Sunday, 30 June 2013

A Blizzard Of Beginnings (Part 2)

Right then.  Let's close the shutters on the third season of Game of Thrones by paying visits to two castles, and to one frozen wasteland.  TV spoilers below, as usual.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Friday 40K: Angelic Hordes Come Forth!

Time, I think, to get back to one of my earlier armies (thirteen years and counting, though an earlier iteration of them formed my very first force back in the mid '90s).  A mere four years (give or take) since the latest Blood Angels codex was released, and I've painted one miniature the book introduced. 
I really do love the modelling job GW have done on this, even if the wings/jump pack combo is incredibly fiddly to fit on.  Given all the bells and whistles, though, this took an incredibly long time to paint.  It's just as well he's worth 55 points, really.

That's when he's one fifth of a full squad, of course.  Right now, he's no use to anyone. Except maybe as a needlessly ostentatious veteran sergeant for an assault squad.  Or maybe even a bargain-basement Sanguinor.  That option has its own problems, though; mainly that 275 points is an awful lot to spend on a model Chris will invariably kill on the first turn of our next game.  If you can't win, you may as well ensure your casualties are as uninteresting as possible...

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Five Minus One

Turns out the Defense of Marriage Act is so obviously unconstitutional even the Supreme Court can be trusted to see it.  You know, except for the conservatives, who spent yesterday insisting that overruling congressional legislation isn't something the court should ever presume to do, exactly one day after they did exactly that.

So this week both handed racial minorities their greatest civil rights defeat since, well, civil rights became a thing, and gave the gay community an historic victory.  My brain, it is confused.

Aside from all of this further cementing my opinion that Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas are villainous hacks of the first order (anyone with an interest in logical argument and a strong stomach can learn a lot about sophistry by reading their opinions over the years, but I'd recommend moderation lest your eyeballs boil out of your face), the last forty-eight hours got me thinking again along a familiar trail - why is it liberals seem to lose so much of the time?

The common response to this question among liberals themselves is often that we just can't seem to get our act together during a fight, and spend all our time after the fight blaming each other for losing.  Both of these are major problems, I confess, but they strike me as symptoms, not cause.  The major reason things always seem to go so badly for liberals - aside from the fact that they tend to pick fights with the rich and powerful rather than the destitute and voiceless - is that trying to make the world function fairly for everybody is a much more complicated manoeuvre than trying to make the world function well for rich white guys.

Imagine you're one of the four left-of-centre Supreme Court Justices, and you figure you can maybe get Kennedy to swing on one of the two cases this week, but not both.  Where do you put your time?  Trying to get rid of a nakedly unconstitutional attempt to screw over gay people?  Or trying to save a barrier to racists said bigots have dedicated the last forty years to trying to overcome?   That's a decision I'm immensely glad I don't have to make.  My instinct is to go with protecting voting rights over guaranteeing governmental support for marriages, but that might be totally wrong.  Certainly plenty of liberals are likely to disagree with that, and everyone involved will have the best motivations in the world and radically different ideas as to how to put their ideas into practice.

All the Republicans - the only part of the American right that matters right now - needs to do is be pricks at every available opportunity.   The fact that getting a hundred people to agree on how to be nice is much harder than getting a hundred people to agree that they should keep all their money and that Mexicans are lazy tells you at a minimum of 90% of what you need to know.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Five Worst People In America Today

I should say a little about the SCOTUS ruling yesterday - less of a ruling and more of a middle finger to Martin Luther King Jr., really - which is tough, because I'm just so depressed about it.  How did Bush vs Gore become only the second most ridiculous decision the court made this century?  How did concluding the person who sets your shifts, your hours, and your tasks at work isn't your supervisor become only the second most stupid thing Sam Alito said this June?  How did a black judge have the balls to stand up and say black people deciding what's best for black people is no less racist than white people saying what's best for black people? 

How can anyone believe in a loving God when not one of these people's faces burst into flames?

For those not in the know, there used to be a bunch of states - all of them with histories of deliberately trying to stop anyone not white from getting as far as the polling booth - who had to clear changes to their voting laws with the feds.  This is not just because of their past performace; some of these states to this day kept coming up with ideas the Justice Department had to overrule because they were so transparently aimed at keeping black and Hispanic citizens from getting to exercise their constitutional rights.  With the new decision declaring such activity bad because... something... five of the states previously covered have immediately launched new legislation aimed at screwing over any person who doesn't look like they belonged on the Mayflower unless they were scrubbing the decks.

People much smarter and with far more legal and constitutional knowledge than me are still picking over this thing trying to work out what happened.  Right now the best anyone can cobble together is that this part of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional because racism doesn't exist anymore.  You'd think all that would be needed to refute this would be to look at the states who'd prepared obviously racist legislation that they waited until the ruling to introduce to know that wasn't true, but instead the court looked at all the laws these states had passed that weren't aimed at suppression - because the VRA stopped them - and declared that clearly everything was fine.

SCJ Ginsberg pointed out that this was equivalent to throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you're not getting wet, presumably because she didn't think she could get away with calling it tossing out your birth control since none of your fucking led to pregnancy.

(Not for nothing, but try and imagine this court striking down the Second Amendment on the grounds that times have changed and the King of England ain't gonna head over to demand back taxes no more.)

There is zero chance this Congress will fix the issue.  There is zero chance anyone with any clout in the US media will report on this issue, at least not in any stronger terms than "Democrats say these laws are racist, Republicans disagree, logic and maths are hard so who knows".  Tens - hundreds? - of thousands of people just lost their de facto right to vote in America.  Corporations might be people, but the rural poor are landscape features.

The Republican party have faced a stark choice these last few years: embrace minorities, or disenfranchise them.  The choice they've made is obvious to anyone with access to a television screen or an internet connection.  This week, SCOTUS decided the biggest problem with that choice was that it was going to be a hard sell, legally speaking. 

Today, that is no longer the case.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Not All Arguments Are Born Equal

Since there's debate on equal marriage going on right now in the House of Lords, let me just give opponents of the idea a little bit of advice.  If you want to avoid being labelled a homophobe - this supposedly utterly hyperbolic and unfair slander pressed upon you by all those nasty knee-jerk liberals that seem to be everywhere these days - then for the love of Gods, make sure you've thought through your counter arguments before you trot them into the public domain.

"What's to stop a man marrying his son?" is not a sensible argument. "Why not let two elderly sisters get married, too?" isn't a sensible argument.  "Gay people can get married... to the opposite sex!" isn't a sensible argument. "Marriage is too important to risk, and so irrelevant that no-one should mind not getting to have it" is so baldly incoherent that it amazes me thousands of people have apparently signed up for it wholesale, though in their defence there's usually a couple of sentences in-between the two statements, most often about how gayness is the greatest threat to a child's upbringing since caramel-coated paedophiles.

Because here is the truth.  If you spout this kind of idiocy - if you decide that your role in discussing an issue of direct relevance to hundreds of thousands of citizens of this country - then you are a functionally indistinguishable from a bigot.  Because you've decided these people, who may or may not have had the chance to vote for you (recently at least) but whom you most certainly represent either way, are not worth the time it would take to consider their desires seriously.  Because a historically repressed minority is asking you to give them something the majority has taken for granted for centuries, and you decided it wasn't worth more than five minutes thought on the drive into work to come up with a reason why you weren't going to bother saying "yes".

Show me the relevant difference between a man who wants to oppress a minority, and a man who cares so little about the oppression of minorities that they spend the minimum amount of time possible coming up with a slogan that wouldn't persuade caffeine-addled woodlice so that they can get on with their day.  Show me the reasons I should give you marks because your position isn't "I hate you" but rather "I have no intention of thinking about you at all", particularly in this case, when your role in society involves precisely that.

When you tell a group of people that they're concerns are not worthy of the time you would need to understand them, you insult and belittle them.  At the absolute best, you might be able to claim you ignore and smugly wave away the concerns of every constituency.  Of course, if you do do that, then there are worse words for you than "homophobe", and everyone here knows exactly what they are.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

A Blizzard Of Beginnings (Part 1)

I suppose I should get this up, before Senior Spielbergo accosts me at another wedding...

But really, what's the point?  Everyone knows what a GoT season finale is all about by now.  Something bloody and shocking and unexpected happens in episode 9, and the last slice of the season lets us know what we can expect in the following year.

That's not necessarily a bad structure, or anything.  It just makes it tough to find anything interesting to say beyond cataloguing the various plot strands and maybe engaging in a bit of extrapolation. So let's give that a go, adding in some thoughts about how well each strand has gone over the course of the year, and get some way into deciding whether these episodes - commonly and correctly considered to comprise the best season of the show so far - have done justice to the first two thirds of A Storm of Swords - commonly and correctly considered to comprise the best stretch of writing in the series so far.

(TV spoilers below).

Friday, 21 June 2013

Friday 40K: Black Right Hand

Presenting my second Dark Vengeance miniature: a Chaos Lord, with the Murder Sword in one hand and a surprisingly fleshy plasma pistol in the other.  As mentioned previously, I've painted him up in Red Corsairs colours to match the other traitor marines I've put together.

Here he is alongside his small but - if I say so myself - perfectly-formed warband.  They're just shy of 400 points right now, so I'll be shoring them up in the new future with some Dark Vengeance cultists.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Lawyers Do Not Get Their Own Logic

Now I've returned to the world of crushing drudgery, I've been catching up on my reading regarding what's going on out there.  As usual, I've ended up dragged inescapably towards the kinds of logical black holes only the very most important legal authorities can generate:
Petitioner claims that reliance on the Fifth Amendment privilege is the most likely explanation for silence in a case like his, but such silence is "insolubly ambiguous." See Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U. S. 610, 617. To be sure, petitioner might have declined to answer the officer's question in reliance on his constitutional privilege. But he also might have done so because he was trying to think of a good lie, because he was embarrassed, or because he was protecting someone else. Not every such possible explanation for silence is probative of guilt, but neither is every possible explanation protected by the Fifth Amendment. Petitioner also suggests that it would be unfair to require a suspect unschooled in the particulars of legal doctrine to do anything more than remain silent in order to invoke his "right to remain silent." But the Fifth Amendment guarantees that no one may be"compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself," not an unqualified "right to remain silent." 
In summary, a person can be considered guilty for remaining silent because we don't know the reason they remained silent was because they wanted to avoid self-incrimination.  Maybe they weren't going to incriminate themselves at all.  How incriminating! Further, the Constitution's specification that people cannot be compelled to testify against themselves in court means that doing it outside of court and just repeating it at the trial must by definition be fine.

Sam Alito, everyone.  The only person in the world bummed that Kafka never finished The Trial because he was hoping to pick up more pointers.  Some Supreme Justices stay in their seats for life, but I assume Alito's just hanging in there until he can finally get someone executed for keeping newborn babies alive or curing cancer.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Five Things I Learned In Wester Ross

1.  Juvenile pine martens can be tricky to transport from one's kitchen.  You can't approach them directly, or they'll run away.  Lean backwards and stick out your foot, however, and they feel confident enough to attack.  Once they've done that, you can walk out of the house with them holding on for dear life - screaming horrifically the whole time - and shake them loose.  If this seems unnecessarily cruel to the animal, you can offer them honey, jam or peanut butter as a peace offering.  Don't let the locals catch you doing that, though, they hate pine martens like you wouldn't believe.

2. Just outside Aultbea you can find a tiny distillery named after Loch Ewe, which is the only place in the entirety of Britain where you can distill your own whisky.  You can't legally call it whisky - it's tough to find time during a day out to mature something in an oak cask for three years - but that's what it is to all intents and purposes, even if it says uisge beatha on the bottle (pronounced ush-ta-bay).  A quick tour and some fiddling with gas burners and copper stills, and the Other Half and I walked away with four drams of the finest Glensquid liquor.  "Finest" in this context meaning "no less undrinkable than whisky is in general".

3. If you wear a "James" t-shirt in Wester Ross, you will sooner or later meet someone eager to tell you about how their bass player lives in Ullapool, and how nice he is.

4. What Charlie Pierce has sarcastically labelled The Great Climate Change Hoax continues to cause problems across the board.  The late/absent spring this year has affected fish stocks around the Inner Hebrides, which has kept whales away from the islands.  Jellyfish shoals are massively depleted as well, which may make life difficult for turtles, because God knows they've not had a rough enough time of it lately.

5.  Somehow, wondrously, this exists:

Monday, 10 June 2013

Help! We Are Being Held Hostage!

It's kind of hard to get out and enjoy the wilds of Scotland when these pine martens keep raining outside our kitchen window.  Squeals of outrage at 3am aren't helping either. 

I could probably forgive that, though, had the little bastards not found a bee's hive in the attic and ripped it apart for the honey.  Under normal circumstances I'm all for the destruction and immiseration of insects, but given the refugees of the attack attempted to find cover in our spare room and bathroom, I'm rather less impressed.  Especially since the resulting battle apparently created a hole in the roof through which immature pine martens keep falling and screaming blue murder until either their parents find them, or they manage to run into the kitchen and try and make it for the stairs.  So far we've been alert enough to intercept them, but it's only a matter of time before they make it upstairs and into our bed...

The face of the enemy

Friday, 7 June 2013

Friday Scottishness

Light to no posting for the whole of next week, peeps, as I'll be traipsing around Scotland with the Other Half, first in a lovely little cottage near Ullapool, and then at our friends' wedding.

I leave you with something to get you into a Celtic mood.

A Typhoon Of Tragedy

These people were also in this episode, apparently
So... um...

(TV spoilers beyond mortal comprehension after the jump)

It's All Fun And Games Until Someone Gets Filled By Satan

This is from the fairly far-right and utterly anti-logic Corner, so I suspect they actually agree with him, but holy chickenballs, Virginia has some interesting politicians.  Would-be Lieutenant Governor E.W. Jackson:
[M]ost people are dead spirits. As such they have the nature of Satan who does not want to have anything to do with God or anyone related to Him. Of course they are not aware that they are imbued with the nature of Satan. They would be mortified by the idea of becoming Satanists or devil worshippers. Satan benefits far more from people who do not know they serve him than from those who knowingly bow to him. Your spirit was made for attachment. It is either attached to God or to Satan, but it is not neutral, no matter how much people think themselves to be. 
 My question is: if my soul is attached to Satan, why isn't my life much cooler?  I've seen Good vs Evil (man, I miss that show).  I could get some awesome shit from this deal.  I could bang Jolene Blalock in-between chase scenes in golf carts, for instance.  And that's just off the top of my head.

Still, it could be worse, I suppose.  At least I don't have the patience for yoga:
The purpose of such meditation is to empty oneself. . . . [Satan] is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it...You will end up filled with something you probably do not want. 
 Like bullshit, for example.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

D CDs #486: Words Of The World

Like most rational people, I have almost no time for Pitchfork, because generally speaking neither sneering condescension nor rambling solipsism constitute acceptable alternatives to reviewing music.  And yes, I say this in the full knowledge that my own music reviews aren't fit for purpose either.  The difference is music reviews aren't the entire fucking purpose of me.

Even so, if a million monkeys bash away at typewriters (all holding pages previously marked with "this band reminds me of a much better one you haven't heard of" or "I preferred this band before they had the money to hire a sound engineer"), occasionally something of interest might emerge by chance.  Take this, for example, from the review of Peter Criss's first solo album:
"Writing about music is like dancing to architecture."

-paraphrase of a quote oft attributed to Elvis Costello

Whenever I see that line pop up in a review, I think the same thing: "Too fucking lazy to think of anything to say."
There is something to that, I'll admit, and the idea has been running through my head ever since I first spun this record and found myself struggling for words.  But is it really the case that it must always be possible to pin music down in prose?  Isn't the whole point of much of the very best music to bypass your higher brain functions entirely?  Is there not a danger in dragging purely emotional responses into the cortex and pummelling them with language?

Such are the risks in talking about "That's The Way Of The World".  Take album opener "Shining Star".  Funky, clearly.  Awesome, undoubtedly.  Utterly banal lyrics delivered so brilliantly that it couldn't matter less?  Yeeup, my friends.  Victory is yours, gentlemen.  This conversation is over.

On and on it goes.  The slow, soulful title track.  The horn-powered dash of "Yearnin' Learning", which admittedly pretty much recycles the same (astonishingly good) bag of tricks run through on "Feeling Happy", but with the addition of piano and even more awesomeness so that you don't mind.  By the time you hit the slow rap on the subject of spiritual self-love in "All About Love" you're utterly sold, and even those who manage to remain stony-faced there will be undone once "Africano" breaks out into a mess of funk guitars that would make Shaft wonder whether he was good enough to walk down the street with this in the background.

OK, so maybe, maaaaaybe, we could get by without "Reasons", and album closer "See The Light" feels just a shade flabby. But these are islands of competence in a sea of excellence, not stumbles by any sensible definition.  The individual parts of this are disgracefully good, but the whole simply defies analysis.  The idea of there being something so balls-out soulful and funky that my higher brain functions simply refuse to engage is something I don't remember having experienced before,

Which I guess is something to say after all.

Nine tentacles

Monday, 3 June 2013

Trek Nitpicking Nitpicking

This, I accept, is a pretty good distillation of all the problems with Star Trek Into Darkness.  Some I noticed at the time, some I realised during later rumination, and some I hadn't noticed until now.

All that said, can we knock this nonsense off, please?

(Minor spoilers from the first few minutes of the film follow)

Sunday, 2 June 2013

A Squall Of Siblings

"Second son" is a strange way to describe someone.  It's a term that's doubly founded upon reference to someone else.  You don't get to be a second son unless there's been a first son, and a father before him (women are also required, though this being Westeros, they won't feature in such considerations as much as they should).  In the status-obsessed society of the Seven Kingdoms, it's a strange way to be defined, because it's all about your potential.  To a man of title, a second son is both insurance and risk.  Insurance because they offer you a second chance should your heir meet an early and unfortunate fate, and risk because raising a man to know maximum power is contingent upon his brother's death is a policy that can go very badly wrong.

(TV spoilers below)