Shared posts

21 Dec 12:58

The Elegance of Uncertainty

by MarkCC

I was recently reading yet another botched explanation of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, and it ticked me off. It wasn't a particularly interesting one, so I'm not going disassemble it in detail. What it did was the usual crackpot quantum dance: Heisenberg said that quantum means observers affect the universe, therefore our thoughts can control the universe. Blah blah blah.

It's not worth getting into the cranky details. But it inspired me to actually take some time and try to explain what uncertainty really means. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is fascinating. It's an extremely simple concept, and yet when you realize what it means, it's the most mind-blowingly strange thing that you've ever heard.

One of the beautiful things about it is that you can take the math of uncertainty and reduce it to one simple equation. It says that given any object or particle, the following equation is always true:

\sigma_x \sigma_p \ge \hbar


  • \sigma_x is a measurement of the amount of uncertainty
    about the position of the particle;
  • \sigma_p is the uncertainty about the momentum of the particle; and
  • \hbar is a fundamental constant, called the reduced Plank's constant, which is roughly 1.05457173 \times 10^{-34}\frac{m^2 kg}{s}.

That last constant deserves a bit of extra explanation. Plank's constant describes the fundamental granularity of the universe. We perceive the world as being smooth. When we look at the distance between two objects, we can divide it in half, and in half again, and in half again. It seems like we should be able to do that forever. Mathematically we can, but physically we can't! Eventually, we get to a point where where is no way to subdivide distance anymore. We hit the grain-size of the universe. The same goes for time: we can look at what happens in a second, or a millisecond, or a nanosecond. But eventually, it gets down to a point where you can't divide time anymore! Planck's constant essentially defines that smallest unit of time or space.

Back to that beautiful equation: what uncertainty says is that the product of the uncertainty about the position of a particle and the uncertainty about the momentum of a particle must be at least a certain minimum.

Here's where people go wrong. They take that to mean that our ability to measure the position and momentum of a particle is uncertain - that the problem is in the process of measurement. But no: it's talking about a fundamental uncertainty. This is what makes it an incredibly crazy idea. It's not just talking about our inability to measure something: it's talking about the fundamental true uncertainty of the particle in the universe because of the quantum structure of the universe.

Let's talk about an example. Look out the window. See the sunlight? It's produced by fusion in the sun. But fusion should be impossible. Without uncertainty, the sun could not exist. We could not exist.

Why should it be impossible for fusion to happen in the sun? Because it's nowhere near dense or hot enough.

There are two forces that you need to consider in the process of nuclear fusion. There's the electromagnetic force, and there's the strong nuclear force.

The electromagnetic force, we're all familiar with. Like charges repel, different charges attract. The nucleus of an atom has a positive charge - so nuclei repel each other.

The nuclear force we're less familiar with. The protons in a nucleus repel each other - they've still got like charges! But there's another force - the strong nuclear force - that holds the nucleus together. The strong nuclear force is incredibly strong at extremely short distances, but it diminishes much, much faster than electromagnetism. So if you can get a proton close enough to the nucleus of an atom for the strong force to outweigh the electromagnetic, then that proton will stick to the nucleus, and you've got fusion!

The problem with fusion is that it takes a lot of energy to get two hydrogen nuclei close enough to each other for that strong force to kick in. In fact, it turns out that hydrogen nuclei in the sun are nowhere close to energetic enough to overcome the electromagnetic repulsion - not by multiple orders of magnitude!

But this is where uncertainty comes in to play. The core of the sun is a dense soup of other hydrogen atoms. They can't move around very much without the other atoms around them moving. That means that their momentum is very constrained - \sigma_p is very small, because there's just not much possible variation in how fast it's moving. But the product of \sigma_p and \sigma_x have to be greater than \hbar, which means that \sigma_x needs to be pretty large to compensate for the certainty about the momentum.

If \sigma_x is large, that means that the particle's position is not very constrained at all. It's not just that we can't tell exactly where it is, but it's position is fundamentally fuzzy. It doesn't have a precise position!

That uncertainty about the position allows a strange thing to happen. The fuzziness of position of a hydrogen nucleus is large enough that it overlaps with the the nucleus of another atom - and bang, they fuse.

This is an insane idea. A hydrogen nucleus doesn't get pushed into a collision with another hydrogen nucleus. It randomly appears in a collided state, because it's position wasn't really fixed. The two nuclei that fused didn't move: they simply didn't have a precise position!

So where does this uncertainty come from? It's part of the hard-to-comprehend world of quantum physics. Particles aren't really particles. They're waves. But they're not really waves. They're particles. They're both, and they're neither. They're something in between, or they're both at the same time. But they're not the precise things that we think of. They're inherently fuzzy probabilistic things. That's the source uncertainty: at macroscopic scales, they behave as if they're particles. But they aren't really. So the properties that associate with particles just don't work. An electron doesn't have an exact position and velocity. It has a haze of probability space where it could be. The uncertainty equation describes that haze - the inherent uncertainty that's caused by the real particle/wave duality of the things we call particles.

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.


26 Nov 00:44

Box of Delights' 29th Anniversary

by (Paul Magrs)

It’s the 29th Anniversary of the broadcast of the first episode of the BBC TV adaptation of ‘The Box of Delights’.

All those years ago. Just six episodes. But episodes that I’ve watched many times over. A serial that looks a bit ropey now, to modern eyes, maybe – with its blend of live action, animation, camera trickery and Kirby wires. At the time, of course, the makers were very proud of the mind-boggling effects they’d achieved. Taxis turn into aeroplanes, boys become stags, toy boats run rapids and phoenixes appear at the calling of an old Punch and Judy man.

It’s one of those TV shows that seem to have magic trapped inside it. Somehow sheer glittery magic dust is caught up inside the very frames. Masefield’s is one of the most loopily illogical stories and, faithfully adapted, sometimes it’s hard to follow. I’m still not sure if all of it makes sense, but I think it mostly does. Perhaps its opacity is why it stands up to repeated viewings? Years and years after, it’s still yielding up echoes, connections and obscure plot points.

The other thing that repays the constant viewer – besides the crackle and dazzle of the mechanical effects and the strangeness of the storytelling – are the wonderful characters. Everyone in the cast gets their moment to shine and do a star turn. Each year I feel like applauding them when they arrive – especially Robert Stephens and Patricia Quinn as the horrible villains, both relishing every second of it. And especially Patrick Troughton as the old Punch and Judy Man – kindly and frighteningly ancient all at once.

I look forward to starting it again, one episode a week, each year at the end of November. It never grows dull. And there’s something about that eerie, tinkling theme tune – from Hely-Hutchinson’s ‘Carol Symphony’ - that summons up for me the very essence of the season.

So, really – I should be starting episode one tonight. But not yet, I think. First there’s the Doctor Who Anniversary to consider – and tonight it’s all about William Hartnell. A not-too distant relative of the wizardy wanderer Cole Hawlins with his box of magic tricks…

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 11:36

One Day There Will Come a Point When Everyone Realises That I Actually Did Just Want Things to Be Nice

by Lawrence
I don't want to keep arguing. I really, really don't. I was writing a blog that gave up fighting forever. And then, "An Adventure in Space and Time"...

...and being so angry, I tweeted about it, may my bones rot. And then I realised, moments later, that this will be taken as some sort of grudge match. Moments after that, I started getting tweets asking me to justify my angst. "Ahh, it's not a documentary! Yeah, it gets some facts wrong, so what? Isn't this a great way of telling the story of the programme in the early years? Oh, you just don't like Mark Gatiss!"

It does, indeed, get facts wrong. Just like Mel Gibson movies get facts wrong. It gets facts wrong to a degree that would be actionable if those involved were still alive.

"Facts" like people's entire professional lives. Here are the two chief victims.

1. Verity Lambert was hard as nails. In a script full of stereotypes, she becomes an off-the-shelf silhouette from Mad Men, a token woman whose purpose is to oppose The Male Hierarchy without having any life of her own. Ooh, look! The Old Boys at the BBC aren't listening to her, so she has to clear her throat and shout just to find her voice...! Bullcrap. The reason Newman described her as "piss and vinegar" (a term repeated throughout this cock-pie, since Gatiss can't be bothered doing more than surface research) is that she was terrifying before she got the Who gig. We recall that when an actor died live on TV in 1958, it was Lambert who fixed it without breaking a sweat. We recall that by the time "An Adventure..." portrays her as a young woman gulping at the thought of having to face a room full of BBC humbuggers, she'd already been threatening productions into shape on both sides of the Atlantic and was openly complaining about the fact that those bastards wouldn't let her produce or direct. "An Adventure..." has her shuffle into an office like a new girl who's had a tail welded between her legs as part of an initiation ceremony. Because, gee, that's what women did in the early '60s! Right?

In short: Verity Lambert, the greatest left-wing feminist firebrand in the history of British television. Reduced by this script to a simpering girl-who-learns-self-confidence (aged 28...!) and only becomes a Proper Character when she shouts down Sydney Newman in his office after he pushes her that one step too far. I'm not suggesting Mark Gatiss is a misogynist, I'm just saying that maybe he doesn't appreciate the way female characters are... no, f*** it, I am saying that. He can't write a workable female character unless it's based on his own mum. By the time her fiction-self starts whining on about not being taken seriously, the real Verity would already have been flicking fag-ash in Sydney's face.

2. Sydney Newman was not, as "An Adventure..." suggests, a 1930s film producer exactly like Cecil B. DeMille. You probably knew that anyway, but you let it slide because it was funny. What isn't funny is the thought that although Newman could certainly hold his own against TV execs on all sides, here a dead man who can't defend himself is made to look exactly like one of the people he enjoyed fighting. He had a North American accent; ergo, he has to behave like the boss of a major TV network in an '80s movie, or possibly Scarface. But Newman was the most inventive producer of his era, and although it's true that his background in commercial telly made him wise to the needs of Those Who Pay For This, he really liked the oddness that a space-time series could bring. "An Adventure..." begins with Newman suggesting an SF programme because The Kids will go for it, whereas in truth, he honestly wanted to see what would happen. Note the way his creation of The Avengers is mentioned as a side-note, delivered as if he's the boss and his minions did all the hard work. Because obviously, this American-talking cigar-chomper couldn't possibly have done anything really creative.

Even though he did. Repeatedly. Doctor Who was incomplete when it came out of his mouth / subconscious, but he was undeniably its source. For that, he's now treated like a monumental git. He thought up Adam Adamant Lives not by wondering what would sell, but by looking out of his window at roadworks and thinking "hang on, what if...?". And we should bear in mind that Newman chiefly objected to bug-eyed-monsters not because of personal anti-Martian issues, but because the Frick-Braybon report at the BBC said they definitely didn't work on television. He loved science fiction, and openly said so.

Among the people Sydney Newman promoted in their TV careers were Harold Pinter, Dennis Potter, and Ken Loach. Again, he apparently did this despite being a mogul from three decades previously who just couldn't resist sticking that cheroot in his mouth while going "waak, waak, waak" like the Penguin.

The clincher comes in the everyone-knows-this-never-happened scene of "An Adventure..." in which Newman congratulates Lambert on her Daleks getting ten-million viewers, and retracts his previous views re: aliens. "WOO!" yells Lambert, running down the corridor. But the BBC didn't treat the ratings as their guide in the early '60s: when independent television began stealing the viewers in 1955, many at the BBC even breathed a sigh of relief, since it meant they didn't have to be populist any more. Big Dalek ratings would indeed have been welcomed by Our Verity - who doesn't like being liked? - but presenting this as a scene in which she stands before Newman the Network Chief, justifying the series in terms of viewing figures, is simply drivel. Yes, yes, we can accept him as the producer-figure long after he was actually producing. We can swallow it as part of the story. But making a good (dead) man look like a cynical arch-scheduler is just... rude.

In short: The person who first thought of Doctor Who, then summoned up the best people to make it happen, is a corporate monster who lurks behind a desk and dwells on the ratings despite having no real reason to do so. His dialogue is so awful that even non-professor Brian Cox can't make him look good. It's horrible, partly because it's made of lies, but mostly because the real Sydney was always trying to do something interesting. And this version only exists because Cigar-Chomping TV Producer Stereotype is easy to write, whereas actual Sydney Newman isn't. Nonetheless, this version is in the TV pseudo-drama, and will be repeated at every anniversary from now on as if it were true.

Mark Gatiss. You are the Mel Gibson of fandom. Please, please stop trying to write. You were very good in The League of Gentlemen, but being a talented comic actor doesn't qualify you as a writer. Your Doctor Who scripts are mediocre at best, and even then, you're relying on the designers to bail you out. Your Poirot adaptations are also terrible. Just... stop. All right? Comic acting. You're good at that. Keep it up.

There. Tomorrow, my "nice" goodbye. The one I was planning on writing.

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 17:28

The Very Important Story

by (Lawrence Burton)

'He shalt be clad,' the voice hissed yet again in portentous close up revealing blackened bone beneath receding necrotic gums, 'in women's knickers.' The final syllables washed away on echoes of pseudo-Shakespearian eternity, fading, becoming one with the great ocean of the very important story arc. Then a blue square box appeared. It was not a box at all. It was TARDIS! The mysterious traveller in time and space known only as Doctor Who comes out and looks around. He frowns on his face and looked thoughtful.

'What is the matter, Doctor Who?' asked Amy. She was his friend and she had ginger hair. Just then Rory came out of the TARDIS. He imagined for himself a woman running, a woman with curly hair who looked like Dirty Den's second wife in the Eastenders show on television. The woman ran and roared, a great cricket bat held aloft ready for the killing swing, a great cricket bat just like the kind Tristan Farnam would have been into but with six inch nails driven through the end, become a weapon of death and harm. Tristan Farnam probably would not have liked that part, Rory thought to himself.

'Er um,' he said and shrugged.

The Doctor made his eyes go narrow as though he were suspicious of some fact. 'Very strange,' he commented quietly.

'I er...,' said Rory. 'I think...'

There was a noise, the noise of bells. It was the theme music from Are You being Served? mixed in with the grinding of gears and the wrench of a handbrake as the ice cream van drew to a halt. It had scary clown faces drawn on the side like in a Tim Burton film or an old video of a pop song by the Cure. The music sounded sinister as it tinkled away.

Rory pointed at the Doctor's head upon which was worn a girl's hat. The girl's hat was green.

'I wear girl's hats now,' beamed the Doctor. 'Girl's hats are cool.'

Amy stuck her chin out and made her eyes appear large and defiant. When she spoke it sounded like a person from Scotland or maybe from Edinburgh or one of those places. She sounded feisty and defiant. No man would tame this foxy yet independent wench.

'I would like an ice cream, if it's not too much trouble.'

'An ice cream,' the Doctor said wonderingly and his voice went up and down. He looked around then and saw the ice cream van. 'Well that is handy, and unusual.'

In the ice cream van there was Davros, but this was Davros from the future, a reformed Davros who had climbed over the great obstacle of genital confusion and was now secure in his sexuality and therefore no longer angry. He no longer wanted to get the Daleks to exterminate Doctor Who. 'Yoo hoo, Doctor,' he called out in his grating electronic voice waving his single claw-like hand. 'I must say, I do like your hat.'

Rory coughed and fell over, but no-one noticed.

Amy studied the display at the side of the window, allowing her feisty Scottish eyes to linger upon the representation of a Fab lolly with all hundreds and thousands on the end. 'I'll take one of those.'

'I'll have a vanilla cone please,' the Doctor beamed grinningly as he pulled some psychic space money out of his magic pocket.

The red electronic eye set into the forehead of Davros glowed faintly. 'Can I interest you in my nuts, Doctor?'

'No thank you.' The mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor winked at Rory to show that he had fully understood the joke and that it wasn't prejudiced or nothing. The joke referred to the nuts Davros might sometimes sprinkle over the ice creams he sold, although of course it sounded a little like he might be referring to male testicles. That had been deliberate. It was a joke.

'And what would you like,' - the Doctor Who Man paused to remember correctly the name of his friend - 'Dave?'

'I'll have a raspberry ripple, please.' Rory sadly shook his head and there was a sad trombone sound. What a loser! Ha ha!

'Och! Do ye remember those?' Amy laughed defiantly. 'I used tae love me a raspberry ripple, me! Do ye remember Spangles too?'

Everyone laughed nostalgically.

Rory laughed too, but his laughter was tinged with sadness.

'No!,' Mrs. River Song shouted as she came running out of nowhere in slow motion, but it was a long no with a lot of Os - more like noooooooooooooooo like in a film with Matt Damon. She swung the cricket bat with nails that Tristan Farnam would have regarded as blasphemous. She swung the bat and went through the air but you could see all the detail like it was one of those games or something. It was awesome. Doctor Who looked around in slow motion just as the wizened claw of Davros thrust forward from the ice cream van clutching a raspberry ripple. Amy was feistily diving to save Doctor Who with her arms but she accidentally got hold of his trousers and pulled them down instead of simply pushing him out of the way of the cricket bat that Mrs. River Song was swinging at his head and as they all fell over it was revealed that the Doctor Who was clad in women's knickers.

'I wear women's knickers now. Women's knickers are cool.'

'Um,' said Rory apologetically.

'Hello Sweetie,' said the annoying woman with the cricket bat.

'You will not move,' ordered the grating metallic voice. 'Woof. Woof.'

The robot was low to the ground, almost like an iron dog but with technological bumps on its side. It was not a Dalek, because all of the Daleks had been destroyed forever in Pagga of the Daleks. It was more like a dog version. It was a Doglek.

'Dogsterminate!' chanted the growing group of Dogleks all spinning around sniffing each other's computer interface bottoms. 'Woof. Woof. Woof.'

'He shalt be clad,' the voice hissed yet again in portentous close up revealing blackened bone beneath receding necrotic gums, 'in women's knickers.' The final syllables washed away on echoes of pseudo-Shakespearian eternity, fading, becoming one with the great ocean of the very important story arc.

They all looked at the Doctor turning red-faced in his women's knickers. Everyone moved his or her head up and down just a little bit then looked at each other with their eyes narrow as though to suggest that something hitherto regarded as confusing had begun to make sense.

'They're comfortable.' The Doctor shrugged like a small child with eyes full of wonderment and magic.

It started to snow. It was cold. It was really serious like in a song by Fields of the Nephilim. It was seriousness like when no-one understands you and you have a frozen soul and that.

Davros grunted like a grunting electronic machine as he reached forward from the rectangular serving orifice set into the flank of his ice cream van. He tried to reach forward but his one arm was not up to the task. It was much too short for what he was trying to do. There on the ground was his Dalek - Time Lord English translation dictionary, laying open as it had fallen at the page for the Dalek words Dav meaning Doctor and Ros meaning Who.

'My God!' Rory stared with his accusing eyes at Mrs. Song. 'You're him! You are the Master!'

22 Nov 17:07

The Flowers "Scandal" Is Just Moralising Nonsense

by (Jae Kay)
Now there is some real debate to be had about Paul Flowers suitability for the chairmanship of the Co-op Bank. And there is some investigating to be done by the police, whether one feels it is right or wrong, into alleged criminal activity (drug dealing etc.) by Mr Flowers. But these two things are actually quite unconnected.

Paul Flowers oversaw the rather serious decline, and near collapse, of the Co-op Bank. The fact he admits he was put in charge due to a "power struggle within the co-operative movement" is something that really beggars belief (even if it is all too common). Questions must be asked.

Alas. Instead of asking these important questions the media is obsessed with a man choosing to do drugs (OH NOES!) and, heaven forbid, pay for sex with some young scally type (all a bit sad really, but then I'm not a big fan of drugs nor scallies so I'm just being judgmental). Yes. Awful stuff indeed. The dodgy political motives of his appointment and his terrible legacy at the bank pale into insignificance compared to what he puts in his body (or puts in others, depending on his preference). Well they do if you are more interested in puerile gossip stories about some silly aspects of a more serious scandal.

Worse than his role in bringing a bank to its knees, he broke the rules by watching legal adult material on a council laptop and had to resign from being a councillor and then, shock horror, became a governor of a school!
BBC has learned that Paul Flowers was appointed as a LEA school governor after resigning from council for adult images on a laptop -
— Gary O'Donoghue (@BlindGazza) November 20, 2013
Yes, a man who once looked at porn was allowed to be a school governor. Imagine. Let us ban all people who've looked at porn from having any such connection, no matter how far removed, with children!

He also once sent a smutty joke around as an email. This man needs to be locked up...


In other shocking news:

David Cameron's official Prime Ministerial Twitter feed followed an escort agency! Won't somebody think of the children?? Hopefully his Twitter feed will be blocked by the Great Firewall of Cameron.
22 Nov 12:08

UK edition of The Arrows of Time now in stock at

The UK edition of The Arrows of Time (the final volume of the ORTHOGONAL trilogy) is now in stock at
22 Nov 12:08

Who at 50: Night of the Doctor

An Adventure in Space and Time broadcasts later this evening, and I may well want to write up some Thorts on that, so I'd better make sure I note down my reactions to the anniversary prequel, Night of the Doctor, first.

There's plenty to like in it. Obviously it is GREAT to see Paul McCann's Doctor getting some proper screen time beyond the 1996 movie, and he does his stuff really well. So does Clare Higgins as Ohila. In under seven minutes, the dramatic weight of the Doctor's situation is set out very effectively, so that his decision at the end makes emotional sense. And there are some good lines: "I'm a Doctor... but probably not the one you were expecting" for the meta, "Bring me knitting" for the funnies, and especially "Fat or thin? Young or old? Man or woman?" for reinforcing the suggestion (already made in The Doctor's Wife with respect to the Corsair) that Timelords can opt to change gender.

But somehow I don't seem to have had the "OMG SQUEE!" reaction to it that has dominated fandom. Perhaps I'm expecting too much from a seven-minute short which needs to make sense to people who may never have seen the Eighth Doctor or the Sisters of Karn before, but in some ways the script felt to me a bit work-a-day and pedestrian. Cass in particular felt very generic, and the way she died in order to prompt the Doctor into finally engaging with the reality of the Time War makes her a classic Disposable Woman.

But above all I think my sense of slight disappointment reflects how invested I've become over the years in my long-running assumption that it was Eight who took on the burden of ending the Time War, dying in the process and turning into Nine. I've always liked that image precisely because all we have seen of him (on screen - I do know about his audios) is a rather starry-eyed ingénue Doctor in a frock coat. The idea of Eight the romantic idealist gradually watching the Universe turn to chaos around him, changing himself in response as it does so and finding a steely core of determination and responsibility that made him step up to the mark to bring it all to an end - but at the cost of his life - is really powerful. I get that in a way we do see a much-changed Eight doing the beginnings of that in Night of the Doctor, but it isn't the full narrative trajectory I'd always imagined for him. The truth is I am very fond of the Eighth Doctor, and I wanted him to have that story in the shadowy territory which lurks between his movie and the start of the revived TV series

As for the wider character of the Doctor, I'm also just not that keen on the whole set-up which we got at the end of the last series of him having distanced himself from the actions of the Hurt Doctor (aka the Warrior Doctor). If, as looks so likely now, he basically renounced his normal persona in order to end the Time War, and then denied that it was ever anything to do with him afterwards, that just double-trashes my favoured image of Eight fully owning the decision and taking it, and its consequences, directly on the chin. There is a lot of weight in the idea of the Doctor being faced with two really appalling options, and making a wise choice between them in a way that is consistent with his morality both before and afterwards. Contracting all of that out to a temporary personality instead really feels like a cop-out to me.

Maybe I (and many others) have got the wrong end of the stick, and the story of the Hurt Doctor won't be as I am expecting it to be at all. Maybe part of what we'll see in the anniversary special is Ten and Eleven finally re-absorbing his actions into their personal timelines, and coming to terms with them as their responsibility after all. I hope so. Moffat is certainly good at toying with us and misdirecting our expectations. All I know for now is that the signals we've been given in this prequel aren't really pointing in a direction which I feel as enthusiastic about as I would like to for the 50th Anniversary Special of my favourite TV show of all time. Here's hoping the special itself changes that.

Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.

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”
21 Nov 23:15


by (Jen)
Remember when Labour decided 5 more years of kids growing up under section 28 was worth it for a slightly easier ride from the Daily Mail?

It's not the story Labour-leaning groups are giving us on the tenth anniversary of the abolition of Section 28, but the infamous clause has at its inception and abolition two of the moments that kept me from being a member of the Labour party even at the height of Labour popularity in the mid to late 90s.

Section 28 made homosexuality a thought crime, a terrible but brilliant move that it would be nice to think was only possible off the back of HIV hysteria. A splendidly vague law that could be argued to prevent anything homophobes in positions of power wanted to stop happening, it was used to block information for schoolkids and bar newspapers appearing in libraries.  In those pre-interweb days, it helped isolate a generation of queers just as homophobic myth and hate was at a crescendo.

In the late 80s when the Conservatives unveiled Section 28, Labour's instinct was to tack with the popular mood and support its introduction.  In those early days of the bill, only the Lib Dems opposed it - at a time when the party was in such a mess it couldn't even agree on its own name. Much credit to those people inside the Labour party who managed to turn that around over time, but the kneejerk response of the reds went the wrong way. Popularity or all people equal before the law? Labour jumped one way, the SocialLiberalDemocraticExpialidocious party the other.

Come 1997, the country was in the mood for change and deep down we all knew this time the Tories were on their way out. The Lib Dem manifesto included repeal of Clause 28 among other equality commitments. Remember, back then you could be fired from your job or turned down for employment for being bi or gay. We had a discriminatory age of consent to keep gay men in their place and tell bi men that their mixed-sex relationships were more legitimate. Adoption, fostering, partnership recognition, so many things that are 'normal' now were a world away.

Labour didn't include repeal of Section 28 in their manifesto.  In the great tension of "what is right to do" versus "what will upset the Sun and the Daily Mail", they decided that keeping the tabloids on side was more important than the impact on isolated queers, including lots of LGBT and cishetero children growing up in schools that wouldn't give them the support they needed when they had questions about their sexual orientation or were being bullied because they were perceived as gay.

So when Blair got his landslide, Section 28 wasn't in the Labour manifesto. That meant repeal had to wait until the 2001-2005 parliament because the House of Lords, packed with prejudiced peers angry at their imminent removal from the House under Lords reform, unsurprisingly blocked repeal.

As Labour shadow ministers trumpet the great repeal of the Tories' Section 28 today, remember: their party actively chose to keep it in place for another parliamentary term, chose to keep it damaging schoolkids for another four or five years, for the sake of a couple of cheap headlines.

My crudest Anglo-Saxon lacks adequate words.
21 Nov 11:43

shouts out to all the hotties who really really believe statehood is very important

archive - contact - sexy exciting merchandise - cute - search - about
← previous November 19th, 2013 next



One year ago today: the back to the future font is called "back ttf" and i JUST got the joke

– Ryan

21 Nov 11:42

but i put up alley signs and everything

21 Nov 11:41

What autism really is.

by Neurodivergent K
So Suzanne Wright from Autism$peaks sent out more of the same hatemongering that was tired before her grandson was even born, about how autism is terrible because the faaaaaaaaaaaamilies and we might eat food from the fridge or something and that's the worst thing ever.

That is not what autism is.

This is autism:

one very fair skinned female presenting person with light brown hair & a pink hoodie and a pink and purple haired fair skinned person with glasses, an orange shirt, and a white shoulder riding cat

Autism is friendship, the kind you can only have when you meet someone who is like you. Allistic people don't so much understand what that is, because they expect that most people are on their wavelength. But Autistic people know how special that is, because it is rare and it is precious. Someone who understands intuitively, who speaks your language, is worth their weight in something way more valuable than gold.

And autism is community that comes together. There's this idea that we can't do that, but that idea is wrong. Never have I ever seen another community that takes care of its own so much. We have our issues, as all communities do, but we also have fierce loyalty and ferociously fight for and care for our own. We know what it is to not have that. Again, we know how beautiful that is once we find it.

Autism is adventure. Or craving it at least. Jumping into that freezing cold water because it was there. And then jumping in again and again because it was freezing but it was a delight every single time. It may not be the normal thing to do, but it was better than normal. It was exhilarating.

Jumping into that water? I felt more alive than I think most people ever do. It was just me, the air, then the water. The sensation of my stomach rising? Stopped time until the water woke me up. It was actual perfection in an experience.

black and white photo of a dark haired fair skinned person doing a leap. their back foot is up by their head and their front knee is bent at an acute angle

Autism is focus. This leap is called a double stag. My focus was right on the sole of my foot, visually speaking. Internally speaking it was only on what I was doing. There was no thought as traditionally described. There was me, music, the mat, and movement. That's it. I can do that. I cannot meditate in the usual sense, but I can become one with movement. Everything else goes away.

So it is when I am focusing on something that I love. The way I love? It is deep. Autism is deep love. People write it off as special interest or obsession, but even if it's not something I can excel at, I can excel at loving what I love, loving what I do, loving who I love. Autism is being able to be consumed by love and interest, it is giving 100% because it is an insult to the thing one loves to give any less. Autism is going big or going home.

Autism is finding myself and losing everything else while jumping, flipping, spinning. And this is the best thing ever.

dark haired fair skinned adult female presenting person and dark haired fairer skinned boy presenting person on a couch. they are smiling and the boy is pressing his forehead and shoulder into the adult

And now we are back to autism is love and community. Autism is also sharing. Autism is knowing people because of autism. My young friend, Leo of Squidalicious fame, shared with me. He shared his iPad and his stims and his love. And he and his family are just a few of the many people I care about deeply who I would not have met if there was no such thing as autism.

No one ever said that being Autistic is easy. But we do say that it's worth it. We're okay. We love and deserve to be loved.
21 Nov 11:40

When After All, It Was…

by LP

Thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen. As most of you are already aware, my reputation in the Kennedy assassination research community is that of a firebrand, a rabble-rouser, and a source of controversy; to be honest, I wasn’t even expecting to be asked here, let alone as the keynote speaker. But the truth will out, like murder, as John Milton, the Bard of Liverpool, told us, and that’s why I, alone amongst the luminaries in this field, have been chosen to stand here before you in the Lakeside Room of the Boca Raton West Holiday Inn Express.

You could have chosen any number of other researchers, all of whom have done excellent work. I see before me Alec Kowalchuk, who proved once and for all that President Kennedy’s motorcade contained a total of seven extraterrestrial corpses, instead of the four we had been taught to believe by the so-called authorities. In the back there, over by the boiled egg tray, there’s Marjorie Helmand-Böse, who did such outstanding research into bullet trajectories and how they relate to alternate climatology in post-revolutionary Cuba. And if I were to stop talking, I’m sure we could all hear the hooting and catcalls of Rupert Van Jackson, one of the most prominent Afro-American assassination researchers, who, despite his jealous attitude towards my own work, has contributed indispensable data to what we know about the Black Panther clonebot program that is now widely accepted to have been headquartered out of a post office box once owned by David Ferrie. But out of all these, out of all my peers who have worked so tirelessly to discover the facts behind that dark day in November when America’s innocence exited the back of John F. Kennedy’s brain pan at subsonic speeds, you chose me to deliver the summational speech of this, the 49st Annual The Warren Commission Is A Bunch Of Dirty Fibbers Society Convention And Ultimate Truth Indian Buffet.

And ‘truth’ is why you chose me. It’s the truth I’ve discovered, and the truth I’m trying tirelessly to spread across the country and throughout the world. (Indeed, it was just prior to coming to the TWCAABODFScon that I concluded a highly successful tour of Finland, Bolivia, Micronesia, and Botswana; in this last country, particularly, I was very well-received even after we cleared up the initial confusion about my not being Jeff Goldblum.) It’s the truth, the ultimate, cleansing truth about the death of America’s innocentest president, so long kept from us by deceivers in government, shadow government, crrypto-government, quasi-government, and private government, that I have come here to discuss.

I know the criticisms some of you have. I’ve read your rebuttals, I’ve responded to your e-mails, I’ve strained to hear your angry bellows from across the complimentary breakfast mimosa bar, I’ve narrowly avoided being hit in the face with your flicked golf pencils. I know how much so many of you have invested in counter-theories, and frankly, no one was as shocked as I was when I finally discovered the real story about JFK. Some of you believe that I slander the man; rather, by understanding the dark thoughts that led to his final drive, I seek to truly know him. Some of you say that I let the CIA, the mob, and Lyndon Baines Johnson off the hook, when in fact I go to great pains to mention their roles as enablers and co-dependents. Some of you argue that I ignore the role that Castro played in Kennedy’s demise, despite the rigorous cataloguing I have done of his innumerable crank phone calls to the White House, pretending to be a showgirl or a pizza delivery jobber and then telling JFK he was a big sissy Mary or cruelly mocking his Massachusetts accent. And there is at least one of you who maintains I unconscionably minimize the role of Black Panther clonebots in the death of our 35th president; to that I can only respond, Rupert, wait for my next book.

But the fact is, no one can argue away the truth. No one can yell loud enough to dispel forensic evidence, ballistic testing, psychiatric profiles, eyewitness accounts, illegal phone taps, and conversations I am 99% certain were not dreams.  No one can shout down the evidence that stands before you. And after I finish, I know that even the doubters among you will join me in mourning the man and celebrating the truth, because only then can we ensure that this horrible tragedy is never repeated.

And now, I present my PowerPoint monograph, My Camelot for a Hotline: John F. Kennedy, America’s Most Shocking Suicide.

21 Nov 10:41

by Andrew Rilstone
Today's Guardian essay about C.S Lewis contained all the usual distortions by all the usual suspects. If anyone but me is still interested in the Historical Lewis, the following may possibly be helpful:

Sam Leith (journalist)
Susan appears to be punished for entering adolescence and develping an interest in lipstick by exclusion from what in the Narnia mythos passes for heaven.

C.S Lewis
"Susan is interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations."
      The Last Battle


A.S Byatt
There was a terrifying moment in the Screwtape Letters where the devil is trying to tempt somebody into thinking milk is disgusting because it comes from somewhere in the cow quite close to excrement. I think that was a personal thing of Lewis's I think he didn't like milk because he didn't like females.

C.S Lewis
Then I dreamed that one day there was nothing but milk for them, and the jailer said as he put down the pipkin. "Our relations with the cow are not delicate, as you can easily see if you imagine eating any of her other secretions."

"Thank heaven! Now I know you are talking nonsense."

"What do you mean?" said the jailer, wheeling round upon him.

"You are trying to make us believe that unlike things are like. You are trying to make us think that milk is the same sort of things as sweat or dung."

"And pray, what difference is there except by custom?"

"Are you a liar, or only a fool, that you see no difference between that which nature stores up as food and that which she casts out as refuse...?"
     The Pilgrim's Regress


Phillips Pullman
He pours scorn on little girls with fat legs....among Lewis's readers will be some little girls with fat legs who find themselves utterly bewildered by this slur on something they cants help and are embarrassed and upset by already.

C.S Lewis
Then (Miss Pizzle) saw the lion, screamed and fled, and with her fled he class, who were mostly prim, dumpy little girls with fat legs.
     Prince Caspian


A.N Wilson
For 33 years he shared his life with the woman he called Minto, Jane Moore. She was the love of his life.

George Sayer
Some of those who have written about C.S Lewis regard his living with Mrs Moore and Maureen as odd, even sinister. This was not the view of those of us who visited the Kilns in the thirties...Like other pupils I thought it completely normal in those days that a woman, probably a widow, would make a home for a young bachelor. We had no difficulty in excepting her, even when we came to realise that she was not his mother.
     C.S Lewis: His Life and Times


A.N Wilson
C.S Lewis hated all poets because he was a failed poet. He hated TS Eliot. He hated Louis MacNiece. There's a very bad 'poem' by Lewis about reading The Love Song of J ALfred Prufrock and it just shows how stupid he was about modern poetry.

C.S Lewis
I am so coarse, the things the poets see
Are obstinately invisible to me.
For twenty years I've stared my level best
To see if evening - any evening - would suggest
A patient etherized upon a table;
In vain. I simply wasn't able.
     A Confession

This 1929 satire is not Lewis's last word on modernism, as Wilson very well knows: 

C.S Lewis
To read the old poetry involved learning a slightly different language; to read the new involves the unmaking of your mind, the abandonment of all the logical and narrative connections which you use in reading prose or in conversation. You must achieve a trance-like condition in which images, associations, and sounds operate without these. Thus the common ground between poetry and any other use of words is reduced almost to zero. In that way poetry is now more quintessentially poetical than ever before; 'purer' in the negative sense. It not only does (like all good poetry) what prose can't do: it deliberately refrains from doing anything that prose can do.
     An Experiment in Criticism

Modern poetry is such that the cognoscenti who explicate it can read the same piece in utterly different ways. We can no longer assume all but one of these readings, or else all, to be 'wrong'. The poem, clearly, is like a score and the readings like performances. Different renderings are admissible. The question is not which is the 'right' one but which is the best. The explicators are more like conductors of an orchestra than members of an audience.

In music we have pieces which demand more talent in the performer than in the composer. Why should there not come a period when the art of writing poetry stands lower than the art of reading it? Of course rival readings would then cease to be "right" or "wrong" and become more and less brilliant "performances".
     De Descriptione Temporum

I do not see in any of these the slightest parallel to the state of affairs disclosed by a recent symposium on Mr. Eliot's Cooking Egg. Here we find seven adults (two of them Cambridge men) whose lives have been specially devoted to the study of poetry discussing a very short poem which has been before the world for thirty-odd years; and there is not the slightest agreement among them as to what, in any sense of the word, it means. I am not in the least concerned to decide whether this state of affairs is a good thing, or a bad thing. I merely assert that it is a new thing.

if this sort of thing interests you then you could always buy my book on C.S Lewis, J.R.R Tolkien and related subjects....

21 Nov 00:02

Whoever you vote for the political class gets in

by Jonathan Calder
Nick Boles's idea of a National Liberal Party is, of course, a nonsense. As the Continuing SDP and the Pro-European Conservatives demonstrated, you cannot establish a successful political party from above. And if Boles is seeking to attract those Liberal Democrat members who think that Nick Clegg is too left wing, I hope he has not booked to large a hall.

What is behind the idea is surely an attempt to allow a few Liberal Democrat MPs - it may be significant that in his speech Boles praised both Jeremy Browne and David Laws by name - to join the Conservatives by stealth.

At the next general election they would hold their seats with the help of Conservative votes, beating the new Liberal Democrat candidate. When the National Liberal party folded a year or two later, they could quietly and regretfully join the Tories.

Stephen Tall (and sometimes this blog feels like a dialogue with him) has an article on Liberal Democrat Voice, where he tentatively reaches a tamer version of the same conclusion.

What interests me is what he goes on to say:
It’s a shame because there is an interesting speech to be made about the prospects for a National Liberal party, one which brings together the Orange Bookers, the Blairites and the Cameroons. There would be disagreements over civil liberties, but on the economy, public services, the environment and Europe they would have more in common with each other than with their current parties. Tribal loyalties, combined with our stultifying electoral system which inhibits new parties, means such an alliance is unlikely to come to pass.
To which I say is thank goodness for tribal loyalties.

Because this natural seeming confluence between large parts of the three main parties is based less on shared ideology than on a shared social background.

These days mainstream politicians are overwhelmingly likely to come from the same wealthy middle-class families, to have been to the same limited range of schools and universities, to have worked as special advisers (and perhaps in a more lucrative career  and then to have been selected to fight winnable seats.

The are all light on ideology and tend to buy in their policies from charities and think tanks. Their shared enthusiasm for "evidence-based policy" disguises a tacit, unexamined agreement about the nature of the problems we face. Where is the evidence-based policy for reducing income inequality, for instance?

I can see the idea of a party of sensible, moderate party that would unite people of good will and stay in power for ever will attract some politicos - especially exhausted Liberal Democrats. But the idea of institutionalising this social exclusivity and political timidity does not attract me.

Is the pejorative term "tribalism" - of which Liberal Democrat were accused in the 1990s when we stubbornly and unaccountably refused to join Labour when Tony Blair was so wonderful - just another way of describing what little distinctive thinking British parties still possess?
20 Nov 09:29

What David Cameron can learn from schoolgirls and soccer moms

by The Heresiarch
David Cameron comes in for a lot of criticism from libertarian and sex-positive types for his morally conservative attitude to internet porn, as shown in his determination to force IP companies to introduce opt-in smut filters. But perhaps he just doesn't have either the time or the inclination to do his own research, and is reliant on what campaigners tell him, or what he reads in the Daily Mail. If so, then he can scarcely be blamed for assuming that the entirety of "mainstream porn" is violent and misogynistic, encourages adolescent boys to hate women and abuse their girlfriends and irreperably corrupts the minds of young children who innocently go looking for pictures of kittens.

After all, it's common knowledge that in the age of the internet porn is pretty grim stuff. Even self-declared feminist pornographers proclaim as much, even while selling their own dream of a sex-positive, eco-friendly, non-exploitative alternative. Indeed, the essential violence and misogyny of the "mainstream" is as much an item of faith among "alternative" pornographers as it is for anti-porn campaigners such as Gail Dines, who has described online erotica as "a never-ending universe of ravaged anuses, distended vaginas and semen-smeared faces".

Not only does the alternative producers' business model depend upon the existence of an unspeakable mainstream (rather as the censors' does also) so does their self-identity - now buttressed by a global network of arty porn festivals and feminist award ceremonies. The existence of easy-access, free and often pirated porn is the common enemy of both professional porn producers and moralists, it must be said, so the confluence of interest in damning "mainstream porn" isn't surprising.

It's also common knowledge that only boys and men want to watch porn anyway. Even in households without children, Our Dave promises, "husbands will have to have a difficult conversation with their wives about accessing porn at home". Because all women everywhere are horrified by the very idea of sexually explicit material - and men, meanwhile, are so ashamed by it they will acquiesce in default filters that in the way of things will end up blocking a great many sites that aren't remotely pornographic anyway. So that's OK then.

Is there any actual research, as opposed to anecdote, about what "mainstream porn" really looks like? It's not difficult to do, after all - at least, not until the Cameron Cordon arrives some time next year. Here's some, conducted by three women at New Brunswick University in Canada, led by graduate student Sarah Vannier and her supervisor Professor Lucia O’Sullivan. Recently unveiled by Vannier at a science and sexuality conference in San Diego, it has a catchy title - Schoolgirls and Soccer Moms: A Content Analysis of Free "Teen" and "MILF" Online Pornography. Ironically, the content of this content analysis is not free, but if the abstract is accurate it does what it says on the tin.

Vannier's research interests include oral sex among teenagers and sexual compliance in committed relationships ("I’m pretty sure I picked one of the most interesting careers out there", she says.) She has also written a sex advice column for her student newspaper - in which she notes that "although watching porn for research sounds like a ton of fun, it does get boring after a while". Concentrating on free sites not only makes for low research costs (though was the research possible on the university's own computers, I wonder?) it's also the most useful place to start, given that they account for the vast majority of porn consumption.

And as the abstract says in somewhat self-contradictory terms, "viewing free online pornographic videos has increasingly become a common behavior among young people, although little is known about the content of these videos." Presumably the content of the videos is not little known to the many who view them. But you get the point - little is known officially and publicly (or in academic journals) about the content of the videos.

And perhaps (though perhaps not) little is known to the politicians making decisions about internet filtering about the content of these videos. It's an area where admitting ignorance is a positive asset to a politician or a pundit, where claiming to know what you're talking about might be held against you. "I've never seen the stuff myself, but I've heard it's revolting" is the safest line to take publicly. I suspect that several politicians who may find themselves having "difficult conversations" at home next year know more than they will ever say. But since coming out in opposition to the porn filter is as much as admission of guilt, that will have to remain in the realm of conjecture.

So short of informing yourself by actually visiting these sites, which no-one in their right mind would ever do, you'll have to rely on Sarah Vannier's research. And so, without further ado:

The current study analyzed the content of two popular female-age-based types of free, online pornography (teen and MILF) and examined nuances in the portrayal of gender and access to power in relation to the age of the female actor. A total of 100 videos were selected from 10 popular Web sites, and their content was coded using independent raters.

The focus of the research, then, was not only on the content of the videos but on the underlying socio-political message. Were these "popular" genres characterised principally by violence and perversion? Were the women involved portrayed as the degraded playthings of insatiable male lust? Not entirely:

Vaginal intercourse and fellatio were the most frequently depicted sexual acts. The use of sex toys, paraphilias, cuddling, and condom use were rare, as were depictions of coercion.

Control of the pace and direction of sexual activity was typically shared by the male and female actors. Moreover, there were no gender differences in initiation of sexual activity, use of persuasion, portrayals of sexual experience, or in professional status. However, female actors in MILF videos were portrayed as more agentic and were more likely to initiate sexual activity, control the pace of sexual activity, and have a higher professional status.

(My italics)

So there you have it. Older female performers were "more likely to initiate sexual activity" but even in "teen" videos the women aren't entirely or even predominantly passive. There were "no gender differences". This is of course strikingly at variance with the almost universal assumptions about the content of mainstream porn, even those articulated by alternative and feminist pornographers. So contrary are these findings to the accepted wisdom I'd be amazed if they were taken seriously or used to inform the public debate. Nevertheless, I suspect the research will come as little surprise to the majority of people who actually watch the stuff.

Truly, online porn exists in a parallel universe

© 2013 Heresy Corner, all rights reserved.
20 Nov 09:20

On Doctor Who, stories and ‘canon’

by Nick

(Or, ‘Nick’s writing complicated posts about Doctor Who again, so look away now if you’re only here for the politics)

First up, if you haven’t already, go read Teatime Brutality’s post ‘Canon and sheep shit: Why we fight‘ which explains why there’s no such thing as a Doctor Who ‘canon’. Second, if you haven’t seen The Night Of The Doctor yet, you probably should before you read further, as there will likely be spoilers.

So, The Night Of The Doctor features Paul McGann’s Doctor. In it, the Doctor mentions a list of companions from the Big Finish audio dramas. Thus, according to some people, this means those dramas are now ‘canon’.

In the same vein, during The Name Of The Doctor, the Doctor has a conversation with Madame Vastra. Because of this, The Talons Of Weng-Chiang is now a purple catfish called Brian.

Both these statements are equally nonsensical. To quote Teatime Brutality:

“you’re assuming a British mass-audience show from 1963 would work like American cult-audience show from the Nineties.”

The important thing to remember about Doctor Who is that it was created as a way to tell stories, not as a story in its own right. Go look back at the way the series was created and for you’ll see that it was, as Douglas Adams reputedly said, the only good thing ever created by a committee. The Doctor, the companions, the TARDIS – none of them were created with any complicated back stories in mind or with detailed stories of their own to tell. Instead, they were purely functional creations designed to facilitate a series that could tell stories of the past, future or sideways in time. It wasn’t intended to be about telling any bigger story, and no one envisaged the way it would develop. (The central joke of The Pitch Of Fear is that no one actually envisaged the series continuing in the way it did)

The people who were making and consuming Doctor Who in that period certainly had no concept of it having a ‘canon’ that they had to slavishly adhere to. Like most non-soap TV series of its time, each story was a separate event, with references back to previous stories only ever made to reintroduce old villains. They’d try and aim for some sort of consistency, but David Whitaker (Doctor Who’s first script editor) saw nothing wrong with completely rewriting how Ian and Barbara met the Doctor for the first novelisation of the series, and the whole thing was changed again for the film. The problem for us in comprehending this is that shows that are a collection of stories with no continuing elements are vanishingly rare on TV nowadays. Everything has serialised elements, plot arcs and character arcs and aspires to be one long story. (Hustle is probably the most recent series with the least arc-based storytelling – there are very few episodes of that making reference to others)

However, I would argue that the reason Doctor Who has survived so long – and will continue to survive long after we’re all dead – is because it resolutely resists any attempt to turn it into one story with a beginning, a middle and an end. To imagine that it should be like Star Wars, with its varying degrees of canonicity for different stories is to assume that they’re the same thing when they’re obviously not. Star Wars began as a single story by a single person, while Who began as a framework for telling lots of stories by lots of different people. Sure, you can imagine what you think is the beginning of the story, and it might be a great story, but it’s still just one story amongst many others, in the same way that Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood is just one version of the story, and not a ‘canonical’ telling of it.

There are millions of Doctor Who stories out there – some have been made for television, some are in books or on audio, some are comics, some on stage, some are words in internet archives, some are enacted by children in the playground and others only exist in their creators’ heads. Some are brilliant, some are awful, some redefine the character of the Doctor and the nature of the universe he inhabits, some take great pains to leave everything exactly as they found it and some feature characters you’ve never even heard of having adventures you (and possibly even they) don’t really understand or comprehend. But they all exist, and every one of them is just as real as all the others. Now, you may argue that some mystic process of canonicity makes some of them more real than the others, and doing that might make you happy, but I prefer to see them all as stories, all entertaining someone somewhere and for me, that’s far more important than whether it has some official stamp of approval. Just let the stories be told and the only category you’ll need is whether you like them or not.

20 Nov 09:18

No One Expects the Monty Python Reunion!

by evanier

The surviving members of Monty Python are reassembling for a stage show. I think those guys are great and I’d like to see the make all the money they can and I’d like more fans to be able to say, "I saw them live." But there’s been something a little sad for me the last eighty times I saw Cleese and Palin do the Parrot Sketch. And it’ll be sad to see them perform with someone missing.

19 Nov 18:20

Ich Bin Ein Bullshitter

by LP


“Eh? Who’s this?”

“Happy birthday!”


“No, grandpa. It’s me, Kenny. I wanted to wish you a happy birthday!”

“Leave me alone.”

“Ninety-six years young! How are they treating you at the retirement community?”

“It’s a nursing home, you cockeyed son of a bitch. Your rotten bastard father put me in a home.”

“Man. Watch the language, huh, grandpa?”

“He was a bastard. I’m serious. I had dozens of them. Your grandmother was a Copa girl.”

“Have you been hitting that bourbon again, grandpa? Because it’s a commemorative bottle. I know how much you like history. You’re not supposed to drink out of it.”

“I was drinking before you were swimming around in your bastard father’s guts, Kenny, you four-eyed stoolie. Don’t tell me what to do.”

“So you have been drinking. You know what Dr. Zwickoff says about your liver.”

“Dr. Zwickoff can blow me. Those back pills didn’t kill me. That sack of crap Oswald’s bullet didn’t kill me. A little Kentucky bourbon isn’t going to kill me.”

“You’re drunk.”

“You’re damn right I’m drunk. That’s the only reason I’m telling you this. God help you if you ever let it slip. Men have died to protect this secret. Do you know who you’re talking to?”

“Oh, man. Is this going to be the story about how you’re really John F. Kennedy?”

“Have I told you this before? I forget. You’ll forget things too, when you get to be my age. I don’t know how I told you this much and you’re still alive.”

“Because I don’t believe you, grandpa. No one believes you. Not even Aunt Mildred believes you and she believes in those cross-shaped magnets she got from the back of Parade Magazine.”

“Kids today don’t believe anything. We were the best and the brightest. You’re all just a bunch of nitwits. I’ve got proof.”

“Your ‘proof’ is that you sign your name ‘Jack’ instead of ‘Mike’ and you own a robe you claim is from Air Force One. That doesn’t convince anybody. Even the people at the home don’t believe you.”

“They’re a bunch of goddamn Republican dupes. When I think I faked my own death to secure a safe future for them and their asshole grandchildren.”

“Kennedy’s death wasn’t fake. It was on national TV.”

“So was the moon landing. You believe we really landed a guy on the moon? When we couldn’t even make pocket calculators? Grow up, you sorry fuck.”

“Grandpa. Your blood pressure.”

“I wouldn’t even have done it if that cocksucker Hoover wasn’t always breathing down my neck. What was I supposed to do, piss away my legacy?”

“What legacy? The Cuban Missile Crisis? The Vietnam War? Huge budget deficits and tax hikes?”

“How about civil rights and the goddamn Peace Corps, you miserable little turd?”

“That was mostly LBJ. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because you’re not John F. Kennedy.”

“What makes you so goddamn sure? I have the same birthday.”

“I remember you from when I was a kid, in the early ’70s. I have pictures. You don’t look anything like Kennedy.”

“You think those doctors who switched the coffins were just screwing around, boy? They were trained professionals. You think it’s been easy, living in another man’s face while I get played in the movies by a bunch of hacks and Jackie marries some fat Greek asshole? You think it’s easy having an airport named after you and not being able to get free drinks in it? And I can’t even remember the last time I saw a half-dollar in circulation.”

“You’re not even Irish. Our family name is Wolfram. We’re Protestants.”

“Sure. Assumed. I’m not going to stick my neck out and risk the mob or Castro coming after me.”

“After fifty years?”

“They have long memories.”

“I wish you did. You’ve told me that story about how the guy in the motorcade was a furloughed sex criminal like a hundred times.”

“It’s a good story.”

“It was a good story the first eight times I heard it. Look, I gotta go, grandpa. Happy birthday. I’ll, uh, I’ll call you again soon.”

“Hey, don’t do me any favors, you stuck-up little prick. I’ve got plenty of things to do.”

“What can you possibly have to do?”

“I have to put my presidential papers in order. I have some executive orders I’m going to have covertly enacted. And my memoirs aren’t just gonna write themselves.”

“Sure, grandpa.”

“And there’s a nurse who comes in on night shift who’s been asking for it ever since I went on the heart pills.”

“Well, now I don’t know what to think.”

19 Nov 18:16

"Spare Room Subsidy": how I changed my mind

by Jock

I do believe that nobody, especially perhaps people who barely afford their own "compact and bijou" residence, should subsidise "spare" rooms for others through the tax system.  I believe this whether it's property rented from private landlords, where it is already outlawed, or social landlords (who arguably ought to be better at planning their estates to take account of demographic change).

I also believe there are places, as Oxford at least was a dozen years ago when I was a councillor, in which such a policy ought to help relieve overcrowding as the main problem rather than under occupancy which appears to be a bigger issue elsewhere.

And further, all Housing Benefit ultimately benefits landlords at the expense of *everyone* else, not just those renting.  The effect of Housing Benefit is to place a floor on housing costs and everyone's costs are increased by that, whether in the size of mortgage they have to take on to buy or the rent they hand over to their landlord.

So I have been half-heartedly in favour, generally speaking, of anything, including this so called "bedroom tax", that might reduce the dependence on and upward redistribution effects of Housing Benefit.  But I've changed my mind.  It's not that I am suddenly converted to the idea of paying surplus housing costs for other people.  But that, as in the back of my mind I knew all along, that this policy was attacking the wrong people and the wrong problem.  In an era of "little boxes…all made of ticky tacky" in a nation that has seen much economic growth over the past few generations, we all deserve some extra space.  No other developed nation has seen its average house sizes fall as we have in Britain as their countries became richer.

But when I have seen some of the victims of this policy, I see people who are already shunted around by the state and its partners in social housing provision, being penalised for relatively small amounts of money that pale into insignificance compared with the overall effect of land use policy and tax policy that maintains land values for those who have got some land of value and penalises everyone else, not just those caught in the bedroom tax.  It has exposed a lack of planning and investment on the part of social housing providers.  This may or may not be primarily related to government spending policies but is also affected by the land cost conundrum - it's difficult to justify "tear downs" with the land proportion of any property so high.

Instead of the paltry few hundred million the "bedroom tax" might save, whilst penalising people with no other options, a sensible government would have done something to alleviate the multi-billion land cost burden faced by every last one of us, except those with homes to spare.  That they haven't shows that they care more about the Daily Express house-price hawks than the costs of living facing real people every day.  They are no better than the last lot, which isn't saying much.


read more

19 Nov 17:55

Updates: Temperature Conversion Table

Temperature Conversion Table

  • Since we posted this in 2010, we’ve been measuring our temperatures in Kelvin (not the Kelvin scale, but a guy named Kevin whose name we misspell around the lab).
  • Bees, they still exist. Don’t be unprepared.
  • Having trouble talking about weather with strangers? Browse our collected science and make new friends (who you only talk about the weather with).
18 Nov 16:32

Tell It To The Moron

by evanier


Christmas Day of 1963, a new TV show debuted on CBS. It was produced by Allen Funt, whose Candid Camera was then riding high in the ratings for that network. It’s not so much the practice any more but it used to be kind of understood that if you had a hit on a network, that network would buy another show from you. Mr. Funt came up with Tell It To The Camera, which reversed the principle of his other series. Instead of catching ordinary people on a hidden camera, the new show put ordinary people in front of a non-hidden camera and invited them to say anything they wanted. They could recite a poem, sing a song, tell a joke, express an opinion…anything. Crews were dispatched across America to film people on the street in different cities.

Does that sound like a great idea for a show to you? It doesn’t sound like a great idea for a show to me. And after I saw one episode, I couldn’t fathom how it sounded like a great idea for a show to anyone. It was one of the most boring things I ever saw on television and America agreed with me. CBS yanked it after thirteen weeks, by which time there were probably more people on an episode than were watching it.  I wonder if before it went on, anyone at CBS said, "You know, this is the perfect time for a series like this, so soon after the President was assassinated.  The people of America feel a crying need to express themselves and to speak out."  And like we need more proof that TV doesn’t learn from its mistakes: In 1980, producer George Schlatter used his clout from Real People to sell NBC on Speak Up, America…same premise as Tell It To The Camera, same short run.

Mr. Funt’s show was pretty obscure. As far as I can tell, there’s no mention of it over in the Internet Movie Database. If you do a Google search for "Tell It To The Camera Funt," all you’ll find are a lot of articles in newspaper libraries like the one above. Mostly, you’ll find terrible reviews.

I remember the series for an interesting reason.  When I was in high school, I had this friend named Mike. He called me one day and had me help him on a secret mission. A friend of his had tipped him off that CBS was cleaning out its library. If one went at a certain time to a certain set of dumpsters in a public alley alongside CBS Television City, one could fish lots of 16mm prints of old TV shows out of said dumpster. This we did, taking home about, I’d guess, 100-150 cans of Amos & Andy, General Electric Theater, The Jack Benny Program and many others. There were several episodes of Tell It To Groucho, the short-lived series Groucho Marx did as a follow-up to You Bet Your Life. There was also an amazing film — an hour of You Bet Your Life from when it was on radio. They hauled cameras into the studio and filmed a broadcast, apparently as a test to gauge how the show would look or should look when it was transferred to television.

Mike and I showed some of these films around our school and at local groups and then at some point, Mike sold them all to a collector. A lot of these shows are available in the home video market and I wonder how many, if any, are transfers from the prints we rescued from the garbage.

One thing we picked up — and I’m not sure why — was all thirteen episodes of Tell It To The Camera. We had to act fast to get the films because there were studio guards to shoo us away. I think we quickly sorted film cans into "take" and "leave" piles, put the Funt shows into a "leave" pile, then accidentally took one of those stacks. Later, we watched about half of one episode. It was a great print but a terrible show…but still, we couldn’t bring ourselves to throw them away.

I cannot explain why but a thought came to me: Maybe Allen Funt would want these. I don’t know why but I found the number of his production company in New York and made a phone call to his office. This was back when "long distance" phone calls were not inexpensive. I explained to the receptionist that I had some of their films they might want and she put me through to an officious gent who didn’t give me his name but I’m pretty sure was not Allen Funt. I got as far as explaining to him what I had when he interrupted, half-yelling, "How did you get those? Those are our copyrighted property!"

I explained that a friend of mine and I had fished them out of a trash dumpster. He half-yelled, "What were they doing in a trash dumpster?"

I said I didn’t know but we’d saved them from being burned or dumped in the ocean or whatever would have happened to them. I then told him, "I’d be glad to ship them back to you if you’ll pay for postage." I thought that was damned nice of me but instead, he began full-out yelling, "WHAT? YOU WANT US TO PAY RANSOM FOR OUR OWN PROPERTY?"

I said it wasn’t ransom. I was going to go to a lot of trouble to get them to him and I wouldn’t make a dime on the deal. He shouted back in all caps, "YOU WILL HAVE THOSE FILMS IN MY OFFICE IN 24 HOURS OR I WILL CALL MY FRIENDS AT THE F.B.I. AND HAVE YOU ARRESTED!!!"

Since I hadn’t given anyone there my name and since I didn’t figure he had the capacity to trace the call, I hung up on him. Later, I gave the films back to Mike and I think he finally threw them away or gave them away or something. A few years ago, I met Allen Funt’s son Bill and I told him the story. He sighed and told me their company didn’t have any copies of those shows. Well, that’s why.

15 Nov 15:31

Security Tents

by schneier

The US government sets up secure tents for the president and other officials to deal with classified material while traveling abroad.

Even when Obama travels to allied nations, aides quickly set up the security tent -- which has opaque sides and noise-making devices inside -- in a room near his hotel suite. When the president needs to read a classified document or have a sensitive conversation, he ducks into the tent to shield himself from secret video cameras and listening devices.


Following a several-hundred-page classified manual, the rooms are lined with foil and soundproofed. An interior location, preferably with no windows, is recommended.

15 Nov 14:57

The revolution will not be hand-stitched

by Charlie Stross

Every so often a news item grabs my eyeballs and reminds me that I'm supposed to be an amateur futurologist, because of course SF is all about predicting the future (just like astronomy is all about building really big telescopes, and computer science is all about building really fast computers, and, and [insert ironic metaphor here]).

Via MetaFilter, I stumble across the latest development in 3D printing (now that 3D printed handguns have gone mainstream). Mad props go to another printing startup, although that's not what they're marketing themselves as: Fabrican ...

Fabrican is a unlikely-sounding spin-off of the Department of Chemical Engineering, at Imperial College (which in case you're not familiar with it is one of the top engineering/science colleges in the UK; formerly part of the University of London)—at least, it's unlikely until you begin thinking in terms of emulsions, colloids, and the physical chemistry of nanoscale objects. It's basically fabric in a spray can. Tiny fibres suspended in liquid are ejected through a fine nozzle and, as the supernatant evaporates, they adhere to one another. If at this point you're thinking The Jetsons and spray-on clothing, have a cigar: you've fallen for the obvious marketing angle, because if you're trying to market a new product and raise brand awareness among the public, what works better than photographs of serious-faced scientists with paint guns spray-painting hot-looking models with skin-tight instant leotards? (Note: the technical term for this sort of marketing gambit is, or really ought to be, bukake couture.)

The real marketing value pitch is less ambitious, and buried further down the page. Fabrican currently amounts to spray-on felt; a loose mat of unwoven fibres that adhere to one another and naturally entangle. This is brilliant if you're an auto manufacturer, who wants to do away with the laborious hand-fitting of carpets in your cars (just have the paint shop spray the carpet on the floor panels), or a furniture manufacturer who wants to soften the image of those cheap plastic chairs you sell for lecture theatres or buses and commuter rail.

But the implications go much further, because this is just step one. What we're looking at is the first sign of the shift to 3D printing of clothing (and no, Victoria's Secret doesn't count, other than for novelty value, any more than the Honeywell 316/Nieman Marcus Kitchen Computer of 1969 was a sign of the personal computer revolution to come).

Here's the thing: we live in an age of plenty when it comes to clothing—but it relies on a dirty little secret. Clothing has gotten much, much cheaper over the past century; if you ignore the brand premium on Levi's jeans (which have risen in price in real terms, due to going from cheap workware for manual labourers to premium brand name fashion item), a pair of workman's trousers today cost less than a quarter of the equivalent price in 1900. But this fall in prices is local to us, in the developed world. Fabric is woven on mechanical looms, as it has been for a couple of centuries, and garments are still largely cut and entirely sewn by human hands—the greatest enabler of increased productivity was the sewing machine in the 1850s (and, later, the overlocker/serger and other specialised industrial sewing devices). Our cheap clothes are made in sweatshops by underpaid developing world workers, and as Bangladeshi wages rise, the factories migrate to cheaper nations.

A side-effect of separating garment manufacture from consumers (us) is that they don't fit well, either. There are legends of Chinese clothing factories whose first batch of sized-for-western-girth produce has to be rejected by the buyers because nobody on the shop floor believed that the people they were making clothes for could be so fat. Nor do we, in general, have our cheap clothes adjusted to fit. While it's worthwhile to have an expensive suit or formal gown tailored, who would bother fitting a $10 tee-shirt or a $20 pair of jeans? Yes, we have easy access to cheap clothes at prices that make them all but disposable. But we also have cheap clothes that don't fit particularly well and fall apart rapidly.

So, where does spray-on fabric come into this?

We are used to wearing clothes made out of woven (or knitted, or crocheted) fabric—lengths of spun yarn that are interlaced in two dimensions to form a flexible mesh. The individual fibres in cotton or wool or linen or silk may be quite short, but when spun they adhere to each other and this allows us to create thread or yarn many orders of magnitude longer than a fibre.

Right now Fabrican's spray-on felt relies on very short fibres in a liquid carrier that form a matted felt when the solvent dries. (I infer that the strands are probably quite weak, individually, requiring the matting to provide some additional tensile strength.) But I'd like you to imagine the same technology refined so that instead of coming out of a spray-can it comes out of an ink jet printer nozzle. And I'd like you to imagine the same print head also having a different "ink" to print with—a waxy masking substance that can dissolve in an oily dry cleaning fluid and be washed out of the finished garment. Print alternate layers of fabric and mask and the layers of fabric won't adhere to one another. Dry clean after printing and you have separate layers. Give it ink jet printer resolution and you should be able to "print" woven fabric, complete with the warp and weft in situ (separated by the mask layer). The rest of this picture is about ten billion dollars and ten years' worth of fine tuning, and then luxury fibres (synthetic spider silk, anyone?): but the basic premise is that we are between 5 and 20 years away from being able to 3D print woven fabric.

What are the implications?

If you don't think printing woven fabric is a big deal, DARPA beg to differ; DARPA is pumping serious money into robot sewing machines. But automating garment assembly from traditional fabric components turns out to be a really hard problem (as this possibly-paywalled New Scientist article on a €23M project to build a sewbot explains). Cloth is slippery, changes shape if you drop it, wrinkles, and has to be stretched and twisted and folded as it is sewn. Note that final word: sewn. If you can print fabric in situ out of fibres in a liquid form, you don't need to sew components to shape—especially if you can print more than one type and colour of fibre at a time: you can fabricate your "stitches" (inter-layer connections) as part of the process, with minimal hand-finishing to possibly add fasteners (zips or buttons).

Add in a left-field extra: the rapid spread of millimeter wave scanners for airport security. These devices caused a bit of a to-do, earning them the nick-name "perv scanner" in some circles, because of their ability to see through clothing to the skin beneath, in order to check passengers for hidden contraband. But if you put the same machine in a clothes shop, it allows the establishment to obtain extremely accurate measurements of its customers without requiring a strip-tease and manual measurement of all the relevant saggy, lumpy bits and pieces. By use of surface-penetrating wavelengths (possibly high-intensity laser light, or infrared) it may also be possible to automatically distinguish between fatty tissue, musculature, and underlying bone structure. All of which are relevant to the construction of clothing.

So here's my picture of the chain store of the future. You go in, go to the scanning booth, and do the airport-equivalent thing in a variety of positions—stretch and bend as well as hands-up. You then look at the styles on display on the shop floor, pick out what you like, and see it as it will appear on your own body on an avatar on a computer screen. You buy it, and a machine in the back of the store (or an out-of-town lights out 24x7 robotic garment factory) begins to print it. Some time later—maybe minutes, maybe hours or a day or two—the outfit you ordered comes to you. And it fits perfectly, every time. Some items are probably still off-the-shelf (socks, hosiery, maybe even those cheap tee shirts), but anything major is printed, unless you can afford to go to the really high end and pay a human being to make it for you out of natural fibres. Oh, and the printed stuff doesn't have seams in places that chafe or bind.

Now, here's the down-side.

The fabrics on offer to start with will be fugly. Maybe not as bad as the bri-nylon shirts and terylene and other crappy synthetics of yesteryear, but it's still going to be fairly obvious (at first) what you're wearing. Figuring out how to make a sprayable matrix that uses cotton or silk or wool fibres has a multi-billion dollar pay-off at the end, so I expect it to happen eventually, but at first the stuff is going to look and feel like felted nylon. The styles on offer at first will also be fugly. I've spent a few years watching my spouse make her own clothing, and it's worth noting that dress patterns are complex and don't scale linearly: going from a size 12 to a size 18 isn't just a matter of blowing every dimension up by 50%. Clothes that are some variation of a simple tube or tubes will be easier than, say, a pair of jeans (with pockets and decorative seams) let alone an underwired bra or a sports jacket. Nor are there going to be many chain stores left to buy this stuff from. The job of a high street store in this scenario is to take measurements with a scanner and handle order fulfilment. Maybe also to act as a showroom. Today they have changing rooms and act as edge-of-network distribution centres. Tomorrow? Expect tumbleweed where the likes of Macy's or Primark have their bigger stores. Let alone T[J|K] Maxx—that business model is on the way out.

But back to the product itself. The first printed garmets aren't going to eat into the high end fashion market. Rather, they're going to displace sweatshop low-end produce. No, scratch that: initially this stuff is going to be something you spray on conference seats and car body panels (and maybe horrible 70s style flock wallpaper). But sooner or later it'll get good enough for really cheap, semi-disposable clothing. And then the pressure to improve the processes and recapture some of that $100Bn imported-from-China garment market will be irresistible.

So I expect 3D printed clothing will take time to catch on. But as it catches on, a lot of developing world factory workers are going to find their jobs are as obsolete as the half million men who used to work down British coal mines, or the million who worked in iron and steel foundries, or the other countless millions who used to pick crops and plough fields by hand and by horse. People who use sewing machines for a living will find their jobs have gone the same place as people who used to work in office typing pools with carbon paper and manual typewriters. Low status jobs, mostly women, with negligible social safety nets to catch them when they fall. On the other hand, this will hopefully be as much a thing of the past as this.

When garment manufacturing returns to the countries where they're consumed, the pace at which fashion trends turn over may actually accelerate: currently, there's a limit on how fast high street fashion can change imposed by the time it takes to send pattern blocks to a factory overseas, verify that the product is of satisfactory quality, then ship the loaded TEUs to market. It'll be like going from batch processing of punched cards on a mainframe in a computer bureau to using a time-sharing terminal: expect flash fashion trends to take off like a rocket once the tech gets cheap enough and good enough to fit the budget and taste of the vital high street 14-24 year old female demographic (and once the design software gets accessible enough).

It'll take a while longer (if ever—there are strength/durability/flexibility issues here) for 3D printing to revolutionize footwear (but, oh my aching feet, I can't wait).

The hand-sewn couture market (which still exists) will be joined by the not-as-high-end machine-sewn-by-real-people somewhat-more-durable market in the middle end. But it won't be a mass employer.

Now. What am I missing?

15 Nov 12:13

Childe Labor

by LP

“Janet, I’m not trying to tell you how to raise your child.”

“Oh, really? Because that’s what it sounds like to me.”

“I’m only telling you this because I love you. Because I want to help you.”

“This is ridiculous.”

“You know I’m right. If you would just look at it objectively, you know I’m right.”

“I knew this would happen. You told me when we started dating that you didn’t have a problem with my having a daughter.”

“I don’t have a problem with it. Grace is a wonderful kid. You know I care about her. But I care about you more. And she’s a drain on you.”

“A drain? How would…how can you say such a thing?”

“She’s taking advantage of you, Janet.”

“She’s a child.”

“She’s a child as long as you treat her like one. She’s getting older every day. And she never even talks about working or getting her own apartment or even going back to school.”

“It’s summer!”

“Sure, it is now. And how many more semesters are you going to let her lounge around here, buy her all of her food, let her do whatever she wants? The other day I asked her what she wanted to do with her life, and do you know what she told me? She said she wanted to be a princess.”


“A princess, Janet. Talking like that, she’s going to be borrowing money from you when she’s 35.”

“So what are you suggesting? Since you know everything about child-rearing?”

“Well, getting a job would be a good start.”

“She’s too young.”

I had a job when I was her age.”

“You did not!”

“Yes I did!”

“Oh, doing what?”


“What does that mean? You mowed your dad’s lawn?”

“I don’t know who you think you’re going to score points off of, denigrating a whole profession.”

“She doesn’t need a job. I make plenty of money.”

“It’s not about the money. It’s about responsibility. Lots of people are working at her age.”


“Southeast Asia. Africa. In some countries she could join the Army.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Look, I’m not saying she should join the Army. It’s just an example.”

“Martin, she’s six.”

“It’s not like I’m suggesting she should work in a factory or anything.”

“Yes you are! You did just yesterday!”

“First of all, Helm isn’t a factory. It’s an assembly plant. They don’t make things there, they just put them together. Second, it’s a union shop. She’d get great benefits, vacation, the whole deal.”

“Just let this go, Martin. I’m serious. I don’t want to hear any more about building character, or taking responsibility, or how little girls grow up fast these days. Just let it go.”

“All right, Janet. She’s your daughter.”

“Well, I’m glad we agree on something.”

“I just wonder who’s going to pay for that pony she’s always talking about.”

15 Nov 10:57

AEP files plan saying only solar and wind from now on for new electricity generation

by Tobias Buckell

Wow. An interesting sign of a rapidly changing utilities market:

“On Nov. 1, AEP, one of the other five biggest coal-fired electric utilities, filed a plan to Indiana and Michigan regulators saying that the only new generating capacity it would need over the next decade would be wind and, starting in 2020, solar. The company said it ‘expects that utility-scale solar resources will become economically justifiable by 2020.’”

(Via Tennessee Valley Authority to close 8 coal-fired power plants – The Washington Post.)

AEP is still a dirty energy producer (they supply my energy, I used to buy their carbon offsets for their green program, until they shut that down, I’ve been trying to figure out how to hop over to a new provider that uses the wind power from the nearby wind farm but customer service on this front has been rather atrocious and I’ve been so busy I’ve been lax in follow through) but it’s an interesting marker to watch.

15 Nov 10:56

How a journalist faced his fears and learned to be good at maths.

How a journalist faced his fears and learned to be good at maths.