Thursday, 30 December 2004

Too Few To Mention

Dan Savage in his Savage Love column over on The Onion AV Club is asked if he has any regrets:
I regret advising one reader back in July that a staple gun could solve the problem of condoms slipping off her boyfriend's cock during sex.

I can see how that might weigh on his conscience, yes.

Tuesday, 28 December 2004

Saying the Sayable

David Thomson is on fine form in his review of the year in film.

It's possibly revealing too much to say that I keep a copy of Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of Film next to the toilet and I read it when ever I get the chance. Its position means some of the longer entries can be a bit of a serial thing, but I've read just about all of them anyway in warmer, more comfortable places. I just like to pick an entry at random and find an opinion that, whether I agree with it or not, will always get me thinking.

This quality is very much in evidence in his new piece. Except that I can't find anything to disagree with and much that is perfectly expressed. For instance:
Oliver Stone's picture [Alexander] was maybe the worst joke of the year, along with the notion that audiences enjoy Colin Farrell.

Definitely the snappier version of my opinion that Farrell is a a chunk of anti-charisma actually sucking the enjoyment, black hole like, out of a performer such as Pacino or Sam Jackson, while not letting any hint that he himself actually has any talent escape.

Thomson is equally succinct on Micheal Moore:
I share the sentiments behind Michael Moore's film, but I cannot look at or listen to Moore without smelling the demagogue.

And the Oscar for Best Picture:
Best Picture, you understand, is not necessarily the best picture: it is a genre, the picture that does happily at the box office; which has size and production values, as well as a lofty subject; and which makes the Academy feel good about itself.

Wednesday, 22 December 2004


The Legendary Ron Gilbert is hosting a discussion on whether games make as much money as films over on his Grumpy Gamer. The general concensus is: Hell no! and Why are we even asking this?

Ron -- I hope I can call him Ron, he's left a comment on my site once so I feel we're more than acquaintances -- says he's hoping for the computer game equivalent of 70s movies to happen. Great. I'm looking forward to EA's Harold and Maude and seeing what America's newly envalued society does with it. Actually, though, I think computer games probably have to get through the thirties and forties first.

You can, I feel, think of everything up to the 90's in computer games as silent films and one-reelers from when the film industry was starting up and learning the grammar of film. Up until then one person could make a pretty complete game in their bedroom and then sell it to a publisher. A nascent studio system was already beginning, though, Sierra, EA, etc. This would probably make Monkey Island (Ron's legendary game) the equivalent of a Laurel & Hardy film -- Way Out West, say -- it's an amusing piece and there's a lot of effection for it from those who saw it when it was released or caught it in a revival, or on TV, at an impressionable age, but you can't help but feel it's from another era when things were done different.

Of course now there is a studio system and that system seems to be content to put out western after western or film noir or adventure story. Whatever the current fad. Ron seems to want the emergence of men of art to rescue games from the money men (before, to extend the metaphor, messing things up and putting money men in a much stronger position), but first, I think, it would be good to see Casablanca or Treasure of the Sierra Madre or, well, Bringing Up Baby. We need a Ford or a Hawks, perhaps just a Huston would do, to show what the medium is capable of while slyly playing with it's conventions.

And those conventions are hardening: FPS, RTS, Sports, Racing. That's about all you get. The last good Beat 'Em Up, for example, was probably Soul Calibur, and that was for the Dreamcast (SC II is really just a remix of that and can't count). Text adventures -- interactive fiction, if you must -- are an obscure branch of gaming that's kept remarkably heathly, but non-commercial, by a group of dedicated enthusiasts. Text input is difficult with a joypad, besides even the best of that old genre had its "hunt for the right phrase" problems. Puzzle games are only done in flash (check out for the best of last year) or for handhelds recently, it seems.

Of course, the occassional oddity appears now and then. This years ball of oddness is Katamari Damacy which has been getting great reviews. As far as I understand it the point of the game is to roll around and allow things to stick to you (which you can probably do in my apartment, but that's not really fun). That it's Japanese is probably a given, that the Japanese are so comfortable with wierder gaming ideas something that needs closer inspection. Carrying on the movie analogy, I'd guess this is Rashomon, rather than, say, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

What I'm saying is that, for all its sophistication, the games industry is still in its infancy. I don't think that it has explored what it is capable of and what people want (rather than what they will accept) with an any great detail, falling back on the same old tropes time and again, eventually rejecting those that the public get bored with, without having anything like the courage, or saftey, to challenge them with different genres or even, you know, the gaming equivalent of a musical.

Tuesday, 21 December 2004

Monday, 20 December 2004

Meaningless Landmark Celebrated

At some point his weekend I passed 500 visitors. I realise this would be more exciting if some non-trivial amount of those weren't actually me, but I'm happy enough.

I even got a couple of referrals from search-engines this week. Someone looking for the lyrics to "Looking for the Next Best Thing", which Yahoo kindly has me their number one result for (Google doesn't get to me for more than I'm willing to count, but roughly 350). As well as "Incredibles Liberal Superheroes", which Google has me down for at around the 90 mark, that I would makes a "Davids Lloyd Georges" joke about if I thought it made any sense.

Finally I get to my favourite: "Scrotum Locks". I've put the link to the Google for this, because I thought that that phrase could cover a number of things and most of them can be found there. Plus a lot more information than I ever needed to know about breeding Alpaca. Really.

Thursday, 16 December 2004

It's Lemon Entry My Dear Watson

The title of this post is the punchline to my favourite Sherlock Holmes joke (well, that and "No you bumbling fool! Some bastard's stolen our tent!") and what better way than to celebrate finding, via Boing Boing, a whole load of MP3's of Holmes radio plays?

They are provided by the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and are as complete as they can get them. Actors portraying Holmes and Watson include John Geilgud & Ralph Richardson and Basil Rathbone & Nigel Bruce. Orson Welles also has a go.

Wednesday, 15 December 2004

Blast From The Past

In a naked attempt to secure even more hits, Splinters, the weblog for Spike Magazine (not, I must add, a mag devoted to James Marsters and that's not how I found it), mention that they get the most number of hits from Googles for "cock". This gives them, and now me, a chance to link to their classic article "The Man Whose Penis Made Him Locally Famous", one of my all-time favourite stories and something I do no justice to by attempting to tell every six months, or so, down at the Irish pub.

Friday, 10 December 2004

Just What Rock Are These People Crawling Out From Under?

Well, it's probably the rock of a liberal and permissive society that the right, now justified because of Bush's "mandate", feel is cracking.

It would explain a couple of articles I've seen recently. One, linked to by Making Light[1] (who, as always, has some cogent remarks in it[1]) is an in interview in the Guardian with a would be book burier Gerald Allen, a man incensed by the possibility of students finding as positive portrayal of homosexuality in a school book. So incensed, in fact, that he feels comfortable recommending that you "Dig a hole and dump them in it". The books, of course.

This man should not be news, he should be living his life far the glare of any publicity obsessively handing-out poorly mimeographed pamphlets and furtively seeking out rent boys that will do that special thing for him, but it turns out he's invited to meet Bush this week. It looks to be a meeting of minds.

Of course, this is all to protect the children. However when liberal atheist scientists try to prevent children from being lied to by creationists Voltaire gets wheeled out for his "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" party piece. Jay Bryant's piece actually makes a very nice contrast to the Jamie Whyte article below. You should read that and then Jay's and see if you can number all the logical fallacies and the plain errors of fact that Jay commits. I think you'll be unpleasantly surprised.

There's some particularly egregious guilt by association going on:
Liberals still profess to believe in the marketplace of ideas if the marketer in question is, say Robert Mapplethorpe, Larry Flynt or Michael Moore.

See what he's done there? Larry Flint, of course, being a pornographer, has his reputation stretched to cover Mapplethorpe and Moore, and Moore takes quite the hit because, as Mapplethorpe has been accused of pornography, the suggestion is that Moore must be a pornographer too. That's quite the ad hominem attack.

Further down science itself is called into question. Quantum mechanics is wheeled out to cast doubt upon the whole scientific edifice. Einstein is invoked. See, he didn't understand quantum mechanics and thought it was bad. Einstein was the cleverest of all scientists and yet physicists accept quantum physic so something iffy must be going on. Which is the kind of blether put out by people who have difficulty comprehending classical physics, never mind an area of science that very few can claim to totally understand.

There's plenty that's wrong about Jay's examples of science in turmoil, but the main thing is this: Science is a process, it's way of finding out more about the world and building models to help understand it. Finding that there's a problem with the model in certain conditions and trying to find ways to correct that model doesn't mean that science is cast into doubt, it means that science is working.

Anyway, having cast doubt on science and liberals Jay goes in for the killer blow. A book published 8 years ago cast doubt on Darwin and Darwinism, liberal scientists didn't like this, therefore Darwinism is wrong and so are liberals.

Sometimes, I get all curmudgeonly about "begging the question" not meaning what it used to, and, if there was any need for the old meaning (a fallacy of reasoning committed when one assumes the truth of what one is attempting to prove in an argument), the last few paragraphs of Jay's article demand it's immediate reinstatement.

That's quite a journey, though, isn't it? We've gone from some scientist being upset that a book that is a load of old tosh[2] is being sold as fact in a government institution to science is bankrupt in a handful of paragraphs. Not that any of the arguments are more than innuendo, but, really, that's how right-wingers in the 21st century operate.

[1] Teresa calls Mr Allen "stupider than dirt", the dirt community has already lodged a complaint.
[2] And it is tosh. I personally don't mind the idea that God was somehow responsible for the Grand Canyon, but his responsibility stops at making a universe where it was possible to happen.

Thursday, 9 December 2004

Bad Thoughts

I recently bought and read a book called Bad Thoughts by Jamie Whyte, mostly, I think, because Amazon recommended it (Amazon's recommendations are occasionally strange and sometimes disturbingly accurate). It's subtitled A Guide to Clear Thinking and that's pretty accurate. It's short, witty book that looks at all sorts of logical fallacies and seems to find that Tony Blair commits all of them...

Anyway, its the sort of book I'd recommend to the very people who would never read it, namely those who don't often worry about the logic of their arguments. The people who would read it would probably just keep nodding their head ruefully through various sections.

Looking for anything else Whyte has written, mostly to bolster up my Wishlist, I found an article in New Scientist. This bit made me smile:
In your book you are quite harsh on religion. Aren't people entitled to their faith?

This is one of my favourite errors. An interesting change has happened, at least in the west. It used to be that people would argue for a particular religious dogma or a clear religious doctrine. That is no longer what happens. The world is increasingly dividing into those who have "faith" and those who don't. It doesn't really matter what the faith is. That is why you now get "faith groups" coming together from all kinds of different religions. The weirdest manifestation of this new tendency is when people say: "I'm not a Christian but I believe in something." Then I say: "Of course, I believe in many things, like there is a chair there and a table. What are you talking about?" And they reply: "Well, you know, something more." But what "more"? What they mean is something more than we have any good reason to believe in.

That really seems to get to you!

What amazes me is that they like to set themselves up as having a slightly finer sensibility than you or me but in fact they are completely intellectually irresponsible. They used to come up with very bad arguments for their faiths but at least they felt that there was something they should provide. Now mere willfulness has triumphed. This is what I describe as the egocentric approach to truth. You are no longer interested in reality because to do that you have to be pretty rigorous, you have to have evidence or do some experimentation. Rather, beliefs are part of your wardrobe. You've got a style and how dare anybody tell you that your style isn't right. Ideology is seen as simply a matter of taste and as it's not right to tell people that they've got bad taste, so it's not right to tell them that their opinions are false. I'm afraid that the cast of mind of most people is the opposite of scientific.

Note to Self: Make This Title "Incredible Something"

The Guardian Weblog nicely follows up on my post of about the hidden messages in cartoons with one of its own.

"Nietzschean" and "Randian" are thrown about as if the writers have never actually encountered superheroes in popular culture before. Elsewhere in the Guardian, the piece tells us, Oliver Burkeman comes up with this remarkable analysis:
The Incredibles is positively Nietzschean. Some people are just better than other people, it seems to say, and their resentful inferiors ought not to try to suppress them, but to let them shine.

I actually prefer this message to the Forrest Gump one about how stupid people can get by if they are just nice. Or, well you know, the standard "clever people are not to be trusted and having a folksy intuition is better anyday" rubbish that movies often peddle. But, anyway...

Not having seen The Incredibles yet, but being familiar with the Pixar oeuvre, I imagine the message that Burkeman is willfully misunderstanding is more likely to be "Some people are just different to other people, it seems to say, and that others who are resentful of this ought to try not to be, but let them shine." Which I think is roughly the same without the loaded language.

Perhaps what should be read into all these is that over-analysing The Incredibles is a great way to fill space in newspapers. And, strangely to get Americans apologising for themselves. I mean, I know where this comes from:
"I am an honest-to-god liberal, left-wing resident of Idaho, a state where GW got 91 percent of the vote. Let us not forget that slightly less than half the United States went with Kerry in the election, so not all of us are drooling slobs. A lot of us are, granted . . . I like the Guardian because it is not reverent of our rickety American institutions, especially the rotten presidency."

But I'm not sure it's needed when fitting yourself into a discussion about a popular film. Or maybe it is:

"I'm a left leaning Englishman living in Austria, a place where the FPÖ got 30% of the vote. I don't drool but I am, occasionally, a slob. I like The Guardian because I grew up reading it. This probably explains why I'm often compelled to watch, and mostly enjoy, cheesy action movies starring The Rock."

Monday, 6 December 2004

Short Shorts: An Apology Of Sorts

So, there's me hungover on Sunday subjecting myself to Sitemeter to see which two of my four daily hits weren't mine. For some reason, though, there's been a large, phallic spike in my hits for the weekend. I check the usual suspects... Yes, there's "Kylie", "Shat" & "Prince Charles" on my blog and, well, that's quite the Google magnet.

After getting SiteMeter to track referrals, it turns out that Making Light has linked to me. Me! After the initial joy, though, it turns out that something I linked to is quite dodgy. Teresa explains why in the article linked to above. As always this is a great article and makes much of something I'd not really processed past the "nice piccy" level.

Theresa says:
Here’s the missing part of the flowchart’s model: Suspending a student is a nontrivially consequential action. The students most likely to get suspended are also likely to have fragile and uncertain school careers. The loss of daily continuity and classroom instruction time can break them. So can the trouble they get into while idle. If you suspend them, they may flunk out, or stop coming, or tangle with the law. At that point, everything suddenly gets much harder for everyone concerned— except, perhaps, for the school that did the suspending.

And, for me, this is the point. Suspending a student shouldn't normally be simple. It's quite a drastic measure that needs all sorts of checks and balances to ensure that it's not abused[1]. If the process is trivial, then people will think of trivial ways to abuse it.

Apparently, Common Good are calling for the law to be reformed. In this case on the grounds of complexity, but mostly, it seems, to stop the rich from taking responsibility for their actions and products.

Private Eye's recent Secret Diary of A School Teacher does paint a picture of a place where easier expulsions seem almost welcome, though.

[1] Conisbrough narrowly avoided having their school being taken over by the Vardy Foundation, not because of parent action (60% of them wanted it), but partly because neighbouring schools realised that they would be left with Northcliffe's cast-offs. Something those schools would have to do when Northcliffe's school board was taken over by people eager to get rid of problem students.

Wednesday, 1 December 2004

Biggest Laugh of the Week

I've mentioned FameTracker before. I like it's level of snark and I can find much to laugh it in the forums, though often not in a good way. The following quote, though, had me in stitches:
Stuart Townsend as Dorian Gray is the primary reason that I bought the special, two-disk DVD of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He's the only thing worth watching in that movie.

One of the most under-rated actors of our time, I think.

Now, Mr. Townsend is a fine looking chap, and, if you like that sort of thing, may well be the reason to go and see a movie...

In LXG he was out-acted by his portrait.

Who Likes Short Shorts?

Loads of links to places that almost all demand longer entries ('cept for the Shat one):