Thursday, 31 October 2013

1.11: Thicker Than Water

Steven had to take some time off the comic so he could go become a doctor, but with that trifle out of the way, it's time to dive back into the strange world of Achstein U.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

A Film Of A Shadow

"All this amoral obsessiveness has given me such a hangover."

I love Shadow of the Vampire.


German Expressionist films can be pretty tricky for the contemporary viewer. The thick make-up and considerably over-emphasis of body language can often be off-putting.  Nosferatu is, in fact, a wonderfully off-kilter experience, the obvious lack of realism adding to its oppressive dream-like atmosphere.

By shooting a modern film about the shooting of a German Expressionist masterpiece, this becomes somewhat more clear. The ultimate aim of Shadow... is the same as that of Nosferatu; to unsettle.  The methods through which this is accomplished have changed in eight decades, of course, but Shadow... demonstrates just how cosmetic those changes are. The unreal - even the absurd - is not a barrier to the unnerving. Quite the opposite, in some cases.  The first death in the film occurs when "Shreck" drains a man atop half of a sailing ship attached to the side of a medieval Czechoslovakian castle.  And it doesn't matter in the least.

The film also provides some context to Expressionism, by reminding us of two things.  Firstly, many of the actors working in these early films were established stage actors; that is, people who are used to scaling their vocal and physical performance to crowds of people who are watching actors on a stage from several metres away at least.  It's hardly surprising that when placed in front of a camera and told to act - without speaking, no less - their response would be to perform in a way which to contemporary eyes seems desperately over-egged.  Secondly, via Murnau's visits to what seems to be somewhere between an opium den and a gay orgy, we're reminded that the Expressionist films of the inter-war period (the period the most famous such films came from; Nosferatu itself, the Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Metropolis) were created during a time of ludicrous hedonistic excess. It's probably pretty difficult to tell whether someone is whirling their arms about too much when you're mashed off your tits on laudanum.


Indeed, what's fascinating about Murnau's attitude is that in his own opiate-addled mind the only thing that matters is authenticity.  He hires an actual fucking vampire for his vampire flick.  He has his lead actor (a frankly rather shaky Eddie Izzard, though he does sell nervousness quite well) meet "Shreck" at night in a creepy castle whilst filming their first scene together.  He agrees to sell his female lead to his undead hire, and his plan to betray "Schreck" by exposing him to sunlight, he of course intends to film the results.

This, it seems to me, ties into a more general instinct among 20th and 21st century people to film what they don't understand and/or which scare them.  There's a reason Blair Witch Project did so well, after all. Here, Murnau has found something outside of his comprehension, so he's dissecting it through film.  Which, of course, is what we're doing too.  When "Schreck" meets his end, we don't see him burn up or explode or crumble into dust, we see the frames which carry his image shrivelling up. What we see on film can only be interpreted through that film.  Thousands of years ago we made up stories to explain those phenomenon we couldn't understand. These days we employ people to pretend to face things that don't exist in order to explain things we don't yet fully grasp, and then for some ridiculous reason we insist this obbious intentional artifice must have the sheen of realism.  This is no less stupid today than it was when Murnau wore his goggles.

(Note here that I'm using the word 'realism' to describe something entirely different to internal consistency. The wilful refusal by so many people to understand the difference between the two is one of the most aggravating aspects of genre fandom. Murnau wanting a genuine vampire for his movie is evidence the man is crazy.  Him getting upset during the final scene that the stake is in the wrong place whilst "Schreck" dies is entirely sensible.  Or it would be, were it not following the brutal murder of two members of his film crew.)


One of the great cliches of vampire stories is how lonely and depressing it is to be one of the undying.  This is generally pretty difficult to take even remotely seriously in film, because of the nature of movie casting.  How, one might reasonably ask, are we supposed to sympathise with ridiculously good-looking eternally young people who are lamenting the fact that they will never be able to stop fucking other ridiculously good-looking eternally young people.  Young people are unbearable even when we know their self-obsessed springtime won't last forever.

Shadow... deals with this expertly.  One of the greatest scenes in the film sees "Max Schreck" drinking Schnapps with the producer and the scriptwriter, discussing the sheer degree of knowledge and experience his centuries of life has pushed out of his head, and how all those years of solitude means he can no longer even remember the most basic ways in which humans behave.  "Schreck's" life is not one of eternal youth, but eternal lonely old-age and ugliness.  It's a wonderful tonic to the standard practice of employing impossibly beautiful people who try to reflect our own fears and experiences back at us whilst barely visible through a fog of hormones.  There are no slim and impressionable young girls to hang off "Schreck's" every word, just two middle-aged drunken me who would rather he leave and stop bringing them down.


Why didn't they include the werewolf?  That's the funniest scene in the original film. "The werewolf is roaming the forest." BOOM. Cut to hyena. Cut to scared horses. Cut to hyena. NEVER MENTION IT AGAIN.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Pissiness And Photos

After spending last night watching scary movies with - among others - our two comrades from last months epic Ryanair disaster, it occurred to me that I never really explained just what the hell happened.  Seven weeks on I don't still have the same hatred in my heart as I did at the time, so suffice it to say:
  1. If you're running an international airport, you should make sure the person making announcements speaks enough English to be comprehensible;
  2. If you're announcing a flight has been cancelled, you should probably give at least a few more details, and when you direct passengers to the internet to find out what's going on, you should probably check the wi-fi in your airport is actually working;
  3. If you're running an airline and you cancel a flight because the pilot doesn't want to land in rainy weather (our pilot-to-be was the only person who felt this way that whole day, but I don't want to be second-guessing whether a potentially lethal activity I know nothing about is possible or not, so, fine), you should probably not tell people the next flight is three days away, you'll have to pay for the resulting three nights in a local hotel, which they should reimburse you for later on, perhaps;
  4. If you're on the customer service desk and people are asking where else they can get a flight to Birmingham from nearby, you probably shouldn't be directing them to travel 90km in order to get a flight two days later rather than three, especially when it ultimately turns out the flight is to Bournemouth.
 Thankfully point 4 proved not to effect us, as we were able to hurriedly book an early evening flight to Southampton, and then hire a car (go Europcar, by the way; the only people to come out of this clustercuss at all well) to get home.

So that's that, then.  I don't want to linger on the horrors that concluded our French trip, though.  Instead, here are some lovely photos Fliss took whilst I was busy learning conjugations whilst writing and drinking in strict rotation.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Nor Is Any Woman Powered By Electricity

This made me laugh pretty hard, assuming, as I think we must do, that it's a joke.

I mean, as a joke, it's pretty funny.  It's notably less funny than when my friend Phil told me conspiratorially "Novels: those are a pack of lies, aren't they?", but Mr Gallagher is trying his best here.

Unless he actually means what he's saying, of course.  That's hilarious in a different way.  We'll leave aside the obvious objection here - Gallagher lists his favourite film as The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, which two Italian guys just, like, totally made up - and point out Gallagher himself writes fictitious songs. No-one will ever find him in a champagne supernova.  No-one will ever find a champagne supernova.  Should one ever create a champagne supernova - a disgraceful waste of booze that could have otherwise been used to, you know, get me drunk - it will utterly inaccessible to those unfortunates who find themselves caught beneath landslides.

Come on, Noel.  We all hate people in roughly similar professions who look down on us for no good reason; I was a maths teacher for three years, after all.  If your going to put the boot in, though, do it with a least a nod towards internal coherence, yeah? S'all I'm sayin'.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Retcon City

Permit me to begin this post with a rant (it's not like you're not used to them, after all).  Words have meanings, and retcon is a word, no matter how recent its birth. Those six letters exist in that combination for a reason, and people should respect that.

If I'm going to get up on my high horse about use of language, I should probably dig a little into what I think the word means.  Let's start with what it most certainly doesn't mean. It doesn't mean a change in the status quo.  Nor does it mean a return to the status quo - neither necessarily does "reset", incidentally, which seems to have become synonymous with "retcon" in certain areas; reversion to the status quo ante is only a reset when the method by which that return occurs has an insignificant effect upon later story-lines. It also doesn't mean simply filling in holes in a character's back-story, unless it's hard to credit that what fills the hole could realistically have remained hidden.

Properly speaking, a revelation becomes a retcon only when we learn something we thought was true isn't. This can be explicit - Dave's father isn't his father at all! - or implicit, whereby we assume elements of a character's past were uneventful because they've never been mentioned until The Big Reveal.  The crudest retcons do this by rewriting the past.  The more sophisticated ones do it by offering a new context for the past.

I'm not entirely sure whether "Lilith" constitutes a retcon, if for no other reason than Carey spends much of his time simply deciding which elements of antiquity's religious and literary writings to plunder. If indeed the tale of how the Silver City came to be constitutes a retcon, though, it's of the context-changing kind.  Not just of Lucifer itself, as it happens, but of the Bible as well.

(Spoilers follow.)

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Shutdown IV: Live Free Or Shut Down

Yesterday I learned from Televisualist that the Canadians - possibly accidentally but more likely through their trademark exquisite timing - are repeating the West Wing episode "Shutdown", in which a slimy Republican Speaker shuts the government down because President Bartlet won't let him back out of a budget deal at the eleventh hour.

(Note the now-familiar Republican framing, by the way: "We're unilaterally changing the deal for us keeping the government open. If you don't accept those changes, it's your fault that we'll shut the government down.")

It never fails to amuse me thinking back at how many people - people who really should have known better - wailed and gnashed their teeth about how that show was just so mean to Republicans.  Compared to actual-real-life Speaker Boehner, Haffley might as well be James Madison.  All he asked for was a further 2% reduction in spending.  Pretty much every single thing he says in that second video is pure horseshit, but he knew when he'd miscalculated and how to get out from under it.

Oh, and this is how the West Wing dealt with the debt ceiling:

A minute-long scene, and then we move onto something else, because it would never have occurred to Lawrence O'Donnell that anyone could possibly be so viciously, proudly ignorant and vindictive as Ted Cruz and be elected as a Klan leader, let alone a US Senator.

The US is in horrific shape, one of the only two political parties they allow themselves (as Charlie Pierce puts it) is discussing whether to damage the entire world rather than let more of their own citizens get health insurance, and a major reason why is the number of people who've spent the last thirty-three years insisting Republicans really aren't all that bad, and we should be nicer to them.  The next American bobble-head who complains that the US will suffer from appeasing Iran should be punched in the face.

Update: The latest I'm getting is that the Senate is preparing to vote on a deal.  The House GOP, meanwhile, is now talking about insisting a deal requires limiting access to birth control.  It's like watching clowns set their car on fire and piling back in.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Sleepy Hollow 2: Solid Schlock

Now we've cleared the difficult political stuff off the board, let's move onto something entirely more visceral: is Sleepy Hollow full of sufficient spookytimes?

The short answer to that is yes. It's not spookiness immune to a little humour - and if the idea of the Headless Horseman getting hold of an automatic weapon holds no appeal for you, then this is neither the program nor the blog (nor, perhaps, the existence) for you - but there's plenty of atmospherics packed in there. Nightmarish discoveries (and, er, nightmares), sinister trees, creatures that stand like men but who simply move wrong, it's all very well put together. For sure, there's little here that hasn't been seen before in film, but for a television series it's all astonishingly accomplished (there's a problem with suggesting this in itself is a reason to do things on television, but we'll return to what else is going on later). The final scene, especially, is - one CGI misstep aside - one of the best moments TV horror has come up with in recent years.

But pulling this off in a pilot is one thing. The obvious next question is: how long can this last. By their third seasons, both The X-Files and Supernatural - to take two other long-running horror (or at least horror-informed) shows - had both more or less given up completely on the idea of freaking out the viewer. The two shows had different reasons for that choice, as we shall see, but in both cases comments were made on the fact that the shows were moving away from "monster of the week" stories.

And here's the thing. I do not get why people think that kind of movement is a good thing.

If you want to put out pocket horror movies every week, I'd have thought the "monster of the week" format is exactly what you want to hew to. The X-Files had eight years to try matching the unsettling viciousness of "Squeeze", and they never even got close. The wilderness Americana of early Supernatural generated an atmosphere I'm still missing seven seasons later, no matter that by almost every measure the show's first season was its least accomplished.

But then that's because the makers of Supernatural decided they didn't want to make a horror movie every week, they wanted to explore how two brothers deal with life throwing a succession of revolting developments involving their family at them. Which, fine, if that's what you want to go for. What's important about that decision, though, is that it required the introduction of familiar elements - in this case, demons. And familiarity of concept is just fatal to horror. The slow-motion emasculating of regular villains in television series is well known (Buffy's vampires, Stargate: SG1's Jaffa, even the Daleks), but the problem is considerably more pronounced when creep-giving is your goal. There just wasn't any way to add in the narrative through-line and maintain the atmospherics (The X-Files made the same calculation, only in their case it was to push their Byzantine po-faced Labyrinth of Nonsense).

Like I say, Supernatural ended up better than it began (X-Files absolutely didn't), but still, I'd like to see a show stick with being as freaky as possible for as long as possible, And I think it can be done, too. Supernatural had basically the right idea - the obvious advantage TV horror has over film is the opportunity for character development. You use that to power the narrative, and then drench it all in lashings of undead fiends and loping monsters. Keep the story at the most simple possible level - upcoming apocalypse best prevented by killing all monsters, and off you go.

The most obvious objection here is how do you keep putting together scary movies when the ironclad rule is that the main characters cannot die? Which has some weight to it, I admit, but I don't think all that much, For all that a standalone horror movie has butchery options denied this kind of television series, no-one watched Halloween or The Fog seriously believing Jamie Lee Curtis wouldn't survive. The fact that horror movies can break the rules doesn't mean they can't work in situations when they're clearly going to stick to them. Indeed, another advantage TV horror has is that the utter bullshit last minute twist that has ruined so much of horror cinema [1] can no longer be employed to the same frustrating extent. So long as the show steers clear of menacing Ichabod/Abbie every episode only for Abbie/Ichabod to ride to the rescue at the last second, I don't particularly see a problem here.

I'm not saying it will definitely work. I'm saying it might, and I'd love to see someone try. It won't take long to discover whether or not they've given it a go.

[1] Especially post-Sixth Sense, though the twist there is fine as these things go. To what extent Shyamalan's film actually brought about renewed interest in twist endings, and to what extent it simply happened to appear at around the time a horror renaissance was underway in any case, I'm not sure.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Sleepy Hollow 1: Hollow History

The pilot episode of Sleepy Hollow may have had a fairly prosaic plot, but it was still absolutely fascinating.  Not all of the reasons for that are good.

Let's start with a major positive, then (only very minor spoilers here, folks). This the first American TV show I can remember watching in which fully three of the four most important characters - where "important" is measured by number of lines, rather than the order in which the people portraying them got their names thrown up on screen - are non-white, without the show itself focusing on that fact.  Shows about non-white families, or non-white areas, we have had.  Shows in which a bunch of people are thrown together by circumstance?  Not so much.

So hooray. A show - at least in its first episode - that is neither whitewashed, nor interested in making a fuss about that fact. Not that making a fuss is something I'm objecting to, of course; minority-centric programming I'm entirely down with.  I just like the idea that a minority white cast is something that can be slipped by people these days.

All that said, the show isn't entirely unproblematic in terms of racial issues. This is an unavoidable consequence of the show's bedrock premise, i.e. a white guy from the time of slavery wakes up one day to find himself questioned by a female black cop.

Obviously, this is a potential mine-field. Sleepy Hollow takes what is probably the easiest and most sensible route of out of this, which is to briefly reference it, have Ichabod Crane announce he was firmly on the side of the abolitionists, and then move on.  The problem is "easiest and most sensible" is a comparative position.  We still have a big problem here, something which has been described by Jack Graham (who as far as I know coined the term) as the "Nice-But-Then" character. Briefly stated, the NBT character is one written as holding essentially contemporary socially progressive opinions despite hailing from a place and time in which such opinions would be all but inconceivable. 

The problem here is two-fold.  Firstly, whilst there were certainly plenty of people at the end of the Eighteenth Century who were against the practice of slavery, this does not translate into a theory of emancipation so enlightened that the idea of being arrested and detained by a black woman would result in nothing more than offhand comments about being glad the slaves are free but not being keen on women in trousers.  This is not just an aesthetic objection, either. There are few ideas in contemporary America - and the West more generally - more harmful to actual social progress than the suggestion that racism is all but dead because no-one is in favour of direct governmental subjugation any more. By holding up a viciously scowling straw-man as the textbook example of racism, we allow actual racism to continue to breed.  A show in which Crane actually acted like an abolitionist from the Revolutionary War would be much more difficult to write, though, so instead we get this milquetoast nonsense.

The second problem is the damage it does to Crane's back-story.  For whatever reason (based on the episode itself, most likely a desire to replicate Elementary's success with added spookiness), the show presents him as an eccentric Englishman, who nevertheless betrayed his duty and joined George Washington because of the "tyranny" of King George III.  I don't have the slightest interest in defending that particular monarch's reputation, but I will point out two things.  Firstly, I don't really have much interest in hearing a white man complain about how tough he found things under British imperialism.  Secondly, the idea that a man so moved by the plight of slaves that he would publicly speak out against the practice would think it a swell idea to join up with an armed coalition that included Virginia, and which was at best just taking a breather from systematically exterminating the native population of north-eastern America?  That's just ludicrous. It reduces Crane to arguing taxation-without-representation was so bad a deal for white people - so tyrannous a practice - that he was compelled to pal up with Thomas fucking Jefferson.

This, to say the least, does not bode well for making Crane's man-out-of-time nature work satisfactorily.

(One could also argue the show flirts with some pretty old-school and ugly stereotyping of Asians at one point, but to say more would constitute a spoiler: you can check out TV Tropes and judge for yourself once you've seen the episode.)

Friday, 11 October 2013

Friday 40K: "My Next Baby's Name Is 'Oops'!"

This week on Friday 40K, I present the largest kit I've yet painted: a Tyranid Tervigon from Hive Fleet Tengu. As usual, it's a fairly simple paint job to fit in with the army I've been painting since I was an utterly inept fifteen year old (current levels of ineptness are up for dicussion, but I'm certainly not quite as bad as I once was), but I've put some effort into shading the armour and claws.

If I'm remembering right, this brings my Tyranids up to around the 2750 points mark.  And just in time for the new Codex to come out (January 2014, I think) and swap everything around!

Of course, with an average spawn size of 10-11, and an average of two spawns a game, I'll probably have to spend some time painting more Termagants so as to represent the siblings of this little guy here:

Deep Thought: Our Fearsome Web Edition

Obviously, nine new Patrick Troughton episodes of Doctor Who is a tremendous find - something which frankly fills me with far more excitement than twice that number of Hartnell episodes would.  But here's the thing.  Over the 19th Century Britain gradually took over Nigeria, until we were in complete control in 1885.  For the next 75 years, Nigeria was just one of those places we took for granted was somewhere we should be sticking our nose in. By the time "The Web of Fear" was broadcast, Nigeria had been independent for just eight years.

So does the fact that a Nigerian TV station possessed Doctor Who episodes in the first place stem from three quarters of a century of ordering people around on another continent in the pursuit of an Imperial boner?  And if so, does that take the shine off the find at all?

Update: Jack Graham has much, much more.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Shutdown III: Shutdown Takes Manhattan

Into the second week of the shutdown, now, and things continue to get more and more bizarre, and terrifying.  There's just one week until the US defaults on its national debt - or at least it would be, had the shutdown not happened, at this point no-one knows exactly when the crisis moment will come, which is helpful.  Don't worry, though, because the Republicans have it all sorted: refusing to increase the debt ceiling won't really matter all that much!
A surprisingly broad section of the Republican Party is convinced that a threat once taken as economic fact may not exist — or at least may not be so serious.
Let's recall the GOP ransom note, listing the goodies it expects in exchange for doing its job:

That's a twelve-point plan to endless conservative orgasm, right there. Fuck the environment, screw over poor people, give more freedom to rapacious capitalism - essentially a good year or two of the kind of shit you'd see if the Republicans controlled all three branches of the Federal Government.

The Democrats would have to be out of their goddamn minds to let anything even remotely like this go through.  The alternative to paying the ransom would have to be utterly horrific. Threatening so apocalyptic a disaster seems like it'd be a pretty unpopular plan with the public, though, so the only thing to do is: claim the results of default wouldn't be so bad!

There's a certain purity in the Republican refusal to see or consider anything other than the three seconds directly in front of them.  To not just believe two contradictory things at once, but to hold press conferences about them.  If the debt ceiling battle is analogous to a hostage taking, the last couple of days have been like a man running into a bank with a loaded gun against someone's head, screaming for the safe to be open or he'll blow his captives brains out, only to immediately reassure the horrified patrons that it's only a frighteningly realistic water pistol in any case.

Sooner or later, these chumps are going to break things beyond repair.  The moment they do that, they'll call a press conference to explain how it was everyone's fault but theirs.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

I'm A Doctor As Well, You Know. Doctor Too, Is What I'm Saying.

With tomorrow being D-Day for those excited about newly rediscovered Doctor Who episodes - a group that most certainly includes me - I have a golden opportunity to bust some basic probability out on y'all.  What are the chances of either finishing a partly-complete story, or of unearthing an episode from an entirely absent story?

If we ignore "Mission to the Unknown" (this was Abi's idea, so complain to her if you don't like it; personally I went for it mainly because it simplifies the maths), there are nine entirely absent stories.  There are six stories missing two episodes, and one story ("The Tenth Planet") missing one.  The BBC have referred to missing episodes, plural, so if we take the worst case scenario, the chances of completing a full story are around 2%, and the chances of seeing part of a hitherto entirely unavailabe story rests at 60%.

But maybe things are less bleak.  Maybe the BBC found three episodes.  At that point, we're looking at a 3% chance of a complete story, and a 74% chance something entirely new has turned up.

Except, though, that those calculations assume independent finds, which seems pretty unlikely. Multiple finds don't necessarily mean episodes from a single story, but that's a definite possibility (see "Cybermen, Tomb of"), and the contrary idea - finding an episode from one story means the next find is actually less likely to come from that story - seems on its face to be foolish.

That means we can treat the figures for the probability of a complete story as minimum values, but the probabilities of "new" stories as maximums.

Anyway, here's the results of a few hours noodling during a day of boring talks:

(Apparently there might be as many as nine unearthed episodes, but I ran out of talks.)

Cheers to tweeps Abi, JJ, and Fonz for helping me out with the numbers of missing episodes/stories whilst I was out of reach of my laptop.

Monday, 7 October 2013

D CDs #483: correct!

Some classic albums are extremely good.  Others are merely Important.

One of the most aggravating aspects of music criticism is the common assumption that an album proving game-changing is a necessary and/or sufficient condition for listening to it decades later. Pitchfork Media in particular has turned this idea into an art form - good luck wresting more than a six out of them if your disc merely has the temerity to be an exceptionally good example of a well-established genre - but it's a fairly common problem.

It's a conflation, really, of music as history and music as entertainment.  A blueprint is often very valuable, but that doesn't make it nice to look at. No-one still creates antibiotics by leaving their petri dishes on the windowsill. The vogue these days is for chrome rims rather than wooden tyres. Things, in short, move on.

Nevertheless, it would be wrong of me to ignore the contribution of Entertainment! entirely. Straddling the dividing line between the Damned and the Clash - both cited as influences, though by the time Entertainment! had been recorded London's finest had still yet to release London's Calling - the disc takes a darker and more minimalist path than Strummer's band.  In the process it breaks ground on the dark expanses the Cure would play around with so successfully once they got Three Imaginary Boys out of their system and settled down to work (the perpendicular distance between the two bands is shortest between Entertainment!'s melodica-spiced "5.45" and the Cure's Seventeen Seconds).  From there vectors can be drawn to contemporary bands like The Cribs - Sharpe guitar stabs on strings apparently plucked with razorblades - and the sharp maudlin droning of LCD Soundsystem.

So, yes.  Music in general and punk in particular needed this.  It was a Big Fucking Deal.  Does that mean it must be enjoyable, too?  Of course not.

Fortunately, though, it really is.

Well, maybe I should qualify that.  It's very enjoyable in short doses.  I'd suggest approaching it as three sets of four songs.  As a whole, the CD loses momentum through repetition.  That's not an inevitable consequence of ploughing the same furrow, of course; indeed that kind of reiteration can be very effective in accumulation.  Here, though, things are simply too sparse for that tactic to work.  

With each (admittedly arbitrary) division allowed to breathe, the effect is far greater. Each short suite gets its own driving force, whether that be the delirious guitar slashes of "Natural's Not In It", the insistent wig-out of "I Found That Essence Rare", or the relentless taut violence of "5.45" (seriously, starting this laundry list of horrors with a melodica is a move of unquestionable genius).

It's three EPs on the themes of isolation both emotional - "Glass, "Contract" - and political - the call-out to political prisoners in Long Kesh that provides the backbone of album opener "Ether" - that slam together in "I Found That Essence Rare", bikinis being after all both a way to ogle women and an atoll where we let nuclear weapons out to play. The personal may be political, but that's only because they both seem so far outside control to the young, or to the smart.

Being reminded of that isn't pleasant, but maybe we need it. So it's important those reminders come at us looking like this.

It's important that they be good.

Eight tentacles.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Shutdown II: The Shuttening

When the shutdown kicked off, I told Fliss I'd wake up on Friday morning to discover a deal was in place.  Whether I'm going to get anywhere close to the mark, I don't know, but it's looking more and more like an absurdly optimistic prediction.  This, after all, is what the Democrats are dealing with (via Balloon Juice):
We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” — Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN)
Not exactly encouraging.

Of course, all of this is just small potatoes compared to what we'll be facing in a fortnight.  That's when the US has to start defaulting on its debts unless Congress votes to pay them.  Not to incur new debts.  To pay the ones they've already incurred.  Unless the Democrats accede to all sorts of lunatic demands from the Republicans [1]:

the US will announce to the world it can no longer be relied upon financially.

I'm not an economist, but the people that are seem to be lighting their hair on fire. The ones that aren't predicting dire consequences are gibbering softly in a corner.

In the 50s, the Republicans were bad for America.  In the 60s through to the 80s, they were bad for anyone who wanted to be simultaneously Communist and not white. In this century they've been bad for anyone sitting near an oil well and praying towards Mecca.

Nowadays, they're quite literally bad for the entire planet.

Of course, there are plenty in the US media is keen to remind you that the Democrats are at fault here too.  After all, they're position is just as inflexible.  They may have repeatedly asked for meetings to avert this crisis - and been rebuffed each time - but they sure don't want to meet now. And since "We won't negotiate with a gun to our head" is exactly as unhelpfully hardline as "we won't negotiate until we've had time to load this gun", I don't see how anyone can disagree that Both Sides Do It.

(h/t to Steve Benen for the above list.)

[1] Most of those are reasonably self-explanatory, but you might like to know that Dodd-Frank was a bill put together following the financial collapse to try and make it harder for bankers to steal money from everyone everywhere and then whine like bitches when it stopped working.  The CFPB is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, designed to stop banks from deliberately fucking clients over so as to make themselves more money; see collapse, financial.  In short, the Republicans are demanding either US banks can return to the rapacious madness that screwed the world, or they'll default on the debt and screw the world.  Oh, and they want ten other things as well.

Of course, by saying all that, it's just like I'm lynching black people in the Old South. I feel pretty bad about that.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

They Want A Body Count, They Don't Care How They Get It

I should probably say something about the shutdown of the federal government over in the US.

No-one who reads this blog or knows me personally probably needs help in working out where I stand on the matter, but just for the record:
As long as the government is shut down, the National Institutes of Health will turn away roughly 200 patients each week from its clinical research center, including children with cancer.

Unless President Obama and the Democratic Senate agree to allow hundreds of thousands of the countries poorest citizens to give up access to health insurance, treating children with cancer is something the GOP figures can be done without.  They know they can't win, but every day they can delay a restart is another day when people who aren't then can suffer, and it turns out, die.

As poor old Miss Hardaker would say "No love in Heaven or Earth for you".

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Who Could Hate A Country That Reads The Daily Mail?

Fuck, obviously, the Daily Mail. It's not even that going after the dead father of their political enemies is low even by their standards - they'd have to literally give away the eyes and hands of Muslim orphans as free gifts if they want to sink any lower. It's that they called a MP's dad a traitor, then argued the fact the MP got really fucking furious is evidence that MPs shouldn't have oversight over the press. That's like sending letter-bombs to the Post Office and claiming it proves the mail should be privatised.

Oh, and while I'm ranting; Harry Cole? If this article is standard fair, please to be stating examples. If Ed Milliband's reaction demonstrates political calculations, please to be explaining to us how a man seeking to defend his dead father's name without political manoeuvring would act. Absent such revelations, sit the hell down. I rather think enough stupid things have been said today.