Shared posts

20 Dec 17:34

Faction Paradox Stands

by Site Owner

The process of evolution in a time war context produced a number of
decoy or false gallifreys as well as iterations designed to follow one
or other extrapolation of the time-war to a logical conclusion. It was
the hope of the powers behind Rassilon, that this myriad engine of
Gallifreys, would act in essense as a quantum computation on a
macroscopic scale resultimg in entities capable of ending the
time-war.  We have seen the horrors of one extreme of that 'range' in
earlier lectures.  However there was a secondary consequence at the
other end of the spectrum. Just as there were the Gallifreys that had
become dark, and evil, and distorted, there were those that had become
'weak' and 'victimised', and this was to provide the final route out
of the time-war impass for at least one version of the Homeworld.  For
by abandoning the looms, by returning to organic models of childbirth
to replenish the dying, by enacting the rituals of the 'entrenched
last stand' of gallant victimhood, that Gallifrey in essense cried out
to the unknown future "We are the 'deserving-at-war", rescue us!
Won't someone think of the children!" Consequently it was that
Gallifrey and, so far as we know, that Gallifrey alone that passed
through the diffraction slit of the grand experiment, into the
potential future.  All it seemed was well.  But, what power or powers
could so engineer a world as to appeal to the sentiments of the
future?  Were we in fact swapping the Nightmare Child of the War
Homeworld with its smoke-looms and War-King, for a world of something

"Extract from the The Book of The Peace"

(That said, I thought the 50th was astonishingly good!)
07 Dec 01:34

The Annual Years - Cover Reveal and Excerpt

by (Paul Magrs)

What I learned from the Dr Who Annual…  (Excerpt from The Annual Years by Paul Magrs, Obverse Books, 2014.)

What I learned from the Dr Who Annual 1976.

When he tells you he’s taking you to a beautiful world inhabited by friendly pacifists: watch out. Even the most innocuous worlds can be terrifying, especially if you materialize on the wrong scale and fall in a pond. Also, it isn’t just the monsters and stuff marauding about that can do you harm. Some planets are alive and telepathic and can bring your worst fears to life before you. Sponges can be sentient but not necessarily evil. Watch out for noisy feminists. Cabbage tea can do wonders for hormonal imbalances. The Neuronic Zone is a very strange and scary place. Watch out for being zapped into a human farm and receiving the excess psychic energy of flame-headed skeleton people.

What I learned from the Dr Who Annual 1977

The deeper you get into outer space, the stranger the alien species become, and still Dr Who is pretty blase about everything he sees.

What’s more dangerous than evil space lizards who hate you? Evil space lizards with a wind machine who hate you.

Beware of return visits from your old friend Dr Who. He doesn’t ever have quiet weekends away. If he turns up on your doorstep again, something hideous is about to happen.

It really isn’t worth getting into a battle of mind-power with Dr Who. He will most definitely kick your mental arse.

What I learned from the Dr Who Annual 1978

When you go looking up old friends? Prepare to be disappointed. People change. They forget you. They move on. They can go to the bad. When you travel with human beings, they soon get tired of very dusty hot planets with three suns. They quite like going back to Earth every now and then, no matter how much they tease about wanting to be somewhere exotic. Just because someone says they’re a peaceful scientist, don’t believe them. They might be psychotic killers, even if they’re not ugly on the outside. In fact, don’t listen to anyone. Do your own thing. We can’t ever be sure whether the world we’re in and the further adventures we’re heading into are actually real, or whether they’re just a heroic dream that Dr Who is having.

Never mind!

What I learned from the Dr Who Annual 1979

Persecution and sacrifice are both are waste of time, and not at all nice. It’s necessary to cultivate your own garden. And, if you do, you might get help at just the right moment from the unlikeliest of sources. Watch out for gigantic space cows in ermine robes. Anyone too smiley and happy and perfect is bound to turn out to be a vampiric fiend. Always buy Princesses anti-grav belts as presents. If all your clothes and flesh are made to disappear by a crazy mystic in a castle, run straight to Dr Who, who understands how M-Rays work. And never, ever get into a mind duel with him – but you already know that, don’t you?

06 Dec 23:45

#534 Air Drop

by (treelobsters)
06 Dec 23:01


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 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.

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.

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 12:01

Surveillance as a Business Model

by schneier

Google recently announced that it would start including individual users' names and photos in some ads. This means that if you rate some product positively, your friends may see ads for that product with your name and photo attached—without your knowledge or consent. Meanwhile, Facebook is eliminating a feature that allowed people to retain some portions of their anonymity on its website.

These changes come on the heels of Google's move to explore replacing tracking cookies with something that users have even less control over. Microsoft is doing something similar by developing its own tracking technology.

More generally, lots of companies are evading the "Do Not Track" rules, meant to give users a say in whether companies track them. Turns out the whole "Do Not Track" legislation has been a sham.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that big technology companies are tracking us on the Internet even more aggressively than before.

If these features don't sound particularly beneficial to you, it's because you're not the customer of any of these companies. You're the product, and you're being improved for their actual customers: their advertisers.

This is nothing new. For years, these sites and others have systematically improved their "product" by reducing user privacy. This excellent infographic, for example, illustrates how Facebook has done so over the years.

The "Do Not Track" law serves as a sterling example of how bad things are. When it was proposed, it was supposed to give users the right to demand that Internet companies not track them. Internet companies fought hard against the law, and when it was passed, they fought to ensure that it didn't have any benefit to users. Right now, complying is entirely voluntary, meaning that no Internet company has to follow the law. If a company does, because it wants the PR benefit of seeming to take user privacy seriously, it can still track its users.

Really: if you tell a "Do Not Track"-enabled company that you don't want to be tracked, it will stop showing you personalized ads. But your activity will be tracked -- and your personal information collected, sold and used -- just like everyone else's. It's best to think of it as a "track me in secret" law.

Of course, people don't think of it that way. Most people aren't fully aware of how much of their data is collected by these sites. And, as the "Do Not Track" story illustrates, Internet companies are doing their best to keep it that way.

The result is a world where our most intimate personal details are collected and stored. I used to say that Google has a more intimate picture of what I'm thinking of than my wife does. But that's not far enough: Google has a more intimate picture than I do. The company knows exactly what I am thinking about, how much I am thinking about it, and when I stop thinking about it: all from my Google searches. And it remembers all of that forever.

As the Edward Snowden revelations continue to expose the full extent of the National Security Agency's eavesdropping on the Internet, it has become increasingly obvious how much of that has been enabled by the corporate world's existing eavesdropping on the Internet.

The public/private surveillance partnership is fraying, but it's largely alive and well. The NSA didn't build its eavesdropping system from scratch; it got itself a copy of what the corporate world was already collecting.

There are a lot of reasons why Internet surveillance is so prevalent and pervasive.

One, users like free things, and don't realize how much value they're giving away to get it. We know that "free" is a special price that confuses peoples' thinking.

Google's 2013 third quarter profits were nearly $15 billion; that profit is the difference between how much our privacy is worth and the cost of the services we receive in exchange for it.

Two, Internet companies deliberately make privacy not salient. When you log onto Facebook, you don't think about how much personal information you're revealing to the company; you're chatting with your friends. When you wake up in the morning, you don't think about how you're going to allow a bunch of companies to track you throughout the day; you just put your cell phone in your pocket.

And three, the Internet's winner-takes-all market means that privacy-preserving alternatives have trouble getting off the ground. How many of you know that there is a Google alternative called DuckDuckGo that doesn't track you? Or that you can use cut-out sites to anonymize your Google queries? I have opted out of Facebook, and I know it affects my social life.

There are two types of changes that need to happen in order to fix this. First, there's the market change. We need to become actual customers of these sites so we can use purchasing power to force them to take our privacy seriously. But that's not enough. Because of the market failures surrounding privacy, a second change is needed. We need government regulations that protect our privacy by limiting what these sites can do with our data.

Surveillance is the business model of the Internet -- Al Gore recently called it a "stalker economy.: All major websites run on advertising, and the more personal and targeted that advertising is, the more revenue the site gets for it. As long as we users remain the product, there is minimal incentive for these companies to provide any real privacy.

This essay previously appeared on

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


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.


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.


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 (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 23:37

Nick Harvey says we must get a better deal if we go into coalition again

by Jonathan Calder
Nick Harvey has given an interview to the Huffington Post that is well worth reading.

In it he - rightly, I think - questions Nick Clegg's enthusiasm for giving free school dinners to all children at infants schools while doing nothing more for older poor children:
"Someone, somewhere, has found £600m a year we didn’t know about down the back of a filing cabinet and has come up with the brilliant brainwave that the best way to spend it is to give a free school meal to all five, six and seven year olds - regardless of their income level. I am sitting there, gawping in open-mouthed astonishment."
Harvey also considers how the party may react if the next general election again produces a hung parliament:
"I don’t think you should take it as read there would be a stampede to join a coalition again," he cautions. "I think there would be serious debate to be had inside the Lib Dems as to whether we would do better to remain outside of government and let them form a minority government."
He and the interviewer between them also make a point that those who are debating which other party we should form a coalition with must take on board:
"We won’t get the choice. We don’t need to trouble ourselves. We are talking about a fluke within a fluke." This is because the Lib Dems will stick to the line that the party which wins the most votes and most seats will get the first chance to form a government. And it is also unlikely that the electoral maths will enable the Lib Dems to pick which larger party to drag over the finish line.
But for me the most important point Harvey makes is one not picked out by the headline writer. Because he questions the deal that was struck to form the Coalition:
"It was completely unacceptable to ask a national political party like the Lib Dems to come into government on a comprehensive deal and then have some departments in which there is no Lib Dem minister," he says. "Why on earth should we support any executive action or any legislation which came form a department in which we don’t have a minister, it's absolutely preposterous." 
"If you don’t agree with something don’t agree to it," Harvey says, slapping his leg for emphasis. "In the nature of the horse trading that has gone on we have agreed to a lot of things that we don’t basically agree with and I don’t think we would make that same mistake again."
I am hearing reports of disquiet on the Liberal Democrat backbenches at the moment.They are such a disparate bunch that you suspect there may be as many reasons for this as there are backbenchers.

But the critique Nick Harvey offers in this interview is an important one and should be listened to by the leadership.
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 (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.


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 ~~~

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

~~~ 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 22:19

Here’s To The Fangirls

by feministaspie

Here’s to the fangirls.

Because fandom isn’t really an exclusive club which is entered only on the permission of other fans. And even if it were, what business does anyone else have to exclude you?

Because being a fan is about liking something. Not knowledge, or ability to afford merch or go to conventions, or whether or not you happened to be born long enough ago to remember the beginning. You just have to like the thing. That’s it.

Because female fans, especially teenage girls, are policed at every turn. But how many comics haven’t you read? How much trivia are you not yet aware of? People will try and trip you up.

They’ll assume you’re straight, and then they’ll assume you only like the thing because you like some attractive man that’s involved. Like everything a woman thinks revolves around men. Like it’s not possible to simultaneously like a fandom and be attracted to a person anyway. It’s usually only ever heterosexual women’s attraction to men that’s used to literally try and kick them out of the fandom. For instance, I didn’t see or hear a single remark from a teenage girl (or anyone) that Peter Capaldi was too old to be the Doctor,  but the Internet was full of people attacking teenage girls for this allegedly predominant opinion.

They’ll tell you that you’ve just jumped on a bandwagon,  you’re too late, if you weren’t there right at the beginning, you shouldn’t be there at all. Astoundingly, Whovians under 50 exist. They’re everywhere. If you’re reading this on the day it was written, that means you’re online today and THAT means you’ve probably already heard from several. Not many fandoms can claim to have existed for that long, so it’s probably not a fair example.  But still,  again,  why does it matter when you started?  You’re here now, and nobody can take that away from you.

You’ve probably heard “Are you really a fan or are you just wearing the T-shirt?” “Are you really a fan or are you just pretending?” And some of you will even be pop-quizzed on the fandom. Again, people will look to catch you out. People will presume you’re fake, something they would never presume of a man or boy.

For what? What do people gain from this, other than shutting women up and keeping them out?

And it’s often coupled with remarks about boybands and other fandoms dominated by teenage girls. These fandoms are constantly mocked and ridiculed. The “Tumblr-speak” often used by teenage girls online is mocked and ridiculed. Teenage girls in general are mocked and ridiculed. For being girls. “Fangirl” has almost become an insult.

Sadly, this fan-policing and general fangirl-hate can often come from other female fans trying to prove their own worthiness, trying to gain entry to this exclusive club by distancing themselves from this hated group; it’s for the same reasons that “you’re not like other girls” is seen as a compliment. “Not like other girls” is synonymous with “an actual human being”, and clearly there’s something massively wrong there. I get it, I’ve been there, but instead of competing for male approval the way we’ve been taught to, how about we challenge the rhetoric that’s led to this competition and elitism in the first place?

So here’s to the fangirls.

Whether you’re spending today being excited about the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special,  the One Direction livestream, or anything else in between.

With every “I CAN’T” and “MY FEELS” and “I SHIP IT”, you are finally making your presence known and inescapable.

Better yet, you can challenge the bullshit “feminists v fandoms” rhetoric by fighting for representation and respect from within the fandom.

And don’t you ever, ever, ever let yourself believe that you’re somehow not a worthy fan. Because you are.

Fangirls rock.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to dash to an appointment with the Doctor…

Tagged: doctor who, fake geek girls, fandoms, fangirls, feminism, geek sexism, misogyny, one direction, save the day, sexism
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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27 Nov 21:28

There Are Two Silver Surfers

by Tim O'Neil

There are two Silver Surfers. There is the Surfer who appears occasionally in Marvel Comics to this day, the character who successfully headlined his own solo series for ten years in the late 80s and 90s, and continues to appear as a utility player in Fantastic Four, Thor, and most Defenders revivals. This Surfer has a new series set to premiere in March, from the creative team of Dan Slott and Mike Allred.

The other Surfer made only a handful of appearances in his brief career. This is the Surfer that originally premiered in Fantastic Four #48 (March 1966), the mysterious herald of Galactus who came to Earth and learned about humanity from Alicia Masters, who betrayed his master and was imprisoned on our planet for his transgression. This Surfer disappeared in the summer of 1968, when the first issue of The Silver Surfer hit stands.

The first Surfer was added to the art of Fantastic Four #48 almost as an afterthought by Jack Kirby (or so the legend goes). He was an especial favorite of Kirby's, but was soon thereafter unceremoniously taken from Kirby by Lee, who launched the character in a bimonthly, double-sized magazine whose increased scale underscored Lee's serious ambitions. Lee's vision for the Surfer, expertly enabled by John Buscema, was diametrically opposed to Kirby's. Kirby's Surfer was a cosmic naif, a blank slate created by Galactus to be a vessel for his power. Lee's Surfer was a man, Norrin Radd, from the planet Zenn-La, who sacrificed himself by volunteering to serve Galactus in exchange for Galactus sparing his homeworld.

Kirby did not take kindly to Lee's usurpation. The Surfer was immediately recognized as something special, a visually striking figure with great potential for future stories. The problem is that Kirby didn't run the company: he had no recourse when Lee decided to take the Surfer for his own and saddle the character with an origin and mythos Kirby had no interest in accepting or exploring. The split over the Surfer (or so the legend goes) was one of the deciding factors in Kirby's subsequent departure from the company. Kirby had believed the Surfer was his, the spawn of his visual inspiration and nothing else, but Lee had stolen the Surfer from under his creator's nose.

It is worth noting that in this instance the winners were able to almost completely efface all traces of the first Surfer from the historical record. The first Surfer, the blank slate Surfer who encountered every human custom as if encountering civilization for the very first time, who reacted like a petulant infant to conflict, who was for all intents and purposes a kind of holy fool, was soon retconned as a victim of Galactus' tampering. Through mercy or convenience, Galactus had tampered with Norrin Radd's mind, turning his herald from a noble and sensitive man into an unthinking automaton. His first few months on Earth (according to this retroactive rationalization) saw the Surfer slowly overcoming his amnesia, until by the first opening splash page of SIlver Surfer #1 Norrin Radd had regained all his memories, along with his native tendencies towards loquaciousness and self-pity.

All the differences between the first Surfer and the second Surfer were buried under the weight of a thoroughly comprehensive retcon. Kirby's designs for the character were effaced, as it were, without leaving so much as a trace.

Except that this is not strictly true. The trace remains: invisible, imperceptible, but ineradicable nonetheless. We see the modern Surfer, but anyone who knows the character's history cannot help but see the shadow of Kirby's Surfer floating behind, just out of vision, a character defined by nothing so much as the boundless potential of creative choices pruned before their time, a million roads less traveled. What would Jack Kirby's Silver Surfer have been, if Lee had given the King carte blanche for the character's solo debut back in 1968? We will never know, and so the alternate history of Kirby's Surfer remains a pure totem: a victim not merely of Lee's avarice and callousness, but a symbol of all the hypothetical possibilities curtailed by Marvel over the course of the company's long and bitter history.

Or so the legend goes.

I can't dispute these facts, nor would I. The Surfer was taken away from Kirby by Lee, and Lee's ideas - as they were the company's ideas - won the day. For many people, Kirby's Surfer is the only "legitimate" Surfer, in every way that matters, because every other Surfer was the product of original sin, the most basic original sin at the heart of Marvel's history. Substitute the Silver Surfer for almost any other character and you see the same story retold over and over again.

So we have two Surfers - the original Surfer, and the second Surfer, the illegitimate Surfer, the schismatic Surfer of the "Zenn-Lavian Heresy." And we have the moral weight of Lee's great betrayal pushing a thumb down on the right side of the scale, imposing an ethical burden on a character who has subsequently passed through the hands of dozens of worthy creators. Even readers who accept the second Surfer cannot quite dispel the phantom image of the first, like an blotchy imprint of the sun on the inside surface of their eyes. Which is the real Surfer? The Surfer who appeared in a dozen issues before disappearing forever, or the Surfer familiar to forty-five years of subsequent readers?

I knew and loved the Surfer for years before I was able to read his original appearances. I was intimately familiar with the Lee / Buscema stories before I read the original Galactus saga in Fantastic Four - which might seem obscene to some, I realize. I have always maintained that the Silver Surfer is my favorite comic book character, and I will continue to maintain it even as the character has lapsed into a long period of disuse alternating with misuse - perhaps not as badly misused as Dr. Strange, but still. The Surfer's personality has changed conspicuously depending on the needs of his stories: one month he's the character who spent decades on Earth and is a close family friend of the Fantastic Four, the next he's once again a disconnected and disconcertingly alien figure. At the very least, it can be said that there is already an established reason for his personality shifts, an excuse most other characters do not have: dating back to the origins of the "Zenn-Lavian Heresy," it is established that the longer the Surfer spends in close proximity to Galactus, and consequently the more Power Cosmic he is able to harness, the less human he becomes. Every inconsistency falls away.

All of which, to anyone unsympathetic to the character's second incarnation, may seem like so much useless window-dressing to rationalize the fact that the Zenn-La Surfer is a poor bastardization of the character's initial promise. From an ethical standpoint, it's hard to argue with this assertion. But from a practical standpoint, we're left with the fact that the Surfer I like, the Surfer I grew up with, is a completely different character from the Silver Surfer Jack Kirby created.

How do we reconcile these differences? How do we resolve the tensions between the Surfer we have and the Surfer we might wish we had? Can we keep the question from devolving into merely another iteration of the standard Lee vs. Kirby nerd litigation? Is it possible to accept both that the Surfer was stolen from Kirby by Lee and that Lee's produced his best non-Kirby and non-Ditko work with the character? Anyone looking to renew the indictment against Lee will note that even left to his own ostensible devices, he was still reduced to cribbing from Kirby's notes in order to achieve anything of lasting effect. But at the same time, I assert that Lee's Silver Surfer, especially the first six double-size issues, are the best things that Lee ever wrote by himself.

27 Nov 18:17

What scared H. P. Lovecraft

by Charlie Stross

(No, not unicorns.)

H. P. Lovecraft was born in August 1890 and died in March 1937. (And I have just experienced a queasy moment of realization: that I am now older than he was when he died.) He's remembered to this day mostly as an author of disturbing and fantastic fiction, and as the spark that ignited an entire sub-genre of horror, in which many other authors work (myself included).

But what exactly was it that fuelled his deep sense of paranoia and dread at the scale of the cosmos, and made his work so memorable?

I have a hypothesis.

We know that Lovecraft was fascinated by astronomy as a boy; and the formative years for this interest would have been approximately 1895-1910.

A trip to the McCormick Museum at the University of Virginia's online history of photographic astronomy may shed some light on Lovecraft's view of the cosmos. Prior to the development of photographic processes, astronomy was limited to what the human eye could see, with or without magnification. But from the 1840s onwards astronomers began to experiment with Daguerreotypes and later with improved photographic processes. By use of long exposure times, and telescopes on mobile platforms that kept the instruments aimed at the same point in the heavens despite the Earth's rotation, it was possible to gather far more photons than a merely human eye could sense, over a longer period of time, from fainter objects. During the 1880s the use of silver bromide emulsions revolutionized the field of photographic astronomy, and permitted the first photographic sky surveys.

(Incidentally, there's a lot more on the history of photographic astronomy and astronometry here—it's well worth a browse.)

Prior to the 1890s, our conception of the universe was very different from the cosmology we are familiar with today.

We measure the Apparent magnitude of an object to classify stars by how bright they appear to the naked eye, using a system dating to antiquity but formalized in the 1850s. (The higher the number, the fainter the object: anything with an apparent magnitude higher than roughly 6.5 is not visible to the naked eye.) There are roughly 5000 stars in the skies that are visible with the naked eye, and a scant double-handful of visible galaxies. Individual stars in other galaxies are not visible to the naked eye, and so these objects were commonly known as "spiral nebulae", to distinguish them from other non-stellar objects (which today are known to be gas and dust clouds). When we add telescopic assistance, many more stars are visible: there are about a third of a million above apparent magnitude 10.0.

So the universe into which H. P. Lovecraft was born consisted of the Milky Way, containing perhaps a million stars, and some irritating unidentifiable nebulous things.

But there's more! Remember that in 1890 we didn't know how the sun generated heat and light, or how old it was. Perhaps the best-remembered theory of the time was Lord Kelvin's paper from 1862: "the sun is now an incandescent liquid mass, radiating away heat, either primitively created in his substance, or, what seems far more probable, generated by the falling in of meteors in past times, with no sensible compensation by a continuance of meteoric action." Working backwards from this assumption, Lord Kelvin derived an estimate of the maximum age of the sun:

We may, therefore, accept, as a lowest estimate for the sun's initial heat, 10,000,000 times a year's supply at the present rate, but 50,000,000 or 100,000,000 as possible, in consequence of the sun's greater density in his central parts.

The considerations adduced above, in this paper, regarding the sun's possible specific heat, rate of cooling, and superficial temperature, render it probable that he must have been very sensibly warmer one million years ago than now; and, consequently, if he has existed as a luminary for ten or twenty million years, he must have radiated away considerably more than the corresponding number of times the present yearly amount of loss.

It seems, therefore, on the whole most probable that the sun has not illuminated the earth for 100,000,000 years, and almost certain that he has not done so for 500,000,000 years. As for the future, we may say, with equal certainty, that inhabitants of the earth can not continue to enjoy the light and heat essential to their life for many million years longer unless sources now unknown to us are prepared in the great storehouse of creation.

Remember, if you will, that the discovery of radioactivity did not take place until 1896. Lord Kelvin's speculation was based on the rigorously understood physics of the Newtonian era; working with the best information available, he placed the age of the sun at most likely less than 100 million years (and definitely less than 500 million).

So: the universe H. P. Lovecraft was born into consisted of a single galaxy containing about a million stars, and our own star was less than 100 million years old.

The universe Lovecraft died in was very different.

The first attempts at using parallax to determine the distance of stars and other astronomical objects from photographs took place in the 1890s. Instruments for comparing photographic plates taken at different times during the Earth's orbit around the sun were developed over the next couple of decades, and studies soon expanded from measurements of distance to proper motion and spectral analysis. At the same time, larger and larger mirrors were becoming available for reflector telescopes, aiding the observation of increasingly distant (and faint) objects. During the second decade of the 20th century, Edwin Hubble pushed back the distance scale of the observable universe to a dizzying extent. By studying Cepheid variables, a type of star characterised by its highly predictable variable luminosity (making them a useful standard candle), and comparing the brightness of Cepheid variables visible in "spiral nebulae" to nearer Cepheids whose distance could be calculated by parallax observation, Hubble was able to prove that the spiral nebulae were located far outside the milky way. Next, during the 1920s, Hubble used spectroscopic observation and distance estimates based on Cepheid variables to establish that more distant galaxies were receding faster, determining the Hubble constant—the rate at which the observable universe is expanding.

Finally, during the early decades of the 20th century it became obvious that the sun's radiation was powered not by gravitational collapse but by some other nuclear-related energy source. The precise mechanism was not determined until the 1940s, but in 1920 Arthur Eddington proposed that the fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium was a likely candidate; subsequently the detailed theory of stellar nucleosynthesis emerged to support this hypothesis.

Today, in 2013, we live in the Milky Way galaxy; it is believed to contain between 100 billion and 500 billion stars. The Milky Way is part of a local group of over fifty galaxies, but the observable universe is believed to contain 100-200 billion galaxies (and possibly a lot more). Finally, detailed observations have determined that our universe is 13.8 billion years old.

At the time of Lovecraft's death in 1937, the universe was considerably smaller—but it was still vastly larger than it had been at the time of his birth; with over a hundred million stars in our own galaxy, and many tens or hundreds of millions of other galaxies estimated, and the upper limit on the sun's age raised to five billion years, the universe had expanded by two orders of magnitude in age and nine orders of magnitude in size (as measured by the number of stars) during Lovecraft's life. That's eleven orders of magnitude in just over four decades.

Let's look for a modern metaphor:

The cosmos expanded during Lovecraft's life at a rate comparable to the rate of expansion of available data storage during my life. I was born in late 1964. In 1973, the total manufactured fixed disk storage capacity in the United States was on the order of 100Gb. 40 years later, it's really hard to buy hard disks that small; hard disk storage currently costs on the order of 4 cents per gigabyte, giving our 1973 USA's installed hard disk capacity a value of around $5.

I am going to take it as so glaringly obvious that our computers' power has grown exponentially since 1973 that I'm not going to bother with figures, other than to note that my mobile phone in 2013 has over a thousand times the processing power, storage/memory bandwidth, and storage capacity of a Cray-1 supercomputer from 1976 (price: $8.86 million, in 1976 dollars—$36.46M in today's money.

Forty years of Moore's law and its cousins have given us an inflating, exponentiating bubble in computing power that compares eerily to the forty year marathon of cosmological discoveries that informed Lovecraft's later weltanshauung, as expressed through fictions such as "At the Mountains of Madness" (1931), "The Color out of Space" (1927) and "The Whisperer in Darkness" (1931).

I believe that Lovecraft's sense of cosmological dread emerged from the exponential expansion and recomplication of the universe he lived in—it eerily prefigures the appeal of today's singularitarian fiction, which depends for its dizzying affect on a similar exponential growth curve. Lovecraft interpreted the expansion of his universe as a thing of horror, a changing cosmic scale factor that ground humanity down into insignificance. Not all writers from his period took this approach; to many, the expanded universe was a playground of joyous imagination. Today, singularitarian fiction is frequently aspirational, a literature of transcendence (with theological taproots linking it to the early Russian cosmists). But the inversion of a sense of wonder is a sense of dread. Which leaves me asking, where is the singularitarian Lovecraft?

27 Nov 11:26

Me, my selfie and I

by stavvers

The latest thing which we’re meant to discuss if it is or isn’t feminist is selfies: those little pictures we take of ourselves. Most of us fell somewhere between “Yes, I’m a feminist and I take selfies” and “Meh”, but in the spirit of media-friendly debate and clickbait, some awful stuff had to be shat out and published.

Jezebel stepped up for publishing the worst. I can’t say I’m surprised, since they’ve managed to be godawful in the past on other issues, most notably with their massive race problem, which interacted with them defending and enabling an abuse perpetrator. This article isn’t as bad as those things, but it’s still so awful I won’t link to it. It’s called “Selfies Aren’t Empowering. They’re a Cry for Help.” For reals. And its argument falls into two strands: “women aren’t saying anything in pictures of themselves” (?!) and “it’s just a way of getting validation from other people” (????!!!!!)

Here’s a picture of my face while I was reading it:



You might not think it, since I decided to stick a big picture of my horrorshock face in the middle of this post, but I’m terrified of having my photo taken. When it comes up, I am filled with bubbling anxiety and almost end up on the brink of tears. I don’t have any current photo ID because I hate the idea so much, and I have often ended up disappearing when among friends and the camera comes out.

It started some years ago. I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say it involved a man, coercion, a camera and my naked body. Since then, I haven’t exactly had the association of cameras with male control of me broken. I often encounter cameras in my interactions with the police: they photograph and film me and people like me to keep us in line. It’s a threat, the way police hold the cameras: we are watching you, and we will attack you and say you deserved it all along. This method of using cameras has since filtered down to the kind of misogynist who likes to do the cops’ work for them, and will photograph and film those who call them out on their behaviour in an attempt to intimidate.

To me, someone taking my photo is therefore intrinsically linked with patriarchal control. Whether it’s sexual or behavioural control, it is an attempt to mould me into something that men want me to be: the quiet woman, the sexual object. They use the camera to position me into whichever roles they would prefer me to occupy.

It’s different with selfies. With selfies, I have complete control over my own image.

I suppose I started taking selfies when I realised there were some things that words couldn’t articulate well, and what I needed to say was best said with my face and body. When putting a webcam or a front-facing camera in front of me, I can see exactly what I look like, and make sure, before taking the snap that I look how I want to look and I am communicating what I want to communicate.

And that’s why I take selfies. Because it’s me presenting myself to the world in the way I want to be presented.

I am not filtered through a male lens into what these shutterbug Pygmalions want to see. It’s just me and my message.


27 Nov 00:19

Day 4710: DOCTOR WHO: Just a Moment

by Millennium Dome
The Day of the Doctor (flashback):

In “The Curse of Fenric”, the Reverend Wainwright’s faith is broken not by German bombs, but by British ones. British bombs killing German children. Remember that.

The Doctor is a traveller in Time and Space. That’s where all this begins and where it always comes back to. But there are two ways to travel: never looking behind you, and there and back again. Over the (fifty) years, the Doctor has exemplified both modes, reflecting the mores of the production team of the time. They represent quite different world-views, different approaches to making “Doctor Who”, different ideas about what the series is saying, and what – and who – it’s for.

“Never look behind you” is innovative, risk-taking, “out there” in a Universe that is often a dark and strange place where light is a guttering candle; iconoclastic, it breaks continuity, changes things shakes them up, causes chaos, creative and destructive; this is “Doctor Who” typified by the likes of Verity Lambert or Philip Hinchcliffe, Mac Hulke or Andrew Cartmel. Let’s call this group “Explorers”.

“There and Back Again” is honour, tradition, moral strength, defending “hearth and home (counties)” from the weird and other, usually with the idea that “home” is somewhere “safe” to return to and worth defending; it builds upon what has gone before, strengthens and deepens, forges connections, brings order, reactionary and nurturing; it’s the “Doctor Who” of Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts, of Graham Williams era Guardians and space princesses and John Nathan-Turner’s middle years. I thought about naming this group “Nostalgics” but that seems pejorative, so let us say “Conservers”.

Change is said to be one of the keys to the enduring success of Doctor Who, so it’s important that we don’t say that one mode is “better”, even if each of us will certainly have a preference for one over the other.

Russell Davies, for all of the Barry Letts’ Era tropes that he revels in, lavishes his love on even, is clearly an “Explorer”. He pushes the Doctor into new places all the time: Platform One, planet Midnight; Jackie Tyler’s boudoir… His signature companion is Rose Tyler and the first and most important thing about Rose is that she wants to get out there, leaving her past behind. And when she leaves, she’s gone further than anyone else, to a whole new Universe, and she’s still going.

Steven Moffat, in spite of his reputation as Mr Terror, is just as clearly a “Conserver”. So much of his writing is about family and the threat to family and “home”. His signature companion is Amy Pond, who is defined by her absent family, and whose story is all about how she and the Doctor become family, how he “fixes” her (ugh) by un-orphaning her, and when she leaves it’s because the Doctor gives her a nice house and when she leaves again it’s to be with her husband.

The most telling difference between the two groups has to be their attitude to the Time Lords.

It should be pretty obvious that, as the television series “Doctor Who” developed, the Time Lords became a metaphor for Britain, just as the Daleks were a metaphor for the Nazis. It was pretty inevitable that the biggest, most important war ever would end up being between them. And that it would destroy them both. But, unlike the Daleks – there being obviously only one opinion to be held on the Nazis – Britain means different things to different people and therefore so do the Time Lords, whether it’s the stern, patrician, nay Reithian, but basically good intergalactic ticket wardens of Barry Letts or the befuddled, introverted, vain academics of Robert Holmes; the overseers of galactic order (and shipping lanes) under the supervision of the White Guardian under Graham Williams or the dark and enigmatic architects of a history that conceals their worst mistakes as conceived by Lawrence Miles.

And there is a very good case for saying that the Time Lords have always been gits. I know because Alex made it. After all, practically the first thing they do is execute the Doctor. But that’s not always been the perspective of subsequent writers and producers. Or even of co-writer of “The War Games” Terrance Dicks!

Britain, for good or ill – in fact, for good and ill – moulded the modern world, whether by Imperial conquest, or the conduct of the slave trade, or the economic influence of the East India Company, or the expeditious, even perfidious, promises of the territory of Palestine to at least four deeply antagonistic factions, torturing, maiming and murdering our way across five continents and four-hundred years all blindly convinced that technological superiority conveyed moral superiority and utterly deluded about our “basic British decency”, and the only remote claim to absolution being that maybe we were slightly less bad than other people at the time would have been, and maybe that we did it to stop people – Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Adolf Hitler – who would have been worse.

This completely schizophrenic view of our own past – that the British Empire was an appalling crime against humanity that at the same time was the only thing that saved the world from absolute despotism; whether we are, at heart, good or bad – informs the writing of the Doctor and the Time Lords. Is he fleeing from them, rejecting their decadence or corruption? Or is he upholding their principles even when they themselves fall short? Is he the renegade or the exemplar? Or is the Master?

And, I have to say, the conclusion of “Genesis of the Daleks”, where the Doctor – on behalf of his people – chooses to reject retro-genocide of the Daleks, in spite of all their evil, has long weighed upon me. Out of that evil, will come something good. What, really, does the Doctor mean by that? It can’t just be the future alliances brought about against the Daleks; surely those races could have become friends anyway. No, it’s something more than that, more fundamental really. My settled feelings came to be that the choice was never between Daleks and no-Daleks. Because Genocide of the Daleks would have made the Time Lords into the Daleks. So the choice was between a Universe of Daleks, and a Universe with Daleks and Time Lords. A Universe where there was only obedience and extermination, and a Universe where we even have a choice.

In a way this is the only way that “Remembrance of the Daleks” does not flatly contradict “Genesis” morally and logically. The Doctor gives Davros a choice. He may be tricking him, he may have set everything up to force Davros’ hand, he may know perfectly well that Davros is never going to choose to surrender the Hand of Omega or stop his quest for ultimate power, he may have goaded Davros to the point of frothing lunacy and wound him up past the point where he’s thinking rationally, but he still – just about – gives him the choice to do it or not to do it. At that point in Genesis, the point of exercising ultimate power – the “moment”, you might say – the Doctor paused. And because he paused, he realised that he could make that choice. Davros doesn’t, literally doesn’t stop to think. That’s the difference between Dalek and Time Lord.

And that difference, that there still is a difference between Dalek and Time Lord is one idea that runs deep in the heart of “The Day of the Doctor”. In the prologue piece “Night of the Doctor”, Paul McGann’s Doctor tries to rescue a crashing space pilot, Cass, and she refuses when she recognises him as a Time Lord. “At least I’m not a Dalek!” he protests. “Who can tell any more?” she retorts. But we can tell.

“Are you coward or killer?” demanded the Emperor Dalek, and Chris Eccleston’s Doctor replied “Coward every time.” And he was right. Every time.

Alex’s reaction to “The Day of the Doctor” – and he’s not wrong – was that Moffat has now succeeded in un-writing all of Russell; that, dear lord, it’s the Leekley Bible, with the Doctor on a hero’s journey to find his lost father(land); that Moffat’s taken the very heart of Doctor Who – the Doctor running away from Gallifrey – and turned it on its head, with a Doctor running to find his home. And of course that’s what Moffat has done: he’s a “Conserver”, he needs the story to be “There and Back Again”, the future must build on the past, the hero has to return home. He made his views on Britain – that plucky little island standing up to the Nazis – pretty clear back in “The Empty Child”, and nothing since has changed that. Britain stood against the Nazis; Gallifrey must stand against the Daleks. That’s the way the tide in the affairs of “Doctor Who” is running at the moment.

But then, as Simon pointed out, “The Three Doctors” unwrote the Doctor’s exile to Earth, took him away from the safe, cosy UNIT family and cast him out into the Universe, leading eventually to the great trinity of “Explorers” Baker/Holmes/Hinchcliffe.

Things change.

Perhaps I should actually review the episode a little bit. I think “The Day of the Doctor” succeeds far more as a tribute to fifty years of the Doctor than it does as a story. The Daleks, for all the show-offy Time War CGI were hardly in it except to blow up on demand, and would they really all shoot each other in a big circle? (Alex wanted me to call this review “Gallifrey Ducks”, and I’m mightily tempted.) Though I post-facto justify that by reminding him that Rose as the Bad Wolf – and let’s be honest, it’s pretty clear that the Moment and the Bad Wolf are one and the same here; though it’s rather lovely that the clockwork box evolves itself into a big red button that is clearly a Rose – annihilated every Dalek everywhere in Time and Space. So presumably that included all the Daleks surrounding the suddenly-missing Gallifrey (less any that actually did shoot each other!).

The Zygons – really? the Zygons? Even as a gift to Davy T? – were forgotten in the big resolution (I mean are they still locked in the Black Archive negotiating that treaty? And why was it necessary for Osgood and Osgood-Zygon to work out who was who by means of the inhaler when nothing came of that? It’s not like Osgood-Zygon was anice Zygon before). Nice transformation moment, mind you. And they did a good job of disguising the fact they only had one Zygon costume. And on second watching I spotted the moment Kate got replaced (having worried that she’d been a Zygon all along!).

It does, though, support my belief that the Doctor’s gabble to Ood Sigma at the start of “The End of Time” was him putting a spin on his reasons for not going straight to the Ood-Sphere from “The Waters of Mars” (though I still prefer my own theory that there’s a bit of non-linear storytelling going on and he goes and visits all his companions before he sets off to the Ood-sphere and is just remembering them all again as he staggers to the TARDIS about to explode. Okay, maybe allowing him one last visit to Rose).

The 3D – better mention the 3D since it was a big deal, and we went to the cinema on the Day-After-the-Day-of-the-Doctor so as to see it; a disaster all of its own, but that’s another story – the 3D was patchy at best. The helicopter stunt was pretty good; the “look we’re a movie now” style titles stood out very well, as you’d expect from lettering over a deep field background; the Time War was mostly a lot of coloured lights (and the first and only other time since “Remembrance” that the Daleks have fired bolts rather than beams, I guess to make the 3D work. Ish.) Bits of stone and rubble flying out of the screen as the TARDIS took out a squad of Daleks sort of worked. The best bit, as it happened, was a tree. As Elizabeth was chased by the former-horse Zygon, one branch really did the sticking out of the screen thing. And ironically, the 3D Time Lord paintings (great in concept, though what were they doing on Earth and how did Liz 1 get hold of them to stick into her Undergallery?) looked completely flat. Or at least no better than they looked in 2D, when the zoom and look round gave just as much impression of 3D as the silly glasses.

But none of that was important, because it opened in Totters Lane and Coal Hill School and had photos of past companions and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart name-checking her dad, and a joke about Cromer and another about UNIT dating, and a great big red countdown.

The three Doctors played it beautifully. I’ll join the chorus who say that Chris did us a tremendous favour by bowing out of the anniversary, missed though he was, as it gave us John Hurt as the War Doctor. This will almost certainly – barring surprises – be the only time we get to see John Hurt’s incarnation, and it goes without saying what a shame that is.

Moffat was spurred to write something clever (or fan-baiting) that allowed us to see the kind of Doctor who actually would fight on the front lines, while retaining the character integrity of Eccleston’s recently-regenerated post-Time War Doctor and McGann’s pre-Time War Time Lord (or the one who runs into the start of it; another neat nod there to the books, especially Lawrence Miles’ Faction Paradox works).

There’s a sense of genuine progression from McGann’s weariness at fighting the injustice of the Universe (in the later Big Finish as well as “Night of the Doctor”), to Hurt’s ground to dust Doctor who says “No More” and breaks into the Omega Archive to steel the Moment. (Did the Hand of Omega let him in, do you think?) Hurt is perfect as the Doctor straight away, from the way he hides his shame from the TARDIS, to the way he can be acerbic to his older selves, right to the joy expressed when they think their way out of the trap of the last day. The way he can be wise, but not quite wise enough.

And he speaks on behalf of the Twentieth Century series when, almost baffled, he confronts his Twenty-First Century selves for all that they’ve become. And to be fair, Moffat can wax lyrical when he tries: the man who regrets and the man who forgets being beautifully little vignettes of David and Matt as the Time Lord. Better than “skinny” and “chinny” anyway. The badinage between Doctors ten and eleven (or is that eleven/twelve and thirteen, now?) was clearly fashioned after the “The Three Doctors” and yet came across as more like friendly ribbing between siblings than the sniping between Troughton and Pertwee. But the two new series Doctors were much more than the comic relief. Fair play to David Tennant: he restrained his occasional habit of overplaying the anger and the suffering, to turn in one of his finest turns as the Time Lord, by turns funny, self-satirising, angry and sad. And bonus for befuddled on hearing the words “Bad Wolf Girl”. And Matt, Matt was as always wonderful. Some particular emoting nicely mirroring the extreme close up of half his face against half of Hurt’s. Impressive to see them go toe to toe and the younger man keep up with the old master.

And I had genuine tears of joy when the three Doctors were joined by his other selves to make the twelve Doctors… and then my heart leapt even higher for “all thirteen”. Peter Capaldi stole the show with only his eyebrows. And then I was misting up again when Tom returned to our screens to steal the show right back; enigmatic, wise, cryptic, bonkers, Who Knows? Past self or future, or just eternally the Doctor. Along with the wonderful Paul McGann mini-episode it truly made this a proper anniversary. And it’s impossible not to think that Sylv, Colin and Peter D were there too, under those shrouds as the statue -impersonating Zygons.

(Thoughts on the Five-ish Doctors: brilliant, best of the celebration; Moffat forced to play a scene where he deletes his own Victory Daleks from the anniversary special; Peter D, choosing to delete Russell’s voice message just as the Grand Moff had deleted the Doctors’ messages earlier with an expression on his face that says – a la Space Commander Travis, a joke only Blake’s Seven aficionados will get – “oh yes, I’m a Moffat too”.)

This is something I wrote in about 2001, after “The Ancestor Cell”:
The Doctor dreams. Something that he can't quite grasp, gone but not forgotten, in a universe in a bottle, a place of last resort, a redoubt, somewhere forgotten, forgotten that he'd forgotten. A place within a place, worlds within worlds, even if all was lost they wouldn't all be lost, or lost but not all gone, not gone but forgotten. They're not gone but forgotten. He wakes.

In “The Curse of Fenric”, the Reverend Wainwright’s faith is broken not by German bombs, but by British ones. British bombs killing German children.

In “The End of Time”, the Doctor’s faith is broken by the High Council of the Time Lords’ decision to abandon the Time War against the Daleks, to let Arcadia fall, and to wipe out all of History in order to ascend, escape, run away to a higher plane.

Moffat’s writing, mawkish, sentimental, won’t somebody think of the children though it may be, is a reminder of what the Doctor, in his long despair, has forgotten. In “The End of Time” the Doctor confesses that his stories of the Time Lords are always about how good and wonderful they were, but that that is how he chooses to remember them; that at the end, they became as bad as the enemy they were fighting. But that’s not necessarily true either; that’s how he really remembers them, from his darkest day, from the choices of the few – admittedly a Nuremburg Rally-full of the High Council, but few compared to 2.47 billion children – that drove him to despair. But the Time Lords are not the Daleks. They are not all the same. And they can choose.

Gallifrey Falls. Or Gallifrey Rises. Those are the choices the Doctor takes into the moment. But he’s the Doctor. He’s always about being given two choices and finding the third. Gallifrey Stands.

In “The Curse of Fenric”, Ace says to Wainwright: “Have faith in me”.

In “The Day of the Doctor”, Clara and the Bad Wolf remind the Doctor of who he is, and through faith in them, he restores his faith in himself.

Don’t get me wrong; I still agree with Alex. By rewriting the Last Day of the Time War, Moffat has turned “everybody dies” into “everybody lives”; he’s taken the ultimate message of Russell – “consequences” – and made it meaningless.

And yet, and yet…

I must confess, I felt the loss of Gallifrey deeply, a Universe without Gallifrey – without a Britain – was like a wound, it was to be unhomed.

So good and bad, right and wrong, Explorer and Conserver, like the Time Lords, like Britain, like all of us, “The Day of the Doctor” can be both at once and all at the same time.

After all, it’s “Doctor Who”.

Next Time… It’s Christmas. We’re promised Daleks and Cybermen and Weeping Angels. Oh My. And Silence, finally, will fall. Back to Trenzalore, then, in search of some answers. Why did the TARDIS explode? What was the endless bitter war? When will the Grand Moff stop tweaking fandom by the tail? He’s taking on the Doctor Who curse, by putting “Time” in the title, and settling once and for all the question of what happens after the Doctor’s twelve regenerations in “The Time of the Doctor”

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
26 Nov 19:18

Al Plastino, R.I.P.

by evanier


As some of you may have heard, veteran comic book artist Al Plastino has been locked in a messy squabble lately regarding the ownership of the original art he drew in 1964 for a Superman story about President John F. Kennedy. The battle has come to a sad ending for Mr. Plastino, who died this afternoon. He was 91 and had been battling prostate cancer for some time.

Plastino was, I believe, the only person alive who drew Superman comics professionally before about 1967. He started in 1948. His earliest known comic book work was in 1941 for a little-known company called Dynamic Comics. After serving in World War II, he freelanced in and out of comics until connecting in '48 with DC, where he worked until the early seventies. For most of that time, he was the second-string Superman artist. Wayne Boring was the main guy through the fifties, then it was Curt Swan. The stories they didn't have time to do were done by Plastino. He drew some memorable stories for the Superman line of comics, including the first stories of Supergirl and also of The Legion of Super-Heroes.

In 1966, he worked on the syndicated Batman newspaper strip and drifted into that line of work. He was an excellent mimic of styles and took over the art on the Ferd'nand newspaper strip in 1970, drawing it until his retirement in '89. At one point, someone at the syndicate got the brilliant (!) idea to replace Charles Schulz on Peanuts and they had Plastino draw several weeks to show that he could ape that style…which he could. There are several accounts of what happened next but they all resulted in Schulz being furious (though not at Plastino), Schulz staying on his strip and getting lots of apologies from the syndicate, and Plastino's strips never being published. He also worked on the Nancy strip for a time and possibly others. He was a very versatile artist.

I do not know how Mr. Plastino's passing will impact the battle over the Superman-Kennedy story. (You can read about it here. It sounds to me like someone at DC just fibbed about donating the artwork in the first place and it disappeared into someone's closet. I also suspect that they fibbed when they announced that an earlier version of the same story that was drawn by Curt Swan was donated to the Kennedy Library.)

I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Plastino but folks who did said he was a good man and a dedicated professional. It's always sad to lose someone like that.

26 Nov 12:15

The long-gone tax that everyone still thinks they're paying.

The long-gone tax that everyone still thinks they're paying.
26 Nov 12:12

Tiki Talk

tikigodIt’s not such a bad life, being a tiki god outside the Tahiti-Fa’aa International Airport in Papeete.


Nobody really worships me anymore, but the hepcat money just rolls in. And I get to watch the planes come in.


I wonder who’s president in America now. It’s probably not still that Kennedy. I don’t get to see the paper much except when one flutters past.


Still, almost all the people who get off the plane are white guys with expensive clothes, so I guess there can’t have been too much of a shakeup.


It gets kind of boring during the off season, but it could be worse.


Hapahala says that this place is a real dump compared to Sydney Airport in Australia, but I think he’s full of crap. I don’t think he’s ever even been to Australia. Unta-Tahiki says he’s never even seen him move from that rock over by the customs house.


One good thing is that I get to work close to my wife. She’s mounted over the baggage claim.


Of course that’s way over the hell on the other side of the building. But you don’t see me complaining! Women.


I wonder if today’s flight will have any Japanese dudes on it. They usually come off the plane totally ripped. That’s fun to watch.


No, it’s not such a bad life, being a tiki god outside the Tahiti-Fa’aa International Airport in Papeete.


26 Nov 00:37

Guest Post: Moths Ate My Girls Aloud CD

by (Philip Sandifer)

Abigail Brady will get the sole power to decide if you ever get to see me play Soldeed. She is also responsible for starting the entire Chelsea Manning feud on Wikipedia by moving the article to its correct title. Beyond that, she's invaluable for checking random facts about London for various projects and is an Iron Man villain. She also happily stepped in for a guest post on short notice. She is, in short, one of the five greatest people never to be Verity Lambert.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: what’s the connection between Phonogram and Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf  other than on November 17th, 2013 I went straight from seeing a panel discussion containing the writer of the first to a performance of the second?  After all, one is a comic taking an adult perspective on the someone from the middle of nowhere in the West Midlands’ teenage obsession, whereas the other... is the exact same thing but in plural.

Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf is a one-man standup show by Toby Hadoke, C-list Doctor Who celebrity, actor, writer and comic. It debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006, and did a West End run in 2008.  If you never saw it live, you're now officially out of luck, as that performance I saw was supposedly the last (I speak as someone who went to two of Pitchshifter’s last tours) - an audio CD version released in 2007 by the BBC is your best bet.  It’s a picture of the role that Doctor Who played in his life from his early childhood up to about 2005.  There’s nothing massively unexpected: he is obsessed with it as a youngun, and eventually starts to lose hope about a return, then the new series is announced, which is  quite good, and he bonds with his son over it.  It’s quite funny: he does angry very well, with a nice sideline in self-mockery.  The performance was double-billed with his new show My Stepson Stole My Sonic Screwdriver, not entirely to the latter’s benefit. The biggest laugh that Sonic Screwdriver got was in the opening, just after a 15-minute interval, when he kept to his usual script and said “you may have seen my other show, Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf”...  Well, yes.

Phonogram is a comic, as well, but the other kind.  This one is by Kieron Gillen (writing) and Jamie McKelvie (arting), and was published from 2006 to 2010 by Image Comics. Its topic is neatly summarised by the identity equation that Gillen scrawls when signing copies: “MUSIC = MAGIC”.  It has an almost Mooreish take on matters, with the magic of music simultaneously being wholly metaphoric and completely literal.  Thus far there are thirteen issues over two volumes.  In the first, Rue Britannia, protagonist David Kohl, one of the few practitioners of music-magic (phonomancers) still rooted in the British guitar music scene of the 1990s, is tempted by the goddess Britannia into accepting a revival of Britpop.  He rejects it, natch.  His key realisation is that Britpop was already a nostalgic recreation of something: the 1960s music scene that was the origin of the British invasion.  A subplot concerns his non-ex, Beth, and her inability to integrate her past as a teen Manic Street Preachers fan with an adult life.  By the end, Kohl has grown up a bit and is able to hold his tongue about what are still deeply-felt opinions about Peter Doherty’s self-destruction, while Beth smiles to the Manic’s 1992 single “Motorcycle Emptiness”.

The second, The Singles Club is seven intersecting tales set at an indie club night, each told in a single issue, with Kohl appearing as an attendee but not a main character per se. The club night has three simple rules: “No Boy Singers”, “You Must Dance”, and “No Magic.”  It’s usually the one they recommend new readers start with (sickeningly, Rue Britannia was their first major work). It’s a very tightly-plotted, structurally complex, and a passionate celebration of spontaneity.

The obvious connection is the one I already hinted at: they are both very personal stories about fannish activities in the tradition of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch.  David Kohl has been alleged to be a Gillen self-insert - although I personally don't see the resemblance. If we accept that reading, then he reflects Gillen’s almost painful level of self-awareness. The  first issue is about Kohl’s own inappropriate intrusion into a predominantly a female space.  Indeed, this is what gets him in trouble with the Goddess.  But Kohl is aware of the problem, and even makes a point of it.

Hadoke doesn’t really seem to have that awareness.  He makes a few jokes about how weird it is that he’s straight given how big of a Doctor Who fan he is, and he does the mandatory racist-bashing, but there’s almost a sense that this is pro forma stuff that he doesn’t really think about too much.  In the second show, the arc ends with his not with him dealing with his refusal to watch the show with the subtitles that are necessary for his stepson’s enjoyment, but with his stepson watching Classic Who with him.  There’s a bit of material about him not understanding girls, but his fandom is very detached and anti-social, so it’s more the him and the not-him rather than the we and the not-we.  He’s self-deprecating, but only inasmuch as he’s willing to get laughs at his encyclopedic knowledge of Doctor Who.  A casual or crossover audience (which Moths is aimed at - he says there are only two jokes in it that only Doctor Who fans will get) might assume that’s a comedic exaggeration, but this is a case of hiding in plain sight.  Toby Hadoke is really like that.  It’s like he has the Internet British Rep Database in his head or something.  And the basic joke worked: Hadoke had successful Edinburgh and West End runs with Moths, playing to audiences that had probably never heard of a Myrka, but could understand Hadoke’s embarrassment at a monster played by Dobbin, the pantomime horse out of Rentaghost.

Similarly, Gillen and McKelvie's work on Phonogram was designed to be accessible from outside the scene.  It didn’t top the sales lists, but worked well enough to open doors in New York - Gillen is now a high-profile Marvel writer who has written the Uncanny X-Men, and recently took on Iron Man, while McKelvie has drawn X-Men Season One and worked on Defenders and Secret Avengers.  McKelvie’s women are particularly praised, and he has become Marvel’s go-to guy for superheroine designs.  The pair have subsequently collaborated on Siege: Loki, a couple of issues of Generation Hope and a year-long run on Young Avengers, and are planning on uniting again for the third volume of Phonogram, to be called The Immaterial Girl, in late 2014.

Phonogram displays detailed knowledge of an aspect of pop culture.  The particular music involved is at once completely essential and totally irrelevant.  What’s important is what the characters think about the music. But it only works because the music is real. I know the scene it’s set in well, even if I’ve never been to that particular night at that particular venue.  I love me some Kenickie (a band responsible for my first single, my first album, and my first gig - at least in the version I remember, which is the only one that counts), so those bits have a special significance.  But there’s also stuff I didn’t know that was just as powerful.  In The Singles Club, one of the viewpoint characters, Laura, speaks almost entirely in quotes from songs, mostly from the Long Blondes catalogue (and particularly their first LP “Someone To Drive You Home.")  Here, Laura couldn’t just be quoting lyrics from a fictional band, because what matters isn't what she's saying - it's the bits of lyrics she's not saying, and the band she's choosing to quote.

Hadoke’s love for Doctor Who is equally grounded in the reality of the show, warts and all.  He won’t get much argument about that on this blog.  He cites the usual reasons. It’s a show that can do anything, go anywhere and be anywhen. The Doctor is a different protagonist from your standard action hero. And there’s his oft-quoted line that the show makes us feel bigger on the inside. But this feels a bit spurious - looked at from the outside obviously Hadoke was quite a bookish kid and if it hadn’t been for Doctor Who he’d have probably found something else instead.  

His love for the show isn’t left entirely unchallenged: as I noted before a good portion of the laughs come at his own expense.  But it’s all on his terms. No other character is allowed to emerge in the story - his ex and his wife remain exasperated ciphers.  A lot of his logic is “at least it isn’t X”, where X is something he’s less interested in and thus deems less worthy.  He makes jokes about Star Trek fans learning Klingon (as if that wasn’t a fascinating conlang in its own right that combines all sorts of features not traditionally found in Western languages).  Football is associated with the thuggish bully of his childhood (now a BNP councillor), and its fans imagined to be an entirely alien species (and never mind that the current Doctor was very nearly a professional footballer).  Reality TV also comes in for a kicking, with Big Brother 2002 winner Kate Lawler denied the prospect of work for the sin of saying that Doctor Who is rubbish without having seen it (Big Brother having had no influence on the series whatsoever).

For Hadoke, the problem is the popularity of what he sees as undesirable low culture - stuff that’s dumbed-down for the masses (he didn’t actually use that term, but the meaning was clear).  The fantasy adventures (i.e. Harry Potter) the kids are into these days are rubbish.  He complains about soap operas: Hollyoaks is the butt of several jokes, and not only is Coronation Street blamed for Doctor Who’s cancellation, its fans are looked down upon and treated, again, as mysterious outsiders.  Vince Tyler’s dilemma (that he wanted to watch both) isn’t really considered, nor is Phil Collinson’s career trajectory.  He takes issue with the way other people watch television, complaining about their inattentiveness during the Doctor Who Christmas special, while separately objecting to television made for that style of viewing.  Not only do you have to be interested in the same stuff he is, you have to share his obsessive focus on it.

It’s not that Hadoke’s routine is not entirely without a sense of irony.  He skewers his own reaction to Billie Piper’s casting - initially skepticism turning to a declaration that he “always loved Billie” after she has proven herself. And he is thoroughly aware that his son’s fascination with Harry Potter is analogous to own with Doctor Who.  But he can’t quite let go of what was so awesome about Doctor Who.  But… what was that, exactly?

Something about “material social progress” has been mentioned.  It’s the cynically optimistic show.  The one with a belief in the innate goodness of humanity, although it distrusts authority.  The one in which things can be better and frequently are.  And yet, Hadoke (or rather Toby Hadoke’s Comedy Persona, ‘cos perhaps attributing all this to him personally isn’t any more fair than treating Kohl as Gillen) hasn’t internalised all that stuff about how wonderful humans are, in all their messy gloriness.  He thinks Tom Baker saying “indomitable” was a good line, rather than a truth worthy of celebration.

It’s telling that he starts with the same gag I did here, using the exact same words to describe Girls Aloud and the Autons.  On the Phonogram flyer (and what would be more Phonogram than including the flyers as an integral part of the text?), a chibi Seth Bingo - one half of the DJ pair in The Singles Club - says, after outlining the three rules of Never On A Sunday that “if you say Girls Aloud aren’t a real band, I will destroy every thought you’d ever had.” Poor Toby.  Do we imagine Toby Hadoke has ever listened to a Girls Aloud album?  I’m guessing not.

So what is Hadoke’s objection to Girls Aloud?  It seems like he picked them simply because they’re a highly prominent and well-regarded “manufactured” group. In comparing them to plastic, he is attacking their authenticity.  Yes, they were the winners of a reality show, grouped together almost arbitrarily.  But vocal groups rarely form organically, so unless he’s saying that a popular genre of music shouldn’t exist at all what is the problem? (And if he is saying that, he’s missing the point of Doctor Who.) We accept the worth of plenty of collaborative arts.  Television, for example.  To pick a random example, how many people would Doctor Who need on its “created by” credit?  I’m counting half a dozen, without even including anyone after 1963.

Hadoke does this whole bit about wobbly sets in one of the shows.  Or rather, he does a bit about the sets only wobbled twice, and how unfair it is that everyone keeps going on about them. I believe his counting.  He is, after all, Toby Hadoke.  And I remember people using that as a canard.  Oh ho ho ho, Doctor Who, it was a bit rubbish, wasn’t it.  Dodgy acting.  Bubblewrap!  Wobbly sets.  The idea of wobbly sets was an oral tradition (even if it was sometimes written down), and Hadoke complains that people weren’t fact-checking. But his attitude to Girls Aloud is every bit as lazy and facile as that.

In the end, Toby Hadoke doesn’t like other people’s low culture, and isn’t afraid to let them know.  To be fair, Kohl is a bit like Hadoke, at least to begin with.  But by the end of Rue Britannia, well, he’s still never going to fall in love with the Libertines or the Arctic Monkeys, but he can respect their fans, and this is presented as personal growth.  He can see simultaneously that Kenickie are the best band ever in the history of the universe, and also that it’s quite ridiculous for a grown man of his age to hold that opinion.  He appreciates the arbitrariness of it all. Similarly, Seth Bingo’s attitude to Girls Aloud is a little defensive, and I wonder if he’s been persuaded that they are a real band, rather than having decided saying otherwise is a rockist fallacy.  His attitude to that particular group may have changed, but he is similarly snobby about the Pipettes, and by the end of the evening Silent Girl (the other DJ) has to call him out for it.  

The thing is, it’s not about being superior or clever.  It’s about the music, about the dancing, and the sheer impassioned love of it all.  My first brush with rockism was at a disco in Cape Town in 1997 full of young people from different countries.  A Spice Girls song came on, the dance floor filled, and a fellow member of the British delegation went around apologising to people, ashamed to be associated with the group that everyone was enjoying.  The what now?  And yes, you DJ because you want to share music you love, but you have to avoid being too self-indulgent (unless it’s a night like Nowhere or Phasers on Random where self-indulgence is part of the premise).  Being a television commissioner is a lot like being a DJ.  It will sometimes involve things you don’t appreciate yourself, not because you are cynically shovelling shit at people too stupid to know better, but because you understand that your personal tastes are not the only thing that matters.  That Michael Grade forgot that back in the 1980s was the direct cause of much of Hadoke’s anguish.

Gillen has said that one of the harder parts writing Phonogram stories is the villains, because he doesn’t want to cast fans (even Placebo ones, apparently) as being actively evil.  The threat in Rue Britannia is impersonal: an embodiment of a second BritPop revival, rejected by Kohl as a bridge too far that would remove all life from the thing that he had loved.  In The Singles Club the closest thing to a bad guy is Lloyd, whose a cynical plan to subvert nostalgia is foiled by nobody else caring about it.  Even quite judgemental fans can come out fairly well in Phonogram, because their hatred is borne out of love. But if he were in that particular Avon club on that particular Saturday evening, I reckon Toby Hadoke would be pestering Seth and Silent all night.  In fact, I bet he was the one who requested Fall Out Boy. On the other hand, imagine the Doctor there: he’d have been dancing to everything he liked, and, if he was being played by Matt Smith, most of the stuff he didn’t.

Music is magic, and Phonogram shows why.  Music is about dancing in tiny little nightclubs with your mates, and passing a spliff around a circle of friends that includes a police officer (off-duty, so it’s fine).  It’s about staying at a friend's way too late at night listening to dodgy tapes of albums and getting angry about philosophy.  It’s about going to gigs at shitty little venues and finding out that you prefer the support band you’d never heard of to the headliner you were ostensibly there for.  It’s about getting into gigs you’d never had gone to for free because you had to drop off a mic stand that got lost earlier in the tour.  It's about finding bad cover versions and bizarre mixes, and inflicting them upon your friends.  The only thing it’s not about is the music, except for the fact that it’s the most important thing.

Can Doctor Who be like that? Of course it can. Even if you don’t accept that Phil’s blog has shown that, look at something like Love & Monsters and you’ll see Doctor Who being portrayed as exactly that magical. But Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf doesn’t come close.  It’s a celebration of a mid-2000s revival of an important legacy of British pop culture from the 1960s.  Phonogram is, in part, a warning of how terrible that could be.  That’s the difference between them: one helped me rediscover an important part of my life; the other made me feel a little embarrassed about another.
25 Nov 11:32

One Last Time

by Lawrence
The proposition: that all Doctor Who is ridiculous, hackneyed, and saa-aad...

...unless you're interested in the time in which it was made. Every story ever told, every work of culture ever cultured, has to be judged in the context of its era: Our Thing goes further. A narrative spread across decades, stealing from the rest of human creation by its very nature, magpie-collecting from all of history and from all the storytelling devices we've used to make sense of that history. Watch virtually any other television made in 1963, and you're looking at something that only makes sense if you're first-generation Homo '60s, something you can mock for its scenery-flat cowboys or its egregious use of the word "transistor". Watch the very earliest Doctor Who, and you're watching something about 1963 as much as something that happened to be made there. The ability of the TARDIS to step outside the here-and-now means that every episode is a commentary on its own place in time.

Now we've arrived at the great jubilee, every blogger and broadsheet is listing its Ten Best Stories, or Best Stories of Each Doctor, or All Stories Ranked According to Personal Prejudice. But the final verdict has to be this: Doctor Who has bound itself into every year in which it's been made. I couldn't care about "An Unearthly Child" without being curious about early '60s radiophonics and early '60s war-baby thinking. I couldn't care about "Carnival of Monsters" without taking an interest in '50s SF literature, and the way it affected the people who wrote for TV twenty years later. I couldn't care about "Weng-Chiang" without wondering how the Hammer-gothic tradition shaped British pop-culture in the years that followed. I cculdn't care about "Caves of Androzani" unless I cared about I, Claudius as well, though admittedly that's a bit of a weird one on my part.

Which is why the need to rank and review Doctor Who stories, usually according to spurious rules of sci-fi telly devised years after those stories were made, is a curse on all of us. Lists have always been our downfall. Consider Doctor Who as a mass of TV-making, ethic-defining principles hurtling forwards in time, smacking against the what-we-now-call-tropes of every age and making fabulous, unpredictable shrapnel. Endless pages of About Time - by myself and Tat Wood, and you can often see the bloodstains on the pages where we're ripped chunks out of each other - were wasted in arguing about whether we liked any given story. But the internet is already made of reviews, and besides, Doctor Who covers so much territory that none of us will ever agree with anybody else re: what it really "is". I can only say what I think it is...'s like nothing else on Earth. Nobody else in 1963 was making anything that looked like "The Daleks". Nobody else in 1982 was making anything that told the same kind of story as "Kinda". Nobody else in 2005 was making anything that resembled "Rose" at all.

So there it is. All Doctor Who is ridiculous, hackneyed, and saa-aad - let's say it, unwatchable - unless you're primed to understand its place in history. This is, and will be, just as true of the present series as it was of the past: future generations, should they be able to neuro-experience their complete set of iPsych engrams before complete global meltdown, won't be able to appreciate the Matt Smith era unless they also appreciate superhero movies, the cinema version of Harry Potter, XBox-age video gaming, or the early twenty-first-century version of slash-fic. I don't appreciate any of these things, which is why I find it unwatchable now, and also why I hate the modern world. Natch.

But am I right...? Yes, of course I am! Don't be silly. The ad for "The Day of the Doctor" looks as if it should have "not actual game footage" at the bottom of the screen. I'm also entirely wrong, according to people who were eleven-ish in the early '70s and think Doctor Who is all about alien invasion stories, or people who were born just after "Survival" and have no problem with that f***ing fez.

I have nothing else to say, but I don't want "fez" to be the last word.

22 Nov 11:10

Kid Flash The Super Creep: The Problem With ‘Funny Harassment’

by Annalee
Andrew Hickey

This is something I find annoying about Wally West in all media -- see also the Justice League cartoons, the old JLI comics, etc.

Content Warning: this post discusses sexual harassment, stalking, and sexual assault.

Kid Flash

Kid Flash

I’ve recently been introduced to Young Justice, a superhero cartoon featuring beloved sidekicks of the Justice League. It started in 2010 and wrapped up earlier this year. I’m a big fan of superhero cartoons, having grown up on the DC Animated Universe. So Young Justice is right up my alley.

But if Kid Flash doesn’t have a drastic character adjustment pretty soon, I’m giving up on the show.

Kid Flash, AKA Wally West, is one of the founding members of the Justice League’s covert junior team. As soon as he meets teammate Miss Martian, he starts hitting on her. She brushes him off.

And so begins a campaign of sexual harassment that, seven episodes in, shows no sign of ending soon. It’s annoying enough to watch as a viewer, because harassment isn’t funny, but what it says about this world and the morals of these alleged ‘heroes’ is pretty gross.

Aside from Robin making fun of Kid Flash with no apparent concern for Miss Martian’s personhood, no one has called him out. Neither Robin nor team leader Aqualad has pulled him aside and said “Bro. She’s not interested. Quit being a creep.” The adult members of the Justice League don’t seem concerned, either–though given how the adult Flash behaves, it’d not hard to work out where young Wally picked up his views on women.

So Miss Martian has to put up with not just killer robots and evil monsters, but also with an incessant campaign of sexual harassment. On top of that, she has to rely on a team that clearly doesn’t have her back. They’d rather laugh about Kid Flash’s behavior than tell him to knock it off.

As far as the show is concerned, this situation is funny. We’re meant to laugh at Wally and his pathetic antics, rather than empathize with how awkward and uncomfortable his harassment makes things for Miss Martian.

If it were just this one obnoxious character on one show, it’d be an ignorant joke in terrible taste. But Kid Flash is part of a larger pattern[1] of pop culture heroes portraying sexual harassment as funny or endearing.

Miss Martian

Miss Martian

This stuff matters–not just because it’s an annoying trope that alienates harassment and assault survivors, but because it leads to real people getting harassed and assaulted in the real world. It perpetuates the idea that harassment is normal courting behavior, and that “no” actually means “keep asking me until I change my fickle girly mind and fall madly in love with you.” Some folks who’ve been raised on a steady diet of this trope have it so bad that they take anger and contempt as signs that their victim secretly likes them back.

A guy who assaulted me went on to subject me to this kind of ‘funny’ harassment. He was a friend of my brother’s and a member of a social club I was very heavily involved in, so I had no good way to avoid him.

Among other obnoxious behavior, he was constantly calling me ‘babe.’ Every single time he did it, I told him to knock it off. I tried patiently explaining that I found it demeaning. I tried yelling. I tried getting up and leaving the room. I tried flipping him off and calling him sexist.

He kept right on doing it.

One day he told me he did it because the main character in his favorite book did it.

I bet the romantic interest in that book told the main character to quit calling her ‘babe,’ too. I’ll bet she was a Strong Female Character who Didn’t Put Up With Nonsense.

And I’ll bet by the end of the book, his campaign of harassment had changed her fickle, girly mind and she’d fallen madly in love with him, thus completing his hero narrative of the good guy getting the girl.

They guy who assaulted me? His campaign of harassment didn’t end that way.

It ended with him assaulting me a second time.

Since I grew up watching cartoons, I’m used to superheroes telling me about seat-belts, recycling, stranger danger, staying away from guns, and not trying superheroics at home. Would it have killed Young Justice to have a member of the Justice League take young Wally aside and tell him that heroes treat women with respect?

Or, better yet, they could have just not included ‘funny harassment’ at all, because harassment isn’t funny, and Miss Martian is supposed to be there to fight bad guys, not to teach socially-awkward boy geniuses like Wally how to behave around women.

[1] TV Tropes has several pages full of examples, including:

  1. [CW: Harassment, stalking] “The Dogged Nice Guy”
  2. [CW: Harassment, stalking, misogyny]: “Defrosting the Ice Queen”
  3. [CW: harassment, stalking]: “Belligerent Sexual Tension”
  4. [CW: Stalking]: “Stalking is love”