Wednesday, September 30, 2015

New ☆ Tweet from @Museum_SciFi

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Waters of Mars

Mars has flowing rivers of briny water, NASA satellite reveals

Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
Mars has seasonal rivers of flowing water. Note the verb “has” rather than “had”, as in liquid water is a current feature on present-day Mars. In other words, this is not from the distant past — the water is flowing now. What appeared to be a dry void of red-orange rock is wetter than previously thought.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

New ☆ Tweet from @BrennanCenter

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Accidental Autoblog Of Inconvenient Truth

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One of the dangers of having my twitter faves automatically pumped to the blog is if I fat-finger something on my phone, or if, like today, it never loads tweet and I just start hammering the blank screen, then give up and close all the apps to start over, I've faved something I never saw. But, even though I was surprised to see this had made its way to the blog, when I did follow the link, it was a nauseating reminder that the problem in the Middle East is more complicated, and the U.S. is far more complicit in those problems, than is generally reported.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Magician's Apprentice / The Witch's Familiar - "I wouldn't die of anything else."

The Magician's Apprentice (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 9, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #258a) | Previous - Next | Index


This is half a story, setting the stage for next week's presumed payoff. As, such am going to hold off rating this one and decide retroactively how I feel about how it worked. In terms of the cliffhanger, which showed us the death of Missy (again), Clara, and the destruction of the TARDIS, I'm deeply ambivalent, leaning towards I'm-going-to-be-pissed-when-the-timeline-is-reset-and-it-never-happened. But, let's see first how it unfolds. As much as I suspect it's going to be rubbish, I'm hoping to be surprised.

The Doctor's idea of a 12th century axe battle is to ride a tank in while playing electric guitar. His axe. It's bombast this show can pull off every so often under the right circumstances. Are these the right circumstances? Well, close enough. Should we be encouraging this sort of storytelling behavior? No, I think not. But, for an opening night fireworks show, which you've set up by the Doctor believing he's partying his final days away, I'll play along.

Back to maximum extermination the Daleks unleash ... doesn't it feel like we're being trolled? How is it possible to care when of course the TARDIS isn't destroyed, and it's unlikely that's how Jenna Coleman left, and Missy was just vaporized the story before last and brought back with some hand waving about never mind all that. Moffat must know what buttons he's pushing, so I don't want to be the fool that falls through the first trapdoor. But if that's how he's playing this game, the second trapdoor better be a spectacular bit of engineering because it's got to not only be cleverer than the audience, it's got bring coherence to plot that to this point, as Missy might say, pants.

You know those card trick videos, where a sharp shuffles and cuts the deck, telling a story as he flips over cards that fit the tale? Doctor Who can't be that. If it's just a clever bit of slight of hand where we're left marveling at the skill of the trick's creator, but the characters are just varnished polyvinyl chloride that can be discarded and added back to the deck willy-nilly, and the story is just what the trick needs it to be, then we're wasting our time. That mode of storytelling can be a 3 minute youtube video but not a meaningful part of what's made Doctor Who a story going strong fifty-plus years after it started being told.

But, if there's an actual point to the thing beyond a storyteller saying, "Look how clever I am," and it makes us think, and question our beliefs about how to make and live in a just society, well, that's proper magic then. The gnawing doubt I have is rooted in the moral dilemma the Doctor faces, the question about how to be a good man in the story he's in, being child's play.

This dilemma (helpfully played back for us from "Genesis of the Daleks": if you a know a child is going to grow up to be a monster could you kill it? Well, that's no dilemma at all. Look, for the Doctor, sure you can make a case he's got knowledge other don't have, reason to believe his beliefs about the future are justified - still, the case for murdering a child falls apart under those conditions, too; but, it's not even a hard question for us. You don't. You don't murder someone, or let them die if you can save them, just because you believe that child will grow up to be a mass murderer. Look, you and I can't ever know the future,  so the point of the question is obviously to get at a rule that makes other, trickier dilemmas, easier to tackle.  And the rule is:  don't murder. (I trust it goes without saying that if you ever found yourself faced with a child you are considering murdering because you think you know its future, the conclusion you should be reaching is you're mad, and need to not murder anyone, because you think you know things you can't possibly know.)

Have reason to believe the kid is going to grow up to me mass murdering nihilst and want to stop them becoming a monster? Help them in some other way. Murder isn't the only tool in the kit. Or, if it is, you've bought the wrong box, son.

The frustrating thing is, the situation we were shown, the Doctor not knowing where he is, the kid only giving his name. Unless we know for a fact that there was only ever one Davros in the history of Skaro, what makes him think he's even got enough to assume identity? What if Davros is common name on Skaro? But, even if we brush that aside and take for granted he knows it's *that* Davros, it's inconceivable to me the Doctor would leave him to die.

Maybe, one could argue, the Doctor didn't think he could save the boy, and would die trying. In that case, I don't think he's obliged to try to save him. I'd argue a man with a time capsule who could fly over and lift him out of the field might not be using enough of his imagination in making that determination, but people can only decide with the information they have, and if he truly believes they'd both die, he's not obliged to try to save the child. But we know that's not what he thought because he started trying before he knew the boy's name.

So the error in judgment the Doctor made may be the moment at which he created Davros, the Dark Lord of Skaro, Creator of the Daleks. So coming back (emm, how?) to not only not save the boy, but to kill him and undo all kinds of history (like the Time War, presumably, and a few other minor alterations) seems like the kind of thing he wouldn't do, even to save Clara, so soon after explaining to Clara why he couldn't undo Danny Pink's death. I'm not grokking it.

Reading through all that rambling before hitting 'Publish,' the thing that's missing is it's not coming across how much I enjoyed watching Capaldi play the Doctor again. Even when wondering what the hell is going on plot-wise, and grinding my off-with-Moffat's-head axe, there is no end of delight in watching him own the character.

  • If Bors was Dalek sleeper, what was Davros doing sending the snake fella looking for him? Or did the snake bite turn him? That must be it. Never mind, I'm sorted after all on that one.
  • Clara snogging Jane Austen wouldn't be the worst thing for us to circle back and see in a future episode. Not for the snogging, mind, I mean for the story where the Doctor and Clara meet Jane Austen. 
  • That Missy is back (was back, will be back again), despite how ludicrous it is, is fine with me. Michelle Gomez is the panto/camp John Simm Master elevated to new plane of existence. She's perfect. If they're giving us a sort of rehash of the Pertwee-UNIT-Master stories, she's holding up the Master/Missy's end of the deal and then some.

The Witch's Familiar (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 9, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #258b) | Previous - Next | Index

Before falling in with the vampire monkeys.
There are interesting, and uninteresting questions, left over from "The Magician's Apprentice." The uninteresting ones are: those around the moral dilemma, such as it is, Four faced in Genesis, and Twelve now faces as he stares down the barrel of a blaster announcing his intent to exterminate young Davros; and, those around how the TARDIS, Clara, and Missy will be un-exterminated so the Doctor will still have a way to get around, someone to get around with, and his most famous nemesis back. Moral dilemmas and matters of life-and-death, as we all know, are tried-and-true dramatic elements that, when executed well, make for satisfying narratives.

The interesting questions have to do with whether a satisfying narrative be derived from the starting position we're left with from the end of "TMA," because the obvious dramatic elements have already been ruled out. In order for Moffat to make this work as a piece of television story-telling, either an interesting moral dilemma not explicitly raised in the first part needs to surface, or a new, unconsidered one examined; or, we need to see the Doctor cope with all that loss as a results events  not-to-be-undone. The latter, viewers know instinctively, is off the table. They will be undone.

With regard to the former, +Docteur Who suggested a possible avenue for finding a hook this story can hang on: basically, that Davros become a more interesting character by having the story unfold such that it's revealed he is playing a deeper, longer game than the Doctor, one we haven't got a grasp on yet. If a dilemma can really be found from Davros's point-of-view, and his actions, his will, become not only plot-movers, but matters of interest in their own right, then Moffat could pull a rabbit from the hat and retroactively imbue the first part of this story with more gravitas than it had on its own. It's a lot to ask though.

(Hard to argue with the characterization of that episode by Jack Graham, that Moffat has basically made himself some GIFsets. Sure, I like a good GIFset, but we all expect and want more ... )

One question I don't know whether to consider interesting, or not, as I write in the interregnum between episodes, is the answer to the question: who is the Magician's Apprentice? (Or how many Magician's, or Magicians' Apprentices are there?)

The Doctor is called Magician by Bors. The Doctor's apprentice is Clara. But, Bors is also a bit of an apprentice himself.  If the Doctor is the Magician, we should also consider the possibility the other Time Lord in the story is also a Magician, and if we do, then who would her apprentice be? Well, interestingly, Clara might, just might, be seen as someone who could be -- but that may just be a function of those two characters sharing so many scenes. The other Magician candidate is, of course, Davros himself. His apprentice could be Colony Sarff -- so perhaps our favorite new serpentine democracy could take on some narrative heft. Although, if Davros is revealed to be playing a deeper game, then perhaps the Doctor becomes the apprentice after a fashion. Of course, there may be, and often is, more than one answer.

Make an org chart with job titles Magician and Apprentice, draw a line between them, slide the characters in this story around so the roles change, and find where there are interesting dynamics at play ...

Then, the question of this episode's title come into play. Who is the witch, and who is the witch's familiar? Ahh, Missy is an intriguing witch -- the female magician. Again Clara is the only obvious candidate for familiar, but who knows ... ?

These questions of roles and relationships in a magician-apprentice/witch-familiar set of pairs can't carry the story on their own though. What they do, and why they do what they do in these roles, or what their relationships say about relationship dynamics that can somehow be ported to questions of interest for us, the viewers, and our relationships to ... one another? ... to Moffat and the show itself? These need more depth, otherwise all this is just shuffling cards, moving of pieces on a board -- gameplay. Gameplay it's possible to enjoy for what it is, but signifying nothing more than: we made two episodes of Doctor Who to open Series Nine.


Last week, I was afraid we'd have to dismiss this story as mere gimmickry. Whatever criticisms we might level at Moffat, there's simply no denying he's a professional writer; what looked like a glorified card trick did indeed turn out to be more. Moreover, when he does use "mere" slight-of had of hand to get Clara and Missy, and the TARDIS (eventually) out of being shot by the Daleks, he actually makes us glad of it. No timey-wimey rewrites, no resets. In so doing, he also goes back even further and explains how Missy survived the climax of last series's finale. We're always a little disappointed when we learn the trick, whether it's a writer's trick or an illusionist's, the mechanics are never as impressive as the illusion they produce, but the skill that goes into executing them can always be appreciated.

After all the showpieces and fireworks last week, this week's story is nearly all conversation and close quarters. We see Daleks buzzing around the city on Skaro, but it's from a distance for the most part. Otherwise we're in the sewers or one of the same two rooms in the city nearly the whole time.

It got smaller, and better. Better because it addresses the themes the modern series has held as touchstones since we met Rose: the courage to be compassionate; and an openness towards the external world, a denial of xenophobia. Only wish they'd been expanded on in some way. They never get old, but there's nothing anywhere near as hard-hitting here as the Doctor asking Clara if she thinks she means so little to him that her betraying him would even matter.

The moral dilemma I pish-poshed turned out to be not to be the dilemma at. We were set up. That "Exterminate" was never for young Davros, it was always for the handmines. The Doctor never went anywhere to kill, not then, not now. He went to see Davros on his deathbed because the old bugger was dying, and asked to see a Doctor. That's the closest, I think, we got to a moment of sheer compassion. (A little more complex than that here though, as the Doctor knew he was walking in to a trap, with every intention of making it spring back on the trap setter once sprung, so maybe he's acting every bit as much as Davros in their scenes together.)

So did I waste my time wondering about the episode titles? Did they mean anything at all? I've read reviews that said they were empty of meaning, but I still feel like they're a reference to Clara's roles with Doctor and Missy, the latter of whom she spends a great deal of time with again. (Canary to the miner as much, or more than, familiar to the witch.) Putting the two of them together was brilliant. Missy, under Moffat, is becoming the definitive iteration of the Master. This is not a claim to be made lightly, and I mean no disrespect to Delgado's character, but if you can stomach Moffat reaching into the past of the series and planting his flag all over the place, and it turns out I still can, you've got to be delighted with the character getting some more of her backstory filled. That line about the brooch and her daughter alone ...

Capaldi, it's worth repeating, is utterly brilliant. Playing dodge'em cars in Davros's chair, explaining why he came, letting Davros set him up and spring the trap, sussing out it was Clara in that Dalek - which probably shouldn't have taken as long as it did -- but that's on Moffat, if anyone -- he was devastating throughout. Michelle Gomez, Jenna Coleman, and, even under all that Davros latex, Julian Bleach are cracking good. The news that this is Coleman's last series should remind us all to appreciate how fortunate we are to have, and to have had, her as long as we have. Seeing her in a Dalek flashed me back to her introduction in "Asylum of the Daleks," but she's a different Clara here than she was then, her performance is as remarkable now as it was then.

If the Series 8 finale started strong and went off the rails in the second half, as I maintain, this one its mirror image: starting out dodgy, but pulling it all together and striding forward confidently. Not a masterpiece, not by a stretch, but not the failure that loomed either.

Stray Thoughts:

  • The internet poll question is: are the call backs to the classic series lowly fan service, or do they enhance the show? Worked for me. If anything, it was the call back to last season, the "Am I a good man?" fell flat when Davros asked it. 
  • "Your sewers are revolting." Look, if you're going to go to the trouble of having the sewers be lined with slime Daleks, you may as well go all the way.
  • This new HADS function seems ... awfully convenient.
  • Did it feel to you, like it did to me, that Clara being hooked up to the Dalek was set up as having consequences we didn't see? Missy mentioning that taking the plugs out could be a different story to putting them in, then the Doctor looking frightened and telling Missy, with threatening tones, to run ... only to cut away and she's out no problem? Clara better not wind up like ol' Bors did ... 
  • Swapping out the sonic for a pair of shades, "wearable technology," is not sitting well with me.
  • Remembering again "Asylum of the Daleks," there too we had a class of Daleks the proper-functioning Daleks couldn't deal with. In that one, it was their mentally ill. In this one, their aged. Feels like Moffat is getting after something here, a point about societies needing to care for their aged and infirm, lest the cruelty of not doing so prove their undoing. Or, as always, it's possible I'm reading too much into it ...

The Myth Makers - "But this is not Troy; this is not even the world; this is the journey through the beyond."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Myth Makers - Details

Season 3, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #20) | Previous - Next | Index

This story wrong-foots me a few ways, leaving me without much to say much about it. Working against me: am painfully weak on my classics being this far from my high school days, sure, I remember the basics, but boning up on Troilus and Cressida for this story just isn't on my to-do list; I didn't see it when it aired, haven't read the Target novelization in decades, and am working strictly off the reconstruction, so feel a distance from the story in a way that retards ambition to place it in some kind meaningful context; the nagging perception that it would have been fun to watch as it aired, and it being significant for having a companion departure -- Vicki, a terrible loss for the show -- serve to raise the hurdles. Wanting to be engaged in watching it, but not getting there, is dispiriting. This one I very much wish would be recovered, or a decent animated reconstruction made, so I could watch it without the constant sensation of being one of Plato's cave prisoners who had escaped, but been recaptured, cognizant how inadequate the flickering shadows on the rock wall are.

Even as a reconstruction though, it's easy to love a story that takes the piss out of these famous characters, and tells the story of Troy without even bothering with Helen. It's irreverence towards Zeus and the Olympians (as well Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon, Priam, Menelaus, Cassandra, and the rest). It's for this fractured fairy-tale aspect that I recommend the story. The Doctor doesn't want to do the horse thing, proposes a catapult-launched aerial attack on Troy instead; Odysseus threatens to the launch the Doctor from a catapult so he goes back to the drawing board to draft a plan for a hollow horse; the bickering of the Trojan royal family: it's all good fun. And it's all turned on its head when the bloodshed breaks out in the final episode. That last should be a jolt, but a reconstruction only gets you so far.

Coming back to Vicki, after her, and discounting Katarina and Sara Kingdom as barely-if-even companions, things on the supporting character front are pretty bleak. Steven has never replaced Ian in my heart. Dodo, Ben, and Polly are probably my least favorite companions. Victoria I'm not caught up on, but not fond of what I've seen so far. So it's not until Zoe joins Jamie in the TARDIS crew that the Doctor has strong support again.

Wood and Miles in About Time have this to say:
Fandom has long had a low opinion of the story. It's still written up in our "official" chronicles as a farce, marred by the star's prejudices and some ponderous dialogue. Nobody who's actually listened to it, or remember seeing it broadcast, shares this opinion. The worst you can say about it is the final act seems oddly uneven; comedy and tragedy do mix, but none of the antics in the first three-quarters carry even a hint of the horror that unleashed at the climax. This, though, maybe a result of the lack of moving pictures. Events must seem far more threatening, when you can see all the huge men waving swords in your face. It's a story about perception versus reality, people who are acquainted with war and people who are enthusiastic about it, the version we all think we know and what actually happened. Ironic, then, that the story itself should be so misperceived.
Worth checking out. More so than the epic that follows.

Additional Resources:

Loose Cannon's Reconstruction

Wikipedia page

Tardis Wikia page transcript

Sandifer post

Shabogan Graffiti review
After this story, Doctor Who descends into weeks and weeks and bloody weeks of pompous, bloated, OTT, Dan Dare bullshit... so it's delicious to see such stuff mocked in advance. The warring races, invasions and swaggering heroics of Terry Nation have already been given a slow puncture by Donald Cotton. Heroes aren't brave and semi-divine supermen, they're cowardly or outright villainous. Odysseus is vile, but he's preferable to just about everyone else in the story because he's the only one with irony or self-awareness. He's the only one who really knows that gods are always fake, heroes always drunks and fools, honour little more than ideology, heroics always little more than murder. 
And here we come to another triumph: the seriousness of the depiction of the slaughter. The trouble with irony is that it can become overpowering and put us at a distance from the emotional effect that drama should have on us. Cotton switches the irony off at the last moment and allows the dirty brutality of war to suddenly jump out at us. The effect is quite startling. 
A thousand curses upon whoever burnt this one.
Wife in Space post

TV Tropes page

Friday, September 18, 2015

Timelash - "Save your breath for the Timelash, Doctor. Most people depart with a scream."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Timelash - Details

Season 22, Story 5 (Overall Series Story #142) | Previous - Next | Index

Yep, as awful as I remembered, and everybody else remembers. However, in its defense (sort of), if this had been Colin's debut, instead of the risible "The Twin Dilemma," it wouldn't, I think have been as fatal a blow. So that's something.

The reason "TTD" comes to mind is that in this one Six and Peri are bickering again, for some reason, so we're back to the Doctor being an ass to Peri again, sort of like in that other one. But at least he doesn't try to strangle her in this one. This, by the way, is me struggling to find something, anything to say about this one apart from piling on it. So, that I have some slight motivation not to trash it suggests something about it at least offers the hope of a redemptive reading. But I'm not going that far.

So what in the name of Herbert George Wells is happening here? How does this kind of story get made? Well, it starts with an idea that has potential. Turns out it was young writer Glenn McCoy. His idea wasn't a terrible one. He's got some H.G. Wells background and knows where to put the story in Wells's life to make it fit. Aligning Doctor Who with the roots of modern speculative fiction isn't an unworthy endeavor.

Also, I'm not wholly opposed to referencing events from the Doctor's past we haven't seen. I rather think we need that occasionally to flesh it out, and remind the viewer, as "The Face of Evil" did, that there's more to the Doctor's life than what we see on the screen.

Mix in the actor who played Avon in Blake's 7, a decent bit of monstercraft for the Borad, and it feels like there should have been enough elements here for the thing to work. Coherence though, is difficult in this era. The forces of entropy at work. Chaos. Things fall apart. The center will not hold.

John Nathan-Turner sends Colin and Nicola off to perform in a panto and to Chicago for a convention during rehearsal, so it's understandable if they are not firing all cylinders. Glenn McCoy is young and Eric Saward doesn't seem to have a genius for editing scripts, and maybe that's what this needed. Episode 2 under-ran, so they had to pick up some filler. When you're already having trouble making sense and telling a well-paced story, stretching for time is almost never going to help things.

In the end, I'm inclined to be more forgiving of the stories where their badness stems from failing to execute on an idea, they manifest as forgettable, unlike those that are built on foundation of rubbish and execute poorly, where they tend to leap to mind as exemplars of awfulness -- again, "Dragonfire," I'm looking at you.

Additional Resources:

Tardis Wikia entry
Wikipedia entry transcript
Sandifer post
Shabogan Graffiti
Wife in Space post
TV Tropes page

Thursday, September 17, 2015

We mock them, but maybe there is never not a hilariously bad answer ...

Every Single GOP Candidate's Proposed Secret Service Code Name Is Unimaginably Hilarious
Chris Christie, bless your true heart.
... [E]ach candidate was prompted to offer what their Secret Service code name would be if they were elected president, and holy hell was each answer absolutely nuts.

Here are the candidates’ real, actual answers, each of which delivers such a perfect morsel of conservative id:
Chris Christie: “True Heart” 
John Kasich: “Unit One” 
Carly Fiorina: “Secretariat” 
Scott Walker: “Harley” 
Jeb Bush: “Ever-Ready” 
Donald Trump: “Humble” 
Ben Carson: “One Nation” 
Ted Cruz: “Cohiba” 
Marco Rubio: “Gator” 
Mike Huckabee: “Duck Hunter” 
R[and] Paul: “Justice Never Sleeps”
It would be almost impossible to improve upon these. I can't decide which is the most hilarious. Fiorina's though, she must be trolling us, or something ... I mean, you can't talk about it without her being able to run a campaign ad off anything you could possibly say.

One of the funniest comments I've heard about these analyze these as what the candidates actually call their penises. Again, Fiorina wins.

That Rand didn't go with "Aqua Buddha" defies belief.

You can't make fun of them though unless you're willing to put your Presidential Secret Service Code Name out there.

Me, I'd be: "Dice Man," because "cdogzilla," would blow my cover. No, wait, idiots would think it's an Andrew Dice Clay reference.  Umm ... shoot, this is harder than I thought ... "Big Gorilla One," that's me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Iron Man Analysis I Didn't Even Know I Needed To Read

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Pistachio Apocalypse

Oh, Nuts! Why California’s Pistachio Trees Are Shooting Blanks | Bay Area Bites | KQED Food

Detail from image by Kreg Steppe (flickr)

In California’s blazing hot San Joaquin Valley, millions of pistachio trees are now buried in clusters of small pinkish-green fruits — what would seem like a bumper crop.

But for many growers of the popular nut, the season is shaping into a disaster. Jeff Schmiederer, who farms 700 acres of family-owned pistachio trees on the western side of the San Joaquin Valley, says about 90 percent of the nuts he has sampled from his trees are hollow — what growers call “blanks.”

“I’ve never seen a year this bad for blanks,” says Schmiederer, who has been farming pistachios since the mid-1990s.
Pistachios are an extravagance I don't partake of as often as I'd like, but still, this news sends a chill down my spine ... then back up, over, and down my gullet.

Gullet. That's one of those words that feels archaic, but underused. Like maw, the gaping maw of a man about to devour a bag of pistachios.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Launch of Eruditorum Press

Eruditorum Press: A Manifesto | Eruditorum Press

One of the most absolutely satisfying things about my blogging career over the past few years has been the fellow travelers I’ve met and befriended. I’ve become a part of an intellectual circle of critics, not through any active attempt to create a critical empire, but just because I’ve had the honor of meeting cool and brilliant people doing cool and brilliant work. Which, now that I think of the implications under late capitalism, is appalling. I should absolutely have a critical empire, dammit, and so now I’m making one.
Many of us on the left are fuming about MSNBC's gradual conversion into Fox News Lite, kneeling to shine the shoes of fascist buffoon Donald Trump, so this comes as great news. It's not answer to that problem, but it is the answer to a host of others. If ever a website could brandish a "This url kills fascists" sticker, what we've got now with Phil, Jane, and Jack under one roof, ought to be it.

Add them to your sidebars, RSS feeds, whatever you do to keep up with your favorite websites.

How To Succeed On A Flawed Game Show By Trying Really, Really Hard

The Man Who Got No Whammies

via priceonomics

Using his VCR, he recorded episodes; for 18 hours day, he sat perched in front of the screens, analyzing every spin of the Big Board frame-by-frame, looking for patterns.
Then, incredibly, he found one.

After six months of scrupulous examination, Larson realized that the “random” sequences on Press Your Luck’s Big Board weren’t random at all, but rather five looping patterns that would always jump between the same squares. He wrote down these patterns, memorized them, then honed his timing by watching re-runs and hitting “pause” on his VCR remote when he suspected the board would land on a given square.
Most crucially, Larson determined that two squares on the game board, #4 and #8, always contained a combination of cash and an extra spin. Since he’d memorized the patterns, he knew exactly when the board would land on each square...
via Mark D on facebook

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Last Words Project

I imagine Jonathan Ferrell's last words were something along the lines of, "Please help, I've been in an accident." But, he didn't get a chance to say anything to the police who shot him down.

There're more by Shirin Barghi at #LastWords.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

New ☆ Tweet from @sturdyAlex

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Friday, September 11, 2015

#DoctorWho, Series 9 Prologue

BBC One - Doctor Who, New Series Prologue, New Series Prologue

It appears to be leading up to the one that'll debut with the theatrical release of the Series 8 finale, which I'll be seeing on Wednesday. Karn; an object (a Something of Rassilon?) to be delivered to someone; someone's looking for the Doctor and the Doctor's going to meet this someone; this meeting, he's told, will lead to his ...

... destruction.

I'm ready. Bring it.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Mission to the Unknown - "There's something very big going on here, and if the Daleks are involved you can bet your life our whole galaxy is in danger."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Mission to the Unknown - Details

Season 3, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #19) | Previous - Next | Index

The Daleks are a design marvel. The other alien species on display ... not so much.
How you do doin' tall, dark, and accordion-necked?
This episode is the prelude to "The Daleks' Master Plan." It raises some interesting questions, in addition to being the answer to a trivia question ... what Doctor Who story doesn't have have the Doctor, or even a companion, in it? Mostly, it feels like an old-fashioned B-movie written by a hack. So, of course, it's Terry Nation's.

It aired before "The Myth Makers," the fall of Troy story where the Doctor gets a ride in the Trojan Horse, so it's easy to imagine viewers wondering what the heck it was while watching it, then being thrown for another loop when a Dalek epic didn't immediately follow, but another off-balance pseudo-historical did instead. It only makes sense, to the extent it ever does, when "TDMP" finally does come along.

If you do decide to watch it, maybe you can explain to me why the Daleks are shouting about their plan to conquer galaxy over loudspeakers from their secret base on a jungle world. You can also try to help me understand what sort of secret agent (and, oh yes, he has a license to kill because why not cadge some Bond lingo) concocts a plan like this one to save the galaxy from the Daleks. It's all so painfully dumb.

But, I said it raises interesting questions, so I'll ask one of them: is this even Doctor Who? I mean, yes, of course it is, it was produced and broadcast as a Doctor Who episode, and it's got Daleks in it. But stripped of the theme music and titles, if you didn't know it was an episode of DW, would you have guessed it was a pilot for another series? Terry Nation trying to get his Daleks their own show, a straight sci-fi adventure/space opera?

Even knowing it's DW, it feels like a stealth pilot for another show. A show doomed to fail -- and that's what makes it feel like not-Doctor Who to me. If it doesn't have the Doctor in it and it's too dumb to stand on its own, it feels like something else. This one is, for me, the easy answer to a hypothetical question along the lines of: if you could trade one lost story to get another one back, basically sacrifice it so it would never be found, but another one could be, this is the one I think we could all live without.

Additional Resources:
Reconstruction, Part 1
Reconstruction, Part 2
Animated Reconstruction
Wikipedia transcript
Sandifer post
Nobody in the production is clearly and unequivocally essential to the show working. 
Except Verity Lambert. Who at the same age I am now, did 18 months of work that were, let's be honest here, more important to the world than anything I am ever going to accomplish, and probably anything you are ever going to accomplish. Doctor Who exists because a brilliant, beautiful, and strong-willed lady named Verity Lambert spent 18 months fighting tooth and nail to make it happen. 
Doctor Who will, over the other 46 years of its existence, become a number of things, some of them miles from anything we saw on screen in Lambert's time as producer. But at the end of the day, there is nothing about Doctor Who that is not completely dependent on her. And her influence never left the show either. Flip forward a decade or so, and think about where the people working on Doctor Who might have gotten the idea for a brash, strong-willed, capable female who worked alongside the tempestuous Doctor. Ask yourself where a model for a character like Sarah Jane Smith, or Romana, or Tegan, or Ace, or Martha, or Amy might have come from. The answer's obvious. The Doctor always had a companion like that. From day one. It's just that she never stepped out in front of the camera before Lis Sladen stepped out in The Time Warrior.
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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Monday, September 7, 2015

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The Happiness Patrol - "A man after my own soft centre."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Happiness Patrol - Details

Season/Series 25, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #153) | Previous - Next | Index

How Doctor Who works behind-the-scenes, as best I can deduce, in its death throes:
"Guys, I've got this idea for a story where the Doctor goes to a planet where people are forced to act happy. It's a statement about Thatcherism, and it's going to tie our current political landscape to its ideological forebears: fascism and totalitarianism. We're going to shoot it like a Kafka-esque nightmare in the noir style. Think Vienna in The Third Man. In the end, the Doctor will turn help the local dissidents and labor activists overthrow the government!"
"That's brilliant! Who are the villains?"
"The main baddie is going to be a woman who goes by Helen A., she's our Thatcher. Shades of Hitler and the Third Reich, she's got a demented state security apparatus that includes a scientist who thinks of murdering people as experimentation." 
"Love it. Noir, anti-fascism, a satire of Thatcherism. We're really on to something hear. Design team, what have you got for me?" 
"Let's see ... noir, Kafka, anti-fascism. Did someone mention sweets? No? Well, I've got in mind a scientist whose experimental method of killing people involves fondant, and his lab is actually a candy kitchen ..." 
"Whoa, whoa, what are you ..?" 
"He's the Kandyman, with a K, see? And he kills you with ..." 
"I don't think you've ..." 
"Gentleman, I give you, the Kandyman!"

"Also, we're going make sure we light the shit out of all the interior scenes so there are no shadows anywhere. The secret police are going to be gorgeous women in impossibly short skirts with pink wigs that suggest taffy heads. And I've got a line on some go-karts we can get cheap, they don't go very fast but ..."
For all that's wrong with it though, there's just enough of the well-conceived satire of conservatism making it to the screen. While the camp aspect doesn't work for me, I can appreciate the willingness to think noir, but pull the conventions through a funhouse mirror by replacing long shadows and canted cameras with harsh lighting and gaudy colors. It's fucking audacious is what it is.

Not surprisingly, the end result is ... what it is. Six more stories will make it to air after this one. As much as I favor its left wing politics and can forgive the taking of big risks aesthetically, I think we all agree this wasn't executed in a way that made the taking of risks likely to result in big rewards. Hard to imagine viewers seeing this and saying, "Doctor Who is back, baby!"

The Kandyman is one more nail in the coffin. The coffin lid, at this point, has so many nails in it, it's like saying there are a lot of swords in the Iron Throne.


The Doctor tells Earl (the harmonica-playing, med student/bluesman) he'll find him by listening for "the brandy of the damned," a reference to a George Bernard Shaw line from Man and Superman, and as good a reason as any to listen to Nickel Eye's hypnotic song again.

It's probably a bridge too far to suggest Graeme Curry wrote this one with Shaw's notion of women as the agents of selection that are guiding the evolution of mankind towards Nietzschean übermenschen in mind. But it sort of plays nicely with roles of women in the society on Terra Alpha. If you squint hard enough at it.

Little easter eggs for the hardcore fan in this one include the Doctor telling Ace how the Brigadier encountered dinosaurs in London, and a reference to Theta Sigma nickname the Doctor had at school. Because if you're going to make reference to past stories, it might as well be "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" and "The Armageddon Factor," I guess.

The final scene, with Helen A. crying over her Fifi (vicious rat-dog monster) while the Doctor watched was an odd note to end on. I suppose Helen A. had to learn to experience genuine grief, so maybe we can imagine she's going to feel remorse for all the people she disappeared as well, but it's still odd.

Additional Resources:

Tardis Wikia entry transcript

Sandifer post

Shabogan Graffiti (Jack loves this one and makes a strong case for its politics...)
Like 'The Sun Makers', 'Happiness Patrol' notices the fundamental synergy and compatibility and similarity of Stalinism with 'market Stalinism', of authoritarianism with psuedo-libertarian neoliberalism. Helen A likes Silas P's "enterprise and initiative" as a murderer of dissidents. Thatcher admires the 'law and order' inherent in the criminal attacks (by government or police) upon miners, while always speciously excoriating the "moaning minnies" and preaching personal freedom, i.e. the personal freedom to stamp on the poor and powerless as long as you own the bought virtue that comes with wealth.
And it's a union of displaced/oppressed natives, dissidents, foreigners and striking/demonstrating workers that brings down the government.  Helen loses control of the state, factory by factory.  It ain't quite Leninism for kids... but it's getting there.

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Thank you for c-i-e's 5th consecutive month of record traffic

Just briefly, before the trend comes to its inevitable end, want to thank everyone who's added c-i-e to their blogroll, tweeted posts, +1ed, commented, or just flitted through and helped c-i-e hit a new high water mark last month.

After hitting a peak back in July 2014, my monthly views were down-up-down, but April this year saw a new high, and it's a been a new high each month since.

Just to be clear, we're talking such small numbers they'd drive any brand name blogger to despair.

But still, I figured after haranguing everyone who comes by to put their money where their mouth is and fund Brady or Everytown instead of patting themselves on the back for scolding the lunatics that run their mouths reflexively after each new gun tragedy, the line would've bent sharply in the other direction.

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