Monday, 29 July 2013

One Quick Comment...

...On the lads-mags-in-bags furore currently tearing Twitter apart (or at least the parts of it I inhabit).   Lacking the necessary learning on the subject I'm not inclined to jump in with both feet on the topic of whether magazines should be allowed to show attractive women in various states of undress on covers where people might be able to see them.

I'd just like to point out in passing that "Should a society be OK with generating such pictures?" and "Should a society be OK with seeing such pictures?" are two different questions, and not nearly enough effort is being made to separate them.  Leave them entwined, and you get the ridiculous sight of people arguing the best way to fight an outdated view of women's sexuality is to drag our conception of sexuality back into the Victorian age.

Let's make sure the discussion here is about how best to ensure a child doesn't develop sexist attitudes.  The discussion about how best to ensure a child doesn't develop sexual awareness isn't one we should want any part of, unless it's by way of shutting it the hell down.

Adventures In Sundays

So yesterday morning at about quarter past eleven our neighbour started hammering on our door, asking in panic whether either of us were a doctor.  Figuring she probably didn't want someone to check out some data for her, we said no, and then followed her out into the street, where people were gathering to try and help out a cyclist who'd managed to throw himself head first through the windscreen of a parked Citroen just feet away from our drive.

Somehow, despite not wearing a helmet, the cyclist had only minor cuts to his head, but his jugular was millimetres away from jagged glass, so there was a woman in the car holding his head with a stack of towels and a man holding the cyclist's torso from behind.  Meanwhile, a couple of other people were stood at each end of our section of road, politely asking oncoming traffic to turn around rather than trying to pass a guy who could end up with his throat cut if so much as a strong wind showed up.

You really learn a lot about human nature when you're asking drivers if they'd mind spending two minutes driving across to the road that runs parallel to ours to get where they're going rather than risk - not by much, but risk - a guy's life by continuing on.  Turns out fully one fifth of motorists need to be beaten to death with spiked baseball bats with angry scorpions glued to them.

(In fact, our road is constantly plagued by shitty, shitty drivers, who constantly drive past at over fifty miles an hour, despite it being a thirty zone, and despite there being an A road two minutes away which would add minutes to their journey without threatening my life every time I try to pull my car out.)

This state of affairs lasted long past the paramedics arriving, but once a pair of fire engines arrived and blocked off the street, people started getting the message.  Well, most of them did; one woman decided the best course of action was to just sit there with her hazard lights on whilst she left the car to go do... something, I don't know, which then meant the next paramedic who showed up had to swerve round her on his way in.   Nice work, nameless woman! Take your place in the queue for the scorpio-bat room!

Anyway, forty minutes after the knock on the door, the cyclist had been extricated.  By that point he was standing and talking normally, extremely embarrassed about the whole thing - I think when the helicopter arrived and couldn't find anywhere to land (I'd have voted for atop that lady's abandoned car, personally, but I suppose the necessary balancing act wouldn't have been fun or easy) that he felt things had maybe become a little ridiculous.  He rode off in the ambulance, just to be on the safe side, but he seemed pretty much OK, considering the damage he'd done to the Citroen's windscreen. 

How he'd actually managed to get into that predicament in the first place remains unknown.  Were I to guess, I'd say he was swerving to avoid a driver acting like a cock.  Not often you'd lose a bet like that down here.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

SpaceSquid vs. The X-Men #45: Luvver Boy

Welcome, one and all, to the sad tale of Jonothon Starsmore.

Writing about Chamber as an X-Man is no easy task.  I mean, I don't have the world's best memory, but can anyone remember anything notable Chamber has done as a member of the senior team?  About the only storyline that's coming to mind is "Poptopia", but that was a) over a decade ago and b) shit.

Even in the late noughties and early teenies (shut up, those are the names), an era in which Marvel writers seem to be putting more effort into characterising their minor roles than ever before, Chamber can be fairly summed up as a walking artillery pierce with an embarrassing English speech pattern (seriously, you'd think British writers have managed large enough inroads into the US comics industry for this kind of ludicrous over-egged rubbish to have fallen by the wayside).  No-one seems to have the first clue what to do with him, as demonstrated by the kind of major re-jigs of his basic nature (he has no face!  He has a face!  He's Apocalypse-lite! He's a man with a sonic weapon strapped to his chest!  He has no face!) that seem to dog characters who combine significant fan nostalgia with current writers' complete inability to use them sensibly (see also: Moonstar, Dani).

There is, of course, a reason for all of this, and it stems from Chamber's very beginnings.  Consider the ultimate fate of the characters that, like him, were either introduced in Generation X during the early '90s, or who are most associated with same.  Husk has rocketed between being utterly side-lined and appearing in stories so bad one wishes desperately she was side-lined for longer.  Jubilee has gone through the same repeated extreme make-over process, with no more pleasing an effect.  It took years for anyone to use M effectively, and given Peter David's reputation for rehabilitating limited and forgotten characters, her starring role in his revamped X-Factor is more damning with faint praise than anything else.  Mondo has long ago disappeared, and Skyn only reappeared after years in exile so Chuck Austen could kill him with breathtaking cynicism.  Hell, Synch was pretty much the only character to not suffer post-Gen-X ignominy, and that's because he was blown to pieces before the book was.

So what is it about these super-powered teens that made it so difficult to spin stories out from them after their own title ended?  To answer that, we need to think about what exactly Generation X was, and what it was supposed to do.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Friday Randomness

Randomness indeed.  I don't know what's weirder; the fact that you can buy this:

or that inquisitive penguins were exactly the medium I've frequently used to describe my probability-based PhD thesis to inquisitive lay-people.

Monday, 22 July 2013

It Is Always The Living Who Are The Problem

A few thoughts on last night's Walking Dead episode, "The Killer Within".  Below are spoilers not just for the episode (and if you haven't seen it yet, turst me when I say the spoilers in question are absolutely gigantic), but for the first eight volumes of the comic book as well, which will almost certainly spoil later episodes of this season, too.  You have been warned!

Friday, 19 July 2013

Stronger Cases

A few days ago BigHead pointed out in comments that I shouldn't be so quick to snigger about the Texas legislature banning tampons in the galleries, but not guns. Basically, he says, it's not unreasonable to ban items based on their likelihood of being used for disruption, as oppose to the damage they could do should they be employed.

Which... OK, yeah.  It was a throwaway comment of mine, and it doesn't get into the really ugly visuals of a bunch of white men telling women they can't have their sanitary products nearby unless those men decide women are behaving responsibly enough.  But on the gun crack; fair cop.

(The only fair cop you'll hear about in a story involving Texas, I'll bet.  ZOOM!)

Anyway, it's not like it's hard to find ludicrous stories from America about gun use.  Let's all stare in horror at this story, for example:
Republicans in the US House Appropriations Committee yesterday voted down an amendment that would have permitted the Justice Department to block the sale of guns and explosives to suspected terrorists on the terror watch list.
It is better to let one hundred terrorists walk free with automatic weapons than it is to leave one innocent man unable to accidentally shoot his toddler at a family BBQ.

There are days that I think those Founding Fathers not pure enough to get into heaven must spend their eternal torment being reincarnated, over and over again, as congressional staffers.  A crueler fate is not easy to imagine.

(via Rising Hegemon, who also brought me this horrible gem.)

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

At Last The Truth!

Excellent news, comrades!  Gay marriage has finally become legal in the UK!  And we all know what that means!

It means our true goals can now be revealed!

Man, it's been hard keeping this inside for so long.  All those long months of listening to far-sighted voices on the right arguing this was all just a preamble to ensuring it was legal for a man to marry farmyard animals, or their own children, or both at once.  Everytime someone insisted we only really wanted to tie the knot with our favourite pets, I was terrified they'd finally figured out our nefarious aims.

Have you any idea how hard it's been keeping secret my desire to marry four or more tortoises and a domesticated ocelot?  Fliss in particular has been asking awkward questions about the amount of lettuce I've been buying, and why I always come back from the garden shed with a huge grin on my face.  I feel kind of bad that once our new goal of enshrining bestiality in law is complete, she'll have to go, but I'm sure she'll find someone else.  Dogs always seem to take a shine to her, for instance.

I'd like to thank every foolish liberal-leaning sucker who's put so much effort into ensuring this day has come, when we can finally stand up in public and say "If it can be Adam and Steve, why not Adam and Sudanese Red Sea Swallow?"  And let me say how happy I am for everyone who can now finally get married to people with matching sexual organs.  Obvisously, I'm not sure I even want to end up with someone with a matching blood heat, but whatever floats your boat.

Expand My Empire; Call It An Imperium

Presenting my latest project, this time in league with The Other Half: Who The Heck Is Horus?  Contained within are the experiences of Fliss as she works her way through the entirely unknown - to her - territory of the Horus Heresy, and attempts to wrap her powerful but entirely unfamiliar mind around the story contained within.  The aim: to figure out how much of the Heresy is crushingly obvious to a neophyte, and which aspects of the 31st Millennium are understandable to those who've never encountered the 41st.  It's a dirty job but someone else has got to do it!

What will win out? Fliss' literary savvy, or the crushing weight of over twenty-five years of impenetrable back-story?  Will she find it enjoyable? Comprehensible?  When will she stop referring to the process of Space Marine creation "drinking super-juice"?

There's only one way to find out! 

Monday, 15 July 2013

Revenge Of The White Guys

With the lefty blogohedron - and potentially the real world west of the Caribbean - in uproar over the transparently hideous conclusion to the George Zimmerman trial, I've decided there's nothing I can add to the general outrage.

Instead, I'll flag up this Iowa legal decision, which is both utterly despicable and in danger of being drowned out in all the - utterly justified - fury over white Floridans new-found ability to shoot dead any black guy they decide they don't like the look of.
 The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday stood by its ruling that a dentist acted legally when he fired an assistant because he found her too attractive and worried he would try to start an affair... The court said such firings do not count as illegal sex discrimination because they are motivated by feelings, not gender.
Quite the legal minds the Hawkeyes have founds themselves lumbered with.  Nothing could be less deserving of the term "sex discrimination" than discriminating based on who one wants to have sex with, obviously.  Just like how if you feel that all young black men are probably criminal, well, that's not about race, is it?  Just feelings.

It's not just the stupidity that bothers me here, but the cowardice.  When the most powerful judicial authorities in the state - all of them male, obviously - wants to cite the old legal precedent of "If I'm a misogynist, how come I love pussy so much?", they should at least have the balls to come right out and say it. It's not like they don't have testicles to spare, after all.

Oh, and for bonus gender nonsense; take it away, Texas!
According to Jessica Luther, a freelance writer and pro-choice activist who has been coordinating much of the push-back to the proposed abortion restrictions over the past few weeks, Senate officials are confiscating any objects they believe may cause a similar disruption in the gallery during Friday’s vote. Protesters aren’t allowed to carry water bottles or even feminine hygiene products, just in case they might throw them at lawmakers:
Still permitted in the gallery: guns.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

D CDs #485: Fading Vital Signs

Ah.  We’ve reached grunge, have we?  Time for another autobiographical detour…

As a child, I had little time for music.  I haven’t the slightest idea why, it just left me cold, right up until I was approaching my GCSE exams in the ’95-’96 school year.  Something just broke apart in my head watching The Cure and Smashing Pumpkins, with “The 13t” and “Tonite Tonite”, respectively, perform an unstoppable double on Top of the Pops.

This is important for two reasons.  Firstly, it means I began exploring music at roughly the point grunge had reached its highpoint and was beginning to collapse in on itself.  Second, it means that my sudden obsession with the Smashing Pumpkins meant I was immediately allied with the forces that helped kill it.

Billy Corgan once said, with his trademark modesty, that if he and Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love and Eddie Vedder had figured out a coherent plan of attack whilst grunge was still in its infancy, that its heyday could have extended into the new millennium.  Which, I mean, that’s obviously 99% bullshit.  But there’s a kernel of something interesting there, because the Pumpkins are the most obvious case of having worked out how to adapt grunge into something that had some hope of lasting.  Much of Siamese Dream is difficult to file as “grunge”, and by Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness the link was stretched still further.  It was perhaps still a vital component (Adore jettisoned it completely and suffered as a result), but this was clearly something else, some kind of post-grunge eclecticism which made those two albums among the best that have ever been recorded.

All of which meant that my initial exploration of what one would recognise as archetypal grunge – Pearl Jam themselves, along with Hole and, yes, even Nirvana – struck me as being basically Pumpkins songs without any of the good bits.  Without any of the grace of beauty.  Hell, even the name sounds wrong.  Try saying “Vitalogy” aloud.  The syllables trip each other up; it’s a word without style, just sitting there because this leaden weight supposedly has rhetorical weight, rather than simply brute, ugly mass.

Fast forward seventeen years, and some of that attitude still remains.  Certainly, the tracks on Vitalogy that are most worthy of praise are those that wander furthest from the album’s mean.  The astonishing beautiful "Nothingman", the introspective "Better Man"; these are real highlights, islands of experimental prettiness breaking through the ocean of standard-template grunge. 
That said, whilst I’m not moved one inch on my belief the genre is a horribly limited one, I have no intention of denying that Vitalogy does the absolute best with the limited tools it allows itself.  "Last Exit" coils around itself amongst random guitar stabs before leaping for your throat as the song proper begins.  "Corduroy" offers an exhilarating tumble into the confused mix of dissatisfaction and defiance that was always the most interesting theme grunge had to call upon.  "Satan's Bed" manages to combine a ruthlessly disciplined chugging rhythm with a very slightly demented guitar line, married to a effectively simplistic chorus, providing a toothsome treat, though I'm not sure anyone was listening to this album curious to know Eddie Vedder's position on fellating Satan.

But is it really nothing more than amusing irony that the album cannot sustain itself any more than the genre it exists within? The final three tracks are pretty throwaway, a Latin-tinged trudge, a medicore track stretched to unsupportabl lengths, and a pile of nonsense serving as a perfect exhibit of how experimentalism can be misinterpreted as just requiring the shoving of shit together.  The fact that this triptych of unravelling ability are tacked on after the wonderful Better Man is telling; rather than conclude with an atypical but excellent song, the band thrash around for further fifteen minutes.
As if they still have something to say. As if grunge still has spaces to explore, as oppose to walls that can only be slammed against.  When you’re trapped in a structure so small and so crowded, hitting the walls with all your might seem the best plan, actually.  But the aim is to break through and escape, not to bring the whole building down on top of you.
More than anything else, Vitalogy is the sound of that collapse.  On its own terms and of its own time, there’s plenty to enjoy.  But we are done here.
Seven and a half tentacles.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Friday Paint Bench: The Floating Fortress And Friends

With nothing finished this fortnight, it's the perfect time to take stock of all the half-done miniatures littering our table and making The Other Half paranoid she'll knock them over and incur infinite wrath.

First up, as hinted by the post title, I've moved a number of steps closer to finally completing the Bloody Reaver.  The hull is now entirely finished; I've just the rigging left.  Hopefully those will be done pretty quickly; given I undercoated the ship in January of last year, I'm keen to have the damn thing finished.

Over in the far future, meanwhile, I'm rapidly using up my last remaining pot of Blood Red.  Which is quite a problem when I have a Tervigon to paint, which is only this far through:

The situation isn't really being helped by this Blood Angels Strike Cruiser, either.

Back in fantasy land, I've made very little progress on my House Piper Knight for my Bretonnian/Riverlands army.  But, as the Master once said (Buffy, not Who), "Sometimes a little is enough".

Lastly, a quick check-in on my Talisman progress, which right now amounts to undercoating a dragon and painting her belly, though it's a little tough to see that here.  The contrast will be more obvious once I paint the scales green.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

A Million Trees Dead To Tell People To Be Dicks

Well, this is an intriguing list. For all that I’ve read it more times than almost any other book (it’s certainly the only book with more than 200 pages I might have read more times than The Hobbit), I understand why people might give up on Lord of the Rings. There’s only so many elves the mind can tolerate, after all, and it’s not like Tolkien’s prose style is particularly strong. Moby Dick and Ulysses are commonly mentioned as exceptionally difficult books, and I’ve never even attempted either of them. If someone wants to adapt the Odyssey for a post-classical period, I’ll go with Ulysses 31, thanks very much. At least that has spaceships.

Atlas Shrugged is obviously the exact opposite of any kind of shock result, save the fact that it can be included in the list of classic books in the first place. Given my love of Aaron Sorkin, I can hardly claim with a straight face that obvious political hectoring isn’t for me, but a) his politics aren’t monumentally ugly, and b) the guy can write. Rand can’t claim either of these advantages.

But really, people of the world? Catch-22? What the Hell? Are you just not getting the jokes? Is it making you all sad? Were you hoping it was set during a more morally ambiguous war? What’s going on?

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Five Things I Learned In Compiegne

1. Randomly selected hotel staff (in that they were within a randomly selected hotel, this being what all indications suggest is my university's booking policy) in France have an amazing grasp of English. When a tired academic stumbles in at half eleven at night, they can even ask whether he has enjoyed his seminar.

Well, his "seminary", actually, but that's close enough, as well as very funny.

 2. The castle at Pierrefronds is absolutely beautiful, all hunched grotesques and climbing stone crocodiles, plus a cavernous interior that almost bludgeons you with its oppressive tranquillity. You can argue, as some did, that the fact the castle was extensively re-modelled by Napoleon III in the nineteenth century makes it too much an artifact of imperialistic folly to truly enjoy, but it worked for me.

That said, though, a statue of "a griffon's head" is just a fucking eagle, and we all just need to be OK with that.

3. Picardy cider is... OK.  It's not all that different from Magners, which isn't really one of my favourites, but it has a bit more flavour to it, as well as being a hair sweeter.  There's also the bonus of it coming in bottles no smaller than 75cl, meaning you have the added bonus of watching locals gag in horror as you announce in broken French your intention to buy one and a half pints of cider just for yourself.

4. The Deputy Mayor of Compiegne is either very spaced out or a subtle comedy genius.  After a slightly surreal conversation regarding the future of French youth which I didn't entirely understand (due to the social differences involved, not because my companion had less than excellent English), I tried to change the subject by pointing at my panda tai-chi t-shirt and asked what one called these creatures in French.  "Un panda", she told me, proud to be educating so clueless a foreigner in her native language.

"Makes sense", I responded, "And so-".

"WAIT!" she suddenly said, as if having overlooked something critical.  "Are they girl pandas?"

"Er, I don't know," I replied, "Why?  What is the French for that?"

She smiled knowingly.  "Une panda".

Good to know.

5. Double-decker trains.  What. The. Fuck?

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Unacceptable Working Conditions

How can I be expected to search for the new maths having to use facilities this bad? I know there’s scandalously few women in my field, but the last thing those few who are determined to break the glass ceiling of imprecise probability need is to be greeted by the sight of me relieving myself.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Ou Est Le Vin, S'il Vous Plait?

Another light week of blogging, I'm afraid, since I'll be in France trying to persuade mathematicians to listen to me, and French bars to sell me cider.

Whilst you're waiting, here are some lovely pictures from the last time I toddled off, courtesy of the Other Half.  I present various scenes from Wester Ross.