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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.