Friday, May 29, 2015

Moron promotes moronic tweet

Shorter D'Souza: "Jews, Y U No Like Anti-Semitic Apocalyptic Zionists?!"

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Brain of Morbius - "I'll see that palsied harridan scream for death before Morbius and I are finished with her."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Brain of Morbius - Index

Season 13, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #84) | Previous - Next | Index

Images via time lords and ladies

One of my favorites of the entire series, classic or new, if not *the* favorite. "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" sometimes holds that title, some days it's "The Ark in Space," other times I might answer with "School Reunion," or "The Day of the Doctor," or "Pyramids of Mars," but this is right up there. Ask anyone, they'll tell you, it's one of the greats.

There are links below to a few reviews that will give you more of a rundown and outline of the many reasons we all love it so much, so I won't re-cover that ground, instead want to speak to a few aspects that make it work so well for me. My enduring love for this story (watched twice before writing this, enjoyed it no less than the dozen or more times I did before) is largely attributable to the script editing of Robert Holmes, if not the writing of Terrance Dicks (who had is name taken off the final product because it had been so heavily re-worked by Holmes), but is also a function of the high caliber of the cast: Tom Baker and Lis Sladen, as always, joined by the marvelous Philip Madoc as Solon.

The look of it, the sets and costume design, the music, the directing, all work in support of the first rate performances and the Holmesian flair of the script, even when they're not what you'd call world class production. The things that always constrain the classic series, time and resources, here help fuse the all the elements. Of course it's got its dodgy bits: a wobble of the camera, repurposed spoons from the BBC cafeteria in the costumes, prominent zipper on the monster, mindbending plot elements, some rough editing, and the like. But this production team executes perfect TV-making judo, turning the weaknesses into strengths, making a TV story that's more than the sum of its considerable parts. They made a story we don't just admire, they made one we love -- one that wins young fans over and turns them into the sorts of folks who where motivated to learn about computers and usenet at an early age specifically so they could connect with other fans, and who persist in visiting message boards into middle age to keep the conversation going.

Here's one way a production team on a budget can inspire that kind of loyalty. Solon, trying to reign in Morbius's temper, let's slip a pun, and then quickly apologizes for it:
MORBIUS: The Doctor is a Time Lord?
SOLON: That is why his head is so perfect. From one of your own race, from one of those who turned up on you and tried to destroy you, you get a new head for Morbius. The crowning irony.
SOLON: I'm sorry, the pun was irresistible.
MORBIUS: You fool, Solon. Don't you see what this means? The Time Lords have tracked me down.
That moment is more than just funny as a great line perfectly delivered by an actor giving his all to bouncing his lines off a glowing brain in a fish tank -- it supports our willing suspension of disbelief because it tells us something about this Solon character, why he is trying to put the Doctor's head on the hodge-podge monster he's painstakingly assembled by harvesting body parts from the ships that crash on Karn instead of just putting Morbius's brain in the Doctor's body.

It's because he's utterly mad. A skilled genius in his field, sure, but daft. Exactly the sort of man who would never consider the obvious because he's a megalomaniac who's invested so much time and effort into his monster he can't see the simpler solution. An obvious problem with the plot is justified, ot merely lampshaded, as part of making Solon a full-fledged character. A theatrically verbose, over-the-top mad scientist with dimension -- a distinct and lovingly written and performed example of the type.

Solon, indeed every character in this story, is more than just one thing. The story itself is never just "Hammer Horror Frankenstein in Space," Horrifying, and funny. Sarah's blinding is both, again because of the brilliance of the actor. Lis Sladen is so perfect reacting with terror and forced humor at Sarah's situation. Her performance so perfectly suited to the story it's in we want her to come out for curtain call to receive her standing ovation and shower of roses. The Doctor has never had a better companion than Sarah Jane, and no one could have played that character better. She is the perfect foil for Tom Baker's madman in a box, bringing out the best in Tom, and in his Doctor. Saving them both from themselves, as it were. (Without Sarah, this Doctor was about to be burned alive, beheaded, and his skull used as the new home of the brain of one of the universe's greatest villains.)

Then there's Condo, the Igor of this Frankenstein story. Not bright enough to point out Solon's foibles, brutal enough to harvest organs, but sensitive enough to fall for Sarah. Again, he's more than one thing, and the many things he is fit together and give the story depth.

Holmes's stories tend have these remarkable supporting characters with outsized personalities that have cracking conversations with one another. His supporting characters cry out for spin-offs and inspire fanfics they can star in because they're just that good. Any scene in this story, no matter who's in it, stands on its own as a little TV gem. Whether it's Condo and Solon, the Doctor and Solon, the Doctor and Maren, Maren and Ohica, the Doctor and Sarah, Sarah and Condo, the story positively crackles with charm, each actor like one of the metallic spheres in the old monster movies with electricity sparking between them. A joy to watch from soup to nuts.

  • The mind duel regression controversy gets lots of play, but my take on it is the Doctor constructed false personalities as a way to prolong the fight. Not that there's any evidence for it in the script or the background we can glean from the DVD extras, or anywhere else I could find, but I think it's the easiest way to gloss over what was sort of obviously just a bit of rash goofing around without mind to sacred continuity. 
  • I'm sure Yo La Tengo had other things in mind when naming their garage rock alternate identity, but when I first heard they cut an album as Condo Fucks, my mind went here. 

Additional Resources: Card Stacks | Explain the news

These are a nifty little crash courses on some of the important issues. May not teach you anything new if you're up on a topic, but could be helpful as quick references to bone up before your next cocktail party, or whatever you do where you go to places and talk to people about things. Like people do. I hear.

White Fragility

The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy | White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo

This Modern World capture via going back to africa

White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium. This paper explicates the dynamics of White Fragility. 
 [Full text]

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

UNC BoG eliminates 46 degree programs across system

The Daily Tar Heel :: Board of Governors eliminates 46 degree programs across UNC system:

Branford Marsalis at NCCU via Reuben Ahukanna/YouTube
“We’re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.”
And there's the problem. Capitalists look at NCCU's Jazz program, with Branford Marsalis on the list of faculty and think, "How's this going to serve Duke Energy? Fuck it, gone."


Monday, May 25, 2015

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Word of the Day: Drapetomania

Drapetomania - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Drapetomania was a supposed mental illness described by American physician Samuel A. Cartwright in 1851 that caused black slaves to flee captivity.
Just a reminder that the Confederacy was so anti-American, so contrary to morality and reason, that they thought a man's desire to be free was a mental illness.

When I see memorials to Confederate soldiers, like the one in Raleigh I drive past frequently, it makes me want to vomit -- never mind spit -- on the grave of a Confederate veteran.

Image via NewRaleigh

Photos Exist of American Revolutionary War Veterans

The Last Men of the Revolution - Archiving Early America

Rev. Daniel Waldo
Incredible though it may seem, six veterans who served in the Revolution were alive eighty-three years after British General Cornwallis surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown ending the War of Independence. Even more incredible is that, because of Rev. Hillard’s efforts, photos of the six veterans are available in the historical record, the only photos of any of the War’s soldiers.
I've blogged about Rev. Waldo before, but thought this page with pictures of other veterans of the Revolutionary War merited a link for Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Vincent and the Doctor - "Can you see how they roar their light?"

Vincent and the Doctor - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 5, Episode 10 (Overall Series Story # 214) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via arthurpendragonns

Having just watched "Arc of Infinity," taking this one up now felt like it could've be too soon for another episode with a space chicken. Especially a space chicken in an episode written by Richard Curtis, who wrote (among other things) Love, Actually. Which is another way of saying, oh boy, watch out, this could really be awful.

Although this story is well-loved in fandom and, generally speaking, critically admired, my instinct is to approach it skeptically, even though I remember enjoying it when it originally aired. That's not how I approach Doctor Who, especially not on first watch. I *want* to like it. Even if I've read unnerving things ahead of time, I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt. That doesn't mean everything gets a pass. There've been times even my wanting to like it, being willing to make allowances, I've been badly let down. Because I wasn't by this one, even though most of the signs pointing to I Should Have Been, re-watching it with an eye towards writing about it in what passes for criticism here I was sharpening the knives for dissection.

And, if we're frank, I think we have to admit it's emotionally manipulative, we should be chafed by having our heartstrings pulled so deliberately. Especially with that blandly symphonic pop encouraging us to revel in We're So Awesome, We Love Van Gogh (or, as it's pronounced in this story "Van G**clears throat**"), Not Like Those Dullards Back When When People Were Moronic Dirt Farmers. Our love is healing. Blah, blah, self-congratulatory joy.

And yet ... even knowing it's a cynical ploy, we fall for it when watching this story. Every. Time. Nighy's Black praising Van Gogh, while Vincent listens, tears welling, the music rising to a crescendo, the camera swirling, it's A Very Special Doctor Who Hallmark Channel Movie moment and my throat tightens and I want to hug Vincent and Black despite myself.

So how does that happen, because if it's that and only that, then there's a problem and we should be dismissing it as tripe.

How it happens is, I think, twofold: for one, Tony Curran as Vincent is more than just a set piece, -- though he's occasionally fetishized as one, shown with his self-portrait, just as we're shown the cafe and the painting, his room and the painting of it. "Look, we can put on TV things that look like Van Gogh paintings!" -- he effectively plays Vincent as both fragile and strong, manic and depressive, proud and humble; for another, there's mirroring going on and, for whatever reason, when we see characters negotiate the narrative by checking reflections, working off mediated images, recognizing themselves or others in ways they don't by just direct line of sight, there's something a little magical in how that affects me as a watcher of a story on a screen -- one who's not paying attention to the screen, but trying to understand the story in it, that puts me in a like mindspace with the character I'm watching, or an imagined like mindspace that I'm exploring at the prompting of a storyteller.

Weird, right? I mean, TV doesn't just get better because a character looks through a pane of glass and sees a thing on the other side of in the dark, while we see their reflection in the glass because they're in a lit room ... but when the story is also about how people see things, and how seeing these does powerful things to our minds, there are layers and kinds of reflecting going on (we call that thing we do where we think about an object of thought "reflecting") that can absorb the shock of the maudlin or elsewhere in a story, or re-frame it so we're more attuned to why it's successful at doing what it's doing ...

Blurted Thoughts:

Watching this episode calls to mind again the Van Gogh that was found a couple years back with both the TARDIS and a Cyberman (well, that you could squint and sort of see) in it.

Thought I was on to a Doctor Who / Downton Abbey connection that others had missed, but no. I mistook Chrissie Cotterill for Lesley Nicol.

Had to look it up because it was escaping me while watching, the term for hearing color is synesthesia. This story suggests Vincent was synesthetic.

The line "If you paint it, he will come," sounded like a Field of Dreams nod to me.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

In Chicago? Check out "Who Too" | The Right Brain Project

Image via
Two years ago, the Right Brain Project celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the BBC's beloved Doctor Who with the late-night tribute show The Timey-Wimey Fantastic Brilliant Extravaganza (Geronimo!), written by Justin Gerber and McKenzie Gerber. But Clint Worthington seems to remember that production differently than the rest of the cast... He believes that rag-tag show was interrupted by the Time Lord himself. The rest of the cast neither confirms nor denies these claims, but none seem to want to talk about it.

This summer, in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the BBC's current incarnation of the show, we're allowing Clint to go back to the world of tribute shows as a form of therapy - this time, all will go well as we celebrate all things Doctor Who (or so we hope...)! Written once again by playwrights (and brothers!) Justin and McKenzie Gerber, the RBP will revisit one of their most beloved productions with a sequel of galactic proportions!
Trying to remember the last time I went to a play ... uncultured sod that I am ... and thinking it was back in the 90s in Hartford to see American Buffalo at RAW. [Update: No! Just in the nick of time, I remember now that I went to a Shakespeare production by APT in Spring Green, WI. Just don't ask me which play it was. Oddly, I remember enjoying it, but what comes to mind is actually the smell of bug spray -- and, despite a DDT-soaking, still being at the center of a cloud of mosquitoes. Outdoor theater, awesome in theory!] If this played in Raleigh, it would end my theater drought.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

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For the Thousandth Time: STFU Duke

Gaze into the eyes of this racist Duke professor to have nightmares for a week.
Image via
Duke political science professor, Jerry Hough disagreed with the editorial titled "How Racism Doomed Baltimore." 
The article focused on the notion that poverty and isolation of the African-American community in Baltimore were major causes of recent riots after Freddie Gray's death. 
In the comments section, Hough said, "blacks get awful editorials like this that tell them to feel sorry for themselves. So, where are the editorials that say racism doomed Asian-Americans? They did not feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard."
Reading Prof. Hough's bio on Duke's site, I notice this: "[His next book, George Washington and the formation of the American Political System, 1774-1799] focuses on the political philosophy of the Founding Fathers and the way that they solved the religions [sic] conflicts and the collective action problems of the revolution and the Constitutional Convention.  Hough also writes on the implications for current Iraq." I can't wait to see if it's proofed as well as that page.

Update: James Loewen takes Hough to task for not knowing enough about race relations to even know how completely ignorant he is about race relations. Nice.

Monday, May 18, 2015

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

17 May, 1978: Charlie Chaplin's stolen body found

BBC ON THIS DAY | 17 | 1978: Charlie Chaplin's stolen body found

Not cool, gents. Not cool.
Roman Wardas, a 24-year-old Pole, and Gantscho Ganev, a 38-year-old Bulgarian, were convicted in December 1978 of stealing the coffin and trying to extort  £400,000 from the Chaplin family.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

My mini-review: Pedro by Pedro Martinez | LibraryThing

Pedro by Pedro Martinez | LibraryThing

Image via LibraryThing
I'm a lifelong Red Sox fan, I love Pedro, and I think he was not only the best pitcher I ever saw, but probably the best ever. This was a tremendously fun read for me and helped me understand how Pedro felt under the glare of, and what motivated his reactions to, the Boston media. As a fan of the game, it's difficult negotiate that mediated relationship between the player and the fan through guys like Dan Shaughnessy, Peter Gammons, and the guys around the game who give us one perspective into the the players.

If you're not a baseball fan, it's hard to imagine you'd have much interest in this book. But if you're reading this, there's a good chance you are a fan of either the game, the Red Sox, or Pedro himself -- if that's the case, I think you'll enjoy Pedro's wit, charm, mischieviousness, and perspective on his own life and career.

Friday, May 15, 2015

See man hate ACA. See man refuse to get ACA. See man whine that he can't get ACA.

UPDATED x4: See man hate ACA. See man refuse to get ACA. See man whine that he can't get ACA.
Fool, Luis Lang, via Charlotte Observer.
I've circled a key reason he should have recognized he'd need health insurance.
So, this guy spent years refusing to get insured when he could afford to do so, votes for & supports the political party which put him in his current situation, so naturally...wait for it...

'He and his wife blame President Obama and Congressional Democrats for passing a complex and flawed bill.' 
Of course they do.
A tragic, hilarious, and righteous read. Get right to the heart of what conservatives really mean when they talk about "personal responsibility".

It's Robert's Fault

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Arc of Infinity - "The Dutch are a very civilised race."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Arc of Infinity - Details

Season 20, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #124) | Previous - Next | Index

In the Matrix. Image via Doctor Who Gifs
Tegan's lost her cousin, Councillor Hedin's lost his mind, and Omega's lost his bombast (not to mention his samurai helmet); but, contrary to what we've been told, this isn't one of the series' coffin nails. The ground may be shaking, but this story manages to stay on its feet, even while it staggers. We're not down the sinkhole. Not yet.

Like Amsterdam, it's probably fair to say that with JN-T in charge, the series is below sea level, but the pumps are running. Looking ahead to the remainder of Davison's run, while there are some duds coming, I don't think it's until "The Twin Dilemma" that we truly feel the absence of firmament.

Unfortunately, we might be able to make a case for Colin Baker's best story being the one where he plays Commander Maxil carrying around an ostentatiously feathered helmet to keep it getting knocked off whenever he traverses a doorway. We adore Colin Baker though, so we won't say he's come to kill Doctor Who, only to shoot the Doctor.

That's not to say the criticisms leveled against this story are without merit. Only that the spirit of fun still animates the series. Maybe it's the cast's delight (well, the lucky ones, anyways) at travelling to Amsterdam for the location shooting that buoys things. As with "City of Death," the location is mostly for running around in; still, the fact that the signs on the shops they're running by are in another language by itself breathes a little energy of difference into the proceedings. Proceedings which otherwise generally involve running around in corridors on Gallifrey. There's a lot of running in this one.

Oh, and I guess we need to acknowledge that Tegan's back. What a remarkable coincidence. The Doctor's facial expression at the end when she announces we're stuck with her pretty much sums things up.

Going to back to Gallifrey for some palace intrigue, the return of Omega, location shooting, this should all be highlight reel stuff. Instead, it feels like a missed opportunity to be so much better. Who decided, for example, Omega's henchman should be an armored chicken? One of Omega's less successful attempts at psychosynthesis, indeed.

As usual, Sandifer's criticism is insightful and, if we accept the argument, thoroughly damning. He does a brilliant job supplying what this episode could have done to work as proper Doctor Who:
So what the story needs, more than anything in the world, is a dramatic hook that allows  its three narrative levels to function in parallel. There needs to be something that operates similarly in the tourist horror, the political intrigue, and the basic cosmic arc of the universe. You can take your pick on what. It barely matters, just so long as there’s something. The one that springs to mind for me as an obvious choice, at least, is the callousness of deflected responsibility. Because that’s at least a theme that’s just about there at every point in the story already. At the bottom of the totem pole you have the lack of interest or concern in Colin’s fate on the part of authorities who see him as just another careless tourist. On Gallifrey you have the callous willingness to let the Doctor die simply because it’s more convenient than other options. And on the grand scale you have the basic failure of the Time Lords to ever take responsibility for the sacrifices involved in their own creation vis-a-vis the abandoned Omega. And the way you end it is by having the people at the bottom of the chain finally take some responsibility for the situation at the top. You have the characters at the Amsterdam end of the story stepping up and doing what nobody else in the universe has been willing to do.
He even says the theme he proposes is "just about there". This story is every bit as tedious and useless as he argues it is if the theme is not at all there. Yes, they miss hanging the story on a theme the way they should, but I'd argue it's a near miss this, the ghost of it was there to be teased out. Should we, the viewer, have to do that? No. Again, this is not one the good ones. It's just not as abysmal as all that.

"Dragonfire" remains the story that I come back to as the one where the series is truly zombified. It's Doctor Who characters, setting, and dialogue slapped together with nothing but cynical, vacant pretension as the unifying theme. In that story, nothing works. What's on the screen is ... omnishambles.

"Dragonfire" isn't the tragic event, where survivors in a state of shock may not realize how bad things are. "Dragonfire" is well after the disaster ("The Twin Dilemma"), the rescue teams didn't come, they were only sirens we heard in the distance ("The Remembrance of the Daleks") of some other city being saved. Not ours. At "Dragonfire", we're not rebuilding -- we're propping wreckage against other wreckage, squatting in the mud in the gap between unsound structures, telling ourselves we'll survive, when in fact the water's tainted, we're out of food, and the wolves are coming ...

OK, I'm being melodramatic. It's just ... I really hate "Dragonfire" that much. "Arc of Infinity" can't have a 1 one on the 1 - 10 scale, as Sandifer scores it, unless "Dragonfire" is a -5, at best.

Additional Resources:

Time-Flight - "I don't know what English cricket is coming to."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Time Flight - Details

Season 19, Story 7 (Overall Series Story #123) | Previous - Next | Index

Five pines for his scarf.
Image via Circular Time
Let's start with the Doctor apparently so confused he thinks you can be in the Late Jurassic and nearly in the Pleistocene.
Detail from a table at RocksInMyHeadToo
Feeling chilled, he says, "Definitely Jurassic. There's a nip in the air, though. We can't be far off the Pleistocene era [sic]." At the risk of coming across as pedantic, if you're going to throw around geological timeline terminology, why not just look at encyclopedia or what have you, and get it right? The Pleistocene is an epoch, not an era. And 140 million-ish years seems more than a little far off, even from a Time Lord's perspective.

I don't know the millions of years or the difference between epochs, periods, eras, and eons off the top of my head. (Are we in the Holocene, or is this the Anthropocene?) But, if I'm referencing them in my story, I'm certainly going to take a few minutes to research so I don't bollocks them all up. The writer who wants to use the terms, but not bother to use them accurately, is a writer who can't be trusted. *Gives Peter Grimwade the side-eye*

Little failures like this are all the more frustrating because the sloppiness signposts the fact the interesting bits that make this story feel promising for stretches of the first two episodes are going to be wasted. We come into this story wanting to give it the benefit of the doubt, giving it a chance to win us over, and it squanders our goodwill even while it does a few things pretty well.

What's great straight off the blocks? Adric's not in it! What? Too soon? Tell that to the Doctor, who looks glum for a moment, shrugs it off, and suggests a holiday.

The nod to Berkeley, too, that's fun for the former student. My degree doesn't look so ill-advised when it helps catch the reference to idealism being a naive philosophy.

If we ignore nitpicks, we can't look past the bizarre decision to have the Master hamming it up as Khalid the Chinese/Arabian (?) sorceror for no imaginable reason. Sure, it's a way to hide Anthony Ainley and let him show showboat a little, but there wasn't way to make him being disguised make sense? And the disguise had to remind us of the trouble we had with Despicable Chang?

Oh, and remember how there was some relief about not having to put up with Adric any longer? Dang if they didn't make him the precedent for bringing back former companions as manipulative illusions in "The Five Doctors." He's only there for a minute, but it's enough to remind us a minute of Adric is a minute too much.

The last two episodes are tedious without being aggressively dreadful. It's just the further unraveling of a reasonably promising set-up that teased us with the promise that if they would just try, they could salvage this thing. In retrospect, of course it was going to be nonsense. It had has flashes of promises and a certain audacity, nothing says I'm willing to go up a weight class like challenging the effects team to convince us there are two Concordes traveling back to an alien-infested Jurassic era on the classic series budget.

The solace we take from it really now being the last we'll see of Adric after his unmourned demise is toyed with by the departure of Tegan at the end of the story. If only her being left behind at Heathrow, where she'd been so insistent she wanted to be for so long, weren't going to be undone ...

Additional Resources:

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Je Suis Ananta Bijoy Das Aussi

Ananta Bijoy Das, image via British Humanist Association
Ananta Bijoy Das was attacked by masked men with machetes in Sylhet, police say. He is said to have received death threats from Islamist extremists. 
Mr Das wrote blogs for Mukto-Mona, a website once moderated by Avijit Roy, himself hacked to death in February. 
Dear All Countries Of The World,

When a secularist blogger from Bangladesh -- or any country (e.g., Saudi Arabia) where religious extremists run amok and secularists are threatened, routinely butchered, or otherwise oppressed -- asks for a visa, could you please grant it?

If their embassy suggests you deny their visa request because they "might not return," that should be a red flag -- one that prompts you to wonder why they think a reasonable person wouldn't want to go back.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

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#TenyYearsLater Still no a #DoctorWho Movie?

cryptonaut-in-exile: Who Movie?

Two ten-year-old posts reblogged in two days. It's Throwback Week here at c-i-e FKA Triptych Cryptic! Kudos to the BBC though for their tenacity. Most of these old links are dead, but the Beeb is keeping lights on. Still, I'm going to put this one in how-I-do-things-now format.

Doctor Who feature:

Thompson also confirmed that BBC Films is pushing ahead with its plans for a Doctor Who feature, the progress of which is dependent on how the new Doctor Who TV series is received in the US.

Couldn't ask for it to be better received, I think. Still no dice.

Monday, May 11, 2015

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#TenYearsLater If You Could Teach the World Just One Thing ...

That's a ten-year-old blogpost I can polish off a bit and fix the link for. So, here's that old post in the c-i-e post format I've settled into:

If You Could Teach the World Just One Thing ...

... And now, here is the most difficult thing that I wish people understood. True design can never be an ultimate explanation for anything, because the designer himself is left unexplained. Designers are statistically improbable things, and trying to explain them as made by prior designers is ultimately futile, because it leads to an infinite regress. 
Natural selection escapes the infinite regress, because it starts simple, and works up gradually - step by step - to statistical improbability, and the illusion of design. 

The link in the OP was dead, but spiked-online is still going strong.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Why doesn't the USA crack the top of the happiness index?

*Goes one tweet down the stream* Ooooh, maybe that's got something to do with it. Widening wealth inequality in concert with the enduring legacy of unreconstructed criminalization having dark skin pigmentation. Doubling down on de facto criminalization of poverty. 

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Mhairi Black: the 20-year-old who beat a Labour heavyweight

Mhairi Black via the Guardian. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Black won cheers from supporters when she pledged the SNP would stop what she said would be the billions wasted on a renewal of Trident. She also promised to call for the powers that were promised to Scotland during the referendum campaigns, and said she would fight to put an end to austerity cuts that are hurting communities “both north and south of the border”. 
What is she going to do now, reporters asked. “Sleep.” After that? “Breakfast.” And after that she will have to complete her dissertation, due by the end of the month in order to complete her politics degree. The dissertation should be relatively easy for her, steeped as she is in the SNP: how the SNP’s party structure has had to accommodate the influx of new members since the referendum, up from 20,000 to over 100,000.
Watching the GE results come in last night, this was one of the more intriguing stories as it became clear the SNP were wiping both Labour and the Lib Dems out of Scotland. (Well, except for the in the Orkneys and Shetland which, the joke goes, aren't really Scotland.)

As an American with what could only -- and even then only charitably -- be called superficial knowledge of UK politics, I don't have a clue if this is a real victory for progressives, or if the Conservatives are stronger with bruised and beaten Labour party in the minority with the SNP. The Tories look like they're going to have straight majority and so are going to be sitting pretty anyways, so maybe it doesn't matter much.

It's exciting to see a 20-year-old progressive from an upstart party take down a major figure in a nation's leading center left party though. The kind of thing we could use a little more of here.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Science proves there were exactly three pop music revolutions.

Science proves there were exactly three pop music revolutions, so that’s settled |Newswire | The A.V. Club

Culture Club via Retroland
The first revolution comes in 1964, with the dying out of traditional jazz and blues chords during the British Invasion of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The second occurred in 1983, when new technology ushered in the ascent of synthesizers, drum machines, and samplers—meaning Eurythmics were more of a musical revolution than The Clash, which it will please everyone to know. The last revolution took place in 1991, with the mainstreaming of rap and hip-hop, which researcher Dr. Matthias Mauch describes as “the biggest...rap and hip-hop don’t use a lot of harmony. The emphasis is on speech sounds and rhythm. This was a real revolution: suddenly it was possible that you had a pop song without harmony.”
Men at Work, Culture Club, Eurythmics ... not names generally clubbed in with the Beatles & Stones, or with Public Enemy, N.W.A., & EPMD.


Fierce #PingPong

Periodic reminder that table tennis should be one of the prime time, most-covered events when the Olympics roll around again.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Confederacy of Dunces

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Concerned parents told ABC11 Monday that a photo posted to the social media site Instagram has upset many students.

The picture was allegedly taken by an East Chapel Hill High School student. It shows two girls waving confederate flags. The person who posted the picture included the caption "South will rise."

Under that, someone commented "Already bought my first slave."

The school confirmed to ABC11 the photo was taken in Gettysburg during a school trip focused on the Civil War a few weeks ago.
Update: I saw a comment on the ABC11 post about how the person who posted "no, no" was one of the girls in the photo, who was horrified that people started posting racist stuff and didn't realize what that flag signified to some people. I think it's very possible OP didn't mean to make a racist statement, only to show a picture from their class trip. I also assumed the comments shown were by friends or fellow students, and represented a common attitude. This may well not be the case.  Again, I think it's important the school be very careful about it addresses this with the students, and doesn't hold them accountable for what more explicitly racists commenters on their post said.

Disgusting. Stupid. But ... does the school need to be involved in disciplining the kids who are in and took this picture? My first thought is this is something the kids' friends and parents should be able to deal with. That it happened on school trip and now East Chapel Hill High looks like a neo-Confederate enclave to the rest of the country, so they've got their reputation to consider.

I highlighted in the screengrab because what I'd have liked to have seen happen is for the kids's peers to have schooled them, publicly so that when the picture came down, we'd know it was because they were truly ashamed. I bet you would've seen the 'likes' come off as people realized what fools they looked like.

Hopefully, the lesson was learned.

As a parent raising kids in North Carolina, I hope we're teaching our kids to be the ones with the courage to publicly say "no, no" if (it's NC, so more likely when) they have classmates that do stupid crap like this some day.

WSJ Supports Freeloaders to Sabotage Unions

In a May 4 editorial, the Journal sided with the suing teachers, calling their lawsuit an opportunity "to end the political extortion" by unions, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of agency fees. The editorial took special exception to the fact that non-members aren't covered by a disability insurance program that provides paid maternity leave, claiming that it is unfair for teachers to have to "ante up to receive substantial employment benefits ..." 
... But benefits like legal representation in certain employment disputes and specialized disability insurance aren't "employment benefits" -- they're union benefits, and they cost money. As the California Teachers Association pointed out in a brief filed in a similar case, most school district employers opt out of a state program that would provide similar maternity leave benefits, but because full union members want the additional coverage, the union offers it as an earned benefit. In other words, the four teachers want all the benefits of full union membership without having to pay for it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Mark Twain stories, 150 years old, uncovered by Berkeley scholars | Books | The Guardian

Mark Twain stories, 150 years old, uncovered by Berkeley scholars | Books | The Guardian

Scholars at the University of California, Berkeley have uncovered and authenticated a cache of stories written by Mark Twain when he was a 29-year-old newspaperman in San Francisco. Many of the stories are 150 years old.

Today Is the 151st Birthday of All-Around Feminist Badass Nellie Bly

Image via Wikipedia
In 1885, Bly wrote a furious letter to a Pittsburgh newspaper denouncing a column titled "What Girls Are Good For" that described the working woman as a "monstrosity" and said that women were best suited for domestic chores. 
Impressed by Bly's letter, Pittsburgh Dispatch editor George Madden hired her as a full-time reporter under the pen name Nellie Bly. She was a trailblazing journalist, an unwavering champion for women and the working poor, and a brilliant muckraker. One of her most famous assignments was for the the New York World where she posed as a mentally ill woman and exposed the horrors of a women's asylum on Blackwell's Island. 
Bly also achieved worldwide fame with her 1889 trip around the world, which was inspired by Jules Verne's novel "Around the World in Eighty Days." She completed her journey in seventy-two days.
I don't think my daughter and son have heard about Nellie Bly in school yet. Dad's got a history lesson for tonight ...

Monday, May 4, 2015

Red Sox host James Taylor in effort to reach out to young fans.

James Taylor premieres new Red Sox song at Fenway Park - Names - The Boston Globe:

The tune tells the tale of several generations of Red Sox fans, and muses on the Curse of the Bambino, the Yankees rivalry, and the historic 2004 World Series win, which inspired the song. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, who is a longtime Sox fan, held a press conference prior to the game, playing the video and discussing the song’s origins.
Remember the Chris Rock segment on how baseball is screwing itself by its constant outreach to aging, white dudes? Apparently the Red Sox don't.

Look, I get that James Taylor is popular with guys in my demographic (and older). I don't get why ... but I acknowledge it's a fact and sure, by all means, when that's a big part of your current base, make them feel at home. Me, I was all for bringing in the Dropkick Murphys and playing "Tessie" as much as possible. (I still am. And do.)

Boston must also have some hip hop performers they could be partnering with to make sure it's not only Big Papi we ever hear rap? Speaking of, where's Moufy at these days? Isn't Guru from Boston? Has Edo G got any prodigies?  I don't know, maybe there's a dearth of talent in Boston -- historically not the most nurturing city for young black performers, I suppose. But kids in Boston must like music from somewhere? Is it that the biggest stars regionally are based out of New York and we can't have Mets or Yankees caps showing up to see music at Fenway, or worn by the performers? What about Michael Christmas?

Smithsonian Folkways - Eugene V. Debs: Trade Unionist, Socialist, Revolutionary, 1855-1926

Smithsonian Folkways - Eugene V. Debs: Trade Unionist, Socialist, Revolutionary, 1855-1926

Click play on track 205 in the link above to hear a brief snippet of Sen. Sanders reading Debs on WWI.

I haven't seen it, but I understand Sanders has a portrait of Debs hanging in his office in the Capitol.

Give'em hell, Bernie.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Visitation - "Why are the people of Earth so parochial?"

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

Season 19, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #120) | Previous - Next | Index

GIFs via Tempus Aeterna
The thing people generally remember this one for is being the answer to a couple of trivia questions: which story did the sonic screwdriver get destroyed in, and in which story did we see the Great Fire of London start? (Strange that it happens at this point in the Doctor's timeline, since Four mentioned he'd had enough of being blamed for it at the end of "Pyramids of Mars," although we could probably make a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey conjecture like he's being blamed by Time Lords who know he's got a hand in it before he does ... )

There's another perspective from which this is an important story; it's the debut of Eric Saward, who will have tremendous influence as a writer, then script editor, for better or worse, or even worse, for a while to come. The best thing to be said for Saward is that he at least has the sense to aspire to being Robert Holmes. That he never lives up that apparent ambition -- if we agree with Dr. Sandifer, and it certainly makes sense to me, that "The Visitation" is a remake of "The Time Warrior" -- is a shame. We can console ourselves during his era of the show that he, despite his shortcomings, is not Andrew Cartmel. (Now, I know Cartmel has his defenders, and as I make my way through the last seasons I may have to eat my words, but I started this project with pretty strong feelings about John Nathan-Turner's stewardship of the program, AKA its strangulation, and Cartmel looks like one of his worst hires.)

Wolf Hall is airing on PBS as I write this, we're three episodes in, so I was primed to be delighted by the milieu of "The Visitation." Yes, it's set some hundred and thirty years later, but the candle-lit home a country squire looks very much like Cromwell's digs and the intrusion of the Terileptil into the home is dramatically filmed. We're off to a strong start until ... the TARDIS lands.

Tegan's status as unwilling companion, always trying to leave, miserable and cranky has gone well past tiresome by this point. We forgive her early in this story, since being mindfucked by the Mara ("Kinda") understandably unnerves her. But she burns through our empathy quickly. Adric is even worse. Nyssa should be the bright spot in this companion-crowded TARDIS, but Sarah Sutton is off her game here.

Luckily, Peter Davison is fun to watch. He appears to genuinely enjoy being in this episode, even if he can't make out quite how to play the dialogue he's part of in some situations. One of my favorite moments is when he has to make something out of this:
DOCTOR: Adric, look after her, I'll be back.
ADRIC: *is unconscious*
OK, that's not a favorite moment, but one that made me chuckle. My true favorite moment of dialogue is:
DOCTOR: Oh, twist their arms a bit to let me take them back to their own planet.
NYSSA: I hope they have arms to twist.
DOCTOR: I'll find something. 
By end of second episode, the pace has been lost. Scenes drag on too long. Action is muddled, only Peter Davison comes off well when pitching a yokel over his shoulder. Sue's comments about the direction in the Adventures with the Wife in Space post are spot on.

Had former thespian turned highwayman Richard Mace, Saward's stab at a Holmesian (Robert, not Sherlock) character, been a Robert Holmes character, we might be more inclined to remember the story fondly. But, he's not quite. Mace was a character Saward had developed outside the DW universe in a trio of radio plays, recycled here -- and moved a few centuries back in time for the purpose, so those plays don't enter into any discussion of possible canonicity.

Additional Resources:

Sam Harris Awkwardly Debates with Noam Chomsky

Sam Harris Awkwardly Debates with Noam Chomsky |

Harris and Chomsky, talking past each other in a debate I wish had actually happened.
On April 26 of this year, Harris reached out to Chomsky over some comments he had made referring to Harris as a “religious fanatic who worships the state.” Except, well, Chomsky didn’t directly call him that, he was speaking of New Atheists writ large, and arguably Christopher Hitchens specifically. Either way, Harris took to defending his comrades and reached out to Chomsky to clarify their respective positions in a public dialogue.

Harris, to his credit, maintained an impressive civility in the face of pure, unadulterated contempt from Chomsky.
It's a long exchange and worth reading. Neither represents themselves particularly well, I think, with Harris missing the point of Chomsky's replies, and Chomsky coming across as churlish asshole -- but one who happens to have the better argument.

Perhaps tellingly, I read and follow both outside of the professional fields -- I couldn't give you a satisfactory account of Chomsky's work in linguistics, nor could I keep up with Harris in the field of neuroscience. Where I engage with them is in the "public intellectual" space they sort of dabble in and have made names for themselves outside of the fields. Both tend to draw vitriol, sometimes understandably, but both drill into questions of personal and public morality in ways I find illuminating and shed necessary light on areas of debate that are too often only glibly served by policy makers and the press.

Harris has an Islamophobia problem and is, I think, wrong on the issue of regulating firearms. Despite these issues, he is a remarkably effective debater, doesn't shy away from difficult discussions, values transparency -- all qualities we should value in our public intellectuals.

This was a disappointing read. I had hoped for more and, while Chomsky on first read is more on-topic, I agree with Harris that Chomsky's tone undermine the ability to have a meaningful argument. He clearly is contemptuous of Harris's position and mode of arguing, which is fine, Harris misreads the exchange and leaves himself open to the attacks, but attacks they are, and Chomsky undercuts his position and moral authority by making them.

An actual exchange, where Chomsky, in my (rash, perhaps) assessment, could've opened Harris up a little and helped him see where his focus on intentions with regard to morality is off-the-mark in this context might have brought Harris around to a point where both men could had a valuable public discussion. Instead, both I think left with a sour taste that isolates the perspectives of the two, when we would all benefit from seeing the process of one influencing the other to revise their position.

This is one of those times I wish I could do this (blogging) for a living, because I'd like to spend a full day or two annotating the exchange, researching the references, presenting supporting detail (with regard to both matters of historical fact and providing background on the philosophical debate over intention), and critically evaluating the argument in detail. Because I work a 40+ work week at the day job, have kids, other interests and responsibilities, the day or two of effort I'd like to put into doing this would take me several weeks, by which time I expect the work would've already been, and anyone who might be interested would've already read all the would want or need to on the matter.

At least I hope that's what's going to happen, because I'd like to read that level of analysis of the exchange.

As an aside, the other contest folks, based on my twitter stream, were generally interested in (or, if not interested, interested in expressing their non-interest in) was the Pacquiao/Mayweather fight. As a sports fan with a lingering interest in boxing from the end of Muhammad Ali's career, I get it. But Pacquiao (a politician) and Mayweather (as a human being in general) are both terrible, and seem largely interested in bashing women and gays to one extent or another. Those disappointed with the fight and/or its outcome might find they would have been more interested in how to score the clash between Chomsky and Harris, if only it were on twitter's radar.

#HarrisChomsky > #MayPac

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Avengers - Between the Lines

My thoughts in the comments on the YouTube post ...

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