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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.