Let's break down the Patheos piece a little.  Firstly, a few sentences on the conjunction fallacy, which basically goes like this: "a figure bounds out of a TARDIS and saves Earth from the Daleks.  Is it more likely our saviour is a) a Time Lord, or b) a Time Lord and the Doctor".  Much is made of the fact that most people will choose b), even though by its very nature, a) is more plausible, since if b) is true, a) is true as well.

To simplify significantly, the idea here is that the fallacy is more seductive the more the question seems to describe the subset of people in the second group. If the above was re-written to have answers "a) a Time Lord" and "b) a Time Lord who is under 170cm tall", people would be more likely to realise what's going on.  There is, in other words, a correlation between people's inherent assumptions - and by extension their prejudices - and how likely they are to commit the fallacy.  Whether this is because the added assumptions make it harder for someone to not read option a) as say, "a Time Lord but not the Doctor", or if people's grasp of probability is being overloaded, I don't know [1].

So, here the idea in this research was to see how often the fallacy was applied when considering different types of people.  If the question is re-written as "Somebody does some pretty shitty things, is he a) a teacher, or b) a teacher and some quality X", where X is Christian, Muslim, rapist, or atheist.

You can see the results at the link.  Even when you offer the idea that the man is a rapist - that is a man who's already committed criminal acts worse than the ones described in the study - fewer people make the intuitive leap.  I suppose one could make the argument that it's easier to spot the fallacy when given other unrelated crimes than when considering a persons' (lack of) belief system, but even so, when "just because he's a rapist doesn't make him a thief" carries more rhetorical power than "just because he's an atheist doesn't make him a thief", something strange is definitely going on. [2]

All of which is a sobering reminder of how lucky I really am.  Not only am I a heterosexual white cis man with a middle class background and a decent job, but I also get to be an atheist in a country and in a societal circle in which the only reason people would have to think me likely to commit acts of grotesque immorality is having met me.  Thank the lack of God for that!

[1] There's an alternative version of the question that goes like this: "Emma is a sexually confident, assertive woman, who likes to wear high heels and tops that show off her cleavage.  Is she most likely to be a) a librarian or b) a stripper? The idea here is that there are (allegedly) fewer strippers in the UK than librarians, and therefore if the other information offered to us is irrelevant, a) is the correct answer.  You can learn a great deal about people by seeing how much of the additional information they will claim isn't irrelevant at all.

[2] Admittedly, that's just from looking at the means. Using the confidence intervals, we can only say that people consider lawbreaking to be no less common a feature of atheists than they do of rapists.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Friday Space Hulk: Twelve More Limbs

We always need more genestealers, right?

Except these ones are really weird, with extra claws or pokey bits or some shit.  Still, I'm sure they'll still do fine ripping Terminators apart.

Yep.  Yep, those guys are pretty fucked.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Pale Imitations

Great Bird of the Galaxy, this is going to take some unpicking.

Basics first, then.  Yes, I enjoyed Star Trek Into Darkness.  The set pieces are impressive, there are some nice lines, and if it still isn't entirely managing to juggle its large cast effectively, it's at least doing a better job than the original films ever managed.

Still... there's something missing.  Or maybe it's the opposite.  Maybe all the polish lavished on the actions scenes and the dialogue have left the film as bright and sleek and soulless as the new Enterprise bridge.  It's like there's a layer of Pledge over everything, making it all sparkle but bleaching out more than a little character in the process.

To the extent that so outrageously successful a man as J.J. Abrams can be said to have a problem, this is a big part of it: he assembles films that feel like less than the sum of their parts.  Everything does what its supposed to, true, but the end result feels less like art and more like the end product of an assembly line.  For me at least that causes a kind of background hum of irritation even when what's been assembled is proving perfectly enjoyable.

Added to this is what I admit up front is probably a very geeky objection, which is that Abrams, not unlike Joss Whedon, has a tendency to play around with sci-fi without really knowing its conventions.

Some conventions are just begging to be broken, of course, and the "it's not realistic" argument can generally only ever take you so far when we're talking about giant airtight metal canisters flying around at the speed of light.  Even so, at a certain point, you just start to look lazy.  The idea that a major antagonistic alien civilisation lies apparently two or three minutes away from Earth is fundamentally ridiculous, but its included here so that the list of set-pieces can be rolled out without having to worry about concepts like travel time.  I'm remaining spoiler-free above the fold, so I don't want to give away specifics, but it's roughly equivalent to deciding you want to have your characters hunt down a man in Australia, and then have a fight up in Greenland, and you set the whole thing over a period of twenty minutes.

In part, this is an objection about how much of the established history of Star Trek the new films continue to jettison, even whilst insisting (via Leonard Nimoy if nothing else) that what we're seeing is technically a continuation of the same universe, albeit following some major time-travel authored departures from what was known.  The question of why this is being insisted on instead of just fessing up and calling it a reboot continues to raise its head.  The best example of this comes somewhere around the halfway point of the film, when that thing happens.

(Spoilers below)

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

A Deluge Of De Facto

"Power resides where men believe it resides" - Varys
Maybe "Chains" wouldn't have been the snappiest title for this episode - changed to "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" after that scene was swapped out of episode 8 and placed here - but you can understand Martin's choice.  There may not be much in the way of literal chains, but almost everyone here is bound to something or (more often) someone else, and more often than not, it's because they're in love.

Indeed, one could get no small distance through this episodes concentrating on romance alone.  Plenty of people have done that online already, though, so I'd like to come at things from a slightly different angle.  Besides, the bonds of love are pretty much a strict subset of what I wan to talk about anyhow.

Today's question, then: who's really calling the shots?

(TV spoilers below)

Monday, 13 May 2013

D CDs #487: "Unusual" Hardly Covers It...

Oftentimes, the most interesting questions are the ones you'd never think to ask.  For example: what happens when you craft A-grade dance pop and hand it to a woman who sings like a demented eight-year old using a sugar rush to fight a head-cold?

Inside Cyndi Lauper's brain, there is a dial.  This dial can be turned to any point on the range between "singing" and "shrieking melodic insanity".  As a result, each track on She's So Unusual poses its own pair of questions: where will the dial be, and how well will the song deal with it?

On "Time After Time", the dial is near zero, and the result is a delightful piece of slow-tempo pop that I recognised but had forgotten was Lauper's, it being so many miles away from the full-throttle yelp of "Girls Just Want To Have Fun".  On "I'll Kiss You", the dial is maxed out, but the song itself is so bonkers - basically a tale of a woman buying increasingly strong love-potions from gypsies so she can drug the object of her desires and subject him to low-grade sexual assault - that it all works perfectly; a gloriously askew bubblegum delight.  Things work less well on, say, album opener "Money Changes Everything", in which one of the greatest slices of synth pop the '80s produced is dragged down by Lauper's slurry drawl-bellow.  This is not to say a wonderful song is ruined, but the damage is noticeable.

Elsewhere the balance is just about maintained.  "Girls..." has suffered a little from thirty years of familiarity, but there's no question it deserves its fame.  The Prince-penned "When You Were Mine" is another song for which the dial is perhaps a shade high, but Lauper is helped here by some histrionic lyrics that allows things to stay in the realm of melodrama rathe than exhibitionism - and it's pretty good melodrama, too.  And if the album is more than a little front-loaded (later tracks "She Bop" and "Witness" make little impression, and "He's So Unusual" is basically a 45 second intro to the final track that it absolutely doesn't need), the aforementioned "I'll Kiss You" and the tightly-wound closer "Yeah Yeah" keep things humming along. 

It should also be noted that at under 39 minutes, this is a very tight package, and removes the risk of Lauper's vocal hysterics becoming just that little too much.  Instead, what you get is both an impressive collection of solid songs - and at least two full-on classics - and a delicious time-capsule from a decade in which an album's personnel list could include a hair stylist without a trace of irony.

Eight tentacles.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

A Whirlwind Of Wedding Plans

"The chief difference between a war party and a wedding party is that the former can legitimately claim to take no real pleasure in the vicious fighting that they will almost inevitably become embroiled in."

This week it's all about tying the knot in Game of Thrones.  More to the point, it's about the uses of marriage in politics and warfare, and a reminder of how women in the medieval world far more often represent power than wield it.  Daenerys' absence this week is perhaps no coincidence. Today we'll be talking about how women can be used as weapons against men.

This isn't exactly thrilling news to those fans of the show with a feminist bent.  Of course, there's representing patriarchal views, and there's dabbling in them. My opinion of which way the show has gone on this issue of late are well-known, so my consideration of "The Climb" will dip a little into what the show has done to redeem itself after last episode's problems.

(TV spoilers below)

Monday, 6 May 2013

Cheerfully Oblivious

"For the Greater Good!  Er, I mean, for the giant space tetrahedron!
Yeah, that's it..."

I wasn't sure about Oblivion when I first saw the trailers; it seemed to me too clear an example of a film based around a central mystery the trailer was all too happy to give away.  Still, my curiosity was kindled, so The Other Half and I blew our Orange Wednesday on it, hoping to be surprised by its quality, if not its actual, y'know, surprises.

And actually, it's pretty good.  The design ethic is wonderful, a mixture of the kind of sleek functionality of, say, Minority Report and the strange mixture of curves and lines employed by of all things the Tau Empire from Warhammer 40 000.  Indeed, with all the drones and pulse rifles in evidence, the similarity might not be totally coincidental.  You could go further, actually, and point out that much of the film's storyline - without going into details for anyone not already spoiled by the trailer, there's a strong sense of people dedicating their lives to working for a Greater Good defined by others who may have their own agenda - is somewhat reminiscent of the Tau as well.  Really, though, that's just to note both the Tau and Oblivion focus on the obvious problem of attempting to work for the benefit of all when you're entirely reliant on others to tell you your actions are helpful.

That's not a new idea, but it's often interesting to explore, and Oblivion presents it well.  The central problem really is that damn trailer, though.  It's not so much that it completely gives the game away - there's far too much going on for that - so much that enough is given away that you have enough time to figure the remaining twists out for yourself. The film seems obviously designed to throw so many twists and turns at the viewer that they have no time to catch their breath and figure out what's coming next.  By slowing the pace of revelations, the trailer undermines that strategy significantly.  It by no means ruins the film, but it does lessen it.

The opening narrative is another problem, an exceptionally tedious infodump (Cruise isn't really suited to exposition, to be honest) that explains things that almost without exception are reiterated throughout the film. Indeed, there's even a scene an hour or so in where a new character has the entirety of the status quo explained to them.  The intent strikes me as clear; make the viewer spend the first half of the film playing catch up, so that they've only just found their feet when the rug is utterly pulled from under them.  A drawn-out description of the status quo completely works against that.

Really, this all reminds me of Dark City; a truly phenomenal work of mystery and misplaced expectations significantly hampered by overly revealing trailers and an initial voice-over that explains much of what the film wanted you to discover.  In the case of Dark City, said introduction was studio mandated by those terrified that the audience might be confused - this being the entire fucking point of the film - and I wonder if the same is true of Oblivion.  There is admittedly (small spoiler) another voice-over at the end of the film, so there is at least a cyclic benefit to starting the film off that way, but what's said could certainly be massively pared down.

If you haven't seen this, wait until it comes out on video, and fast-forward through the first few minutes.  The film will make far less sense that way, in the best possible way imaginable.  That way, there's only one problem with the film, which is... (SPOILERS!)

Sunday, 5 May 2013

A Hurricane Of Hot Tubs

"I am called Grey Worm, after the current state of my genitals"
It's time to analyse another episode of When Gorgeous Redheads Go Topless, and what an episode it was!  Ever since the show decided to actually employ Esme Bianco's talents as an actress, I've been worried things might actually get respectable around here.  No chance of that, apparently.

Once we get past the sudden appearance of jacuzzis in Westeros - reappearance, I should say, because if you can't use mighty dragons to cook you up a decent bath, then what good could they have been - there's a deeper concern lurking within this episode: the reasons people give for doing the horrible things they do.

(TV spoilers follow)

My Yearly Inaccuracy

This time I think I'm going to plump for Ronnie O'Sullivan (obviously) by, erm, seven frames, I reckon.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Friday 40K: Meet The New Boss

My Dark Angels have themselves a new Company Master.  Unfortunately, that means the previous warlord has had to be demoted to Company Champion, but frankly he's had something like this coming for a long time.  As I recall, my Dark Angels have won a grand total of two battles in the last thirteen years, and I wasn't playing with them either time.  Maybe the new guy - and his snazzy Monster-Slayer of Caliban blade - might finally see a change in fortune.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Good News And Bad

Two pieces of news this week involving the continuing dissolving of what seems like half the USA over the fact that some men like to sleep with other men.

The good news first: Jason Collins has become the first major male American athlete to come out as gay:
I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, "I'm different." If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand.
There are a couple of things to say about this.  The first one is to echo what several people (including Glenn Greenwald, who doesn't get all that much praise around these parts) have noted, which is that this is only a genuine, honest-to-Gods absolute first if you pretend women athletes don't exist.  First high-profile male athlete will have to do.

Secondly, as I've said before, I would advise my allies to avoid responding to this news with some variation of "who cares", mistakenly believing they are demonstrating their acceptance of gays by suggesting this is not big news.  It is big news.  It is big news for any young gay man searching for role models in the world of professional sports.  It is big - and bad - news for those wanting to pretend physical aptitude and the world of sport exists entirely separately from those people and their love of small dogs and wallpaper samples.  If nothing else, given the reverence sportspeople hold for so many, news that one of them is uncommonly brave and looking to improve the lives of others through making himself a target should be sensibly considered as news.  I outsource further comments to SEK of Lawyers, Guns, and Money, who's been killing on this.

On the other hand, fuck all these guys
A group of conservatives in the Iowa state House have filed a measure that would cut the pay of state Supreme Court Justices by around 80 percent — but only for the ones who voted to legalize same sex marriage in 2009.
But Republican state Reps. Tom Shaw and Dwayne Alons insisted to The Gazette on Tuesday that the reduction in pay was not a punishment.

“It’s our responsibility to maintain the balance of power,” Shaw explained. “We’re just holding them responsible for their decision, for going beyond their bounds.”
C'mon, you cowards.  Just confess it's a punishment and be done.  Hell, punishment is a better motive for pulling this crap than the one you're hanging on.  Once you start arguing that the balance of power can only be maintained by structural imbalances generated by political calculation, you're on the mother of all slippery slopes, and the place it finally bottoms out in is not somewhere anyone wants to be except those people who dream of their faces painted onto the sides of tanks. 

The people who voted these judges in were themselves voted in by the people of Iowa.  The people made their decision, then the politicians made their decision, and then the judges made their decision, and all of those decisions pissed you off.  That is not imbalance.  That is democracy. 

There is nothing in the Republican mindset - not the laughing at scientists, not the dismissal of the world beyond their borders, not even the insistence that the three people killed by the Tsarnaev's bomb were victims of some existential threat to the American people but the person killed by the Tsarnaev's gun was simply a sacrifice to freedom - that convinces me more than this that the GOP exists not as party but as plague than this.  Than the constant argument, in words and in actions, that the worst thing that can happen to America is the entirety of its citizen body gaining free access to its mechanisms of selection, and the entirety of its political body getting equal access to its mechanisms of power.  The cult of the filibuster has joined the cult of "voter fraud", and the cult of "judicial activism", and in the welding together of this coalition of the paranoid and the petty, some well-known villains have resurfaced wearing shiny new hats that look a lot like hoods if you catch a glimpse of them at just the right angle.

The Democrats do some terrible things with democracy.  The Republicans do their terrible things to it.  This, above all, should not be forgotten.

Providing A Solid

So Phil Sandifer was all "help me Squid!  Help get the word out about my new blog as it continues my ongoing project to take over the internet", and I'm all "What's in it for me, blud?" and he's "We never actually had this conversation" and I'm like "But I'll do it anyway, so who's laughing now?"

It's him.  It's obviously him.

But then I don't really mind.  The TARDIS Eruditorum Project isn't always on the money, but when it isn't being utterly awesome, it's busy being wrong in the most fascinating and intelligent ways.  I can't recommend it highly enough.