Linkblogging for 31/01/09

Apologies for the lack of posts recently – I’ve been helping out with the local council byelection (we gained votes from both Labour and the Tories, even though the Tories did their hardest campaigning in years in this ward) and I’ve also had some extremely bad stuff going on in my personal life, which I don’t want to talk about here.
I will review Final Crisis 7 tomorrow, and if everything goes OK I should be back to blogging normally next week – I *hope*.

Anyway, linkage:

Alix at the People’s Republic Of Mortimer has some thought provoking comments on the line between localism and xenophobia, and also has a wonderful post about the use of jargon in Focus leaflets. I don’t know why that site isn’t in my sidebar yet… I must work on that at some point.

Everyone at the Savage Critics has reviewed FC7, pretty much, so I’ll just link to the site again rather than to individual reviews, as they’re all worth reading.

Mark Waid continues talking about how to write comics – this week part one of the proposal.

James at Quaequam Blog has more on the fascist Coroners and Justice Bill (I am not using fascist in the sense of “that’s so fascist!” here, but as literal truth. This law sets in place the final elements for a police state and also destroys the rule of law…)

Brad Hicks has a fascinating post on the WPA and why it has a bad reputation.

And David at Vibrational Match is finally showing us the larger theme he’s been working on in his series of connected posts…

Linkblogging for 27/01/09

Sorry about being a bit light on content today – I’ll try to make up for it tomorrow…

Caleb at Every Day Is Like Wednesday writes about pornography.

Alix at the People’s Republic Of Mortimer shows how not to write a letter.

The execution of an innocent man I wrote about yesterday has been halted, thankfully. The fact that supposedly civilised countries still kill their own people never ceases to astonish me…

Botswana Beast over at the Mindless Ones has a great recap of Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D 2

And ‘Liberal’ Conspiracy have a post about the possibility of a broadband tax, and what that would imply.

Linkblogging for 26/01/09

A quick one here, while I wait for my wife to get home from her friends’ (where she went straight after picking up my copy of The E-Space Trilogy from the post office and before dropping it off at home. Harumph)…

DebiT writes about stem cell research, and why it is a good thing the US government now allow it.

Texas are about to execute an innocent man. Please get involved with Amnesty’s last-ditch attempt to stop this.

Today’s XKCD made me laugh far too loudly at work.

Jane at Firedoglake is talking about the way political action is limited by ‘acceptable’ rhetoric.

And Mightygodking improves Final Crisis

Beyond Good And Evil Lies… Another Dimension

There are so many things going on in Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D 2 that I don’t know where to start talking about it. Even more than the main Final Crisis this is a thematic sequel to Seven Soldiers, and may be the ultimate ‘prismatic age’ comic, as well as being essentially an extra issue of All Star Superman.

Every line in here is packed with meaning upon meaning. Captain Atom, a character created by Steve Ditko, a follower of the crackpot ‘philosopher’ Ayn Rand, is here an embodiment of the thoughts of the German philosophers that Rand dismissed as ‘irrational’ (something she would know a lot about). He’s Nietzsche’s Superman – beyond the duality of good and evil, but he’s also talking like a pulp sci-fi Hegel – “A thought robot activated by the tremendous energies unleashed by collisions of fundamental opposing qualities. A new fission process powered by… dualities?”

We’ll leave aside the fact that he doesn’t understand what fission actually means (matter-antimatter collision is something rather different from nuclear fission, which is caused by small bits of matter colliding with slightly bigger bits) and notice that this is also a rather apt description of the vast majority of superhero comics – the ‘tights and fights’ base of the genre. New ideas being generated almost as an accidental byproduct of opposites clashing with tremendous energy…

His next line “Dualities? No, there are no dualities, only symmetries.” Again, this is a Ditko creation talking!

Except it isn’t, really, because this ‘Captain Allen Adam’ is of course ‘really’ Doctor Manhattan, from a world where the Charlton characters more closely parallel their Watchmen analogues. “I am the endgame of the idea that spawned the likes of you, Ultraman. I am above conflict.”

Here Morrison is taking Moore’s own interpretation of Watchmen – that it was meant to be the capstone of a particular approach to superhero comics, rather than a new way of doing them that everyone should follow. And while Captain Atom destroys both Ultraman and Superman, he uses that energy to move Superman (and not Ultraman) up to a higher plane. Superman takes on a ‘fiction suit’ to move to a ‘higher’ rather than a lower level of reality.

(Doesn’t a lot of the Bleed look like the astral plane in The Invisibles where Jim Crow goes? Been too long since I reread that…)

Superman Beyond 3D is in many ways the anti-Batman RIP. While Batman RIP was the ground-level story taking the place of American Gothic to Final CrisisCrisis On Infinite Earths (except of course that here both stories were written by the same person – and the American Gothic/Crisis relationship is one that Morrison keeps coming back to in his recent superhero work), Superman Beyond 3D is the really big story to Final Crisis‘ merely gargantuan one, a reminder of the even bigger picture in much the same way as Mister Miracle was for Seven Soldiers. And this of course suggests that there are more layers yet – an infinite number of ever grander stories, with ever greater stakes, playing out all at the same time, with pawns in one story moving up the ranks and ending up in the story on the next level.

And it suggests, thankfully, that Final Crisis won’t be Morrison’s last work in the DCU – that, as Didio has been hinting, he’s got some big plans for the Multiverse following this. For all that I love Morrison’s creator-owned stuff, I wouldn’t want to be without his superhero work either. All of these comics have had a grand, Wagnerian feel to them (hardly surprising since this is Morrison’s Götterdämmerung) and so it’s only fitting that Superman’s story here should owe so much to Nietzsche while still repudiating the hatred so associated with his ideas.

And that last page. What a wonderful, inspiring, perfect page that is.

My brain is a little burned out on writing about Final Crisis after the recent comment thread of death, so I won’t go on any more. Suffice to say there’s a ton of stuff in here that relates both to the main story and to the very idea of stories – this is about optimism, and about pessimism, and about fighting the good fight. Those who disliked the last issue of FC as being just one big fight scene should love this, as it’s all idea and metaphor and symbolism – it takes several readings to really get all the subtleties Morrison is putting in here.

To be continued…

A Big Finish A ‘Week’ 20: The Fires Of Vulcan

My definition of ‘week’ is getting quite elastic, isn’t it? Oh well, this is a series about a time traveller, after all…

One of the things Big Finish have always done well that the TV series never did much of after William Hartnell is the pure ‘historical’ story. Stories like The Marian Conspiracy or Son Of The Dragon, which put the Doctor and his companions into Earth’s past without any alien invaders or mad scientists or monsters, have actually provided many of the best moments in the audios, and much of the identity of the series. Big Finish has been at its best when exploring genres that 80s Doctor Who never had time for, and at its worst when trying to do ‘Doctor Who stories’.

With that in mind it’s rather odd that their stories with the Seventh Doctor, where they have the most room to manoeuvre and do different stories, have almost all been pastiches of the New Adventures books and/or of the last series, and have been generally the worst of their stories by a long way (the McGann stories have often been dull, but there’s not been a McGann as fanwanky as Master or outright repellent as Flip Flop).

However, rather oddly, the stories featuring the Seventh Doctor and Mel, which one would imagine to be the worst of the bunch (having seen the truly awful TV episodes in which the two team up, easily the worst period of the show’s history by a very long way) break this tendency and are actually often enjoyable (except the repulsive Flip Flop…)

Fires Of Vulcan, by Steve Lyons, is easily one of the better Seventh Doctor audios for these reasons, and because unlike so many of them it’s *about* something. Actually, it’s about many things – all of them Doctor Who perennials. By dropping the Doctor into Pompeii on the day of the eruption of Vesuvius, a day when the Doctor already knows his TARDIS will get buried in the ash for the next 2000 years, Lyons gets to rub two of the oldest morals in Doctor Who – “You can’t change history, not one line” and “Where there’s life there’s hope” – together and see what sparks fly off. A little ‘you must take responsibility for your own actions and not stand around waiting for a god to save you” is also thrown in for good measure.

What’s impressive about this is that there are no truly unsympathetic characters here – the characters who do things we would think of as ‘evil’ are usually behaving correctly according to the morality of the time. The gladiator who tries to kill the Doctor because the Doctor has dishonoured him does so because the ‘dishonour’ could have very real consequences for someone who relies on the goodwill of the public to stay alive after losing a fight – consequences the Doctor completely overlooks in his willingness to trick and humiliate him publicly (although of course the Doctor knows that there are no long-term consequences to interference in Pompeii).

The story is a genuinely good one, with the companion for once taking the lead while the Doctor mopes about going ‘we’re all doomed! Doomed!’ and persuading the Doctor eventually that it is possible to save themselves. Interestingly, the Doctor asks Mel if they should stay as soon as he realises where they are, saying it must be her choice but not giving her the information he has (that the TARDIS will be discovered buried there in 1980) and it’s her decision to stay that convinces him everything has gone wrong. This suggests that in the Doctor Who ‘universe’ ‘free will’ and possession of information are antithetical – predestination exists for anyone who has information about the future, but not for anyone else. This would fit with a lot of my own fanwanky ideas about the TARDIS and time travel (as well as the ideas in the About Time books, which I’ve been reading obsessively for the last few weeks) and provides for many story possibilities (ones which have unfortunately not been followed up).

Apparently the ‘canonicity’ of this story is in doubt now because of an episode from the last series of nuWho, which featured nuDoctor going to Pompeii himself. While this was apparently the best episode of the series (according to Alex) and was also the only episode I considered watching from the last series (purely because it was a crossover with the Cambridge Latin Course), if it means people are less likely to bother with this story because it’s no longer ‘canon’ (and that sort of thing does bother people – see the endless comment thread of doom here ) then I think it’s a real shame, as this is far and away my favourite piece of work featuring McCoy’s Doctor.

Off delivering Focuses now, Superman Beyond 3D review when I get back. In the meantime, I’ve joined that Twitter thing that all the cool kids are doing. For I am down with the kids and their hippity hoppity music and their emu haircuts and their hula hoops. If you are interesting in following me as I twoot, then my username is stealthmunchkin. Not sure how much (if at all) I’ll use the thing though…

The Coroners And Justice Bill

If you live in Britain, it is vitally important that you contact your MP, before Monday, and ensure that they are going to vote against the Coroners and Justice Bill. Put simply, this bill allows ministers of the crown to, at whim, do anything they like with any data that they hold on private citizens. It literally means that for any reason at all, any data held by anyone on you, for any reason, can be handed to anyone else. Don’t want your stalkerish ex knowing your new address? Don’t want spammers being able to buy every detail of your personal life? Tough.

Oh, and one nice clause in there also allows for the creation of arbitrary new laws based on the data searched. This may not be the *intent* of the clause (though they’ve tried a couple of times to get similar things through) but it’s what the wording actually says. A minister could say “Right, I am now going to make it an offence to have ever said ‘fuck’ on a blog”, and everyone who had done that would retroactively have commited a crime.

I am absolutely certain that the Lib Dems will oppose this (though it’s still worth contacting your MPs about it) but the rest of you make your feelings known.

‘Liberal’ Conspiracy has more…

Liberal Democrat eCanvass – Web 0.2

I’ve been hearing a lot recently about how the party are using the web and e-campaigning to motivate the grassroots, so when I got an email today about how I could help in the local council by-election, I was interested to see what could be done. Clicking on a link about our exciting ‘eCanvass’ software, I get taken to a secure website.

After logging in, I see that the software is effectively a simple point-and-click thing, much like I used to use when I worked in call centres, which makes sense as it’s just asking you to call people listed in a database and then add their details into the same database.

The problem is, as can be seen from this page , that it’s clearly written in some Microsoft-only platform – my guess from the look of it is Visual Basic.Net .

Now, given that there is a large overlap between Liberal Democrats and users of non-Windows platforms (my rough guess from the Lib Dems I know is that only about 60% of them use Windows, with about 30% using Macs and 10% using GNU/Linux , but that’s obviously completely unscientific), this makes very little sense – it stops a significant proportion of the activist base from using the program at all (and even if the numbers are as little as a quarter of what I’ve stated, that’s still 10% of the party members who can’t use it – a significant number).

This would be OK if it were doing anything difficult that required platform-specific code, but I could knock something like this up in ten minutes (well, maybe not, but an insignificant amount of time anyway – a few days work at most including testing) in Java, and it could also be done in Python or Perl/Tk or any other cross-platform language (Java would be easiest as most people have Java on their computer anyway and there’d be no need for multiple binaries to be compiled or anything like that). All it is is a GUI interface to a networked database. In fact it could even be done – and this would be the obvious way to do it – as a web-based thing, with no need for anyone to download any executable code to their machine at all.

I tried to contact the team about this using this contact page . However, stupidly, I tried doing this in Epiphany, my browser of choice, and of course these people don’t know anything about writing standards-compliant web pages either. As a result, there’s a form with a ‘Human originator test’ field, but no indication of what’s meant to go in this field. The next field has “Your Name” before it and “Your email address” after, while the next field is completely blank (I’m assuming that this is actually the email address field).

So I fill in the form but, of course, I can’t fill in the ‘human originator test’ because there’s no indication anywhere on the page of what’s meant to go in there (there might well be if viewed on Internet Explorer, but of course I don’t have internet explorer) so the page refuses to send my query because it looks automated. This is, of course, even though I have earlier signed into the webpage with my name, postcode and party membership number, to look at the FAQs. (There are no FAQs – unsurprising if nobody is actually able to A the Qs in the first place…)

Also, when it tells me this, it reloads the page and shows my message in the text field where I typed – except my message is full of escape characters every time I use an apostrophe…

(ETA I later tried using IceWeasel (the version of Firefox that comes with my distro) to send the same message. The page still rendered as badly, but this time the message actually went through, even though I still had no idea what, if anything, was meant to go into the ‘human originator test’)

On top of that, the website just *looks* unprofessional, with badly-written CSS meaning that bars of colour go approximately half-way across the page before giving up.

The whole thing looks like the kind of thing I used to do with my band’s angelfire site back in the late 90s, and frankly wouldn’t have been up to scratch even then. If this is the best the party can do with using new technology then gawdelpus. I wouldn’t normally air this kind of thing publicly, but given that I have absolutely no way of contacting anyone who can do anything about it other than shouting loudly enough in public that someone might pay attention, there’s not much else I can do…

(For those of you wanting my review of Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D 2, you’ll have to wait til tomorrow. The interminable comment thread to my last post, while it has some very interesting stuff in it, has taken up all the thinking-and-writing-about-Grant-Morrison-comics part of my brain for the last few days. That and a BFAW will be up tomorrow.)