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Sunday, 26 April 2020

A Survivor Unclouded By Conscience

Today is Alien day; in the US, it's 4/26. As in LV-426, also known as Acheron, the ill-fated world that held Hadley's Hope colony.

So, today is the day that I choose to engage in the movie marathon. Running in chronological order, starting with Prometheus.

If I get as far as Alien 3, I'll be happy enough - Alien Resurrection isn't on deck for today. Maybe next week I will go into why I like that one the least.

What can I even say about the xenomorph that I haven't said before? It's beautiful in terms of how horrible it is. It's designed that way, and designed well.

It is unsettling - desperately unsettling. Its design and general body shape is close enough to human, but then takes several sharp left turns. The length of the head. The tail. The tentacle breathing tube things on its back. The way it moves around, which in the original 1979 classic was portrayed expertly by Bolaji Badejo, an artist and graphic designer who stood 6' 10" and could move like a monster. That secondary mouth - that horrible, awful secondary mouth.

You know what the worst thing is, though? I think?

No eyes.

You don't know how it hunts. You don't know how it sees you - but you know that it does. You know, because it knows where you are. Seemingly at all times. You can't run. You can't hide. It will find you. Sooner or later. You may hear it coming, but probably not. You don't see it until it wants you to see it.

There's certain books and comics in the expanded media that imply that the species can detect fear. Not just the secondary effects of that fear, but actually simply sense it. Which is useful if you are this kind of ultra-predator.

It is pure lethality. It is a distilled nightmare, the end result of both creation and evolution - first one and then the other and then the first one all over again. A pure killer.

One of the scariest things I had ever seen in my life, the first time I saw it, which was way younger than I really should have been. For a week I had nightmares - but then I stopped being afraid of the dark. I quite like it, now.

There was nothing quite like it, when it first came about in 1979. Then it was expanded in 1986 - because over and above the individual ant that caused so much damage on the Nostromo, we find the unity of the hive - and this hive has a queen. You thought the first one was bad? This one is smart. Maybe smarter than you. She can communicate mentally with her children, and she needs you to be their food as well as their crib.

The queen of Hell.

And why does this evil object exist? Why does this ultra-predator plague the universe? Why, specifically, does this branch of the hydra-like potential of the Engineer's black bioweapon plague humanity?

Because of Peter fucking Weyland and his stupid fucking quest to be a god, and the synthetic madman that he made to get him there.

Literally, a manifestation of our hubris and our greed, over and over again.


Happy Alien Day.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Heartwarming - But A Warning

I've spoken about charity before now, right over here. tl;dr - I argued that, if a government could be trusted, that centralised charity fundraising and spending would be better than 166,000 charities that currently exist in the UK. That was back in November 2018.

Who could have known that, just over a year later, the beginnings of a pandemic that would literally redefine all of our lives would begin in another part of the world?

I digress, we'll come back to that.

This is Captain Tom Moore.

He was born on 30th April 1920, in Keighley in Yorkshire. That's near Bradford - I'd been through there myself in my college days, I think. He went through officer training school, fought in the Second World War as part of the 145th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps and - later - the 146th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps. After the war, he became an instructor at the Armoured Fighting Vehicle School at Bovington - yes, where the Tank Museum is now (and also Monkey World). He was awarded several medals, including the Burma Star, and he used to race motorbikes.

That probably isn't what most of you know this chap for, though.

Let me get you a more recent picture.

Captain Tom is currently raising funds for the NHS; he is walking the length of his garden - 25 meters - a hundred times before his hundredth birthday, which as of the writing of this blog will be in a week and a half. Having actually hit his goal, he says he will keep going, to raise further funds for the NHS.

Not that he has done terribly badly in terms of what he has raised already, literally at time of typing.

Yes, that is damn near £26 million. Quite a feat, for a man of 99 years of age, and a heartwarming and timely reminder that the people of this country are a giving and kind people, for the most part. You can hear it, every Thursday evening, if you listen: people applauding the workers of the NHS, for putting themselves at risk constantly, to save the rest of us.


Why does a man who is almost a hundred years old have to walk over two and a half kilometres - that's a mile and a half in old money - to help fund our National Health Service?

See, I understand. We see what this guy is doing and it is a selfless and beautiful and courageous thing. He is doing something for the national good, and achieving something; but he is doing it because a need has been created and he is answering that need.

That need has been created by mismanagement and malice.

Look at your last payslip.

You should see an entry on there for National Insurance Contributions. Now, below a certain threshold, you don't pay anything toward it. Above a certain threshold, you pay a percentage on the amount you earn above that threshold. It's a somewhat progressive tax in terms of rate, though I would argue far more progressive in what it provides. Employers pay a contribution to National Insurance as well, which is frankly very smart - if your workforce has access to healthcare, you have a healthier workforce. Shepherds tending their flocks, hmm?

In 2018/2019, NI Contributions totalled around £136 billion. For scale - the NHS budget for 2017/2018 was £124 billion, out of a total of £808 billion spent by the government that year.

And yet, the NHS is underfunded. It isn't sufficiently resourced to provide the service it is expected to. In 2017, Chris Hopson - the chief exec of NHS Providers - stated plainly that, while funding had increased by 1.3%, demand had increased by 5%. Calls for further funding have been repeatedly made since 2010, and obviously, totally ignored.

Even when it is made patently obvious that changes need to be made, that improvements must be made, in order to prevent something awful happening. Like Exercise Cygnus in 2016, which wasn't widely reported on at the time, but that you can read about here. Spoilers - not good. I'll come back to that.

The NHS is not ring-fenced away from cuts to front-line services, which have been a feature of governmental policy for a decade. It is under constant pressure to reduce costs, to operate within a restricted budget put upon it by outside, while dealing with an increased need for its services. It was being set up to fail long before now.

Why would that be the case?

Well, the list of former and current MPs that have ties to private healthcare include - but are not limited to - Boris Johnson (current Prime Minister), David Cameron (former Prime Minister), Matt Hancock (current Health Secretary), Jeremy Hunt (former Health Secretary), Andrew Lansley (also former Health Secretary), Gavin Williamson (Education Secretary), Sajid Javid (former Chancellor of the Exchequer), Jacob Rees-Mogg ("Leader" of the House of Commons), to name but a few.

Before the pandemic ever hit, our government was stacked with individuals who had the means to make the NHS fail and were receiving money or had literal business ties to groups that would profit from that happening. Here's some sources on that, here, and here.

Not ideal. Especially when they frame that deliberate reduction in funding as "giving hard-working people back some money," as Sajid Javid did here, while he was still Chancellor.

Now, what was it I was saying about Exercise Cygnus? Oh, right - the results of it were supressed because it went so badly, and have only started to come out now as the current pandemic really starts to hit home.

The strategy to counter a pandemic wasn't implemented. It was clear from the exercise that we would need more ventilators. So obviously the government didn't accept the EU's invitation to their own ventilator programme - there was some kind of communication error, apparently, and it definitely wasn't deliberate because to go cap-in-hand to the EU would make them look like idiots - and instead went to James Dyson, Brexiteer who recently started moving his operations into the EU. That isn't going very well, really. So. Everything that you would expect.

The NHS was already deliberately starved and depleted. It was already hurting, before Covid-19 reared its head. Our government's response was too slow - way too slow - and frankly absolutely callous. A combination of mismanagement and malice, as previously stated.

That is why Captain Tom has walked so far; that is why he has raised so much.

Do not forget.

Yes: it is heartwarming. Yes: it is brave. Yes: it is kind. But it is happening because of deliberate actions, undertaken by individuals who had the power to respond to this crisis long before it actually bit down.

Later, they will attempt to control the narrative.

Once it is over - once we are allowed out of our homes, and we are hugging in the street, and relieved it is over, and that the bodies aren't piling up any more - it will begin. The gaslighting. The spin. The rhetoric.

You will, of course, have the people that say it wasn't as bad as everyone said it would be, and that we worried over nothing. Because the measures undertaken prevented the worst possible result, the worst possible result apparently couldn't have happened. We all know at least one person like this. They also think that Y2K never happened, not because of the countless hours of unforgiving work that people put in to prevent the emergency, but because it wasn't going to happen anyway. Basic ignorance, but what can you do. They aren't going to be the real issue.

The real issue will come from those who know that they made decisions that killed tens of thousands and put the rest of us at risk - to protect their ideology, to protect their investments, to push their agenda. To make the money happy. To look like they were right all along. To grab what they can and get out before the axe comes down.

They will point at people like Captain Tom, and at the many other charitable donations that are being made, and they will say, with a straight face and with totally soulless eyes: This proves that the NHS doesn't work. This proves that it must be replaced. They will hope to erase themselves as the source of erosion, and paint themselves as the saviours of the nation, by selling out our healthcare to private companies that have been lining their pockets for decades.

Be ready. It will happen. It is, in part, already happening: Matt Hancock, current Health Secretary, literally blaming NHS staff for the lack of PPE that it is his department's job to provide. Very quick to point a finger there, Matt. Why, what have you been doing? What magic trick will you seek to perform, to prove that you know better, to prove that you can do this job?

Oh, you made a little badge for the social care sector.

A badge that they actually have to buy. They have to pay money to wear this poxy little badge that you have made. No equipment, no allocation of funds for protective gear or respirators, no pay rises, no actual recognition, no help, no hope. Just a badge, that you are charging them to wear.

I think that says it all.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Some Casual Banter

Lacking any further inspiration I decided to do a casual ask of what people would want me to talk about - not a full blown Reader's Requests, but more of a... Pals Postulate?

I got some good ones.

The first one, though...

See I could have gone my entire life not knowing this existed. And then it was brought to my attention by the birthday boy - happy birthday Chris by the way - and now I have to acknowledge its existence, and so do you.

Thanks, r/crappyoffbrands - I guess.

Random Acts of Kindness :) - See, this is nice. This is real nice. Random acts of kindness are great. When the current state of the world is so cruel - and I am not looking at anyone in particular, but the government doesn't help (pick one, any one) - the kindness of strangers can be that little thing that makes your day. So a challenge for all my readers: be kind to someone you don't know in the next week. In a small way. Just try it. In whatever way you can, given our current pandemic scenario.

One thing that has made you happy (or smile) today. - This image of my villager in Animal Crossing surrounded by ill-gotten wealth.

Self isolation self care - Christ, uh. ...I don't know. the things you need to do, don't be too hard on yourself if you don't or can't. Be kind to yourself. That's the important thing. Try and do something each day that you want to. Don't beat on yourself because of the state of the world. It's not your fault, and it is going to affect your mental state. Specifically if you are tired and lacking a creative spark, that's a trauma response. You can't just "oh well bugger it" your way through that. Be kind to yourself.

Favorite piece(s) of escapist fiction. - I find myself going through and reading comics and books that I already know, at times. Like I'll go back and read Lovecraft or Rising Stars or similar. I like watching movies I am familiar with, too, or chortling through old MST3K episodes. Remember that cheesy movie from the 80s/90s that is awful but that you kind of like? Bang THAT on. I like stuff like Empire Records, or Blues Brothers. Something with good music is a must.

Gardening (my potatos just started sprouting!) - I am AWFUL at gardening, which is probably no end of shame to my mother. Physically incapable of engaging in it for more than two minutes at a time, I don't know my Gardenias from my Chrysanthemums, I could probably keep a cactus alive but that's only fifty fifty... but I'm glad you are having success! Especially with potato - one of my favourite things ever.

Concellation, how to get over con cancellation blues - ...see... I have difficulty with this because I find myself having to cancel so much myself. Have done for years. It sucks. I don't really have an answer for it; not a good one, anyway. In the end I had to dial back my expectations of things I could do, health and budget considering. Though the thing that I would probably comfort myself with, over the current crop of con cancels and event cancels and stuff - I could use the money I was spending on that to, when isolation has been over for a week or so, rent a house for a weekend with the people I was gonna see at Con and have a RIOTOUS party. This shit WILL end, and when it does, it's going to be so sweet.

Having more time on ones hands, but suffering even more lethargy while everyone else seems to be learning new skills or doing fabulous buildy things. - Ah, two fallacies to defeat here. One: Not everyone else is doing fabulous amazing things or learning stuff. Sure, some people are, but a lot of people aren't, and - honestly, some people are just like that. They always have something going on. Two: You aren't a worse person because you aren't doing that shit. Everyone is on low ebb and low energy right now. We as a nation - as a SPECIES - are currently undergoing a combination of anxiety and depression brought on by external factors. As someone that suffers from both of those on a daily basis and has done since for over two decades, not being able to learn Italian when you are afraid for the health of those you care about and crushed by the state of the world isn't a crime, it's normal. Focus on what makes you feel better and helps you cope, not what other people are doing.

Glad it's not just me - See above.

Isolation meme's - I haven't really kept on top of these but I will present a couple below that I liked.

"This Is Us", An Article In The Washington Post - Yeah. Like I read this and just nodded the entire way through. I am very privileged insofar as my mixed race hasn't led to any actual problems in my life, really. But this is just... yeah. Accurate.

Favourite toy lines and when they bringing em back - Gawd. M.A.S.K., Jayce & The Wheeled Warriors, Centurions, Starcom, Transformers - all of those NEED bringing back, aside from Transformers, which only had a lull and never really went away. The current line is frankly amazing compared to G1.

Question people lack of commitment to Sparkle Motion. -

What is it about your 20's that screams, ' itll never happen to me/mine"? - Hate to say it but that isn't a 20s thing, that is a people thing. It's across the entire generational spectrum, even if it is mostly prevalent in your childhood years and bleeds out when you hit your mid-20s (because by then it HAS happened to you or yours). The majority of people fucking about in this current climate of nonsense are certainly old enough to know better. Most of the 20 year olds have been told they are essential and forced to risk their lives with no pay rise or protective equipment. They are keenly aware it may happen to them. They just don't get a choice - it is that or be made homeless and starve.

Isolation.... People who live alone in isolation.... How to cope and not go mental in isolation... - I count myself lucky insofar as I cope with being alone really well - I like my own company. I know other people that aren't so lucky. I don't really know the answer to this, aside from trying to make sure you stay in electronic contact with the people that you can. I know it isn't much, but it's way too easy to slip into not doing that, too, so keep it up. Voice-call people that you know would be okay with talking. Play games with folks. Download Virtual Tabletop, pay cards with folks. That's about all I got... oh, and listen to music literally as much as you can.

Best ways to represent passage of time in movies/series. - Okay, there's a lot of good entries for this one. But for propriety, I am picking Red Dwarf, Season 5, Episode 4...  Quarantine. When Lister is marking up the days on the chart, and turns around, with a fucking great black eye, looking awful. That's all of us right now.

Something light maybe - a list of the cutest baby animals?? The best reasons for day drinking? Ways to show you love someone? Most uplifting music of the last 3 decades? - The cutest baby animal is a Skunk, there is no contest, though raccoons and pigs are close. The best reason for day drinking is the song Never Forget You by the Noisettes. Lots of way to show someone you love them, all sorts of kinds of ways - touches, words, sharing music, gifts, thoughtfulness. All sorts of ways. The most uplifting music of the last 3 decades is a hard one but have some Hozier, because this song is amazing.

Eddie vs Thor - I think that given who asked me this, this is the Eddie vs Thor that you are talking about. But instead I am going to deal with Eddie Brock vs Thor, God Of Thunder. Thor wins that fight because Eddie Brock is a journalist and Thor is the God Of Thunder.

And now a personal statement.

My people. We can get through this. I know it sucks, right now. It does. But we can do this, and there might just be a better place waiting for us afterwards.

If any of you need me, drop me one. I'm here.

...also if any of your friends have patreons or kofi accounts or are selling art, take them up on it. We're all hurting right now.

Yes, that was a cheap plug.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday, 5 April 2020

We Manufacture Those, By The Way

If there's one thing the movies of the late seventies through early nineties taught us - especially sci fi and horror movies - it's that we know exactly where humanity's enemies live.

No, not this one.

"But John," I hear you cry. I hear you because we're in space, and everyone can hear you scream. "But John. The bad guy in this movie is the aliens! Or the people that made the aliens! Or Ian Holm! Or humanity itself!"

A likely story.

So a little background. This is stuff that, if you like the Alien movies but you don't like Prometheus, you might have missed - but it quite cleverly frames how the entire universe came to be the way it did, and why things are done the way they are done.

This is Peter Weyland.

Yes, I am using his old-man picture, rather than the dashing flashbacks we are treated to in the TedTalk spinoff video and in the beginning of Alien Covenant.

So - we all remember the beginning of Alien, when the crew all wake up in those sleeping pods, blinking sleep out of their eyes, finding out where they are, how long they have been out. We remember Aliens, wherein Ripley's pod is discovered drifting in space, and she is all safe and secure inside.

Those sleepers exist because of Peter Weyland, because Peter Weyland had two wishes: 1) to live forever and 2) to meet the beings that made mankind. Literally, the technology was developed for him, and in part by him, to allow him to survive long enough to make this happen. This is because Peter Weyland - founder of Weyland Corporation - has a god complex, further shored up by him being obscenely wealthy.

He made his OWN life, obviously. The Weyland line of android synthetics, beginning with David. Why wouldn't a man believe he was god if he could create his very own servant underclass that was expected to be superior in skill and capability but inferior in power and importance?

And in part, Weyland's quest for those creators - that he fully believed existed - led to a colonisation program that spread mankind across the stars.

Of course we are perhaps more familiar with the merged company, Weyland-Yutani.

While the first AvP film features one of Peter Weyland's predecessors, the second (vastly inferior) AvP film features one Ms. Yutani, of Yutani Corporation - who takes possession of a piece of Predator technology. While the Alien vs Predator movies are of questionable quality, they do actually thread reasonably well into the canon of the rest of the movies (with the potential exception of Predator from 2018, which I haven't actually seen yet - perhaps I ought to change that tonight).

It can be inferred from the actions of the company during the movies that it is aware of both the Yautja (Predators) and the Xenomorphs by the time of the events of Alien. So it almost certainly knows just how dangerous interfering with beings like them can really be.

The company, of course, doesn't care.

In a world wherein you have multiple classes of people - and the Alien universe is one such universe, just look at how the shares are divided between the crew (half shares for the engineers, full shares for the people wearing uniform) - then one of the dynamics that comes about is risks taken being pushed downwards. It's why, when the stock market crashes, regular people suffer quite a lot. It's why, when a business goes under, the workers all get laid off and their pensions get raided, but the owner got to leave two weeks ago with a nice golden handshake.

If there's a catastrophic failure somewhere, it is always someone else putting in the work and taking the actual risk, so it will always be someone else that takes the fall.

So of course, Weyland-Yutani wants the creature. It wants everything it can get. Corporate culture has bred several layers of corporate individual who will do just about anything to gain a promotion or favour within the ranks, has been doing so since the mid-1980s. There's no end of individuals that will overlook the regulations, morals, laws, anything, in order to get a bigger cut of a pie - or a whole pie of their own.

There's always a Carter Burke.

Weyland-Yutani are the real bad guys. Without the immense hubris of Peter Weyland, none of this would have happened. Without a culture that we have cultivated as a society for almost forty years, shored up at every angle by individuals sympathetic to it and people defending it because it might one day profit them.

One of humanity's greatest enemies wears a suit, has an office, and talks about people dying as "collateral" and "PR".

Art imitates life.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.