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Tuesday 27 December 2016

Two Zero One Six Point One

I didn't set out with a definite subject for the year-end blog.

I did one last year - well, on the third of THIS year technically. In it I set out some things I wanted to do, and well...

DID - Finish the book. It was my NaNo project, mind, but it was heavily inspired by the thing I was working on at the time of writing.

DID - Game more. (Didn't play a lot of the games listed, but did play a lot of others besides.)

DIDN'T - Go and see The Room at the Prince Charles. Just couldn't make it work, and my health was frankly pretty shitty, so. Ho hum.

I also made it through. That wasn't a given. Like I know it never is a given. It just so happens that on more than one occasion it was a relatively close thing. The aforementioned health issues haven't helped that, and quite frankly my mental health has taken a heavy ding. And on top of that...

...well, I don't need to tell you about all the shit things that have happened, do I?

The marked victory of right-wing politics in the UK and the US - seemingly buoyed up by the slow uptake of more right-wing attitudes of those involved. Standing Rock. The constantly devolving situation in Turkey and Thailand, the refugees fleeing from war-torn places and being treated like shit the moment they arrive, and Syria. Just...fucking Syria. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry, or hurl, or both.

Attacks against our rights, our wellbeing and our freedoms have been constant. In the UK in particular, the continued austerity, combined with the leadership of Theresa May's sociopathic rush to enact every single anti-person law possible, has made living a pretty difficult thing.

Add to this the inescapable fact that 2016 has been a year that has seen so many of our legends and beloved personalities die. I speak from the heart here, as more than one of those who have passed on were heroes of mine. Muhammad Ali, David Bowie and Prince in particular. There's a lot of folk who will get snide about noticing the (actual statistical) uptick of celebrity death this year but it's there, and it still hurts.

Not just the famous ones, either. My dad has been dead four years, now - my aunt Renee died earlier this year, and my grandfather not so long ago.

It all adds up.

So when there's some sarcastic shit about "well 1665 was a worse year than 2016 because black death lol", I can't pretend it doesn't make me angry. I've seen that card played one too many times, primarily by the kind of people who benefit from not having people feel like they are suffering. You had it worse under X, so you'd best support Y. Who cares if it is bad now? It was worse then. Don't ever think about trying to get to Z to make it better, though.

...and I just...cannot fucking wait for it all to be over.

Get all the bank holidays and bullshit out of the way and get back into the life. Work, earn cash. Go get shit done. Disturbed, Avenged Sevenfold and In Flames in January. Nine Worlds in August. Leave this heap of shit in the rear and move the fuck on. Even a new dumpster fire is better than an old dumpster fire, and if we're really lucky - maybe we can start making some dumpsters that AREN'T on fire.

Fuck, I'd give it all just to hurt less. Let's go with that.

Saturday 24 December 2016

Christmas Quiz

So as I again fall flat on the "having the will to engage with truly shitty politics" front, I asked my nearest and dearest to provide me with questions and topics for conversation - and you did not disappoint.

So with a wide variety of choices (a lot of which came from one source to be honest, hey Ryan what's up), here's the questions and answers - with some names removed to protect the innocent.

  • Favourite covers of well known Christmas songs? - The Puppini Sisters do a very good version of my favourite Christmas song, "Step Into Christmas" by Elton John. I also love the Jackson 5 version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town".
  • Favourite wrapper designs of chocolate bars. - Difficult. Most of them are so samey. I think, though, I have always been a fan of the Double Decker:

  • Or even favourite contents of wrappers of chocolate bars. - ...Double Decker. Or Hundred Grand for you yankees. (This question almost started a fight between myself and Piers for some ungodly reason.)
  • More interestingly favourite designers of chocolate wrappers - Mast Brothers.
  • Tell your best and worst presents received and why. - The worst is easy. One of my aunts found it very difficult to understand I had grown up; so when I opened up a formed plastic Santa mask, sized for a ten year old, I wasn't sure quite what to do with it. Given that I was 19 at the time. The best? That is actually hard to put a finger on, but I daresay it was when a half-dozen of my besties actually clubbed together and got me an Xbox 360. I was trying not to cry the entire time. (I still talk to most of you. I love you folks.)
  • Gift you dreamed of most as a child. - So easy. THE ACTION FORCE MOBILE COMMAND CENTRE. Trailer is the G.I. Joe version. Picture is our one.

  • Lichtenstein - Incredibly low crime rates. Its last murder was back in 1997. Every year Prince Hans-Adam II invites all the residents to the local castle on their national holiday. It's the world's leading manufacturer of false teeth, and the national anthem goes to the same tune as God Save The Queen. What an incredibly odd little country. I'd quite like to visit.
  • Boobs! - Yes Glyn, they are very, very nice.
  • How the Coca Cola Company advertising board didn't think Saturnalia was catchy enough, so sponsored the Council of Nicea to think of something more hip with the young'uns? - It's a conspiracy. The Council of Nicea is actually just the board of the directors for Disney. Saturnalia was just the day they opened the Epcot Centre.
  • How despicable people who act in loan adverts with huge apr are. - The industry is despitable. From top to bottom. It is predatory and savage and chews up and spits out the most vulnerable members of society to make profits for those who will never need such a loan. The people who act in those ads? They can say they are just doing a job, and to a point they are right. But then - so were Belsen's guards and the riot cops firing on Civil Rights protesters. I think we need to end predatory finance. Doing so may be dificult. But we're better than this.
  • True history of the season, and how other faiths have influenced it - Everyone's scared of the winter. When the routine of summer ceases to be productive, and the food has all been collected and stored away, and we are hoping that it lasts until spring - we need something else. We have needed something to cling to, for the longest time. We've found it in all sorts of rituals, some of which have become religion, some of which are psychological and deeply buried. The history of the season is that we can't stand the cold and the dark, and that we need each other to get through it. Only through each other, can we see ourselves through the shadow to the light on the other side.
  • The number of turkeys consumed in one day by the uk public and the coincidence of 'gobble gobble' as the main turkey language and a human action - 10 MILLION TURKEYS. That is a LOT of fucking turkeys. Jesus christ. And yeah. Gobble is about right. Though having heard turkeys make noise I don't think "gobble" sounds really right. It's a fun little onomatopaeia though.
  • Best and worst Christmas joke. - Both presented simultaneously so you don't know which is which. What's a dog's favourite christmas carol? Bark, the herald angels sing. What's a mathematician's favourite christmas snack? Mince pi.
  • These are both. - NO TONY GOD WHY (reprinted below)

  • Religion as a form of historic political control and why modern society is failing - Romans Chapter 13 literally tells us to always submit to authority because authority cannot exist on earth without God's blessing, so just do what they say, yeah? It's written into it, right there. Very easy. Use the same caveman fear of death to keep people in line. Why modern society is failing, well...the entirety of the rest of this blog should delineate my problems with society and how it fails people.
  • Klaus vs santa claus as an expression of right and left wing politics - all seriousness, isn't Santa the only example of Socialism looking great on paper but not working in real life? He wears red, and distributes gifts to all the little children regardless of locale - at least, on paper - but what REALLY happens is the bourgeoisie kids get a shedload of stuff and the disenfranchised workers get fuck all. Boom.
  • False and true nostalgia of Christmas growing up? What do you remember clearly and what us utterly false ? - I remember now that what I really wanted was presents and food. Call me a greedy spoiled shit but that's the truth. All the bright lights and everything else came across as very fake and forced, even when I was a kid. I just played along though - I didn't want to upset my family.
  • Christmas tv traditions? Where have xmas specials gone? Eg morecambe and wise? - ALWAYS watch the Queen's Speech. I dunno where the special swent, but I think we don't have the same personalities any more. It's easier to produce a throwaway panel show than it is a variety show. That said, I love Morecambe and Wise.
  • Top 10 things that make a good if not great Xmas? - All of them are being at home in the warm.
  • The ever expanding xmas period ie when does it start when does it end & why and how does it change? - See this pisses me off. How the hell do I have to give a holiday eight weeks lassitude? Like "Sorry but I'm not going to deal with you until after halloween", that is like almost a SIXTH OF THE YEAR, like EIGHT WEEKS. And some people think that is scroogey. I think it changes because people want things to be nice and happy like it was back when they were a kid and it was christmas, without realising that spending a shit ton of money and getting stressed out doesn't make the winter wonderland exist.
  • When did you stop believing in santa claus ? Why? How did you feel? - When I was young and I asked mum why the poor kids in other countries didn't get anything but I did. I felt...relieved? Because then this mythical superbeing wasn't just being nice to some of us but not everyone.
  • Time travelling snowmen ans the conqeucnes there of ? - The problem seems to melt away as soon as they feel any heat.
  • Ahh post spam. Constant notifications. Where is the off button! - IT'S BEHIND YOU
  • Is batman actually santa claus? - No. Batman exists.
  • I'm done - Yes you are.
  • Why spend so much? I love shopping all January as most are still trying to shift the xmas food store they have (in case shops don't open for a month) - Because people feel the need to compete and be generous. I dunno why. My gift-buying is sporadic and hard to predict, and usually depends on how much cash I actually have.

...and that's all she wrote, folks. There WILL be a year-end blog - but for this one, thank you all for your questions and comments! Remember, share it with anyone you think might appreciate!

Saturday 17 December 2016

What's John Been Desperately Distracting Himself With?

So I started writing a blog about how Right-wing governments are actually pretty much just officious attacks on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for their "subjects", but then I got real sad, and decided I had to do something else.

Because it is very, very sad. Like, focusing on that type of thing is difficult enough when you are doing so thinking it will help. You wait for these people to make good decisions, to make things right, to stop putting people in charge of organisations that you know they will either dismemeber or devour, to stop making ridiculous decisions that are clearly just self-interest or harmful ideology, and it just...doesn't happen.

Then you turn your frustration and anger outwards. You look for other people that just saw what happened. It's like if you see something fucked up in the street and you look around, like, was I really the only one that saw that?

...and guess what. Yeah. You were. Or at least, you were part of a very small minority. In a crowd of fifteen hundred, you and those two over there are the only ones that even gave a shit that yet another nail has been put in the coffin of life potentially getting better.

Then you try and MAKE people care. You point, you shout. But there's too much other noise. It's not even like it is shouting over pop culture and other random bullshit anymore, either. There is too much shit going on that it all gets collapsed into the same packet of hard-to-deal-with unpleasantness, and people put it on the back burner and ignore it, until it goes away.

(Or until it cripples their economy, robs them and people they know of their livelihood, and turns us all into the broken and battered puppets of an abusive state. But you know jk lolz.)

It's like finding a needle in a haystack, except the stack is made of needles, and the one you are looking for is just slightly more radioactive than the ones around it - which are almost all radioactive as well. instead, I am distracting myself!

Here's some music that I am listening to a fair amount.

Rag'n'Bone Man - Human. This guy's voice is killer. I can't wait to hear more from him. Soulful. True. I love this. He's got this timbre that just hits all the right buttons.

Sublime With Rome - PCH. Oh this is feel-good to die for. So good. If you want to dance, this will make you dance. Big Sublime fan, so when I heard Eric Wilson and Rome Ramirez were collaborating, I had to track some down.

Erra - Drift. Djenty harmonic tech-metal. This song in particular crosses my playlist a lot, usually just before or after Skyharbour and Northlane. I don't like dumb music. This is far from dumb music.

White Denim - Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah). You'd swear this was recorded back in the heady Motown days. Toe-tapping hip-swinging. Another voice with guts behind it. It just FEELS good, on the ears. Got vibes out the wazoo.

Florence + The Machine - Stand By Me. Yes a cover. From the beginning of Final Fantasy XV. It's the best cover of this song that I've ever heard. Right in the feels, over and over again. I've listened to it twice a day since the day I first heard it. I can't help it.

On top of this I have been reading The Expanse books by James S. A. Corey, which are thoroughly good science fiction.

...and that's what has been keeping my head straight. That and my friends and coworkers. A lot of shit has gone down recently, both geopolitical macroshit and personal microshit. So I have to thank those close to me for helping keep me on a level.

So when I've got my shit together - maybe in the new year - the aforementioned blog will happen. Until then, it's just a case of staying above water.

Sunday 11 December 2016

Parking (Not) Fine

How much is a parking ticket?

Recently I have had this discussion with a fair amount of people, and it's something that I haven't really thought much about until...well, now. The past couple weeks, certainly. Just something that has never occured to me.

So if you have had this conversation with me - well, follow it through anyway, because you might find it interesting.

A swift google search reveals that the average Penalty Charge Notice (a parking ticket to you and me) is around £70 - £50 for a minor infraction, £120 in central London. I am sure there are private companies that are more shady in their issuing of such things...but finding data for them will be more difficult. They have something to hide and be embarassed about, see.

You notice how it costs more in London?

Now in part I don't doubt that it is because of the traffic situation. They want to keep the roads moving as fast and effective as possible. All sorts of measures to keep that happening - cheap and effective public transport, congestion charges, and this greater parking ticket penalty.

I bet in part, though, it is because - in London, people get paid more.

I'll come back to that.

Speeding tickets. These things are £100 and 3 points, unless you are going fast enough to be put in court - then it goes up to £1,000, £2,500 on the motorway.

Here, the deviation is based on effect. There's more cars moving in higher volume on the motorway. I can understand that. A crash on the motorway is going to have a greater knock-on effect than one off it, if we get down to brass tacks.

What is it you notice about all these charges?

Well, what you will notice is that - if I am working on minimum wage, as many folks in this country are - picking up a parking ticket will cost me an entire day's wages. However, if I was, say... MP?

If we totally ignore the fact that they get expenses, they are paid approximately £62 an hour in this day and age - almost 9 times more than you and I - which means that it might actually save an MP money to just park wherever they want and do what they have to do, rather than spend time using public transport and taking consideration to park elsewhere.

And that's just MPs. The Office for National Statistics estimates that over 1.2 million people in this country - 4% of the workforce - actually earn a million pounds or more a year. That's perhaps twelve, thirteen times more than the already-affluent Commons politicians, and so the amount of time these folks would need to work to pay off a parking ticket (even in London) is probably less than the amount of time they will be parked wherever they get the ticket.

I got interrupted halfway through doing the maths, but I am fairly sure that if Wayne Rooney were to speed down a street for four minutes, he'd have earned the money to pay that fine in those four minutes.

Some folks might not see why this could be a problem.

There are many ways in which the justice system today is - or seems to be - one rule for us, another rule for them. One of the starkest measures of this is across the line of income disparity. This can be as simple as being able to afford a more succesful lawyer. One thing that is certain, however, is that in a world wherein the penalty for several different crimes (not all traffic related) is a monetary punishment, then making that monetary punishment be the same for everyone regardless of income is as good as saying that the wealthy deserve to be punished less for it.

Austerity creates income disparity. We are living in a time of austerity. This situation was engineered and is curated by people who do not suffer from that same austerity. There are companies and individuals who are profiting from such austerity - lenders, the companies trying to get a piece of the NHS - while the rest of us are doing nothng but lose.

At this time, when the term Food Bank has become a well-known term throughout the entire country - for people to be able to ignore the law because they have sufficient money is just an added slap in the face to those of us who are just trying to do our best and get by day after day.

The solutions hould be obvious, of course. Any punitive fine should be considered as a measure of one's income or value, rather than just a flat fine. The same as tax.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder how it hasn't happened yet. And the more I consider it, the more fair and just it seems.

Saturday 3 December 2016

The Modern Neuromancer

I begin this blog with a definition of the term Cyberpunk:

"A genre of science fiction set in a lawless subculture of an oppressive society dominated by computer technology."

Interesting, no?

There was a lot of talk about how Back To The Future 2's future never happened, but then actually did happen. The only thing that hasn't shown up is the hoverboard - something I blogged about right here actually.

It's like we wished for the whimsical aspects of that future, and not the more gritty, more day-to-day, more prosaic elements. We were so looking forward to our hoverboard that we forgot to stop Biff Tannen becoming president. At least the two-tie thing never took off...

...but I digress.

It is very possible to sleepwalk into a situation, because in a world wherein information is actually very free and very quick to travel (and misinformation doubly true), people's chosen method to not be overwhelmed is to trim down what they pay attention to.

This can mean that some very big, very important things go unnoticed, because of unequal coverage.

My favourite book is Neuromancer, by William Gibson.

Highly acclaimed as being the inventor of the term and the genre, Gibson is the grandfather of cyberpunk, to the point of a supercomputer in the hokey-but-fun 1995 movie Hackers is named after him. He wasn't hugely on-point with technology and computing at the time of writing Neuromancer - 1984, when I was two years old - and so that made him free to imagine a future based on social aspects, rather than technological. Still, he framed the world in technological terms, because in his eyes, the social - the spiritual and emotional - aspects of the world would be slowly eroded away, like a crack in a tooth.

There are several tell-tale core concepts that are present in most (if not all) examples of cyberpunk. The biggest is simply summed up as High Tech, Low Life; wherein the world's capacity for technological marvels and genius is incredible, but those technologies aren't capable of elevating the majority of the populace from poverty and squalour. Sure, you may have your highly-advanced computer system, and your replacement left arm, but you still need to grind for fifty hours a week to afford food and crappy lodgings - and social and societal mobility is basically a myth, except within your own little clique.

There's more to it than that, obviously.

Privacy and information is a huge part of the world. Information is currency. More important than almost anything, information leads to rep, which gives you anything. Those who possess data guard it jealously. Rather than use it or open it up for other people's use, it is a thing to lock down. Conversely, those who do not possess other data are constantly pushing to acquire it. Contravening the basic privacy of normal people, while defending one's own. Hacker society is predicated on the notion of all information being free, and the idea of sousveillance is a very nice one (observation from below - the opposite of surveillance, observation from above). How that data is used after the fact? Well, that's up to the people harvesting it - harvesting it and dictating how much of it anyone has access to, including themselves.

Sometimes a legal framework is needed to facilitate this kind of thing. Like the Investigatory Powers Bill, let's say.

Part of cyberpunk is the attitude that is almost entirely prevalent in most of its characters. You have to do it for yourself because nobody is going to do it for you. Becoming enclosed, wrapping ourselves up in ourselves. How can we possibly give a shit about X, when we can just about eat OR pay this bill, but not both?

This applies to almost all echelons of society. Not just the most poor and downtrodden, having to threaten others for a bite to eat, but further up the ladder - the corporate and political entities, who can't care about the effect of their actions on a macro scale, because they need to keep up their rep and their bankroll. The life won't fund itself. Who has the time to help anyone else?

That ruthless, headlong drive toward ourselves. Does that sound familiar?

Another key aspect of cyberpunk is the overwhelming presence of corporation, even over politics. Businesses are simply more important. They set the agenda, they do the dance, and the bureaucrats and so-called rulers pretty much run to keep up. Taking a stand against the march of gain is almost suicidal to one's career, because the monoliths of industry are the real fixed points of the world. So the politicians have to buy in, because to do otherwise is to invite certain doom - and hey, we can probably make a tidy profit from it at the same time, right? Why bother putting so much effort into making things different and achieving nothing, when one can put less effort into making a man in a suit happy and retire before the age of sixty?

Again, does that sound familiar?

I suppose the point I am working toward is that, I don't think Nineteen Eighty-Four is the future we have been sleepwalking towards. Not yet, anyway. We're getting there but not yet. Where we are going first, is Neuromancer.

Think about it.

We all have a phone, because phones have been price-pointed to perfection. Put one in every pocket. Make luxury models for the wealthy, and make finance options available for those we can buy debt from. I speak only for "first world" societies of course, but owning a phone in this country in particular is considered the default. If you don't, it is a statement. It's not a lack of availability. Every one of us has access to a portable supercomputer, by Gibson's standards.

We even have access to these things when we are in relative poverty. Even when our social mobility is stifled, and our income goes up so much slower than the cost of living and our average productivity. Even when the cost of owning a house is becoming inescapable to those who actually need one, despite the constant societal pressure from those who already own one to "get on the ladder".

Corporate interests have far greater influence on our lives than any shade of democracy. They also tend to guide scientific development. We don't get what we want. We get what they want, and then we are brought to understand that we wanted it all along. We're also, frankly, not in touch with what they are doing. Nobody cares enough. Everyone is too busy trying to keep their shirts on their backs.

We might not be able to plug data cables into our necks to eperience a virtual world (we have regular old headsets). We might not have built-in endoskeletons that vastly increase our lifting power (we have ever-increasingly complex exoskeletal frames). But we are definitely getting there.

You know the thing about cyberpunk?

It's a dystopia.

But then, nobody cared enough to stop it, and nobody noticed enough to want to care. So I guess I had better get some cybernetic limbs and some mirrorshades.

Sunday 27 November 2016

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Relating

So there's no romantic subplot (or main plot) in my NaNoWriMo novel.

I've heard it said many times that every story has to contain romance. At least a touch of it, somewhere. Depending on the content of the story, this can seem very bolted-on; a character that exists solely for the purpose of the main character to moon over and eventually reunite with, an immediate and irresistible attraction between two main characters that are otherwise basically unsuited for each other.

I tend to write with the notion of romance and romantic relationships as an option, rather than a necessity. What this means is that if I want to explore human emotion, I get to do so without it being framed in the same old parameters.

It's long been my theory that a lot of relationships in media  - books, films, comics, TV - a lot of them are what people think we want relationships to be, and not what relationships actually are. There's precious few examples of people just existing around each other comfortably. There's plenty of whirlwind romances and petty jealousies and all of that other good stuff - hell, if one was taught about romance strictly from the media, you'd be forgiven for thinking that no lasting relationship can survive without raging arguments and at least one experiment in infidelity.

The thing is, we have non-romantic relationships with far more people at any one time than we do romantic - most of the time. We just know more people that we're not into like that. They're the ones we work with, exist around. Until we cohabit with people we are in a relationship with (one or more, that's right poly people, I haven't forgotten you), we tend to live with people we aren't madly in love with, too. Given how fucked the household situation is in this country, the classic model of getting married young and moving into your own little place is more and more becoming a pipe dream anyway.

So why not explore their importance? Why not explore camaraderie, friendship? Sympathy and empathy without romantic subtext? Someone caring about someone else, and that being enough?

That hasn't actually been much of a challenge.

Each of the characters relate to each other in a different way. Captain Drake is fiercely protective of her people, like an older sibling. Corporal Lachesca (SHE GOT A PROMOTION) and Private Jian are joined in grief by the loss of a friend, though Jian has a far easier time in expressing their feelings than Chex does. Emway Callista-Raus dislikes people because they are messy, but she finds some of them infectiously easy to get along with. Engie gets along with literally EVERYONE. Sandy feels that her two best friends in the entire galaxy are on a totally different level to her, and wonders if they are ever insecure about anything. Lieutenant Colonel Cadenza nurtures an air of calm control, which very occasionally cracks when in the presence of people like Captain Drake.

I read through the story and I don't find myself wishing that there was more romance. I find myself wondering if someone else would wish there was more romance.

But then I suppose that is what fanfiction is for.

Saturday 19 November 2016

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Dramatis Personae

So while the last two blogs on this topic have been about topics relevant to my National Novel Writing Month project, this one is about the characters.

I decided to go with a variety of focus characters, and stick to their traits and points of view. No omniscient third person. Three of them actually military personnel - two commissioned officers and one enlisted soldier. An actuary, who runs numbers for military  purposes. Finally, a scientist, whose invention literally gives the title to the book: the Bridge.

Lieutenant Colonel Amber Cadenza is a living legend. A defensive genius and a strategist without compare - behind her back, they call her The Line, because you don't cross it - what she lacks in raw magnetism, she makes up for in reputation alone. Tall, a little stooped, grey hair, sallow and gaunt - her left eye is a cybernetic replacement. She could have had one that looked just like her natural right, but instead decided to go for a very obvious augmetic, so everyone would know it was there. She is not given over to displays of emotion, but those that are closest to her know that it is a deliberate, professional decision, not a flaw of psyche. Nobody really knows where she is from, but if asked, she'd reveal that her place of birth was a small orbital station right on the border between the Republic of the Empty Throne and their aggressors, the Empire Sanguine.

Captain Forenza Drake talks loud and acts louder. Strong in every sense, she is a born soldier, who thrived on every step of the ladder all the way from boot camp to Captain. Broad shouldered, tautly muscled and solidly jawed, she has a ready smile, grey-blue eyes and dark hair almost always razored short. Her enthusiasm and fearlessness is infectious, and nobody who has gone to battle by her side is left without a strong impression. War runs in her blood, and she listens to it closely at all times. She's the daughter of a very influential council member, something she'd far rather forget; as such she's spent a lot of her life moving around the Republic, seeing a lot of the worlds that she fights upon.

Private Alejandra "Chex" Lachesca is a career soldier, who signed up because she knew that somebody had to, and is making the best of it. Her sense of humour has been described as sick and dark, and her tight friendship with Private Roscoe Gunnarsen - whose own tastes verge on the morbid - only helps to reinforce the image. Her large family is heavily involved in the military. They hail from the world of Vayete, a stunning planet of natural beauty and breathtaking architecture. Most citizens of Vayete - Chex and Roscoe included - are bedecked with tattoos, in a tradition that goes back to the Emptying of the Throne.

Strategic Actuary Emway Callista-Raus knows people, and she knows numbers. She's an expert on the application of statistical analysis to warfare, and utilising the facts and figures that result to provide insight into proper strategy. Numbers make sense; everything fits together, even the more esoteric elements. It all makes sense. Certainly, a lot more sense than people - who frustrate Emway eternally. She has an air of anger, simply due to her frustrations at social convention. She is an Orbiter, pale, well-used to microgravity, and thrives under the strictures of hierarchy and order.

Professor Sandovar "Sandy" Marsh has a gift of her own. Her work on the mechanical and chemical operation of the brain has led to her development of the Marsh Bridge - or as she prefers to call it, the Bridge - which was initially an attempt to grant human beings senses and capabilities that didn't so much replace or augment those they already possessed, but added to the already sizable inload. Socially shy but confident with familiarity, she hails from the Throneworld; previously the core world of the Totality that the Republic had emerged from, it was the Republic's capital, the jewel in the crown of a government built on egalitarian ideals.

All of them are joined in an endeavour, along with a short-strength battalion of troops, an equivalent number of scientists, engineers and medical personnel, and the ship's crew of the Rex-class cruiser Strong Right - the endavour: to make the Bipedal Personal Tank Unit a reality.

As such, they all know each other.

The Lieutenant Colonel has a significant respect for Captain Drake. Forenza reminds Amber of her when she was in the officer's academy. She even likes her, though she finds her headstrong attitude a cause for concern. Chex is one of her soldiers, and she has a great many of those to command, but she does her best; knowing their full names and where most of them come from, in her opinion, is a basic sign of respect for soldiers ready to die on her word. She finds Emway to be reliable, if not a touch alien - though she sympathises with the lack of warmth, she wonders if it might not actually impede her work at times. As for to balance the paradox of the inventor and co-developer of a war machine without peer, who balks at the sight of blood? If Drake is Amber fresh out of the academy, then Sandy is Amber from childhood, wherein bloodshed was a refusable notion.

Drake worships the Lieutenant Colonel. A true legend. She is everything Drake could ever hope to become, though she does take issue at how prosaic the commanding officer can be. Having spent time around Chex and the other members of her platoon, she enjoys their dark sense of humour - Captain Drake was never adverse to mixing it up with the troops. She almost has a reputation for doing so. At first, Emway grated on Drake's nerves, if only due to her apparent influence over a military operation after never having fought a single battle, but having to work together smoothed out that particular relationship. Sandy confuses Dake. How could someone have the guts to invent the coolest piece of equipment ever, but be afraid to say boo to a goose?

Chex sees Amber Cadenza as some immovable monolith, the fixed point in the galaxy around which her personal universe is beginning to spin - and if the Lieutenant Colonel is the fixed point, then Drake is the shining star. Very fond of her fellow soldiers, Chex can't help but love the Captain. She hasn't had a lot of contact with Emway, but would probably find her cold and surprisingly trusting of her mathematics in the face of real trouble. Sandy is almost like a younger sister to her. She's done a great thing but is scared of it, and Chex wants her to take pride rather than feel doubt.

Emway has a distinct respect for Lieutenant Colonel Cadenza, as much for her composure and her dedication to the solution of military problems as for her reputation. There is a humility and sobriety there that simply doesn't exist in Captain Drake - who exhausts her by virtue of her boundless extroversion. Chex is a soldier - and her job is to make sure that soldiers do THEIR jobs effectively. As for Sandovar Marsh, she hopes that the scientist has the fortitude to see her creation to its greatest potential conclusion.

Out of all of the scientific staff aboard the Strong Right, Sandy has the most contact with the upper echelons of the military. She is confused and humbled by Amber Cadenza's praise and belief in her work, and puzzled yet enthused by Captain Drake's infectious spirit - though the weight of what her work has done to the former troubles her. The simple respect of the soldiery is appreciated, though, and Chex has been one of the many that have expressed as such. Emway is the reason why her work could happen at all - but the distance created by a mathematical solution handing her the tools to do the job means she sees the Strat-Act as working on a different level to her entirely.

They are of course not the only players in the game. The war isn't ever fought solo. They are surrounded by friends, colleagues, rivals and supporters, even in the little sealed universe that is the Strong Right.

But they are the core, and I kind of love all of them.

Sunday 13 November 2016

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Rewriting The History Books

It is only recently that the common abuse method known as gaslighting has come into the public eye as being as prevalent and controlling as it really is.

If you aren't sure what gaslighting is, then - for a grossly simplified example, and please don't think I am trying to trivialise the effect this has on people - imagine the episode of Star Trek where the Cardassians are trying to mentally break Captain Picard. The constant demand, telling him there are five lights, when there are only four.

(It's from Chain Of Command, a two-parter from Season 6 of Star Trek TNG. You can find a clip of it right here. Warning, it is a bit traumatising.)

The purpose of the method is to try and convince Picard that his senses can't be trusted - that his sanity isn't quite what he thinks it is. The point isn't to make him think that there are five lights. The point is to make him see four lights, but accept without question that there are actually five, because that is what he is being told by the Cardassians responsible.

This is in itself a reference to Nineteen Eighty-Four, a work that every single one of you should be familiar with. If you aren't - go and read it, right now. It is important. George Orwell's writing is vital to understanding how the world works. Anyway. In Nineteen Eighty-Four Winston is given exactly the same treatment, except it is fingers rather than lights, and instead of the evil and bastardly Cardassians, it is a fellow human being - O'Brien - that is ravaging his grip on reality.

Gaslighting is this, except the way it is deployed in an abusive relationship is different. It is subtler, more low-key. Fine details are adjusted, just slightly, by the abuser. (You'll note I am not putting any labels on this relationship. It can happen between most anyone.) Those details are at odds with what actually happened, but after dispute and repetition - eventually, the abused capitulates and accepts the version of events that the abuser is setting forth. Even if they know that it isn't how it happened.

It starts off as, perhaps, being a case of not wanting to argue the point. They just see it differently. We can both be right. That's fine. That isn't often where it stops, though.

It turns into something a lot nastier, because after the first success, the abuser knows that they can do it - and so they turn it to their advantage with confidence. All of those times where you had a valid complaint or greivance, the abuser can turn to make YOU seem to be the one in the wrong. They weren't deserving of your wrath. You're out of control, clearly. You have these terrible temper tantrums. That isn't what happened, why would you make that up? And so it goes. (It actually makes me kind of angry just to type this stuff knowing that it has happened to people I care about. And hell, it may still BE happening to some of them.)

In the end, the goal is the same. It is just achieved under the veneer of care. No Room 101 in this gaslighting, and no Cardassian brig with four lights. Just a place where you are meant to feel safe and welcome, which is being twisted to the ends of the abuser.

Recognising shit like this for what it is, is really important. It's something you can often only pick up through experience, but when you know - you know. It means that at first sign of it happening, you stomp it out quick or you walk away. And if you see it happening to someone you care about, hell, maybe even someone you don't care about at all, you tell them.

How does this tie into my NaNoWriMo project? Well, in this form, it doesn't. I just thought I'd give you a rundown because I love you all and I want you to be safe from this kind of fuckery.

Now from the personal scale, we move into the macro. Cultural hegemony.

It's a bit of Marxist (the political one, not the funny one) philosophy that involves the worldview of those in charge being made to be the worldview of those who aren't, regardless of validity. Cultural hegemony is a massive part of Nineteen Eighty-Four - hell, Winston works for the department that actually goes back and rewrites all the newspapers.

There's a difference between a cultural hegemony and an authoritatian society. The latter doesn't care if you believe it - it is here to make sure you do what you are told. You can think whatever you like, as long as obey the law. It is easier for the powers that be if you DO go along with it, mind - but if you just toe the line, you're one less head they have to crack with a rifle butt.

Often, an authoritarian society with a real view of control and a significant means of achieving it will try and engage in cultural hegemony. Things given a touch, an edge, to make their own particular values and culture primary over all others. It is rarely something that can be made perfect, in this day and age, but it can be made well enough that it sits as a veneer over the everyday information that people absorb as they go about their lives. If nobody has the wherewithall to question it, then it starts to become the truth.

Don't believe it can happen? Well, here's a few examples of exactly why it can.

The Mandela Effect is another trending thing. This has been documented all over the place. The number of people who truly believed, not just kind of thought but truly believed, that Nelson Mandela had died in prison - and were surprised to see that he hadn't - is astonishing. Likewise, the number of people who blot out the K in Chick-Fil-A, or think the Bearenstain Bears were actually the Bearenstein Bears. All of these things are (or were) commonly held misconceptions that people genuinely believed were the absolute truth. Each of them is small in its own way, but an indication that actually, the truth can be bent out of shape.

Here's another experiment. How many states of matter are there? Three, right? Solid, Liquid and Gas - we're all taught that in school, and we're shown the examples with ice-water-vapour. Except - there's four that we can see every day of our lives and a lot more that we know exist. That fourth common one is plasma, and you see it every day if you go out in sunlight, every time there is a lightning storm, and every time you look at a neon sign. You only learn about these later on in one's education - because you can't really absorb the complexity of a lot of things when you start learning about the sciences - but then, what if your education ends there? You spend the rest of your life thinking there are only three states of matter. As the vast majority of the human race do.

I'm not saying that not teaching middle-schoolers about Bose-Einstein condensates is an attempt to cynically manipulate their worldview to make them a more malleable populace. I'm saying that what we are taught in school is often taught in stages of complexity, and that if further complexity isn't reached, then the rest of our lives are spent being convinced that the simplified version is the whole story. That is if we are taught the right thing at all. I was taught that Pluto was a planet, after all. Even if the actual scientific or objective fact of a matter changes, unless that filters out to the perspective of others, it won't change the views of the people.

These are all ways in which people's worldview can be knocked aside from objective truth, but let's face it, they aren't exactly government sponsored - and the actual information available counters the beliefs in question. As a thought experiment, though...

What if, one day, someone tells you they were reading their bible and they had taken great comfort in Jesus feeding the six thousand? And you think, wait, that's meant to be five thousand, surely. And you go and look up the bible passage online, because hey, not everyone actually owns a copy of it anymore. And sure enough, there Jesus is in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke AND John, feeding the six thousand. You frown. That doesn't sound right. So you go to the library to take out a bible there, to check up. They're awaiting new stock, apparently the last one was recalled. You wait a week, take out the new one, read up on it. Yes. Six thousand. Right there, Luke chapter nine. Oh. You seem to remember your gran's old bible saying something different? But the overwhelming evidence... and sure enough, in ten years, your grandkids are making jokes at Christmas dinner about you making enough food to feed the six thousand.

(As an aside there is a second feeding in the gospels of Matthew and Mark - the four thousand. I bet that's something you didn't know. So depending on who you ask, Jesus fed either five or nine thousand with loose change. In terms of scale, that's almost doubling his efficacy.)

Now imagine that same principle, but applied to history, and applied to every example of the culture of those in power. Imagine the criticism minimised, the failings sidelined or palmed off on something else. Imagine all the strong contentions against the way of life they profess being written out of history. Imagine the aggrandisation of everything that proves they were right all along.

Imagine that taking place over decades, centuries. Imagine it being so prevalent that it is in every schoolbook, in every historical reference. Imagine it being so quiet that nobody questions, and so accepted that nobody fights, nobody even thinks to fight.

I could at this point make a snide point about Capitalism and Communism - about the dirty work done to the term Feminist up until recently, and how the word Patriotism is used to mean Nationalism in certain circles.

But then we don't live in the kind of culture within which the leaders and success stories want us to believe the same things as them, do we?

This blog here is about people validating their life choices by being incredulous when others don't agree with them. This blog here is about why we don't learn about politics in school. This blog here is about how people's general beliefs about money are kinda wrong. This blog here is about how our conception of what success is has been shaped by our monetised society. Finally, this blog here is about how wealthy folks worry that we think like they do, so they defend themselves first, and others second.

Maybe it's just me.

Saturday 5 November 2016

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Power Armour

Hands up if you know me.

Hands up if you know I have a huge crush on the concept of power armour.

Mostly the same amount of hands up, then.

Introduced to us as a concept back in the very early 20th century, power armour is a scifi staple. It runs from the improbable and highly fantastic, through to the more feasible and realistic. In movies, the contrast is visible in The Edge Of Tomorrow (essentially primarily just harnesses that increase lifting power and reduce recoil) and Iron Man (incredibly advanced and packing more bleeding-edge technology than your average Cyberpunk novel).

It's great stuff. A combination of protecting one's own soldiery and also allowing them to carry and manage heavier weapons, it is surely the military hardware of the future. A singular part of war is the capacity of a soldier to carry their equipment, which again would be amplified by power armour - though the commensurate increase in logistics would probably counterbalance their usefulness to a point.

So, why don't we have squads of MJOLNIR-equipped Royal Marines stomping all over the place?

Quite simply, there's bits of the technology that holds us back. We need certain things, certain kinds of technology to be available and widely researched in order to construct true power armour. There's a lot of similar projects in development right now that are similar - just take a look here for some examples, notables include Cyberdyne's HAL-5 and the Honda ex-legs project. Most of them take on the visage of the exoskeletons that are prevalent in the near-future presented in The Edge Of Tomorrow, though are far less advanced than the equipment presented in the book it is based on by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, All You Need Is Kill. (The novel comes highly recommended, by the way. Track it down.)

I'm not a scientist or an engineer. So my opinion, as always, needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. With those cards on the table, what do I think needs to happen to let us get on the board in terms of power armour?

The two primary issues, in my eyes, are power source and control mechanism.

In order for such armour to be useful, it needs to be able to perform with high responsiveness for a short period of time, and with low responsiveness for a long period of time. Military life is often described humourously as "hurry up and wait". It takes less energy to just move from one place to another, to get rom Point A to Point B and carry some things on the way - but far more time is going to be spent doing that, than in the middle of a fracas, which would require a lot of energy.

The idea of a small generator being attached to a fighting suit is less feasible than a suit being fitted with capacitors to be charged from an external source. So what is needed is capacitors, high capacity, quick to charge, and capable of variable output. There's a lot of study going on in this area. It's just a difficult balancing act - capacity and charging efficacy both come at a cost of weight and bulk, and finding the happy medium between them would be the solution. Where to put it on the suit, too, is a consideration - though just for balance purposes, I would think a distributed network of capacitors around the legs and hips.

The existence of the Formula E racing league - fully electrical cars tht can run at 140mph for an entire race and are recharged from glycerine - is proof that there's a lot that can be done with straight electrical power. If it can be monetised, it will be developed. Given that the new Renault electric car's battery is rented to the user rather than sold, let's face it - monetising is already happening.

The control mechanism? ...well that's a little harder.

If you want a suit of armour that can exert several tons of pressure at your command, you need to make sure it is going to go where you want to - that it isn't going to exert that pressure on you or on its own structure, and that there's going to be as little a delay as possible in transmission of command and execution of command.

Having it strapped to you, and reacting to pressure cues, is both simple and risky. The HULC system developed my Lockheed and Ekso Bionics uses footpad sensors that feed back into a microcomputer. This is great if all it is doing is moving at the same time as your legs and holding a backpack. A full body suit? Far more complicated.

Until we can get electronic control systems to the point where they can transfer motion commands from, say, a body suit to a limb possessing at least 8 actuators with accuracy - and allow for subtle variantions of motion, and ALSO allow for tactile and haptic feedback - well, Iron Man is beyond us. It's just not something we can do.

That's not a forever problem, in my opinion. That's a now problem. It just needs work.

In my National Novel Writing Month project, power armour features heavily. Even in the unspecified highly-futuristic time of the novel, it is a relatively new development. That is more down to efficiency of cost and training than anything else - but still, I hope it can demonstrate the complexity of such a system.

Keep dreaming, folks.

Friday 28 October 2016

Black Swans

Once upon a time, the term Black Swan was used to describe something that didn't exist.

It springs from a saying coined in 82AD by Juvenal, a Roman satirist - rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno. ("A rare bird in the lands, and very like a black swan.") It means, quite simply, something that doesn't exist. For absolutely centuries, this was stated as a bald truth, by those who had a mind to discuss such things. Europe's swans were strictly white.

Imagine the surprise of Europe, then, when in 1697 Dutch explorers in western Australia discovered that very thing: black swans.

So now, the term Black Swan means something that we thought was impossible, but wasn't. It is something that was beyond our field of vision that has just sprung into the light.

The author Iain M. Banks, one of my favoured science fiction writers, described this in the Culture novel Excession as an Outside Context Problem. It is something that we can't possibly have seen coming because our worldview does not include its possibility. To understand how that would work is very difficult - getting outside of our own minds is hard. They're our minds after all.

How we relate to the world, and how we understand it, is always put through a lens of our own experiences. When told to imagine our reaction to something, well, it's just been described to us by someone with a generally similar experience of the world. That's how hard it is to describe an Outside Context Problem, but the example Iain M. Banks uses is this:

The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you'd tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbors were cooperative or enslaved but at any rate peaceful and you were busy raising temples to yourself with all the excess productive capacity you had, you were in a position of near-absolute power and control which your hallowed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass... when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you've just been discovered, you're all subjects of the Emperor now, he's keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests.

Sometimes, though? Sometimes, we're the ones that place the object outside of our context.

See, in a case of a world or society where nobody ever talks or communicates (every kid with a mobile phone, if you ask a certain subsect of a certain generation) - that is next to impossible to imagine. How would anything even work? I'm communicating the idea to you, that is what reinforces how alien that idea is. That isn't a scenario that we made impossible, though; we could only develop into the species we are if we communicated, social evolution being just as important to who and what we are as physical evolution.

Now, though - now imagine a world without any kind of vehicle that isn't horsedrawn or man-powered.

That, we did to ourselves. We made that internal combustion engine, and we put it everywhere, and we made it necessary to our day-to-day lives in certain areas, and we so firmly embedded it into our culture and society that it is actually fairly hard to picture a world without them - or a world in which even the concept of them never existed.

The thing is, there are people alive today for whom that is a reality; people for whom the modern world is outside of context. Five generations ago, the notion of most people in England owning a mobile phone would be a totally alien one. Now place yourself in the shoes of the shocked, and advance the world past you. What lays in wait for us? Can we even predict, outside of speculative fiction?

This, right here, is why so many problems we face - as a race, as a whole - seem impossible to solve.

We've painted ourselves into so many corners, and then thrown away the brushes, and then forgotten that paint actually dries. The problem is A - but the solution B is impossible, because C. We accept all of these points because we just...can't not. That's why solutions are often dismissed as radical, because we just... don't think they can happen. Beyond a certain point it is preprogrammed into us. It's too far a jump, and thus it's not something we can grasp.

Even after having said all that...we still found our black swans. It took over sixteen centuries for us to prove Juvenal wrong, but it still happened. All we can do is keep educating ourselves, keep learning the positive changes that CAN happen - and dreaming of the ones that we don't think can, yet. Total nuclear disarmament - a dismantling of the primary capital-based system - a real and lasting green revolution.

Sooner or later, they may well become a reality.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Top 40 Tipple Game

Who here has played a drinking game?

Let's face it, most people have, at least once. You don't need to have enjoyed it. Most of them are just expressions of our latent masochism. From perennial favourite "I've Never" to the protean and punishing "Ring of Fire", it's all about the agony baby. And in the end, you start to forget how they are played - which is why simplicity is sometimes key.

Then there's drinking games that are based on watching or listening to things. Who's heard of the Roxanne drinking game? Two teams, both listening to the song Roxanne by the Police - one who takes a shot whenever they hear the word Roxanne, one takes a shot whenever they hear the term Red Light. It sounds like a sure-fire way to end up on the floor.

Myself and my crew recognise a variant of the Studio Ghibli / Miyazaki Drinking Game. If you've ever watched one, see if this sounds familiar:

  • 1 Drink - Landscape that looks like Wales.
  • 1 Drink - Thing flies that clearly shouldn't.
  • 1 Drink - Non-human character makes a snarky comment.
  • 1 Drink - Character has ridiculous facial hair.
  • 1 Drink - Character's face fills the screen.
  • 3 Drinks - Character with ridicuous facial hair's face fills the screen.
  • Bonus - 1 Drink - Character design has been in previous Ghibli movie.

You're imagining being shitfaced by the thirteenth minute of Kiki's Delivery Service, right? (You should be. I've seen it happen.)

Who pays attention to the top 40?

It's kind of gone to shit over the years, hasn't it? But this isn't about the quality of the music. This is a bit of an exploration of the themes that I have noticed to be prevalent. We're not gonna pick on the super-obvious ones - casual sexism, auto tune - but we ARE gonna play for keeps, which is that by the end of these forty songs, you will be wishing you'd stayed home.

Without further ado.

  • 1 Drink - Rihanna, Drake, Justin Beiber, Nicki Minaj, Arianna Grande or DJ Khaled. (Because jesus christ they are fucking everywhere. Like all the time.)
  • 3 Drinks - At least two of the above in the video, though not necessarily contributing musically. (This is especially relevant to Rihanna and Drake.)
  • 1 Drink - The rhythm section, for at least half of the song, sounds like it was recorded in a submarine. (Meant to sound like you're outside the club or something?)
  • 1 Drink - Main hook of the instrumental is either a rubbish sample of a trumpet or a synth section that sounds like steel drums. (This shit is ubiquitous.)
  • 1 Drink - Song actually sounds like a really toxic relationship. (THIS IS SO COMMON. Like just listen to some of this shit.)
  • 1 Drink - Lyrics feature the words Work. (Seriously. It kills me.)
  • 1 Drink - Beat structure is kick-kick-kick-kick-kick-kick-kick-SNARE. And that's as complex as it gets. (TRY PEOPLE. TRY. FOR GOD'S SAKE.)

...that's all we need for now. Because frankly that will get us pretty sloshed before we've even reached number 20.

Do you, the reader, notice any other trends?

Thursday 13 October 2016

No, Really, Not The Same

There is a very common ailment that affects the logical process of many human beings on a daily basis. It is a form of logical fallacy, and it is known as False Equivalence.

I'm sure we've all heard this kind of argument. Dogs have tails, cats have tails, therefore, cats are the same as dogs. Absurd, isn't it? And yet, people genuinely engage in such things daily. Their worldview is coloured distinctly by all sorts of logical fallacy.

Let us take, for example, the assumption that - if one person does a job badly, and someone else does the same job, then they will both do that job badly. A lot of people have this with doctors. It's a form of anecdotal fallacy - I had a bad experience and so I don't trust doctors, or I heard that so-and-so had to wait for three hours and so the entire medial profession is corrupt. Regardless of evidence to indicate that most people receive fair-to-good treatment regularly.

In terms of politics, the "They're All The Same" line gets trotted out a lot. One can sometimes see why - back in the mid-90s, as the Conservative party under John Major faced the threat of New Labour's more right-wing leaning, there was a distinct race to the middle ground. Everyone tried to look like the moderate, and tried to paint everyone else who disagreed with them as a shade of extremist. That's probably where a lot of the rhetoric originated from - politicians desperate to get to the most middling position before their competitors.

It is a statement that can be challenged, though. It is objectively possible to measure if a politician is good or not. We can measure this by attendance, by claims of expenses, by all sorts of yardsticks. Even if we discard this particular means of judgement, however, the fact that you can look at all their voting records right here should tell you that they don't all vote the same. Regardless of the words that come out of them, regardless of whether or not they say aloud what they believe - voting records don't lie.

And yet still, their "all being the same" is a line widely touted - a false equivalence. Mhairi Black, a highly morally sound and upstanding young woman, is a politician; so is Boris Johnson, whose clown persona has more in common with Pennywise than Bonzo. But they are both politicians, and thus are both the same - right?

Often a false equivalency is generated out of a lack of more in-depth knowledge. Where money is being spent, what people actually get up to, what the law actually says, what statistics are actually reliable. It's easy to not pay attention to this kind of thing - but if you don't have a base of knowledge to work from, then you should be honest about that before you start making sweeping statements.

There's a current state of false equivalence highly prevalent right now, and that is that both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald John Trump are as bad as each other.

Let's pare this down to the basics.

Even IF Clinton had engaged in the kind of behaviour that Trump has made synonimous with his name - such as calling for the actual physical harm of protesters, mocking disabled people, making several veiled insinuations calling for the harm or arrest of his competition...

...even IF Clinton had outright said that she pays no tax (and is smart because of it) and that the majority of immigrants from Mexico are bringing a "lot of problems" with them...

...even IF Clinton had been recorded talking about sexually assaulting people being okay because she's wealthy...

...then you know what? She'd STILL be a better choice to run the country.

Even if in terms of character they were EXACTLY the same - which they objectively are not - then we still have to concede the difference of career. Clinton has spent nearly two decades in politics. She has lived the life and played the game. People find her objectionable for all sorts of reasons, but the majority of them are things she has done in the political arena. (And are things that they don't necessarily hold the right people accountable for, either - but that is, again, an entirely different blog.)

While Trump's political acumen is...well...

...yeah, there isn't any, is there?

Hillary Clinton receives flak for being "untrustworthy", while Donald Trump collects kudos for "telling it how it is". Now if I am living in a world of ideals, then I want all of our politicians to be 100% honest all the time - but we do not live in this world. We live in a world where diplomacy relies on humility, decency and tact. Look at each of those words, imagine each candidate, and tell me how far each apple falls from the tree.

I am not a huge fan of Clinton. She strikes me as a little more Hawkish than she wants to be perceived, a little more right-wing than my taste - but then, that is how you get to be president. It's no secret that I am a Bernie fan.

But there isn't any hope in hell that I could even conceive of her being worse at the job of the President than that man. She isn't even in the same ballpark. She outstrips him by such a degree that it is embarassing to even think they could be considered "just as bad as each other".

But some people do still think this.

Which is, let's face it, literally False Equivalency.

Sunday 9 October 2016

Questions Asked, Answers Gargled

So because the main blog I had an idea for was super-dark and super-heavy I kind of decided to put it off until I can really approach it properly...which left a void of a blog idea.

But not to fear, because my wonderful friends and followers have provided me with a series of topics on which I will hold court!

Without further ado, and with names stricken to protect the innocent...

Theresa May - the devil incarnate? - I think the devil would be more subtle. The greatest trick he ever pulled was making the rest of us believe he didn't exist. May is just doggedly and determinedly fulfilling her personal goals of making most people poorer and few people richer, and leaving this country a shattered, smoking husk before someone else can stop her.

Tunnels to the island - Rather emotive topic here. Lot of people have opinions on this. Me? I can't see it happening, so my opinion on it doesn't really matter. It's a big engineering profit that will almost certainly benefit us at least a little, that will requite a huge initial investment, so guess what. It's not going to happen. Too many people who can make that kind of thing happen are focussed on the short-term cash-grabs before everything goes tits up, without thinking that maybe, putting down some long-term projects might stop those tits from going up at all.

Why is it that possums like to jump in my face whenever I leave the house? - Okay so three answers for this one. Cheesy and flirtatious: Because you're attractive. Heavily sarcastic: You look like a possum house. Played straight: I didn't even know that happened, are you okay? Did they hurt you?

Tory fraud/gerrymandering? - Bastards. Absolute bastards. So they're trying to divide up my constituency into two because they know that the Island is a very conservative place, they're just hoping to up their game here - or at the very least retain one MP as the East Wight is probably gonna swing for someone more liberal anyhow... but here's the thing right... how is it considered at all fair to try and eliminate the leader of the opposition by the dissolution of his seat? I mean that's some brownshirt shit.

Quack science. Is it all bad? - It undermines actual science. The problem is those adherents of it are very willing to ignore actual evidence to support their own perspective. So yes. It is bad. If it gets past peer review and is proven to actually work, then it stops being quack science and know... science.

Ooohhh who would win in a knife fight between Thatcher and May? - Everyone would win. Literally everyone.

Or Gandhi and MLK? - Doctor Martin Luther King Jr was a fine example of a man, Mahatma Gandhi was like eighty pounds soaking wet. I know Gandhi has a reputation for nuclear proclivity but that won't help him with a shiv.

Do you know the muffin man??????? - I fucked up the rhyme for this one so apparently, no, I do not know the muffin man (the muffin man) the muffin man.

The relevance of Roman culture to today's society - Huge. Literally. Without the former there couldn't be the latter. They weren't the first civilization of their ilk but they did a lot of things that became the model that others would build on. It's not like anything they did was super-unique, it's more that they did a lot of good things (and bad things) very well, to the point that it could actually be codified. Bread and circuses, anyone? Salt the earth? It's like a playbook.

Will you join me and save Fal Bay? - I would urge anyone to do the same. Click this here. Do some reading. People will do everything in their power to save a FIELD, but the moment it gets complex or something they can't just walk across, they go blind. Marine conservation, people. Get behind it.

The best way to remove nuns blood from my Andy panty costume without harming the environment? - Blood from clothes is difficult. However, this guide may help. If it was chrome or similar you could use Coca-Cola.

The fickle nature of love. - This is a blog in and of itself. In short-form though; feelings are like that. Feelings do that. How we feel changes constantly. All we can do is try and keep our brains in charge of our hearts, so that when the innevitable tug off to left field comes, we can properly judge if we should follow it or not.

I was thinking about writing a short story about this - are there any female Space Marines? No, really... What about Gender Dysphoria? You could expand it into gender issues in science fiction. - ...I like this topic. Okay so it is canon that in the Games Workshop sense of Space Marines, there aren't any females, because only males can accept the gene seed and the changes required. Also Games Workshop don't tend to go into any kind of deep thought in regard to gender either, so I doubt that ever comes into it. However, my NaNo project involves - essentially - space marines. It'll just so happen that the majority of the characters are female or otherwise nonbinary. No gender-specific terms of rank. There's a lot of modern sci-fi that is shedding the sexism that is prolific just about everywhere, right now. It's a great time to be alive.

And that's your lot, pop pickers. Tune in next week when I get REAL SAD.

Saturday 1 October 2016

Like A Disney Movie

So the other day I was talking to someone about relationships, and people staying in relationships that are bad for them, and the mentality of it. I've even done a blog on the topic right here, and a blog on a semi-related topic right here.

As we were talking it occured to me that, throughout my childhood and my teenage years, very few of the relationships I was presented with in the media I consumed were what I, in later life, would consider to be a healthy one.

That is, perhaps, because such things aren't exciting. They aren't what we all thirst to read about or see or hear about - but then, perhaps our idea of a fairytale romance is informed by the fairytales we were subjected to.

We all love a good Disney movie, right?

Well here's the shit - we grew up with princesses and princes and love's true kiss, none of which prepares you for, you know, relationships. They are profligate with shitty messages about love and trust. A quote that I borrowed from Stephen Colbert a few years ago:
“So, Disney, I demand that you drop this two mommies plot & go back to delivering wholesome messages. Like teaching our children that they can be a princess if they let a man make out with them while drugged, or that there's nothing wrong with bestiality if a candle says it’s OK.”
Change yourself and you will have value because a man will want you, says The Little Mermaid and Cinderella. Relationships are something that happen to you rather than something you do, says Sleeping Beauty. They want you, and that's enough, says Snow White. Any level of deception is acceptable once they see the REAL you, says Aladdin. Stay in your lane and accept what you have, says Wreck-It Ralph. You can change them to make them into something you want, says Beauty and the Beast.

Disney isn't the only culprit, of course. The very notion of True Love, of the kind of love that you know full well happens to you and that you can't resist and that you should pursue at all costs et cetera - that notion is implanted into us real young, and is...well...dangerous.

Imagine you are taught from a very early age that needing to urinate is what a healthy relationship is, and nothing deviates from this reinforced teaching. (It's ridiculous, I know - but it's meant to be.)

I will state at this point that I am probably very biased. I'm socially a little malformed, and have had social anxiety for a long-ass time. So perhaps my word shouldn't be taken as academically sound - but then this blog is all opinion anyway, just sometimes backed with statistics.

So if we are raised in a world in which love is a thing that scares you rather than comforts you, and something that you can't ever give up on no matter how bad it is for you, and something that you MUST pursue in every aspect of your life, and that a life without love isn't worth living...well...

...okay, does anyone actually believe this is true? Like, really?

Is anyone going to truly claim that the best relationships they have in their lives aren't about comfort and trust and knowing each other and being able to exist in each other's company for basically years without going crazy? That they are based on mindless devotion and anxiety?

My mother once told me that before you can go out with someone, before someone can be your girlfriend, they have to be your friend. I scoffed at this. Film and television teach us that you fall in love with someone you meet out of the blue and charm and woo and then they love you and this is symbolised with a kiss which is obviously the desired result.

It took me a long time to realise what she meant. That to have a sexual and romantic relationship with someone that I can't be friends with is...well it's idiotic. If I can't hang out with someone and just be okay with them, how am I meant to be their other half? If we can't goof around with each other and laugh at dumb stuff, complete and happy will our relationship really be?

It's easy to believe that relationships that are objectively harmful are the right way to do things, because all through our lives they always have been. We dismiss feeling like we are being mistreated because "shrug, well, that's the way love goes". We have all heard the story of "we're from the era when you fixed things rather than threw them out". That is held up as a virtue while we ignore the fact that domestic abuse was absolutely rife, and the notion of leaving that relationship was stigmatised to the point that you'd take the beating rather than the sidelong looks.

It does not have to be like this. It never had to be. We can change - and we can change the media that teaches people.

Steven Universe is something I come back to time and again. It has very healthy examples of relationships working, and examples of people resolving problems in a safe, smart way. It's just the tip of what needs to be an iceberg, though.

Creators - put healthy relationships in your books. Let them be friends first. Let people not be obsessed. Let people recognise that Romeo & Juliet is actually harmful, that infatuation is a form of obsession which is also harmful. Let people recognise that loving someone is an ongoing friendship, not a cycle of abuse.

Because my fairytale romance isn't a fairytale. It's a friendship. Just more.

Sunday 25 September 2016

The Lazy Problem In Science Fiction

Consider, for a moment, this quote.
"Let's gather up the bits and pieces and define the Simon-pure science fiction story: 1. The conditions must be, in some respect, different from here-and-now, although the difference may lie only in an invention made in the course of the story. 2. The new conditions must be an essential part of the story. 3. The problem itself—the "plot"—must be a human problem. 4. The human problem must be one which is created by, or indispensably affected by, the new conditions. 5. And lastly, no established fact shall be violated, and, furthermore, when the story requires that a theory contrary to present accepted theory be used, the new theory should be rendered reasonably plausible and it must include and explain established facts as satisfactorily as the one the author saw fit to junk. It may be far-fetched, it may seem fantastic, but it must not be at variance with observed facts, i.e., if you are going to assume that the human race descended from Martians, then you've got to explain our apparent close relationship to terrestrial anthropoid apes as well." - Robert A. Heinlein
What's your favourite science fiction story?

It is a highly debated genre, science fiction; totally ignoring the notion that literary fiction considers genre fiction to be unimportant, it is at war within itself. What counts as science fiction? What doesn't? There's several different definitions, assigned in different periods and by different individuals. The one I picked above - one by an author whose work I enjoy - is perhaps cherrypicked for purpose of the point of this blog.

Here's a selection of others:
"Fantasies are things that can't happen, and science fiction is about things that can happen." - Ray Bradbury

"I like to present my characters—whether they are in the past or in the future—with interesting moral choices, and it seems to me that science-fiction writers are, or should be, the prophets and moralists of today. I am fairly well up on the biological sciences, but I am deeply uninterested in gadgets. A writer's job is to write about people with sympathy and insight." - Naomi Mitchison

"Science fiction is the improbable made possible, and fantasy is the impossible made probable." - Rod Sterling

"SF has never really aimed to tell us when we might reach other planets, or develop new technologies, or meet aliens. SF speculates about why we might want to do these things, and how their consequences might affect our lives and our planet." - John Clute

"The hardest theme in science fiction is that of the alien. The simplest solution of all is in fact quite profound — that the real difficulty lies not in understanding what is alien, but in understanding what is self. We are all aliens to each other, all different and divided. We are even aliens to ourselves at different stages of our lives. Do any of us remember precisely what it was like to be a baby?" - Greg Bear
I have used a lot of other people's words in this blog. A lot of good people up there. I hope I don't piss any of them off in spirit by using their words poorly.

Almost all good stories include a conflict. This conflict can take a great many forms, but if there isn't a conflict, then the story is probably going to be a bit tedious (and/or described as "fun and frothy" in the pages of Hello magazine). We can probably identify the central conflicts in our favourite stories, they are pivotal to character development and plot resolution.

See, wherein we accept that science fiction is about the consequences of some kind of scientific advance and the social and personal repercussions of them - and wherein we accept that conflict is central to any story - surely the conflict in question is the futuristic otherness that makes the story scifi?

The conflict in 2001 isn't between the humans aboard the Discovery One and the monolith - it's between Dr David Bowman and Hal 9000. The monolith, and the subsequent change that it puts Dr Bowman through - that is the future, the otherness. It's not the central source of conflict.

Alien - the conflict is between an alien creature that we couldn't conceive of. It's put on the ship by the manipulation of a company whose job is moving around heavy industrial goods through space, the first blue-collar sci fi movie. Now if it was simply a story of the workers not liking being bossed around - that would frankly be lazy.

To just have the thing that is different be the conflict each time is...well, it's not very likely, is it? Which is part of why I find Star Trek hard going most of the time. I like Deep Space 9 - wherein the Federation isn't perfect, and the constant tussles between two warring people and those trapped in between that conflict are the actual story. It's not about the wormhole - it's about the people.

Because in the end, while I do love the fascinating what-if stuff about cool tech and aliens and out-there goings-on - stories are about the people. They're not about what megacorporations did to the world, or how one travels from one place to another, or how creating too many robots fucks your life up. Sure, that's a thing in the background - but what effect that has on people is what the story is about.

So to all you writers: yes, your theory on how we can get to Mars is amazing. Yes, that alien species is wonderful. Yes, the concept of energy-based life is fascinating. But don't make it the conflict. That's the domain of cheap tricks - action movies with an element of the future in them, with a special effects budget of millions and zero scientific consultancy.

It's hard, but it's worth it.