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Sunday 31 December 2017

Exit Stage Left

Well, 2017 eh? What a year that was.

It's been a hell of a time. A lot has happened. Some good, a lot bad, a lot just...tragic.

The political landscape looks much like the field outside of Minas Tirith circa Return Of The King. Geopolitics isn't much different. There's protests in Iran, Russia's doing something but for the life of me I'm not sold on what, North Korea is being North Korea, Europe is getting bored of our shit, and literally everyone is getting bored of Drumpf's shit.

Some good media came out this year. Some bad media too, but let's not dwell.

Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man Homecoming and Blade Runner 2049 just blew me away - I haven't even seen the new Star Wars yet. Also I don't care what anyone says, I enjoyed Alien Covenant. Been some good music out, too - the most recent Gorillaz album in particular, P.O.S' new stuff, the Robots With Rayguns Slow Jams album. The first half of Star Trek Discovery's first season was stellar (pun intended). The new season of Mystery Science Theatre 3000? GENIUS. And signed for another season following. Magnificent. The Expanse, too - can't wait for Season 3 of that.

The people I know went through some times. A lot of it good, a lot of it bad. Lot of marriages, lot of kids, and all power to you folks starting out in your brand new phases of life. I hope it is every bit the happy journey you want it to be. People moving house. People moving up in the world. Doing things they never thought they would get the chance to do. Life got more difficult for a lot of people I know, sometimes in small ways, sometimes bigger. A lot of my mental health people have had hardship this year, me included, and my sympathies and empathy to all of you.

Nine Worlds was great. It usually is but this year in particular was fantastic.  I'm starting to get the hang of it now. 2018 will be even better, I'm sure.

I didn't build enough gunpla. I need to fix that.

What do I intend for 2018?

I don't do resolutions any more. There's no such thing as a new me just waiting for the new year to come along. I just intend on trying to keep myself alive, keeping myself as mentally and physically healthy as possible, keeping up my good work. Write more. Maybe get in some live music. Build more gunpla. Do more things that make me happy. See people more. Don't let my various and sundry health issues get in the way of any of that.

Sounds... well okay it doesn't sound like the hardest thing ever, but you know. It is what it is.

Happy new year, folks. Let's hope that 2018 is less cruel than 2017 was.

Saturday 23 December 2017

Microbial Conflict

So since...actually a few days before the last blog, I have been sick as a dog.

Chest infection, basically - with a few caveats. Like, I've had so many chest infections that they all feel a little different, but this one hit harder than most. Not quite pneumonia. I've had pneumonia. That shit almost killed me. Most chest infections, I get over relatively quickly. This one has put me totally on my ass.

Right before Christmas.

I don't need to do another blog about my feelings about the holiday. It's pretty obvious to anyone.

Frankly there are worse times for this to happen. I'd have had to miss at least two weeks work with this shit. That's not much fun, but right now hours are a little quiet, so I'll take the hacking crud now.

Still, there are better times, too. I want to do things. I want to go see people. I want to be the sociable person people are expected to be round about the bottom half of December. I want to see The Last Jedi for god's sake, and no, I haven't seen it yet, and if you spoil it for me any more than has ALREADY been done, I will do a manslaughter.

Also means that I am glad I did 90% of my Christmas shopping back in November, but cursing myself that the cards and such I left so late. Because I am an imbecile. Nevermind, that is taken care of now.

What this has meant, is that I've had a lot of time to sit around, while my lungs drain in the natural (noisy) way.

I've spent a lot of time on Twitter, expanded my follow list, found some people who actually made me laugh until I was almost sick on multiple occasions, and remembered the bits of me that actually liked just chatting shit about Transformers.

I've tried to write. That's not gone well. I've spent a lot of time turning ideas over in my hands like the dude in L.A. Noire while the stupid fucking music plays in the background and having precious little result (aside from his clueless ass muttering things like "This Doesn't Help Me").

I've read a lot of books. The new James S. A. Corey "Persepolis Rising" (stellar go read it right now), Jeff Vandermeer's "Annihilation" (stellar need to read the two sequels before the movie comes out I need them in my life), and re-reading Richard Morgan's books before Altered Carbon comes out (stellar).

I haven't played a lot of video games. Mostly Stellaris. Anything first-person has been making me super dizzy.

I've listened to a LOT of music.

And I've had a lot of time to consider the state of the world, my place in it, and various other things that generally shouldn't be done while on the natural endorphin crash of being ill as hell.

And I've decided that if I can mentally survive being in that place for a little bit, then honestly I'm gonna be just fine.

I'm not gonna kid you, there's been a few very, very dark hours recently. A lot of barrels that I've seen the bottom of from the inside.

I'm okay though. I'm still here. I'm in one piece. (DA DAAAA DAAAADAAA DADADA actually that's only an injoke you'll get if you've hung out with me and my homies or if you've seen One Piece sorry)

It's just been a little rough, is all.

This would seriously ruin Christmas if I even cared about it. But I know that you folks do, or at least, some of you.

Happy Holidays, internet. Be good to each other, make smart choices, and let's make 2018 better for everyone.

Sunday 17 December 2017

Ghost Of Christmas Arse

I hate A Christmas Carol.

I mean I kind of hate Christmas carols too - my distaste with the holiday is well-documented and known to you, my dear readers - but I specifically refer to the Charles Dickens story. And almost all of the adaptations of aforementioned Charles Dickens story. The only reason I can put up with A Muppet Christmas Carol is because of the Muppets...and frankly I'd rather just watch old episodes of the Muppet Show.

A Christmas Carol In Prose, Being A Ghost Story Of Christmas - to give it its full absolutely bullshit name - should be familiar to most people. It's about a money-lender who is a miserable greedy bastard, who is visited by the ghost of his former partner in life to warn him about greed being bad, and then the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Be to show him the actual outcomes of his shitty decisions. After this supernatural guilt trip, he rushes off to fix things, by seeing his nephew, buying a turkey for his clerk, and giving him a small wage rise - and paying for his clerk's young and sickly son to, you know, not die. He also runs into a chap that approached him for a donation to help poor and destitute people, and sorts him out with some funds.

"But John," I hear you cry, waving glowsticks through the air at the world's last open-air apocalyptic silent disco. "But John, you forgot the scenes where he ran out into the street and bought everyone toys and made everyone happy!"

Ah, but that doesn't actually happen in the book, you see.

What he DOES, is he walks through the streets, and smiles and is nice to people. And they are nice to him in return. He talks to people, even stooping so low as to talk to the homeless, and is generally a pleasant human being.

So this tale of the redemption of - effectively - an extortionist loan shark isn't really quite so cut-and-dried.

The first part of the story establishes Scrooge as an asshole. A rather wealthy asshole that puts money over everything. He doesn't give a damn about his nephew. He doesn't care much for his clerk. He cares even less for the poor in general, whom he suggests should be in prison, the workhouse, or literally die to decrease the surplus population. Aside from sounding like several members of parliament (Jacob Rees-Mogg I am looking at you), this chap sounds thoroughly unpleasant, no?

A man without quibble or conscience is now visited by several ghosts.

The first is his previous business partner, Marley, who is essentially like: "Dude. We fucked up. Like we chased money forever, and greed is apparently one of the seven deadly sins or something, so I get to be a spook now, don't let this happen to you, I'm gonna have like three other spookdudes show up and show you how to not be an asshole."

Alright, sure. But he didn't give a fuck about the afterlife before, I don't doubt - so why is he gonna care now? Surely not because of the threat of ending up as a spook himself? Already knows that greed is bad - literally a deadly sin. No, he's not gonna care until there's a personal twist. Nobody with money gives a shit until something affects them in a way they can't shrug off.

Enter pastspook.

Turns out that, in his past - or the selective bits of it pastspook shows old Ebenezer - he had human emotions, which all outpour as he witnesses his youth and his prior employment. Suddenly confronted with the reality that he, too, is a person - he is filled with regrets, as to how he's dealt with various people. Oh, now he sees that his behaviour was shitty. As if by a miracle.

Though having become upset by the fact that he's seeing all this stuff - and the positivity in the life of the woman that didn't marry him because he was a greedy asshole - he tries to murder pastspook by snuffing out his light, but that's another matter.

Enter presentspook.

Presentspook shows Scrooge around some of the more pleasant bits of Christmas as it stands in 1843. A joyful market, some people celebrating here and there, generally having a grand time of it. Even Tiny Tim is having a fun time, even if he's got the sword of Damocles dangling over his head. Old Ebenezer once more remembers that he's a human being and not some vile lich from beyond the grave, so he gets quite enthused about the whole thing - despite having, scarce hours previously, pretty much told his nephew Fred to go swing when invited to dinner. Full of joy and gaiety, this one.

Then just before leaving him be for the night, presentspook demonstrates that he's been hiding two kids in his robes this entire time. Now, ignoring how weird that is - here's where we get some heavy-handed Dante-style symbolism bullshit. You see, the children are savage horrible wasted creatures. The girl's called Want, the boy's called Ignorance, and he has Doom written on his forehead. They're apparently all mankind's children - and Scrooge, who previously wanted poor people to go die or go to prison or go to the workhouse, has a change of heart. Presentspook of course takes a sarcastic pop at him for it.

You may be seeing the pattern here.

Enter futurespook.

Futurespook pretty much just shows old Scrooge his own funeral, how much people hate him, how some of the people he loan sharked money to are happy he died because it's given them some financial leeway. He gets to see that Tiny Tim died, as predicted. The last thing futurespook shows Ebenezer is his own grave. This is all taken with the kind of shock and terror and despair that you would imagine.

It is only now - only truly now, when literally faced with his own mortality, shortly after having witnessed the personal cost of being a complete asshole, both his own and the lives or others - that he's down with the idea of Christmas. He's a changed man. He'll be Christmassy as fuck from now on.

So there it is. He wakes up. It's Christmas morning. Shouts out of his window at a passing urchin, buys turkey, takes to street, talks to people,, everyone's happy, goes to see Fred, falalalala.

For one thing - Scrooge's redemption is a capitalist one. The problems are caused by people not having any money, by little or zero provision being made for people with a lack of money, and by people like Scrooge himself profiting from that poverty. Oh yeah - the Cratchit turkey and Tiny Tim's medical treatment and the money for the destitute all comes out of the pockets of a guy who has made all that money by leeching off of poor people for most of his life. Does he stop being a money-lender? No. So on Boxing Day he's still going to be expecting repayments. He's still going to be harvesting ursury-money from all over London. Those chains that Marley was hoping to spare him from? Still there.

Can we really believe, also, that he just wasn't aware of the stuff the spooks showed him? Did he really forget his entire past? Did he really think that people wouldn't think badly of him if he was a complete asshole? Can someone be that naive, that...plain stupid? No - but then, Dickens isn't writing this guy as being reasonable or believable. Dickens is writing him as a moral lesson, right?

Except he's not a lesson. He's an excuse - in the same way as a deathbed repentance is enough to get you into heaven, suddenly remembering the poor exist is a great cover if you ever get called on it. Plead ignorance of the social situation you create on a daily basis - then when you have your one day of not being a shithead, you can claim you're a changed man. The beauty of it is, you don't really have to change at all.

The biggest change in Scrooge is a social one. He starts to act nicely to people. He starts to be sociable. He changes...very few lives, with his sudden outpouring of funds - but people notice that he's a changed man. He's changed his fate. No more awful funeral with staff picking his pockets and people celebrating his death because he was extorting them. Now, old Scrooge is a man about town. Cheerful and warm and generally nice.

And isn't that the true meaning of Christmas? Help very few people just a little and make out like you saved the world, put a big smile on your face and play along, because it's what everybody else expects you to do?

In fairness, I think part of the reason the story irks me so much is that so little has changed. In fact in this day and age it is even harder to legitimately claim ignorance over poverty and one's part in creating it. It's a bald-faced lie. More likely is that those who create the scenarios that make others suffer know, they just don't care. Much like Scrooge, they witness and display appropriate shock - but remain the same joyless austerity-driven assholes the moment they step away.

It's why you always need to check out people's actions, rather than their words. Always check the actual stuff and substance of an action or story, rather than the rhetoric or the story that gets told around it.

And if you require the intervention of four ghosts to make you even vaguely change your ways - you're still an asshole.

Sunday 10 December 2017

Incompetence And Malice

I am a believer in Hanlon's Razor, the oft-quoted (and oft-misquoted) statement, "Never attribute to malice what can be sufficiently explained by stupidity". Goethe said something similar, back in 1774: "Misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent."

The thing is...

The thing is that holding this believe doesn't prepare you at all for what is going on in the world of politics.

There's different sorts of malice. There's the very direct and very hostile malice, wherein you actively want the consequences of your actions, especially if they hurt or kill or traumatise another. Premeditated violent crime, for example. I won't go into examples - you know what I am talking about.

Following that, there's different stages of being removed from the end result of the deed you undertake, which is why it is easier to kill someone with a gun than a knife. There's far less of a direct and visceral connection between squeezing the trigger, a loud bang, and over there someone falls over - compared to having to actually inflict the physical trauma with something in your own hand, to physically struggle with the individual you are hurting. (This is in part why guns should be restricted, by the way.)

There comes the line wherein someone can perform the mental acrobatics necessary to make this statement their guiding philosophy:

I have performed this action, and don't care about the consequences.

It's the difference between aiming a firearm at someone with the express intent to kill them, and firing into a crowd at random. It's the difference between not checking a brake line because you want the driver of the car to have an accident, and forgetting to check the brake line because you're making up time. It's the difference between signing the Poor People Starve Act, and extending the waiting time for benefits for whatever nebulous reason one could come up with.

Weekly, it becomes apparent that a significant amount of systems and organisations in the world today are arranged in such a way as to insulate those who make decisions that hurt others from those others that they hurt, and also from any repercussions.

There's no recall for politicians in this country. If we vote in an MP that goes on to thoroughly stab their base in the back, we can't get rid of them until the next election rolls around - and they know it, and they hide behind it. The wealthy live in neighbourhoods and districts that have a greater police presence, or even gated communities - except the police aren't there to make them obey the law. Police don't arrest white-collar criminals. There's several layers of people to act as a buffer between, say, Rupert Murdoch and an individual personally attacked by any one of his spider-like web of media properties - not just people but laws and financial barriers, too.

There will be many of my more cynical readers who will roll their eyes and scoff and say "yeah obviously".


I think it has become accepted, that this is the way things are, and the way things will remain - and that's a problem. Even if we normal folks, who get to eat the shit sandwiches made for us by the men in the high towers, recognise this absolute lack of care or concern - we recognise it in an eye-rolling yeah-I-know same-old kind of way.

We don't even really get angry about it any more. It's become so normalised in our society that we accept it with a solemn sigh and a shrug, like the fact that it rains when you plan a barbecue or that the most recent album from that classic band you like isn't actually very good.

Which is...mad, isn't it? ...because it's a shit thing. It's a shit thing to have happen to us as a society. If someone came to visit from a perfect society from the future (or an alternative dimension) they'd look at this state of affairs with such absurd incredulity.

But that's how the system perpetuates. It continues because we live in it and we don't think about how it would work if something changed.

The people in power persist in making decisions that hurt so many and benefit so few because not only are they protected from the repercussions, but also, we EXPECT them to be protected from the repercussions.

If things are going to change - here is a place to start.

Sunday 3 December 2017

Readers Request - Emails, Cranes, Christmas Songs

Happy Sunday, folks, and welcome to another round of Reader's Request. I will be answering and replying to questions, prompts and general antipathy from you, my beloved, dedicated readers.

...for once...nobody said boobs.

Alright. Without further ado. Names removed to protect the innocent. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

If you had to go for an animal companion build in Pathfinder, what would you go as? - Hunter from the Advanced Class Guide. Depending on level and where the game was set would depend on my animal companion, but I've always had a soft spot for tigers, birds of prey, and dinosaurs.

Obviously, thoughts on the Royal Engagement. - Good luck to them. I'm not as enthusiastic as the next man, world's got problems that won't be solved by a wedding, but good luck to them.

Rage filled rant/analysis of the current political climate. - Rich assholes doing things with impunity because they've decided to fully lean on their immunity from public opinion and the greater good that previous generations of politicians have put in to protect their paycheck. Total abandonment of doing anything because it's good for the population, at least people used to pretend. Trump is a racist mysogynistic manbaby shored up by cynical monsters and May is a toothless powerless mouthpiece for Margaret Thatcher supporters who has severely fucked up and is just trying to cling to power long enough to get her friends and husband more tax breaks.

3 songs that have the most meaning to you and what it is - oooh um. Okay. Well. There's three songs that mean a LOT to me, and why:

  1. Queen - Innuendo. My favourite Queen song, about perseverance in the face of adversity, and never ceasing to be who you are even if it would be easier not to. Even if shit isn't great, I can cling to that. I'm me. Existential crises nonwithstanding.
  2. Mike & The Mechanics - The Living Years. My dad always told me it reminded him of his own father, and when I listen to it, I can see why - because it describes in a perfect arc how every father-son relationship informs the next. It accurately describes how he and I saw each other.
  3. Counting Crows - Recovering The Satellites. It's all about trying to get away from a place, only to find yourself dragged inexorably back - and about the people that get away, and the people that don't even try. To this day, Ryde still feels like a tiny town in the ass of nowhere. (I have a tattoo about this one.)

Your opinion on comic book movies, which ones you think are the best and worst and why? - Something being an adaptation doesn't necessarily make it good or bad alone. There've been some truly SHOCKING adaptations - Batman & Robin, Man Of Steel, the Captain America featuring Reb Brown of Space Mutiny fame - and there's been some that have just been excellent. Blade (the first one), The Crow (the first one), Sin City (both of them). The best ones? Depends what you are looking for, but I am a huge fan of The Crow. The worst one? ...well...god...uh...that's difficult. But there's a lot to pick from. I'm gonna say Batman & Robin though. Clooney Batnipples.

I knew you could do it. - Aww thank you!

Clinton's emails :D - Deserves investigation. As does every other criminal and amoral action conducted by people in positions of power.

Coke or Pepsi? - Coke. Always have been, weirdly.

Weirdest anime you've come across - Uuuuh that's a hard one, but I would probably say either Crayon Shin-Chan or Excel Saga.

What would you like to see out of Avengers 3 and 4? - FIGHT. War Machine. Carol Danvers. FIGHT. Iron Man. FIGHT.

With loot crates either becoming a big money maker or being made illegal how do you see the landscape of modern AAA gaming? - I see it as looking much the same as it currently does. Which is, basically the same as it has for a while. AAA has taken pointers from mobile gaming, and in an attempt to shore up the income lost from people being bored with their shit or alternatively not having any money, they'll try and squeeze the shit out of people any way they can. Which is...kind of a microcosm of what is happening to the economy in general, really.

Favourite type of crane - Frasier. Niles is okay.

Hmm... Top 5 sci-fi tropes/inventions you wish were real. - Hoo boy howdy.

  1. Post-scarcity post-capitalist economy.
  2. Society moving beyond bigotry.
  3. High-quality prosthetic limbs and organs.
  4. Games and organised competitions replacing war.
  5. Reliable easy space travel.

Which gw miniature you would most want inserted into one of your bodily orifices... - A decent Space Marine biker. (Trick answer, they don't exist.)

And any thoughts you might have about lubrication during this procedure - Two thin coats.

Net cost of a lunar colony capable of supporting 5000 - 10,000 people - This is going to require my maths hat, a significant amount of assumption, and some huge handwaving. Right. If we assume that maintaining a colony on the moon would cost approximately as much, per person, as maintaining the ISS - as the atmospheric needs are the same, and shipping goods back and forth wouldn't cost that much more - that means 10bn euros per year per ten people. Which means that, before we look at the colony producing any of its own goods, we're looking at at least fifty trillion euro per year. Though that ignores economies of scale, by shipping stuff en masse. The setup of a colony, NASA projects, would be somewhere in the region of $65bn. So...I mean, a lot. ...quite a lot. Unless we put in some work, develop some better means of getting back and forth, and work out how to feed and water ourselves without shipping it all over.

If you could have any mech, which would you choose and why? - Hard choice. But. Okay. If I had to get something for utility purposes it'd be the Ingram-98 from Patlabor. If it was just for coolness? XXXG-01H2 Gundam Heavyarms Custom. Transport purposes? VF-1S Valkyrie Custom from Macross. And if it was for raw undiluted badass, then I'd have to swing for Gunbuster.

I want your top 5 or 10 Christmas songs 🤔 - Seeing as you've been a good little elf this year. Warning: a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek is to be expected, as I'm about as Christmassy as a xenomorph.

The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale Of New York
Elton John - Step Into Christmas
Chris Rea - Driving Home For Christmas
Wizzard - I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day
Nat King Cole - O Tannenbaum
Kids In Glass Houses - Secret Santa
A Day To Remember - Right Where You Want Me To Be
DMX - Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
Corey Taylor - X-M@$
Faith No More - Everything's Ruined

If you had intro music, what song would it be? plus why? - A musical motif in a movie about my life (or someone else's life with me in the background) would probably feature me, stepping out of my door in the morning, starting with a shot of my Nikes hitting the pavement and panning up, to What I Got by Sublime. If only because I'm not edgelordy enough to justify metal.

Wishing.. - Wishing can be very dangerous.

Virtue fucking signalling destroying the art of discussion. - The problem with virtue signalling is that it has become one of those phrases, hasn't it? It used to be that if someone would perform an action to make themselves look good, which went very much against their attitude and previous actions, that would just be hypocrisy. Then this term became prevalent, and almost immediately, it started being the go-to means of trying to undermine someone actually doing something good that we dislike for political reasons, or whatever. I just stick with calling hypocrisy hypocrisy, to avoid confusion.

And there we have it, folks. The blog is blogged. Your suggestions are, as always, welcome! Share with your friends, and stay tuned for more bloggage, once a week every week. Thank you for your time!

Saturday 2 December 2017

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Finished!

Well, I did it.

I got to a point that I am happy with. At like 3am on the 30th, I put the finishing words down; then I slept, woke up, put in some last-minute clarifications. The book is finished, and I am pretty good with that.

I did some things differently this time. Not hugely different, but the nature of some of the characters predicated specific techniques. One of them rarely says anything at all, for example. It was kind of fun to try and work out how they'd communicate with a group of people they were comfortable with, too.

I had a lot of time to work on it, admittedly. Fair amount of time off work. And at times it was a real struggle to work up the will to right. The writer's block was real.

Every book has lessons in it too. It's one of my favourite current things to remind myself and others, that writing is a learned skill, that you get better at it by paragraph and by page. Ending a book is hard, at times - I did this one differently. (If you're reading it, you'll see!)

NaNo remains fun. It always is. I'm proud I did it, and I'm proud of everyone else that even attempted it, let alone succeeded. I can't think of many better ways to spend November - shitty cold month that it is.

This is only a short one. Just to report success. But I will be doing another one, tomorrow - based on your suggestions, your cheeky questions, and so on.

Thanks for riding out NaNoWriMo 2017 with me, folks. It's been an adventure as always.

Sunday 26 November 2017

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Bunnies & Beaches

How old were you when you first read or watched Watership Down?

Lot of folks my age will talk about being vaguely traumatised by the film in particular, and its unrelenting depiction of just how hard it is to be a rabbit. It showed the damage that development could do to various bits of the countryside, too. After I saw it I had an innate dislike for JCBs for a couple of years.

A lot of kids these days don't end up watching it. It is old, and has a reputation of being a bit terrifying - many parents of young kids today actually grew up with it and didn't want to have their kids experience the same thing.

This, of course, ignores several key factors. One is the stellar voice acting - it's really quite incredible, John Hurt and Richard Briers being just two examples of famous British voices. The animation is likewise superb. The standard of it, for a 1978 film, just outshines almost everything else that followed it for at least ten years. The story itself is a very competent one, too. It includes a lot of classical story elements without giving into cliche - probably forming a good introduction to the Odyssey and Campbell's theory of the monomyth.

The thing that I valued about it didn't become obvious to me until later in life, when my first pet died.

I'd already become acquainted with the notion of creatures dying. It was something that happened. Admittedly it was upsetting, and the reasons why would vary - other animals, gas, diggers, old age - but it was a thing that could happen, and a natural thing. So when my pet rat died, it wasn't a bolt from the blue that left me bereft and riven with grief. It was a thing that I knew happened, that I was more capable of compensatiing for emotionally.

A similar conversation came up recently regarding how badly the first breakup hurts. The first real breakup from one's first real relationship. It's a killer - hurts worse than anything you have ever felt before, but then the next time it happens, you are prepared. You know it's coming.

The stories that we are told that feature these things - loss, heartbreak, death, mourning - can be of great help to us. Coping is a learned skill, after all, and it comes with exposure and practice. Unless we're actually willing to see these things, though, that's an exposure that we won't experience. We can live in bubble wrap our entire lives, and the moment we leave it, everything we touch hurts.

The tools of telling a story can often be called into question. Violence inflicted on others, death, tragedy, torture, worse. Do they inherently negate the story they are included in, because they are unpleasant to watch or experience? Is every storytelling moment that features such difficult material glorify it for entertainment purposes?

Watership Down's lessons and plot are dependent on such suffering. We feel keen sympathy for the rabbits. - it's hard not to - and each setback and each tragedy that befalls them plucks at our heartstrings. It's hardly glorification, though - I mean, did anyone cheer for the diggers? Really? Did anyone thing it was a thrilling spectacle to see the warren dug up?

Has anyone sat through the beginning of Saving Private Ryan, and actually felt that war was being glorified? Has anyone seen the awful effects of heroin in Trainspotting and thought it was a great idea to start shooting up?

Once upon a time, war films were bloodless. When a character died, there would be a gunshot from a faceless enemy - cut to the character, suddenly grimacing and clutching a wound that was basically nonexistent - and down they would go. A very hygenic, very sterile version of the truth.

The truth is important.

Martial arts films are pure fantasy. The distillation of good versus evil into something as uncomplicated as Bruce Lee versus Chuck Norris. The skill is real, the spectacle is real - that is glorification of conflict, undoubtedly. But those stories aren't there to teach us lessons. Way Of The Dragon isn't a cautionary tale to not harass small business owners who have visiting relatives literally named Dragon.

Combat - the actual art of fighting against and attempting to kill another being - is a brutal thing. When I write a combat scene - and almost all of my NaNos so far have involved physical combat somewhere - I don't want the reader to be thinking about it like a ballet. I want them to see what happens, to witness savagery and brute force, and to wince. To wince like one does when a sound foley manages to perfectly replicate the sound of a baseball bat hitting a leg, or to feel the sick in the pit of one's stomach when the doors of the landing boats open and the first two rows of men die in less than a second.

It's not meant to be pleasant, or fun. It's not meant to make you clap and cheer. It's suffering, and it's a terrible thing to imagine happening to another being. But it is the sake of a story - it is the fate of failure, the cost of success. And if it can make you question if it is worthwhile to force others to pay this price, then the story has done its job.

I'm glad we don't have any more war films wherein the plucky bunch of local lads emerge almost unscathed from El Alamein. I'm glad the cost is more accurately depicted - in blood shed and tears cried.

Sunday 19 November 2017

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Goals, Objectives, Missions

National Novel Writing Month is a mission.

50,000 words in thirty days isn't easy. When you think about how many that is, when put into perspective, it's not a dismissive proposition. Several examples of books that sort of length include The Great Gatsby, Fahrenheit 451, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Fight Club, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Notebook and Of Mice And Men. Can you imagine writing any of those in a short month?

I mean sure, there are some people that make it look easy. Once upon a time I smashed out three in one November, but then - I was unemployed, I had literally nothing else to do in any given day, and I was a complete recluse. I find now that living day to day, having responsibilities and such, it's not as easy.

I am ahead of quota, thankfully. At the same time, that's primarily because I've had the last two weeks off work. From now on I am going to be taking every hour I can get, which means that lead is going to probably vanish - and this isn't a story that is going to be finished on Word 50,000.

The entire point of NaNoWriMo is to turn writers from one-day writers (one day I'll write a book) into people who have written one, or at least, tried. It works, because frankly - it is good to have a goal, and a time frame to achieve that goal in. It's good to have a mission, a task, an overarching drive in life that isn't just pay bills and expire.

And isn't that what we all need? Something to look forward to? A goal to reach, an objective to achieve, a mission to accomplish? Isn't that what life should have, and should include?

It can. It's up to us to make that happen. This is one of the ways I choose to do it, and frankly it kind of keeps me sane as the month gets colder and the night gets darker.

I know that everyone has different things they do, different things they look forward to. One man's trash and so on. I think it's important to have those things, because frankly - a lot of life is kind of shitty. We have to jump through a lot of hoops just to be fed and sheltered. If we're lucky enough to work somewhere we enjoy working, that makes it easier, but still - goals are good. Goals just for us.

A lot of people set these goals as self-improvement, which I have talked about from time to time. If - after really examining ourselves, really being honest with ourselves - that is what we need, then why not? But we have to make sure that is the case. Media and marketing does a great job of convincing us that what we need to fill that gap in our lives is X, which is whatever product has paid for this thirty seconds of our time. Don't get suckered in. Don't let that shit run you.

Have a mission. Pursue an objective. Set a goal.

Even if you don't make it, you may feel better just for having tried.

Sunday 12 November 2017

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Reminders

Today in the UK is Remembrance Sunday.

To those that don't know - we as a nation collectively, on Armistice Day (11th November) and the nearest Sunday, observe memorials to those lost in the First World War. It is symbolised by the poppy, mostly inspired by Lieutenant-Colonel John McRae's poem In Flanders Fields:

In Flanders fields the poppies blowBetween the crosses, row on row,That mark our place; and in the skyThe larks, still bravely singing, flyScarce heard amid the guns below.

(There's two versions of this poem. That's the original. The only real difference is that the word "blow" in the first line is replaced with "grow". The version above is the version that made it to print.)

The notion and sentiment is a valuable one - the statement Lest We Forget is unique to this time of year. In fairness, that is because we, as human beings, forget a whole hell of a lot of things with relative ease.

I'm going to tread a little carefully here.

It is hard to actually forget the death of eighteen million. That was, at the time, around 1% of the total population of the earth. While the figures are hard to tally properly - for obvious reasons - perhaps 40% of those deaths weren't soldiers at all. They were civilians.

We killed literally 1% of the earth's population at the time because of political upheaval, political intentions, political desires and political alliances.

There is a line of rhetoric that talks about freedom, that we went to war to preserve it. That simply isn't true. In fairness it isn't true for the Second World War, either; we put up with Hitler's Germany doing an awful lot of rather questionable things before we decided to actually do something about it. The declarations of war had precious little to do with freedom. It is very easy for post facto justification to become conflated with war's prelude, and this is one of the things that we, as people, seem to forget.

Another thing we seem to forget is the actual makeup of the soldiers that were tasked with dying for those politics. I don't want to paint large swathes with the same brush, but the last time I was "poppy policed" - that is, the last time someone called me out for not visibly wearing a poppy during the first half of November - it was an individual that I've witnessed doling out casual racial and anti-Muslim abuse in the past. An individual that has literally delivered the "coming over here" speech. Apparently, the 885,000 Muslim soldiers that fought with the Allies, and 400,000 of them were in the 1.5 million strong British Indian Army, don't get a look in. Lest we forget.

Then there's the poppy itself.

Many of the battlefields of Europe were covered with poppies, after the fighting was finished. They were the hardiest little flower in the region, and where the deadly spread of industrial war's influence had killed off just about everything else - well, nature abhors a vacuum. Their ubiquitous appearance in places of mass loss inspired their use in a poem, which was taken up as a symbol of remembrance of the fallen.

That is, of course, papaver rhoeas. There's another poppy that is somewhat tied to the history of war. That being papaver somnium, more commonly known as the opium poppy. Literal wars were fought over this thing. They were called the opium wars. Two of them - 1839 and 1856.

A symbol is a thing. It is an object that can be used to indicate many things. The intention of the poppy as a symbol is a good one, but it is starting to come to mean something else. There is a certain amount of peeping and poking and noting. A certain amount of attention paid to who is wearing one and who is not. The implication, if you aren't wearing one, is...well, varied, but almost always includes the assumption that the non-wearer is somehow disrespecting the military, or those who died IN the military, or somehow disrespecting the nation that the military served.

Several veterans have gone on record as saying that they dislike the symbol, and that they won't wear it, for these nationalistic leanings. When it comes down to respecting the military, I think their wishes and opinions count for something, too.

Those millions of people died for political reasons. They died for preventable reasons. They died in the space of not much over four years, and ever since, their deaths have been presented as meaning a hundred different things - but what it comes down to is a failure of diplomacy. I can't forget their deaths, but I take the further step of not forgetting the reason why.

They died because it was easier to kill millions than it was to just...back down.

My NaNo kind of deals with the consequences of war - with the people that it scars, the problems it leaves behind, and the kind of person who only remembers some of what we are meant to remember. That war is awful, and that in its awfulness, it does what most traumatic things do to people - makes it hard for those people to perceive the whole.

We don't want to have to be in a situation where, a hundred years from now, we look back with sadness and police each other on symbols and stand in two minute's silence because several groups of powerful, stubborn people couldn't compromise or, heaven forbid, just take a loss for once.

We want to be able to remember when it happened a century ago, and then make it not happen now.

I look at some of our leaders, and I really wonder.

Sunday 5 November 2017

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Princesses In Towers

After the prologue, my NaNo begins with a rescue mission.

Who is being rescued? Well, funnily enough, the main character. She has been kidnapped by a rival captain, in an ill-advised move to get revenge for a perceived slight.

At first, I was a little wary about this.

I was raised on the kind of bullshit movie wherein the only women that show up are there to scream and be helpless and saved by our white male hero. It's a trope that bores the piss out of me because I mean, for one, sexist much? And for two, characters whose sole purpose is to wail about how much trouble they are in are

So, how does one put the princess in the tower without turning it into a story about the knight rescuing her?

Pretty easy, actually.

Shay Skyfall is not helpless, and she's not the kind of person to do nothing when she could be doing something - even if, for the moment, that something appears to be just pissing off her captor. Of course, that is Shay playing to one of her strengths - her smart mouth. She's witty, manipulative, charming, and knows when to get under someone's skin to get the best effect.

I was tempted to have her try and escape before her crew show up, but I wanted to do a few things with this first chapter, which would be better done with her not soloing the show.

1) I wanted to demonstrate her faith in the crew, and their faith in her.
2) I wanted to show just how bad-ass her crew can be when they need to be.
3) I wanted her lack of fear or respect for her captor to be absolutely obvious.

I think she gives good account of herself. Shay is a force to be reckoned with, when spurred. Halflings by their nature are clever and spirited, and to be an effective freelance merchant and courier, the gift of gab and natural business acumen are essential tools. This being Starfinder, there's all sorts of threats to deal with that aren't her peers - so a little skill with a sword isn't too much to ask, either.

I didn't enjoy putting the princess in the tower, but then - maybe if the princesses had been more than cardboard cutouts, maybe if the film-makers or writers had wanted their princesses to be characters rather than trophies, I'd feel a little less uncomfortable about the entire metaphor.

So who wants to burn down a few towers?

Sunday 29 October 2017

NaNoWriMo 2017 - Prepare For The Wordness

It's that time again, dear readers.

Once again I am stepping into the mad, glad world of the National Novel Writing Month, in which myself and a mob of other certifiable wrimos will try and write fifty thousand words during the month of November. If we are really lucky, those fifty thousand words will come together in such a way as to be readable as a novella! (Or novel if we really hammer the word count.)

I blog about this every year - but I think it's worth blogging about. The entire idea of the event is to elevate people from the status of "One-Day" writers to, you know - writers. It doesn't need to be good. It doesn't need to be genre-defining or groundbreaking. All it needs to be is on the page. So anyone who has always wanted to try writing and just...hasn't... this is your time, this is your excuse. A mad dash, a sprint to the finish.

I've taken part every year since 2003. This will be my fifteenth year of word-count combat. It's not every year that I put together something that I am pleased with, but enough that I can look at my output and feel that my time wasn't wasted.

See, writing is a skill. It's a thing that gets better through doing. You learn what works and what doesn't. Through reading and also writing, you learn what flows, what doesn't. You learn how to describe a character, how to write dialogue, how to write a character that is believable, how to pace a story either through the standard three-act story pattern or via some weird method known only to you.

This year, I am kind of hyped for what I am writing - but then that happens with fair regularity. This time it is going to be set in the Starfinder universe, a game setting I am highly looking forward to playing and running in. I have a plot in mind, a bunch of characters to throw at it, a series of scenes I am looking forward to writing. It's definitely hype time.

My blog throughout the next month will be all to do with NaNo-related things - probably to do with my characters, my plot, themes behind what I am writing. I did it last year, too - it helps me keep on track and ensures that I'm not taking a big brain-detour while novel-writing.

Also, frankly, I don't have a lot to say about the political situation we find ourselves in right now. It's fucked all the way down. So, you know. Escapism. Nice.

Anyone want to join me on this journey of wordiness?

You're all very welcome.

Sunday 22 October 2017

Clash Of Steel

I'm going to say three words.

Giant Robot Duel.

Giant. Robot. Duel.

...okay so...I was far more hyped for this than my usually-sensible mind would allow me to be. Often I will see the obvious difficulties in achieving something, like health and safety and planning and stuff like this, and just understand that it won't work out the way I want it to.

This, though?

This hyped me. But it hyped me for a very different reason.

So if you actually watch the video you will probably be unimpressed and I can think of a few reasons why. They had one presenter too many (the dude was just there to annoy us I swear to god), it's over-produced, it's scripted, and it's cut in an odd and irksome way.

The thing is, though. The thing IS.

We just watched two robots fight. With pilots. Technically they aren't robots. They are MECHS. We watched a Mecha Duel.

And even if it was scripted - even so, even given that assumption - fucking robot just grabbed a lighting rig and used it as a shield. What? WHAT!?

Okay. calming down now.

Don't look at it as the first match of a new sport. Look at it as a proof of concept that such a sport could even exist. Look at it as a statement - that the three bots that were brought out were all built, and built by relatively small teams, and were built in such a way as that they could be multi-functional. They made robots, and then made those robots capable of fighting.

Imagine ten years from now.

Imagine if the concept gets carried. If teams, BIG teams, put together proper robots and organise proper duels. In order to arrange something like that they'd have to be remote controlled, and you'd have to have safety measures like Robot Wars on steroids - but if you were careful, you could show something like that in an arena.


We CAN build them. We CAN make them move. We CAN use them as weapons. (Just ask the Pentagon.) The technology exists, and can be utilised, and as is proven by this rather cheesy video, it can be used to create a sporting event.


And if my future is going to be a late-capitalist mid-cyberpunk nightmare of Running Man-type proportions, then at least, I want to distract myself from the awful predations of my pitiless corporate masters by watching Giant Robot Duels.

It's not too much to ask.


Sunday 15 October 2017

Don't Do What Donny Don't Does

Anybody remember this bit from the Simpsons?

The cartoon show has often been held up as predicting the future. Lots of shit has happened in the Simpsons which has then happened in real life, but then, when a show runs for 620 episodes in a singular setting, it's going to hit some beats somewhere. Throw enough pebbles, you'll hit the window.

Some examples - to save you sitting through a bullshit Buzzfeed article - include when Roy Horn (of Siegfried and Roy) was mauled by his own tiger, the NSA was caught spying on everybody, when voting machines went (TOTALLY ACCIDENTALLY) wrong, when FIFA was corrupt (yeah as if we couldn't see that coming without Matt Groening), and when ebola broke out.

This scene, however - this scene (aside from providing the best way to say "Down I Go" I have ever heard) seems to predict the future in a big way.

If there has ever been a President that has existed solely to tell future Presidents what not to do - if there are any - it's been Donny.

Donny Don't just has no idea. idea. It's actually somewhat comedic as to how incompetent he really is, and I am embarrassed that at one point I was convinced that he was just playing dumb in order to lull people into a false sense of security. He's dumb as a post. The job - the job of being President of the United States - is a difficult one, and I wouldn't want to put myself in that position. Even somewhat take-it-easy Presidents come away with grey hairs. So why would this man, who persistently failed in the business arena in ways that seem basic to you and I, actually have the skills to be President?

There's such a thing as the Dunning-Kruger effect, which states that at the bottom end of the ability spectrum, there's a lack of awareness and cognition which would allow the individual to realise that they kind of suck. Now I'm trying to contain my cynical misomania at this point, wherein I'd break out Carlin lines about thinking about how smart the average person is, but - Dunning-Kruger is real. I bet that anyone who reads this can think of at least one, and probably more, people they have encountered who be blunt... just too dumb to realise they were dumb.

Donny Don't is doing everything that a President shouldn't, and he's not really clued-up enough on the job to know that he shouldn't.

Examples? Do I need to give any, really? Well, okay, how about -

  • Being a white supremacist.
  • Playing golf, all the time.
  • Inciting war with whoever looks at him funny.
  • Doing shady deals with Russia.
  • Pulling out of UNESCO because Israel or something.
  • Being a speaker at an anti-LGBTA seminar.
  • Pulling out of the Paris agreement because who knows.
  • Describing everything he dislikes as being false.
  • Leaping onto Twitter whenever upset or offended, which is often.
  • Having zero respect for the position he occupies and the country he serves.

The worst thing about all of this?

He can get away with it.

There is no recall election for the President - that has to wait until an actual election year, and I suppose that is for the purposes of the country not immediately trying to unseat the head of state the moment he says or does any one unpopular thing. Hell, I guess if there had been the ability to recall, Barack Obama would have faced one recall election a week from - I'm going to be honest - racists and right-wingers.

There being no recall, however, relies on most people who take the role of President being halfway competent. It's a polite assumption that whoever wins the election will at least be partially versed in statehood, that they won't immediately start insulting other nations, that they will show a measure of decorum.

I am about to do something that you will not often see or hear me do, so take note of the time and date.

George W. Bush showed decorum as part of his position. There were moments wherein that decorum went away ("Now Watch This Drive"), but for the most part, the man was lampooned as being clueless, not brazenly rude. The man understood that sometimes, you sit down, you shut up, and you listen. The man didn't lash out every time people talked out against him - and fucking A did we speak out against him. He was the President. He was above getting into mud-wrestling matches over what was perceived as a personal insult. Even Dubya was above having bitch-fits on Twitter because he had seen something that didn't sit right with him.

(In fairness, Twitter wasn't that big when Bush became President - but hey.)

Should George W. Bush have been impeached for his part in the Iraq and Afghan wars? I'm leaning toward yes. Should the public, had they had enough of him, been able to recall him as President? I'm leaning toward yes - but you'd have to set the bar for that pretty high. His approval ratings were fairly low when he left office.

The issue is that impeachment doesn't seem to happen when the person sat in the chair shouldn't be in the chair. It's a long and rather complicated process, that needs to hit several legal milestones, and can be upset if some of the people involved would rather see their pick still in situ - even if they did the thing they are accused of doing.

So Donny Don't is here now, and he's here doing things, and we can't get rid of him, and he's busy throwing shit on the walls and breaking flower pots and shouting obscenities at the grandparents. The damage he is doing, he is doing forever. He is burning diplomatic bridges that will take years if not decades to repair.

He isn't even smart enough to know that he shouldn't be doing it, or that it is wrong. He's got shit all over his hands, and he's smiling, because this is just lovely.

The only positive thing we can take from his Presidency is that there will be a living, breathing example of what happens when you elect someone into power who you wouldn't trust with an electric toothbrush.

If we aren't annihilated by nuclear fire before he is voted out, that is.

Sunday 8 October 2017

Angels In The Rain

I've talked before about Blade Runner.

The world it shows us is an uncomfortable one, because it is one we see ourselves entering, as if powerless to stop it. Not in the precise grain of the story - but the world, the ambience, the setting and surrounding, and the theme. Disposable people that just want to live a little, hunted, persecuted, not allowed.The authority figures, each of them morally corrupt and generally awful, including our so-called protagonist. Corporate logos shining in the sky over the bright towers, that we aren't allowed to live in. A life in the stars that you can't have.

I just got back from Blade Runner 2049.

It's not as good as the first film, let me just get that out of the way. In my opinion Blade Runner was the best film ever made. Saying 2049 isn't as good isn't an insult of any kind - but there will be people whose demand is that it be that film. That it put the lightning back in the bottle, and nothing can do that.

It was wonderful. It filled you up while you watched it, like you weren't being told a story, you were being put into a world that already existed whole-cloth and you just weren't aware of it.

It conveyed concepts to you with deftness, though it didn't feel rushed. Far from it. It didn't convey you from point to point to point like a bus. It walked you through, like a good museum guide. It let you take things in. It let you absorb, and see, and think. It let you experience what was going on.

Just watching it was an experience. Just seeing the frames flow together one after the other, hearing the sound effects, the score. Just experiencing each individual shot, and each transition. My god. There were a couple, just a couple, that made me deep-inhale loud enough that I probably upset the people I was watching it with.

I just wanna compliment Ryan Gosling a minute.

His performance is...let's say, understated. His face, though. His fucking face. It's heartbreaking. He pulls these microexpressions - like sometimes it is subtle and sometimes it's like a volcano. It is deeply upsetting, more than once, to see the man in question feel the way he does.

Yet again, we're shown our own world, turned back on us through a lens of science fiction. It's moved forward though - in the original, Los Angeles was dying, the poor majority left in the ruin while everyone that was well enough fled offworld. In 2049, that end has happened. The triage has been carried out - and we're a big red X.

The story...

That, I'm not going to talk about. I want you to watch it and find out.

Suffice to say I will be going to see it again, and soon.

Sunday 1 October 2017

Character Characteristics

So the world is truly awful right now, and terrible things have happened to good people, and some terrible people haven't suffered any consequences. Puerto Rico has been demolished, and the US citizens there aren't getting the support they deserve because, frankly, the administration is racist. Shit is hitting fan in a big way.

I don't know if I have anything to say about that, that hasn't been said. Climate change is real, support and protect people even if they're a different colour to you, and stop being such pricks to each other.

So instead, rather than sink into the dark place of seething at the evil and inaction of others, I am going to take my brain for a walk into the world of role-playing games - a favourite hobby of mine.

Let me ask you this: is there a group of people you know so well, that you can predict how they will react to most situations with a high degree of accuracy?

If you've gamed for a while, with a similar group of people - like maybe three or four gaming groups, or say ten or so people that are in various games you are also in - then you may notice that people have habits with their characters. I know I have blogged before about the traits I like to see in characters, especially my own. Sometimes, though - people have traits that they don't even necessarily recognise in themselves.

Like for example one of the guys I have known since I was a wee bab - he has a series of traits that are solid enough to warrant remark if they aren't adhered to:

1) The character must be a survivor, above all else.
2) The character should be able to make a pit, hole or trap of some kind, rather than engage directly.
2.5) The character might have a follow-up trick that makes that pit, hole or trap deadly.

Further musing on this revealed that it isn't just him that has stuff like this. I am not gonna mention names - hell, the people reading this might know who they are - but still.

Another player has a total lack of emotional connectivity to the character, or anyone that character really interacts with. They also have a habit of getting bored, and either escalating the situation exponentially, or sitting it out.

Yet another usually ends up playing a Viking. Whatever character they are playing, they manage to become a Viking - and generally have the same problem-solving attitude.

In a similar mould, another player always appreciates a good big guy. Not always - this has changed recently - but the big guy with the big gun or the big axe is a solid fan favourite.

We all know the player that wants to talk before they fight, and that's a good thing to do. The same player also has a knack of working out a way around actually engaging a situation as expected, instead taking a side route or defeating a challenge via left-field methods.

A particular chap has three character traits nearly omnipresent in their characterisation - sarcasm, a noir aesthetic, and a willingness to try almost anything. Usually accompanied by a blink, a head wobble, and the word "Sure".

Everyone also knows the one with the detailed backstory. Family, special things that they do, a long list of traits relevant to the place their character is from. This doesn't always necessarily translate into something useful in a fight or a conundrum, mind.

One guy I know always plays a Dwarf, another always plays an Elf, regardless of what their actual characters are.

One person in particular has a tendency for their characters to have vices that they indulge in at any opportunity - not to a disruptive level, nor an unrealistic one. They are just particularly venal. They always cleave strongly to a particular theme, too, which changes from character to character, and may not have much to do with their class or type.

Another is deceptive. Like at every opportunity. Wheedling and conniving, even if there's not necessarily anything to be gained from doing so.

Do you see yourself in any of these particular traits? Do you see a weird, potentially embarrassing list of RPG quirks that I display when we game together? Pop a comment down below.

Something with depth, next week. I promise. I just needed to get out something less grim.

Sunday 24 September 2017

The Shapeshifter

I've described depression as a thief.

It's not just a thief, though. I mean, yes, it will rob you of a significant amount, don't get me wrong. The actual action of theft occurs - but to call it a thief binds it to just one archetype, gives it just one shape.

That just isn't the case.

Some days it is just a cloud. It sits up in the sky and on occasion overcasts the sun, but it is a distant thing - inescapable but not terribly pressing. The cloud might even make everything look a little more picturesque, when it moves its ass out of the way and lets the sunshine through.

Some days it is a weight. A singular weight, that sits atop a subject or topic or thought, and pins it down, makes it hard to move. It means that shifting it from inbox to outbox, mentally speaking, difficult. You spend that much longer just hauling at it or struggling with it, even something that you frustratingly realise should be simple. It can create an aversion, quite easily.

Some days it is the black dog, that Churchill and others have famously described it as. This, too, can take different forms. Sometimes the dog just follows you, all day, hoping for your attention and slightly getting in your way. Anyone who has had a slightly elderly Labrador probably knows how this works. 

Some days, however, it is a different kind of canine. It's a wolf. A predator. It stalks you. It doesn't generate gentle frustration - it causes fear, and it's a fear that doesn't come good until later. It makes the shadows longer, and even if the thing you are engaging in is brightly-lit and pleasant, you just know it is out there - waiting for the moment your guard is down.

Some days it takes the form of blinkers. You need to do X, Y and Z, and you quietly thank your depression for not getting in the way of that - but it blanks out the rest of the world. Pausing to look around isn't an option, because the only task that exists is directly in front of you, and there's no other people in this world; only the one you have to talk to at that moment.

Some days, it is the ocean. It is either a massive inescapably looming presence, an infinite icy depth that is always there at the end of the land - or it is something you are under, an immense pressure on every point of your being, just pushing down, down, below the thermal layer and away from light and warmth.

As of right now, I have witnessed a whole new shape; and that shape is barbed wire.

It's like a knot of barbed wire, tangled around everything. It is perhaps informed in shape by my chronic pain issues, but either way - it's like every motion, every twist, every turn, just gets more and more tangled up in the ripping, tearing wire. The more one struggles - the worse it gets.

It also makes it hard to see. At a distance, barbed wire is difficult to spot - it defies examination, and even up close, even when one can understand that it is indeed barbed wire, actually untangling or unwrapping it seems like a Herculean task. Where would you even start?

It's a trick.

In Pacific Rim, Raleigh Becket advises Mako Mori to not chase the rabbit. Depression is its own rabbit. It wants you to chase, to delve, to study - but not with an eye to fix, to solve, to make better or understand. Depression is a self-replicating Von Neumann probe of a sensation, that seeks to break through into every aspect of what you are doing, and the barbed wire Gordian Knot is just one example of how.

You can't do what Alexander famously did and just cut it. That isn't an option. The best way to deal with the barbed wire is to just try and do what you normally would. Get things done. Not ignore it - it's impossible to ignore - but to look at it, and grunt, and shrug, and get your shit done anyway. It's not going away if you pay it attention, nor if you ignore it; but if you can get into the groove of how you do things, of how life works for you when you aren't entangled, you weaken its hold on you.

It's not a demon you can slay with a sword. This is a demon that requires diplomacy, and tenacity, and fortitude.

I wish anyone fighting this demon all the diplomacy, tenacity and fortitude they need.

Sunday 17 September 2017

Readers Request - Prophecies, Boys In Skirts, Philosophy

It's time again, folks. The Q&A has been rebranded as Readers Request, and you all as presumable readers have requested my take on various things.

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

Favourite version of a Unicorn you've ever come across - Dresden Files. Because you know what They are very much not the pure, white, wonderful creatures we would wish them to be. They look kind of like this...

Favourite prophecy - The Prophecy II. Christopher Walken is stellar as always.

Favourite accompaniment to a rice dish - Butter chicken curry.

Favourite fighters: real, fictional, semi-fictional (like wrestling)... fighting can be metaphorical. - Real? Muhammad Ali. Fictional? Butch from Pulp Fiction. Semi-Fictional? Bruce Lee (the guy is so mythical that it's sometimes hard to separate fact FROM fiction). Real metaphorical? Sun Tzu, I think...

Food that most surprised you - Sushi - insofar as I tried it a couple of times and really disliked it, and then one day woke up absolutely craving it. I've loved it ever since.

Wtf is Disney feeding kids today? Watch Gravity Falls and see if you can understand - I have watched it, and...honestly I found it very entertaining. I can see why some people wouldn't. But's nice that Disney is producing stuff that isn't just their standard of kiddy-level? Like I appreciate that it has expanded its range a little bit. I mean that does mean that we won't always like what they put out, where usually just the name alone would be enough reassurance that what we are watching is within certain parameters.

Bill and Ted - MOST TRIUMPHANT. Seriously these guys are the reason why I use the word Dude so much. I don't think I ever really left the early nineties in a lot of ways.

Boys in skirts - I care far less about what a kid wears (as long as it is within reasonable uniform standards, and I disagree with uniforms being gender-locked too) than I do about some people's backward thought processes and hiding their bigotry behind religion. And worse, using that to fiscally punish a SCHOOL. Yeah, because THEY have a lot of money, don't they? Fuck.

Men in Tights! - MANLY men! TIGHT tights! We travel round the forest looking for fights!

Why the idea that tax breaks for the rich will stimulate economic growth (it doesn't) still exists. Why people allow the 1% to control darn near every facet of their lives via political policy, and haven't put systems in place to prevent career politicians.  Also, how we're rapidly rushing heading into a dystopian hellscape bit nobody seems to give a damn about stopping it. - ...honestly, there's a few reasons. But a combination of apathy, lack of unbiased political and economic education, and half the world believing that they aren't poor but are temporarily embarrassed millionaires pretty much does it.

And that's...kind of a depressing set of topics... - ...yeah it is...

What game you are currently big on, and why. (I felt like there was a need to include a bit lighter of suggestions...) - Right now, a lot of modded Minecraft, and channelling my natural attention problems to also play a bunch of other games on a casual basis. Sonic Mania rules, looking forward to the Stellaris expansion, Warhammer Total War II and the Mini-SNES.

Killjoys tv show 🤔 - Wait what?

You never saw it :O? Something to add to your watchlist, John! - Shit yeah, I'll look it up!

Trivialized cultural aspects. ex. People wearing clothes they don't know origin of as a fashion statement, from the mild of gamer shirts to particular wearing this type of clothes means this. (The Homer Simpson with reggae hat springs to mind) - I'm not going to do as good a job as dozens of better people than I have already done, in terms of talking about cultural appropriation. Here's an article for ThoughtCo on the topic. But in short - the culture of gaming isn't hurt by someone wearing a Halo shirt if they're not really into video games, while the culture of the Lakȟóta is hurt quite a lot by their entire culture being compacted into rubbish Halloween costumes for mass consumers.

If an alien race evolved without sight, what is the most likely way the'd record their history once sentient. - Depends on their other senses. They might be a story-based culture, mind you. It's a really hard thing to imagine, given how reliant we are on our sight.

What Rick and Morty character are you? - ...I have...honestly gone off Rick & Morty quite a lot. If forced to pick? I am probably Morty - constantly in a state of shock and vague surprise at the mad extremes that this boozy twat is taking us to.

Obligatory boobs. - SOMEONE SAID IT WE CAN GO HOME

Who in human history would you choose to handle first contact with an alien race? - ...that's..a really difficult choice. Um. Maybe the Dalai Lama? Martin Luther King Jr?

What 3 things need to happen In the next five years to steer humanity away from its current trajectory? - ONE: Total switch-over to renewable power sources, electric vehicles and regulation of polluting/destructive industries. TWO: Redistribution of wealth and taxation, complete with closing of tax loopholes and a significant minimum wage or universal income payment. THREE: Political reform, actual representative democracy complete with alternative vote and solid options for recalling failed representatives.

Can religion ever be eradicated successfully (not including extinction) - I don't necessarily think it needs to be, it just needs to be unable to ruin lives of those that don't want to participate. That said, the human condition is one of insecurity, and insecurity begs that every worry or uncertainty be filled with something. As long as people doubt or fear, there will be religion, or something like it.

What philosophy holds back human development the most? - I'm not sure if I'd call ignorance and greed a philosophy.

Mogg - man or multi-celluar malevolence? - If we refer to Jacob Rees-Mogg, then I would suggest that the chinless spineless dickless brainless Edwardian needs to go back to his own time. I don't care if he's a man, a mouse or a mastodon. He can fuck off.

What are you looking forward to? - ...well...I dunno. There's a lot of stuff coming along that I'm quite looking forward to seeing or hearing or playing. Some video games are listed above. Looking forward to Thor, and...outside of that, I'm not sure. ...which isn't a good sign, but...

What do you make to the cable announcements? - He's my favourite Marvel character. I am doing my best to just...accept that everything is going to be good. Josh Brolin is a good choice. A very good choice. It all comes down to writing. And as much as I liked Deadpool I hope they up their game. But then I would. He's my favourite.

Will vs reality. - ...oh this one. ...see I have problems with this stuff. Because I am often told that I can do anything I set my mind to, which is a lovely thought, but then I set my mind to being able to breathe normally and you know what, it just doesn't happen. But still I value my willpower, or my weaponised stubbornness as I call it. It helps me out when life is a drag.

That awful prick on the crystal maze this evening. - I didn't see it or catch it on catch-up...but then...I find that a lot of TV these days seems specifically designed to show us unpleasant things. A lot of sitcoms are based around mutual hatred or people being shitty to each other. It's ugly. Ugly, ugly stuff. Kind of shit that rots your soul. So I don't mind that we don't have access to TV at the house. All I miss is old gameshows, the cooking and music channels, and the occasional documentary.

I would like a blog discussing why on earth Stevie Wonder wears a watch. - It was pointed out that it might be a braille watch? But...mostly cos he wants to? And dammit it's Stevie Wonder, he can do what he wants.

Hope - I'm not sure how good I am at it. As mentioned before - it's a stubbornness thing. The odd thing that happens makes me hopeful, though. I mean that's how it works, right? You have something to have hope in, rather than just...generalised hope.

New Hellboy yay? or nay? - Doesn't look unlike Hellboy. The attitude is more important. The writing will be important too. The director...I mean...Dog Soldiers was really good?

So there we have it. Another selection of Readers Requests, for your delectation.

Do stick around, won't you? And feel free to share with your friends if this tickled you.

Thursday 7 September 2017

McJobs & McStrikes

Last Tuesday the 5th, McDonald's workers went on strike in the UK. Their demands included a £10 an hour wage, decent working conditions, and an end to zero-hour contracts.

This resulted in a lot of this sort of thing:

So there's several things wrong with this.

I have a very real issue with precisely how we decide who deserves this and that paycheck. It is clear that Suzy here has come to the decision that McDonald's workers do not deserve £10 an hour, it is implicit in the tone of the tweet. Some folks reading this blog may even think the same thing.

Let's begin with that key point:


Why do we have an idea of what someone should be paid? What informs that particular figure in our head? The National Minimum Wage may contribute, but then, so does how much we are each paid individually and how much we know other people are paid. We form this hierarchy in our heads, and in that hierarchy, we try and place where someone who works at McDonald's should be.

As if there is some kind of invisible scale of objective worth to employment. As if there is a master table of every profession on earth and a notation of who should be paid more, less, or the same.

What people often mean is, "That is more than people who work at X are paid, and that doesn't seem right".

Well, I have never worked at McDonald's, but I know people who have, and plenty of other people who work in the service industry. On my island, that's where like half of the jobs are. (Or were. That's another blog.) The work is hard - you are treated something like indentured servants, assumed to have little to no rights, treated like garbage by your superiors AND the public, and then paradoxically are demanded to give flawless service by the same.

Now, I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like it deserves to be paid less than some other jobs.

I've talked about this before, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek parable utilising cakes. What I talked about was that our assumptions about how much people should earn isn't seemingly based on how hard they actually work, which they maybe should be.

Also: how is the response to a statement like "They don't deserve to be paid more than ambulance drivers" or "But that's more than a qualified machinist in Business X" not immediately: "Maybe they are ALL being underpaid"?

Because they are.

Let's talk about how much people earn in terms of minimum wage, in comparison to the average house prices per year.

Prior to the National Minimum Wage Act of 1998, it was down to the unions to ensure that people weren't basically used as slave labour. (Remember that, next time you complain about a strike.) Then it gets signed, and the minimum wage is first set in 1999, and increases each year. House prices, of course, increase every year - aside from a couple of blips and one huge Sub-Prime Crisis-shaped blot.

When the first minimum wage is brought in, 1999, it is £3.60. Average house price at this time is £74,638 - that comes from Nationwide Building Society, who by nature of their business keep tabs on this kind of thing. That means that, in 1999, if I wanted to buy a house outright I would need to work 20,733 hours to afford it. Assuming you work 24-7 and never sleep or take bank holidays, that is two years, four months, one week, six days and seven hours. Or so.

I know that mortgages exist. Bear with me.

Come 2002, with the minimum wage set at £4.20 and the average house price reaching £115,940, we have to work a full 27,605 hours to afford it - almost 7,000 hours more, just over a third.

Just before the Sub-Prime, in 2007, we see the minimum wage at £5.52, average house prices at £183,959. An unprecedented high of how many hours one has to work to afford one - 33,326 hours. That's a 40% increase on 1999.  If you want somewhere to live, which everyone does, you need to work a week and a half extra per month that you had to put in previously.

Then the recession bit. In 2012, minimum wages were £6.19 (assuming you are older than 24), and house prices had dipped to £162,924 on average - keep in mind that that is still more than twice that of 1999. At this low point, those on minimum wage only had to work a mere 26,321 hours to afford a house. Weren't we lucky?

The housing market has rallied since. Now it is steadily on the rise, has been since 2013. Today in 2017 our minimum wage is £7.50, house average price is £209,971. We work 27,997 hours to afford that house.

If the minimum wage was £10, here and now, we'd have to work 20,998 hours - which is only slightly more than we'd have had to back in 1999, when the National Minimum Wage was introduced.

So putting aside the elitist attitude that McDonald's workers (or service staff in general) don't deserve £10 an hour. The minimum wage ran ahead of inflation for a while, and then in 2008, that stopped. So even if we make the strict baseline argument that the minimum wage should afford now what it did back then, it needs to be higher. Slightly higher if we talk about a food basket, at least £10 if we talk about a home.

But we're not going to make that argument.

What we're going to do is argue that, if we increase the minimum wage, then people can afford to spend more. They spend more, pay more taxes, the economy benefits after the short-term cost of actually paying people more - but then, why do we immediately assume that employers have the right to pay human beings as little as possible to do a job? Because that is what we have been raised to believe, of course. The notion of the market above all things, of never questioning management decisions, of accepting what you get gratefully. It's a lie we all believe, because we have all been told since time immemorial that we can ALL be the manager - if we work hard enough.

I'm not going to spend an age going through how increasing minimum wage will improve lives - there's a lot of studies that do that for me - here's an article from the New York Times, and there's a balanced study here from Economics Online.

Instead I'm now going to set my sights on the actual attitude of the tweet at the beginning.

Suzy, I assume, believes that McDonald's workers have a shit role, and should get a better job if they want to be paid more. Suzy, I assume, doesn't believe that people's jobs shouldn't be arbitrarily shit. That an effort should be made to make a job not shit. Almost every single work benefit you have ever heard of comes from industrial or civil action - remember what I said about wages being handled by union efforts before 1998?

So instead of assuming that McDonald's workers should either deal with their job being shit or get a new one, why doesn't Suzy support the strike action that might lead to them actually HAVING a better job?

Because Suzy sees herself as better than them. And thus she doesn't care what they earn, as long as her life isn't affected at all - and the moment there is a change that she might not get her McCafe in the morning from some poor bastard on about £4.50 an hour, she lashes out at the workers with implications of self-entitled greed.

You know that most of the downsides of an increased minimum wage are mostly what employers will choose to do in response? Because, obviously, businesses will then hire less people or increase their prices, and that will be bad for everyone. Because that is what happens when you tell a business owner that they can't pay someone the bare minimum any more - or that the bare minimum is high enough that the employee can actually afford to live without working sixty hours a week.

But that's another example of Suzy's attitude being formed by the society we grow up in, now. We don't even ask what a worker deserves - the moment they imply they deserve more, we treat them like they are greedy and selfish, because they want to do what the owners of their business do every day. That's some kind of fucked up irony, seeing as we act like this because we all want to believe that we'll BE that manager one day.

It's time to face facts. This whole attitude is one that was invented to make fifty people work harder and only reward one of them. If we support those at the bottom end of the pay spectrum, the short-term costs incurred on those at the middle end will balance out in the long term. There's a significant number of ways this could be offset via legislation, too.

Just so happens that trickle-up economics is more feasible than trickle-down. But then if the current system wasn't built in such a convenient way to channel resources from bottom to top, it wouldn't be necessary, would it?

...oh and by the way Suzy IF YOU WORK FOR A LIVING IT ISN'T A HANDOUT stupid fucking grr

Sunday 3 September 2017

Thou Shalt Fill Out An Exemption Form

Churches don't pay taxes, and there's allegedly a good reason.

So the argument behind this is that if churches paid taxes, then they would be forced into making political statements and supporting the individuals that would offer to lower their taxes. Which means that church and state would no longer be divided.

Which is...patently absurd.

For one thing, the stance of tax exemption creates its own political support. Why would a church ever afford any kind of support to change that? It's a law that is in dire need of re-evaluation, surely.

Or maybe the argument is that they shouldn't have to pay taxes because they shouldn't pay for the fiscal needs of their community because they attend to the spiritual needs of their community. Which means that their priests and clergy and other assorted staff should do it for the sake of the community too, right? SO they shouldn't benefit or be able to claim any money from...oh.

I like the idea of people paying proportionate taxes. Like, it is a proven successful model. Even the most incompetent and buffoonish of governments in most democracies seems to do a slightly better job than individuals would if they paid no taxes but had to provide everything themselves.

It's already reasonably easy for those with means to just...avoid paying taxes if they want to. It's hard to ignore that fact. That's not cool. I suppose that it would be naive of me to think that people who push trickle-down economics would actually willingly let some of their wealth trickle down. Stupid of me.

But if you're fabulously wealthy, AND vaguely religious? ...well you just...sidestep it all.

I can't imagine that there's an army of revenue service people chasing down every rich preacher who claims that their private jet is for congregational or spiritual purposes. Probably too busy writing angry letters when someone misses £10 from their council tax payment.

The thing about taxes is that...when something needs doing for the benefit of everybody, it is easier to draw from a pool that has already been assembled - and spend in a way that (in theory) people qualified to make the decisions have prescribed as best - than it is to just let everyone keep their taxes and hope that they all do the right thing. Most drivers don't know how to resurface a road (though I live on the Isle of Wight so I have doubts about some of the professionals too), most mortals don't know how to spend their money efficiently on shares of medical hardware, and most homeowners don't know how to put in individual flood protection.

We take it for granted. We grumble about the taxes we spend, as we walk on a pavement, over a sewage system, under streetlights, on streets not under several gallons of water.

And then something happens like Harvey.

Not just Harvey obviously. It's the example I am drawing from as it bears relevance to my initial point. Storms, floods, awful shit like it happens all over the world with terrible regularity, and is only getting worse due to man-induced climate change (YES IT IS SCIENCE NO IT IS NOT UP FOR DEBATE). But what you need, when something like that happens, is a large amount of centralised resources with which you can help those locally.

Those who have, panic. They want to shore up their investment, their stuff, their things, their resources. They want to make sure the house stays locked so, while they wait it out in their aunt's house in Missouri, they won't have to worry about the silverware being snatched away. Because, you know. When I am drowning, I always go for the silverware.

So it's common for the wealthy to hoist up the ladders and leave everyone else to fend for themselves, and thus worthy of comment and compliment when they don't.

Joel Osteen.

This Tim Allen looking motherfucker.

So not only does this guy run a faith-based scam - as I call all "prosperity churches" and the like, who seem to make those in charge of them very wealthy and not a whole lot of prosperity goes anywhere else. Not only is he made rich essentially through playing shell games with people's beliefs, but he doesn't pay any damn taxes.

Houston gets dumped under enough water to swallow the Alien Mothership from Independence Day - and this guy's massive church just...sits there with the doors locked and bolted, while the city's mosques and other religious institutions immediately offer sanctuary and aid to anyone who can get to them.

Takes this guy three days to help, at all. In that time, even Dumpy Trumpy has managed to put a hand in his pocket, though seemingly unaware that perhaps his cuts on flood protections and other federal investments might make him doing so seem to be two-faced in the extreme.

And Osteen's excuse? Tax-dodging conman Osteen? That preacher who looks a lot like the dude from Home Improvement? He says he didn't open up the church...

...because the city didn't ask him to.

Which is of course why the Good Samaritan was like: fuck this guy by the side of the road, the Pharisees haven't told me to help him.

Which is of course why Jesus didn't feed the five thousand, because he didn't have any official requests from the local government.

Which is why Oscar Schindler didn't save anyone, because there's no way the Moravian protectorate's administrator would have given him permission.

So not only has he taken away people's money, which they may have been taxed on, which could have been allocated to FEMA and other localised measures - nor has he paid any taxes of his own on that money, which again could have gone into protective measures - but this fucking great ugly-ass building that he built with his effectively stolen money didn't even open its doors until the waters had started to subside.

They are shitweasels, people. Shitweasels who don't deserve what they have.

And that's why they should fucking pay tax.

Saturday 26 August 2017

Popcorn And Plot

Do you watch movies or films?

This might seem like a semantic question. It sort of is, but not quite in the way it looks.

So you know when you watch something and it is pure popcorn but you love it anyway? Like, so much of it is cheese and fun and action scenes for no reason other than action? Ridiculous martial arts films, stuff like Top Gun or Rocky (specifically one of the sequels, the first one is brilliance). We know that logically there's no greater point to this, nothing done to push the capabilities of cinematic excellence, but - I mean, who doesn't like watching giant robots beating up giant monsters? Pacific Rim isn't an Oscar candidate and it's not going to win writing awards but it isn't FOR that - it's for showing you something that you just enjoy watching.

Then there's the stuff we watch that does have far more depth and greatness to it. Classics. Films with intelligence, superior writing and cinematography, that challenge us with their themes and their messages. Blade Runner, Citizen Kane, that infinitely cool short you saw on Channel 4 the other night - they're stuff that you watch when you want to engage yourself.

And there you have it, right? Blade Runner is a film - Pacific Rim is a movie.

The line does break down in the middle obviously. There's some big dumb martial arts movies that are actually heavily artistic, showing technical and thematic excellence at every turn. There's some films that aim for brilliance and fall very short, on both sides of the equation - but it's far easier to make a shoddy horror movie that is entertaining to watch than it is to make a shoddy examination of the nature of time and self in the way that Donnie Darko does.

Which is better?

Well that depends what you want. Somewhat. I mean there are films that are ACTUALLY bad, and then there are films that are only bad at providing you with the cinematic experience you are currently seeking.

I do not often want to watch something that is twee or cute or whatever. That's rarely a thing I am into. That doesn't make the film bad, and I have to admit that. There's a difference between "I dislike this" and "This is terrible". I like some objectively terrible films. Plan Nine From Outer Space, anyone?

If I want to think about what just happen, I can have that. If I want something soul-searing (or soul-searching) I can have that. If I need shooting, John Woo made a bunch of films in Hong Kong before the American movies he made, of which there is one that isn't just pure shite. (And that's Face/Off, before you ask.)

Where am I going with this? Not sure, really. Only in the general direction of loving both ends of the scale, from glossy sci-fi shooter, to fifteen-minute duologue about working class people in the eighties. It just depends what mood I am in.

I'm just...never in the mood for Bayformers.