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07 Dec 01:25

The Five Wonder Woman Comics You Must Own

by (Philip Sandifer)
As promotion for my forthcoming book on They Might Be Giants' Flood (out this Thursday!), my co-author and I are guest-editing the 33 1/3 blog at this week. That's right, you get double the blogging from me this week. Our first post is here, featuring bits of our interview with the band that didn't fit into the book.

So, you've bought A Golden Thread, my critical history of Wonder Woman. And you're one of the readers who hasn't read any Wonder Woman comics - which is fine, as I wrote the book assuming a reader who hadn't. But now you want to go read some because you're interested.

Or perhaps you haven't bought it yet because you don't know enough about Wonder Woman, but you're curious why I think the topic is so interesting.

Either way, here are my picks for the five Wonder Woman collections/eras somebody interested in knowing more about the fascinating history of the character should read. Or just the five Wonder Woman collections anyone looking for a good comic should read. Really, just read them. Then go buy A Golden Thread. Even if you've bought it already; just buy another copy. They make great Christmas presents.

The Wonder Woman Chronicles (Volume 2)

Volume 1 of this series is currently out of print, but the original William Moulton Marston/Harry G. Peter stories don't really require chronological ordering anyway. What's important is that this is nearly two hundred pages of World War II era Wonder Woman by her creators themselves. This is the era of Wonder Woman in which she was a propaganda figure for her creator's imagined female supremacist bondage utopia.

What jumps out about stories in this era is twofold. First is their weird inventiveness. Marston was completely barmy, and his stories are packed with strange and wonderful ideas. Second is the fact that Marston has a radical vision of the world that is as idiosyncratic and sweeping as that of William Blake or Philip K. Dick. Wonder Woman is a part of a larger philosophical and intellectual system for him, and though the full nature of that system isn't clear from the strips alone, they sparkle with a sort of mad passion lacking in any other superhero comic I've read. These are some of the weirdest comics ever to have a major cultural impact.

Diana Prince: Wonder Woman (Volume 4)

One of my favorite parts of A Golden Thread is the two chapters devoted to the so-called I Ching era, a period in the late 60s/early 70s in which Wonder Woman lost her superpowers and adventured as an ordinary human being. This era was pilloried by Gloria Steinem, whose objections were used as a pretext for sacking the creative team and replacing it. In practice, though, the creative team was a bunch of fabulous writers and artists, headed by Denny O'Neil, whose angry leftist take on Green Arrow remains one of the iconic comics of the 1970s. For the last two issues of the era they had Samuel Delaney writing, who was doing one of the most serious-minded feminist takes on the comic ever, before or since. And upon firing them DC replaced them with Robert Kanigher, who promptly created an evil black duplicate of Wonder Woman called "Nubia." It's one of the most spectacular own-goals for feminism ever.

This is the final set of stories from that era, including Samuel Delaney's two-issue run and the appallingly bad Robert Kanigher issue where all of these plot threads are quickly abandoned. (Though not the one introducing Nubia) The entire era is worth looking at, but seeing just how good Samuel Delaney's take on Wonder Woman was and just how stupid what comes immediately after it is fascinating. This is an era of Wonder Woman that shows just how broad the concept is. It pushes the idea of Wonder Woman further than any other era really ever has.Plus it has Wonder Woman and Catwoman teaming up with Fafhrd the Barbarian in a Sword and Sorcery epic. It sells itself.

The George Pérez Era (Comixology link)

That the trade paperback collection of this is out of print speaks volumes about just how poorly DC handle both Wonder Woman and their archival material. Following the universe-wide reboot of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wonder Woman was revamped by writer-artist George Pérez when, basically, nobody else was interested and he felt like she deserved a high caliber creator. This was Pérez's first book as a writer, and he absolutely killed on it. The comic is dense, with a mythic sweep to it that redefined the character brilliantly. Pérez's take goes back to fundamentals and Greek mythology, but does so in a way that is grounded in the real world and in human experience.

This is not a surprise - the comic was edited by Karen Berger, who had overseen Alan Moore's work on Swamp Thing and Neil Gaiman's Sandman, and matched the sophisticated, mature styles that mark all the work she edits with Wonder Woman's more colorful world. There's an alternate universe wher Wonder Woman was one of the books to make the jump to Vertigo in 1993, and got an extended run as a mature readers comic worked on by the best lights of the industry. Reading this, you see how close it came. This is a comic that is far, far better than it needs to be, and is a classic as a result.

And even if the trades are out of print, you can get it issue by issue from Comixology, with the first issue costing only 99 cents. (Don't be fooled by the zero issue - it does not meaningfully come before #1, and belongs to a later era of the comic)

Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia

Out of print, but at least affordably priced. Rucka is a phenomenal writer who's become known in comics for his well-done female characters, who are not "strong female characters" in the ordinary and frustrating sense, but who are instead rounded and developed characters who are women. His Wonder Woman run is a thing of beauty, even if it was interrupted and then brought to a premature halt by another big DC Universe event and relaunch.

This graphic novel predates his run, and is a stand-alone story of Wonder Woman and Batman (another character he had an iconic run on) coming into conflict over the life of a young woman. Batman is hunting her because she murdered three people. Wonder Woman, meanwhile, is protecting her for her own complex reasons. It is in many ways the themes and vision of the Marston era brought into the present era, and written in a more grounded, mature manner. The contrasts between Wonder Woman and Batman are amazingly well done, with Wonder Woman having a moral code that is at once utterly strange and utterly sensible. Pay attention to how the themes of dominance and submission from the Marston era come back and are updated for the present day. If you buy only one thing on this list, buy this. There should not be a used copy left on Amazon at the end of the day.

Wonder Woman Volume 1: Blood

Ironically, in amongst the frequently misogynistic and almost universally awful dreck of DC's "New 52" relaunch is Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's take on Wonder Woman, which by several miles the best comic coming out of DC right now. But that's not saying much, so let's try again - there's no era in DC's history where this wouldn't be one of the best books they had coming out.

Azzarello calmly sidesteps the endless navel-gazing that Wonder Woman comics sink into, instead penning an unnerving book of mythological horror. Instead of tediously analyzing what the role of Wonder Woman should be, as virtually ever other Wonder Woman comic does these days, Azzarello just tells a rolicking story that features Wonder Woman as its main character. He has a clear ear for her, capturing much of the essence of the character without ever having to indulge in patting himself on the back for how well he writes her. Instead the book displays a steely confidence that has made every issue a solid read. And the art is phenomenal, particularly in its unnervingly haunting depictions of the Greek gods. Buy it. Catch up. And then start grabbing the new issues.
06 Dec 15:38

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Advice to ambitious young Liberal Democrats

by Jonathan Calder
Advice to ambitious young Liberal Democrats

Here is a letter typical of those I receive from ambitious young Liberal Democrats; it asks me which book the writer should read to maximise her chances of becoming a Member of Parliament. My answer is always the same. In order to be selected for a half-promising seat you need a roadworthy bicycle and a copy of Wainwright’s West Country Marginals. Once you have been adopted, however, there is only one volume that will do: A Fortunate Life: The Autobiography of Paddy Ashdown (which is by Paddy Ashdown, incidentally).

I know of no book that sets out half so clearly what is needed to win an election campaign. I don’t mean the chapter on "The Winning of Yeovil" that was made available free on the electric internet recently, excellent though it is In Its Way: no, I am thinking about the section on jungle warfare in Sarawak where Ashplant explains how to mount patrols, the best way to lay an ambush and how to treat an open wound using red ants. It was no surprise to me when, armed with this knowledge, we took control of South Somerset District Council.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10

Earlier this week...

06 Dec 15:34

Lord Bonkers' Diary: An embarrassment at the Home Office

by Jonathan Calder
An embarrassment at the Home Office

I recognise this letterhead: it belongs to the Deputy Prime Minister. I have to confess that I wrote to him the other day in somewhat intemperate terms. You see, it had recently been drawn to my attention that someone who holds the most ridiculous views had been appointed to the Home Office and I let Clegg have both barrels for allowing it to happen. How can we possibly be taken seriously as a party when we allow such things to happen? I demanded.

Clegg, I see, has replied in emollient terms, saying that he agrees with my view of the matter but Cameron is adamant that Theresa May must be Home Secretary and there is nothing he can do about it. I suppose that is coalition government for you.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10

Earlier this week...
22 Nov 14:21

Flashback to Fever: Brendan McCarthy, race, and not seeing what’s in front of your face

by Illogical Volume

One of the strange blessings of the internet is its ability to serve as an external memory system.  Thoughts that would once have been lost to time if they were even lucky enough to have made it out of your head are now preserved for an indefinite eternity in places over which you have little to no control.

For example, if I want to know how I felt about Brendan McCarthy’s Doctor Strange/Spider-Man comic Fever after the first issue came out in 2010, a quick google search will turn up this flouncing defense of the book, written in response to a review by Sean Collins:

Say it Vibrational Match style: Where you see “inert physicality”, I see a Spider-Man who’s all harsh angles and elbows being squashed, flattened out, and a Doc Strange who’s at home with the harsh geometrics McCarthy conjures up.

Where you read flat pastiche, I read Spider-Man as a jerk who gets shut the hell up by the story (his words like jutting elbows –> drooping limbs), and Doc Strange as a badass who can turn exposition into information with the right gestures (verbal, physical).

Also: the mystic spider dialogue is genuinely fucking creepy, for reals, when combined with the images, yes?

In lesser hands this would be mere set-up, but this issue had a whole lot of “?something else?” working for it — that creepy wee arachnid bastard, crawling up the Vulture’s back, fr’instance!  Like something from Seven Soldiers, only (yes!) far more unsettling.

I saw the biggest, most bulbous-assed spider of the year last night, sitting on my windowsill. I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to these wee beasties, but last night, after having read Fever? I tell you, I wanted to kiss the wee fucker!

The “hey, I’m a black guy!” dialogue was a bit cringey though, pastiche or no.

Looking at the book this week, I find myself agreeing with every point but the last one.

It’s not that I don’t find the dialogue McCarthy gave to the African-American comedy character cringe-inducing anymore – I do! – but that Brendan McCarthy’s recent Facebook comments on race make me feel ashamed the structure supporting that final sentence.

Sure, I agreed with Sean Collins’ assessment of the embarrassing nature of McCarthy’s throwback characterisation, but I did so in a tossed off, casual way, after five paragraphs of flame flecked enthusiasm. The implicit message being that everyone should just chill out about this racist after taste and enjoy the “septic salsa” of the comic itself.

In 2010, the story of McCarthy was that he was that of the hero freshly returned from the wasteland, ready to save the kingdom from itself.  His new work confirmed his status as a trinity of psych-pop ghosts, the faces of Brit comics past, present and future combined.  What interest could a couple of dodgy panels hold against all that?  Solo #12 remains McCarthy’s late period masterpiece, but even in lesser books like Fever there are moments of astonishing beauty.  The scene in the second issue where Spider-Man steps through a portal and into a crunchy insect killing field still burns bright in the light of its own toxic logic:


McCarthy’s comics tend to overpower the reader with indescribable shapes and unfathomable textures – Sarah Horrocks is dead right when she says that McCarthy draws with colour, rather than merely colouring his drawings.

When faced with the work of an artist who is giving so much, it’s easy to find yourself overlooking genuine faults, even when they’re staring you right in the face.  Don’t get me wrong, the appeal of this fiction is still strong, but no amount of comic book magic can make this go away:

That’s Brendan McCarthy there, showing an inability to see what’s in front of him that makes my efforts in 2010 look downright half-hearted.  Who reads an article about a nineteen-year-old black girl (Renisha McBride) being shot in the head while looking for help and sees nothing but another example of the tyranny of “the hipster left/PC brownshirts”?  An arsehole, obviously.  Someone so convinced that the people calling out racism are  the REAL racists that they’re blind to the details of the article in question, oblivious to the structures of racial fear and discrimination this story implies, and impervious to the reality of a world in which black people can be killed freely and with legal impunity.

With tragic predictability, McCarthy has identified this exact ailment in his accusers, seemingly convinced that his inability to draw “a southern black watermelon-munching dimwit” without being called a dick is an issue on par with the deadly consequences of the sort of far reaching racism he imagines to have been replaced by the tyranny of the left.

Call it Karns’ Malady, call it a case of the South Parks, call it whatever you want.  Like my thoughts on Spider-Man: Fever, Brendan McCarthy’s edgy uncle routine is now part of the memory of the internet.  It leaves a rancid stain on his particular part of the landscape, one that’s strong enough to clash with even McCarthy’s glorious artistic excesses, strong enough to make you go back and look at his work again with fresh eyes:

Note to self: some faults deserve more than one throwaway sentence.

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15 Nov 15:42

The Hand-Waver’s Guide to The Brain

by Neuroskeptic

Neuroscientists – need to explain (away) a tricky finding? Normal people – need to pretend to be a neuroscientist?

No problem. Through the power of vague hand-waving, anyone can do a convincing impression of someone who understands the brain.


Just wave along to this guide…


Animals: Humans. Anything true of animal brains is also true for humans, so instead of saying “the mouse amygdala” you can just wave and say “the amygdala”. Unless the animal is a Dead Fish.

Brain Disease: A disease for which no brain pathology has yet been found. Probably because the abnormality is hidden deep in a circuit.

Circuit: The collective noun for ‘brain region’. Any two or more regions can be described as a ‘circuit’. Synonyms: network, matrix, pathway and bunch (vulgar, avoid.)

Complex: The brain is infinitely complex – and that makes it a hand-waver’s goldmine. You may not be able to prove your claims, but no-one will be able to disprove them.

Connectivity: Any kind of relationship between any two or more brain regions. A given group of connected regions is a circuit.

Colourful Picture: Handy, multi-purpose proof that fMRI is good.

Dead Fish: Handy, multi-purpose proof that fMRI is bad.

Explanation: Description.

fMRI: A powerful tool for investigating connectivity, plasticity and brain diseases. For example, decreased activity in a circuit means that the circuit is dysfunctional… or if you prefer, it means it’s more efficient. Either way round, it’s surely an explanation for something. But remember, every time you talk about fMRI, for ‘balance’, you must say “Dead Fish”.

Neurotransmitter: The key to happiness. This single molecule has been called various names over the years: ‘serotonin’, ‘dopamine’, ‘oxytocin’, etc. It’s important, but sadly fragile. Its circuits often go wrong and cause a brain disease.

Neuroscientist: God. A neuroscientist’s mastery of the brain allows them to speak on any topic with authority. If a product needs endorsing, or a wacky idea promoting, “a neuroscientist” can do it – with a wave of their hand.

Plasticity: For over a century, neuroscientists have been ‘just discovering’ that the brain was more flexible than they previously thought. We now know that plasticity is so powerful that there’s no need to get bogged down in the details of neuroscience – they’ll all have changed by tomorrow anyway.

The post The Hand-Waver’s Guide to The Brain appeared first on Neuroskeptic.

14 Nov 13:55

Dunce Magnet

by (Lawrence Burton)

also available in chartreuse
13 Nov 17:12

Naming the problem

by stavvers

Content note: This post discusses transphobia, transmisogyny with particular focus on a known perpetrator.

I suppose in the past I’ve avoided, for the most part, discussing specific perpetrators of transphobia and transmisogyny. My reasoning for this has been that this shit is structural: one perpetrator does not a system make, and bringing the fucker down won’t heal anything without deep change. I prefer to discuss things more broadly, as a nod to the systemic nature of these problems.

So let’s talk about the problem named Cathy Brennan. I doubt I need to introduce her to you. The first Google hit for her name gives a precis on what she’s like. For more, it’s really worth looking at the work the trans community has done on collating the abuse she has perpetrated and the heartbreaking personal accounts of what she’s done.

Brennan is one of the most virulent of the TERfs. This is perhaps due to her class privilege: Brennan works as a lawyer for payday lenders and is fucking raking it in. Despite this, she has a hell of a lot of time on her hands. This time, she uses to harass and abuse trans women. She researches their dead names, finds pictures, and then puts them on her websites next to pictures of rapists. If she can, she contacts employers. These are trans women, simply existing as trans women, smeared and outed because Brennan doesn’t think they should exist.

Brennan uses her lesbian feminism as a veil for this behaviour. It is nothing more than that: a veil. Brennan will gladly side with homophobic organisations if they will get her what she wants–that is, making life more dangerous for trans women.

And this is not a petty intellectual difference. What Cathy Brennan does endangers the lives of women. Outing trans women can starve them out of a job, it can socially isolate them, it can put them at risk of acts of violence–the very male violence that Brennan pretends to oppose. Furthermore, her rhetoric trivialises rape and abuse: morally equating the existence of trans women with these horrors does nobody any favours except the bigots.

As feminists, we must stand against this. We must reject Brennan entirely. We need to stand against these repeated incitements to violence, and back up our trans sisters who are victims of her work.

Yet cis feminism does too little. We stay quiet in the face of this, because the perpetrator is a cis woman and the excuse of sisterhood keeps us quiet. Brennan has a small but loyal army of enablers who police any criticism, who cry division and silencing whenever anyone dares to point out that putting women in danger is hardly a feminist act. The whole thing creates a climate wherein it is hard to speak out.

My own reasoning for refraining from writing about Cathy Brennan specifically rings hollow in my ears. On reflection, that’s been rather a double standard on my part: I’ll gladly write reams about perpetrators like Julian Assange. Even I, Attacker Of Women, have perhaps gone somewhat easy on a perpetrator, because even I, Attacker Of Women, have internalised some of the cisterhood bollocks which shuts down and silences these discussions.

It has taken me this long to fully nail my colours to the mast. Fuck Cathy Brennan. I hope that every time she cooks pasta, it comes out slightly overdone or slightly underdone. I hope she steps on upturned plugs every morning. I wish stale biscuits and unripe bananas on her.

Calling out this one person will not fix a broken system, but it is vital that we do so. It is vital that we draw attention to the abuse she perpetrates, and reject her brand of feminism entirely. It is vital that we support her victims. It is vital that we question her enablers. We need to unite against hate and violence within feminism, and Cathy Brennan is one of the best places to start. As cis feminists, she is our mess, and we need to help clean it up.

It is not enough to say that Cathy Brennan isn’t a feminist, because she wears that label. We need to actively challenge her, to make it known that we see what she does and we reject it entirely.

Further reading:
#dearcisfeminism- A very enlightening hashtag, unfortunately marred by a few TERf attempts at detrailing
You Can’t Ignore the Bug (GenderTerror)
Abuse is still abuse (Sam Ambreen)
Transphobia has no place in feminism (me)
Time to pick a side (also me; both of these pieces kind of talked around the issue without naming the problem explicitly)

13 Nov 14:15

The tyranny of indistinguishability: performance.

by Neurodivergent K
A consequence of everything being about "children with autism": no one thinks about the adults. They desire desperately to make us indistinguishable from peers (using a very interesting definition) and then as soon as we meet that goal, we're allbetternow. No one spares a thought for the adults who, years ago, were declared to have made the goal, hit the holy grail of "normal enough".

Indistinguishability isn't a moment though. It is an unending job, and it gets more and more complex as you age. Demands keep increasing: academic demands, including those that require figurative language and abstract thinking, increase. Time management demands increase. As we grow up, we are expected to take on more responsibilities at home and eventually move into our own homes. We're expected to get a job, do that job, maintain our own homes, all at once.

And maintain that visage of normal. We always say autism is developmental delay, not developmental stasis-and indistinguishability cannot be static either. The Allistic Emulator software we run on our Autistic operating system needs constant attention. Have you ever run an emulator program? Like all of them, mine is slow, it is buggy, and it takes up processor power that'd be better off being devoted to another task. And it constantly needs upgrading to perform anywhere close to spec.

When I was 6, I could play a board game with only slightly more meltdown potential than the other little kids. I could make reasonable, if messy, facsimiles of the art projects we did for every season in my first grade class. In structured activities-and so much of a 6 year old's life is structured-I could kind of pass. I was on the sloppy, reactive, and odd side of the bell curve, but I was on it.

At 30? Board games have largely given way to to unstructured conversations, where turn taking is marked not by handing over the dice but by nonverbal cues. The length of turns and what a turn includes varies moment to moment. Talking too much, not enough, oddly? Gets noticed. Not catching nuance? It shows. Echolalia? Stands out. Auditory processing problems are interpreted as not caring. The skills that make you slide by in first grade are not enough in adulthood. There's nowhere to hide.

If there is anything I learned from How To Be A Real Person In 1000 Data Sheets, it's that hiding is essential. Being noticed is the end of the world. When I gave a shit about my safety & about the people who taught me this--which was everyone in my life in my youth, as that's how these things tend to work--I was constantly upgrading my emulator. Constantly relearned more in depth performances. It made me tired, anxious, cranky, and it failed frequently. The failures were distinguishable in the worst kind of way.

Failures were marked in tears. In full on meltdowns. In self loathing and self injury. Inability to do anything--eat, sleep, move--because of exhaustion and inertia. Did I mention self loathing? Severe anxiety. Self isolation (if I do it first they can't!). Intimately detailed, ritualized recitations of all the ways I failed at being a human being. Because keeping up the act of humanity is what is required to be thought of as human. How very Lovaas.

So much energy was put into being a real person that I didn't have the cognitive capacity to do as well as I could at any of a number of things. Between the day to day facade and flat denial of my visual support nerds, all my learning bandwidth was diverted into running my shitty, self defeating emulator. My shitty shitty emulator did not help me do well in school. It is so stilted that it actively impeded my ability to socialize. But the whole "normalcy as top priority" stuck, even as my mother was hitting me for my grades or the disaster that was my room.

Because it was a condition of being treated as an almost person? I thought everyone worked this hard. I didn't know it was effortless for most people. I didn't understand how they did it and everything else. I didn't know why society picked this as it's normal, as the standard. The refrain of my childhood, "just be normal!" ingrained itself that far. They had me convinced that everyone has to choose that, that everyone is putting in all that effort all the time.

I was 20 when someone finally told me that I could be a kickass autistic or a shitty fake NT. It hadn't completely occurred to me that it was an option! It had to be an option shortly thereafter, because everything went to hell at once, but "be your true self" had never even crossed my mind. It took a while to find my true self. It takes effort to make my true self stand tall and proud.

Real me has friends--something I was told that I had to keep the act going to make happen. Real me has a bit of a job. Real me is getting good grades in school instead of spending energy on figuring out all sorts of interpersonal things. Real me functions better, albeit weirdly, because real me acknowledges and acommodates support needs.

Indistinguishability is tyrannical, because once you achieve it, it is the goal of every moment-to not be distinguished. That is no way to live a life. That actually isn't a good goal at all. If the best prognosis you can possibly get is "will spend life hiding and exhausted", you need to rethink your plans for that individual. Hiding is no way to live.
13 Nov 08:49

Terror Incognito, or, the Haze of War

by LP

Let me tell you a little something about myself.

Today, I am a fat, out-of-shape, and devoutly unathletic middle-aged man. But once, in my youth, I was a fat, out-of-shape, but modestly athletic teenager; and during that time, I played football (as a nose tackle for my high school team) and baseball (as a relief pitcher in both high school and college).

My experiences of the two sports were wildly different. As a baseball player, I was moderately successful; I was a lefty with a funky delivery and a handful of ‘trick’ pitches, which made me valuable for getting key late-inning outs provided the coach had the good sense to pull me before hitters could catch on to my syrup-slow arsenal of junk. My teams were also pretty good; in high school we were contenders if never winners, and in college, I played (albeit deep from the bench) for one of the best programs in the region. I was also largely accepted by my teammates, despite being overweight and bookish; relievers in general, and lefties in particular, have always been considered freaks, and most of the other players accepted my nerdy personality in a tolerantly indulgent way, provided I didn’t fuck up too often. (Since I could throw accurately, though with little velocity, I was also called on to be the team’s designated plunker, a role I relished and which endeared me to the coach and my teammates alike.) I played for three years, and though my inability to break 70 on the radar gun along with general ineptitude as a fielder ensured I’d go no further than the varsity bench, I enjoyed most of my time as a baseball player and remember those days fondly. They’re part of the reason I grew up to be a baseball fan and a devotee of sports despite my status as a doughy geek.

As a football player, though, I was utterly miserable. The finer points of the game, which I had never enjoyed, escaped me, and my dad more or less forced me to try out for the team in a doomed effort to drill some machismo into me. The position I played was given to me not because I had any true aptitude for it, but because I was the biggest and tallest player on the team; I simply happened to fit a standard physical requirement. Our team was terrible; we had a lousy offense, no overall game plan, and a coach who was frustrated and incompetent. We won but a single game the whole time I played, and I sure as shit didn’t help; I was slow, confused, and not very aggressive, and while I never lost us a game, I was little more than dead weight on the field. The rest of the team – which comprised the alpha jocks of the school, as football attracted the best athletes even though the baseball and basketball teams had more winning ways – despised me. They hated my mental weakness, my intellectual tendencies, my awkwardness, my lack of masculinity and aggression and intensity, and I hated them right back. I was mercilessly bullied, both mentally and physically: I was stripped naked and thrown out of the locker room. I was tossed under the collapsing bleachers of the gym and trapped there for hours; I had to choke myself from crying when I called out to the dean to rescue me. I was beaten with soap bars stuffed into socks. I was called a pussy and a faggot on a daily basis. On our last game of the year, I was plowed into by the hulking Mexican kid who played center for the opposing team and injured my back quite badly; I never played again and looked on my injury as a blessing that allowed me to escape football forever. I still can’t stand football, and I look upon my experiences playing it as a big factor in my loathing for the institutionalized abuse, bogus manliness, and relentless bullying that’s endemic to sports culture.

While I grew up into a man who is almost entirely pacific, I was never a pacifist. I came from a military family, and I was expected to do my time in the service, as every male member of the family had done up until that time. I respected the military (and I still do, despite my deep hatred of war, warrior culture, and the way militarism has strangled our society), and I planned on doing a stint in the Navy. I joined the Naval Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps in high school – again, pressured to do so by my ex-Army dad, but I went along willingly, hoping to get my college tuition paid for, as we were a working-class family. My experiences, again, were twofold.

I took easily to some aspects of the ROTC program. I was adept at military history, strategy and tactics; I was mechanically clever; I learned drill and other aspects of military protocol easily; and I earned ribbons for rifle marksmanship. But I was a wash-out at most of the swimming exercises, a fatal blow for anyone hoping to do time in the Navy, and worse that, I bristled under the strict discipline required. I was a natural at drill, but my uniform was never quite squared away; I always lacked one or another vital skill that would let me make rank. Our instructor was an intelligent man who treated us with respect, but he was also a strict disciplinarian who looked the other way when his selected leaders behaved like martinets, ignoring what the cadets were good at and punishing them for minor infractions of rules I found arbitrary. Even so, I might have done well enough, but my senior year – a time when, not coincidentally, I was developing some serious ethical concerns about military service in general – we were shipped off to a mini-boot camp in San Diego. I relished the training and the chance to familiarize myself with actual naval transports and equipment, but our drill instructor was a bloviating maniac who screamed non-stop abuse at us and handed over the everyday running of the platoon to the usual bullying goons. I flunked out, faked an injury to escape one particularly egregious group punishment – for which I received a beating later that night – and came back embittered at the whole program. I became the first man in my family (though, thankfully, not the last) to eschew military service. I don’t think my dad ever quite forgave me.

Despite his wishes, neither football nor the military instilled in me much of a sense of discipline. In fact, it was quite the opposite; they taught me to distrust and fear authority, to despise officially sanctioned brutality, to hate the standard presentation of maleness in our culture, and I let those qualities make me cynical and lazy. I became quick to look for corruption inside any organization, and keenly sensitive to the fact that people in power would often excuse the bad behavior of their trusted underlings. I didn’t grow up entirely weak or unfocused; I was (to my shame) quite a brawler for much of my late 20s and early 30s, and have often struggled with certain violent tendencies despite my dislike of institutional violence. I found discipline internally, through my art and a somewhat muddled self-image. I even picked up on some elements of American macho culture that I’m not especially proud of and have struggled to overcome: an over-focus on self-reliance, a hostility to people outside of my peer group, a reluctance to ask for help, and a tendency to swallow my emotions. But I never embraced the values my old man hoped I would get out of the organizations that had made him into who he was, for better and for worse.

All this is, of course, prelude to a discussion I’ve been having with myself about the situation with Richie Incognito and the Miami Dolphins – not only his brutal hazing of a teammate, which went so far that the teammate simply walked away from the team, but the way the Dolphins organization handled it, and how that handling has been reacted to in the press and in the court of public opinion. Much of what has been said about the case has come from people who have found it appropriate to heap scorn on Jonathan Martin, the victim of Incognito’s bullying and abuse, and much of what they have said has come from a very familiar position: that Martin should have toughened up. That he should have been a man. That he should have dealt with Incognito, at best, by attacking him in kind, and at worst, by going “in-house” rather than making his case to the press. That he should have nutted up and stood up for himself. That the behavior to which he was subjected – including racist insults and threats to his family – were meant only to build team unity and bring him closer to the group. That football is like the military, and it’s only through the heat of the forge that you make strong steel. That Martin was a pussy. That Martin was a faggot.

The personal anecdotes were offered by way of entrée, because it seems like, particularly in discussions of these pervasively macho areas of American life, individual experience – usually pretty worthless as a means of analyzing a complex situation – is the only way in. How can you judge, if you’ve never played the game? – that’s the question always asked. How can you understand, if you’ve never been in the trenches? And it’s not entirely unfair, that question, though we are all too willing to accept it from others who likewise never strapped on a helmet, either in football or in war. But it highlights some deeply problematic aspects of the issues at hand, which I think inform why the conversation about Incognito and Martin in miniature, as stand-ins for the greater issues of hazing and bullying and the purpose to which they are applied, has gone so disastrously astray.

For one thing, the preference for personal anecdote, and the hostility to statistical analysis and the overall study of trends, points to a disturbing anti-intellectualism in sports. Numbers are just fine so long as they confine themselves to on-field performance, but should they tell us something about the games beyond the games – about economic inequality or racism or sexism or about the NFL’s serious problems with criminal behavior or head injuries – all of a sudden they take a back seat to individual opinion and the nebulous grand traditions of manly striving. No one is more fond of analysis than a sports booster defending his favorite player, and no one is more hostile to it than that same booster being told his sport of choice is institutionally dysfunctional. Eggheads are just fine for predicting VORP and WHIP but keep them away from our fun.

For another, even personal experience is tainted by circumstance. In reading all the defenses of the Dolphins management by men who suffered humiliation, derision and abuse at the hands of their own teammates and coaches, the stink of rationalization wafts off the screen; it is impossible not to wonder if they have simply chosen to believe their debasement had some improving quality because the alternative is to realize that it was all for nothing, just an empty exercise in sadism. How many of these men played for losing teams? How many of them were, as I was, shamed and bullied to no good end, as the numbers increased in the L column and the realization that they were being forged, not into a victorious brotherhood, but into a collection of warped failures? Even if they’d been winners, that teaches us nothing; Jim Bouton famously mocked the idea of team unity in his classic memoir Ball Four, noting that it was always the winning that came first, with team chemistry the effect rather than the cause.

And in some circumstances, personal experience is entirely beside the point. Richie Incognito, widely recognized as one of the dirtiest players in the sport before the Martin revelations, is such a universal type he needs no explication. Everyone has known a Richie Incognito, on their team, at their school, with their unit, in their workplace: he is the kind of casually sociopathic egomaniac for whom the phrase “clubhouse cancer” was invented. Far from instilling team unity, he sows divisiveness everywhere; his relentless abuse draws no one together, but leaves them hoping he’ll suffer a career-ending injury just so the torment will cease. The party line amongst the boosters is that he’s the kind of guy you’d want to share a foxhole with, when in fact he’s the kind of guy who’d get scragged by his own men. He lacks even the demented leadership qualities of a Captain Queeg, or the savage defiance of a Ty Cobb. No one will ever remember fondly having spent time with a shitbag like Richie Incognito; he will be as warmly recalled when his career is over as a prison guard or a hangman.

It is this fact that strikes at the very heart of the issue of hazing, of bullying, and of bonding. The difference between these words may be precariously thin, but it is also dangerously sharp, and crossing it always draws blood. The point of this kind of bonding has always been to draw a group with little in common together, to eradicate their individuality just to the point where they are able to function seamlessly as a whole to achieve a mutual goal. Soldiers are meant to fight and win in wars; athletes are meant to point themselves inerrantly at a championship. The ultimate goal in both cases is to make a man willing to sacrifice himself for his comrades’ sake, not to make him willing to go out of his way to humiliate them. It is a mistake to think you must break men down and dehumanize them and build them back up to men again; what is sought is taking human men and making them greater than they were before. Treating your teammates like shit doesn’t make them want to bond with you and carry you along to glory; it fills them with resentment and makes them want to see you fail. It is a recipe not for victory, but for spite.

This is the reason that every branch of the military has instituted anti-hazing policies. This is the reason that the greatest leaders have depended on respect and not fear. And it is the unwillingness to recognize this, not any inherent flaw in the structure itself but a stubborn refusal to admit that parts of it can rot over time, that has poisoned the atmosphere in both sports and the military. Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, a bright and outspoken player who’s refused to bow to the prevailing attitudes when discussing his mental health issues, talked about the culture of the NFL and how it reflects one of the most damaging facets of machismo: “A little boy falls down and the first thing we say as parents is ‘Get up, shake it off…don’t cry.’ When a little girl falls down, what do we say? ‘It’s going to be OK’. We validate their feelings. So right there from that moment, we’re teaching our men to mask their feelings, don’t show their emotions…you can’t show that you’re hurt, you can’t show any pain. That’s a problem. And that’s what we have to change.”

The effects of this widespread cultural taboo against men behaving like humans instead of like “men” – effects I have too often invited myself because I am no more immune than anyone to the air I was raised breathing – is obvious to see in football and in military culture. When we discourage athletes from seeking help, when we stack the front office and the ‘leadership’ positions with people hostile to the very idea that there might be something wrong with the institution, you not only get a dozen, a hundred Jonathan Martins; you get a century of players whose brains were scrambled inside their skulls and sought no aid because no aid was offered. When you train a soldier to not let his experiences of war take an emotional hold, when you teach him that silence equals strength, you get the agonizing situation we are in now: an overburdened armed forces in which the pleasures of unity, service and achievement are eclipsed by the horrors of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and a terrifyingly high prevalence of suicide. It is not too much speculation, I think, to reckon that many of the servicemen who took their own lives had been told that seeking help for changes in their minds and hearts they could not fathom, let alone articulate, was a sign of weakness. Of a pussy. Of a faggot.

But it is not just that the perpetrators of this toxic culture, the Richie Incognitos and their toadies and their bosses, are wrong only in a climate of modern mores and changing standards of sensitivity. They are wrong in theory and they are wrong in practice, for it is unity and not divisiveness, cooperation and not resentment, strategy and not tactics, inclusion and not cliqueishness, that wins both ballgames and wars. They would have you believe that they are men of the old school, and that the Jonathan Martins of this world are modern-day sob sisters who pass their malingering off to a sympathetic press as sensitivity of a sort that stands to destroy the grand old game by robbing it of its very masculine essence. They’re wrong, though, and they know it. They know it when they look at the teams in the winning locker rooms, and at the names in the almanacs of past champions. They are kicking downwards on their own because when they kick outwards, they get kicked back and it hurts. If a sea change comes to sports culture, they will be viewed in the same way as were coaches who believed that drinking water on a hot day caused a player to become weak and soft.

I am no Jonathan Martin. He has the goods; he started every game for years in one of the most dangerous positions in the sport. And I am not my father. I intentionally avoided military service, while he lied about his age so he could go fight in Korea before he was 16 years old. But I think I know a little about how Martin feels, and I think it’s enough to know that his is not the weak link in his team’s chain. And I know what happened to my dad, and how the values he was taught by men in the Army who were unfit to lead nearly ruined him later in life, when the physical and psychic wounds he suffered in the war built up and overwhelmed him, but he was too taken with a false notion of manly self-sufficiency to seek help until it was almost too late. Neither sports nor the military lost anything of value by losing me; but if they continue to avoid the problems that drove me away, they will lose more and more men that they desperately do need, until no one is left but the Richie Incognitos.

12 Nov 09:42

Digital-naïf watch

by Michael Leddy
I think it remarkable that so many so-called digital natives have fallen for the fake news that BIg Bird is transgendered. A few seconds with the Google is sufficient to establish that the story is a spoof. Here is the story’s source, if you’d like to see it. Among the headlines at the site: “Analysts Forecast Drop In Holiday Spending As More Families Rely On Presents From Santa Claus.”

As I wrote in a post in which I made up the term “digital naïf,” “Many so-called digital natives are in truth digital naïfs. The natives’ naïveté is considerable.” Take a look at the Twitter if you doubt me.

Related posts
Digital naïfs
Digital naïfs in the news
The F word (Find)
Digital-naïf watch

You’re reading a post from Michael Leddy’s blog Orange Crate Art. Your reader may not display this post as its writer intended.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.
12 Nov 09:40

Dread Pirates of Penzance

by evanier

The Disney folks have announced they’re going to turn William Goldman’s fine book and screenplay, The Princess Bride, into a stage production. They don’t have a creative team to announce yet and they aren’t sure if it’ll be a musical. Seems to me this is a good idea and it oughta be a musical…

My name is Inigo Montoya
It’s time for the attack
And I don’t mean to annoy ya
But I want my father back!

And there should be a song called "Inconceivable!" and one called "As You Wish" and if they can do it without sounding like a tune in Spamalot, a number called "Only Almost Dead." They can buy all the leftover Shrek costumes from Dreamworks, spray them and use them for the Andre the Giant part. Oh — and they can round up all the ticket scalpers on Broadway, deslime them a bit and have them play the Giant Eels.

Seriously, it’s a great notion and I’ll bet they cast some great old "name" actor to play the Grandfather who, while one scene is being struck and the next is being set up, narrates a hunk of the story to his Grandkid. I wanna be there when this thing opens. Heck, I wanna be there when they have the open casting call for a "Mandy Patinkin type." Bet Mandy shows up and is told he’s all wrong for it.

12 Nov 09:18

Catching a Blighty

by Charlie Stross

(Yes, I am still on a road trip. Should be home Friday; meanwhile, I find it hard to blog (and write fiction) while on the move and living out of a suitcase.)

In other news: I'm shocked but unsurprised by the idiocy of Prime Minister David Cameron in saying that, for the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war, he wanted to see a "commemoration that, like the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, says something about who we are as a people". I never had a particularly high opinion of Call me Dave, but in this instance he's clearly intent on digging himself a new pit in my esteem.

David Cameron is an Old Etonian, a child of privilege who was schooled at Eton College: he therefore has no excuse for not knowing better. Eton College made a grim contribution to the British Army officer corps during that war—a contribution paid in blood, many times over. Call Me Dave spent his teen years surrounded by the charnel memorabilia of that war, but it seems to have skidded past his cranium as effortlessly as he himself swarmed up the greasy pole to the top of politics. So some remedial schooling in the history of his own school is in order ...

Dave, if you're reading this, I'd like you to imagine the class you were a member of at age 16. This class probably had 20-25 boys in it. To put the first world war in perspective, I'd like you to line your classmates up against a notional wall. Now imagine it's 1914, and you and your classmates are 16, and we're going to emulate the first world war. I want you to take a revolver, load one chamber with a bullet, and play Russian Roulette with each boy in turn. One random trigger pull each, up close against their head. If the gun doesn't go off, fine: if it blows their skull apart, reload with one round and proceed to the next boy.

Once you've finished playing Russian roulette, you can have your PR people drag the corpses away. Then you start all over again, this time holding the gun against an arm, leg, stomach, or crotch—it doesn't really matter—as you pull the trigger. This second game of roulette is not about killing: it is about savage, crippling, maiming injuries. Shattered kneecaps and hands, castration and colostomization. Oh, by the way, this time you load the pistol with two rounds to double the probability of each boy catching a Blighty.

The screaming, weeping, leaking survivors are the ones who made it back to England's green and pleasant land alive. I wonder if they'll have anything positive to say about your iterated game of Russian roulette?

If you'd been 16 in 1914, then of your class at Eton probably 4-6 would have died (Eton boys ended up as officers: the death rate among junior officers was double that among the non-commissioned ranks). Another 6-8 would have been wounded—faces burned off, arms and legs and spines shattered, lungs scarred by gas until they coughed themselves to death in middle years—these are not pretty injuries, duelling scars or badges of honour: these are vile blows that turn strong young men into lifelong cripples (the sort of people who these days fail their ATOS work assessments and are denied disability payments two weeks before they die of their condition: but I digress).

Only a small fraction of Eton's 1914 class survived the war without physical injury. Lest you assume the death toll was confined to gung-ho officer chappies leading their men over the top, even for the non-commissioned ranks it was a brutal war: around 5% of the total male population of the UK died on the front line, and another 10% were damaged, wounded in body or mind. (As a reference point for foreign readers, the death toll among the British was considerably worse than that of the American Civil War—and among the French it was bloodier by far.)

This is the event that Call Me Dave, our inexplicably ignorant excuse for a Prime Minister, thinks is a suitable subject for a commemoration that says something positive about the British people: a teachable patriotic moment for the masses. Only a second-rate reject from the marketing industry could come up with such an abjectly peurile pile of shrapnel-severed bollocks: that, or a fool who has swallowed Michael Gove's conveniently patriotic educational myths without so much as a pinch of skepticism or introspection. The first world war started as a family scrap driven by the bloated egos of the richest, most powerful family in Europe—lest we forget, Kaiser Wilhelm II was closely related by blood to both Tsar Nicholas II and King George V of Great Britain—and ended up as a nightmarish industrialized slaughterhouse. It was a mincing machine into which the menfolk of entire towns vanished, a Pals Battalion at a time: a death factory that manufactured an average of a thousand British corpses a day for years on end.

They said at the time that the British soldiers were lions led by donkeys. And it seems that as a nation we are still led by donkeys ...

11 Nov 23:57

Weak statistical standards implicated in scientific irreproducibility: p should be 0.005 or less.

Weak statistical standards implicated in scientific irreproducibility: p should be 0.005 or less.
11 Nov 17:10

“You're very good-Are you a puppetmaster?”: The Lights of Zetar

by (Josh Marsfelder)
"This is the song that doesn't end/Yes it goes on and on my friend..."
“The Lights of Zetar” is Ron Moore's least favourite episode of Star Trek. Naturally, as part of my apparent mission to disagree with one of the greatest writers in the entire franchise on absolutely everything, I found it thoroughly fascinating. It's not especially great, and the usual season three problems submarine it, but it's one of the most enjoyable and provocative episodes, at least in theory, we've seen in awhile. Quality-wise it's at least on par with the last month of scripts.

It even opens on an enchanting note. Kirk's log entry begins

“Captain's log : stardate 5725.3. The Enterprise is en route to Memory Alpha. It is a planetoid set up by the Federation as a central library containing the total cultural history and scientific knowledge of all planetary Federation members. With us is specialist Lieutenant Mira Romaine. She is on board to supervise the transfer of newly designed equipment directly from the Enterprise to Memory Alpha.”

Kirk then goes on to explain how Scotty has fallen in love with Lieutenant Romaine in one of the most captivating and poetic bits of dialogue in the entire show:

“When a man of Scotty's years falls in love, the loneliness of his life is suddenly revealed to him. His whole heart once throbbed only to the ship's engines. He could talk only to the ship. Now he can see nothing but the woman.”

And naturally, William Shatner delivers a grand slam of a reading. Unfortunately, this is the most interesting Kirk is in the whole story, and this is a decent microcosm of “The Lights of Zetar”'s problems.

But before we get to that, let's talk about the episode's background a bit. For the first time since Harlan Ellison and “The City on the Edge of Forever” (and arguably Robert Bloch), we have a celebrity writer this week: Shari Lewis, famous for her television puppet shows from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1990s starring herself and her puppets, the iconic Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse and Hush Puppy. Although the episode is credited first to Jeremy Tarcher (her husband) the overwhelming majority of the episode, at least the basic story, is quite obviously Lewis', and it's her positionality that really clarifies what “The Lights of Zetar” is about. I must confess I did a bit of a double-take when I learned Lewis was behind this script: There are some things that simply cannot cross in my mind, no matter how open I may try to keep it. Lamb Chop and Star Trek are two of those things.

Although upon closer examination, they really do turn out to be a solid match for one another. Firstly, Lewis was an enormous fan of Star Trek, and it was a dream of hers to write for it. And furthermore, though her routine was ostensibly a variety act for children, Lewis always had higher aspirations: She performed for children sadly more often than not because children were the only ones who would watch her. The Shari Lewis Show was one of the only major network television shows of its time to star a woman who also had complete creative control and wasn't about how dizzy she was. What Lewis really wanted was to headline her own primetime variety show or sitcom, and between her stints on children's TV she bounced around in bit parts for shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Car 54, Where Are You?, desperately hoping to shed her stigmatic typecasting as a children's entertainer. And in 1969 she submitted a script for Star Trek.

In a less sexist world, Lewis might have been remembered alongside the likes of Jim Henson, having had all the opportunities and accolades he enjoyed. But I'm really not qualified to do adequate justice to the career and historical significance of a performer like Shari Lewis to the extent she deserves: I vaguely remember her 1990s show, and upon reflection it was pretty shockingly subversive for a PBS show (but then again this was the early 90s where that kind of postmodernism was in vogue, and the same broadcasting service would give us Wishbone later in the decade and blow children's television straight out of the water), but Lewis was never someone I had a lot of experience with. I will, however, link you to TV writers Mark Evanier and Ken Levine, both of whom give very heartfelt and deserved tributes to her. It is perhaps fitting then that “The Lights of Zetar” turns out to be a story bungled by network micromanagement and that Shari Lewis wasn't allowed to be as involved with the project as she would have liked.

The plot concerns a mysterious cloud the Enterprise encounters on its way to Memory Alpha, comprised of a multitude of shimmering lights. As it overtakes the ship, it has a palpable effect on the physical abilities of every member of the crew, though the effect is different from person to person: Kirk and Uhura are rendered unable to speak, Sulu becomes momentarily blind and Chekov is unable to use his hands. Meanwhile, Mira collapses, after which she begins experiencing wild mood swings and having visions of the future. The cloud eventually reaches Memory Alpha, wiping out the entire crew and burning out the library computer cores such that vast sections of the archive are rendered inaccessible. Eventually, Spock discovers the cloud is actually a colony of non-corporal life forms, and that Mira's brainwave patterns have become an identical match with the colony's resonance readings. In essence, Mira is being possessed. At the climax, as Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scott work feverishly to expunge the cloud from Mira's mind, the community speaks, revealing itself to be the remnant of Zetar, a planet whose entire civilization was destroyed by natural disaster, but whose collective will and spirit simply refused to die, and they'll happily kill Mira to live the life they feel has been robbed from them.

At first I couldn't figure out where this episode was trying to go. It starts out feeling quite mystical, and the Zetarian community is definitely the sort of weird phenomena the Enterprise crew has been running into a lot lately (which is perfectly fine by me: After all, aren't they supposed to be Seeking Out New Life And New Civilizations?), but it takes a really long time for everyone to figure out what's going on, it feels padded and the crew spend the majority of the episode fighting with the Zetarians (including blasting them with phaser beams, which also hurts Mira) instead of trying to communicate with them. Furthermore, on a number of occasions it feels uncomfortably like the show is slipping back into its Red Scare anti-groupthink propagandizing that had an annoying tendency to characterize it in the first season: Kirk condemns the Zetarians for forcing their will on Mira and not letting her be her own person.

But, once you know about Shari Lewis, “The Lights of Zetar” becomes a whole lot clearer. Sadly, its weaknesses as much as its strengths. See, the critical detail is that Lewis wanted to play Mira Romaine herself, but she wasn't allowed to. From what I understand, Arthur Singer extensively rewrote her character, which I would not put past him in the slightest, and in the finished episode she certainly comes across as a generic wistful pouty Star Trek yeoman archetype, instead of the formidable presence Lewis would most likely have infused her with (there are even numerous reference in the episode to Romaine's strength of character and resolve). But now the episode makes perfect sense: It's overtly about Shari Lewis' own life experiences and sense of creative frustration and marginalization. And yes, that means “The Lights of Zetar” is in fact about Lamb Chop.

The thing about Lewis' ventriloquist act is that she was so expressive and such a dynamic performer her puppets took on a life of their own, and I think more to Lewis than anyone else. I have a feeling Lewis may well have seen Lamb Chop in some sense as her own person, and someone who was both an extension of Lewis herself and someone who held her back. One of Lewis' most frequent routines was to have Lamb Chop complain about not having enough space, or that she wasn't being paid enough as her partner. When her show was canceled in 1963, Lewis apparently went back to her room and cried to Lamb private. In the same way Lewis was a children's entertainer because she didn't have any other audience, she was soulmates with Lamb Chop even though the relationship wasn't always healthy because she didn't have anyone else. This is what “The Lights of Zetar” is about then: It's about how characters like Lamb Chop take on a will of their own (recall that the whole reason the Zetarians are still around is that they simply could not accept the fact they were dead and didn't exist anymore), and the writing, performing being has her identity subsumed by the characters she takes on. In Shari Lewis' case, it's about exploring and blurring the line between puppet and puppeteer: The Zetarians are using Mira, in essence, as a puppet.

Furthermore, the way the crew treats Mira is interesting. She finds love in Scotty, but he's also the one who persuades her not to report her visions (which turn out to be critical to understanding the Zetarians' plan) to Kirk and McCoy, dismissing them as first-mission space jitters. Lewis is saying that even people who love us (and by *us* she is most likely talking about *women*) hurt us even if they don't mean to by unfairly dismissing us. Even Chekov and Sulu aren't convinced Scotty knows Mira “has a brain”. She irritates McCoy by not cooperating with his examination, which she later regrets (though that might be due to the Zetarians' influence, it's not clear). However, the idealism Star Trek's lovers have previously found in the show is still present too: Spock goes out of his way to compliment Mira's abilities, intelligence and her good fortune in getting assigned to curate Memory Alpha, and while Kirk is initially annoyed by her romance with Scott, he ends up being the one who believes in her the most, demonstrating unwavering confidence that she'll survive her battle with the Zetarians in the decompression chamber even as he has Spock keep cranking up the pressure beyond what should be the limits of human endurance.

But the problem, the really big problem, is that none of this is as clear as it should be and, heart-wrenchingly, I'm not sure how much I can blame on Arthur Singer's usual antics and how much is the fault of Shari Lewis' original submission. Kirk isn't written terribly consistently scene-to-scene and he's too frequently too reminiscent of his gruff, snappy portrayal from the first season. Also, everyone except Scott keeps calling Mira “the girl” instead of by her name, even characters who really ought to know better. I know Lewis probably meant that as a commentary on how underappreciated Mira is and how everyone keeps underestimating her, but there's enough utopian content elsewhere that really wasn't necessary, or at least it didn't need to be that overt and ubiquitous. But the major issue is that the idea of the Zetarians being a metaphor for a writer's characters is not obvious in the slightest. There's a minor bit of dialogue during the conference scene that seems to imply Mira is uniquely susceptible to being contacted this way because her brainwaves I guess match the brainwaves of the Zetarians, but it's really not clear. This is the part of the episode that needed to be super overt and it isn't: The Zetarians needed to be firmly established as, if not explicitly her creations, having some kind of special bond with Mira and Mira alone and that simply never happens.

What really kills me is that had Lewis submitted this to Star Trek while D.C. Fontana was still story editor, I'm almost positive she would have helped her turn it into an absolute masterpiece. But Arthur Singer, like so many other people who worked with Shari Lewis, simply didn't care and wrote her off, and “The Lights of Zetar” ends up feeling not terrible, but unfinished, and that's almost worse. Furthermore, I wish Fontana had looked at this script, its author, and the potential it hinted at and had immediately snapped up Lewis for Star Trek: The Animated Series. She would have been a much, much better fit for that show than Margaret Armen. But this is all maybes and neverwheres. Fittingly, if sadly, “The Lights of Zetar” is quintessential Shari Lewis: Overlooked, criminally underrated, and nowhere near close to living up to its own potential.
11 Nov 14:24

Highlights of "Juke Box" Number One, from March 1948

by Listener Mindwrecker

42 aToday let's look at a late product from the Funnies, Inc. comic book packaging company, founded by Lloyd Jacquet in 1939 as First Funnies Inc. One of the earliest heavy players in the budding comic book making business, and also one of the best-paying, they attracted a lot of terrific talent over the years, many of them working freelance at home, not a common practice in those days. 47 a 12 a

By the time they published the series that we'll look into today, the company was located at 500 Fifth Avenue in New York and still managed by Jacquet. There were only six issues of Juke Box produced, each one stuffed full of popular musical performers and writers, but like many post-war comics it didn't last. Once wartime paper restrictions were lifted, everyone flooded the newstands with too many comics and that generally helped to crush many comic book publishers altogether. A lot of subjects were tried out in the late 1940s, but few books held on for very long.

This first issue of Juke Box is very promising, well-drawn and written throughout, and we'll see most of it today. I plan to showcase excerpts from the other five issues in future WFMU blog posts as they are rife with interesting artists. So come along now and learn about Lindley Armstrong Jones (who he?),  the habits and interests of Duke Ellington, fight crime with Benny Goodman, pen some hits with Johnny Mercer, and much more musical excitement - all after the jump!

 The cover and the first story were drawn by the terrific Alex Toth (signed as 'Sandy' Toth), who would have also been drawing the Green Lantern over at DC in those days, I believe, along with many other art jobs.

01-Juke_Box_Comics_001_FC 02-IFC
03 04
05 06

And the next feature is drawn (no writing credits are available for this book) by another one of my Golden Age favorites - Fred Guardineer. Speaking of which, the Funnies Inc. outfit was unusual in that they encouraged artists, and even occasionally writers, to sign their work, very uncommon in the comic book world. Guardineer does some jazzy layouts on this piece.

07 08
09 10

Next up - a tidy two-pager about famous tunesmith Johnny Mercer, by an unknown artist. Mercer says, "I'm really terribly lazy! I don't do anything!!" A sentiment I completely sympathize with.

11 12

Our next selection is illustrated by Sid Green, whose work we've seen before here on BOTB.

31 32
33 34
35 36
37 38

Now here's a pretty well-known three-page sequence about Duke Ellington, drawn by Alvin HollingsworthMr. Hollingsworth had a long and interesting fine art career as well as being notable as one of the few African Americans working in the mainstream comic book business;  in the 1960s he taught illustration at the High School of Art & Design, on Second Avenue and East 57th Street in Manhattan, and from 1980 on was professor of art at Hostos Community College of the City University of New York. And best of all, as an artist who uses them - he was an expert on flourescent paint!

42 43
44 44 a

And we'll wind up this issue with this feature drawn by "R. Johnson", who looks to me like he may have been doing other 'teen' type books and/or funny animal material. A nice and uniquely goofy style of rendering. I love the baby Buddy scenes, he looks so much like an evil ventriloquists puppet! Those bits are kind of nightmarish anyway; the five-year-old prodigy and his monster parents. I feel for the guy more, now!
45 46
47 48

In closing, here's a bonus illustration found during the preparation of this article - the back cover to the original giveaway book from early 1939 that was the first project of the Funnies Inc. team: Motion Picture Fun Weekly.

  MoPixFunWkly1_backcover 33a
A tip of the hat again to the Digital Comic Museum for the lovely files of Juke Box issues, which hopefully we'll get to show you more of soon.

11 Nov 12:22

GE2015 could see UKIP winning more votes than the LDs yet not getting a single MP

by MikeSmithson

The outcome could appear an abomination

In the May 2013 local elections UKIP chalked up nearly twice as many votes as the Lib Dems yet won barely half the number of seats – a fact that attracted very little comment at the time.

Given current polling and what is happening in local by-elections Farage’s party is not going away. It is continuing to poll in double figures even though only one pollster prompts for the party and several have weighting structures that underplay their current support.

In survey after survey we are seeing the raw number of UKIP supporters being down-graded once the weightings are applied.

In local by-elections UKIP are continuing to put on good vote shares in Labour and Conservative strongholds getting a number of very good second places.

The party has done well in parliamentary by-elections over the past year securing a number of spectacular second places but has never achieved a vote share in excess of 28%.

    My reading is that the party could pile on votes in those constituencies where the outcome is not in doubt and where campaigning by the big two parties is minimal.

    In the battlegrounds where the blues and the reds are slugging it out it will be a different picture – UKIP will get squeezed

Their overall national vote total could be helped by the Lib Dem approach to the election of putting everything into retaining what they have with barely a dozen other targets. As I’ve suggested before the yellows could chalk up a lot of lost deposits. This will be a small price to pay if their highly focused targeting strategy enables them to hold on to 30+ seats.

This could leave UKIP in the remarkable position of moving from the fourth place of GE2010 to third in terms of national vote share but still without a single MP.

First past the post works against them horribly.

Mike Smithson

11 Nov 10:54

I am not That (One Thing): Celebrity, Creativity, and Shaun White

by Sarah Clark

(Author’s note: I want to particularly thank the inimitable Amy Gravino for her feedback on and reassurance about this essay. Her example as both a superfan and an advocate for Asperger’s Syndrome gave me the nerve to share this facet of my unique fandom lens, and reassured me that I wasn’t just (over)sharing for the sake of sharing. She is a talented writer, a hilarious lady, a sensitive mentor, and one of the most awesome people I have met since returning yet one more time to the Monkees fandom. I’m honored to call her a friend.)


Nez Tour ArtSo, I’m on a study break from my qualifying exam the other day, puttering around a few corners if the net I’ve neglected the past few weeks while preparing for the Take-home test of DOOM. In one conversation related to the current solo tour, someone made a passing comment about Michael “Nez” Nesmith’s decision to only sign one Monkee-related item per guest at his post-show Conversation Receptions—specifically:

Ya think maybe he’s still not at peace with the whole Monkee thing? Or at least extremely frustrated at the huge shadow it continues to cast over everything else he’s ever done. I guess I would be too.

Now that hypothesis is nothing we Monkeemaniacs and Nezheads haven’t thought or read or even said a million times. But my gut’s told me the “not at peace” line is a simplistic hypothesis that’s easy to toss off in a blog post (I’m guilty of it, in my defense we’d just had a Very Big Day), but that hides a deeper truth. So I began writing a long-winded reply. And then I started getting really passionate. And then I stopped, and asked myself why I was so certain of the inner motivations of a fairly complicated guy whom I’ve never met (Well, I’m meeting him in 13 days. Oh, shit. *takes cleansing breaths*).

Seriously, why do I keep ranting over and over about the evils of entitled fans, in all fandoms? Yeah, it all started with a momentary screaming fit in my car over a tour that came 3 months late to fulfill a lifelong dream of one of my best friends, but I started wondering if there was more than that to the story. And then “the Flying Tomato” did a “Double McTwist 1260″ in my mind’s eye, and I facepalmed. It was time to write the post I’ve been dreading ever since Gazpacho, Grief, & Gratitude went Monkees!Viral and I knew that I was not going to be able to extract my positionality and personality from the story I’ve told here of using pop culture to make sense of my life, and vice versa.

Uncropped SelfieThere’s no non-melodramatic way to say this, so I’ll just say it flat-out (with the help of a zipper-tastic selfie). I, like 1 percent of the population, live with a congenital heart defect, or CHD (three actually, though the latter two were quite handy). My plumbing issues are roughly comparable but a bit worse than fellow CHDer Shaun White’s, but thankfully nothing near so life-impacting as Becca’s (Happy 21st!) or irrationally adorable Pokemon Obsessive Liam. Like Liam, I’m Palliated but not “Cured”, though according to longitudinal studies my cardiac kludge seems to stand the test of time reasonably well, and there is an improved “fix” available to kids born with my issues these days (though really, few if any defects are ever 100% “cured”). Tl; Dr, I walk 5K races, but can’t (yet…) run them, and I take exactly one pill a day. All in all, a pretty good life. So what the hell does my backwards-plumbed circulatory system have to do with autograph policies, snowboarding, or even celebrity/fan culture in general?

Wow, his scar’s subtle. Either he’s had work done or I REALLY should brush up my Photoshop…

I’m not really a sports fan, but I do follow the Olympics—winter and summer. I honestly can’t remember where I learned about Shaun’s defect—I want to say it was some website profile before the 2010 winter games. I’d watched his antics in 2006 so was already mildly familiar with him, and was pleasantly surprised to discover somebody “like me” was a competitive athlete. A couple weeks later, Shaun was interviewed during the Olympics, and they asked him about the matter. Watching that interview very closely, I could almost feel Shaun struggling not to squirm. He said something very straightforward, along the lines of “overcoming my heart defect made me more competitive”, and then he smoothly changed the subject to his new skateboard line or whatever. I was impressed with his PR chops. He kept the interviewer on topic, and defined himself on his own terms. That wasn’t the time or place to be plugging charitable causes, so I simply filed away his deflection for my own personal future use (though I don’t ever plan to have a skateboard line).

Then came the Hobbit. I was mostly busy gazing at the glory that is Martin Freeman, but was also gnawing on this commercial for St. Jude’s that played before the show.

As this point, I’ll turn over the mike to Amanda, Liam’s mom. She says it better than I could here and here, though she has a rather different perspective on the matter than I do. I really want you to read her thoughts (and the rest of the blog, and then buy her book), but in a nushell: Amanda was kind of confused as to why Shaun devoted charitable energy to a cause better funded by several orders of magnitude than the one that has touched his own life.  (note: the link to Amanda’s book is an affiliate link, but if anyone buys I’ll split 100% of my commission into equal donations to the charities linked below)

Now, If we look at Shaun’s charitable PSA choices though Amanda’s lens as a warrior, she’s 150% right. In a perfect world, Shaun would not be playing it safe by using Saint Jude’s to contribute to the Charitable-Industrial complex—he’d be out there banging the drum for the Adult Congenital Heart Association, Mended Little Hearts, et al. But you know what? I understand Shaun’s choice. I only did the Poster Child gig once, but that was enough to learn how he would likely be infantilized and used if he didn’t construct and control his public image the way that he does. No broadly-grinning tomato-haired hipster soaring over metal music in total control over his performance, but rather soft-focus childhood photos, sad cellos interspersed with heart monitor sound effects, tears from mom, stock footage of hospital beds all building to a triumphal finale with some uplifting tune from Copeland or something. In other words, something like how those badass kids were disempowered and fetishized in that sappy-ass, manipulative St. Jude’s commercial. Gag. (And if you think I have issues about St. Jude’s marketing strategy, don’t EVER get me started on Susan G. Komen or Jerry Lewis…)

That narrative is the last thing I ever wanted attached to me as a competitive (in a nerdy way) sort of person, and the closest thing I ever achieved to sports success was when I was 13 and the softball coach regaled everyone at the end-of-season picnic with my medical history before handing me my “you tried!” participation trophy (pro tip: don’t do that). I was somewhat contented with the fact that if you squint, you can maybe just barely see the top of Shaun’s midline scar peeking above the top of his tee shirt in the St. Jude’s commercial if you know what you’re looking for. And even if he wasn’t helping “our tribe” directly, he was at least using his celebrity to help sick kids rather than flogging yellow wristbands while shooting up with performance enhancers. *ahem*

Luckily, I’m much more familiar with Shaun’s struggles than Amanda’s. At 16 I had the world’s most frightening Perils of Pregnancy talk from my cardiologist upon proudly announcing the utter miracle of landing myself a serious boyfriend. If I’d been Catholic I might have considered becoming a nun, but contented myself with sobbing on said boyfriend’s shoulder (If you ever bump into this, Eddie, thanks again). I’ve heard more optimistic assessments since, and I know of women with my anatomy who’ve had kids, but I chose against of bearing children then and there, because if shit can go wrong medically in my family, it does. In my 30s after some honest marital talks, I opted for a doctorate instead of adoption. Yes, I know some can get advanced degrees while raising children and working full time. I’m not one of them.

Long story short, I will never know what it feels like to be a mom of anyone—much less anyone critically ill. But I do know what it feels like to walk into the Doctor’s office every 6-12 months, knowing intellectually you’re as normal(ish) as ever but wondering if you were just in denial, if that bit of indigestion you had last weekend after that ill-advised Lengua taco at the new truck downtown was really a horrible pernicious arrythmia. If this is the visit where the good luck ends and you’re gonna start dying. Hasn’t happened yet, knock wood it very might well never happen, but you’d better believe that growing up with something like that is a powerful incentive to live life on your own terms and fuck what others say.

And I realized…I don’t keep ranting about this entitled fan crap for the reason I thought I did all this time. I rant about it because I decided long ago I needed to be more than my defect, more than my manufactured image.


Sweet Neffie on a Harley I’m getting this signed in 13 days…*takes more centering breaths*

And on that note of realization, back to autograph policies. Obviously I can’t speak for Nez, but for me, at least, It’s not a matter of being “at peace” or “not at peace” with something. It’s a matter of being able to stand up and say THIS is the totality of who I am, and to have my complete voice be heard. I am more than That One Thing. It’s a difficult thought process to understand unless you have a That One Thing in your life. That difficulty is why I kept That One Thing to myself over the past year and a half. But my old friends Jenny and Anissa (who died when I was 4 and 35 respectively) are gently telling me it’s time to put on my Big Girl Jimmy Choos and own this part of my story. My heart was probably irrelevant to the events of the past year and a half, but it was also suspiciously convenient not to go there. After all, something drove me to allude to Jenny in the very first post I made here–even if I was too chicken to tell you we met in our parents’ support group.

Sometimes it’s easier just to hide That One Thing. However, unless we become hermits (an ultimately self-destructive act–I know because I tried it during puberty), we all have to live in a world that may perceive what “matters” about us differently than we do. Doing that dance is tricky enough for me, and it was only about 2 1/2 years ago that I began coming out of the closet with my defect to more than my nearest and dearest. I can only imagine it’s murder when you’ve got a herd of fans and/or activists breathing down your neck to be a role model, or assuming that because your self-definition differs from their assumptions, that you haven’t “made peace” with That One Thing, whatever it’s a unique circulatory system or a stint in America’s first manufactured boy band. Maybe for the celebrity who you’re judging, That One Thing’s not that big a deal. Or maybe his attitude toward That One Thing is none of your damn business.

But all that said, Amanda has an extremely valid point. Now, Shaun doesn’t owe the CHD community anything. But having walked a mile in a version of his snowboots, I would cautiously argue that in our unique situation there are things my 1% owes ourselves, not to mention the very literal children, research animals, etc, who died that we might live. Maybe everyone owes something like this to themselves and the universe, but I can only know my perspective on this issue.  In any case, Shaun and I (and the rest of the 1 percent) owe those ghosts (and ourselves) a fully lived life of whatever length, full of joy and friendship and dreams attained and generally improving the world in the ways we can. And an aspect of my journey, right now at least, is to find openings where I can be honest about the ways in which my That One Thing does and does NOT matter. I’m a decent writer and educator, and my words might smooth the way for someone else. If I broaden someone’s horizon, or even better, help one struggling young person with a heart defect who was drawn to some of the dorkier byways of pop culture, then this post was worth it. (If that’s you, email me. No matter your health issues, I SWEAR it gets better emotionally and socially.)

As for the slowly emerging novel/series I mentioned in passing a few posts back? It’s the story of an unlikely friendship between a heart surgeon and pediatric cardiologist, and the lives their 30 year partnership saves (and doesn’t save) along the way. Think the Master and Commander series with EKG machines. I spent 36 years trying NOT to write about That One Thing. But now I will. I have to. The larger world NEEDS to understand this world, and it if my medicine will go down more effectively with the safe sugar coating of fiction and a generous dollop of dry humor, then so be it. Most importantly, I am exploring this story alongside my dissertation work because nothing else creative will come out till I do, and because I may be the only person who has both the nearness and the distance to tell this story. Most importantly, I needed to learn the lessons of The Year of Our WTF before I could explore That One Thing in a non-Mary Sue manner.

Solo choosBut this story will be told on my terms. If I do manage to write this, and sell it, and it hits big, you better BET I’ll be on talk shows in a tastefully low neckline promoting charitable organizations and urging other adults with heart defects to get follow-up care (You all need it, at least once. I don’t care what your cardiologist told you when you were a teenager about being “fixed”. Pop open a tab NOW and find a specialist. if you’re scared about it email me.)  But I can only conceive of doing that (or writing this post) because I’ve defined the rules of engagement. It’s my personal equivalent of the line between wearing sparkly Reunion Choos on the solo tour but only signing one Monkees item per person. My defect helped make me who I am, and unconsciously influences every word of fiction, analysis, or scholarship I’ve ever written. It also may explain a great deal about who I am a fan of, and how I make sense of celebrities, fans, and Fandom. That said, I am NOT my circulatory system. Never have been, never will be. So if I ever do get on National TV to plug my bestseller, I’ll happily answer a question or two to bust myths. But if Oprah or Rachael wants to spend all 10 minutes of my precious book-promoting airtime reducing me to my “miraculous” plumbing, then, well, in the words of another person far too often simplified down to his That One Thing…I’d really rather not. ;-)

(fast forward to 4:00 if it doesn’t automatically–or don’t, as it’s preceded by another favorite. :-) )

And speak of that sparkly-shod devil, next up is likely going to be my review of the Nez concert and *gulp* conversation reception. I decided against bringing my Vinyl Headquarters to go along with TLSHONZ and Tropical Campfires…but after an embarrassing amount of deliberation and waffling I’m wearing a cute new cashmere V-neck I just spotted. Kevin likes me in low-cut stuff and Nez can hopefully cope with some mild B-cup cleavage. ;-)  Besides—you only live once, right?

10 Nov 21:11

iFruits of Their Labor

by LP


Medical bills capped at $5,000 regardless of the extent of the injury

Impossible to gain weight

Commercial radio still features good music, DJs worth listening to

Ability to get away with even the worst crimes by hiding in a garage or alley for 15 minutes

Goal of retiring to huge mansion  with $25 million relatively easy to achieve

Death easily avoided by choosing correct option on cell phone

Possible to drive from one end of L.A. to the other in less than four hours

For an additional small fee, cabs able to literally travel at the speed of light

Easy to bend Juggalos to your will

California wildlife not yet completely extinct


Police in real life do not shoot all people for any minor moving violation; just black people

Planes and helicopters in real life are not basically impossible to operate

In real life, I am not obligated to jump off of a skyscraper just because some hyper-macho Type A asshole dares me to

10 Nov 21:07

15. Dracula (1958), dir. Terence Fisher

This was the first film of a double-bill which I went to see a couple of weekends ago in Manchester with ms_siobhan and planet_andy. Since I have watched it in some form or another about a gazillion times, including seeing the BFI's restored print on the big screen in 2008, and watching the newly-released version complete with once-censored footage on DVD only this May, I blithely assumed in the car on the way across the Pennines that this one would be a bit of a formality. You know, the pretty-enjoyable-but-not-that-exciting film which I would sit through while we waited for the second half of the screening: Night of the Demon, which I hadn't seen before but had always wanted to.

WRONG! Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Honestly, how had I managed to forget just how blown away I was by the restored big-screen experience of this film at Bradford only five years ago? Or how iconic just about every single scene within the darned film is; or how beautifully it is shot; or how powerful and atmospheric the music is; or how utterly amazing Christopher Lee is as at once the most dignified, intelligent, enigmatic, dangerous, darkly sexual, frighteningly otherworldly and yet still somehow strangely sympathy-inducing Count Dracula ever to grace our screens? Oh, foolish child I was that ever I could err so.

Besides, this screening was not just of the restored print which I already saw on the big screen in 2008. It included the newly-replaced censored scenes as well, so it had something to offer me which I had seen only once before in any form, and never at all on the big screen. Only a few precious seconds of footage, but as I said in relation to the DVD version in May, they do make quite a difference to the film. In fact, of course, they constitute a small but significant increase in the proportion of screen-time which Christopher Lee gets, since it was inevitably his most Draculaesque scenes which attracted the censor's attentions in the first place. Given that, if I could make one complaint about this film, it would be that Dracula doesn't get enough screen-time (even though I appreciate he would quickly lose his mystique if he did), that's quite an important factor for me.

Meanwhile, because I have seen this film so many times, I have flagrantly over-thought almost every possible aspect of its plot, characterisation and world-building, so that every time I watch it now, a familiar list of nagging questions present themselves in my mind. Last time, the one that nagged the loudest was "who the actual fuck is Tania?" (real-world answer, probably scripted at one point as Arthur and Mina's child and at another point as Gerda's, without the clash between the two ever being entirely resolved; in-story answer, either Gerda's child but treated like part of Arthur and Mina's family or perhaps someone's secret love-child whose status genuinely is as ambiguous as the script suggests). This time, it was "What is Dracula's real motive in inviting Jonathan Harker to his castle?"

In the book, Dracula's motives are pretty clear. He genuinely does want to move to London, and invites Harker (a solicitor / estate agent) to his castle to fix up the paperwork and improve his spoken English before he moves. Once the property business had been satisfactorily concluded, it was probably Dracula's intention all along that Harker should die. In fact, he plans for this in advance, forcing Harker to write a series of letters home saying first that he is about to leave, and then has left the castle. Presumably this is an elaborate ruse designed to ensure that Harker's friends will assume that he met his doom on the journey home, not in the castle itself, thus saving Dracula the trouble of dealing with inconvenient police enquiries. But even this is probably more about disposing of someone who has served their useful purpose but in the process come to know rather too much about the Count's true nature. Harker is never simply intended as a nice snack, either for the Count or for his vampire brides.

In the Hammer film version, the set-up is quite different. This Dracula has no plans to move anywhere, and so doesn't need an estate agent. Instead, Harker is a librarian. Or at least he pretends to be. Unlike in the book, it is Harker this time who is engaged in deception, as it gradually emerges that he is a friend of Van Helsing's, and has blagged his way into the castle not to work amongst Dracula's books, but to destroy him. OK, fine - that makes sense within the terms of the plot from Harker's point of view, but what about Dracula's? Does he really want a librarian? Why? How did he go about securing a 'distinguished scholar' (which is what he calls Harker) willing to take on the role? Did he advertise in all the best magazines, or what?

I can't answer all of those questions from what is in the film (though I certainly can from my imagination), but I think that there is just about enough on screen to tell us that the answer to the "Does he really want a librarian?" question at least is "Yes." I say this because after Dracula has shown Harker to his room on the first evening, Harker hears the door lock behind him. We never see who did this, but from what happens later it is fairly safe to assume that Dracula does it in order to keep Harker safe from his own (unnamed) female vampire companion. She, though, later unlocks the door, tempting Harker to venture out of his room, and giving her the opportunity to bite him - much to Dracula's fiery rage. Afterwards, Harker finds himself in the room again, and once more locked in - presumably something which Dracula did after dealing with his wayward female companion. All of this seems to suggest that Dracula genuinely wants Harker alive and indexing his volumes (for all that that sounds like a euphemism), and that his plan was to lock Harker in his room each night for his own protection. He only ends up biting him due to a combination of a) the female vampire wrecking Dracula's attempt to pretend to Harker that he is a normal human being and then b) Harker provoking Dracula's ire by staking his girlfriend.

Does any of this matter? Not really - as I say, it is basically just me radically over-thinking a film which (as the inconsistency over Tania suggests) was never really intended to stand up to this level of scrutiny. But for me, working through this sort of question is basically a way of squeezing every last possible drop of plot and character out of a film which I deeply, deeply love. What's on screen is great, but I want more, so I begin to lift up loose flaps and peer around untrimmed edges. That is, of course, more or less the definition of 'fannish' behaviour - we love a film, TV show, book or whatever so much that the thing in itself cannot satisfy our passion for the story and the world which it is showing us. And so earnest and feverish analysis begins, searching for the small clues which might give away more than what is shown to us directly, and of course building onwards from there into fan art, fiction and role-playing in which we extend the stories ourselves.

In the case of Dracula and his librarian, figuring out the Count's motivation from the on-screen clues gives me the satisfaction of new insights into his character. In almost all of the later films, Dracula is motivated by precisely two things - blood-lust and vengeance - and people are only ever lured to his castle in order to satisfy one or other of those desires. But it's important to notice that in this first film, that isn't the case. The Dracula of the first film certainly is both blood-thirsty and vengeful, as he abundantly demonstrates once he starts going after Lucy and Mina. But at the beginning of the film we get a glimpse of another side to him. Much as, in the book, Dracula wishes to move to London because he is tired of his lonely and remote castle, and wants to experience the urbane sophistication of a modern capital city, so film!Dracula must have some kind of intellectual reason for hiring a first-rate librarian. Quite what it is, we don't know. Improving his mind? Conducting some research? Getting to grips with his own personal history? But it is more than simple melodramatic monsterishness - and, set alongside his charming politeness when Harker first arrives, it is precisely this dignified and almost human side of Hammer's Dracula which sets off his moments of predatory sexuality and feral rage to such good effect, and makes the character so fascinating.

As for those other questions regarding why he wants his library sorted out, and how he went about hiring Harker, those go beyond what the film as screened can tell us, and I would have to start writing back-story type fanfiction if I really wanted to answer them. Though I have dabbled with drabble in the past, long-form fanfiction belongs on my list of things which are doubtless pleasant but which life is too short to do (though I'll often while away the time on bus journeys or while drifting off to sleep telling similar stories to myself, which provides the requisite satisfaction without the tedious trouble of having to write anything down). I have found the time since watching this film, though, to indulge over the course of a few evenings in front of the telly in another fannish activity - the making of new livejournal icons. One, taken directly from this film, makes its first appearance at the head of this post. The others will follow as I review some of the sequels which watching this film has prompted me to revisit since.

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

10 Nov 20:31

Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #352

by Caron Lindsay

Welcome to the Golden Dozen, and our 352nd weekly round-up from the Lib Dem blogosphere … Featuring the seven most popular stories beyond Lib Dem Voice according to click-throughs from the Aggregator (3-9 November, 2013), together with a hand-picked quintet, normally courtesy of LibDig, you might otherwise have missed.

Don’t forget: you can sign up to receive the Golden Dozen direct to your email inbox — just click here — ensuring you never miss out on the best of Lib Dem blogging.

As ever, let’s start with the most popular post, and work our way down:

1. Censored @libdemvoice comment by Andrew Hickey on Sci-ence! Justice Leak!.
Just as a point of clarification, Andrew has not been banned from the site.

2. By-election Night 13  by Dan Falchikov on Living on Words Alone.
Dan’s weekly preview of local government by-elections around the country.

3. Labour liked my amendment so much they decided to vote against it by Jonathan Wallace on Jonathan Wallace
If it’s not proposed by them, it’s not happening. A tale of control and power in Gateshead.

4. Will there be a by-election in Sutton Coldfield? by Jonathan Calder on Liberal England
Could Andrew Mitchell be Brussels bound?

5. Labour can win in 2015, a disaster beckons in 2020 by Matthew Green on A Thinking Liberal.
A Labour government will make things worse and then what?

6. Party of protest or party of government – it’s the wrong question by Mark Pack on Mark Pack’s blog.
If we don’t protest about anything, try to make it more liberal, we’re a party of the status quo, says Mark.

7. And so, to Caddington by Alan D Winter on My Life.
Alan announces his candidacy for the Caddington ward in Bedfordshire.

And now to the five blog-posts that come highly recommended, regardless of the number of Aggregator click-throughs they attracted. These are normally chosen using the LibDig bookmarking website for party members, the site where you can highlight blog-posts you want to share with your fellow Lib Dems. Remember, though, you’re still more than welcome to nominate for the Golden Dozen a Lib Dem blog article published in the past seven days – your own, or someone else’s – using the steam-powered method of e-mail … all you have to do is drop a line to

8. Come of it, Met Police, you are having a laugh by Paul Walter on Liberal Burblings.
Paul isn’t buying the Met’s reason for stopping David Miranda. (Submitted by Paul via email)

9. Why the Lib Dem campaign for body confidence is important  by Jennie Rigg on Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.
We need to be more positive about others’ appearance because there are enough negative influences. (Submitted by Andrew via Twitter.)

10. Body confidence: or Debi finally gets angry enough to blog  by Debi Linton on Thagomizer.
Debi tackles those who criticised the size 16 mannequins launched by Jo Swinson this week. (Submitted by Andrew via Twitter.)

11. Hello Lib Dem HQ, Northern Ireland is over here by Michael Carchrie Campbell on Lib Dems in Northern Ireland.
Oops. Look west, Lib Dem graphics designers, look left (Submitted by Stephen via LibDig.)

12. Liberator says something nice about Nick Clegg – honest  by Mark Smulian  on Liberator’s Blog.
How come the Universe hasn’t imploded? Seriously, Liberator like his EU speech.

And that’s it for another week. Happy blogging ‘n’ reading ‘n’ nominating.

Featured? Add this to your blog post!
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
<a href=""><img src="" width="200" height="57" alt="Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice" title="Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice" /></a>

* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

08 Nov 00:43

Good Morning World (Wide Web)!

by LP

If you are like me, you have a normal morning pre-work routine that consists of checking various websites and social media, which prepares you for the day of labor by making you incredibly depressed, angry and/or resentful before you even arrive on the job.  So why not monetize it?   I present the following “A.M. Internet” Bingo Game; fill it out completely and send it in to me for valuable prizes!*

*:  Prizes consist of valuable items I will give you in a dream. Dream not guaranteed.


08 Nov 00:42

In which my daughter plays Dungeons and Dragons, sort of (transcribed from FB)

Our daughter Sabrina, aka 'Bean', is five and a half. She loves imaginative play, especially where superheroes are concerned; having inherited my Lego, she's accumulating a small collection of DC-based stuff. Both Catwoman and Harley Quinn have changed sides and are now good guys, by the way. This is partly because Sabrina doesn't think there are enough good girls' roles in superhero stories - well done, kid - but also because she 'doesn't be baddies'.

This prompts something of a Dad strop last night. 'Why does Daddy always have to play all the bad guys?' I fume. (I am already in a Dark Souls induced frump, the sort where you hate the game forever until five minutes have passed, you have a new idea and you plunge back in.) 'It's like I'm always the DM and I never get to be a player!'

'What's a DM?' asks Sabrina.

'Well,' say I, alert to the possibility that The Time Is Nigh, 'there's a game we all used to play called Dungeons and Dragons...'

Three lines into my explanation, she yells 'I WANNA PLAY IT!'

Oh God, what have I done.

I ask her mother if this is a good idea. Her mother gives me one of those you-dug-yourself-into-this-hole-dearest-have-fun-getting-out looks. Right. Let's do this. I am confident I can improvise some basic, pared-down version of D&D that doesn't baffle or upset my daughter, but still communicates the crucial difference between tabletop RPG and other kinds of play.

To my mind, the difference is that there are Rules. It's not just freeform improvisation, unlike the stories Sabrina and I make up together (what happens when Wheatley from Portal II takes over Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, does Captain Jack Sparrow know Ariel the mermaid, what sort of house would we live in if we had a gazillion pounds and why do Daddy's houses always have disco floors). In D&D, you can choose to TRY to do something, but whether you succeed or fail isn't wholly up to you. It's the living flesh of imagination wrapped around the rigid skeletal structure of system, and that, my friends, is how the magic is made.

We can't find the polyhedral dice. We can't even find a six-sided die. No matter. We shall use the toss of a coin as our conflict resolution mechanic.

'The first challenge is to choose your character class,' I explain, lying on the sofa like some recumbent dictator. 'Fighter, magic-user, cleric or thief?'

'I want to be a witch,' says Sabrina, in a move that literally nobody could have seen coming.

'Right. Okay. As a witch, you can cast four spells,' I improvise wildly. 'Magic missile, light, spider climb and web.'

Sabrina jumps up and down with glee.

'And you have a dagger for fighting with. And some money. And a cloak.'

'Can I have a helicopter?'

'No you can't.'

Adventure begins, as so many do, in a tavern in a village. Sabrina sees a sign that reads 'ADVENTURERS WANTED' and goes in.

Me: 'The bartender glowers at you. "What'll you have to drink?"'

Bean: 'Lemonade.'

The bartender explains that a terrible troll, twice the height of a man, has moved into the nearby abandoned tower and is stealing all the village's grain and milk and lemonade every night. Would Bean please go and deal with it?

Bean: 'Sure!'

So off she goes into the woods.

Bean: 'Can it be dark?'

Me: 'er... I suppose so, why?'

Bean: 'I want to cast the light spell.'


Bean comes to a fork in the road. One path is wide, has flowers on it, and looks easy to walk down. The other is narrow and full of thorns. Which path do you choose? Muhahaha.

Bean (instantly): 'The narrow one with the thorns.'

Me: 'Oh. Well, that was the right choice. Congratulations. A trap goes off on the other one, and you see the skeletons of all the people who thought that the easy path would be the right one to choose - '

Bean: 'There's ALWAYS thorns round baddies' towers. Dur.'


Bean comes to a stream. There are slippery-looking rocks that she can jump on. Or she can try to swim the river. Which does she choose?

Bean: 'What are the options?' (She loves saying this.)

Me: 'I just told you the options. Unless you think up some other options of your own.'

Bean: 'Okay, I go on the rocks. Whee. I made it.'

Me: 'No. No. This is where you have to do a check. Toss the coin. If it's heads, then you made it. If it's tails, then you fell in.'

Bean: 'DaddEEEEE!'

Me: 'Those are the rules.'

Bean: 'Right.' (Flings coin at the ceiling as if she meant to shatter the Artex.) (Coin lands.) 'Heads!'

Me: 'Congratulations, you made it. You get some experience points. You are now a level 2 witch.'

Bean: eee!

Me: 'You can now choose a new spell. Fireball, Lightning Bolt or Levitate.'

After I explain what they all mean, she chooses Levitate, to my surprise...


Me: 'It is now very dark, but your light spell is still working. Toss a coin to see if you notice something coming up.'

Bean: 'But what if I don't?'

Me: 'Then you don't see it.'

Bean: 'Oookay... it's tails. Daddy what happens? Daddy?!?'

Me: 'You walk down the path, and...'


Me: '... and an orc jumps down from the tree, taking you by surprise!'

Bean (suspicious face): 'What's a orc?'

I explain what a orc is. It's ugly, has a club and metal armour. It's going to attack. 'What are you going to do?'

Bean: (despairing) 'I don't know what to do!'

Me: 'Well, you have your spells, and your dagger, or you could run away, or...'

Bean: 'WEB! I CAST MY WEB! Glooooooosssshhhh!'

Me: 'Okay! The orc has a chance to dodge -'

Bean: 'NO HE DOESN'T.'

Me: (remembering Gary Gygax insisting 'always give a monster an even break') 'Yes he DOES. He has to get heads on a coin toss TWICE. Okay?'

Bean: *sigh* 'Okay.'

Me: *flip* 'Tails. He fails! The orc is stuck fast in the web. "Oi! Witch! Let me out!"' What do you want to do now? Do you want to attack him, or -

Bean: 'YES.'

Me: 'The orc begs for his life. "Don't nobble me, witch! Spare my life and I'll tell you something important about the tower of the troll!"'

Bean: 'All right then!'

Me: *frantic improvising* 'The tower door is a bit damp, and gets stuck a lot.'

Bean: 'oh-kay.'

Me: 'But you mustn't shove it because there's a huge pit behind the door and you'll fall in.'

Bean: 'Okay! Thanks!'

Me: 'So on you go through the woods. There up ahead of you is the Tower of the Troll! You can see a deep moat full of water. It might have pirahnas in! There's also a bridge, with a huge black knight standing on it. He has a sword as tall as he is.'

Bean: 'Daddy this is a bit scary now.'

Me: 'Okay. We'll stop.'


Me: 'Right then. What do you want to do?'

Bean: 'What are the options?' (I swear, if more D&D players just asked this, sessions would go a lot more smoothly.)

Me: 'Well, you could walk up to the black knight on the bridge. Or you could jump in the moat. Or you could run away. Or you could do a little dance. Or...'

Bean: 'I cast levitate!'

Me: 'What?'

Bean: 'I cast a levitate and I fly over the moat all the way to the door.'

Me: '... right. Fine. Okay. You land at the door. The black knight watches you cross. "Oh," he says "I never got to ask her my riddle."'

Bean: (Pinkie Pie voice) 'La la la la la.'

Me: 'Right. The door is in front of you. Doors. Huge oak doors leading deep into the Tower of the Troll. What do you do?'

Bean: *thinks* 'The orc said not to shove the door open...'

Me: 'Going to have to hurry you.'

Bean: 'Are there any windows?'

Me: *momentarily flummoxed* 'Um, yes, I suppose there are, because it's a tower.'

Bean: 'I want to cast my spider climbey spell and climb up to the window. Can I do that?''

Me: *GLOW OF PARENTAL PRIDE* 'Yes, dear. You can.'


Lucy: 'Darling it's nearly time for bed.'



Me: 'You are inside the Tower of the Troll! A huge spiral staircase leads down into a damp cavern, and up the other way to a small door. Which way do you want to go?'

Bean: 'This is a bit scary now.'

Me: 'Do you want to stop?'

Bean: 'nonono.'

Me: 'Okay, what do you do?'

Bean: 'I go up to the door. IS THE TROLL IN THERE?'

Me: 'The door creaks open...'

Bean: 'AAAAAHHHH' *hides face*

Me: (quickly) 'It's a kitchen! There's food everywhere. This must be where the troll keeps all the things he's stolen from the village. There's huge barrels of lemonade and sacks of grain, and roasting on the spit in the middle of the room is, er...'

Bean: 'A chicken.'

Me: 'Yeah, a chicken.'


Me: 'What do you want to do?'

Bean: 'What are the options?'

Me: 'Well you could go up, or go down, or rest and get your magic back, or you could sing a song, or jump out of the window, or...'

Bean: 'I rest and get my spells back.'

Me: 'Okay, but I'm going to toss a coin. If I get heads, a wandering monster finds you, and you don't get your spells back, and you have to deal with the monster. If I get tails, nothing happens. Are we clear on that?'

Bean: (dubiously) 'Okay.'

Me: (flips coin)

Bean: 'DADDY DADDY DON'T LOOK AT IT! Oh. It's tails. Yay.'


Me: 'All your spells are refreshed. Congratulations. What do you do now?'

Bean: 'What are the options?'

(I need to get this on a T-shirt. Or a tattoo.)

Me: 'The spiral staircase runs up to a trap door. Or you could go back the other way. Or you could drink all the lemonade, or make a sandwich...'

Bean: 'I go up to the trap door. IT'S THE TROLL. HE'S UP THERE. I KNOW IT.'

Me: 'Are you sure you want to?'

Bean: 'Yes.'


Me: 'The trapdoor creaks open. Up there, with his back to you, sitting in a chair reading a book, is a troll twice the size of a man...'

Bean: *whimper*

Me: 'He has a hammer on the floor next to him. He hasn't seen you yet. He doesn't know you're here. On the other side of the room is a case with a witch's wand in it. What do you want to do?'

Bean: 'Can I sneak?'

Me: 'Yes you can. But if the troll gets a heads on a coin toss, he's heard you moving about. Are you okay with that?'

Bean: *thinks about it* 'Yes. I want to get the wand.'

Me: 'Okay, you sneak across the room. Let's see if the troll hears you.' *flips coin* 'It's... heads. He hears you.'


(At this point I feel like the worst dad ever and am imagining hammering on my door at 3 AM from small child having nightmares about trolls.)

Me: 'It's okay! You have a chance to do something. His hammer is on the floor. He hasn't got it yet.'


Me: 'Do you want me to talk about the options?'

Bean: 'I CAST WEB!!!'

(tears INSTANTLY vanish, btw)

Me: 'Okay! You cast Web. The troll is engulfed. "Oi! What do you fink you're DOING?"'

Bean: 'Ha ha ha.'

Me: 'Now the troll is very strong, so he's going to try to rip his way out. He needs to get two heads in a row. Okay?'

Bean: 'What does the wand do?'

Me: 'It's a wand of Polymorph, and that means it turns things into frogs.'


Me: 'Let me see if he escapes the web.' *flip*


Me: 'Tails. He fails.'

Bean: 'ZAP!'

Me: 'The troll gets turned into a frog. Well done. You are now a level 3 witch and can choose a new spell. Oh, and the room is full of treasure.'

We rounded the session off with Bean going back to the village, waking them all up by banging on their doors (it was the middle of the night after all) and being hailed as a hero. There was lots of lemonade for everyone. Also, she got to move into the tower and live in it.


And now:

Bean: 'Daddy can we play Dungeons and Dragons.'

Me: 'No.'



Bean: 'JUST MAKE SOMETHING UP DADDY. A dragon in a cave. There. That's a story.'

Me: 'A level three witch couldn't take on a dragon all by herself.'

Bean: 'Fine. A vampire in a cave.'

Me: 'Your mum should play a character next time.'

Bean: 'She can be the Princess of Oreos.'

On that note, ladies and gentlemen, I am off to play with my daughter, who has been reading this over my shoulder and making corrections as I typed. Thank you all very much.
07 Nov 08:28

The Post Wikipedia Doesn't Want You To See

by (Philip Sandifer)
Due to my revelation in this post that Charles Ainsworth, an employee of the US Military (aka Chelsea Manning's jailers) has been editing Wikipedia under the username Cla68 to argue that transgender people are too biased to edit the article on Chelsea Manning, the Arbitration Committee of the English language Wikipedia has removed my administrator privileges and banned me indefinitely, forbidding any appeal of the ban for a year.

As discussed in the post, Ainsworth has, prior to this, been open about his participation on Wikipedia, freely giving quotes to the media and engaging in discussion on Wikipedia about those quotes. It's only now that he's begin editing with an obvious conflict of interest that he has suddenly developed a desire to keep his identity a secret. My "revelation," in other words, is nothing of the sort. Indeed, it's difficult to see how this decision comports with Wikpiedia policy, which declares that "Posting another editor's personal information is harassment, unless that person had voluntarily posted his or her own information, or links to such information, on Wikipedia." Which, again, Ainsworth has done.  Since my post, in fact, Ainsworth has posted on Wikipediocracy, a Wikipedia criticism site on which he's a forum moderator, confirming his employer. Furthermore, I've made no mention of Ainsworth's identity on Wikipedia, nor have I linked to that blog post from there. I revealed Ainsworth's identity in my capacity as a z-list blogger, not as a Wikipedia editor.

My reasoning for outing Ainsworth was and is simple: it's in the public interest. The sixth largest website in the world is sanctioning trans allies and Chelsea Manning supporters for being "too involved" to work on the Chelsea Manning article, but is giving a pass to members of the US Military, who apparently have no conflict of interest. This is straightforwardly something that deserves to be talked about.

This shockingly harsh sanction - the harshest the committee ever hands down - takes on an unnerving tone when one considers that the bulk of that blog post consisted of criticism of the Arbitration Committee's decision to punish editors complaining about transphobic behavior on Wikipedia more harshly than they punish transphobic behavior itself. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see this move as anything other than petty retaliation.

Particularly entertaining is that I've been banned for attempting to disinfect with sunlight with regards to Chelsea Manning. Not only does this sanction look petty, it looks particularly ridiculous when applied on the topic of someone who is in jail for her commitment to transparency. I'm actually taken aback by the comedy of it. The Arbitration Committee censures its critics for leaking things in the public interest. Over the Chelsea Manning article.

It is not the ban in particular that bothers me. I rarely edit Wikipedia anyway, have not used administrator powers in ages (though they were quite nice for finding well-written articles on fiction that got spuriously deleted on "notability" grounds). I knew there was a risk in criticizing the Arbitration Committee, and I took it because the consequence - banning - wasn't one that personally mattered to me much at all.

Nevertheless, the underlying issues are real. The Arbitration Committee has sanctioned people for complaining about transphobia while leaving transphobic commentary unsanctioned. It has further declared transgender topics to be subject to "discretionary sanctions," which mean that any editor who, in the judgment of an administrator, "fails to adhere to the purpose of Wikipedia, any expected standards of behavior, or any normal editorial process" can be banned after a single warning. The result of this is a clear precedent that complaining about transphobia can result in being banned. And now they have moved on to trumping up reasons to ban people who call them out on that. 

I have, for what it's worth, appealed the ban to Jimmy Wales. I'm not particularly optimistic, but it's not out of the question that he will overturn it. Even if this happens, however, the fact that the Arbitration Committee has engaged in such astonishing behavior needs to be called out and condemned.

At present, the English language Wikipedia has, on basic matters of governance, committed itself to being an environment where transphobia is tolerated while criticism, whether of transphobia or the site's governance, is not.

The Arbitration Committee wants a culture of silence. One where bigots go unchallenged, hypocrisy goes unexposed, and criticism goes unvoiced.

We cannot let them have it.
07 Nov 08:26

Russell Brand and 2011

by (Lee Griffin)
In 2011 a lush green pasture of possibility lay before us. Alongside local elections we were given the opportunity to change the way that our lawmakers were elected, ensuring that once and for all a well supported but otherwise net-unpopular MP could no longer "represent" us in our constituency. A positive result would have given more weight and momentum to the second part of the revolutionary change to our politics that would ensure no small voice would be left unheard, no doubt allowing Labour to jump properly on the bandwagon instead of stalking it; the change from our Lords as an unelected body to one that is elected in proportion to our political views.

Fast forward past the unsuccesful result, one that in my opinion actually did more harm than if we had never had the referendum in the first place, to the modern day where one Russell Brand is touting a democratic and constrained revolution of our interaction with the state. I don't disagree with him in general terms, but then I also voted in 2011 to say "Yes" to a new voting system.

There are those out there championing Brand right now, probably not as the instigator of these ideas...he says himself that is too false and lofty an accolade for him to claim...but as a figure that is focusing the issue of disenfranchisement in the UK political system. I'm glad, we need people to be actively thinking about how the state and the people form their contract, and how they continue their interaction; but at the same time I'm frustrated. Where were all these voices in 2011?

As some on Twitter have suggested, perhaps the voices were fooled by a successful No campaign, confused by an awful Yes campaign, or otherwise convinced by the media of the pointlessness of the exercise. Perhaps they wanted to stick a finger or two up at Clegg and his "broken promise" on tuition fees (a perfect example of where people need to think of the wider and longer term impact of political policies rather than headlines). If any of the above are true it saddens me.

There was a long lead up, long enough for someone who is so disenfranchised that they are willing to peg their flag to the mast of "revolutionary" change in Brand's vision, in which to educate yourself about what was going on. Listening to the papers, to the campaigns even without an objective and scrutinising eye, is just not the sort of thing a "revolutionary" should be engaging in!

Worse still though, if you hate the idiocy of party politics (I know I do), and how closely they are all aligning with each other, then why the hell you thought that punishing one party, for genuinely putting together the first policy in god knows how long that would have a direct and positive impact on the level of power you hold over the politicians, would alter or even reverse that trend...well, I can't even find words to describe the idiocy.

I don't pull my punches here for good reason (in other words, sorry if I've hurt your feelings 2011 non-voter). I don't think that people who claim to want to find a better way should be let off lightly for playing by the rules of the organisations and structures that they claim to want to break free from. Paying lipservice to the idea of change while falling into the comfort and convenience of education by soundbite, and the self-gratification of vengeful and partisan based decision making, is nowhere near good enough. Not good enough for us, not for future generations.

I'm on board with the sentiment that Brand is espousing right now, the system is awful. We elect people every 5 years in a process that, outside of a real revolution of opinion and thinking, only a small minority of the country will actually influence. We have our legislation overseen by appointed old men (by and large) that, if they can be bothered to turn up to do their job and stay awake while doing so, have an intermittent record on scrutiny. The idea that our government or parliament are in any meaningful way "accountable" is a joke and shouldn't be entertained. Worse still this government has actively rolled out programs that have similarly lessened accountability around the country with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners and Mayors.

If you don't feel like voting then in all honesty I don't blame you and, unlike the myriad of celebrities and political journalists/bloggers trying to say that not voting is wrong or right, I think that's your choice...the system doesn't give you power through your vote, it just enables an unaccountable body (the cabinet/government is usually formed of people that have friends in the right places of their party, not the people that are best for the job or that the wider public may want) to make decisions as they see fit for 5 years, usually on the basis of advice and lobbying by a different and even more unaccountable set of people in the form of wealthy political backers, large business or civil servants.

But despite all of this, I don't trust anything to change any time soon. Things are relatively good for UK citizens, by and large, and people that have it good don't tend to care too much for real revolution, even if they feel awfully bad about all the stuff happening to the poor and the young. 2011 was evidence that when handed the opportunity, we the people are unable to act maturely and intelligently enough with the chance we are given; this is when the opportunity is essentially black and white and with clear outcomes.

No revolution will come, if the basic logic of taking the opportunity to tell the state exactly your preference of representative where you live, and as a constituency get a guaranteed best match amongst the opinions of your peers (aside from one mathematically gymnastical scenario), is too much for people to understand, or if abandoning their desires to stick it to the "other team" is too enticing...what hope is there for some as yet undefined new way to come about? If people are too content in life, in general, to rock the boat then what hope is there to engage people as would be required to make such new ways legitimate? If the only options the disenfranchised are willing to take are ones that are somehow not offered or co-opted by the establishment, how can any new way ever form?

The one thing Brand is absolutely right about is that change happens most readily when there is a fundamental gap between the power of the state and it's people; maybe in the future, after another decade or more of assaults on those without jobs, those who happen to be under 25, and those with disabilities continuing, the disparity between the government and it's people will be large enough for change to come.
06 Nov 12:26

#979; The Line Between Sour and Sweet

by David Malki !
Andrew Hickey

Every superhero comic ever...

I'm gonna hit you so hard, I'm never going to want to let you go

06 Nov 11:52


by Jack Graham
In a prison cell on Skaro, the Doctor and Jamie watch as Maxtible is paid by the Daleks for services rendered. 

"The secret you promised me!" he demands.

Maxtible is a wealthy, propertied, Victorian gentleman who thinks of everything in terms of business transactions.  His charity to Waterfield and his daughter has given him - Maxtible - proprietory rights to use them as he wishes, as servant and collateral.  His pact with the Daleks is a "partnership".  He is providing a service in return for payment.  His payment is to be a secret that he has been pursuing fanatically, at the expense of anyone who gets in his way.

"The secret of transmuted metal," confirms the Black Dalek.

A series of formulae flash up on a screen.  For all the talk of "atomic weight" and "specific gravity", the details are occult.  But the transmutation is achieved.

"Gold!" cries Maxtible, "Iron into gold!  I told you it was possible!  They've kept their promise!  It's true, it's true!  They have!"

He thinks he has completed the alchemist's project... but that project was about harnessing purity and immutability in the hope of returning humanity to its nature before the fall.  In aiding the Daleks, Maxtible has done the reverse of this: he has helped harness 'the human factor' in the service of utterly fallen things.

In any case, his lust for gold is nothing to do with purity.  It is the general obsession of any Victorian gentleman.  It's the basis of Victorian society.  The secret he obsesses over is the secret of capital.  The seemingly magical ability of capitalist production to create wealth from nowhere, from commodities that come out worth more than the raw materials that went into them.  From dross comes gold - straight into the gentleman's pockets.

This is the basis of all Victorian gothic: the occult and occluded nature of profit, of capital accumulation.

The real secret, the thing occluded, is 'the human factor'.  Human work, or 'species-being', alienated from humans and appearing to Maxtible in the form of Daleks, in the form of alien machines that drain humanity and substitute their own essence... which is what happens to him immediately after he is paid for his services.

His real payment is to be given 'the Dalek factor'.  To be made into an occult, gothic thing.  A Victorian zombie.
05 Nov 23:51

Book Review: Magic Words

by (Philip Sandifer)
At this point the overlap between Lance Parkin's interests and mine is downright unsettling. How am I ever going to get anywhere with my interests when I have to compete with someone as good as him? It's not enough, apparently, that he be one of the best writers of Doctor Who auxiliary material and a damn fine scholar of the show, as evidenced by his marvelous volume of the Time Unincorporated series. He's got to go write about Alan Moore as well. Actually, he's on his second, having written a quite solid introduction to him for the Pocket Essentials series. But Magic Words is something else; a landmark, definitive tome that immediately establishes itself as one of the absolutely essential works for anybody interested in Alan Moore.

Before we get to any of that, however, let's start with the fact that the book is absolutely gorgeous. This is a sumptuous, lush book. Its cover, a green-tinged photo of Moore staring out at the reader through the smoke of the almost certainly not tobacco cigarette in his hand, is augmented by a bellyband proclaiming the title. The edges of the pages are inked black, giving the exterior a sleek elegance. Inside is similarly well-designed, save for a frustrating decision to use a cod-comics lettering font for chapter headers. Still, it's one of the nicest physical objects of a book I've laid hands on this year.

That bit of geekery aside, the book itself. It is, to be clear, a biography. It is not Gary Spencer Millidge's (very excellent) Alan Moore: Storyteller, nor George Khoury's The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore. The former is an overview of Moore's work; the latter an extended interview. This, however, is an attempt to grapple with Alan Moore the man. This obviously involves a lot of looking at his work, but mainly in terms of how it explains his evolving career.

This is, to be sure, an interesting subject. Moore's career, after all, is a fascinating litany of brilliance and idiosyncrasy. First of all, there's the somewhat puzzling matter of him worshipping a snake puppet. Second, there's the stark litany of fairly explosive feuds he's had with various people. Third, there's the fact that his life is simply full of idiosyncratic and extreme beliefs, positions, and courses of action, most of which are backed up by complex and nuanced explanations.

Complicating Parkin's task is the fact that, up until the very end of the writing process, Moore wasn't participating in the biography. Moore was shown what was at the time intended to be the final draft, and was impressed enough to both give a charming blurb ("In Magic Words Lance Parkin has crafted a biography that is insightful, scrupulously fair-minded and often very funny - a considerable achievement given its unrelentingly grim, unreasonable, and annoying subject. Belongs on the shelf of any halfway decent criminal profiler.") and what Parkin has described as the most wonkish Alan Moore interview ever, as it consisted of no questions regarding well-trod subject matter, and instead consisting entirely of issues like sorting out Grant Morrison's claim that Moore had written him a threatening letter in response to Morrison's unsolicited submission of a Kid Marvelman script (Moore says it never happened, and Parkin backs the claim up with a Dez Skinn interview) and why Moore decided to do his ABC work as a work-for-hire such that he doesn't own Tom Strong or Promethea (still unclear, actually, though I have my speculations for a few years from now). 

For the most part the distance Moore kept from the book helps Parkin. Moore is uniquely well-suited to this approach - he's given a large number of interviews, and is one of the best interview subjects around, prone to lengthy answers that are in equal parts witty and informative (there's a lovely and deliciously throwaway joke in which he describes "a five-or-six page strip about Darth Vader," a joke that is hilarious to a vanishingly small number of people). But it means that Magic Words is breathtakingly well-researched. (The footnotes in the final version aren't numbered, but the draft Parkin sent me in June had 1046) It also means that Parkin gives plenty of weight to Moore's critics. Moore requested that Parkin not bother his family or friends, and so the only interviews Parkin did for the bulk of the book were with people who had fallen out with Moore. This doesn't make the book a hit piece - it's obviously not, since Moore endorsed it in the end. But it means that Parkin's take on Moore is fair-minded. The book is not a hagiography just as much as it's not a hit piece. Parkin's deep love of the subject matter shows through, and he's clearly broadly speaking on Moore's side.

Particularly impressive, given Parkin's limited access to Moore himself, are the early chapters, which provide tremendous detail about Moore's pre-professional life. Parkin somehow got ahold of some properly astonishing sources; his tracking down of Jeremy Seabrook's The Unprivileged, a sociological study of Moore's area of Northampton written by Moore's first-form French teacher, is the sort of thing that makes other scholars drool with envy. The casualness with which he describes the plot of Another Suburban Romance, meanwhile, is the Moore scholar equivalent of a mic drop. So thorough is Parkin's account that, reading the book, one does not realize that this section deals with a wildly less well documented phase of Moore's life. 

All of this is bound up in the neat, well-organized package of Parkin's overall insights into Moore and his life. The book does not advance any sort of singular argument, but Parkin is deftly deductive, frequently grabbing bits of information from two or three sources and making a solid and compelling stab at explaining how it all fits together. The result is a detailed portrait of Alan Moore that is sympathetic, thorough, and yet put at enough of a remove to invite further engagement and discussion. Magic Words is in no way the definitive book on Alan Moore. But this is a good thing. Parkin believes, with good reason, that Moore has a real chance of being a writer who is still talked about centuries from now. It would undermine this claim horribly if Parkin had the last word. Rather than being definitive, Magic Words is something far more wonderful: essential. 

Magic Words is out on November 7th in the UK. Americans have to wait until December 1st. Those in the UK will be further enticed by the November 26th book launch in London, which Alan Moore himself will be at. Tickets for that are here.
04 Nov 23:40

Back In the Saddle

by Sean Carroll

So apparently I just took an unscheduled blogging hiatus over the past couple of weeks. Sorry about that — it wasn’t at all intentional, real life just got in the way. It was a fun kind of real life — trips to Atlanta, NYC, and Century City, all of which I hope to chat about soon enough.

Anything happen while I was gone? Oh yeah, dark matter was not discovered. More specifically, the LUX experiment released new limits, which at face value rule out some of those intriguing hints that might have been pointing toward lighter-than-expected dark matter particles. (Not everyone thinks things should be taken at face value, but we’ll see.) I didn’t get a chance to comment at the time, but Jester and Matt Strassler have you covered.


Let me just emphasize: there’s still plenty of room for dark matter in general, and WIMPs (weakly interactive massive particles, the particular kind of dark matter experiments like this are looking for) in particular. The parameter space is shaved off a bit, but it’s far from exhausted. Not finding a signal in a certain region of parameter space certainly decreases the Bayesian probability that a model is true, but in this case there’s still plenty of room.

Not that there will be forever. If dark matter is a WIMP, it should be detectable, as long as we build sensitive enough experiments. Of course there are plenty of non-WIMP models out there, well worth exploring. But for the moment Nature is just asking that we be a little more patient.

04 Nov 19:12

Giant Space Chicken

by (Paul Magrs)

Here’s a billboard poster for the new sf film, ‘Gravity’. I spotted it leaving Piccadilly station one day and misread it, first of all.

My misreading got me thinking about a couple of issues I’ve got with contemporary sf in all media, and perhaps with other genres as well.

And it’s all to do with things that take themselves way too seriously.

‘Gravity’ seems like rather serious film, from the few bits I’ve seen about it. And, a very expensive one to make. They must have poured untold sums into the special effects and the marketing and publicity.

No way would they want it to look as if their poster depicts a giant robot chicken flying through space.

But that’s precisely what I thought it was.

Two things struck me about this. Firstly, films like this don’t have a sense of humour. Not in the way that would allow an audience to entertain the idea that they might see a great big silly chicken flapping about the place. Even a split second’s suspicion that one might appear would be enough to undermine the carefully constructed illusion that this is real space and real drama in space. We live in an era of very literal verisimilitude, and a very earnest approach to science fiction, and an almost superstitious dread of silliness and frivolity. Everything must be grim and earnest in order for the magic to work, it seems.

The other thing that struck me was that I would love there to be a film about a giant space chicken, presented in deadpan fashion, undermining that sententious pseudo-realism. But that seems impossible in this terribly serious age.

04 Nov 15:18


It was bound to happen eventually. This data theft will enable almost limitless []-style password reuse attacks in the coming weeks. There's only one group that comes out of this looking smart: Everyone who pirated Photoshop.