Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Weak Spot Is The Blowhole

Getting together for a grand hootenanny, or massing for war?

As I have said many times, humanity's dominance of the world's islands and coastlines will last only as long as it take octopi to start working together, or for dolphins to figure out you can use kelp to choke their hominid aggressors.

(I suspect those elbow squid are going to be involved somehow, too. They already look like regular squid inside mechanised war-suits.  The fact they're staking out deep-water oil-wells is surely no coincidence.  Can't construct undersea armoured divisions without precious dinosaur juice!)

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Mathematicians In Love

Because someone kind of accidentally bet me I couldn't do it:

You call my love inconsequential
For you it's just a differential
Put to your heart's exponential
So it's never really changed.

How are our lives still tangential?
Is it all negative potential?
Like writing strings of transcendentals
But all inversely arranged.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014


It seems the bees in my bonnet have been getting louder recently.  Maybe that's fallout from the independence fight up north.  I might be personally relieved that the left-leaning Scots have chosen to stick with us in the fight against Westminster's whirling incompetents and smirking sadists, endlessly working to turn one half of the UK into Dickensian London and the other half into a gaping wound, but I'm aware this means an awful lot of poor and disabled people north of the border are about to have a much harder few years than they might otherwise have had to.

Still, the people spoke, and by black Heimdall's codpiece, that's something we don't get to say all that often.  Whether or not you agree with the actual choice decided upon, who among us could object to fundamental an exercise of democratic will such as this?
[W]e need to get over the childish notion that we don’t need a responsible leadership class, that power can be wielded directly by the people. America was governed best when it was governed by a porous, self-conscious and responsible elite...
Holy flames of Saint Elmo, Books, take a damn seat, would you?  Is it even worth rebutting the idea that America used to be better run? You may as well argue unemployment figures were less discouraging before abolition, or that families tended to stick together through thick and thin back when divorce was illegal and single women had a non-zero probability of being burned as witches.

Better governed for whom, white boy?

This isn't just this article, or just Brooks; you can't spend more then twenty minutes in the electronic company of American "centrists" without someone lamenting that politics would be so much better if people could be pushed a little further away from the levers of power. But honestly, that isn't my main objection here.  You can only spend so much time observing the exercise of the people's will in elections to conclude that yes, a staggering amount of people are incapable of applying their vote sensibly that we couldn't make the system appreciably worse by crapping in labelled septic tanks and seeing which party assembled the greatest weight in shit.

(The cynical amongst us will demand to know how things are different now.)

So in truth, in my darker moments - which is almost all of them - I find myself unable to totally resist sympathising with the idea of some kind of ruling elite. The problem here isn't so much that idea as the sheer and obvious impossibility of picking a ruling elite that could possibly be up to the job from our current crop of aged straight white cis men, almost all of whom are currently locked in a battle to the death over austerity.  And it's not a battle over their own deaths, as such minor sources of evidence as "current developments" and "all of fucking history" can attest.

So let's ignore the fact that power corrupts, just to give Brooks a fighting chance. Anyone want to take bets on how hard he thinks we should be striving to make sure this ruling elite has enough women? Enough coloured people? Enough trans* people? Is there any chance Brooks is worried they'll need to find a Hispanic Buddhist lesbian? What is cunning plan to emsure that, at long last, those people who'd love to engage in politics if they weren't forced to run three jobs just to keep their kids alive get a chance to be heard?

We can't build a ruling elite until we tear down every last scrap of the system that currently functions. Until we replace every aspect of the body politic organ by organ, bone by bone, until what remains is no longer recognisable, any more than Bondai beach is recognisable as the mountains ground down to make it. And we can't do that without precisely the updraft of popular will that Brooks spends his days cowering in fear of, because they might come to his house and say "fuck" and steal the curtains his great-grandparents stole from black artisans in the first place. Even if rule by elite was remotely feasibly, we have to get more populist before we could ever get less populist. Whether we'd be better off in the valley Brooks imagines is a dodgy proposition anyway, but we absolutely have a mountain we need to climb first.

Give me a female president, Brooks.  Give me a gay Prime Minister.  Let an actual Muslim run the White House, and an actual Kenyan. Prove you've learned the fundamental lesson - after years of running from it screaming in terror - that a country is at its worst when everyone in charge looks and sounds the same.

Then, maybe we can sit down and argue whether hypothetically we could slap together a representative slice of humanity and have them figure out where we go next. Until then, about the only thing we can agree on is that you should be kept as far from a position of authority as is humanly possible.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Incoherence Can Get You Killed

Here's an interesting legal hypothetical: if you have an inalienable right to own guns and an inalienable right to fire on intruders into your home, BUT the police have the legal right to break into your home without knocking or identifying themselves, what should the law decide when the inevitable happens and a citizen shoots dead a cop, mistaking them for an intruder.

If your answer was depends if the shooter is black, then congratulations! You are now qualified to practice law in Texas.

It's genuinely impossible to overstate how horrifically assembled this situation is. This isn't one of those terrible cases where some white guy shoots a black person for the crime of knocking on their door late at night.  This is about actual intruders trying to break in through your window en masse whilst armed with weapons. How can that possibly not result in someone legitimately fearing for their lives if they've no idea who's behind it?
(Hell, you'd have to be higher than a Himalayan goose on heroin to think your average black American would stop fearing for their life once they realised just who was coming for dinner, and coming strapped.)

This is then compounded of course by the barbaric Texas sentencing rules, that have helped lead to a situation where the same action can lead to either not so much as a slap on the wrist or being sentenced to death depending on the most minute differences - real or imagined, or it would seem entirely cosmetic - in circumstance. This is the kind of legal result we should give law students to try and argue their way out of, not something to be handed out to society to see who dies and who we choose to kill for it.

The law of the land in Texas now is that no-one can take your guns from you, and no-one can take the guns from the people who might be coming to kill you, but you'd better not use the guns that can't be taken from you to defend yourself against the people who might want to kill you armed with the guns that can't be taken from them, not unless you politely ask them whether or not they're police officers. Of course, by that point they might have shot you dead if they're not police, or they are police and think you've got a gun - which the state of Texas just cannot ever stop telling you you should be proud to own, though if the police come knocking you need to put it down and hope no-one in the raiding party murders your dogs or tosses a grenade into your baby's crib - but hey, you should have thought of that before you became a criminal, right?

The officers were looking for drugs, yet none were found in the home. 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

He Proposes, Modestly

So that "media" bloke, whoever he is, is certainly getting very animated about the Scottish independence referendum tomorrow, huh? I think he's getting worked up over nothing, to be honest; three polls all indicating a "No" vote suggests the chance even of a dead heat is less than 12.5%, and the bookies seem to be of a similar mind.

But let's say that the vote does pretty much turn out to be a dead heat, deep within the margin of error of the system (known in political circumstances as "FUBAR, FL"). Can we really give either side what they want in the face of such evenly-weighted disagreement? I don't see how we can. So instead, why don't we let half of Scotland have its independence? We could let everywhere north of, say, south Edinburgh secede and form its own country, and keep the rest - let's call it "Southern Scotland" - for ourselves.

And the advantage of this approach is not only that both sides get part of what they want, but that other divides in Scottish society could just as easily be solved. Take all that Catholic vs Protestant infighting you get in Glasgow. With Southern Scotland now belonging to us and the northern counties (who I presume won't want a monarchy any more, so let's call them the Republic of Scotland, though they might even want to go back to their original Celtic name of Alba), the Catholics could head north to be with more members of their church, whilst the Protestants stay in Southern Scotland to be nearer to the primarily Protestant England.

We could even keep the Union Flag this way, indeed those in Southern Scotland will probably be even more attached to it than before, though I'm sure those in the fine nation of Alba will respect that choice as they hoist their own saltire to flutter in the stiff highland breeze.

I think it's a great idea, myself. What possible troubles could spring from it?

Sunday, 14 September 2014

They Have All The Time In The World

Well, this was kind of disappointing.

It all started so well. The idea of replacing money with subdivisions of lifespan, so you literally exchange labour for the time you've spent on that labour, is absolutely wonderful.  It literalises the way in which labour requires us to sacrifice elements of our life, for which we are then compensated. The problem comes, of course, when we're not adequately compensated, and here the problem is no longer that we might have to work four jobs and not have enough money to pay for groceries, but that we might have to work four jobs and still end up with less time remaining than when we started the week.

The most affecting scene in the entire film occurs early on, when Olivia Wilde's character boards a bus with 90 minutes remaining, so she can spend the hour's cost for a ride and meet her son in time for him to top her clock up.  With no warning, however, the bus fare has doubled, meaning she can't afford it, and will have to make the journey on foot, a two-hour trip and likely therefore a death sentence.

It's a beautifully unnerving way of making a fundamental point: money does not mean the same thing to all people. For the rich it's just a resource, but for far too many people it's literally a matter of life and death. Something as simple as an increase in bus fares can be disastrous, because it means having to choose between the commute to your job and buying all the food your kids need. And an increase in bus fares can always be arranged, if you need to make sure the workforce is kept too busy to actually protest their situation.  Meanwhile, the rich gather in locations too remote and well-guarded for anyone else to join them, and talk about how evolution requires a certain kind of people to rise to the top, and assure each other that they must be those people, because otherwise they wouldn't be there, would they?

I love that setup. Think what you could do with that, if you wanted to actually dissect how unbearably awful capitalism can get for people constantly poked with the shitty end of the stick.  Instead, after a wonderful first thirty minutes, the film degenerates into a heist movie, Bonnie and Clyde meets Robin Hood as a saviour arises to try and steal a million years (something like half a trillion dollars, perhaps, given a cup of coffee costs around three minutes). Which is just about the absolute least interesting thing you could do here.

It's not completely without merit. There are at least some nice puns in here. Cops are now "time-keepers", criminals who steal your time "minute men", and both are given equal time to screw the working class out of a fair return for their labour. There's a nice scene towards the end where a time-keeper explains they're propping up the system because they've always propped up the system, and rebelling now would be admitting they'd spent the last fifty years doing precisely the wrong thing. Ultimately, though, if there is any kind of message here in amongst Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried taking it in terms to try being smouldering and cool, it's that the best solution to endemic poverty and near-poverty is for a hot white dude to show up and save you.

Which isn't the film's message, of course; the film doesn't actually have a message. Just a phenomenal beginning pissed away in favour of the most obvious film-making imaginable. It's hard to fully engage with a dystopian nightmare of people forced to sell their time when you're too busy wishing you could get 109 minutes of your own back.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

D CDs #478: This Is Cheating

Wait, we're allowed greatest hits albums on this list? I thought Alan Partridge had conclusively demonstrated that this is bullshit?

Still, if we're forced to go down this route, there are undeniable advantages, particularly when dealing with an artist like Lynn, whose career covered so great a period, with the earliest recording here hailing from 1964, and the latest from, I think, 1978. That nearly fifteen year stretch represents a healthy slice of musical development - 1964 saw the Beatles singing "Can't Buy Me Love"; by '78 the Clash were already on to their second album.

For all its defiant wallowing the past (more often than not a fictitious one, but that's beside the point right now), country music had to make changes of its own. It needed to pick up an electric guitar like everybody else.  This evolution can be sketched out as we travel through the (roughly) chronological track listing here.  It's interesting from a musical history perspective, but it works in the disc's favour, too, classic country often being a genre that can suffer from diminishing returns. Lynn provides a good example ; the first half here is packed with simple guitar work, smiling honky-tonk piano, and Lynn's clear, if slightly inexpressive voice. All fine in moderation, but there's only so many reworkings of that basic theme a man can take, especially given the limited range of subjects on display here.

I mean, I can't complain too much about the density of "my man's a cheater/other women keep trying to make my man cheat" on display here. It did result in Lynn's own composition "Fist City", after all, the third-best song she ever wrote and presumably only given that title because the '60s Midwest wasn't ready for a song called "Touch My Man And I Will Fucking Lamp You, Bitch".  There's issues to be had about songs blaming other women for "making" your husband cheat, but there's plenty of blame to go around in these first eleven tracks, I guess.

Whatever the progressive objections, though, it's a limited palette to work with. An expansion into more general domestic matters buys Lynn some time - and produces her second-best song in "Coal Miner's Daughter", a song about remembering where you came from and refusing to take any shit about it - but there's an inescapable sense of losing momentum.

It's a this point, though, that we shift into Lynn's second iteration, kicking off with the best song she ever wrote, "X-Rated" - about the absurd difficulties divorced women face in living any sort of normal life for the high crime of having decided to not spend her entire life with a man who no longer does what she needs him to do, whatever that is - and then focus for a little while on her series of duets with Conway Twitty. Presented here as more as a palette cleanser than anything else, the Twitty collaboration offers us an excellent rendition of "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" (though Twitty brings more to this than Lynn, in all truth) and Twitty's own "As Soon As I Hang Up The Phone", probably the most depressing song Lynn offers up on this disc, and not through lack of competition.

This injection of new blood serves as launch pad for the tail end of the disc, in which the music responds to emerging trends by becoming a little more muscular (just a little, of course; this is still classic country) and the songs push a little further into storytelling territory, though the central theme very much remains the failures of men and the resulting damage done to women.

But then, potentially after some inverting of one or both genders, that describes, at a conservative estimate, something approaching 97% of all art ever created.  No sense in fighting too hard against that, especially considering it's blueprint country. Blueprint country, competently delivered, with three distinct phases to keep things fresh - and remind us of how things were changing in this period - and tempered with the occasional flash of brilliance.

That, in the end, will do.

Seven and a half tentacles.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Monday Pessimus Prime: It's All Got A Bit Too Real

Some background...

Fliss took me to her old university stomping grounds for the first time since we'd met this weekend, so she could perform bridesmaid duties for an old friend. Which was fine; taxi service for weddings is entirely within a boyfriend's remit, and I didn't even really mind having to sit through a church service surrounded by people I didn't know just to make sure sufficient pictures were taken of the bridesmaids - Fliss was worried for some reason that everyone would focus on the bride, like that's important.

Things seemed to be looking up at the reception, since there was a) fewer Bible quotations and b) a bar. Alas, this seeming promised land was naught but a lie, a comforting illusion designed to keep me busy trying out new ciders whilst agents of the Forces of Naughtiness could smash my passenger rear quarter window and make off with my SatNav and wallet.

This, obviously, is Not Good. I was so shaken up by the whole affair I was almost put off my full English yesterday morning, and that wouldn't happen if you told me the sausages were made from my mother.

But! There were upsides. Most important is the sheer meagreness of the villain's score. A battered five-year old SatNav I refused to update and a wallet containing £3.70 and a credit card cancelled before they could use it. According to the police officer who came looking for prints and DNA, they only broke in to try and steal the camera case on the back seat, which was of course empty. It's hard to not imagine their faces falling when they realised just what a waste of crime they'd gone through.

It'll have been a quiet supper in their secret lair and no mistake.

(There is though some personal stuff I've been gutted to lose. The business card Chris made for me in my first term as a teacher, explaining exactly how little of a shit I gave about children on one side and containing my lonely heart's ad on the other. The ID card I got when I turned 18 with a picture of my young, be-curtained self that I would show to children who'd done particularly well in class so they could laugh themselves sick. The two US coins I own, given to me by my sister to give me some kind of tangible connection to the country I spend so much time shouting about. These things I shall miss. Also there was a parking receipt I hadn't claimed back yet in there, so you can imagine how gutted I am over that.)

Watching other people's reactions to the situation has been entertaining as well. The particular denomination of Christians running this particular show took it all pretty hard, believing as they seem to that literally everything that happens is God's will (rather then the far more laissez-faire approach the Methodists I was raised around take, which is that God knew my car would be broken into, but didn't). Frankly, some of them seemed more upset than I was. One woman told us how she'd struggled to get to sleep on Saturday night, because she was so deep into trying to figure out why God would choose to have car thieves strike in the middle of a Christian wedding. For my part I figured "shit happens" and passed out.

In the end, she decided it was fine because so little was stolen. Which, whatever floats your theological boat, obviously. Though it turns out though that there's not a lot of social situations more awkward than a loudly committed Christian expounding how awesome Christian weddings are because God only lets small-bore shit gets nicked, and how lucky we are to be a part of that, then when you politely point out you're an atheist get a sales pitch about how "God protects". I mean, I don't begrudge this woman her faith or the security it clearly gives her, but maybe citing the protection God offers you is a mistake eight hours after it turns out he won't even protect your SatNav.

Other interactions were less awkward. There is something uniquely laid-back and yet acerbic about Yorkshire humour:
Fellow Guest: Sorry to hear about yer car. You got yer cards cancelled? 
SpaceSquid: Yep. All but my Nectar Card. It was tough to sleep knowing the gits who robbed my car might even now be enjoying fractionally cheaper groceries. 
Fellow Guest (prodding my admittedly generous belly): Yeah, yer look like yer wasting way, don't yer?
Police Officer: See that helicopter? It's from an old RAF base they use for training now. All privatised now, of course. 
SpaceSquid: The government does love its privatisation. 
PO: I think they should privatise the government. 
SS: If we're defining "privatise" as "major corporations get to call all the shots without outside interference", I would like to submit that you already have your wish. 
PO: Fair point. What do they call the big head office again? Eton, in't it?
(I suppose the guy's plan has some merit. If we formalised bribery at least we could tax it).

As of 11am today I have finally waded through the list of tasks necessary to respond to this hassle, including setting my insurers against my glass-replacement company so that whichever one of them was lying to me about the other one could do it to their metaphorical face (so far it's looking like it was the insurance company - no surprise there; these are already the people who've told me my contents insurance which includes personal items and built-in navigation devices doesn't include SatNavs; too car-based to be a personal item, too detachable to be a car feature).

So that was my weekend. How about you peeps?

Friday, 5 September 2014

Friday Talisman

Time to rock it old school as we return to the Elder Days and to the original 4th Edition bundle, and present... the Elf!

In all honesty, I think he's a bit too bright, and I lost too much definition painting his boots brown (my own fault; the paint was too thick). Still, I quite like his hair, and his bow.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Paul The Octopus Has Nothing On Me

Just quickly throwing this out there under the heading of "Thank Cthulhu I don't live in Louisiana". When you're not having your city torn out from under you by a hurricane, shot dead for the crime of wanting food whilst black, or dying in an overcrowded hospital because there's no money to keep anyone but the rich alive any more, you're finding stuff in your drinking water which will literally eat your brain:
The water in St. John Parish is safe to drink, said the CDC, but special care should be taken not to allow it to go up the nose, which is the route the parasite takes to infect the brain. Once inside the brain, the amoebas cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), which is almost invariably fatal.
I've no idea who, if anyone, is to blame for this hideous gribbly showing up in the first place.  But I absolutely guarantee you two things. First, there will be a non-trivial number of state Republicans who will argue increased governmental surveillance of drinking water to stop people getting their heads melted will constitute "Federalism run amok".  Second, there will be a non-trivial number of Republican voters on the internet who will argue that since no-one deliberately snorts drinking water up their noses, this is a non-issue that will simply rid us of obvious idiots.

There is simply no bottom with these people.

(h/t to Elon James White over at Balloon Juice.)

Monday, 1 September 2014

Zero Tolerance

Our ongoing tour of the best companions in Who history reaches its end with The Curse of Fenric, and after having to basically tread water with the Sixth Doctor, we have here something we can properly get our teeth into. ...Fenric is not only the greatest story the classic show ever broadcast, but it's got a well-considered role for everyone's favourite teenage anarchist, as well.

Radio Monday: Back To School

Let's do this.