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Sunday, 30 December 2018

Reader's Request - Dune, The Devil and Meghan Markle

Greetings folks, and welcome to the last blog of the year - a Reader's Request, no less! So without delay, I will dive into the prompts given me by social media, and see what we find!

Hardest scene you've ever written and why - This one prompted a "THIS!" from the peanut gallery, so a popular choice, apparently. This is... hard to answer, but, I think it is a scene from a NaNo entry called Individuation. Something I'd like to revisit one day. Anyway. The main character ends up in hospital over something self-inflicted, and I wrote that whole bit from experience. That was difficult to put down on the page.

Most useless piece of tat you have ever seen marketed? (politicians don't count) - The company Supreme makes a lot of ridiculous overpriced bollocks, I don't know what they do aside from that, but here's a fucking BRICK with their logo on it.

Favourite MST3K episode and robot - In the not too distant future! My favourite episode is Manos: The Hands Of Fate, season 4, episode 24. It's just... such a bad film. So very, very bad. And my favourite robot is Crow T Robot, if only because his brand of sarcasm is very much my kind of brand.

Favourite and least favourite mash up of an item. - This came with a prompt...

So there are so many mediocre mashups - like, websites full of shirts that (in various levels of wittiness). I think the best mashup I've seen - like, a literal melding of two separate individual properties - is the combination of Batman and Wolverine in the short-lived Marvel-DC mash-up. Darkclaw - the ULTIMATE edgelord. My least favourite mashup is the New Testament.

Favourite adversary you've used in writing or gaming - That's a hard, hard choice. Very hard. Though I think that... if I had to pick one, it would be Emir. The covert-terror AI that got loose in Eclipse Phase, and caused a civil war to break out amongst other things. Oh, and he killed millions by severing the space elevator anchored to Mons Olympus.

Favourite and/or most interesting Tradition - One of my own favourite traditions of a thing that only I do is to always watch The Crow on Devil's Night (day before Halloween for the uninitiated). In terms of other people's traditions? I like this motherfucker. This is Mari Lwyd, it's a bone horse that gets carted through various different towns and villages in Wales.

Why dune is the only film you ever need to see (David lynch version) - This is a falsehood. It is, however, a film you NEED to see if you have not. Because it is ABSOLUTELY BONKERS.

Most memorable arcade machine - This one got a "THAT!" from the peanut gallery so we're gonna go with it. There's two memorable ones. One because I absolutely LOVED it, and one because it is absolutely infamous. The one I loved was the Aliens arcade game. If only because I was obsessed with Aliens when I first discovered it. The memorable one? There's a very, very prevalent glitched Streetfighter 2 board wherein the characters have mixed-up specials and Chun Li does fireballs when you do her kicks. It's absolutely mad. And I've found three of the same machines in three different arcades!

Batshit craziest folk story you ever heard? - The first world, in Aztec lore, displeased Tezpatlipoca the Smoking Mirror - god of ancestral memory, time, and change through conflict. So he had everyone on earth be eaten by jaguars. No flood, no fire, no cascade of angels. No. EVERYONE gets eaten by a jaguar. Fuck you people.

Difference between our generation and our parents and why it leads to so much angst and strife? - Economics and war. The march of capital upwards and upwards, away from us. My mother remembers rationing when she was a child - back when we as a country had built a million council houses to house poor people after massive swathes of the country had been bombed flat. Now our money is worth less and employers are less willing to hire us. And nobody wants to admit that they've been given a better ride than anyone else. Not that they chose to.

Favorite character you've ever written. - Difficult choice. But I think, maybe... Captain Forenza Drake from Bridge. I like her a lot. Big and bolshy and grinning like a cocky dickhead the entire time. She's brilliant.

Follow up, your favorite character in popular media. - You need me to pick one? Gawd. That's hard. My favourite characters read like the lineup from a Smash game (except not all owned by the same franchise). But like. I mean. Let's just go with Lt. Ellen Ripley and be done with it.

Comments and thoughts on the resurgence of Nationalism, and how we can (as a world) move past it. - Nationalism is being tapped again, as it always gets tapped, to fend off changes that the people want and demand. The people that want things to be the way they were can go to Nationalism for that, and they will. We as a world have to move past it by rejecting it at every single turn, by not giving it the space to grow, and by being active in their community and their politics. We need to learn, we need to study, we need to believe we can be better, and then we need to be better.

There's a lot of parallels between our current world and various dystopia such as Altered Carbon, Shadowrun etc. Do you think we're doomed to a dystopian future, or do you hold out hope that we can possibly reach something more utopian like Earth in Star Trek: TNG? - I think that in order to reach a future that isn't Blade Runner, we're going to have to rip down the entire edifice and start again from scratch. And that simply isn't likely.

When (if at all) do you think the current Age of Superhero media will go the way of the Westerns? - If you mean, when it will go fallow, and then return in a more gritty shape? I'm not honestly sure. I mean Marvel are still making stuff like Paint Your Wagon, whereas DC have blown out of any semblance of it and skipped ahead to 3:10 To Yuma. So I am honestly not sure. It's a hard market to pattern.

Favourite after credit scene. - The bloopers from Rumble In The Bronx.

Favourite video game of 2018 - Battletech. Brilliant game. Absolutely brilliant.

Current favorite meme. - While I like Bongocat a lot, my current favourite is Surprised Pikachu.

Obligatory boobies - Yes, indeed.

You view on this - Well, I mean, it's a way to advertise I guess? ...bit idealised, but...?

Your view on the current state of video games - Kind of all over the place. I don't know enough about the innards of the industry to comment properly but... there's been some great stuff released recently, and some of it has even been triple-A. But the same shit is being trotted out, as usual. Not a lot of forward movement.

Top 5 depictions of 'The Devil' in media? - I love this one. In reverse order:
5 - Rodney Dangerfield (Little Nicky)
4 - Gabriel Byrne (End Of Days)
3 - Robert DeNiro (Angel Heart)
2 - Al Pacino (The Devil's Advocate)
1 - Peter Stormare (Constantine)

Honorary mention goes to Tim Curry for the Lord of Darkness in Legend. He's not the Devil but he's awesome.

Anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers , conspiracy theorists .. discuss ?? - Oh god. There's a lot to unpack there. A loooot to discuss. I think we'd be a lot happier if, instead, we vaccinated our kids, accepted the earth is round, and started learning about how things actually are rather than chasing ghosts. Every conspiracy theory has a reality to it that is 1) obvious if you look 2) out in the open and 3) much more mundane and terrible than the theory itself. Bush Did 9/11? It's probably scarier to imagine that it was achieved by a bunch of determined people under the not-so-watchful eye of local security services.

What animal breeding style would you like to see swapped with another? E.G. female seals laying hundreds of eggs, queen alien style. - I'd like to see sea turtles use the breeding style of sharks. So they don't have to make their babies run down the beach. Instead they get to fight each other before birth. But they don't die cos they aren't sharks.

If you could update the human body with a new patch, but only concerned with one system, like digestion or whatever - The BRAIN. The brain. By god. The brain. Just be better, dammit, BE BETTER.

Who would you like to put on a new £4.50 coin? - Clement Attlee. He preceded Churchill (whose genocidal mug is on the £5).

What do you do if your friends don't dance? - Their opinion doesn't matter, I can dance if I want to.

What if God was a duck this whole time? - It would explain an awful lot.

Which SCP would you most like to keep as a pet, and which would you most like at your disposal - I would keep SCP-999 as a pet, because I would very much appreciate being able to just be happy sometimes. You know? And I would like to keep SCP-682 at my disposal, for deployment when I need something absolutely fucking destroyed.

Which ninja turtle would make the best emperor of Edo Japan. Then which Power Ranger. Then which of them would win in a duel. - Leonardo would make the best emperor because he is literally the leader. And he's good at it. At least, most of the time. I don't know if ANY Power Rangers would make a good emperor? But let's go with Billy Cranston, because he's smart as fuck, and not just mechanically speaking. Which means that I think Leonardo wins the duel. Cos he's a fucking ninja.

Meghan Markle! - I love her. She's great! It's unfortunate that this country has so many assholes in it, and that she becomes a target for them. It's an embarrassment for this nation.

If 500 years ago, Britain was a Matriachy, would things be the same? - I am not entirely sure, however - the monarch 500 years ago was Henry VIII. So like if he wasn't around, and there was a queen instead, then we wouldn't have had the whole reformation thing... god, that would have changed things a bit.

(Chris asked me who my favourite US president is but he didn't post a question for me to copy, boo) - I dunno but I like Lyndon B Johnson a lot. If we're talking about ACTUAL US Presidents. My favourite fictional US president is Morgan Freeman from Deep Impact.

And that's it! That's the last blog of 2018! I didn't enjoy this year much! Did you?

Let's hope that 2019 is a great year!


Sunday, 23 December 2018

Season's Gratings

So I am making a conscious effort to not piss in anyone's Wheaties, in my life in general. Which is sometimes hard, because I'm an opinionated asshole.

It is, for the most part, reasonably simple to just keep my mouth shut when someone likes something that I really don't.

I mean it's all opinions, right? If we're in an environment in which a discussion would be appropriate or welcome, then we can have a discussion - but immediately jumping in with the shit-talk is something I am trying to do far less. I used to do it a lot. I was REALLY annoying.

So that usually means keeping my trap shut when it comes to Christmas.

You've maybe seen my festive blogs before. They're not very festive. You can draw your conclusions from how I feel about Christmas from... well, let's just say there's a plethora of evidence.

In my office, there is a significant amount of Christmas cheer. Like the place is bedecked with happy people eating mince pies and doing secret santas and cheerful and yay and joy and.. I don't want to fuck that up.

I know the value of happiness.

Last blog I talked about how the little things are important - the little good things in our lives, the things that make us happy when everything else seems to be devoted to making us miserable. When it is so easy for the negative to have sway over us and so hard for the positive to really sink in, those individual examples of niceness and pleasantness hold a lot more significance.

So yeah. If wearing the hat and dancing around to Mariah Carey is gonna make you happy, then... well, I should probably keep my grumbling to either myself or someone that I am fairly sure agrees with me.

Cowardice? Maybe. Dad always taught me to pick my battles and telling other people to not enjoy an inescapable marketing event isn't one that will have any positive result. Also... what would the point be? It's not like we're talking about eugenics or white supremacy or corporatocracy. It's just people having a laugh. I ought to let them.

I don't know if I have an actual point, for this blog. I think I'm just talking about my feelings and thoughts on this topic?

Most of the stuff that I don't like about the season isn't actually Christmas' fault. It's just people, when I come to think about it.

Maybe I am more of a misanthrope than I'd like to admit.

Anyway. Tune in next time for the New Year Run Up Special.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Elegy For A Zaibatsu

This blog is again going to be a short one, because I am running at a super low ebb right now.

There's a specific piece of music that I am told is one of the theme tunes to Kirby, which is something I'm not aware of because frankly I never much liked any of the Kirby games. But whenever I hear it, I never think of the Kirby games.

I think of at least two dudes on YouTube chatting shit at each other and playing video games, under the monicker Two Best Friends Play.

It's Let's Play stuff, with these two guys - Matt and Pat - that snipe at each other, and know a fair thing or two about game culture and design. They've both worked as playtesters, I think. They both also love fighting games, which is where their pal Woolie comes in, who is apparently some kind of god-level fighting game expert. He is, also, very funny.

They played all sorts of games together. Every Halloween they'd do a thing called Shitshow, wherein they would put on display a bunch of awful and sometimes good horror games that they'd collected over the years. That was a favourite of mine. I've always liked Halloween, and people that know games ratting on bad games with a horror theme is just my idea of a good time.

I've always kind of wondered how their friendship kept going, though. I mean it's not in my nature to be all peeping on the personal lives of youtubers, that's their business and if they don't want to make it part of their public lives, that's their business - but they have always seemed to be quite antagonistic. Like, the sniping on occasion got to be a little personal. And some people are more okay with that than others, I get that. I just wondered.

Last night, a video got put out involving each of them individually, talking about the fact that the channel is over. The two best friends aren't friends any more. Like, literally, that's their reasoning. So that's just over, now.

That got me thinking about permanence.

About how quickly shit can get just.. snatched away. Even if it is clear to others that it has been going for a long time, that it is most definitely on the way out, the actual moment of something going away that it actually starts to sink in. We haven't necessarily thought about the shape of the hole that it has left in our view of the world - but we're aware the hole is there, sudden and empty.

That's not just about YouTube channels. That's about almost everything. It never seems to happen to shitty or awful things, either - and I know full well that is confirmation bias, but it's still the feeling left behind, like a taste in the back of the throat. Like the good things get snatched away so quickly and so imperiously, and the bad things drag out and dig in, clutching on with a will of their own.

I've held for a long time that the only purpose we have in life - the only purpose higher than replication - is happiness. That can be a hard thing to nurture, in the face of - well, everything, really. Society at large eating itself like Ouroboros, millionaires using the poor as ablative armour for their profits, fascists and racists and sexists and bigots generally making our lives miserable. We have to hang onto the things that make us happy, that make it worth getting up tomorrow.

I guess that is why it kind of sucks when one of those things slips away, even if it's only a YouTube channel that made me laugh.

Hang onto the good things, people.

We need them.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

The Bays And The Bumblebees

So my continuous derision for the Bayformers movies (I will not call them Transformers, no no no) is probably well-known to any regular reader of this blog, and so I find myself surprised to write this particular piece.

The Bumblebee movie - which should be out reasonably soon - looks like it will actually be... good.

Now I don't want to blame Michael Bay for everything that is wrong with the previous five movies in this franchise. I doubt he is personally responsible for literally every sin - the shitty design, the awful cinematography and choreography, the execrable writing, the brutal mutilation of characters to fit into the role required for the lamentable plot... but he got to sit on the throne made out of the bodies, too.

So his not being involved is a miracle to me, because... well, maybe some of the staples of his movies will be removed. Like his weird attitude toward women, or his inability to tell if the thing that is happening on the screen is racist (or his inability to care).

It also seems to seriously cut down on the weird bug-like design of the bots, even going so far as to having several shots from Cybertron in which everyone looks like they're actually meant to. Like you see Optimus Prime and he's not this fuck:

He's THIS lad:

Now which one of those looks like Optimus Prime?

Yeah. That's what I thought.

See, Bee has gone up a lot in my estimation since the old G1 days. He's undergone a lot of character changes. Been through a lot. His incarnation in the Bayformers movies has pretty much made him out to be some wildly violent super-soldier who is made to not realise he is so deadly for apparent plot reasons.

Also we appear to get Decepticons with personality this time. They actually seem to talk. They turn up on Earth with the intention to, ahem, deceive the local population. To help them track down Bumblebee. Which is genius. And exactly the kind of things smart bad guys would do. Right?

I am so very, very dubious. But I have so, so much hope.

A full review will follow.

Sorry for the short blog. Normal service will be resumed when I can, you know. Walk.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Post-November, Post-Novel

So as most of you know I took part in National Novel Writing Month last month, as I so often do, and probably annoyed a bunch of people following me on social media.

For the uninitiated, the challenge involves writing a novel of 50,000 words in the month of November. (For reference, that's the length of The Great Gatsby, Slaughterhouse-5, Of Mice And Men and Fight Club, give or take a couple hundred.) As a competition it attracts a significant following every year, over 400,000 in 2017.

It was started, expressly, as an attempt to get people to just.. write something. All sorts of people talk about writing, but say they never have time, or worry they won't be good at it, or say that if it won't get published what's the point. So. NaNoWriMo exists to sideline all of those excuses. It doesn't need to be good. It doesn't need to be published. Just get it out of your head and onto a page. Writing is a practicable skill, meaning that the more you do it, the better you get at it. The most important thing you have to do is actually start.

I do it, because I have difficulty getting started in terms of writing. Plenty of ideas, so little will to get them on paper or continue them. I find it difficult. NaNo is just that right kind of pace and deadline that I find the entire thing to be very useful for my process.

It's also my opportunity to write a thing that needn't become anything bigger or tie into anything I have already done. I can write something experimental or just for fun.

This year, I dabbled in a setting I have been toying with, and I put in a romantic plot because I deliberately don't do that with a lot of my writing. I hiss and recoil whenever I am told that a plot HAS to have romance in it. So I am out of practice. This was good practice, and I ended up being a big fan of the two girls that fell for each other.

The end result isn't great. I like the setting but the story itself leaves something to be desired. I am making it freely available for people to read if they want, but it's far from my best work.

Also this year was close. And that is rare, because usually I either crush it with days to spare or I give up in the first week and a half. So to be on day 29 and to see I still had like 3,000 words to go - that was a bit of a pulse-pounder.

Being laid up as I am right now - my left quad is absolutely screwed, standing up and moving about is horrible - I thought that maybe it would make things easier. It didn't. The painkiller fog and the actually being IN pain and uncomfortable does not a good writing environment make.

I'm proud of the words I put down, even if they weren't my best. I'm pretty sure the story is cogent, at least. I like the characters involved - enough that I would like to revisit them. I would certainly like to do more in the setting.

Either way. I have emerged blinking out of the writing bunker.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Who Could Be The Bat

If you aren't familiar with Movies With Mikey, you ought to fix that, but relevant to this specific post is this video right here, in which he addresses The Batman Question.

That question is: Who's your dream casting of Batman? No restrictions - could be anyone.

Well, that's inspired a bunch of thinking and a lot of conversation, around these parts.

We all have our ideas as to who Batman is. Mostly informed by our favourite Caped Crusaders in the past. Speaking personally, while I think the best media he's presented in is Dark Knight, the best Batman to ever exist is voiced by Kevin Conroy and looks like this:

Right, there's all my folks who grew up in the 90s.

Here's the thing. My dream casting of Batman relies on several other bits of information, first, as there's been so many different types of Batman. So are we talking Dark Knight Returns? Are we talking his appearance in Superman: Red Son? Are we taking an entirely new rebooted approach? A campy sixties movie? A Heat-style Batman/Joker crime thriller? Justice League satellite action? Each one of these, I think, deserves a different batman.

None of which necessarily need to be white, and none of which necessarily need to be male.

I am gonna catch some shit for that, I am sure, but hear me out.

Batman was conceived in 1939. A LOT of the current popular crop of superheroes were conceived way back when. Superman came the year before, The Phantom two years before that - and if you don't know about the Phantom, know that there would BE no Batman without the Phantom, cringey Billy Zane movie adaptation notwithstanding. Flash, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Aquaman - all conceived during the Second World War.

I'm pretty sure you're aware of this, but - back then, it wasn't terribly popular in the West to have a non-white central protagonist. It took until the sixties for Black Panther to make an appearance - and even then, his first showing is to invite the Fantastic Four (ugh) to Wakanda and try and beat them all up to prove himself.

I like to think we've moved on a little since then.

I think you could basically run the exact same story with Batman, with very few modifications, if he was played by Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Ruby Rose (see what I did there) or Janelle Monae. I mean, what's a better way of concealing the fact that Miss Wayne is a vigilante superhero than to convince the world that the vigilante is a man? After all, as Batman: The Brave And The Bold taught us...

The thing is, though. The thing is. I don't want to just... recast Batman.

I used to love Batman as a hero. Who wouldn't? Then you get to the kind of age where you start asking awkward questions, like - why is Arkham Asylum so easy to escape from, and could maybe a multimillionaire who can afford to fund a satellite for his super-friends to hang out in perhaps afford to help make it more secure? You know. Things like that.

It's after that stage that you get a little bit bored of it. Dude going around punching crime until it stops criming, until it inevitably starts to crime again. The brooding, the anguish. He's so cool. He's a ninja. He's the goddamn Batman.


So let me instead introduce to you a different way that Batman can go. A different breed of Bat, let's say.

We go back to his origin story (and oh my god am I sick of having to see his origin story but that's another thing altogether), wherein we see the Wayne family leaving a cinema. They're happy, laughing. They were invited along because it was through the arts foundation funding provided by Thomas Wayne that the movie was made at all. They decide to cut through the alleyway to where they are parked - Thomas, his wife Martha, and their daughter, Bruce.

Yes, Bruce. It's a great name.

They are intercepted, as always, by a dude with a gun - classically a chap named Joe Chill. Except. this time, it runs a little bit differently. You see, the Wayne family are different, now. Thomas in particular. So when he sees the gunman - who is twitching, sweaty, eyes huge and wide - he doesn't immediately get on the aggro defensive. Instead, he calmly tells the man he'll give him all the cash he has. As long as he gets help. And he means it, too.

Bruce, however, isn't having it. Bruce gets shouty and aggressive, puts herself between her dad and the gunman. Joe Chill starts getting twitchy. Martha tries to calm her daughter down. It doesn't work. In the end the nerves get too much for Joe, and he pulls the trigger.

In the ensuing carnage, Bruce gets hit in the back. Her parents both get shot pretty bad - Martha midway through going for Joe at the time. The last thing that Bruce remembers of that night is her dad leaning over her, telling her that the police are coming, and her telling him she can't move her legs.

The funeral. The husband and wife being lowered into their family plot together. Bruce in a wheelchair, with her uncle Albert stood beside her, holding an umbrella over her head.

After the funeral. Bruce asking Albert how this happened. Why this thing happened. Why people do the things they do. Learning fast, learning early, the state of play of the world.

Bruce deciding to do something about it.

Of course, Bruce's first thought isn't to go off and become a badass ninja. No. Bruce has just come into a huge fortune, and that is her current and primary weapon.

No time to brood. Time to work.

Maybe I'll go into the further adventures of this particular Batman in another blog. I just think it would be a refreshing take on the standard lantern-jawed punch-man. And - yeah, this Bruce would definitely be played by Janelle Monae.

Either way.

Who do YOU think should play Batman?

Sunday, 18 November 2018

We Give And We Give

The other day a very close friend of mine in America asked me what the Pearly Kings and Queens were.

Now, anyone not from the UK - or maybe even from London - would be forgiven for not knowing, and then forgiven for further confusion when you google it and find pictures like this:

Aren't they great?

I'll spare you the significant gritty detail - tl;dr, back in the late 1800s, a working-class street sweeper named Henry Croft started to cover his suit with mother-of-pearl buttons, in order to earn money for charity. He raised a significant amount, and the eye-catching idea started to spread. Before the outbreak of the first world war, literally every borough of London had their own Pearly King and Queen.

They were all joined by two common threads: they were almost universally working class, and they all raised money for local charities.

According to the Charities Aid Foundation, citizens in the UK gave a total of almost £9.7 billion to charities in 2016, and 41% of the citizens of the UK gave.

That's quite a number. Even if you divided that amount amongst everyone in the UK, every single one of our 45 million or so adults, that's about £216 each over the course of a year - £18 a month or thereabouts.

I know there are other ways to help charity. Very aware of the fact. Volunteering for example - 17% of the UK volunteers their time in some way.

What I am thinking, though - is just how many charities there actually are, and just how much regulation of them exists. And each one of these charities has to organise, has to go fundraising, has to spend time and resources (including donated money, let's be adults about this) making sure they can remain in operation. That is before they even get the funds and help to the places they are raising the funds for. Never, ever underestimate the complexity and cost of logistics.

So what if...

...what if, if we had a government that we could actually trust not to ruin it... (yes, I know that makes it actually a nonissue)

...all charity giving and distribution was handled centrally - and a portion of it was raised by taxes?

I know I know I said the T word and everyone hates the T word, but hear me out, here.

A tax of say £20 a month sounds like a lot to a lot of the people reading this. Sounds like an amount to me, too. But then, that's because most of my friends are below the average earnings line. Back in 2015 that average was about £27,500, and spoilers - despite corporate and high-end income still climbing, it hasn't actually gone up very much.

So if we were to add an element of income-based taxation, rather than a flat figure, it would be a lot more progressive. Obviously. I mean if someone is paying at the 40% tax band then £20 is literally a drop in the ocean each month. Without getting into how I feel about upper-end taxation (and that would be a very long discussion, I promise) it would be relatively easy and also not terribly harmful to raise more than the current amount given to charity by taxation that would, in a year, be effectively unnoticed.

Then you realise that you aren't having to pay for the organisation of however many thousands of different charitable organisations there are. Each one doesn't have to spend anything on advertising or people on the street asking for handouts or anything of the like. I mean sure, for big causes you could still run the entertainment specials and such. You just don't need to shell out anywhere near as much on the logistics of the operation.

And seeing as we would have funded a significant number of charities, then people's lives would be made better, and more accessibility needs would have been met. More people would be capable of living better lives, which should be a reward in and of itself, but seeing as that is often not sufficient - guess what, they are now spending money and paying taxes too.

That is assuming we can'd find the money to fund those charities by making certain spending decisions with our current budget. I hesitate to bring up that other big T word, but... we're spending an awful lot of money on Trident for no apparent reason.

I know it isn't an ideal solution. It would require us to be able to trust those making those decisions, and be able to hold them accountable if they mess it up or act in their own self-interest. Two things which are, sadly, fairly unlikely.

Just a thought.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

A Hundred Years From Compiègne

A century ago, in a railway car in the forest of Compiègne in Picardy, Northern France, an armistice was signed by several high-ranking members of the German military.

It was known as the Armistice of Compiègne, and one of its conditions was a termination of hostilities across the Western Front within six hours of the signing of the document; and as it was signed at around 5am local time, that meant that the fighting should end at 11am.

The negotiation process took days. Although Germany had precious little in the way of collateral with which it could force renegotiation, there were problems with the document - at one stage it demanded that they surrender to the Allied forces more submarines than they had actually ever manufactured.

Notable is the fact that such an Armistice could have been signed sooner. As early as the fifth of October, a clear thirty-seven days earlier, the new Chancellor of Germany communicated with President Woodrow Wilson a willingness to end the conflict, based around his famous Fourteen Points - a set of demands for German surrender.

Several governments - ours, one of them - thought the Fourteen Points weren't harsh enough. They disputed Point IV: Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety. They wanted that point to apply exclusively to Germany. No climbdown of the immense military machines they had made, no sir - only for the enemy.

Germany itself was falling apart, at the time. Two days before the signing, the country had become a republic, and Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated - though there was some confusion about that.

In the six hours between signing and ceasefire, 2,783 soldiers were killed. The last soldier to die, it is believed, was an American named Henry Gunther. He was shot while rushing a German position in the literal last sixty seconds of the war - apparently those German soldiers were astonished that the man had not heard of the Armistice, and was still willing to attack them.

That happened a hundred years ago. All these facts, all these notable facts, many of which aren't very widely known. While the fighting stopped, the actual war didn't officially end until the Treaty of Versailles came into force, on the 10th of January 1920.

We know how the war started, of course. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, 28th June 1914. A lot of people don't know why, or precisely, by who.

The Archduke's killers were members of the Black Hand - also known as Unification or Death - a secret military society attached to the Serbian Kingdom's own official army. While we can quibble over how effective the assassination would have been in achieving their goal, the stated goal of the Black Hand was to achieve a unification of the South Slav people under a single government.

What followed that, was a series of escalating aggressive postures between various nations, beginning with the Austro-Hungarian Empire deciding that it had played nice with Serbia for too long. In the course of two months, a man and his wife being shot leads to a significant swathe of the world rolling out the guns against each other in naked aggression.

Every year, we say the words, Lest We Forget. I agree. We shouldn't forget. We shouldn't forget that the reason why so many died - seventeen million is an approximation, more than that wounded - is because of politics, and empires doing what empires do. A lot of them died not because they chose to but because they had to - out of the 5.4 million soldiers in the British army, over half of them were conscripts. Almost an eighth of the male population were rounded up and forced to fight. One in eight. Imagine eight of your friends - one of them decided to go and fight for whatever reason, and one of them had to, no choice whatsoever.

We shouldn't forget, either, what the end of the First World War led to.

The economies of almost every nation involved were in absolute ruin. Those that weren't undergoing literal political meltdown exacerbated by the mass sacrifice of an entire generation had nigh bankrupted themselves in order to fight. Those that had been declared to be responsible, it was decided, would have to pay for the rebuilding of a continent.

The sum of money that Germany alone was asked to pay was eye-watering. Adjusted for current inflation, the total Germany was meant to pay - given that it was, as previously stated, an economic ruin - over $176 billion dollars. That's almost £136 billion. That's the entire economic output of the country of Algeria in 2017. That sum, it bears mention, is less than half of what it had been actually demanded to pay - there were concerns that public opinion would be against Germany paying anything less than $400 billion dollars, in approximation.

We should also not forget that, two days before the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice of Compiègne, an event occurred in Germany that showed us that we had, already, forgotten. That event was known as Kristallnacht - or Pogromnacht, depending on who you asked. Kristallnacht, after the broken glass that littered the streets of Nazi Germany, when over 250 synagogues and 7,000 Jewish-owned businesses were destroyed. Homes were ransacked, people were beaten in the street.

The sequence of events between the Armistice and Kristallnacht - the things that tie the two together in causality - get forgotten, too. To economically punish a country is to punish its citizens directly, and those who would use that punishment to further their own agenda will thank you for it, even if they scream about a betrayal at Versailles, or spread the lie promulgated by Erich Ludendorf that the army were stabbed in the back by elements at home.

And eighty years after that, we see synagogues attacked now. We see neo-nazis marching in the street, nationalists kicking in doors and assaulting people, ignored by police. We see arms and armaments being sold by domestic companies to aggressor nations, and we watch as they are used to kill and maim helpless civilians, causing a literal humanitarian crisis.

We still isolate ourselves. We still sink back behind our own borders, and point fingers, and distrust those outside. We still pose and posture and flex and frown. We still ignore the wants and needs of the actual people who end up fighting our wars. We leave veterans homeless and alone, lacking mental and physical healthcare. We disenfranchise people and care little about the repercussions..

My family - on both sides of the Levant - have had members in the military for generations. On the British side, my Granddad, his Grandad, almost all of their friends and relatives - they served in the Royal Navy. I respect the dedication it takes to put on the uniform and do the job. I respect the work it takes to do that job well.

And I resent that so many people were killed, for so little reason; and I resent the fact that we have still, apparently, not learned our lesson.

We say Lest We Forget.

I say that we have forgotten, and that we aggressively continue to forget.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Between The Cracks

I'd like to preface this blog with a content warning; below, I am going to be discussing depression and suicide. If you would rather not read that, no harm no foul - I have other blogs on more wholesome topics. This one, for example, is about good music covers.

My National Novel Writing Month attempt opens with the words, Jimmy Drift Killed Himself.

I take a hop, skip and a jump over the initial arc. This is the inciting event. There isn't a day-as-normal beforehand. It is literally the first thing that the reader learns about the world: that a man whose name we are meant to know took his own life.

It opens this way because while this is new and unusual to the characters involved - the main character in particular, Alya K, a childhood friend of Jimmy Drift - this isn't new or unusual to the world the book is set in.

In a corporatocracy - the definition of which can be found here - the workers and citizens being ruled are essentially a resource.

Anyone who has worked in a business that requires a large amount of raw aggregate or materials for processing will know that there are margins of acceptable loss. That not every nut and bolt that comes into the workshop will be considered worthy or acceptable, and that if you find a screw that is damaged, you don't use it. You need a bucket of fine sand but this one got damp? Got to go get another one.

Stepping into a more modern setting, who hasn't been into a store with an automated check-out machine? Who hasn't found that out of the four machines available, one of them seems to be perpetually broken? All they are waiting for is a part, right? But there is a line of problems that leads to that part not being fitted. It has to be done by the company that put in the machines, and they have to clear everything, all of which is a very tidy earner for the company that makes those machines. Why sell someone a single unit, when you could sell them years upon years of continued service?

If the store could repair it themselves, though - no doubt they would just yank the unit open, put in the replacement part and throw the old one away immediately. Got to keep the store running, after all.

Under a corporatocracy, human beings who aren't shareholders or otherwise considered of primary importance to the company are either the consumers of the goods the company provides or part of the construction and delivery process. They are the nuts, bolts and screws. They are the aggregate. They are the bits in the self-service machine.

If they don't work according to the user or manufacturer's specifics, they get thrown out.

I've blogged before about Blade Runner - about how the treatment of the Replicants should be a warning to us, how it is a parable for an underclass considered too low or base to see as people. You know who I am talking about, what I am talking about. The Replicants - specifically the more advanced Replicants presented in the original movie - are built in with a limited lifespan because it is easier than giving them freedom or happiness.

So what do the people who made them and who used them care? What does anyone care? The usefulness of a person becomes the standard by which they are judged, and that isn't even something new. A great many societies have sought to minimise and marginalise those that they don't see as being useful in a societal sense. Can't work? No help for you. Can't do something we value? No help for you. Get into this camp. Get into this asylum.

When your only value or worth is tied to the work you do - when your life revolves around how your cogs turn as part of that great machine - then is it surprising that those who don't turn the same as anyone else would find themselves at a loss? Lacking in purpose? Would find the things that make life worthwhile harder and harder to achieve?

Especially knowing that, if anything happened to make an individual not useful - the individual would be replaced without a thought.

Businesses can't be trusted to look after people. It's like asking sharks to look after seal pups, bears to look after salmon. We are food. We are a resource. We are the grains of sand used to file down the imperfections of a surface. If we can't be used, we can be discarded. They don't really have to care very much about what happens if we discard ourselves, after the very environment they created opens the fissures into which we fall. Those fissures sell products - they are a thing held up as a place you will end up if you don't spend, don't save, don't do the things you are being told to.

Things we can't afford to do. So we fall down anyway.

And there's always another consumer, and always another worker.

Let's just remember that when those statistics come out - the amount of people that commit suicide every year - those are lives destroyed. Real lives. Not resources, as the shareholders would see them. Lives.

Just letting it happen is a monstrous but very everyday sin.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

The Good Old Days

The Goonies was a formative movie of my childhood.

I mean, why wouldn't it be? Adventure! Mystery! Kids having fun! A fat kid that still gets to join in despite everyone treating him like shit! (Okay it hasn't necessarily aged well.) It's my Sean Astin movie - Lord Of The Rings just borrowed him.

What it leaves, though - the thing it left with me, that it has always left with me, ever since I first saw it - was this sense of nostalgia that it immediately provoked in me. A yearning for specific elements of a childhood that also included a bunch of really shitty elements - to just be running through the woods, chatting nonsense with people I know and trust, or going off and doing whatever for a whole day and having nothing to care about in the intervening hours.

What movies like The Goonies and its peers really do is sell us a childhood we really wish we had, by framing itself in terms and tropes that we actually experienced.

That's not a criticism. It's the nature of fantasy/adventure films of a certain age aimed at kids. Because they were shot when we were kids, they were made back then, so everything is redolent of the era. Using bikes to get everywhere and needing to come up with creative ways to stay in touch because, hey, we didn't have mobile phones.

It calls back to the time when that was the concern. When the biggest worry of any kind was managing to get the crew together to do some stupid stuff, like ride around on bikes for hours arguing about if Tommy from Power Rangers was rubbish or brilliant.

It was before we went through the awkward phases of partial knowledge of world events, where we sought for simple answers as to why things were hard for certain people but not for others. Before we started realising how things really work.

Wanting to be back in that space, wanting to be in a position wherein the primary concerns are small ones, is hardly a sin. It says more about the world as it stands right now than it does about us as people and what we want out of life. That there are so many things today - anxiety-inducing things which are made difficult for no reason other than to change them would be just slightly more difficult and would disadvantage those more important than us - which we accept as just being normal, and never seem to question.

"That's just the way it is," is the answer you get given. Which is dangerously close to "That's just the way it has always been," which echoes the warning from the (fictional) five monkeys experiment. I'm sure you know of that one: five monkeys in a cage with a ladder leading up to food, and whenever one monkey goes up the ladder all the rest got soaked in cold water, so they start beating up any monkey that goes for the ladder. Then when they substitute out one of the monkeys for a new one, the new one immediately goes for the ladder, and gets beaten up for it, and without even knowing the original reason why, is encouraged to not go up the ladder by societal pressure.

(As an aside, the actual experiment is kind of more interesting. Monkeys, when manipulating an object that had previously appealed to them, were punished with several blasts of pressurised air - enough to alarm but not harm. After a while they stopped manipulating the object when by themselves, but upon mixing with other monkeys who did manipulate the object, they themselves did it too. Thus, the actual experiment proves the complete opposite of what the ladder bullshit tries to tell us: that we can be encouraged by others in positive ways rather than just negative.)

I don't think it is a contentious statement to say that there is a lot of nostalgia media around right now. Old video games becoming fashionable again, the iconography of an entire decade becoming people's standard aesthetic, neon and grid lines and synthwave and fake VHS lines. Stranger Things and stuff like it. Awesome musical acts like Robots With Rayguns literally evoking the era with their imagery, their samples and their songwriting. Tim Capello - the sexy sax man from Lost Boys, Tina Turner's tour saxophonist, the man that taught me I was bisexual - has an album out, and is recording synthwave music with other bands. This guy.

The people who grew up with The Goonies are now the people consuming most of the media - and the people making a lot of it, too. There's still a lot of influence from the older folks, because hey, there's money in the industry and they want it. The nostalgia train is loaded with cash. We just hanker for that time - that time back when things were simpler, and not necessarily for good reasons. Like, things still sucked back then for a lot of people - living standards by several metrics were objectively worse.

On a personal scale - that is where things were better. Less existential dread. Less worry. Less fear of the future. Life wasn't better because the world was better, life was better because we were kids and we didn't know any better.

We must take care to pay attention to that - and it is perhaps something we might mention to those who talk about the past as a mythical better place. Like everything back in the seventies, sixties, fifties, forties, thirties, was better than things are today.

Our childhood wasn't better because it was the past. It was better because we were children.

Be kind to yourself. Life is hard enough.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Who We Are

The future that my NaNo project is set in is pretty grim.

Like, the human race is in the pits. It's at war with [REDACTED] and also has a serious internal discipline problem. 97% of the planets within Central's jurisdiction are owned by one of the 17 Corporate Entities that exist - and I mean literally owned, each potentially habitable or exploitable resource is put to tender and is the sole responsibility and possession of that Corporate Entity.

Human rights are pretty much just a thing of the past. They were left behind with the memory of Earth. Who knows where we came from? Who cares? Who has enough time or energy to worry about it? Most of the human race is too busy.

Which means a big crackdown on our personal freedoms, right?

Well, some of them.

What we have a case of, though, is an unshackling of neoliberal business practice from traditional hard-right "family values" bullshit. Religion doesn't really happen any more, the notion of a nuclear family joins the concept of anti-monopolisation laws as a pre-Spread relic, and society has become a machine for purchasing goods and supporting the war effort.

So as long as you buy the corporation's products and make its weaponry, what do they care who you love or who you sleep with?

I mean, in part I know it is just me wanting to increase visibility and representation in my own work. That's a thing I am into. People exist in a lot of flavours that aren't cishet white male vanilla, and that fact not only deserves to be represented in my work, it OUGHT to be, as a matter of reason and realism.

I've talked about representation before - about movies and such in this one, and in video games and such in this one. There's a lot of stories that need telling that don't have a random straight white dude in the driver's seat.

I'm not really qualified to tell a story about being trans, about being gender fluid, about being asexual or aromantic - they aren't experiences I have lived, and there's voices a lot more qualified than mine that can talk about them. What I CAN do is include those people and those voices and experiences, and indeed I feel I have a duty to, to correct the swerve toward invisibility and marginalisation that most mainstream media tends to undergo.

"I just don't want people to think it is normal to be like that," are words I have heard someone actually say, recently, relating to gay people. I'm not sure where that attitude started from, but I can guarantee that it only gets reinforced by almost every major movie and TV series cramming your standard cishet relationship mush down your throat, and that anything that deviates from that norm has to come with a warning label to avoid sending Daily Mail readers into an apoplectic fury.

This comparison is going to be an awkward one, but once I did a blog about how watching Watership Down when I was young prepared me for the death of a pet. We can roll our eyes as much as we want at the notion of the media shaping how we think, but it CAN, in our formative years. Maybe, just maybe, if these people who see anyone that doesn't fit their standard cast as "not normal" had seen them proliferate in the media they'd absorbed without even thinking since early childhood - maybe this would have been their new normal.

I mean, we somehow managed to normalise people in suits earning a hundred times what their actual employees earn. We managed to normalise the Cold War, we managed to demonise words like Socialist and Feminist.

Surely we can normalise not treating people like shit any more.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Where Monopolies End

Yep, it's that time of year again - I am doing National Novel Writing Month once more, and this time, we're going cyberpunk, baby.

This will form part of a series of blogs about my NaNo project and about writing in general, each looking at themes I am exploring or generally find neat or awful respectively.

Now, with cyberpunk, we find ourselves in the corporate future.

Take this shot from the set of the original Blade Runner:

See how well-lit everything is? And can you see any actual streetlights? It's all shining down from logos and neons.

This is a theme that gets heavily picked up in cyberpunk and scifi. Neal Stephenson, in 1992's Snow Crash, labels the effect Loglo. Here it is demonstrated in the TV series of Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon:

Pretty but also a bit troubling, right?

For comparison, here is what I believe to be Tokyo, circa 90s:

I have gone on record before as saying that I believe the cyberpunk future to be the future we are heading into.

Picture this though. Picture the far future. Not the relative near, wherein we are still Earth-centric and our values are pretty similar to what they are today. Wherein the things that trouble us are also relevant to what they would be today.

Instead let us turn our eyes hundreds, if not thousands, of years into the future - a future based on the notion that, today, now, the corporations win. Massive business entities made out of hundreds of different individual corporations handling the exploration, colonisation and habitation of spheres beyond Earth. I hope that doesn't sound too out there, given that SpaceX exists. How big a jump is it, really, to go from SpaceX to something like...

So if one single company colonises a planetoid, builds all the homes there, makes it breathable, makes it habitable - is there still going to be a monopolies commission to make them let other corporate interests take root in the soil that they themselves made fertile?

Given how the world is going, I daresay that the law against monopolies will be left on Earth.

So this business ends up basically owning this entire planetoid, be it a moon, a large asteroid, an actual planet, whatever. And it can either let other businesses in, or it can it its damn self.

Lets say that the company that ends up owning Titan is Nestle. I'm sure you have all seen this rather scary image.

Now this is just food and drink items, but it shows what a spread of products each of these individual large businesses has under their purview.

So lets say Titan needs places to live. Good news, one of the subdivided companies actually has a wing that deals entirely with housing. The people that live there need places to eat and shop, which is good, because another subdivision has both a chain of stores and a chain of bars and fast food restaurants.

These people need to work, though - and only so many of them are needed to actually "service" everyone else. Which is great, because Titan has plenty of natural resources to exploit, and there's plenty of business opportunities! ... for the processing and manufacture divisions of the company.

Who gets to tell them no? Who goes out into the solar system and rocks up to every single settled planetoid and demands that the company that literally built everything on it needs to let in competition?

The company gets to be the law, here. Gets to be the judge and jury. And one might assume that the way a business gets to be the one to settle, say, Titan is by a bidding system. That the colonisation rights would be put out to tender, and whoever can afford / make the best case for the rights, gets them.

So you, the normal person, some fifty generations after settling - you have grown up knowing nothing but the company. You've only ever lived, eaten, breathed, worked around company territory. You pay them rent out of the pay they give you for the work you put in. And whatever central government exists doesn't have to care about you, because you are the sole responsibility of the company that bought Titan.

Or Analog Incorporated, the company that bought the civic rights to Corpus VIII's second moon. Auroch, a moon with an atmosphere that is breathable and survivable but that has no magnetosphere and can't shield you from very rapid death from solar radiation. You can't go out by day - which is okay because a significant amount of time is spent in eclipse behind Corpus VIII, a gas giant.

The company doesn't have to pay for street lights. It has its own logos to light your way.

Welcome to the setting of my NaNo, 2018.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

The Work Of Being A Wallflower

Those eagle-eyed amongst you may realise that I am an introvert, as outright stated in this blog here about privatising and monetising the capacity for solitude.

I didn't know that about myself for a long time - or maybe I didn't have the language to articulate it, or maybe I wasn't aware of it as a simple personality trait as opposed to actual mental illness.

The thing about being an introvert - about not necessarily always enjoying being around other people, needing time away to recharge, valuing privacy - is that whenever we show up in a TV show or a movie, we're very rarely the protagonist.

This is all personal experience, obviously - the sample size is one, just me, and all the media I enjoyed as a kid. But then this is a personal blog, so I guess we can deal with that, right?

So I will perhaps reach out to my reader at this point. Cast your mind back (some further back than others) to when you were a mere youth, think about the cartoons, TV series, movies, books, and comics that you enjoyed, and think about how many of them featured - as a main character - someone who you now on reflection recognise as an introvert.

I mean - I can see why, right? Because a show or story is about the character interacting with people, and if you have the character dislike doing that or find it draining then it is hard to make them come across as sympathetic, so someone like Dexter from Dexter's Laboratory doesn't come across as an introvert. He comes across as an asshole - which in and of itself is part of the problem.

Not wanting to attend a social function or go out with your friends or be around people or entertain company was, twenty years ago, not considered an okay thing.

Standard child development includes the monitoring of their social skills. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily - I have interacted with enough people who aren't just awkward but lack significant social skills, skills which the rest of the world assume everyone has. What it does do, however, is normalise a specific way of approaching the world around you, and if you don't do it that way - well, you get labelled as one of the weird ones.

The thing is I don't think everyone is either an introvert or an extrovert all the time. I think sometimes people become more extroverted under certain circumstances - mostly needing time by themselves but having weekends filled with partying for example.

In my head, everyone sits on a scale.

You can probably work out what the I and the E mean.

Now, tests like the ridiculous Myers-Briggs - which is some kind of ludicrous scam based on the work of a racial supremacist - will tell you what personality type you are, and insist that it is literally what you are. You will never change. Not daily, not weekly, not once in your life. In fact, Myers-Briggs (I have to fight the urge to spit whenever I type this) states that if you ever take the test twice and get a different answer, it's your fault, not the test. Because nobody ever changes, ever.

Whereas I think that most people sit in a region like this:

Straddling the middle ground, sometimes enjoying being around other people, sometimes needing not to. After all, we feel differently toward company depending on if we're in a Monday morning meeting at work or on the way to our local on an early Friday afternoon off, right?

Whereas this is kind of where I see my own personal little scale:

It's very easy for me to run out of social spoons. The likelihood of that happening increases depending on how well I know the people around me, how drunk or altered they are, topics of conversation, so on.

Now, working in customer satisfaction and workplace performance as I do, there's a certain set of behavioural standards that a lot of companies wish their employees to uphold. Some of these are pretty basic - acknowledge that your customer exists, don't be sexist or racist at them, charge them the right price for the service requested.

Some of it, however, is the kind of thing that would weird me out in a social setting.

Eye contact, for example. Maybe this is the social anxiety speaking but it can be a very awkward and intimidating thing for it to be maintained constantly. We at work have had debates as to how much eye contact is too much.

Another thing - conversation, making small talk. I am hilariously bad at small talk. The idea of someone working somewhere being encouraged, if not slightly forced, to make small talk with me is not something I particularly relish. Now, sure, some people enjoy a good chat - but not me. I'm just here to get my stuff and get out, like a gremlin scurrying around an abandoned diner.

The thing is - I am far more likely to be put off by someone being way too full on and trying too hard, than I am by someone being quiet and socially awkward. I get the impression that it isn't really a thing companies see as a problem. Salesperson patter is such a common trope that I remember my dad describing people who were too overtly friendly as being like used car salesmen.

The world isn't built for us. The world is built for those comfortable with demanding room in it, and we... aren't, really. We want to lurk around the corners, hang out in the kitchen with the cat, sit outside and get some air, head home before anything gets too crazy.

But now, at least, we know that is just who we are. We're not broken, we're not faulty. We're just... us. We just need a breather sometimes, and that's okay. We like being alone, and when we spend time with others, it's time we want to spend. It's valuable. If your significant other is an introvert, I hope you feel a little bit lucky - it's like a cat picking a human.

You never know. Maybe one day, it'll feel like a level playing field.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Upon A Fearful Summons

I talk about insecurity an awful lot; how central it is to our basic psychology and our lives in general is a hill I would die on daily. It isn't the whole story, obviously - and today I'm going to talk about another one of those needling driving forces.


Now, guilt means two things. The first meaning is that someone is culpable for an act, that they committed an offence. That's not the guilt that we are talking about.

Guilt is a feeling.
No disease of the imagination is so difficult to cure, as that which is complicated with the dread of guilt. - E. M. Forster
Who hasn't felt guilty over something? Something they have done that they think they shouldn't have, something they haven't done that they should have? It's almost unthinkable that someone could go through life and not feel it at least once, right?

Do we feel it for the right reasons?

That's an entirely different kettle of fish, right there.

See, it's good that if we do something that is actually wrong, that we should - afterwards - realise it was wrong. If we literally hurt someone or inconvenience someone, for no good reason, then we should feel bad about that. It's how we know we are good people. In fact, even if we have done the bad thing for a good reason, we should feel it. It keeps us grounded. It reminds us of the consequences, and that even though - for a very basic comparison - we have saved one hundred lives, we shouldn't diminish the severity of sacrificing one life to do so.

The problem is, we aren't rational beings at heart - and we aren't necessarily good at sorting and filing the emotions we feel.

Hands up if you feel guilty for wronging someone that has forgiven you.

Should the forgiveness of the other party absolve you from guilt? You might think so - but we all have different levels of acceptance, for actions that we feel can be forgivable. It varies from person to person, too. I would forgive in a heartbeat accidental attacks against my person from people I know and trust, far faster than I would forgive even more minor infractions from people in the street.

What it comes down to, though - guilt is only slightly assuaged by the forgiveness of the second party.

Guilt is only assuaged truly by forgiveness of ourselves.
That deed which in our guilt we today call weakness, will appear tomorrow as an essential link in the complete chain of Man. - Khalil Gibran
In my eyes, how willing we are to forgive ourselves isn't connected to the actual severity of the action in question, because we are awful at being objective in terms of judging ourselves.

This is going to get deeply personal right now, so fair warning.

I feel guilty about not being as healthy as everyone around me.

Not just the fat thing (which I talked about in a previous blog). The constant pain and the lack of lung capacity from my other badness makes me something of a broken toy soldier at the best of times, so I just can't necessarily take part in things that I used to take for granted.

This means that people often have to take me into consideration when we do things as a group, and that not only tweaks my anxiety off the scale, it also makes me feel guilty for inconveniencing them - even if I can't actually magically cure my rheumatoid arthritis and pulmonary fibrosis, and even if they assure me (and trust me, I believe them!) when they say it isn't actually a problem.

I nonetheless feel guilty over this thing I have done wrong, this hardship I have inflicted on others. Which is, yes, logically speaking absolutely ridiculous.

The thing is that logic has nothing to do with it, obviously; it's just the way that we are wired, which begins at an early age, continues throughout our lives, and has little bearing on reality. We don't live in a society which fully accepts the weaknesses and frailties of others - not yet, anyway. We still have this very British, very ridiculous Stiff Upper Lip mentality, which was primarily set up as a way to - funnily enough - assuage guilt.

The Stoics loved this - loved the idea that if you just tell yourself you aren't affected by the thing, that if you bear with it and just put up with it, then everything will be fine. And let's just say that, in British society, at various points in our history - there's been times when it was quite, quite useful for the social status quo to be against grumbling or discontent.

It is still a huge part of our society. Workplaces treat their employees like shit because the workers are of a culture and a mindset wherein they just, you know, put up with it. Our politics has been rife with austerity measures and literally punishing people who are sick or poor because everyone is expected to just, you know, put up with it.

And the moment that we "cause a fuss", the moment that we stick our heads over the parapet and say, actually, that ISN'T legal, that ISN'T in my job contract, that ISN'T a thing you should be doing - we feel guilty. Because we're bucking expectation, we're rubbing against the conditioning of the society we have lived in since we were born and the social pressures of everyone we know. Or almost everyone.

Which is, I think, the only reason why the current status quo continues today.
The soul must accept guilt in order to destroy existing evil, lest it incur the greater guilt of idyllic withdrawal, of seeming to be good by putting up with wrong. - Ernst Bloch
See, it's a big motivator - nobody likes feeling guilty. It's a significant drain on our mental health and our well-being, and contributes to stress in a big way. So of course, it gets used as a manipulative tool.

Unfortunately, one of the first places we come across it is in childhood - usually directed at us from a parent or guardian, to try and make us behave. It sticks with you. It's why it is effective even later in life, long after it was necessary to cajole us into behaving in a "civil" fashion. Manipulators will use guilt to try and make us do what they want us to do, regardless of how it makes us feel or if its the right thing to do. Both on a personal scale, and on a national one.

Our insecurity leads us by the nose, and that isn't a good thing. Our guilt leads us, too - perhaps not as often but just as surely. We feel guilt for action and inaction, and we let it guide us without questioning it, without fighting it. How can we stop it from leading us into misery?

Put simply, as I said earlier, we have to forgive ourselves.

We need to show ourselves the same kind of love and understanding that we show those we love and care about the most. We need to be capable of empathising with ourselves. We need to take a look at ourselves and express understanding - we know why we did the thing we did, we know that it upsets us, we shouldn't push ourselves too hard. We made the wrong decision, so we should fix it, but punishing ourselves for it won't help. We were put on the spot and went one way when we should have gone another. We should try and soften the impact, but we shouldn't simply languish in how bad we feel about what we did.

Guilt warns us, reminds us that we're still moralistic creatures. It's the doing, though - it's the fixing, the understanding, the refusing to do evil - that really matters.

And as much as guilt may cut us, there is a certain warmth, a certain comfort, in the words:

At Least I Tried.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Adventures In Albums

So you know that I like my music and I like my tabletop roleplaying games, right?

Well I got asked a very interesting question by my buddy the other day:

(Pardon the rubbish screenshot.)

And my response, at first, was just one word:


But then I really got thinking about it.

See, concept albums are cheating, sort of. Like Dream Theater's "The Astonishing" and Nine Inch Nails' "Year Zero" (the latter is only vaguely a concept album, but concept enough). They already have a story, a shared world, a contiguous thematic running through every song. They already proceed at pace through a narrative. Likewise Dream Theater's "Metropolis Pt2: Scenes From A Memory," itself a sequel to a song on a previous album - and likewise a large swathe of Coheed & Cambria's output, Rush's "2112", Daft Punk's "Discovery", Fear Factory's "Demanufacture". All of these albums tell a story, and putting together a roleplaying campaign from an existing story isn't all that challenging.

Of course, you do come across the difficulties in terms of wanting the campaign to be accepting of player choice - you don't want to railroad them too hard, because that gets pretty tedious. Take it from a player who has been railroaded a fair amount. You end up either slumping into inactivity just to let the game play out its course, or you fight desperately against the rails - neither of which are ideal.

So maybe it is easier to take an album that doesn't already have a story, and tie the disparate songs there into a singular narrative befitting a campaign.

Now, you'd have to pick a game based on the album, too. If you primarily play Dungeons & Dragons, then putting together an album based on the bleak audio soundscape of Burial is going to be difficult. Likewise, playing a gritty game of Cyberpunk 2020 to the wizard-based brilliance of Uriah Heep is going to be tonally awkward.

You also want an album that has sufficient breadth for a variety of scenarios to occur. I mentioned Burial? Well if you want your campaign to have a victory parade or any kind of fanfare or ceremony, then you are not going to find it in Burial's back catalogue. That's not a criticism. I love a bit of Burial. I just know the sounds he creates.

So I mean, there's a way to put this theory to test - it's actually doing it.

Let's hammer it down. Let's pick an album.

And I pick an absolute stomper, that I have loved since the first time I heard a single track from it. The record that brought Metallica into the limelight, that taught James Hetfield how to sing and reminded the world that metal existed. The eponymous album, Metallica, also known as The Black Album.

What game goes with this particular epic?

Well with songs like Of Wolf And Man, The God That Failed and Holier Than Thou, some kind of setting with monsters and religion is necessary, but beyond that - we have an open playing field. So let's go with D&D or Pathfinder. (My folks tend to play Pathfinder but I know D&D has a big PR campaign right now.)

We start with, not a setup of the locale or anything, but dreams - and every single one of the player characters is having an awful nightmare. Truly awful. None of this "you're naked in class" bullshit. No. Truly awful. (Enter Sandman)

The characters wake up. It's been the third straight week of awful nightmares in this city, and things are getting desperate. Some people are doing terrible things just for relief, just to get some sleep - things that the local Theocracy simply can't abide, so the adventurers are tasked with putting an end to a particularly troubling incident wherein a man claims the nightmares are possessing him. (Sad But True)

Then a traveller comes into the town. They approach the priesthood of the Theocracy at the same time as the party are being debriefed about the man's reported possession. The wanderer claims that she knows why everyone is having nightmares, and that there is an evil that needs to be dealt with. The Theocracy, of course, throws this out as nonsense - though they clearly know something. (Holier Than Thou)

The party is dismissed. So is the stranger. That night, the stranger visits them and tells them to leave. The people in this town won't survive the predation of the creatures feasting on their nightmares. They are too tied up in their hollow Theocracy and their little lives. They all retire for the night, probably after some philosophical or moralistic banter - and in the morning, the stranger is dead in their bed. And the party are arrested for the crime of his murder. Cast out of the town in banishment. (The Unforgiven)

So they leave. They have to travel a long way, because the town is way out in the desert - it's a long way to the nearest settlement that they haven't been banished from. In this time they run into some evil creatures that attack them - though these creatures are wide-eyed and painfully slender, obviously having not rested or fed properly in a while. (Wherever I May Roam)

The adventurers reach the next settlement - which is militarising. Mercenaries roll in every day, following the crusaders that arrived last week. After some potential initial aggression, the party becomes aware that the crusaders are here to purge whatever evil is giving the entire continent nightmares - an evil located in the town they just left. If they give away where they just came from, they get asked a lot of questions, but it becomes obvious - soon, the crusaders are marching to war. (Don't Tread On Me)

The adventurers are offered... well, a fairly exorbitant sum to march with the crusaders - and if that doesn't entice them, then maybe there can be other ways to convince them to go along. They are about to depart when the town is attacked - by demons, led by a half-demonic werewolf whose bearing and manner is strangely familiar. It is during the battle that the party are made to face their own worst nightmares, brought back from the very beginning session. They have to fight their deepest fears made flesh. (Through The Never)

When the dust clears, many of the crusaders - and mercenaries, and innocent townsfolk - are dead. It is time to lick wounds, count cost, and really look one's selves in the eye. Decide what they want to do. Decide if they can let this evil continue. Hopefully - they cannot. So they saddle up with the remaining crusaders to go put an end to this nightmare menace. (Nothing Else Matters)

It is partway to the quiescent town that the campaign started in that they are ambushed, yet again, by the werewolf - and during the ensuing fight, in which he singles out the party, he brags that his master cannot be stopped. The prophecy is nigh at hand and the entirety of (insert name of region here) will drown in their own nightmares, and his lord will come forth and feast on them! It was so easy for him to conceal himself in this town! To adopt the mantle of a pious priest, to turn the other priests to his way of thinking! So easy for such an alpha predator! ...the party kill him, obviously. (Of Wolf And Man)

Upon reaching the town again, they find it closed for business. Significant numbers of the townsfolk are missing, or malnourished and lethargic. The priests of the Theocracy wander the streets, wailing in despair and yelling snatched fragments of their holy texts. They speak of the thing that lurks in the darkness of their chapel now, of how they cannot sleep because they know it feeds from their nightmares. Some are crazed enough to attack the party - they have lost their faith, they have seen the promises of their god (delivered through the high priest of the Theocracy, now a dead werewolf) come to nothing, they have lost everything. (The God That Failed)

There it is - the temple. The party has the chance to rest up before they make entry. Upon kicking in the doors they find themselves facing down some minor demons, but their real enemy is the crushing waves of negative feeling flooding the chapel. Anguish, hopelessness, hatred, fury, despair, misery. That's the worst thing - crushing misery. It makes what should be an easy fight that much harder, as they fight their way into the catacombs. (My Friend Of Misery)

The final battle looms. The party enter the catacombs - and find a shadow. Nothing but a shadow, that welcomes them with waves of nausea, self-loathing, more misery. As they reel against this assault they notice the shadow split into multiple shapes, with glowing red eyes, forming - yes, it's the trope - copies of the party themselves. The DM should have, by this point, worked out their standard tactics. Turn their own tactics against them and see if they can work out how to defeat themselves! (The Struggle Within)

If they lose, then the shadow absorbs them... and moves on to absorbing all of (insert name of region here). But if they succeed - then a true evil has been defeated. A dark force responsible for nothing but misery and anguish. And as the town and the crusaders alike herald the party as heroes, everyone knows they are going to get some sleep soon.

And there you have it. A campaign from an album.

That was kinda fun, actually.

So, in reply, Pat: yes, yes you absolutely could.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Bit By The Music Bug

So in the past couple of weeks, there are several songs that have absolutely sunk their hooks into me and just not let go.

I thought I'd share them with you, let you listen to them, let you decide what you think about them. They will, at least, be an insight into the way my brain works at any given time.

So in no particular order.

Rag'n Bone Man - Good Grief (Bastille Cover)

His... Voice...

Just how can you not love that voice? It's beautiful. Absolutely heartbreaking. And as much as I like the Bastille original, this is so much better. It feels the way it is meant to feel. It feels like loss. Real loss. Bittersweet but total.

The album he put out - the most recent one, with Human on it - to me, that felt a lot like the kind of albums people put out when they first win talent shows. The albums usually produced and written by SyCo or whoever. They don't feel like the work of the artist, they feel too tailored for market, too polished, too impersonal.

This, and the song Wolves by the same, feel like the REAL him.

Bury Tomorrow - Black Flame

Introduced to me by Thew, aka ToyGrind - best UK Transformers youtube metal beard man, even if he is a little Skywarp-centric for my tastes - this song is just... brutal.

Again, the voice is absolutely phenomenal. Voices. Daniel Winter-Bates on the scream and Jason Cameron on the clean. It's technical and delicious, and tells a bleak, savage story of murder and betrayal. I hear this song in my gut and in my heart.

Yeah, I'm into the angry stuff a lot of the time.

(If you check Thew out tell him SteelAngelJohn sent you.)

Childish Gambino - Feels Like Summer

You ever listen to a song and it just feels like a sunny day? Like the tarmac is boiling and the sun is beating down on you like a hammer? Like Smokey Robinson's Cruisin, like Etta James' At Last?

Donald Glover's vocals here are pristine, drifting into the ear like a dream. The video itself is beautiful, but we're not here for that - we're here for what listening to this song does to us. And it takes us on this long walk through the neighbourhood on a baking hot afternoon, with people everywhere just enjoying the good weather.

Then we listen a little deeper. We listen to the concern of a world moving too fast, to the knowledge that things are not right and aren't necessarily getting better. There's no solutions, here. We're too busy staying upright to fix the fact that the world is tilted.

At least the sun is shining.

Coheed & Cambria - Here To Mars

Listen to those lyrics - yeah, those vocals again, what can I say, I am weak for a good vocalist - and tell me that this isn't true love.

Just so well written, so well played. Coheed are on point, as always. The lyricism, the story inherent in the song, just impacts me right in the gut. It rings in the soul like a bell. It is pure and undiluted and erupts from the throat like a promise. It feels real. So, so real.

Of course, when you realise that Coheed & Cambria do almost exclusively concept albums that form a continuous story and that this song is part of it...

And as a bonus, there is a gorgeous acoustic version played with the National Symphonic Orchestra. And it is likewise just as beautiful. Do yourself a favour.

Bugzy Malone - Run (ft Rag'n Bone Man)

I realise that grime is an acquired taste that not a lot of people I know have acquired. This track, though - like at least fifty per cent because of Rag'n Bone Man's sublime vocals on the chorus, and forty per cent because of the beautiful production of the strings in the instrumental - transcends the genre Bugzy Malone generally delivers to.

They say that when an artist talks about a thing they know, that is when they deliver a transcendent piece of music. James Taylor is great, sure - but the most soul-searingly real song he has ever sung (or wrote in my opinion, despite being an incredibly prolific songwriter) was Fire And Rain. Biographical. Tapping into a thing the artist truly knows, truly feels. Right here we have the same thing, this song is damn near biographical as I understand it.

What a voice, though. Yeah I had to say it.

Hozier - Nina Cried Power (ft Mavis Staples)

Voice, again. I know.

But look. Okay. This song is about protest. This song is about speaking truth to power and being uncompromising about that fact. It's about the spirit behind the songs you sing. It's not the song, it is the singing. It's not the wall, but what's behind it. It's not the waking, it's the rising.

It, like a lot of his songs, honestly feels like he closes his eyes and lets a divine power reach into him and write the songs for him. He's a fantastic songwriter, and he has exquisite skill and consummate capability in delivering those songs vocally. To the point that I believe the singers that he names in this song would be proud of the voice he uses to pay them tribute.

Say what you want about Take Me To Church, this song should be what defines the man.

Panic! At The Disco - Dancing's Not A Crime

Yeah, this one kinda took me by surprise too?

Two of my coworkers are chatting about a song, I casually enquire as to which song they are referring to, and are told - this one. So I decide to pop it on while I take care of some morning tasks.

And I get this huge, idiotic grin on my face, that just doesn't go away.

Yes, it's poppy, very poppy - lots of production going on here, though you can't hide Brendon Urie's vocal talents behind it all. It doesn't say anything deeply important or proffound. It doesn't solve any philosophical conundrums. Do you know what it does do? It makes me want to clap, and it makes me want to dance.

Just like Janelle Monae's Americans. Just like White Denim's Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah). Just like the Amy Winehouse version of Valerie. There is a talent, a real skill required to produce a song like that. A song with vocals clean as cut glass that slide through the scale like Fred Astaire on a dance floor, songs that make you smile because not smiling isn't really a fucking option right now, that make you vibrate with positivity. That takes work, and it's work that Stint - the producer and co-writer - put his heart and soul into.

In the past 48 hours I have listened to this song 30 times and I am not bored of it. I swear.

And his vocals are superb YES I SAID IT

So there's a rundown of what is in my current circulation. You never know, you might find something in there you didn't already know you liked. I hope, with the arrogance of a man with a beard and expensive headphones, that I have at least introduced you to a song that you appreciate.

Stay tuned, folks. The blogs might not always be about music, but I am, and I'm the one writing them.