Shared posts

14 Dec 14:12

Nearest Election to a 3-way Split of Seats

by noreply@blogger.com (Alun Wyburn-Powell)
Today is the anniversary of the 1923 general election. The Conservatives won the most seats with 258, Labour had 191 and the Liberals (with the Asquith and Lloyd George wings recently reunited) won 159.

It was the nearest that the country has ever come to an equal three-way split of seats.

The Conservatives, who had been in power before the election, tried to form a minority government.
However, the Liberals and (unsurprisingly) Labour refused to support them on the King’s Speech.

Liberal leader, Asquith could potentially have formed a minority Liberal government, or a coalition with one of the other parties. Instead, he let Labour form their first administration with the words:

"There could be no safer conditions under which to make the experiment".

Asquith was right in the sense that the first Labour government was not dangerous - indeed it was safe, respectable, unadventurous and fairly unobjectionable, even to its opponents.

However, the experiment turned out to be worse than dangerous for the Liberals. Once Labour had become a party of government, the Liberals appeared to have lost their purpose and were punished at the next election, held less than a year later in October 1924. Labour lost office in 1924, but the Liberals lost almost three-quarters of their seats, crashing to only 40 MPs.

One conclusion could be that, given the chance, it is always better to be a party of government.
14 Dec 14:10

MPs should have their pay-rise - Oh, and it's 2.2% not 11%

by Mark Thompson
Having seen the almost uniformly negative coverage of this "11% MP pay rise" (even from MPs themselves) I feel that somebody has to stick up for them.

All the commentary I have seen has been along the lines of the rest of the country is suffering from austerity and public sector wage rises have been kept to 1% so WHY ON EARTH SHOULD MPs HAVE AN 11% PAY RISE??!!!

Well firstly the rise would not be 11%. At least not if you measure it fairly and in the same way that pay-rises are measured for everybody else, i.e. annually. The salary is currently £66,396 (since Apr this year). The proposal is to raise it to £74,000 in 2015. So this would be a rise of just under 5.6% per year from that baseline. But that isn't really fair either because between Apr 2009 and Apr 2013 MPs' salaries rose by 0.6% annually (when the historic average of the last decade has been more like 2.2%). And this current rise is at least partly designed to address this. So when you compare the Apr 2009 figure with the proposed 2015 one you get an average pay-rise of 2.2% across the 6 years. Which doesn't even keep pace with inflation.

"AH!" I hear you cry "BUT WHAT ABOUT THE 1%?". But there's more dear irate capitalised fictional reader. IPSA are actually proposing quite radical changes to the structure of MPs' (historically very generous) pensions and also ironing out some expenses anomalies. So the cost to the taxpayer of this latest rise would actually be cost neutral. That's right, it won't cost us anything more. Not that you'd particularly have been aware of that judging by much of the coverage.

It's also worth noting that IPSA is an entirely independent body. Many MPs hate IPSA although most are reluctant to criticise them publicly. This is not a case of MPs with their snouts in the trough trying to diddle the taxpayer. It is an independent group who have scrutinised the current settlement and proposed some changes that will be entirely cost-neutral whilst addressing the fact that MPs' pay has been slipping back in the last few years. It sort of makes me wonder how we are ever going to get to a position where the politics can be taken out of this issue.

Perhaps the proposal to have rises linked to average wage increases is the answer although there are bound to be some sectors that suffer in the future even though the average is much better and hence relatively MPs will appear to be living high on the hog. There is probably no answer to this.

And I have to say that I am not really interested in what cabinet ministers like Phillip Hammond, David Cameron and Danny Alexander have to say on the subject as they all earn well over £100K anyway and in many cases are already very independently wealthy anyway. Just because they can afford to refuse a pay increase does not mean all other MPs should be pressured to do so too. We need to be very careful about this. If this sort of thing carries on and MPs are continually forced through political pressure to refuse successive pay rises we will eventually end up with even higher numbers of MPs from wealthy backgrounds which is not good for politics. We have seen a similar dynamic recently with the whole "expenses saints" phenomenon where MPs who do not claim any expenses at all are lauded. Of course they are all independently wealthy and can afford to pay the expenses themselves. This should not afford them better career prospects but sadly it does seem to be doing so.

In the meantime, can we please stop comparing apples with oranges? Putting the 11% MP figure alongside the 1% public sector figure is completely distorting and unfair. It would be much fairer to compare it to the 2.2% figure for the average rise over the last few years. And it would also only be just to acknowledge that it is cost neutral.

Anything else is simply bullying our MPs and I really do fear where that will ultimately lead.

09 Dec 12:22

FOR MANDELA

by rkaveney@gmail.com
RESTRAINT

Some eulogize him who will never learn
from words or deeds or what he did not do.
-Six window bars, a sea more grey than blue.
White choke dust lime pit, where bright sun would burn

necks, and in winter hands numb from wet cold.
Told him the son he did not know was dead.
He wept. Three decades sitting on his bed
he taught young comrades still his comrades old,

who walked with him to freedom. Heard his voice
stern gentle. Helped him build. He gave his power
away and let successors have their hour,
yet bound their wills to this most anguished choice.

He was prepared to put men in their grave
whom, once they dropped their weapons, he forgave.
08 Dec 21:23

Tributes have flooded in

by Mark Steel

I wonder if it was like this two thousand years ago. If it was, when Jesus died, Pontius Pilate would have appeared on Sky News moments after the cross was taken down and said “The world mourns today a man of great integrity. It was an honour to have known him, and even when I sentenced him to crucifixion, he showed great forgiveness, and that shows what a great figure he was.”

On the BBC the newsreader would say “With me here is one of his closest associates. Judas, what memories do you have of Jesus?”

And Judas would say he always displayed dignity and humility, and most importantly forgave those that betrayed him, and finish with an amusing anecdote, about how pernickety he could be about which bread to break at supper.

On Radio 5 live the moneylenders at the temple would say he was a heroic figure, who may have thrown over the moneylenders’ tables in the temple, but said he was sorry for the mess that was caused, which is the main thing, then every newspaper would tell us “Tributes have flooded in from across the Roman Empire, led by King Herod who said ‘It is a sad day for Nazareth, and a sad day for Rome’.”

Many of the official tributes to Nelson Mandela, such as the one from David Cameron, have emphasised his ability to forgive, and his apparent rejection of bitterness is part of what made him extraordinary. But the reason his capacity for forgiveness towards the rulers of apartheid mattered, was that he’d organised opposition to it, took up arms against it and overthrew it. If he hadn’t, if his notable side was forgiveness, he would simply have been a kindly chap who’d passed away with no one outside his family taking much notice.

Few people now defend apartheid, but someone must have liked it at the time or it wouldn’t have been such a nuisance to destroy. Margaret Thatcher, idol of many who made tributes to Mandela, bragged with a fervour that actually made her look drunk, that she’d rejected sanctions against the regime, as the ANC was a “typical terrorist organisation.” Many sportsmen and musicians broke the boycott, repeating the sentiments of Dennis Thatcher who said “we play our rugby where we like”. There were the ‘Hang Mandela’ t-shirts, and countless commentators and politicians who belittled the demonstrations and boycotts.

I visited Robben Island prison, where Mandela had been incarcerated, in 2003. To get my ticket I visited an office in Cape Town, with glossy posters on the wall, covered in flowery lower case jolly African writing, exclaiming your trip to South Africa wasn’t complete without taking the unique opportunity of a trip to the famous island. I got on a catamaran with Americans and Germans, who smothered themselves in sun cream and took pictures of each other as they held out their arms and giggled.

Had they turned the prison into a theme park, I wondered, maybe with a water-canon-slide, and a helter skelter shaped like a giant Desmond Tutu?

But tours of the prisons are conducted by ex-prisoners. As we wandered round the cells our guide explained how he and fellow convicts had been allotted different amounts of bread according to their race, and how they were made to work sixteen hours a day on the land.

“One day”, he said, “As I was digging, on the day of the month my father was due to visit, a guard called my name. I stood before him on that spot there and he said ‘Your father won’t be visiting today as he’s been shot. Now get back to work’.”

His father lived, it turned out, but never walked again, and the guide told us the three responsible for the attempted murder were free under the rules of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, and were now wealthy businessmen.

To my left a woman in shorts and a bright silk top, put her camera away and started sobbing onto her sun cream.

On another day I was taken around Soweto, by a friend of the family I was staying with. We toured the roads from which its residents hadn’t been allowed to leave without a pass, met countless children running along dusty tracks selling water, as if auditioning for a film that Morgan Freeman will probably be in, and went round the museum built where the schoolchildren were massacred.

My host was fascinated by England and cricket and the Premier League, and overflowing with tales of his youth, of plantains and preachers, and pondering why after apartheid there were still hundreds of thousands living in squalor, in the camps outside each town.
“What a memorable day”, I said when I got back to the people I was staying with. “Marvellous”, they said, “but you were lucky today. That lad you were with was arrested in the 1980s, and tortured by the police in the station at John Foster Square. He made such a noise they called him The Screamer, and whenever they brought in new prisoners, they would torture him again, so his screams would terrify them and make them talk. Sometimes he’s still a bit jittery but he was on good form today.”

So it was indeed remarkable that Nelson Mandela endured this regime and yet displayed no malice. But the real reason he was remarkable is that he took on its wealth and weaponry and brutality, its distinguished friends and its air of impregnable authority, he became the figure of a global movement and he beat it. The kids of Soweto not legally allowed past their street, the protestor throwing flour at rugby players, the student taking their twenty quid out of Barclays, the pensioner leaving South African grapes at the checkout, The Specials, the prisoners and the screamers and Nelson Mandela were united in opposition to this heavily armed barbarity and they won.

During the campaign against apartheid Nelson Mandela was a distant figure, locked away but a name on mugs, posters and student union halls, barely more real than Batman. But the De Klerks and Bothas were alarmingly real, an air of menace in their presence, like the bouncer that orders around the other bouncers.

Now the hazy figure is revered above all, and the defenders of apartheid have to scramble in his shadow for a space to declare that really they admired him, and the people they helped to torture.

The precise nature of his legacy will be debated for centuries. His capacity for forgiveness was impressive, and perhaps it isn’t surprising if that’s emphasised by some paying tribute, rather than his role in overturning inequality, as they’re now arranging inequality of their own.

Because surely his most important achievement was to prove that bastards and their bastard regimes can be overthrown, against seemingly impossible odds, by all of us, as no one knows which unsold grape was the one that finally brought down a tyranny.

08 Dec 02:30

Ten lazy assumptions that are part of the mainstream political consensus.

Ten lazy assumptions that are part of the mainstream political consensus.
07 Dec 19:38

#987; In which Jeremy is Defeated

by David Malki !

WHAT'S THIS APPENDED TO MY PUNISHING SCREED??? ''Jeremy likes this.'' WHAT DOES IT MEEEAAANNNN

07 Dec 19:11

Lovebible.pl

by Charlie Stross

Michael Walker trained a Markov chain with the King James Bible and Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, a classic computer science textbook.

The result is King James Programming:

And Satan stood up against them in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the role of procedures in program design.

22:14 The mouth of strange women is a deep and wonderful property of computation.

In APL all data are represented as arrays, and there shall they see the Son of man, in whose sight I brought them out

This was not, obviously, silly enough for my tastes, so ...

Half an hour on CPAN and in vim, and then some discreet dumpster-diving in the nether reaches of the internet, brought me three things:

  • A dodgy copy of the complete works of H. P. Lovecraft
  • The text of the King James Version of the Bible
  • And the first code I've written in, oh, close to two years (please go easy on me)

Here it is:

    #!/usr/bin/perl 
    #===========================================================================
    #
    #         FILE:  lovebible.pl
    #
    #        USAGE:  ./lovebible.pl 
    #
    #      VERSION:  1.0
    #      CREATED:  05/12/2013 20:08:15 GMT
    #     REVISION:  ---
    #===========================================================================
    
    use strict;
    use warnings;
    use Algorithm::MarkovChain;
    use Path::Class;
    use autodie; # die if problem reading or writing a file

    my @inputs = qw(king_james_bible.txt lovecraft_complete.txt); 
    my $dir = dir(".");
    my $f = "";
    my @symbols = ();
    foreach $f (@inputs) {
        my $file = $dir->file($f);
    	my $lcounter = 0;
        my $wcounter = 0;
        my $file_handle = $file->openr();
        while( my $line = $file_handle->getline() ) {
    		chomp ($line);
    		my @words = split(' ', $line);
            push(@symbols, @words);
    		$lcounter++;
    		$wcounter += scalar(@words);
        }
    	print "$lcounter lines, $wcounter words read from $f\n";
    }   
    my $chain = Algorithm::MarkovChain::->new();
    $chain->seed(symbols => \@symbols, longest => 6);
    print "About to spew ...\n";
    print "---\n\n";
    foreach (1 .. 20) {
        my @newness = $chain->spew(length   => 40,
                                   complete => [ qw( the ) ]);
        print join (" ", @newness), ".\n\n";
    }
Yes, it's a Markov chain generator, seeded with the King James Bible and the complete works of H. P. Lovecraft. Sample output:

krina:markov charlie$ ./lovebible.pl 2> /dev/null
99820 lines, 821134 words read from king_james_bible.txt
16536 lines, 775603 words read from lovecraft_complete.txt
About to spew ...
---
    
    the backwoods folk -had glimpsed the battered mantel,
    rickety furniture, and ragged draperies. It spread over it a
    robber, a shedder of blood, when I listened with mad
    intentness. At last you know!At last to come to see me. Now
    Absalom.
    
    the absence of any real link with that of 598 Angell Street
    was as the old castle by the shallow crystal stream I saw
    unwonted ripples tipped with yellow light, as if those
    depths of their rhythm. The training saved them.
    
    the bed, and make thee borders of gold with studs of silver.
    1:12 While the case histories, to expect. As mental
    atmosphere. His eyes were pits of a hundred and fifty
    shekels, 30:24 And he laughed mockingly at the village
    summoning.
    
    the commandment of the room; then this. If this thing. 25:1
    If he had no way to turn either to the coyote - or to
    something was wrong. Marsh and Marceline represents. I am
    strong. 26:16 I also in me. 14:2.
    
    the ghouls, whose utter strangeness and their backsliding, I
    will love him, and have redeemed them, yet thou never gavest
    me a people: 8:11 And I said unto them, and I believe that
    the king doth behold the upright. 33:2 Thus.
    
    the gleaming sand, bobbing lanterns. The Philistines be upon
    thee, and because the famine in the heart proceed evil for
    Israel, with hesitancy, and which I had known it, to
    himself, he said, How shall depart from his house. 7:2 That.
    
    the results we learned that no harm him, and rent it. 7:22
    My face again no not to inform me, even all the heads of the
    unutterable consequences. It could tell, it thunders. The
    thing came out of Egypt. Who knoweth.
    
    the grass-grown line on the glassy, phantom bones. 50:18
    Therefore the children of Israel dedicated the sea, diverse
    and I hung an air of the war, to rest in my brother for
    nought, and the counsellor, and the cunning workman, and.
    
    the great hill that put bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for
    Tammuz. 8:15 As it fastened his body to the dead youth who
    would "go the king lifted up his Son of Professor George
    Saintsbury - "the criminal is securely strapped to.

As you can see, the output is pretty crude. Obviously this was a half-hour hack, not a properly finished product; but I think it shows promise — His eyes were pits of a hundred and fifty shekels — and a definite feel of familiarity — It spread over it a robber, a shedder of blood, when I listened with mad intentness.

Stuff to do: fine-tune the parameters of the Markov chain output, pick different seed words, possibly filter out chapter headers, titles, and verse numbers, possibly scan the output for sentence-shaped lexical chunks and top and tail them (capitalize and terminate properly).

I wonder: if I run it for long enough, will it emit a fully-formed draft of the Necronomicon?

07 Dec 13:42

Carter Country

by evanier

Here's a review of the Beyoncé show I attended. I pretty much agree with everything in it.

And here, for my own record if not your info, is the set list she performed: Run the World, End of Time, If I Were a Boy, Get Me Bodied, Baby Boy, Diva, Naughty Girl, Party, Freakum Dress, Why Don't You Love Me, 1+1, Irreplaceable, Love On Top, Survivor, Countdown, Crazy In Love, Grown Woman, I Was Here, I Will Always Love You, Halo. In that order.

I received an e-mail from someone who wrote "How could you stand that crap?" and a couple others from folks who said essentially the same thing, only nicer. Obviously, given the lady's popularity, I am hardly the only person on the planet who likes "that crap." I thought she was terrific…and I also took the POV that I was something of an alien presence there, enjoying the chance to observe native customs. I mean nothing racial in that. It's just that her show is not geared to 61-year-old guys who are not heavy into what she does or to R&B played at that volume.

beyonce02

So I guess I could have gone into Old Man mode and barked at these kids today and their music and how it's not like the old days and while you're at it, get the hell off my lawn! But I always feel a certain arrogance welling up within me when I go anywhere near there. It's like, "How dare there be entertainment not geared for my tastes?" And on some level, "How dare something I don't like be so successful?" I just found much there to admire and enjoy, including the sheer professionalism of the performance and the sense of audience connection and participation. Most of all, I thought this: How often do you get to be in a room with 18,000 people all having the best time of their lives and showing it?

There are people in this world who somehow feel threatened by the happiness of others. I'm thinking of one guy I occasionally encounter at conventions when I can't avoid him. He's got to be one of the unhappiest people on this planet. Whenever he runs into someone who's happy (or at least, seems happy to him) you can see it make him madder. It's like they've got something he can't seem to get. And those grins on their faces? That's them flaunting it just to make him feel worse.

I think the happiness of others is the best drug in the world. Well, not always. When your knee is hurting, as my left knee (the one I didn't have surgery on earlier this year) is now, a shot of cortisone is the best drug in the world and I got one today so I can do something over the weekend besides wince. But when your knee is not hurting, the happiness of others is the best drug and I got a good shot of that on Tuesday evening. I'd go again if she was here, I got another free ticket and I didn't have to stand for the whole show.

07 Dec 00:47

WHAT is GOING ON with your LIFE

Andrew Hickey

Important advice for Holly

archive - contact - sexy exciting merchandise - cute - search - about
← previous December 4th, 2013 next

December 4th, 2013: AUSTIN: last time I was there (to sign literally thousands and thousands of books) I loved it. So I'm coming back! Webcomics Rampage is this weekend in Austin, Texas! THAT IS WHERE I'M GONNA BE. Let us hang out! LET US DO THAT

One year ago today: sufficiently-advanced reindeer

– Ryan

06 Dec 23:45

#534 Air Drop

by noreply@blogger.com (treelobsters)
06 Dec 23:01

BADDIEL AND SKINNER AND THE LIGHTNING SEEDS – “Three Lions”

by Tom

#740, 1st June 1996

3LIONS On Public Enemy’s Fear Of A Black Planet, there’s a track called “Incident At 66.6 FM” – a 90-second cut-up of derisive, racist radio commentary on the band that brings you-the-listener right up to speed on why they felt besieged, and puts you on their side for the fightback. The first thirty seconds of “Three Lions” pull off a very similar trick for a rather less radical cause: England fans. It’s a compact, adroit bit of pop scene-setting. In the background, the low swell of a stadium rousing itself for battle. In the foreground, critics officiate at a funeral. “I think it’s BAD NEWS for the English game…not CREATIVE enough, not POSITIVE enough… we’ll GO ON getting bad results…”

Wait, though – even as these suited vultures gather, we hear another voice – lone and thin, but firm and honest, singing a song that is halfway to a prayer. “It’s coming home, it’s coming home… “ Against the ranks of pessimism, cynicism, analysis and fact, against their own better judgement, the fan can’t help but believe. Football is coming home.

It’s a magnificent bit of manipulation: the marketer in me swoons in admiration. The rest of “Three Lions” develops the theme but all you need to know is in that intro. Who, on hearing it, wouldn’t be on the side of the fan’s simple faith against the doomsayers? In half a minute “Three Lions” defined the English game’s sense of itself for the rest of the 90s, and the 00s too – sentimental belief against obstinate fact, with the former winning the moral victory every time.

Like all football number ones, “Three Lions” is an artefact from a changing game. Plenty of middle-class Brits had always liked football, but Italia 90 had cemented that audience as the game’s great new revenue stream, World Cup-weaned fans who liked heartbreak and tears and big stories with regular helpings of ‘glory’ and ‘passion’. At the club level this breakthrough demographic were well-served by Man United’s ascendancy and the Premier League’s early boom – but at an international level the development had been held back by the woeful performances of England ever since 1990.

Here was where “Three Lions” was truly clever. It didn’t just strike a chord with the new football market, it provided them with an invaluable primer on how to feel about England and history. The song – and I write as a part of that market – is a bluffer’s guide to fandom, an off the shelf attitude to the England team, a way of buying into history and resolving the anxiety of newbiedom – all thanks to the four toxic little words at the song’s heart.

Like all great marketing insights, “thirty years of hurt” is immediately evocative and immensely flexible and extensible. Like many, it’s also meanly prescriptive, telescoping the many possible conflicting feelings about crap performances – like anger, amusement, resignation, or sheer apathy – into one selfish, petulant word. Baddiel, Skinner and Ian Broudie sing “hurt” like they mean it – their performances are so sincere it’s almost mawkish: football fans as sad, big-eyed pups. But however they meant “hurt”, it was also a summary of the entitlement the English media began to show about international football – the shimmering history of the game since 1966 reduced to a barren stretch in which “we” didn’t win anything.

The cavalier treatment of history is characteristic of Sky-era sport – but it resonated more widely. “Three Lions” fit its pop moment as well as its football one, landing at a time when a chunk of Britain’s music talent seemed fixed on play-acting the 60s. “Three Lions” is a superior Britpop song, whatever else it is – too earnest and not as sharp or funny as the genre’s best, but Skinner and Baddiel’s rough voices have a folksy conviction and charm which a lot of minor Britpop bands lacked, and the Lightning Seeds could always sell a sappy tune.

Back in 1966, pop and football had little enough to do with one another. But in nostalgia’s lens the heights of pop creativity and England’s footballing powers had become linked, part of the same golden dream. So in the magical working that was Britpop, the Euro 96 tournament could be a sympathetic ritual replay of 1966 – and the climax of “Three Lions” comes when the singers unite on a line that seems to move beyond even prayer and into spell. “I know that was then – but it could be again.” At that moment the song stops, and it’s as if Baddiel and Skinner (and us, if we want to join in) have their eyes squeezed tight shut, willing time to unravel and the world to rewrite itself around our glorious past.

The song starts up again. The moment passes. Our brave lions (etc) go out on penalties against “the Germans”. The cycle continues.

POSTSCRIPT (A bit of Meta-Business).

In 2008 (42 years of hurt! And counting!) I wrote this: “I occasionally think of Popular as a three-act story: this [The Sex Pistols’ “God Save The Queen”] is the end of Act I, the false start of the second great age of singles, which was also the world that shaped me as a listener.” And this, for what it’s worth, is the end of Act II.

The relationship between the Pistols and this song probably seems rather obscure. It is rather obscure, if only because “Three Lions” is the product of a pop culture where the legends of punk had become part of the mainstream context of everything. “Three Lions” is in no sense a punk record. But the three men who made “Three Lions” were shaped by punk’s consequences, and so was the world it was released into. Broudie was a player on the Liverpool post-punk scene. Baddiel and Skinner were second-generation inheritors of “alternative comedy” and its sometimes conscious application of punky ideas and salesmanship to stand-up. The positioning of “Three Lions” – a more alternative, more authentic football single than previous official FA product – is classic indie ju-jitsu marketing, and as such also inherited from punk. Assume the underdog role and never let it go – even when you’re Number One.

“Three Lions” frames the problem of English football in a way that would become increasingly familiar. Football had lost its way, lost its hunger and passion and cheek, but with those it could go back to the golden age. It was an alluring story – and it was also the way Oasis had framed the problem of English pop. “I know that was then but it could be again”. This was one of the fatal promises of punk, or at least punk as the culture came to remember it – punk as a giant reset button on a stagnant scene. But once you had shown there might be a reset button, the lure of pressing it again became far stronger. Once you admit the possibility of going back to basics, moving forward, and working with what you have, becomes a lot harder. And the alternative – Jules Rimet still gleaming, England still dreaming – grows more and more seductive.

06 Dec 17:24

King James programming: a Markov chain trained on the bible and Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs.

King James programming: a Markov chain trained on the bible and Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs.
06 Dec 17:24

Telepathwords: preventing weak passwords by reading your mind.

Telepathwords: preventing weak passwords by reading your mind.
06 Dec 14:40

Nelson Mandela's statement from the dock, 1964

by Jonathan Calder
Nelson Mandela has died.

Let us remember him through his words from the dock at the opening of his trial in 1964 - you can read the whole statement on the African National Congress site:
In my youth in the Transkei I listened to the elders of my tribe telling stories of the old days. Amongst the tales they related to me were those of wars fought by our ancestors in defence of the fatherland. The names of Dingane and Bambata, Hintsa and Makana, Squngthi and Dalasile, Moshoeshoe and Sekhukhuni, were praised as the glory of the entire African nation. I hoped then that life might offer me the opportunity to serve my people and make my own humble contribution to their freedom struggle. This is what has motivated me in all that I have done in relation to the charges made against me in this case. 
Having said this, I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of violence. Some of the things so far told to the Court are true and some are untrue. I do not, however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the Whites. ... 
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Mandela's release from prison in 1990, along with the fall of the Berlin Wall they year before, marked the dawn of a hopeful decade in politics. Suddenly the good guys were winning.

That spirit did not survive 9/11, but that has more to do with the inadequacy of the West's leaders than it does with the objective threat from terrorism.

We must hope that South Africa's leaders will be up to maintaining Mandela's legacy.
06 Dec 14:40

Scapegoating Nick Clegg is the lowest form of populism

by James Graham

Owen JonesMy ire was particularly roused yesterday by Owen Jones’s latest attack on Nick Clegg. Now, regular readers of this blog may be aware that Nick Clegg is not exactly my favourite person, I actually agree that Clegg is populist with little in the way of actual principles, and that this latest capitulation to crack down on virtually non-existent use of the UK welfare system by EU migrants is an apt if depressing example of this. But Jones’s analysis has one fatal flaw: he’s a member of the Labour Party.

You don’t have to agree with Martin Shapland’s equally flawed analysis that the fact that Labour have equally let down EU migrants and indeed the UK electorate that that somehow makes the Lib Dems’ own actions more acceptable to agree that Owen Jones and his cohorts are in no position to criticise.

If Clegg’s “scapegoating” of EU migrants (which is to ignore the fact that the Lib Dem position is far less coherent than simple scapegoating) is “unforgiveable”, then what does that make Yvette Cooper’s claim that the coalition are playing catch up behind Labour on this issue? Indeed, so behind the coalition were Labour on Tuesday that they set one of their lead attack dogs to smear Laszlo Andor, an EU commissioner who had the unmitigated gall to criticise the UK for adopting such a policy, wrongly claiming he was a fascist.

This isn’t the first time, and won’t be the last, that Clegg’s team has concluded that with Labour and the Tories united on an issue they might as well go along with it for fear of being singled out. It was the same reasoning that made Clegg so keen to not come out against the snooper’s charter. Clegg isn’t a liberal, although he wore that mask for a while, and his mission is to be seen to be in the centre of politics between Labour and the Tories, no matter where that centre happens to be (he’s only sticking with the party’s pro-EU stance because he knows that dropping it would lead to a split the party would not survive from). He’s pretty despicable. But does anyone really believe that is more despicable than the party leaders he is slavishly following? Miliband could have caused a split within the coalition by adopting a pro-migrant, and fact-based stance on immigration. Leaving aside his ethical and moral responsibilities, he had a responsibility to do so as the leader of the official opposition. Cringing in fear of how Lynton Crosby would respond, he chose not to.

I’m not suggesting the Lib Dems should be let off the hook, merely that they are irrelevant. Even if every single Lib Dem voted against these measures, the combined Labour-Conservative hegemony would get it through parliament. If Owen Jones truly had the principles he has pinned his professional career to, he would have chosen to lay into who is possibly the next prime minister for his cowardly stance, rather than the leader of a declining third party. Does anyone else see the irony in choosing to pull his punches on Miliband and ramp up the rhetoric on Clegg in an article denouncing the political practice of scapegoating? This is black propaganda indeed.

06 Dec 14:22

Another Doctor Who book that you should read

by Mike Taylor

I’m actually a fortnight late, but I just noticed that Andrew Hickey’s Doctor Who book is out. It’s available as in paperback, hardback, Kindle (US and UK) and other e-book formats. I just bought my copy: paperback for £10, with free shipping using the “FREESHIP” coupon code.

Fifty stories for fifty years -- Andrew Hickey

Andrew’s book is very, very different from mine (so, you know, you should buy both). While I focussed very tightly on the Eleventh Doctor (the clue’s in the title), and hardly touch on anything pre-2010, Andrew covers the whole half-century history of Doctor Who, from An Unearthly Child onwards. He also covers all media: not just the TV show, but also the various series of books and audio plays.

If you want to get a sense of what’s in the book before plonking down your tenner, you can find most of the material in Andrew’s series of posts at The Mindless Ones. You’ll see that he has a habit of veering off-piste to dig out the most esoteric nuggets of information and make the most fascinating connections. Highly recommended.


06 Dec 11:42

The Problem with EULAs

by schneier

Some apps are being distributed with secret Bitcoin-mining software embedded in them. Coins found are sent back to the app owners, of course.

And to make it legal, it's part of the end-user license agreement (EULA):

COMPUTER CALCULATIONS, SECURITY: as part of downloading a Mutual Public, your computer may do mathematical calculations for our affiliated networks to confirm transactions and increase security. Any rewards or fees collected by WBT or our affiliates are the sole property of WBT and our affiliates.

This is a great example of why EULAs are bad. The stunt that resulted in 7,500 people giving Gamestation.co.uk their immortal souls a few years ago was funny, but hijacking users' computers for profit is actually bad.

05 Dec 23:52

The Web Planet

by Iain Coleman

Why question me? Surely you can see our movements.

Each of us has a characteristic repertoire of movements. You can recognise loved ones just by the way they walk. Actors use different styles of movement to create different characters. Some of these can become iconic, instantly triggering off a complex of ideas, emotions and cultural signifiers. There are basic, gross movements that are common to they way any man walks down a street, but if one of them is Charlie Chaplin twirling an umbrella and the other is John Travolta swinging a paint can, the different personalities are immediately recognisable, and the emotional and cultural connotations are widely different.

It’s important in science fiction drama too. If human actors are to represent alien beings, then finding new styles of movement suitable to the extraterrestrial race in question is essential, if they are not to look simply like a scattering of awkward suburbanites at an unsuccessful fetish party. Wise producers will hire choreographers to work with the actors, giving each species its own palette of movements unique to itself, making each group of aliens seem coherent in itself but distinct from any other.

But what is a style of movement? We can all recognise it, but can we break it down into its elements? Quantify it? Analyse it?

Beauchamp-Feuillet notation (image credit: Judith Appleby)

Beauchamp-Feuillet notation (image credit: Judith Appleby)

The first project to have a go at pinning down the component elements of dance was commissioned by Louis XIV in the late 17th century. There had been dance treatises before then, elaborate descriptions of how particular dances should be performed (sometimes with stroppy comments about how they should certainly not be performed), but the notation that ballet master Pierre Beauchamp devised for His Majesty was the first to use abstract symbols instead of prose descriptions accompanied by realistic drawings.

This Beauchamp-Feuillet notation, as it became known after Raoul Auger Feuillet popularised it in his many published books of choreography, was an elegant, if initially forbidding, system of swirling lines and sudden angles that represented the motions and transitions of dance just as a set of dots and lines can describe the notes and rhythms of music. It remained in widespread use for a century, before being superseded by a variety of alternative systems.

Benesh Movement Notation (image credit: Juliette Kando)

Benesh Movement Notation (image credit: Juliette Kando)

There are two in wide use today. The Benesh Movement Notation represents body positions on a five-line stave similar to that used in standard musical notation, allowing music and dance notation to be more easily integrated, while Rudolf Laban’s “Labanotation” looks more like geometric abstract art than music, but does have the advantage that it can be used to describe any kind of bodily movement in space and time, not just dance moves.

Rudolf Laban and his Labanotation

Rudolf Laban and his Labanotation

This idea has been developed further, in Eshkol-Wachman movement notation. Like its predecessors, this breaks down movements into primitive elements, but it uses an elaborate system of three-dimensional polar coordinates to locate these motions in space, with techniques for rotating and translating sequences of movements so that they can be directly compared. This allows the truly invariant characteristics of movements to be calculated.

The applications go far beyond the world of dance. It has been used in a host of animal studies, allowing scientists to establish the movements that are characteristic of particular animals, study how these movements change due to illness or injury, and compare the ways different species of animal move. In one example, Tammy Ivanco and her colleagues from the University of Lethbridge, Canada, used Eshkol-Wachman notation to quantify the different ways that rats and opossums reach for food, and were able to relate the more complex movements of the rats’ hands and arms to their relatively more elaborate brains and nervous systems.

It may even prove useful in studying the human brain. Autism is not generally diagnosed until a child is around three years old, while Asperger’s Syndrome is diagnosed much later – typically around the age of six or seven, but it can remain undiagnosed into the teenage years. Osnat Teitelbaum and her colleagues at the University of Florida analysed video recordings of infants moving about, and by using the Eshkol-Wachman system were able to determine certain movement styles that were characteristic of children who would later be diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. These were things like asymmetric crawling, where the infant would not crawl in the efficient manner of most babies, moving diagonally opposite limbs together, but would instead move in clumsier ways, such as with one foot stepping while another crawls, or a particular way of falling forward or back from a sitting position without using the reflexive motions of the arms that neurotypical infants would protect themselves with. This work led them to develop a simple motion-based test for autism and Asperger’s Syndrome in infants, whereby the child is held and the waist and slowly tilted from side to side. If the infant does not manage to keep their head vertical, an autistic spectrum disorder may be present.

A much simpler form of notation was devised recently by Amy LaViers, an engineering postgrad at the Georgia Institute of Technology. (That’s Georgia the US state, not Georgia the former Soviet republic.) Eschewing the complexity and power of the Eshkol-Wachman notation, LaVier’s system represents two legs, each of which can adopt one of ten different poses. The sequence of poses, and the transitions between them, describe the dance.

These ten discrete states are not chosen arbitrarily. Ballet dancers perform their warm-up exercises at the barre, a handrail that they hold on to for stability as they exercise each leg in turn. The ten barre exercises are the building blocks of ballet, and it is these movements that are captured in LaVier’s finite state automaton, a computer program that moves through these different poses to create sequences of dance.

There are constraints on the movements the automaton can perform. Some of these are physical – it cannot hover with both legs off the ground like some Jedi Cossack – but others are aesthetic. Specific mathematical constraints define the style and content of the dance, and as the automaton improvises within these constraints the audience perceives the character of its motion.

The aim of this work is not to create a ballet-dancing robot. Rather, it is to find ways to make robots move with particular styles and qualities. Non-verbal communication is expected to become an important element of the human-machine interface, as machines become more mobile and autonomous. A Predator drone may have no need to appear friendly (though for PR purposes I can imagine one of its successors might), but as robots increasingly interact with humans in non-lethal contexts, their body language may be the critical factor in putting people at their ease.

In this way, the robot engineers face the same sort of challenge as a choreographer on a science fiction show. They each have to define characteristic styles of movement that their performers – actors or robots – can work within, generating arbitrary sequences of movement that remain within strict aesthetic constraints. The difference is that the choreographer wants to make the actors seem as inhuman as possible, moving with a sense of the strange and uncanny, while the engineer wants the robots to seem as human, friendly and familiar as an automaton of motors and software can be.

05 Dec 23:07

Civil Partnerships: 8 Years Old Today

by noreply@blogger.com (Jae Kay)
Let's face it... I've never been very nice about civil partnerships. Even now I feel the bubbling of rage just beneath my skin at the mere thought of them. They were introduced by Labour because of the obvious need for some sort of partnership rights for same-sex couples. That can, really, only be seen as a good thing. But the fact is that, at the time of their introduction, the debate internationally had already moved on to marriage equality. Civil partnerships were, in hindsight, doomed to be considered obsolete within a few years of their introduction. 

And that is what really rankles me. In the years after their introduction Labour acted as if the matter was closed. My attempts to discuss equal marriage with LGBT Labour members were dismissed. Chris Bryant called me a numbskull for asking why he didn't even mention marriage as an option during the debates (and why he argued against equal marriage during them). Stonewall were so pleased with civil partnerships that they fought, briefly, tooth and nail to protect their uniqueness against any attempts to pursue marriage itself. And that was despite the multiple problems civil partnerships have

And now here we stand... the last anniversary of the introduction of civil partnerships that will fall before same-sex marriage comes into place in England and Wales. Isn't it time I just let it go? Forget it ever happened? I wish I could. 

But in their weird ideological defense of the obsolete Stonewall and Labour showed that LGBT freedom is nothing but a political game to some. Our attempts to seek liberty will be stymied by the self interest of political organisations and parties. We must never settle for second best and, when we accept second best as better than third best, we must at least state "this is not what we really want". No more politics, no more muddles like the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act, we must continue to argue for what is right. 

Civil partnerships were a sham. And whilst some may argue they were a stepping stone to same-sex marriage, I'd say that by becoming an idol (one that was to be defended at all costs) of the Westminster LGBT set it actually served to make this years hard won victory just that little more difficult.
04 Dec 10:55

I Don't Own a TV

Theory: Smugness is proportional to the negative second derivative of TV ownership rate with respect to time.
03 Dec 08:14

Monday Morning

by evanier

You know, I can't think of one thing I've ever ordered from Amazon that I needed so urgently that I'd want them to send a drone mini-helicopter to land on my lawn to get it to me A.S.A.P. But if they get this thing working, I'm certainly going to order one thing that way…once. I'm thinking maybe a Jetsons DVD.

02 Dec 09:48

How to Tell Someone They Are Being Rude

by Scott Meyer

Hey, just a reminder that any holiday gifts purchased through my Amazon Affiliate links (USUKCanada) would, in theory, throw a little money my way without costing you a dime extra! Just Sayin'.

02 Dec 08:16

Another Kennedy Conspiracy Theory

by evanier

supermanjfk01

The New York Times has an obit up for Al Plastino. Every time I see one of these, I can't help but register that back in the sixties and seventies, and even into the eighties, it was unthinkable that a legit newspaper would care about the death of someone in the comic book field. When Bill Everett died in 1973, it wasn't covered.  It's so great that the mainstream press now acknowledges the impact that men like Al Plastino have had on people.

There's a matter I should cover here.  The Times obit says…

But in his telling, Mr. Plastino, who died on Monday at 91 in Patchogue, N.Y., took his greatest pride in a single special issue, "Superman's Mission for President Kennedy," which he began drawing in 1963, before Kennedy's assassination. The story, conceived with the Kennedy White House, paired Superman and Kennedy as allies in promoting the president's new physical fitness program.

The issue was not yet finished when the president was killed in Dallas that November, and DC initially decided to call it off. But after getting encouragement from the new administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the project went forward in revised fashion.

For the issue's cover, Mr. Plastino drew a flying Superman looking toward a ghostly, larger-than-life image of the president looming over the Capitol dome, where a flag is at half-staff. Also on the cover was a note explaining the story behind its publication. The last page included another note: "The original art for this story will be donated to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library, at Harvard University."

There's something screwy about this whole tale of the Superman story about President Kennedy. The above is wrong about it being a drawing for the cover. The story was not featured or even mentioned on the cover of the comic it appeared in, Superman #170 (June, 1964). What they're describing is the first page of the story. You can view it and much of the supporting evidence for what I'm about to discuss over on this page but read the following before you do.

Some facts. On August 30, 1963, the New York Times ran a story about a then-upcoming story in the Superman comic book in which J.F.K. enlisted the aid of the Man of Steel to help promote physical fitness. Some points of interest about that article: It made no mention that the story was in any way requested by or done in cooperation with the White House…and it reprinted one panel from the story. The panel was drawn by Curt Swan, not Al Plastino. It said the story was scheduled for "the late fall issue" of Superman. #165 of that comic went on sale the week after the article appeared so "late fall" would suggest #166, which went on sale the first week of November.  However, it also said panels were "now being drawn" for the story.  If that was true, it would mean that the story would probably not be done in time to be printed in 1963 and that the story was not drawn all at once, the way almost all comic book stories are.

The story did not appear in #165, #166 or even in #167. In #168, which came out the following February, the letter page was pre-empted by an announcement that just as that issue was going to press, they'd learned of the murder of President Kennedy. They reprinted the N.Y. Times piece and stated that the story was to have been published in #169 but they pulled it from that issue and would be substituting other material. They had decided, they said, to not publish it and to instead present the original artwork to Kennedy's "gallant widow, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy."

I am a bit suspicious it was ever slated for any issue around this time. The story was ten pages. If they yanked it at the last minute and substituted another story, then the issue in question would have a different ten-page story in it. But #166, #167 and #168 all had book-length stories in them and #169 had three stories — one eight pages in length, one fourteen and one five. So where would a ten-page story have appeared? In each case, the cover of the comic in question went to press several weeks before the insides and the covers were specific to the stories inside. So there couldn't have been a last-minute switch of the interiors for a ten-page story in any of them.

supermanjfk02

The J.F.K. physical fitness story finally appeared in #170. A caption on page one (the page the Times just confused with the cover in their Plastino obit) stated that it was originally to have appeared in #168, not #169 as they stated earlier. This was the one drawn by Al Plastino. Even though it was an important story that had been mentioned in the New York Times, it was not on the cover. The other story in that comic — "If Lex Luthor Were Superman's Father" — was on the cover…and longer.

So we have all these questions and conflicts. There is no record of either a Swan version of this story or the Plastino version ever being actually presented to the Kennedy Library or Mrs. Kennedy or any person or institution. There is no explanation as to why the panel in the New York Times was by Swan but the published story, which featured the same scene with slightly different dialogue, was by Plastino. And why didn't DC put the Superman/JFK story on the cover of #170, giving it some importance and also probably upping sales of that issue? Or save it for the next issue when they could have featured it on the cover?  And why only ten pages for such a special story?

Okay, here's the best I can do to come up with a theory. This is guessing and I welcome anyone else's theory that makes any more sense…

Let's start with why that panel in Times was by Swan when the published story was by Plastino. Folks discussing this on the 'net are theorizing the Swan version of the story was lost; that DC donated it to Mrs. Kennedy and then when they decided to print it later, they didn't have access to the original art or good copies of it. Ergo, they had to have it redrawn. I find that highly unlikely. It was a historic story and it didn't dawn on anyone there that they might want to publish it at some point?

My suspicion? There was no completed Superman/JFK story drawn by Curt Swan. Superman editor Mort Weisinger was great at promotion and had press connections. Maybe he had a script written but I'm skeptical he had more than a page drawn. He could have just had that one panel done.  Remember that line in the 8/30/63 Times story about "panels now being drawn."  That wasn't how comics were ever done.  Curt Swan penciled a story, a letterer lettered it, an inker inked it…and the entire story was completed.  How could they have one finished, inked panel to print with that Times article, if other "panels were now being drawn?"  Well, they could if Weisinger only had one panel or page prepared.

That "panels now being drawn" line may be our biggest clue.  Suppose I'm right and Weisinger just had one page or panel drawn.  He sends it to the reporter who's writing the item up for the Times.  The reporter asks, "Can I see the entire story?"  What can Weisinger say?  He has to say, "Not yet.  It's still being drawn."

Why would Weisinger just have the one page or panel done and not the entire story? Well, I can think of several motives but the most likely is that he was trying to sell someone in the White House on the idea of endorsing the project.  You probably wouldn't want to have the whole story written and drawn if you wanted them to endorse the concept and offer input.  And maybe he did get them interested or maybe he didn't but, eager to promote the project, he jumped the gun in announcing it to the New York Times. Whatever his reason, he was up to something. He planted the item and then the game plan, whatever it was, changed when Kennedy was killed.

In the first issue that went to press after 11/22/63, which was #168, Weisinger did indeed announce that they weren't going to print that story but at that point, I believe it hadn't even been drawn or scheduled. Then they got a lot of letters urging them to print it and maybe the publisher came to him and said, "Hey, Mort. I'm getting calls from people who think it makes us look bad to not to publish a story that Kennedy (allegedly) wanted to see published. Get it drawn and stick it in the next issue that's going to press." They may even have received a bit of actual encouragement from the White House, though I'm suspicious about that, too. By this point, #169 was presumably off to the engraver and it was too late to change the cover of the following issue…but they could change the insides of #170.

#170, I theorize, was close to being ready to go with two stories in it — a ten-pager called "Superman's Sacrifice" and that fifteen-page story called "If Lex Luthor Were Superman's Father." The latter couldn't be bumped because it was depicted on the cover and it was too late to change the cover. So they moved "Superman's Sacrifice" to the following issue and quickly had the Superman/J.F.K. tale completed to run in its place. That's why only ten pages for a story that could have used a lot more.

Folks who analyze such things have concluded that the script represents the work of two writers — Bill Finger and E. Nelson Bridwell. These were two men who never worked together otherwise. Finger (best remembered now as the unbilled co-creator of Batman) was a freelancer and Bridwell was Weisinger's Assistant Editor. If there are enough traces of Bridwell's writing style in the published story to recognize him, that probably means Finger wrote a script and then Bridwell did extensive rewrites. Perhaps Finger's script was done back before Swan had allegedly drawn it and it needed to be rewritten to fit into ten pages so it could run in that space in #170. Or maybe Finger's script was done after Kennedy's death to fit that slot in #170 but it needed a lot of quick revisions so Bridwell did them then. Either way, they gave it to whichever of their two main Superman artists (Swan or Plastino) could get it done in time and at that moment, that was Plastino.

So he drew it and it looks like someone else did some retouchings on some of his drawings of Kennedy. It was published with a little blurb at the end saying that the original art would be donated to the Kennedy Library…which no one at DC ever got around to doing. Instead, the art was most likely just taken home by someone around the office — that happened with a lot of DC artwork at the time — and it later wound up in an art auction, much to Mr. Plastino's surprise and displeasure.

supermanjfk04

There are some other scenarios possible but I feel pretty certain that the Plastino version was drawn after Kennedy was killed, not before, and Mr. Plastino misremembered when he said otherwise…an easy, innocent mistake to make. The first page was definitely drawn after and the lettering on it, explaining that the story was being published at the request of President Johnson, is by the same letterer who drew the rest of the story. It's unlikely it would have been the same letterer if the first page had been created months later, apart from the rest of the story. The wording on that first page also sounds rather phony to me. It says the story was "prepared in close cooperation with the late President Kennedy," even though neither the New York Times item nor the letter column announcement in #168 made any such claim. If it was true, wouldn't that have been mentioned before?

None of this stuff about President Kennedy cooperating with DC or President Johnson requesting the story's publication is consistent or convincing. You know what they would have done if all that had been true? When Kennedy was killed, they would have tabled the story for a while so as not to be accused of disrespect or bad taste. Then they would have published it a few months later saying, "J.F.K. would have wanted it to see print" and if applicable, that the White House had requested it. They would not have lost the original art to Swan's version if there really was a Swan's version, and they would have published it as the cover feature in a big, heavily-promoted edition with tributes to Kennedy and exercise tips in the back. Instead, they burned the whole idea off quickly, calling little attention to it…because it was a bit of a sham in the first place and they just wanted to be done with it.

So that's my theory.  There are other components to all this that I could mention…like the eight other comic book artists on the grassy knoll or the single-brush theory but I've spent more time thinking about this than it's worth. And if you've made it this far, so did you…about halfway through this posting.

29 Nov 13:55

Trotskyite singularitarians for Monarchism! A political speculation.

by Charlie Stross

The 20th century spanned the collapse of the Monarchical System, the rise and fall of Actually Existing Socialism, a bunch of unpleasant failed experiments in pyramid building using human skulls, and the ascent to supremacy of Neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus. In 2007/08, the system malfunctioned spectacularly: it's clearly unstable and has huge problems, but what's going to replace it?

In the right corner of the ring, Neo-reactionaries like Mencius Moldbug (blog here) and Michael Anissimov are effectively libertarians who have thrown up their hands in disgust and concluded that the modern age—by which they mean everything since the Enlightenment—is corrupting, degrading, and on a highway to hell, and the appropriate political solution to the problem is to go back to aristocracy as an organizing principle, or even the divine right of kings. (Techcrunch describe them as Geeks for Monarchy. I think they're full of shit (possibly because I live in a monarchy), and so does Scott Alexander, who has written a magisterial Anti-Reactionary FAQ in which he pulls the legs off the fascist reactionary insect, the better to anatomize it.)

And in the left, we have Accelerationism. (That's a link to the Accelerationist Manifesto, by the way.) Note that the term "Accelerationism" is a dual-use tool—it's also used by some singularitarians. I'm discussing the other variety here. Advocates such as Joshua Johnson sum it up thuswise:

Accelerationism is the notion that rather than halting the onslaught of capital, it is best to exacerbate its processes to bring forth its inner contradictions and thereby hasten its destruction. As a radical act, the genesis of this idea stretches back to Marx and continues through Lyotard's Libidinal Economy, Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus, and Nick Land's cybertechnics ...
It's fairly clear in context that entryism is a corollary of accelerationism. One may even speculate that the Spiked Online/Spiked Magazine nexus and the Institute of Ideas think tank are an entryist front.

The Spiked crew are drawn from the former Trotskyite Revolutionary Communist Party, led by Frank Furedi. In the wake of the collapse of the USSR the RCP entered a period of re-evaluating everything and then re-surfaced as free market Libertarians. Other offshoots included Living Marxism magazine in the early 90s (shut down in the wake of a libel lawsuit brought by ITN). Per wikipedia, "The green journalist George Monbiot has accused him of overseeing crypto-Trotskyist entryism designed to insert ex-RCPers into positions of cultural and media influence, where they pursue an extreme pro-technology right-wing libertarian agenda." That's not totally plausible in view of the bizarre direction the members of the RCP have taken since 1990.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the Revolutionary Communist Party has probably adopted a Trotskyite flavour of Accelerationism as its guiding doctrine for the 21st century, and is pursuing their strategic goal by attempting to exacerbate the coming Crisis of Capitalism by acting as Libertarian/free-market agents provocateur. (Implicitly, in order to bring about the Left-Singularity.) (Sanity Conservation Warning: The only bloggers currently using the term "Left-Singularity" seem to be barking hatstand neo-reactionaries. Memetic prophylactic recommended. You have been warned.)

Anyway. Let's chain the daisies together. What do we get?

We get former Trotskyites who have decided that the best way to achieve Communism is to encourage the worst excesses of Neoliberalism, until the system implodes under its own weight and it becomes apparent that the only way out of the rat-trap is forward on full afterburner into the Accelerationist future. They therefore establish Libertarian fronts and enthusiastically encourage the worst excesses of capitalist globalization, including the application of the shock doctrine to the western economies that originally applied it to their former colonies ... all the time living it up. (Because, let's face it, right wing think tank gurus might plausibly get to wear expensive suits, snort cocaine, and drive expensive BMWs rather than sitting around in dismal squats with leaky roofs holding self-criticism sessions like silly old-school Maoists: which lifestyle would you rather have? Alas, I am informed by Ken Macleod that the folks at Spiked Online are not in fact Gordon Gekko-like creatures of the night. Damn, I'll just have to file that caricature away for a near-future novel ...)

We also have former libertarians who, in despair at the failure of the tin idol of the free market, conclude that the Enlightenment was all some sort of horrible mistake and the only solution is to roll back the clock. Today, we are all—except for the aforementioned Neo-reactionaries—children of the Jacobin society: even modern Conservativism has its roots in the philosophy of Edmund Burke, who formulated a radical refutation of and opposition to the French Revolution—thereby basing his political theories on the axioms of his foe. As Trotsky observed, "Learning carries within itself certain dangers because out of necessity one has to learn from one's enemies." Despair is a common reaction to defeat, as is Stockholm syndrome: with the impending death of neoliberalism becoming clearer to the many libertarians who assumed it would bring about the small government/small world goals of the paleolibertarians—as it becomes clear that the fruits of neoliberalism are instability and corporate parasitism rather than liberty and justice for all—is it unreasonable of them to look to an earlier, superficially simpler settlement?

This we come full-circle. The Trotskyites of old have donned the Armani suits of libertarian and neoliberal think-tank mavens. And the libertarians have begun to search for a purer pre-modern framework with which to defend themselves against the searing vision of the radiant future. Welcome to the century of the Trotskyite monarchists, the revolutionary reactionaries, and the fringe politics of the paradoxical! I hope you brought popcorn: it's going to be nothing if not entertaining.

29 Nov 11:58

Moon Bibles

by noreply@blogger.com (John Higgs)
This story appeared in The Times earlier in the week (many thanks to Steve Moore for sending me the clipping).

Microfilm moon bibles! What a wonderful snapshot of that brief moment in history when we were both an analogue civilisation, and also going into space.

But the story raises a number of questions. Every ounce in weight was precious to the Apollo programme, so taking books on microfilm appears sensible at first. Until, that is, you remember that there was no way a bulky microfilm reader would have been on board. Whatever reason they took those Bibles to the moon, it was not to read them. Their journey into space was for symbolic reasons, not practical ones.

Then there's the fact that they took 100 of them, as if the astronauts were intending to convert The Clangers.

Clangers: Not Yet Christian.
The answer, of course, is money. Those microfilm moon bibles can fetch over $10,000 a pop in auctions, so taking 100 will have made someone a nice little windfall.

But look again at what really happened - the proximity of the moon granted these old Iron Age texts an extra quality - they gained value. That is magical thinking. Money itself is magical thinking, as certain pieces of green paper are deemed to have value which other pieces of green paper do not, provided they have been blessed by the wizards at the Federal Reserve (as Robert Anton Wilson used to put it.)

So the Apollo Prayer League were using the power of the moon to take an old form of magic (sacred texts) and convert them into a more modern form of magic (dollars). That's an occult act, in anyone's book, and one performed for personal gain rather than the greater good.

Who knew that Christians were that ideologically flexible?


29 Nov 11:56

Giving What’s Due

by LP

It seems sort of obligatory to write these Thanksgiving entries, but that’s no reason not to do it.  We need a few more obligations in life.  Americans could definitely use a stern father figure to tell us “You’ll do it or you’re in big trouble, mister,” at least when it comes to stuff like being decent, respectful, and grateful.

Which beings me to one of the problems with Thanksgiving.  In the age of social media, you get to see dozens, if not hundreds, of your kin, your friends, and your annoying relations doing their gratitudinal thing, and while I don’t wish to be one of those ‘you’re doing it wrong‘ guys, it can be helpful to remember a few important distinctions as you scribble an embarrassingly AutoCorrected holiday message before turning into the tuck:

There’s certainly nothing shameful about being happy you’re an American this time of year, or any time, really.  There are better countries in the world, depending on your criteria, and there are worse, but most of us — certainly anyone likely to be reading this — is blessed with comfort, material wealth, and all sorts of other advantages just by the circumstance of our birth.  I’ve never been much of a rah-rah patriot, and though it’s not trendy to argue about it on the internet, nationalism is easily as poisonous to human society, maybe even more so, than any religion we’ve ever come up with.  That said, this country was a great idea, and continues to be excellent in a lot of ways, and plenty of other countries would have put me to work filling a grave years ago.  But being born American isn’t something you should be thankful for.  Nobody did it for you.  It was just luck.  You can feel fortunate, but unless you think the hand of Providence put you in your comfy suburb, you shouldn’t really feel grateful.  The same goes for pretty much any other matters of circumstance; people should be happy to be lucky, but they don’t really need to be thankful, if for no other reason than that it implies that you’ll start being an ingrate the day your luck changes.

Similarly, you shouldn’t necessarily be thankful for anything you did yourself.  While recognizing that everything we do is, to a certain degree, done with the aid of others, being thankful for stuff like your good health, your great job, your enviable talents, your attractive partner, or your wonderful kids is going to come off as either self-abnegating or egotistical.  Too much praise and it sounds like you’re showing off; too little and it sounds like you don’t care.  But even if you walk the line perfectly, you shouldn’t be thankful for things that are your own doing; again, that’s not a matter of gratitude.  It’s a matter of pride.  The difference is slender, but it’s of grave importance.  You can easily be too proud, but you can never be too thankful.

When giving thanks, you should give it where it’s due:  not to fortune, not to fate, not to your own talents or your ability to weather circumstances.  Thanks should always go to the only thing in this world that’s capable of appreciating thanks:  a fellow human being who’s done you a good turn, who’s helped you take advantage of good fortune, or who’s guided your pride in productive ways, or who’s just been there where you were alone and needed someone there.  That’s what this holiday is for.  So, as one of the strangest and most amazing years of my life comes to its end, here’s a few people I want to thank, in notion if not in name.

* I never had much use for education, at least in a formal sense.  I got bored and frustrated easily.  I bristled at being taught the moral lessons of my parochial school youth, I hated the competition and indifference of public high school, and I found both the expense and the political gamesmanship of higher education off-putting.  But I had a handful of teachers over the years who gave me hope that having a good mind would be of some value to me, if I only tried to develop it.  A junior high school English teacher was the first person who ever praised me for being not just a good reader, but a perceptive reader, someone who could see what was not immediately apparent, and who could understand what was behind and underneath the mere text; that’s a lesson that has always and forever served me well.  The dean of students at my high school wasn’t a smart guy, but he was a decent guy, and he was the only person in authority who tried to stop the torrents of abuse I got from bullies and affiliated jerks; he taught me the incredibly important lesson that decent people can be found anywhere, even in the places you least expect them.  And a college philosophy teacher, in only one semester, taught me things about the limits of human knowledge, the importance of engaging with society, and the ever-utile value of doubt.  I’m thankful I had all three of them in my life, at the exact time I needed them.

* Something I learn more and more every year is that my life choices, most of which I’m generally happy with, have come at a great cost.  One of them is a lot of lonely holidays.  Nobody wants to be the older, single friend who you take in over the holidays because he’s got nowhere else to go.  Luckily, I tend to have access to a lot of inner resources, so even at times like this, when time off can be kind of a drag, I don’t get too low.  But the long stretch of days that constitutes the rest of the calendar year can be a brutal haul, and I’m surely thankful for the friendship, patience, tolerance, kindness, and enthusiasm shown to me by a lot of my good friends.  I’ve learned to appreciate my family more in recent years, but my friends remain my true family.

* I don’t often have a lot of good things to say about the internet; even as much as I use it and rely on it, its ugly qualities can get overwhelming.  But here’s an unreservedly good thing about it:  through its auspices, I have met some of the most amazing people I will ever know, virtually or otherwise.  In particular, it has allowed me access to a small handful of self-selected communities of like-minded folks — always the best kind of community — who have made me laugh, helped me in low moments, become my true friends, and done something nearly impossible:  made me feel like I am never alone in the world, and that there are a few places that people like us really belong, even if we had to create it ourselves.

* Most of my adult life has been given over to art and culture.  I don’t say this to brag, because I don’t think I’m any great shakes as a writer, or to single myself out as special, because heaven knows we have too many self-satisfied ‘creative’ types thinking the world owes them something more than it does anyone else.  I just say it because it means that I spend a lot of time in the company of other people — writers, musicians, artists, critics, and the like — who constantly astound me with their talent, drive, and insight.  And if I have ever written anything that has made you think, or made you laugh, or made you interested, or ever diverted you in a pleasant way, you can, as I do, thank those people, who have inspired and driven me to keep at it just so I can feel like I belong in their company.  I know I’ve let a lot of them down, and even more of them are indifferent to the work that I do, but they are keeping me in the game, and that alone pretty well makes life worth living.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  Hope you’re spending it being satisfied.

29 Nov 11:52

The slippery slope to political Internet censorship

by Zoe O'Connell

It has been revealed today that Cameron is planning on ordering Internet Service Providers to block “extremist” websites.

It may surprise some people, but I don’t have a problem with this. The reason I’m not worried is that it’s not going to work, because Cameron wants to use the anti-Child-Abuse Cleanfeed system to do it. One of the many criticisms of Cleanfeed is that it’s completely ineffective in the face of either a web site host or an end user with even a hint of technical ability, and there are even US Navy-sponsored initiatives to help users in oppressive regimes get around blocks.

The counter-argument by Cleanfeed is that it is not designed to stop “determined access”, just inadvertent access to unwelcome images. So it would seem the new system will prevent inadvertent access to terrorist and extremist web sites, not something that will likely have any significant access besides a few “Tough on terrorism” headlines in the Daily Mail.

What I do have a problem with is the slippery slope. When Cleanfeed was first introduced, many assurances were given that it would only be used to block images of child abuse. We’ve already seen that go wrong with the accidental block of Wikipedia, and it appears the secret list will now be extended to content someone, somewhere deems “extremist”. First it will be the obvious targets, but what about websites calling for civil disobedience or protest? The police will no doubt have some input into the block list and do you think they will be able to resist the temptation to add sites causing them headaches?

Mysteriously, they will become inaccessible with no way of verifying if you are on the list and no appeal.

This is worrying when it happens to mainstream websites, because Cleanfeed is somewhat dishonest and doesn’t tell you that you have hit a blocked site. Instead, you receive a generic File-not-found message. Not being a terrorist, why would you bother installing any mechanism to work around the blocks? No doubt people will figure out they have been blocked eventually, but in the case of a time-critical demonstration the damage could already have been done.

And once it is in place, might the powers that be try even more desperately to find ways of closing the loopholes in the system? I doubt this would work, given even China has failed in this regard so far, but there is a huge amount of collateral damage that could happen if they tried.

No doubt Cameron will say he doesn’t want to do any of the above, but will there be sufficient safeguards put in place? We saw when David Miranda was stopped at an Airport, where supposed anti-Terrorism powers were abused due to a lack of appropriate rules and oversight, that such things are critical. And what prevents a future, less liberally minded, parliament from quietly chipping away at those safeguards once the system is operational. Being a secret system, how would the public know?

If Cameron wants to do this, he needs to propose a better way than Cleanfeed. A more transparent system, with judicial oversight. And then we can talk.

27 Nov 23:36

Nick Clegg's self-defeating move on Europe and immigration

by Jonathan Calder
I once heard Jim Wallace say that when your opponents start fighting on your chosen ground you should be pleased. It shows you are winning this debate.

He is right, which is why I do not think Nick Clegg's embrace of the Conservatives' anti-immigrant rhetoric will achieve its aim of curbing the threat from UKIP.

Imagine you are a UKIP voter - go on, try. If you here even the leader of the hated Liberal Democrats admitting that we are too soft on immigrants who come here to live off the state, that will confirm you in your view of the world. It will not make you question it and decide to vote Liberal Democrat instead.

I think there is a better approach and it is that advocated in the Commentary in the current issue of Liberator, which advocates the consistent third of the electorate that is pro-European:
That one third is a minority but it is a considerably larger one than that which has ever voted Liberal Democrat. It is the obvious pool in which the party should be fishing. 
The pro-European vote has effectively been abandoned in previous elections, perhaps on the assumption that it had nowhere much else to go. Not merely can that vote be awakened but it is essential that it is awakened ahead of any referendum eventually happening.
At present Nick Clegg is veering between this approach and one that seeks to appeal to everyone. When pursuing the latter he talks about the centre, but in the case of immigration at least, he locates that centre far to the right.

I  am not the most instinctive pro-European you have ever met. I recognise that being in coalition involves compromise. It is just that I do not think this latest Clegg initiative will work.

Mainstream politicians, by pandering to the Farages of this world, are feeding the very far-right public opinion they fear. I suspect that, once again, we are seeing an effect of the political class now being formed from such a narrow, privileged base.
27 Nov 23:19

Pop Between Realities, Home in Time for Coffee (LOST)

by noreply@blogger.com (Philip Sandifer)
“Artists should not be trusted. If an artist is not deceitful
every so often in the cause of his art, then he is a poor artist.”

-- Chaim Potok, My Name is Asher Lev


LOST was quite possibly one of the biggest shows to hit television in the last decade. More remarkable was the fact that it was ostensibly “cult television” and yet it still hit it big in the mainstream. It was never the highest rated show on television, but it was in the American top-20 for most of its six-year run, it was the most recorded TV show at the time, and it was also an international sensation. It garnered 55 Emmy nominations (the American equivalent of BAFTAs) winning 11; many critics once called one of the greatest shows ever made.


As far as this blog is concerned, we shouldn’t be surprised. Like Doctor Who, LOST provided a means by which disparate genres could be smashed together. Doctor Who has the TARDIS; LOST had The Island. A place for people who were metaphorically lost in their lives, it allowed all kinds of different stories to play out. One week The Fugitive would be running about helping people and all the while trying to evade the law. Next week there might be a medical drama, followed by a comedy, a family drama, a love story, a con game, or a tragedy. This all got mixed in with the adventure of exploring a mysterious Island, populated by ghosts, time travel, an Island god, and a Smoke Monster for good measure. It hit the sweet spot of soap tropes and “genre” mythology.


Today its reputation is far different, and it’s impossible to go back and watch it again without keeping this in mind. The finale (as was the case for most of its final season) was largely panned, and it isn’t unusual to find it on a critic’s “10 worst” list of some sort or another. People expected answers that were never delivered; new but less compelling characters came to the forefront; the show veered into iconography better found in a greeting card penned by Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Which really begs the question: What the hell happened?


~~~ whooosh ~~~


KATE: We have to go back for him.

CHARLIE: Go back? There? Kate, there's a certain

gargantuan quality about this thing.

(1x01: Pilot, Part 1)


~~~ whooosh ~~~


It’s August 15th, 2005. Oasis is poised to hit number one, with McFly, Babyshambles, Iron Maiden, and British Whale all charting. Americans are killing Iraqis, but Indonesia signs a peace treaty with the Free Aceh Movement, so there’s that. India celebrates its 60th Independence Day. Helios Airways Flight 522 crashes near Athens, killing 121.


While on Netflix, it’s Disc One of Season One of LOST. I inhale it quicker than Bill Clinton can suck down a cigar. Yes, I’m late, almost a year late to the LOST party (it premiered on September 22nd, the Fall Equinox of 2004) but it won’t take me long to go back and get caught up. I’m struck by how cinematic the show is – lead directors Jack Bender, Stephen Williams, and Tucker Gates know their stuff, and of course JJ Abrams directed the twin pilot episodes, and of course Hawaii makes for a gorgeous backdrop. It’s immediately apparent that this also a literary project – from the character naming conventions (famous authors, foundational philosophers, and blatant allusions) to how quickly it dives into serious subject matter, be it a debate on euthanasia, the nature of human politics, or how to survive a crash landing in the South Pacific.


For most people, the introduction of the Monster (still hidden under cover of night) at the end of Act One sufficed as a hook; others immediately began translating the varying iterations of the Frenchwoman’s transmission at the end of Pilot Part Two, but for me it was the construction of Walkabout, the 4thepisode of the series that put the nail in my coffin. This is the first episode to feature John Locke, who in Flashback is seen to be a lonely, angry, office drone of a man, a lumpen who rails against being told what he can’t do. Locke, we discover, works at a box company, is nicknamed “box man”, and even wanted to be a boxer when he was a teenager.


It’s deliciously character-centric, and yet it’s the Reveal of his plight in Australia that’s astonishing, coupled with the emotional climax of his rising off the beach of the Island after the plane crash, hooking your faithful writer like a rainbow trout out of Candlewood Lake. I should have known better, of course, given that “fish” are highlighted in this episode as symbolic of “faith,” but also of “suckers” – of marks taken in by con artists.


~~~ whooosh ~~~


SUN: I want to go back to the beginning. Can't we just start all over?

(1x17: …In Translation)


~~~ whooosh ~~~


To properly understand LOST, one must examine the underlying philosophy of JJ Abrams’ storytelling. While Abrams wasn’t generally involved with the show much beyond its launch, he did lay the groundwork with Damon Lindelof, who ran the show with Carlton Cuse all the way to the end.


In 2007, Abrams gave a TED talkconcerning LOST. He brings up his grandfather, Harry Kelvin, who would bring over radios and TVs (boxes) and open them up for Abrams to see how they worked. This got Abrams deeply invested in boxes. One day, because Kelvin got Abrams interested in stage magic, Abrams bought a box from a magic store, a Mystery Box that contained a surprising number of magic tricks. Abrams, however, didn’t open the box. He was having too much fun imagining what could be inside. In fact, as long he never opened the box, it could very well be anything! Which made the Mystery Box all the more enticing. This, then, became a guiding narrative principle: Mystery was such an effective hook that it could be employed throughout a story to generate constant tension and curiosity.


This is, in fact, how LOST was structured. It set up two grand Mystery Boxes (The Island and The Smoke Monster) which were endlessly deferred while several other Mystery Boxes provided periodic Reveals as a show of good faith. Any time a box was opened – for example, meeting the Frenchwoman whose radio transmission generated such excitement in the second pilot episode – a new mystery box would be put on display -- like, what the hell happened to her to make her this way? In other words, answering a question simply leads to another question.


There are a couple problems with this method of storytelling. First, using a Hook – a first-act device – through an entire story can lead to deficits in other areas, from poor plot development in the second act to unsatisfying climaxes (Reveals) in the third. A story that’s made entirely of hooks simply begins to sting; there’s never any fish to cook. Second, and more egregious, this principle is often extended to characters as well. This poses a dramatic problem, because while it’s enticing to anticipate what’s in a Mystery Box, it’s difficult to believe in or fully appreciate the conflicts between characters when we don’t know what’s actually motivating them.


Mind you, the Mystery Box lecture Abrams delivered for his TED talk was directly in response to all the questions he received about LOST, and specifically about the nature of the Island. Much digital ink has been spilled about the show’s failure to deliver on that particular Reveal, but Abrams closes the TED talk specifically with an admonishment that the Mystery Box will remain closed. (And what’s with the bit about showing us two characters mirroring each other, and the appreciation of sleight-of-hand over explosions? No one ever brings this up.)


Anyone who’s seen this lecture should have guessed that the Reveal of the Island would never happen. While it’s fair notice – well, not really, given that most people who watch TV don’t watch TED talks – it’s not particularly satisfying on dramatic grounds. The only justification for such ambiguity is if the narrative itself provides enough clues for the savvy viewer to figure out a plausible theory. Even so, doesn’t tackling such a puzzle box amount to little more than a leap of faith?


~~~ whooosh ~~~


JACK: You didn't want to go back there. Did you know about this?

HURLEY: Jacob kind of, sort of, hinted at it...

(6x05: The Lighthouse)


~~~ whooosh ~~~


It’s April 16th, 2006. Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” tops the charts, and has been topping the charts since David Gilmour’s album “On an Island” disappeared. The Danube floods in Eastern Europe, displacing hundreds of people. Dan Brown, writer of The DaVinci Code, fends off a copyright suit from Henry Lincoln, writer of Holy Blood Holy Grail and three Doctor Who stories. Scientists conclude that containment of the avian flu pandemic has failed.


While in my Easter basket, courtesy of the love of my life my ex, it’s The Third Policeman, by Flann O’Brien. As if I don’t have enough to read, given the rigors of the academic life, but this one’s a treat. It’s a masterpiece of postmodernism, but it was virtually unheard of before it appeared in “Orientation,” the third episode of Lost’s second season. The book details the surreal experiences of an unnamed amateur scholar of De Selby, a fictional philosopher-scientist with decidedly eccentric and esoteric ideas on the nature of the Universe. De Selby’s outlandish theories put LOST theorists to shame.


More to the point, it also opens up a new way for me to appreciate the epic mythology that is LOST. Since getting hooked on the show, I’ve taken an intertextual approach. It starts with Watership Down, a childhood favorite that appears early in the first season, and which vaguely foreshadows future events on the show. When A Wrinkle in Time appears later in the season, I happily re-read it, and am handsomely rewarded with a fabulous joke in the 19th episode, “Deus Ex Machina.”


But The Third Policeman is something else entirely. In the end, it’s revealed that the despicable protagonist is dead, in hell, and that hell is an eternally recurring Sisyphean circle that keeps getting forgotten. So, if the books are intertextually relevant and not simply gratuitous – as all the other titles that have appeared in the show bear out – it seems I’ll have to go back and watch it again, with an eye for cracks in the narrative that allude to such circularity. I wonder if Nietzsche has been referenced yet?


~~~ whooosh ~~~


KATE: I've spent the last three years trying to forget

all the horrible things that happened on the day that we left.

How dare you ask me to go back?

(4x13: There’s No Place Like Home, Part 2)


~~~ whooosh ~~~


If one hopes to decode LOST through literary analysis, a library is required. Nearly a hundred different titles appeared in the show, and coupled with the enormous number of other references to philosophers, scientists, and critics (hello, “Brother Campbell”) one could spend far more time studying external sources than watching the show itself, which is saying something, given that LOST is comprised of 121 episodes of television, all in service to a single story.


The bigger problem with a puzzle-box story is that most people aren’t watching stories to decode puzzles, they’re watching to see characters in conflict, and how those conflicts evolve and resolve. In this respect, LOST somewhat acquits itself. While few of its characters are actually likeable, the huge cast provides a myriad of different faces to follow, and even identify with. And indeed, the show has consistently devoted itself to character-based storytelling, even within the framework of epic mythology.


This is as good a place as any to highlight one of LOST’s main narrative conventions, which is the use of FlashBacks to tell its story. The vast majority of the episodes focus on one of the main characters, to go back and explore the resounding climaxes in a life prior to arriving on the Island. This allows the show to have its cake and eat it too, by juxtaposing heavily mythological content with mundane ordinary life, week after week, with a different character. In this respect the show has an almost anthologized feel to it, not unlike Doctor Who – if you don’t like Jack Shephard, for example, don’t worry, because next week will have Kate Austin in focus, or Hugo Reyes.


This technique was much more effective in the early going of the show, when each character was a Mystery Box, and the FlashBacks were actually revealing of character. At their best, the character stories were heavily laden with dramatic irony, often via supporting characters, as in “The Moth” which showed Charlie Pace’s journey from choir-boy to drug addict, a mirror-image of his brother Liam, who starts out as the wannabee rock-star and ends up a straight-laced family man. The two fates are the same, but the characters trade places, replacing each other in their crossing trajectories.


Another example: Jack Shephard was originally supposed to die in the Pilot episode. The network honchos said that wouldn’t work, so Abrams and Lindelof replaced Jack’s death with the death of the airplane pilot. The pilot takes Jack’s place, but in the meantime the two characters are juxtaposed: Jack opens the episode lying on the ground, alive, with a close-up on his opening right eye that reflects the trees and sky above. The pilot, whose right eye is swollen shut, is found through a reflection in a puddle of water on the ground, which reveals up in the trees, dead. Jack says he trained to be a pilot, but it wasn’t for him. Architecturally it’s rather clever.


But at times this “X” structure stretched credulity. John Locke and Ben Linus were similarly juxtaposed, but through some incredibly coincidental trivia – their mothers share the name Emily, they both have operations on their backs, they both spend time in wheelchairs, they both moved a mystical Wheel in the heart of the Island, and they even share similar lines of dialogue. This builds to the crescendo of John replacing Ben as the leader of the Others, and Ben becoming the butt of a cosmic joke – a contrivance with a reprehensible entailment.


In the LOST universe, the roles people can play are fixed, not unlike Campbellian archetypes. The characters can swap places, but there’s no opportunity to fundamentally change the material social dynamics of the different roles in play. This is the very antithesis of progress, not to mention of alchemy. It’s more like a game of musical chairs, but worse, because it never ends.


~~~ whooosh ~~~


BEN: So how is it that you think you know this island better than I do?

LOCKE: Because you're in the wheelchair, and I'm not.

...

BEN: I want to help you, John.

LOCKE: Why?

BEN: Because I'm in a wheelchair and you're not. Are you ready to see?

(3x13: The Man From Tallahassee)


~~~ whooosh ~~~


It’s September 26th, 2006. Blah blah blah.


While in the world of games, it’s the end of LOST’s first Alternative Reality Game, or ARG, otherwise known as “The Lost Experience” or “the TLE,” which is, yes, redundant. Now, anyone who knows me know that I love games, especially when there’s a computer of some sort involved; after all, as a child, I played games on a Commodore machine. But the TLE isn’t really a game so much as a webmaze, a scavenger hunt for clues to LOST’s mythology that takes place all over the Internet. And it completely wastes one of my summers.


This ARG doesn’t just take place on the Net. Parts of it take place in the Real World™ with the distribution of Apollo Candy Bars. It’s first alluded to in a fake commercial (like one of those fake ads in GAMES magazine) that aired back in the Spring of 2006, advertising the website of the fictional Hanso Foundation, which on LOST was the organization that funded the Dharma Initiative that left behind all those Hatches filled with rusting technological boondoggles on the Island. And indeed, the parallel “story” of the TLE includes a fictional character (Rachel Blake, aka “Persephone”) interacting with real people on the internet.


(This isn’t the last time a weird commercial appears during a LOST broadcast. For the Season Four finale, for example, which introduced the Dharma Initiative’s Orchid Station, Old Navy will run a commercial that features an “orchid print” dress, despite the fact that no such dress exists in their catalog. However, the commercial also has a soundtrack culled from Lights’ “Last Thing on Your Mind,” so there’s that.)


The TLE, in other words, is not only an opportunity to keep marketing the show during its summer hiatus, and not only a way for the showrunners to flesh out non-crucial backstory to their epic without intruding on the television show proper, it’s a way for the show to blur the edges between fiction and reality. So, on the show, Hurley and Sawyer discover a manuscript called “Bad Twin” (written by the fictional Gary Troup, which is an anagram) before Jack throws it into the fire. In real life, the manuscript is actually published, a mediocre potboiler that purports to expose salacious details of minor characters on the show, but which contributes very little to actually understanding LOST, other than, perhaps, its use of “mirror-twin” characters – literally twins, but with reversed facial characteristics – as a source of metaphor for the show at large. (It was actually pretty awful, and I’m not tempted to go back to it again, even as reference material.)


I’m more disappointed in the final Reveal of the TLE – a woman is reconciled with her father, playing the same note of “daddy issues” that have been prevalent in the show – but still, the notion of a “breach” between the show and the culture surrounding it is much more interesting. I mean, I watch a lot of TV, and I couldn’t help but notice that LOST was getting referenced in other shows – a fortune cookie with Hurley’s numbers showed up on Veronica Mars, for example, or Chuck from “Chuck” announcing, during a close-up on his eye, that he knows the secret behind Flight 815, the plane that crashed on the Island in the very beginning of the show – on the actual date that the show first aired.


It’s also around this time that I start getting active in online communities devoted to discussing and dissecting LOST. That is to say, it isn’t just impinging on my reading habits, and interfering with my other studies, but that it’s becoming a part of my social life as well. Which, frankly, is one of the best things to come out of LOST. I’m not exactly a people-person, but interacting over the Internet is something I actually find enjoyable. Especially when I can employ an avatar and any number of different names. It’s interesting to see how people’s attitudes and ways of interacting change depending on who they think they’re talking to. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for authenticity – well, as long as your mail isn’t getting stolen or anything like that.


It’s also instructive for understanding LOST. So many characters on the show are not who they say they are, and there are even a few who aren’t who they think they are, well, according to the Season Two trailers. This might explain why so many of them have such striking names, like “Christian Shepherd” or “Mikhail Bakhunin.” The ethic of the confidence man rules, and very much in the postmodern fashion suggested by Melville’s “Confidence Man,” the last novel he wrote.


It’s at the online forum called The Fuselage that I become acquainted with one Robert Goodman, who claims to be a friend of showrunner Damon Lindelof’s (dead) father, and indeed of Damon himself. Goodman proposes a game where every narrative convention in the show has to have a diegetic purpose. This allows him to spin a grand conspiracy narrative explaining the show – Walt wasn’t lucky, he was a con-artist who used loaded dice at backgammon; the characters picked fake names to indicate to other characters which sides they were on; there was a security system on the Island that prevented anyone from speaking of the true nature of their deceptions; and so on. It’s an inventive theory, and though obviously demented, it speaks to the conspiracy-theory paranoia undercurrents of American culture.


Another online personality, “Ada” at the ABC boards, tried instructing hard-core fans on the art of “close reading” the show. Pointing out not just the blatant literary references, but the kinds of literary techniques the show was using – repeated dialogue, mythological symbolism, the importance of episode titles as clues to character analysis, how to make a timeline, and even something as basic as noticing which numbers keep coming up over and over again.


I think I’m finally starting to “get” LOST.


~~~ whooosh ~~~


DESMOND: Why'd you try and to kill me?

CHARLIE: I didn't try and kill you. I was trying to show you something.

(6x11: Happily Ever After)


~~~ whooosh ~~~


One of the things that became apparent through the online ARG, The Lost Experience, was that the showrunners were more actively engaged with their audience (or, to be specific, with their fandom) than either had previously enjoyed.


Indeed, this has become a model for showrunning. Damon and Carlton got into the habit of hosting semi-regular podcasts to dissect recently aired episodes, and to respond to criticism of those episodes. They granted numerous interviews, interviews which were picked over in search of clues that might reveal the nature of their show, not to mention the Island. Many people on the show, from production staff to the talent, would post on online forums like The Fuselage. They became headliners at cult-ish events like San Diego Comic Con. Damon even wrote an essay about Harry Potter for the New York Times, all the while drawing (misleading) comparisons to LOST.


Of course, this is all part of marketing a show now, generating buzz, keeping audiences engaged. But it provided them several opportunities, related to the Mystery Box nature of the show itself, to fuck with their audience.


First, they lied incessantly. Early in Season One, for example, Damon stated unequivocally that there was “no time travel,” which later turned out to be quite the red herring. This lying had some rather felicitous entailments. On the one hand, it helped to mitigate spoilers, through the spread of misinformation, and misdirecting those hardcore fans who were determined to unearth the Island’s secrets in advance of a Reveal, preserving the sanctity of the Mystery Box. On the other hand, and far more important, it made Darlton into unreliable narrators, which in turn made it easier for fans to spin their own theories on the show without relying on external authorities to validate (or invalidate) them. In essence, this kind of showrunning pays homage to the Death of the Author; one must consult the text in order to determine what’s actually being said.


The other implication of this interactive form of showrunning has to do with using the show to reflect back to the audience what they’ve been voicing about the show. In this respect, the use of many Mystery Boxes can function like so many mirrors. When the Hatch was conceived in Season One, the writers didn’t actually know what was going to be found inside; after all, they didn’t even know at the time if the show was going to be renewed or cancelled.


So a Mystery Box can have nothing at all inside of it, except a plan to put something into it culled from audience speculation. The idea of finding TV dinners and rusted-out world-saving technology appealed to the writers, so they built the Dharma Initiative out of those visions.


Using the Mystery Box notion extended through the run of the show, and provided more opportunities for the show to respond to its audience. In 2009, when one very creative online theorist likened LOST to The Muppet Show, including a detailed mapping of LOST’s characters to the iconic Muppets, she was rewarded with a flash of Kermit the Frog on one of the Dharma Initiative’s monitors less than a week later – and such a feat is possible in last-minute post-production when the show is filmed with all monitors covered in blue-screen cut-outs for future editing.


Another theorist likened the show’s use of coincidence to Lawrence Weschler’s “Everything That Rises: a Book of Convergences,” spawning a discussion of Flannery O’Connor’s collection of short stories as related to LOST, in particular regards to its spiritual concerns; in the Season Five finale, the mysterious Jacob is seen reading O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” just before touching John Locke and bringing him back to life the latter’s fall from the eighth story of a skyscraper. Other online theorists have seemingly had their work acknowledged through inserted references to Stephen King’s “The Shining” and Philip K Dick’s “VALIS.”


~~~ whooosh ~~~


CLAIRE: People don't seem to look me in the eye here. I

think I scare them. The baby... It's like I'm this time bomb

of responsibility just waiting to go off.

(1x05: White Rabbit)


~~~ whooosh ~~~


It’s December 1st, 2007, and I think I’m going insane. I’ve got LOST pouring out my ears. My work has suffered due to my obsession with this show. But I’m so close to figuring it out! It has something to do with mirrors. Reversed images. Continuity errors that are too on-the-nose to be anything but deliberate. And I’m sure that the writers are seeding the online forums with clues. It would be so easy for them to create fake online personas – after all, they’re in the business of making up characters. The writers are “the Others” – everything on the show has a real-world analogue. It’s a Breach between fiction and reality.


The Island is a resurrection hub. When you die, you go back, and you can change things, but only the latest iteration can be shown. The FlashBacks are particularly dangerous. The characters don’t know they’re having them. It’s clearest to see with Claire, whose name means Clarity. In “Raised by Another” (raised by an other?) she starts having flashbacks, and starts getting sick. She’s filled with regret, with guilt, and the Smoke Monster is keenly attuned to it. She’s about to make a decision that might create a paradox – if she doesn’t take the tickets to get on Flight 815, she’d never come to the Island, never have flashbacks, never not take the tickets. But she takes them because Charlie has faith in Malkin, the psychic con-man.


In fact, I’m sure that in a prior iteration, Claire’s flashbacks caused her to get Smoked. Charlie saw it happen, and Ethan showed him how to go back and stop it from happening. Ethan hung Charlie from a Banyan Tree, and Charlie traveled back in time. There’s a reversed image of Charlie running through the trees, right before Claire’s fateful flashbacks. I found it because of Magritte’s painting, “Carte Blanche,” a repeated phrase in Outlaws. And now Charlie’s necklace is reversed – a continuity error. No wonder his head is haloed by vines after Jack retrieves him from the Banyan Tree! Charlie sacrificed himself to save Claire. A leap of faith, all the way around.


In Claire’s next centric episode, which explains her disappearance after Ethan kidnapped her, there’s a FlashBack where Claire asks Ethan what happened to Charlie. Ethan says, “Oh, he’s fine. When we got far enough away from camp, I let him go back.” He let him go back.So it’s true. On LOST, “to die” means “to go back.”


~~~ whooosh ~~~


HURLEY: They all think I'm dead. When we get rescued

and I go back, I'm gonna be free.

(4x01: The Beginning of the End)


~~~ whooosh ~~~


After three years of fleshing out the characters through FlashBacks, that particular narrative convention had thoroughly run its course. The characters were no longer mysteries, and the flashback conceit had become very predictable.


It was at this point that the Cuse and Lindelof decided to switch things up and start playing with the narrative convention itself. For the Season Three finale, “Through the Looking Glass,” they replaced Jack’s FlashBacks with FlashForwards. They did this without making it apparent until the very end of the story, when Jack implored Kate to go back to the Island as they stood at the edge of an airport runway.


This game-changing device, called “the Snake in the Mailbox,” was perhaps the greatest twist in the show’s history, but it also marked the beginning of the end. By showing us the characters’ futures off the Island, the show lost a lot of its dramatic impact. Well before the end of the next season, everyone knew who would make it off the Island and who would get left behind. The main narrative principle of the show, the setting up of a Mystery Box for a subsequent Reveal, had been violated. Effects preceded causes, denuding the events on the Island of any tension – if we know that Sayid, for example, escapes the Island, there’s no real danger to his being captured by the Others.


So the show stopped being a character-driven drama, and took a hard turn towards plot-driven mythology dependent on cliffhangers, incredibly strained twists, and the proliferation of hunting for Easter Eggs.


Ah, Easter Eggs. It’s one of the things the show is famous for. On the one hand, it’s commendable that the show would trust its more devoted fans to study the show closely. On the other hand, it makes it less accessible to the typical casual viewer. To be clear, the show has employed Easter Eggs from the beginning. In the pilot episode, for example, the Frenchwoman’s transmission is supposedly on a loop, but each iteration of the message is slightly different – though one would need to translate French in order to know this. The Whispers were in fact highly processed voices that again would take technological prowess to decode. Other Easter Eggs were more benign – using Backgammon as a metaphor, or a sign in a medical facility misspelled as “Magnetic Resonance Imagining.


And then there were the queer editing choices – certain reversed images that served no clear purpose, or having a background character speaking backwards. Splicing in images that would take a DVR to find. To expect an audience to wade through the show studying every line of dialogue, and every frame of footage, is frankly insane.


~~~ whooosh ~~~


LOCKE: What if everything that happened here, happened for a reason?

(1x05: White Rabbit)


~~~ whooosh ~~~


It’s December 4th, 2007, and I’ve started hearing voices. Obviously they’re in my head – I’m not so loony as to think they’re externally generated. They’re more like… whispers… and they tell me things about LOST.


Well, let me take that back. Sometimes they’re externally generated, but in a peculiar way. Like, I’ll be asking myself a question, and then a commercial comes on the television that answers that very question, but in the form of riddle or metaphor. Or, I’m wondering about the four-toed statue (it has a “lost toe”) and my best friend (definitely not my ex) starts telling me about an article concerning the latest “theory of everything” in quantum physics, including the fact that a TOE is an acronym for a “theory of everything.”


And then there are the problems with material reality. Both of my VCRs die in the span of a couple of days. How can I do a frame-by-frame analysis of the episodes coming next month without a VCR? Also, the toaster oven is acting up: I put two frozen hash-brown patties into it, side-by-side, and one comes out burnt while the other is still cold. Even my food has become “mirror twinned.”


Most peculiar of all, someone asked if I were pregnant. Ha ha, very funny. Nice way to say I’ve gained some weight lately. (I have gained some weight lately.)


But the Voices are what’s really bugging me. One of them definitely has a British accent, and another is certainly female. Lately they’ve been concerned with decoding Jacob’s Cabin as seen in the third-season episode “The Man Behind The Curtain.” This is one of those episodes were images and sounds were spliced in. In a fraction of a second, as John Locke shines a light on an empty chair in a creepy cabin, someone calls out “Help Me” while the cabin shakes and people and objects are thrown across the room. Locke accuses Ben of being a charlatan, of faking a supernatural event, and I believe Locke – until I see the screenshots.


Ever so briefly, there’s a splice of someone sitting in the Chair, and a close-up of someone’s Eye. And there’s a continuity error that follows this event: Ben replaces a lantern outside the cabin door after all this, even though the lantern broke inside the cabin when all hell broke loose.


The voices tell me that Ben was supposed to sit in the Chair and replace the person who’s sitting there, some poor time-traveler who got caught in a loop; hence the pathetic cry of “help me.” Locke, who’s been juxtaposed with Ben for the better part of the season, could have done it, but Ben ended up shooting Locke by the Dharma pit, where the bodies of the DI were dumped after The Purge. Regardless, whoever’s in the Chair will be stuck there indefinitely. Whoever this Jacob fellow is, I feel sorry for him. He obviously got tricked into his terrible fate.


I’ve also realized that Liam tricked Charlie into taking his place on Flight 815. But, did Liam do it out of self-preservation, because he didn’t want to drown in the Looking Glass? Or was it for the greater good, given that Charlie was a better musician and could properly enter the code for Good Vibrations to cut the jamming signal?


~~~ whooosh ~~~


JACK: It doesn't matter, Kate, who we were - what we did before this,

before the crash. It doesn't really... Three days ago we all died.

We should all be able to start over.

(1x03: Tabula Rasa)


~~~ whooosh ~~~


There were two types of LOST fans, for the most part. There were those who were primarily concerned with understanding the characters on the show and following their journeys, and there were those who were obsessed with understanding the mythology underlying the show, from the nature of the Smoke Monster and the Island to the evolution of The Others, the Dharma Initiative, and indeed the nature of the show they were watching.


This is, of course, a false dichotomy; most “theorists” had characters they gravitated towards, and most “shippers” were as pleased as anyone else about the discovery of the latest Hatch. Which makes sense – after all, the Mysteries of the Island were, in the end, wrapped up in the nature of the characters, and the characters themselves were revealed in juxtaposition to the strangeness they discovered on the Island.


Nonetheless, it’s a useful dichotomy for understanding the reception of LOST’s finale (and final season.) Those who were most satisfied with the show tended to be most concerned with the resolution of the characters’ stories, which they got, by and large; as it turns out, the characters needed only each other, not a damn mystery Island, to move on. Conversely, the people who were invested in a Sixth Sense type of reveal were sorely disappointed, as the Mystery Box was essentially kept closed, and what little was revealed was so steeped in obvious symbolism and ambiguity it might have been better just to chuck the box back into the ocean.


We’ve seen such dichotomies in fandoms before. It’s not exactly the same as the gun/frock debate amongst Whovians back in the 90’s, but its close. More generally, it’s the debate between plot-driven stories versus character-driven stories, but it goes further than that. This is because LOST, being a popular mainstream story, was understood through basic narrative conventions. Its ability to tell character stories through FlashBacks, for example, was possible only because we understand the conventions of prolepsis and analepsis, that stories don’t have to be told in a strictly chronological fashion.


But this same contract also applies to genre conventions. A Mystery Box story is supposed to have a Reveal, and indeed the early going of LOST seemed to promise such a Reveal – from the shocking revelation of John Locke’s chair at the end of Walkabout to the thorough exploration of the Swan Hatch throughout Season Two.


LOST made a deal with its fans, implicitly through its narrative conventions, but ultimately failed to deliver the goods.


~~~ whooosh ~~~


JULIET: I lied.

SAWYER: You lied?

JULIET: It was the only way he'd let us go back.

SAWYER: So why are you going back?

JULIET: Karma.

(3x22: Through the Looking Glass, Part 1)


~~~ whooosh ~~~


It’s December 8th, 2007. I’m watching TV with the love of my lifemy ex, and a bad rendition of A Christmas Carol for some sitcom episode gets quickly skipped over (I'm not the one wielding the buttons) and some other show comes on, probably the History Channel.

And I have a weird feeling. A not so good feeling. I don't know why, but I have the feeling that I’m going to die. Tonight. For some reason, I don't know why, I'm going to die this very night.


Downstairs, in the garage, Timmy the Rat Terrier rattles his chain. He's on a new short chain, 'cause he's been pooping where he shouldn't - he's a rescue dog, and not very amenable to training. I go downstairs, and I'm horrified - the dog is on the landing of the steps, right on the edge of falling off and choking to death from the short chain. I move him away from the ledge, and back upstairs to try to sleep. Again, the chain rattles, and again I go downstairs and scoot him away. Again the chain rattles, and this time I just remove it. My “ex” swears if the dog poops on the floor one more time, he's a goner. I promise myself I'll clean it up first thing in the morning; besides, the dog's going to kill himself tonight on that chain.

I go upstairs, and try to sleep, but I can't. I start running the loops in my head, over and over again, Charlie going to the Tree and getting hung, and he does this by Choice, to save Claire. Knowing what we know of Charlie, he would do this, he would sacrifice himself out of his love for another. Charlie's going to die so that he can Go Back, 'cause he saw Claire destroyed by the Smoke Monster. And then Ethan will have to take him to the Tree again, to complete the loop, and Charlie will forget it all.


Both stories have two versions of events, and for each story I play the loops simultaneously, one on one side of my mind, the other on the other side of my mind. It’s holographic, in 3D, but only one side can ever be shown.

And then there’s that poor man stuck in Jacob’s Chair. I wish I could help him. If I could sit in that Chair and free him from his torment, I would. I see the Chair whirring past me, holographically, and I sit in it. I sit in the Chair, and that’s when I died.


~~~ whooosh ~~~


CHARLIE: It's a mulligan. Mulligan. It's a gentleman's sport,

you've got to get the words right. Mulligan.

(1x09: Solitary)


~~~ whooosh ~~~


In “Flashes Before Your Eyes”, the eighth story of season three, it’s revealed what happened to Desmond David Hume after he turned the key in the underbelly of the Swan Hatch, after the timer reached zero, replaced by mysterious Egyptian hieroglyphics that Darlton have lied about – they say the glyphs mean “Underworld,” but they’re actually lifted directly from the Admonitions of Ipuwur, a phrase properly translated as “to cause to die.” Desmond’s consciousness goes back in time, to another island (Britain) many years before he arrived in the South Pacific.


It’s almost the same as any other FlashBack we’ve seen before on LOST, but this one is different. First, we stay in FlashBack almost until the end of the episode – the FlashBack itself is a feature of the story. Second, the character of Desmond becomes aware that he’s in a FlashBack of some kind, especially when he encounters a woman named Hawking who’s determined to make sure he doesn’t make any changes to the decision process that led him to arrive on the Island in the first place.


This argument between Hawking and Hume manifests over the choice of whether to buy a “ring” for Hume’s lover, Penelope Widmore. The “ring” becomes a metaphor for what ends up being Hume’s time-loop, a causal loop from which he can’t escape. He ends up throwing the ring into a river – another metaphor for time, but of the linear variety. When his consciousness returns to the Island, he is “reborn” amidst the implosion of the Hatch, naked, and desperate to “go back”:


DESMOND: Please, let me go back. Let me go back

one more time. I'll do it right. I'll do it right this time.

I'm sorry, Penny. I'll change it. I'll change it.


This episode functions as a synecdoche for the series as a whole, or a Russian Nesting Doll if you prefer. It reveals that the heart of LOST is a time-travel story, driven by regret, a perfect union of myth and character. It also suggests that the narrative conventions for telling the story, namely the FlashBacks, the FlashForwards, and the FlashSideways, are more than storytelling conventions, but part of the plot itself. The Flashes are always character-centric – is it possible that other characters’ consciousnesses are travelling through time, but that they’re generally unaware of it?


This, in turn, might explain a mystery of the Smoke Monster, and why it seems to be bound by certain “rules.” If someone inadvertently changed their own timeline because they were having or about to have a FlashBack that would somehow prevent them from coming to the Island in the first place if a different choice were made, the Island’s “security system” (which can read people’s memories) would jump in an stop them, thereby protecting the Island.


Let’s be clear here: “go back” is one of the most repeated phrases in the show, starting in the Pilot. The repetition is a form of literary technique – not unlike Vonnegut’s repetition of “so it goes” in Slaughterhouse Five after every description of death. LOST is filled with repetitions, this most basic literary technique, from its dialogue and catchphrases to the kinds of symbols it consistently employs: the Opening Eye, a moment of revelation and rebirth; the confluence of Water and Faith; of Trees, a symbol of connection in myths all over the world; of Chairs, from which brainwashing occurs; and especially in its deployment of Mirrors, at moments of reversal, the revealing of character, and passage to or communication with “the other side.”


But all this means nothing. What was once a show devoted to exploring serious philosophical and social issues – long gone are the days when it deconstructed ignorant stereotypes! – is now a show predicated on cheap thrills, narrative trickery, and warmed over symbolism from 19thCentury esoterica best left to cold-reading “psychics” and the deluded recordings of so-called near-death experiences. LOST lost its concern with the material conditions of living life, and was much the poorer for it.


~~~ whooosh ~~~


BEN: This must be quite the out-of-body experience.

LOCKE: Something like that.

(5x15: Follow the Leader)


~~~ whooosh ~~~


lost
river lethe
after my memory
goes back to quench
the barren desert, unfolding hereafter
in the eternal maelstrom, purple stars


The voices are laughing at me as all gravity slips away, and I’m sailing up to the center of the Galaxy, to the resurrection hub. I think the voices are what other people might call Angels, but I call them Whisperers. The Whispers are Beautiful.


And then I’m alone, crossing an endless expanse of blue sand, under the night sky. I have to find the mountain. Inside the mountain is a cave, and buried in the cave are bones. I have to dig up the bones, and bring the witch back to life.


coming into being
with a divine intention
reveal secrets

of light
reflected off the mirror

of the heart

And suddenly I’m lifted up yet again, beholding a bright, all-encompassing Light. I can’t see the face, won’t see the face, for to know the face of God is to know madness. I’m terrified. I’m enraptured. Fear and Love are One.


“What about all the Goddesses I’ve worshipped throughout my life?” I ask, not with words, but thoughts. The Universe unfurls before me, the living Goddess, and She smiles. It’s not like I ever believed in Gods and Goddesses, in all my rituals – I always took them to be metaphors. Symbols of the subconscious mind.


And now my life is spread out before me, half-shadowy images as if flickering from an ancient film projector. I remember everything, and everything in my life was absolutely necessary to come to this moment. I’m asked if there’s anything I want to go back and change. The terror of bullies in school. The sexual abuse at the age of three. The loss of loved ones. No. I won’t change a thing. Not even the choices that were wrong? No. I will go back to the present, with a debt on my soul. I owe the Universe two boons. And that frog that ended up in a lawnmower when I was ten, I will do something about that, too. Judgment is harsh, but I’m grateful, so grateful, that I can go back to my life with a chance to balance the scales.


opens an ephemeral eye, shining out
unwinding heavens, a juicy torrent
comes forth never thirsting
ere we forget
aletheian wine
found


~~~ whooosh ~~~


JACK: I've already heard everything you had to say, John.

You wanted me to go back. I'm going back. Rest in peace.

(5x06: 316)


~~~ whooosh ~~~


The lack of concern with material social progress is the biggest problem in most mythologies, especially the epic variety, which try to speak to all times and places, but are necessarily constrained and ultimately rendered useless by historical, material conditions. We’ve dealt with the problem of epic mythology in this blog before, and specifically with the problem of Joseph Campbell. Ever since Star Wars, Hollywood has become enamored with tailoring stories to edicts of the Heroic Journey. In short, the hero hears a call to adventure, receives guidance from a mentor, ventures to a special place, and secures a boon to heal the ordinary world. A resurrection and a love interest usually happen along the way.


This is reductive template. There’s a lot more to heroism than this. Furthermore, there’s a lot more to mythology than this. Campbell’s work can’t be taken seriously within the field of comparative mythology; furthermore, it wasn’t even meant to be a storytelling template in the first place. On top of it, there are several regressive elements to the framework, from its treatment of women to the insistence that everything in a myth be taken metaphorically, as if the literal elements of story had no real value. This is deeply unfortunate for those who are invested in material social progress.


All of these problems afflict LOST. Women are reduced to baby machines and love interests, even the ostensibly tomboyish Kate Austin. Worse, however, is how LOST ends up treating the notion of Utopia. Utopia has gotten a pretty bad rap in today’s culture. Hardly anyone indulges in utopian thinking any more, and when they do it’s usually wrapped up in an eschatological framework that denies the possibility of carving out a materially better future, as if the messiness of real progress is too much to overcome.


Make no mistake, Utopia is on the LOST plate, in many different forms. The first season explores the possibility of creating a new society in nature, away from the constraints of contemporary culture. By the second season, the Losties are perpetually in conflict; power games are rife. The Others are another model of utopianism, a religious cult built around an absent god but clearly authoritarian and shrouded in secrecy. The Dharma Initiative storyline, taking place in the 1970s, especially takes utopian thinking to task, and roundly denigrates the opportunities of technological advancement. Always, there is an external threat to paradise.


Only in the deeply flawed final season does the show come back around to presenting contemporary culture as potentially redeeming, but even here it’s wrapped in eschatology, as apparently the alternate timeline where heaven on earth can be achieved is only possible if everyone (including the mythological Island) is dead.


So LOST purports to deliver a modern day myth, fulfilling Campbell’s call to adventure, but falls into the same potholes as Campbell’s work – too many of the episodes are clearly structured according the Heroic Journey, and the series as a whole is blatantly concerned with “daddy issues” while shunting women’s issues to the side. And while the show is obviously concerned with its own symbol-system, with lingering shots on “world trees” and “opening eyes” and all kinds of “mirrors,” there’s no attempt to delineate a system for interpreting them. What’s the use of a symbolically rich mythology if it can mean anything to anybody?
27 Nov 21:57

FAQs On Groundrules for Polyamorous Relationships

I regularly get asked variations on a theme of So, this poly thing, how does it work, then...? by people with prurient-yet-hopeful expressions on their faces. I suppose that because it's not (yet) a mainstream way of arranging things people are naturally curious. People are always curious about unusual things, as most minority groups find out to their frustration. I suspect it's also because most people can see the positives* but haven't really considered the negatives. The assumption from many people appears to be that because I'm both bi and poly, that means I will do anything to anyone with not a thought for the consequences. I'm kind of hoping to put that myth to rest with this post.

The problem with giving people a primer is that I can only do it for my relationships; everyone who does poly does it slightly differently. Poly is, at the end of the day, all about maximising freedom while minimising pain for all concerned, so every poly relationship starts with a negotiation of what each person involved is happy to do and not do.

Actually, my personal rules for poly relationships are remarkably similar to the ones I had for monogamous relationships in the dim and distant, and they are all there for a reason. So I am writing this post because I am procrastinating several more important things I find myself in my brother's house in Solihull with the afternoon free and no real capability to do anything else. It might get long...

Why Do I need rules anyway?

I'm a Liberal, right? Rules are things for authoritatarians, right? Well, no. I have rules because, especially with my mental health issues, reduction of the potential for drama is an inherently good thing. I have broken most of these rules at one time or another** and a break in the rules always leads to emotional ructions sooner or later. Sometimes - rarely - it's worth it. Most times it isn't. Going all starry-eyed over a new squeeze is a wonderful and heady experience. But letting that make me relax the rules always leads to consequences for me, usually for other people, and generally it would all have been avoidable if I'd been sensible.

Sensible is not something I am good at, but that's another reason for having hard and fast rules. And of course, if I DO break a rule normally the consequences of that will remind me of why the rule was there in the first place...

The Rules
  1. Proactive Honesty. Honesty is rule number one as far as I am concerned, and not just in the narrow sense of if you get caught doing something bad, fess up. I call it proactive honesty because you need to tell people things as soon as they come up. This is because in poly it's not just two people's feelings you need to consider, it's however many people are in the relationship, plus however many people are in relationships with them, etc. If you upset partner A, and A has another partner B who has to pick up the pieces, and then B goes moaning to their other partner C about what a shit you are for upsetting A... One little white lie or failure to pass on information in a timely fashion can have knock on effects for a lot of people.

    My belief about proactive honesty is that it applies to any relationship with anyone, but it's utterly vital in poly: if you can't be honest with someone about how you feel about them (whether that's good or bad) or if they have hurt you or if you have news they need to know but you don't want to tell them it's impossible to have an effective relationship. Multiply that by however many relationships are involved in a poly set-up and you have the potential for enormous amounts of drama, pain, and heartache for lots and lots of people.

    Personally, I apply this rule to things like letting people down gently as well. If you tell someone you're not looking for a relationship with anyone else right now when what you mean is you're not interested in a relationship with them, for an example I witnessed recently, you're only going to end up causing more hurt than if you'd just been honest.

  2. Informed enthusiastic consent. I toyed with the idea of not putting this one in because it should be bloody obvious, but to some people it apparently isn't. Everybody involved has to be giving informed enthusiatic consent, not just to sexual stuff, but to every part of the relationship. It's one of the reasons why honesty is so important. You can't give informed enthusiastic consent to X if you haven't been told about Y.

  3. Safety First. Safe sex is important. We all know this. But again, it's multiplied in it's importance in poly. If you have a drunken hookup and pick up the clap, you're not just hurting yourself, you're potentially infecting your other partners, and their other partners, and THEIR other partners... etc. One needs to bear in mind also that condoms are not a failsafe, too. Get tested regularly, just to be sure. I have one former partner who is only a former partner precisely because of his inability to stick to this rule***

  4. Consider the consequences. Another one that applies to any relationship IMHO: don't agree to anything with anyone without stopping first for at least a nanosecond to consider if it might cause a problem further down the line. Once you have considered the consequences, I'm not saying don't do it, but you need to be aware that your actions affect more than just you. Again, in poly, this is multiplied by however many people you are connected to in the web of relationships. This can be the simplest thing, such as checking your diary before agreeing to a date with partner X to see you haven't already booked in with partner Y that day****; or it can be more complex (for example: "if I start seeing this person will they cause problems with my existing relationships?"). Wherever a decision lies on the scale of seriousness, whereas in a monogamous relationship you only need to consider the feelings of yourself and your partner, in poly you need to bear in mind the feelings of a lot more people.

  5. Not without permission 1. I don't start seeing anyone new without consulting my existing partners first. I loathe the primary/secondary/etc terminology for reasons too complex to go into here, but for logistical reasons in this rule I do only mean "primary" partners rather than on/off long distance people like the Duracell Bunny. If anyone else ever approaches the level of seriousness of relationship I have with Mat and James, I'll consult them first too.

  6. Not without permission 2. If a potential partner is already in a relationship I won't do anything, not even holding hands, without permission from their existing partner IN PERSON. Oh yeah, I spoke to my boyfriend and he's fine with it is not good enough for obvious reasons, but I prefer to do it face to face rather than over the phone/email as well. It's easier to be sure they mean it that way.

  7. Don't screw the Crew. Never, ever, ever have a sexual relationship with anyone you have to work with - and I apply this is the broadest sense of work too. This is the rule I have most trouble sticking to*****, but that's also why I know it's important. NRE is a wonderful thing, but once it wears off and you decide that actually you're not madly in love with your colleague, all the little rankles that come with a relationship dying have the potential to fuck up an entire office/business/political party. It's really not worth it. Usually.

    Also, as well as not starting relationships with people you work with, don't get someone you're in a relationship with a job at your workplace. The mechanics might be different, but the potential for drama is exactly the same.

Isn't this all a bit complicated?

Well yes. Yes it is. But human relationships are complicated, and poly ones exponentially more so. If you have rules to make negiotiating the trials of relationships easier it means that everyone involved can spend more time doing the fun stuff than worrying about problems. And the fun stuff in poly is absolutely worth it.

Poly is not for everyone, I freely accept that, but where the potential for hurt and drama is obviously multiplied by involving more people, so is the potential for good stuff too. There are more people to have fun with in good times and more people to help out in bad times. For me, it's absolutely worth it. YMM, as they say, V.



*yes, yes, lots of shagging. But also lots of people to snuggle and have mutual support systems with

**some of them very recently -_-"

***I also have people primed to keep an eye on me if I have beer when he's around because despite his irresponsibility and stunted emotional growth I am still incredibly attracted to him -_-"

****and, you know, USING your diary/google calendar/outlook/whatever is a GOOD PLAN (totally not aiming this at anyone in particular at all) (although, you know, I'm bad for this too)

*****quit it with the hollow laughter at the back there. QUIT IT.


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