Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Vampires of Venice - "I like the bit when someone says it's bigger on the inside. I always look forward to that. "

The Vampires of Venice - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 5, Story 6 (Overall Series Story #211)

Image via More Than Just Magic
The Space Buffoon aspect of the Doctor's character tends to get over-inflated during Smith era, his incompetence at understanding societal norms frequently make him look like ... well, a Space Buffoon. Not to say there's not humor to be mined from having a super-intelligent, 900+ year-old alien time-traveler interact with 21st century humans; but, the idea he would pop up into a cake to gain entry to Rory's stag, after having guessed wrong at least once and popped into the wrong stag, to then announce -- in a way that has to be calculated to humiliate Rory in front of his friends -- that Amy has snogged him and that she's a great snogger is not something I felt entirely comfortable with. (I'll complain about this same brand of stupidity in "Time of the Doctor," it's an unfortunate failing that someone should have known well enough not to repeat.)

It's the fact that he's smart enough to know better, and is not fresh out of his regeneration at this point that irks. It can't just be that he's an absent-minded genius, it really does look like he's out to tear Rory down. There's a moment where he glares at Rory for not saying "It's bigger on the inside," the way the Doctor likes folks to do when the first pop in the TARDIS, that enforces this. He quickly puts on a smile, but that's an acting decision on either Smith or the director's part that communicates to the viewer he's putting on a mask. The dynamic of the Doctor-Amy-Rory triangle is ugly here; I don't like it. Later, this all gets smoothed out, but in this episode, it's kind of revolting. This picks up right were "Flesh and Stone" left off and I can't wait for it to end.

Image via My Perfiction
The vampires, though, and what's going on in this one, it's OK enough. There are moments I quite like, in particular a scene that makes use of a mirror that is quite fun to watch, a bit virtuoso actually the way what we see changes with the camera's perspective, flip-flip, they're there, they're not. But doesn't the rest of it feel too been-there-done-that? Let's have him climb a tower in a storm, exactly like Ten did back in ... what was it? 'The Idiot's Lantern"?  No, I mean, "Evolution of the Daleks," or both. It's another species trying to use Earth to rebuild their species with no regard for the native population. We get a lot of those.

Some fun, a bit by-the-numbers, and saddled with Doctor-Amy-Rory relationship tension that just feels off. OK-ish for a mid-season episode but let's have Amy make it clear Rory's her man already and move on to figuring out this crack business.

Stray Thought
The Doctor shows the psychic paper to a group of young lady "vampires" and it shows One on a library card. "Library card. Of course, it's with. He's. I need a spare," Eleven says. What reference am I missing there? Who's the card with? He's what? Is there a Hartnell story with a library card that plays a part that I haven't gotten to yet? I don't think this goes back to the Ten's time in the Library?

If I'm missing some clever reference that's going to make me smack my forehead, please point it out in the comments!

Enlightenment - "Yes, you're a stowaway and I shall put you in irons."

Enlightenment (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Season 20, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #128) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Love and Liberty
In which Tegan charms an Eternal, Five finds a fresh celery, Turlough can't bear to live another minute, and the White Guardian has buyer's remorse about his co-sponsorship of a yacht race for Enlightenment, the Magical Dingus ...

As settings for stories go, the yacht race on the solar winds is one of the better ones we've seen. There are limits to what they can do on a budget, but it's also as well-executed, or better, than could be expected for this era of the show. Turlough and the Doctor attempting to blend in with the crew of the Edwardian-era yacht to which they've been led by the White Guardian is fun to watch. The characters of the crewmembers are fleshed out to be more than just 'the dumb ones and the smart one', so feel like the TARDIS crew have been drawn into story that had depth before they got there. The crew are not entirely sold on their officers, and the officers on this ship are involved in a struggle a bit more complicated than just a simple race with the other ships. The teams of Eternals and their Ephemerals are a colorful lot, particularly the panto-style pirates under the leadership of Captain Wrack and her First Mate, Mansell.

Capt. Wrack, Mansell, and Five.
Image via The TARDIS Tavern
All these wonderful elements, yet the whole ends up a little less than the sum of the parts. The problem is the internal logic of the story wasn't given enough thought. Why is the White Guardian a party to holding this race if he doesn't think it's a good idea in the first place? We can invent reasons to give him credible motives for doing so, like it's a complicated plot to defeat the Black Guardian because he had it in mind the whole time to bring in the Doctor knowing if he were to win, he'd do the right thing -- but we shouldn't have to do the writers' work for them.

What is the prize anyways? "It was the choice," doesn't make sense once you take a moment to think about it. If the prize was too dangerous, then it was awarded ... and not only to the Doctor, but to Turlough. Since neither apparently gained some great Enlightenment, then it really wasn't the choice, it was the Enlightenment Dingus, after all. And if that was so, we're back to wondering why the White Guardian ever had a part in this thing to begin with. And, what exactly -- well, besides the obvious* -- was so special about Tegan that Marriner was so stalkerishly enamored with her?

Image via Not Tonight Dalek
In the end, it's not those bits of incoherence that are the greatest demerit against this story, it's the side it takes in the class struggle. But wait, you might say, you're a notorious Lefty and the Doctor has helped the Ephemerals (the laborers) who were being exploited as playthings of the Eternals (the bourgeois aristocrats). Yes, he took the side of the Ephemerals here (and is one himself) ... but he buys into the universal order where the message was really: "You workers don't want the empty, sad existence of the aristos, it's sooooo boring. You have all the really good ideas, create art, and live meaningful lives. We'll nobly endure the burden of privilege for your own good. Off you go now." It's the underlying assumption that there's a natural division between the privileged and the lower classes, it's better if the two worlds don't mix, and nobody moves between them.

A universe that exists as a plaything of Eternals is a deeply distasteful universe. It's what really holds this story back for me. Happily, we haven't seen them since ...

* On the DVD extras, there's an anecdote Peter Davison and Janet Fielding share about her dress that is similar enough to other anecdotes we've heard about Ms. Fielding's issues with her tube top get up it makes you wonder if she when she finally left the show it wasn't to do with fatigue over trying to keep her girls popping out all over the place.

Terminus - "It'll be good to see the Tardis again." "And Tegan." "Yes, well ... "

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Terminus - Details

Season 20, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #127) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Days like crazy paving
This is Terminus. The end of the line. For Nyssa, at least. But it's only the second part of the Black Guardian trilogy, so more of Turlough being Turlough. Luckily (for him?), he's shunted into the air ducts to crawl around behind Tegan for most of the story, so not much action on the Kill The Doctor front, he just pulls out the Black Guardian walkie-talkie crystal a few times to remind everyone that's still a thing.

What does everyone remember about "Terminus" apart from it being Nyssa's last story? They remember Nyssa's undergarments. (It's not just titillation *koff* she sheds her skirt when she starts feeling feverish after boarding the plague ship. Totally legit.) The other pieces of this one that stick with you are: the Lazars being zombie-ish space lepers; this being yet another case of the Doctor hurtling towards the Big Bang -- but being fortunate this time that there's a shaggy beast around with the strength to pull the emergency break; the aforementioned shaggy beast, the Garm being a lumbering, dog/bear pressed into servitude, but a good bloke who would've helped out if just asked anyways; the uber 80s space pirates and their giant helmets (needed if you're going to have teased out 80s hair), and what a contrast they were against the overall atmosphere of Nordic-inflected medievalism; and Bor, poor old Bor, suffering from radiation sickness and short term memory loss, trying to create a radiation shield around the damaged engines with scrap metal.

"Short term memory's the first to go."
Image via TARDIS Data Core 
"Terminus" was one of the first VHS tapes I owned and, as a result, enjoys one of highest of my personal viewership numbers of a less-than-elite episode. It's not exactly a favorite, but it's one that got me through the Wilderness Years. When I needed a dose of Who, "Terminus" was there for me. Despite being watched several times over the years, it's one that I didn't get on DVD -- at first because I had it on VHS and wasn't looking to own multiple copies, then because I prioritized other DVDs since I remembered this one so well and wanted to see older stories first. As a result, I went the last 15 years or so without watching this story. Long enough that I was apprehensive about whether I was setting myself up for a disappointment ... would it have aged poorly and watching now tarnish my remembered fondness for it?

That there were so many memorable elements (there are other stories I watched back in the day that I remembered nothing more than for being 'dark and murky', or 'having terrible snake prop') that -- apart from the space pirate fashion sense -- were not memories of failure, should have allayed my fears. "Terminus" is just fine. Reading up and watching the DVD extras, I learned there were production problems associated with an electrical workers strike that caused lost studio time and a director who was new to the series -- a combination of factors which could have tanked this one -- but it manages to entertain in spite of all that. If unspectacular, this is still a solid Doctor Who story.

Of the three companions in this crew, it's Nyssa I least wanted to see go; but, her decision to stay and help cure the Lazars is a decent enough departure. It's sweet the way she kisses the Doctor on the cheek in farewell. The Doctor looks hangdog about it you get the sense he's really going to miss her. Davison plays it well. (This plays in stark contrast to another Companion-Kisses-Doctor scene that also got a rewatch recently.) In a crowded TARDIS, at least Nyssa was generally positive and liked ... people, and travelling. Going forward we're left with two companions who don't like each other, tend to complain about everything, and neither of whom ever seem to feel particularly close to the Doctor. Losing Nyssa does nothing to help the chemistry among the leads.

Speaking of companions lacking charisma, there's a bit of dialogue that struck me funny at odds with its intent:

TURLOUGH: Looks like a kid's room.
TEGAN: It was Adric's.
TEGAN: Doesn't matter.

Tegan was using this moment to cut Turlough off from her emotional reaction to having to talk about Adric, but the viewer, not particularly caring for Adric, can also take that as meta-commentary on the failure of that character.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone - "You trust this man?" "I absolutely trust him." "He's not some kind of madman, then?" "I absolutely trust him."

The Time of Angels - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Season 5, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #210a)

Image via SummonTheNerds
Some tropes are better than others. When mining the horror genre, as Who often does, it works best when it is selective about which elements it digs out. The one we can't abide outside of the genre is the character whose behavior is so irrational the viewer simply can't accept that they would act as they do. In the genre, it's part of the fun -- I gather, not being fan of it -- to mock that character and anticipate his or her inevitable gutting. The biggest problem I have with "The Time of Angels" is that Amy Pond is that character. All that the character does right up to the moment they break from comprehensible human reactions to events is trumped by that stupid/impossible reaction.

Amy stands fast and reacts with courage and smarts to the threat of the Angel that leaves the video screen. But, when that itch in her eye later turns into sand pouring out her tear duct and she doesn't tell anyone, doesn't freak the f*ck out, and dismisses concern with a casual, "Yeah, I'm fine," the effect is that of a switch being flipped.  When she does that, we're no longer enjoying well-crafted suspense -- we're watching another stupid horror movie. Having another character do that might have worked if they were being set up to be a victim of the Angels; it doesn't work to jam Pond into that role though. We knew coming in she was still early in her arc with a long way to go, so we're not even considering she could be killed. As a result, we can't cheer for it to happen, or agonize that it might. (Not that I imagine anyone would've done the former.)

It's a shame, because they did a pretty fantastic job ratcheting up the suspense to that point. Sure, it's kind of obvious all those statues are going to be Angels, but that doesn't take away from how creepy it is that our heroes are walking among them. Having the Angels take over the bodies of the warrior monks, and hearing the voices of their victims might lean a little too hard on what the Vashta Nerada did in The Library, but this is the return of River Song so the callbacks to that story go hand-in-hand with her return.

Stray Observations

Flesh and Stone - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Season 5, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #210b)

I though Nyssa kissing Five was sweet. This is ... ugh.
(Image via hrhoover)

Second verse, same as the first. Sort of. Again, this episode gets a lot of the suspense-building right, only to spoil the effect with, what I think, are terrible decisions for how to have the characters behave. I'm talking, of course, about Amy throwing herself at the Doctor ,and the Doctor not trying very hard to discourage her. But, I'll save my complaining about that for the discussion of "Vampires of Venice," since long-suffering Rory is back in the mix for that one and it fits just as well there.

Two interesting things are said or revealed in this episode -- one a significant statement the Doctor makes to Amy regarding trust, and the other an explanation as to why Amy doesn't know anything about the Cyber King of Victorian London, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, or about any of the other really obvious alien invasion/interventions that have happened throughout the classic series and up to this season of the new, not forgetting the (ludicrous and annoying) Mystery of Why There Were No Ducks in the Leadworth Duck Pond. (Seriously, of all the things to make a clue, the absence of ducks from a puddle -- an absence explicable by, one supposes, a thousand other perfectly mundane reasons, such as they waddled off to another puddle with better feeding opportunities -- being caused by cracks in time and space disappearing them from existence is the sort of strained whimsy that doesn't sit well.)
DOCTOR: Amy, you need to start trusting me. It's never been more important.
AMY: But you don't always tell me the truth.
DOCTOR: If I always told you the truth, I wouldn't need you to trust me. 
As a matter of principle, we should always tell the truth. (The White Lie Strategy having been effectively exposed as moral cowardice by Sam Harris, at least to my satisfaction, in Lying.) Now, I'm willing to make allowances for the Doctor here and warp the argument a bit so to make the Doctor's lies (generally) cases of short-cutting the need to say: "I can't give you all the information you are asking for because it will take too long to explain why I am taking the actions I am taking, and asking you to take the actions I'm asking you to take, so I'm lying, and I expect to you know I'm lying, to grease the wheels so we can get out of this dangerous situation with at least you alive. I'll explain, or it'll be obvious why I'm lying, later."  It's dodgy and doesn't always work, but I take the Doctor's ask of Amy to be an understanding that he's parsing out information according to a strategy he had determined will likely yield the best outcome, and an assertion that (as Time Lord who walks, as Four might have said, in Eternity) he's got the most information, and is the most capable of making use of it. It's a position that subverts the autonomy (and you'd have to think the self-worth) of the companions, but he's the Time Lord, all.

As for the second, the cracks being used to effectively erase parts of history and lay the groundwork for the Universal Reset to Come, well, being on the record as disliking that sort of scope and finding it dramatically unsatisfying, especially with how the crack is later used to reveal the Doctor's Greatest Fear (as we saw -- sorry, will see -- in "The God Complex") and, later still, to miraculously deliver him a new set a regenerations courtesy of Clara's prayerful appeal in "Time of the Doctor." Not liking the direction we're being steered doesn't diminish the importance of the crack to the structure of Series Five, and onwards though. So, duly noted.

Let's move on to "Vampires of Venice" & "Amy's Choice" though so I can finish griping about the Bizarre Love Triangle aspect of this Series and get on with ... oh boy, it's the disappointing return of the Silurians after that. We're in for a bit of rough patch, I think ...

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Tenth Planet - "It's all over? That's what you said... but it isn't at all. It's far from being all over..."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Tenth Planet - Details

Season 4, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #29) | Previous - Next | Index

Mondas, Earth's long lost twin planet, is back from a joyride around the galaxy and running on fumes. These prodigals have returned to suck to the Earth dry (the world is a vampire, indeed) and prolong their cyber-enhanced lives. Cybermen got ninety-nine problems but an emotional attachment to the old neighborhood ... or anything else for that matter ... ain't one.

Image via Nerdy Girl
So here we are. Hartnell's last stand. Although, Hartnell's finale is a bit light on Hartnell; the Doctor collapses and is carted off to a bunk for an episode-long lie down. Episode 4 is lost, so when he does return, for us, it's as a cartoon in the animated reconstruction. One of the great tragedies of the Missing Episodes is that those of us born too late don't actually get to see the original Doctor's last act in full.

This leaves us with unfortunate amount of Ben to carry the load. Problem is, Ben and Polly are about the worst companions of the classic series, at least until Adric comes along. I want to like Ben. The idea of working class kid, Royal Navy, plucked from then-contemporary London looks great on paper. In practice, not so much. It doesn't help he's saddled with Polly. Nothing again Anneke Wills, she does about what I suppose anyone could with that character -- there's just not much there to work with.

Sandifer has a good deal to say about the Cybermen as dark mirror of humanity, but they aren't all that interesting to me as villains here. This stems, in part, from what a load of hooey Mondas is as a concept. Science, even more than usual, out the window in this one, folks.

The genuinely interesting villain here is the General in charge of the improbably located Antarctic space monitoring station. (When Four visits Antarctica in the 1970s -- we think, depending on your interpretation of when the UNIT stories are set, he's at an unrelated station and doesn't mention anything to do with Mondas coming or this story's events.) General Cutler's son is aboard a spacecraft at risk during the Cyber invasion, it seems the General is unreasonably willing to risk irradiating half of the Earth by destroying nearby Mondas with a Zee Bomb to save him. Is Cutler representative of how Britain viewed Cold War American foreign policy -- blustering, incompetent, aggressive, and rash?  If so, would it be far from accurate?

(At one point, this jerk of a General remarks to the Doctor that he doesn't like his face, or his hair. All he needs to do is wait it out and it's going to change. Now that I think of it, there's a parallel here to how the real problem of Mondas is going to be solved, but basically waiting for them to suck too much energy off the Earth and overload their planet on it.)

Here's a remote base with an international staff under threat from an invading force. Hope you like this premise because it's set to become the series' modus operandi for the next few years. Right from the start we see how internationalism is going to be handled: broad stereotypes and over the top accents. Got an Italian around, he's going to be girl crazy atsa the truth, mama mia! Better is the casting of a black actor to play an astronaut. If he was a bit of a ham, he certainly wasn't alone in that regard. As much as we can credit the production team for this diversity of casting, listening to Anneke Wills discuss the shoot, we have to cringe for how much of a prick Hartnell was about working with Earl Cameron. (The DVD extras include an interview with Cameron who remarked that Hartnell's racism was "his problem, not mine.")

But that's not the note we want to go out on for Hartnell's final regular appearance as the Doctor. Despite his personal failings, he was, by all accounts, devoted to the role. He cared passionately about series and the children who looked up to him as the Doctor. He battled through failing health even after being devastated when informed he was to be replaced.

Imperious, with a twinkle in his eye. Brusque, yet playful. (Some of those so-called Billy Fluffs must have been eccentricity, surely.) Whether your first or favorite, is Four, or Ten, your Doctor is an inheritor of a mantle first worn by William Hartnell -- the Doctor.

The Gunfighters - "The time will be soon / When there's blood on the sawdust / In the Last Chance Saloon."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Gunfighters - Details

Season 3, Story 8 (Overall Series Story #25) | Previous - Next | Index

It's not the worst story in Doctor Who's history (it's predecessor may have that distinction), as it used to be fashionable to claim. Neither is it all that funny, as its apologists would have you believe. It is, however, distinctive. For starters, there's that ballad. And then there's Steven's command performance of the same. If nothing else, after watching "The Gunfighters," you'll have that tune stuck in your head.

To enjoy this one, I think it helps to put in the context of the notion that Doctor Who can insert itself in any genre, just as the TARDIS can insert itself in any period of history. Then, to think about how it's a different thing for Doctor Who to do a Western, another for Doctor Who to subvert the Western genre, and still another for Doctor Who to bounce itself off a Western as a way to define itself as something quite different from a Western. The last of those is the closest to what I think is going on here,

The sci-fi Westerns I have as cultural touchstones were nearly all made after this. Think Star Trek's OK Corral episode, Wild Wild West, Westworld, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Firefly, "A Town Called Mercy". Wild Wild West is the pioneer here, there's probably a Twilight Zone or some other movies I'm not aware of or forgetting, but what I'm getting at is it would been pretty astonishing if DW had managed to go Steampunk here. There's no great leap of imagination, or even attempt to ape WWW. "The Gunfighters" is straight Drop-the-TARDIS-Crew-into-the-Western-Genre (which is a different thing that doing a Western) and playing the Doctor's inadequacies as an action hero for comic effect.

Image via Flight Through Eternity

Previously, DW had managed to make the historical interestingly anachronistic and alien when we met the Meddling Monk in "The Time Meddler," and put Daleks into Ancient Egypt in "The Chase," but it's not bringing science fiction into the genre here. The villains aren't cyborgs, there's no threat to time or history from an outside agent. The bad guys are the Clantons and Johnny Ringo, the good guys are the Earps and Bat Masterson. Holliday is a bit of a wild card. The Doctor and the companions are just trying to get out alive.

The swings from Steven dressed as Tom Mix singing at gunpoint, Dodo fainting, and the Doctor being mistaken for Doc Holliday to Ringo shooting Charlie the barman in cold blood, Warren Earp dying in his brother Wyatt's arms, driving him to an outlaw's cold, vengeful rage are a bit extreme.

The acting is hit and miss. Mostly miss. The accents are baffling to the American ear, occasionally hitting on a word or phrase that would be credible in a 50s Western, but mostly sounding random. (I imagine it's how Americans trying to pull English accents -- but jumbling their Cockney, RP, Northern, and Midlands accents, sometimes inside the same word -- must sound to native speakers.) Hoping for a sensible plot, plausible situations, or anything approaching historical accuracy, will only lead to disappointment.

On the other hand, if you're game for a little panto peppered with tea time ultra-violence, then sidle up to the bar for a stiff jolt.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why am I a member of the FFRF? Clown Shoes like this guy ...

Federal lawsuit challenges Warren’s rejection of atheist display - Freedom From Religion Foundation:

Would like to remind Mayor Fouts that secularism is an American value,
state-sponsored religion is a Taliban value. 
To protect the First Amendment rights of all residents of Warren, Mich., regardless of religious or philosophical beliefs or non-beliefs, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a federal lawsuit this morning challenging the city’s ban on an atheist booth in a city hall atrium where the city allows a prayer station.  
The atrium has been set up by city officials as a public space that can be reserved by a wide variety of groups and individuals, including civic organizations and Warren residents. But the mayor is not allowing an atheist to use space in the atrium because his belief system “is not a religion.”

Blogpost of the Week: "Koba the Ape" | Shabogan Graffiti

Blogpost of the Week is a new feature here, an attempt to highlight the best post I've read on a proper blog in a given week. (Give or take.) What you won't find honored with the shiny new graphic* are: essays in the New Yorker, or posts on a site like Vox or Medium. This is for the internet's red-headed stepchild only: posts written by a blogger on a that humble relic, the oft-eulogized but not-dead-yet labor of love, the independent blog. (Whenever possible, it will be one on such a tight budget that it's still got the '' in the URL.) 

Based on my reading habits, it was almost inevitable the first selection would come from a blog that that posts about Doctor Who frequently, and sure enough Jack Graham's Shabogan Graffiti gets the first nod, but not for a DW post. The highlighted post is actually a review of a movie I haven't seen, and which there's no better than 50/50 chance I ever will, but it's so well-composed, insightful, and freaking righteous it displaces its subject as the artifact that should be preserved for posterity. 

* Made using Canva

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

.@ffrf's Freethought Today June/July 2014 edition has a health dose of @cdogzilla in it!

I was a little late grabbing a seat, so not the easiest face to find in the crowd ...

The next day though, I was front and center for the raffle winners photo opp ...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Rise of the Non-Working Rich (is the Death of the Republic)

Robert Reich (The Rise of the Non-Working Rich):
... [W]e’re on the cusp of the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in history.

The wealth is coming from those who over the last three decades earned huge amounts on Wall Street, in corporate boardrooms, or as high-tech entrepreneurs.

It’s going to their children, who did nothing except be born into the right family.
The chief objection we here from the Right is: The person who earned the fortune has the right to determine what is done with it. It's theirs to do with as they please.

On the surface, this is a compelling argument, because there's truth in it. Those of us without immense fortunes certainly understand the desire to protect what we have and do the best we can by our progeny.

However, this asserted Right to Pass On Vast Fortunes to Create Unfair Advantage for Children Who Were Born on Third Base is problematic for a democratic society that believes in some degree of meritocracy, equality of opportunity, and social safety net. It assumes that the right to control wealth is absolute and illimitable.

It is not.

We are a wealthy enough society to provide a minimum degree of security and quality of life to every citizen. We can, and should, have a floor under which we should not let any citizen fall. This necessarily entails a system of taxation -- a mix of progressive taxation on income and tax on capital being the fairest mode -- which ensures the wealth of our society is put to that purpose.

Likewise, our national security and the infrastructure of the nation simply can't be funded by the charitable whims of plutocrats. To live in a civil society, every member must be willing to pay for the cost of its maintenance. Allowing wealth to accumulate in families, passing un-taxed from generation to generation undermines the American principles of promoting the general welfare, establishing justice, and insuring domestic tranquility. Those are the core American values, the guidelines spelled out in the Preamble which the rest of the Constitution is designed to support.

Every floor entails a ceiling; every minimum, a maximum. Without guardrails, we're at risk of careening off the cliff. Would-be plutocrats would do well to remember extreme inequality requires more and more brutally repressive measures over time to prevent those who produce wealth benefiting from the fruits of their labor. The more repressive the society, the more pressure put on the bottom levels of a society by the top, the bigger and bloodier the conflict when the peasants decide they've had enough.

Belgian town deploys a DJ to encourage Roma to move on ...

Belgian town blasts music to drive Roma away | Reuters

Roma dancing via Telegraph

Local media said that the DJ kicked off his set with Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing". Belgian television showed Roma children dancing to the music.
Pro tip: If you want to get me off your lawn, playing "Sultans of Swing" at me is going to result instead in a wicked air-guitar session.

Ukrainian #sci-fi writers predicted Ukraine conflict: Now they’re fighting it.

Science-fiction writers predicted Ukraine conflict: Now they’re fighting it.

Omega via LiveLib
A forerunner of the genre, Omega, by veteran sci-fi/fantasy writer Andrei Valentinov, came out in 2005, shortly after Ukraine’s pro-Western Orange Revolution. It depicted three alternate-history versions of 2004, one of them a dystopia in which Crimea had been invaded and occupied by NATO forces in 1995; while the main characters were resistance fighters, they were both anti-Moscow and anti-NATO. (Valentinov, a Russian-speaking Ukrainian whose real name is Andrei Shmalko and who lives in Kharkiv, one of Eastern Ukraine’s major cities, has professed equal distaste for “Russian chauvinists,” “Ukrainian nationalists,” and “American globalists”; more recently, he has strongly affirmed his loyalty to Ukraine.)
I've never read any of the novels mentioned, so can't speak to their quality. The article is an interesting example though of how sci-fi is often reflective of a society's fears. Claims to be predictive often strike me as overblown when applied to sci-fi novels with superficial similarities to current events, but in this case they may well be applicable to at least some of the novels mentioned.

Gerry Canavan

Saturday, July 19, 2014

French blogger fined over restaurant review's Google search placing

Wrong on so many levels:
The judge ordered that the post's title be amended and told the blogger Caroline Doudet to pay damages. 
Ms Doudet said the decision made it a crime to be highly ranked on search engines. 
The restaurant owners said the article's prominence was unfairly hurting their business. 
Ms Doudet was sued by the owner of Il Giardino restaurant in the Aquitaine region of southwestern France after she wrote a blogpost entitled "the place to avoid in Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino". 
According to court documents, the review appeared fourth in the results of a Google search for the restaurant. The judge decided that the blog's title should be changed, so that the phrase: "the place to avoid" was less prominent in the results.
Wrong to sue. Beyond that, wrong to sue the blogger if you're going to sue. Beyond that, wrong ruling despite the first two wrongs.

Hope the SCOTUS isn't getting any ideas from this about how they can defend religious corporations from bloggers here ...

Religious upbringing impairs critical faculties

Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds

Image via Parent Information Center
In two studies, 5- and 6-year-old children were questioned about the status of the protagonist embedded in three different types of stories. In realistic stories that only included ordinary events, all children, irrespective of family background and schooling, claimed that the protagonist was a real person. In religious stories that included ordinarily impossible events brought about by divine intervention, claims about the status of the protagonist varied sharply with exposure to religion. Children who went to church or were enrolled in a parochial school, or both, judged the protagonist in religious stories to be a real person, whereas secular children with no such exposure to religion judged the protagonist in religious stories to be fictional. Children's upbringing was also related to their judgment about the protagonist in fantastical stories that included ordinarily impossible events whether brought about by magic (Study 1) or without reference to magic (Study 2). Secular children were more likely than religious children to judge the protagonist in such fantastical stories to be fictional. The results suggest that exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children's differentiation between reality and fiction, not just for religious stories but also for fantastical stories.

Friday, July 18, 2014

On Hegel: "He is confusing and complicated when he should be clear and direct."

The Great Philosophers 6: Hegel

Hegel via Wikipedia
Hegel has had a terrible influence on philosophy. He writes horribly. He is confusing and complicated when he should be clear and direct. He tapped into a weakness of human nature: to be trustful of grave-sounding, incomprehensible prose. He made it seem as if the mark of reading deep thought is that one cannot quite understand what is going on. This has made philosophy much weaker in the world than it should be. And the world has paid another heavy price for Hegel’s problems with communication. It has made it much harder to hear the valuable things he has to say to us.
He's got to be a translator's worst nightmare. To get Hegel into English, you have to be thoroughly versed in scores of philosophers and schools of thought, prominent and obscure, and be able to apply that knowledge to what he did to German, then be wizard at transmuting German to English. If Hegel boggles the mind, being a translator of Hegel must leave wreak havoc on the ol' coconut.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The patient boy is rewarded | #UConn #Fugazi

Fugazi Live Series: A to Z
This can be considered a bit of a turbulent show. For one, the stage is at risk of literally collapsing a number of times and even the ever reticent Joe steps in to talk some sense into the people that keep bumping into it. Also, listen closely as both Guy and Ian confront the audience repeatedly in an effort to manage things.

Photo by John Falls via Dischord
I've been watching for these UConn shows for ages ...

And, FTR, while I was at that "turbulent" '91 show, I wasn't one of the folks Ian had to scold.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Yougov poll finds Republican Jeebus was a free market psychopath

Eighty percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents said Jesus would support universal healthcare [Yougov]. Indeed it’s hard to imagine Jesus would deny care to those who lack the financial means to enjoy the comfort of our for-profit capitalist healthcare industry. But that’s not the Jesus Republicans know. Only 23 percent of Republicans believe Jesus would support healthcare for all.
"I was sick and you looked after me ... I tell you the truth, whatever you do the least of my brothers, you also do for me," Jesus said.
We make our gods in our own image.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Official TV Trailer #DoctorWho Series 8 2014

Liking the look. Trailers, of course, tend to make one do that. But I get a good vibe off it.

Science Vs. Religion: Beyond The Western Traditions

Science Vs. Religion: Beyond The Western Traditions : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR

Image via Zen Throwdown
In the United States, the debate between science and religion seems to be powered by a perpetual motion machine. The claims that Neil deGrasse Tyson's inspired Cosmos series was anti-religious stands as the latest salvo in a long battle that generates lots heat but very little light. Having been in many of these debates, both formally and informally, I'm often struck by how narrow the discussion remains. That's because often people don't want to talk about science and religion; they really want to talk about science and their religion. It's exactly in that first step that the conversation goes down hill for all sides ...

The Case of the Snarky Boston Cabbie

Oh - Futility Closet

Image via RRPictureArchives
During Arthur Conan Doyle’s first tour of the United States, in 1894, he encountered a cabbie in Boston who declined his fare and asked instead for a ticket to that evening’s lecture. Surprised, Doyle asked how he had recognized him. The cabbie replied ... 
... continued at Futility Closet.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

4 Reasons #EmpireAvenue is the Best Game You're Probably Not Playing

Two questions first:

1. Do you use one or more of:  Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, Flickr, LinkedIn, or Foursquare?

If you don't use at least one of those, you may want to skip the rest of this; however, if you use one or more (especially if more), then you may want to read on.

2. Do you play any casual, browser-based/mobile app games?

If you do, then Empire Avenue (EAV) may well be the best game you're not playing.

I've talked about EAV before, you can refer back to those posts and watch the video below, to get the gist of how it plays like a virtual stock market in social media users. This time around, I want to focus on the main reasons why its worth playing for casual social media users and bloggers. Especially its (largely untapped) potential for fandom and politically engaged social media users as a platform for supporting their interests ... while playing a game.

4 Reasons Empire Avenue is the Best Game You're Probably Not Playing

1. If you want it to be more than just fun, EAV Missions give you the ability to achieve greater reach and a greater audience for your social media content 

EAV connects you with social media leaders, professionals, bloggers, and business people. Tweets, blog posts, pictures, or pins, whatever it is you do, wherever online you do it, you can use Missions to promote your message so you can get quick and meaningful exposure for interests and a potentially large audience with minimal time and effort.

2. EAV helps you discover content and new social media trends 

The content that you're putting out there, well, there are other folks across a number of different fields and areas of interest are doing the same. You can join or create communities specifically to explore whatever interests you with players with similar interests.

3. EAV has an active community of players charting the future of the game right now 

EAV is guided by players, for players. That's where the untapped potential for members and leaders of online communities of progressives, secularists, and the various fandoms comes into play. Historically, EAV has largely been the playground of professional marketers and white hat SEO pros, but the game is free and open to everyone. Anyone with something to say about anything can take advantage of the tools of the game. Which means ...

4. It's ripe for a geek takeover! 

There have been sci-fi/fantasy geeks on it all along -- stop by the Doctor Who community on EAV and say, "Hi!" -- but there aren't a lot of geeks playing ... yet. If more of us play and support one another, the potential for enhancing the content discovery aspect of the game and growing the audience for your own works increases.

EAV has been around for a few years, but it's just starting to take off. Now is great time to get in and get established while the game is growing.

If you decide to give it a try, I can help you get off to a good start. I'll introduce you to experienced players with similar interests, help you avoid newbie mistakes, and will do what I can to help your Empire grow.

That's it. That's my spiel. Check it out!

Friday, July 11, 2014

McKellen to play Holmes

Twitter / IanMcKellen: Over 70 actors have previously ...

This looks like a refreshing change from Cumberbatch's flash, young, contemporary Holmes and RDJr.'s steampunk/Snatch Holmes. (Both of which I like, there's room for more than one take on the classic.)

Any chance his mate Sir Patrick might want to take a crack at Moriarty?

Sultans Of Swing (Dire Straits Cover) - Ao vivo São Paulo 2014

He can play the honky-tonk like anything ...

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Hush now, this #DoctorWho fan is avoiding spoilers.

How did new Doctor Who scripts including Deep Breath leak online? | Technology |

"Hush now." via Vote Saxon!
The BBC has apologised for the leak, and urged fans not to share the scripts with a wider audience "so that everyone can enjoy the show as it should be seen when it launches".
I did poke around reddit just a bit to see what people were saying about them, but carefully avoided anything spoiler-y. Wanted to make sure the folks who had read them weren't saying they were rubbish. Didn't see anything like that so sitting back and waiting for them to air here in the States.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Fox cancels sexy ancient Egypt drama Hieroglyph after shooting one episode, puns ensue.

Fox cancels sexy ancient Egypt drama Hieroglyph after shooting one episode | Newswire | The A.V. Club

I would've liked to have seen this. Ancient Egypt is an enduring interest. But, if nothing else, this cancellation resulted in an entertaining series of puns ...

Here's a sexy ancient Egyptian vampire strobing GIF of what we'll be missing / we've been spared:

The Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Post I Was Too Burned Out To Write Last Night

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

Nick Anderson via AAEC
Full text of the opinion and dissent (Ginsburg all over it, Breyer and Kagan basically adding, 'Yeah, what she said.') at the top link. (Or, you can have the Ginsburg dissent sung to you at bottom of this post -- not by me!)

Let's take a look at some of the Ginsburg highlights and then see how our friends on the right are arguing against them.

RBG: "Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community."

NRO: "FACT: Countless religious charities exist primarily for the purpose of showing love to needy people, whatever their faith. The dissent totally neglects groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, Samaritan’s Purse, and many others."

The NRO's objection here is puzzling. Ginsburg doesn't say all religious organizations exist solely to benefit practitioners of their specific faith. But, they pretend she does to be argumentative. Nothing about the NRO's observation changes that fact that there are religious organizations which promote the interests of their faith. Yes, there are religious organizations that help anyone, and often proselytize while doing so, but that's not the point.

As for Ginsburg's observation that workers at for-profits are not commonly drawn from the religious community of their employer, they say: "FACT: Employing people of the same faith isn’t required to receive a true exemption or accommodation. Religious nonprofit corporations, to which HHS has given an accommodation, often employ people from many different religious communities or from no religious community."

The NRO here is turning around Ginsburg's comments that are clearly meant to acknowledge the rights of workers who don't share their employers' faith to make a point about employers' rights to gain exemptions or accommodations. The NRO's objection here to Ginsburg's point then can be summed up as, screw them. Nice.

RBG: "Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah's Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today's decision."

NRO (responding to RBG's characterization of the opinion having "startling breadth," examples of that breadth she is inquiring about in this point): "FACT: This can’t be a decision of “startling breadth” because it only applies to closely-held corporations. Even Justice Kennedy said that “the Court’s opinion does not have the breadth and sweep ascribed to it by the respectful and powerful dissent.” If any opinion in his case has startling breadth, it is Justice Ginsburg’s own dissent, which, in denying religious freedom rights to owners of for-profit corporations, went too far even for two of her most liberal colleagues. "

First, the NRO's specific argument against startling breadth on the basis of the ruling applying to only closely-held corporations and family businesses is remarkably facetious, as if family-owned and closely-held corporations are somehow a negligible segment of the employment market. Check the numbers, jerks.

Anyways, the real issue with this ruling potentially having startling breadth is ...

RBG: "Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be 'perceived as favoring one religion over another,' the very 'risk the [Constitution's] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude."

NRO: *crickets*

In the cynical attempt at gutting precedent by issuing an unprincipled opinion on supposedly narrow grounds (only closely-held corporations, only with regard to contraception) accompanied by obfuscatory hand-waving (where's the underlying legal principle that stops other religious corporations from having an argument about other medical practices?), it seems notable that the Court majority found Hobby Lobby to be sincere in their religious beliefs, yet didn't have a problem with the fact they deal with China to get low-priced goods, which means they pay money into a state-run economy where the state has policies which conflict with Hobby Lobby's professed beliefs to a much greater degree. So, if they were sincere, they wouldn't be doing business with a country that promotes not only contraception but forced abortion via their family planning policy.

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