Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Linkblogging for 30/06/09

Posted in comics, Doctor Who, linkblogging, music by Andrew Hickey on June 30, 2009

Just a few quick links here – possibly I’ll do a BFAW tomorrow, but I’m finding it hard to think in this sweltering heat. Someone please turn off the light in the big blue room?

Nina Stone has a review of Detective 854.

Anton Vowl thinks that when Richard Desmond dies we should “stick a camera right at his dying fat fucking face and slap it on the front cover of a magazine so that everyone in the world can see that this is what a dying – or already dead, who knows? – person looks like.” Yes, the Michael Jackson story continues to have repercussions…

Joe Otten talks about the times when public provision of services is necessary, whatever free market dogma says.

LemmusLemmus on the epistemology of the parrot sketch.

And Alex Wilcox looks at the Doctor Who story The War Games.

And, as promised, the answers to yesterday’s quiz :

1) He goes forty on the freeway, he plans his day round eBay, he’d rather watch Discovery Channel than an instant replay. – Nerdy Boys by Candypants
2) I’m not coming down, no matter what you do, I like it up here without you Mr Bellamy by Paul McCartney
3) I can’t hold you down if you want to fly, can’t you see I’m all broke up inside, well just you use your two X-ray eyes That’s Really Super, Supergirl – identified by Mike (who is right about the terrible shame that XTC have split up).
4) I know I’m a fool for you, but I’m leaving and that’s the truth Ya Had Me Goin’ by LEO
5) Some people always complain that their life is too short so they hurry it along Someday Man by Paul Williams
6) I realise that I’ve been in your eyes some kind of fool, why’d I do what I did? Stupid fish I drank the pool Say You Don’t Mind by Colin Blunstone – guessed by Jonathan Calder
7) Everywhere you go it’s de talk of de day, everywhere you go you hear people say, dat de Special Patrol dem a murderer Reggae Fi Peach by Linton Kwesi Johnson
8) You know the landlord he rings my front door bell, I let it ring for a little little spell Money Honey by Little Richard
9) Did you ever get the feeling that the truth is less revealing than a downright lie? And did you think your head was hip to certain things it’s not equipped to qualify? Shangri-La by The Rutles
10) You don’t know me so well and it’s not hard to tell when you know in your heart that it’s wrong Go Back by Crabby Appleton
11) Back porch preacher preaching at me, acting like he wrote the golden rule Clean Up Your Own Back Yard by Elvis Presley
12) I had to fix a lot of things this morning, cos they were so scrambled, but now it’s OK, I tell you I’ve got enough to do Busy Doin’ Nothin’ by The Beach Boys, guessed by TAD
13) I’ll string along I’ll string along oo whaoo whaoo whaoo, Come mornings my beads on a face, a thread, a thong, oo whaoo whaoo whaoo Rosary by Scott Walker, guessed by Gary
14) Pace the floor, stop and stare, I drink a cup of coffee and start a combing out my hair Forty Cups Of Coffee by Ella Mae Moore
15) He is not your run of the mill garden variety Alabama country fair. The All Golden by Van Dyke Parks
16) Dinosaurs lived a long time ago, they were terrible lizards, don’t you know? The Dinosaur Song by Johnny Cash
17) It’s not open to discussion any more, she’s out again tonight and I’m alone once more Baby Plays Around by Elvis Costello
18) Dear when you smile at me I heard a melody, it haunted me from the start Zing Went The Strings of My Heart by Judy Garland
19) I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks, I stay up all night and I smoke and I drink.Guilty As Charged by John C Reilly.

These songs can all be heard here. Now I’m off to die of hot.

Spotify Quiz!

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on June 29, 2009

My wife was earlier asking me to help her with a music quiz one of her friends had posted where you had to name the song from the lyric. Since I’m too hot to post coherently today, I thought I’d do one of those, but with a slight twist. All the lyrics below are the first lines of songs I’ve included in my spotify playlists previously. Tomorrow when I get home from work I’ll edit this to include the artist and titles, as well as a link to a playlist consisting of just these songs.

Have a go in the comments – person who gets the most right wins the satisfaction of knowing they know more songs than anyone else who reads this and can be bothered to comment:

1) He goes forty on the freeway, he plans his day round eBay, he’d rather watch Discovery Channel than an instant replay.
2) I’m not coming down, no matter what you do, I like it up here without you
3) I can’t hold you down if you want to fly, can’t you see I’m all broke up inside, well just you use your two X-ray eyes
4) I know I’m a fool for you, but I’m leaving and that’s the truth
5) Some people always complain that their life is too short so they hurry it along
6) I realise that I’ve been in your eyes some kind of fool, why’d I do what I did? Stupid fish I drank the pool
7) Everywhere you go it’s de talk of de day, everywhere you go you hear people say, dat de Special Patrol dem a murderer
8) You know the landlord he rings my front door bell, I let it ring for a little little spell
9) Did you ever get the feeling that the truth is less revealing than a downright lie? And did you think your head was hip to certain things it’s not equipped to qualify?
10) You don’t know me so well and it’s not hard to tell when you know in your heart that it’s wrong
11) Back porch preacher preaching at me, acting like he wrote the golden rule
12) I had to fix a lot of things this morning, cos they were so scrambled, but now it’s OK, I tell you I’ve got enough to do
13) I’ll string along I’ll string along oo whaoo whaoo whaoo, Come mornings my beads on a face, a thread, a thong, oo whaoo whaoo whaoo
14) Pace the floor, stop and stare, I drink a cup of coffee and start a combing out my hair
15) He is not your run of the mill garden variety Alabama country fair.
16) Dinosaurs lived a long time ago, they were terrible lizards, don’t you know?
17) It’s not open to discussion any more, she’s out again tonight and I’m alone once more
18) Dear when you smile at me I heard a melody, it haunted me from the start
19) I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks, I stay up all night and I smoke and I drink.

Linkblogging for 27/06/09

Posted in comics, linkblogging, music, politics by Andrew Hickey on June 27, 2009

Just a quick one today as I’m visiting my parents…

Jess Nevins has the best piece I’ve read on the death of Michael Jackson, treating Jackson’s life as a Gothic text on which to perform literary analysis.

Patrick at Lib Dem Voice is calling for a repeal of section 141 of the Mental Health Act, which states that any MP who gets sectioned will be removed from their seat and not returned, no matter how brief their illness. This is something with which I absolutely agree – there is no reason why someone treated for, say, depression, can’t be an entirely productive MP later on.

The Mail are misogynist arseholes, film at eleven.

J.H. WIlliams and Todd Klein have collaborated on a print of the section of The Morte d’Arthur where he pulls the sword from the stone. I own two of Klein’s earlier prints, the collaborations with Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, and they’re really very good indeed. I’ll probably buy this one to go with the others.

microRNA appears to target cancer cells specifically and trigger apoptosis. Very promising, but the actual paper cited is behind a pay-wall.

And Jon Morris is putting up MP3s of some old 78s he’s found.

Comics Review (Guaranteed 100% Michael Jackson Free*)

Posted in comics by Andrew Hickey on June 26, 2009

Sometimes there are comics that you can review before even reading them, and I was half tempted to do that with the two comics I’m going to review here. Going in, I knew exactly what I was going to get with these two comics, both part of the line-wide Batman revamp. Both feature female leads, in Gotham City, who have recently had serious heart injuries from which they bear both psychological and physical scars but manage to run round doing serious acrobatics and fighting in skin-tight leathers. One is extraordinarily good, the other is a meretricious piece of leering fanboyism.

Detective Comics, unsurprisingly, is the excellent one. It’s also quite difficult for me to review. I’m far more comfortable talking about writing than art, but the writing isn’t really the selling point of this comic for me.

Which is not to say the writing’s bad in any way – it’s Greg Rucka continuing the long story he started in 2005 in his parts of 52, and which has carried on through the Crime Bible mini and his Final Crisis tie-ins, while also reintroducing the characters for a new audience and adding a supporting cast and new villains to set up the Batwoman and Question stories as ongoing ones. Rucka does that competently and efficiently, (though I wonder how Batwoman’s father being a colonel works with her background as the daughter of an old-money family…) and fans of Rucka’s writing (like Debi ) will enjoy it. For me, though, Rucka is one of those writers whose work I’ll read if it’s there, and not seek out if it isn’t – on a level with Kurt Busiek or Mark Waid rather than Alan Moore or Dave Sim.

But Rucka is very much the weak link, relatively speaking, in the creative team here. The letterer is the great Todd Klein (actually not his best work – the font for Alice is very good but the rest is very standard) .

The colourist is Dave Stewart – the only current colourist (who doesn’t do anything else – I’m not here counting people like Jamie Grant who do other things as well) working in comics whose work I think actively improves the art – his work with Darwyn Cooke has been particularly impressive, and here his work is extraordinary. Most colourists for superhero comics tend to use flat colours, photoshop gradients or whatever to give a rather superficial set of colours that look more or less like the thing they’re meant to look like. I count three distinct palettes here, for different sections of the story, and a level of detail I’ve rarely seen – just look at the middle panel in the last page of the Batwoman story to see what I mean.

But the real star of the issue is J.H. Williams III. Williams is, without question, the best artist working in comics today. And this is where the problems come in, as I have less than no artistic vocabulary – all I can say is that I can look at even just his layouts all day, drinking in the sheer *design sense*, let alone his draughtsmanship, to say nothing of his storytelling ability. All I can say is that Williams tops himself with almost every page – he started out brilliant, and has only got better from there. Jog’s review makes a better fist of explaining the power of Williams’ work than I could, but still it’s fundamentally inexplicable – you just have to look at it.

In reviews, including this one, the backup feature – The Question – has been getting short shrift, and this isn’t really deserved. Rucka scripts this, too, and it will be tying in with the main storyline, and it’s a perfectly good story. Cully Hammer, the artist, is very good – he’s someone whose work I always enjoy – but he can’t help but suffer in comparison to Williams, and the colouring doesn’t help, being a similar enough palette to Stewart’s ‘superhero scene’ one to invite comparisons, but far less nuanced. Read on its own, it’s a decent little eight-page setup, but it’s just not as good as the main story.

Paul Dini’s Masturbation Fantasy Gotham City Sirens on the other hand, is just terrible, and a proof that the Bechdel test is a minimum, not a guarantee of a lack of sexism (and still less, of course, a guarantee of any kind of quality). (Incidentally, I didn’t deliberately buy this – the comic shop stuck it in my pull list because I read other batbooks, and my wife picked my comics up this week).

On paper, the idea of a supervillain team consisting of Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn seems like a reasonable one. You could make a decent mid-market series out of that, with a writer who could do character-based humour and action scenes – someone like Gail Simone or the Giffen/DeMatteis team. It wouldn’t be great, but it’d be readable.

However, the script for this is by Paul Dini, and despite his love for these characters (and for Zatanna, who *of course* makes an appearance) he doesn’t actually bother to distinguish them as people (apart from a couple of lines for Harley where she uses contractions). Instead, he just has them spout exposition at each other in interchangeable voices. While Rucka reveals character, motivation and background through dialogue – making Kate Kane talk differently from her girlfriend who talks differently from Batman who talks differently from Kane’s military father, thus letting us know what kind of people these are, Dini, however, has moved past such trivia as ‘characterisation’ and ‘depth’ (even of the minimal kind found in the Batwoman story), preferring instead to use dialogue to recap plot points from what I presume are his own later Batman stories (after I gave up bothering with his run on Detective) and the abysmal Countdown. There is precisely one exchange in this story that rings at all true as something a human being might say (the ‘Nigerian scam’ panel). – everything else is, at best, Claremontian.

But Dini’s writing here, bad as it is, is not the real problem. The problem’s with the art. Artist Guillem March actually displays some talent here. In fact in some ways he’s too good for the script – he has a facility for facial expressions, and manages to make the characters ‘act’ surprisingly well, and display recognisable characteristics – but this is working against the script rather than for it.

The problem is that he’s far more interested in drawing arses than actually telling the story. Now, I have no particular problem with mildly sexualised or titillating art in comics per se – it’s not something I have any especial interest in, but whatever. Some of Williams’ art in Detective has a definite sexual undercurrent, and that’s fine – it adds to the story.

But look at the bottom (in both senses) of page ten of Gotham City Sirens (I would scan this in, but I’ve not installed the drivers on my new laptop yet). A huge shot of Catwoman’s arse, for no particular reason. And Harley and Ivy’s heads *level* with it, even though all three are standing up, close to each other, and there is no suggestion of looking at them from an angle – no perspective distortion at all. The only way this panel makes sense is if Harley and Ivy are kneeling or Catwoman is standing on a box, but only for this panel. In the next panel, meanwhile, Harley and Ivy have swapped places for no explicable reason except that the artist was too busy drawing Catwoman’s arse to care about coherent storytelling.

These two comics, for all their surface similarities, serve as almost perfect examples of How To Do It and How Not To Do It – polar opposites, except for one unfortunate fact. Despite the fact that these comics have female main characters, and are apparently intended to appeal to the female comics-reading audience, only two of the twenty people credited with some creative or editorial role are women (the colourist on the backup feature in Detective and an assistant editor on GCS). Which is not to say that only women can write or draw or edit comics about or for women – that would be a ludicrous suggestion. But I *do* think that if the numbers were nearer parity (not just on these titles, but in the industry as a whole) we would have rather fewer comics where women are undifferentiated holders of tits and arse, and rather more where they’re people. But how do we get that parity when comics like Gotham City Sirens exist?

*(I won’t even mention that Catwoman says ‘blame it on sunshine’…. Damn.)

A Tale Of Two Telephone Companies

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on June 25, 2009

Let me tell you about two telephone companies. One, let us call them Bastard Telecom, are bastards. If you can get connected at all, rather than getting delays and crossed lines, as we did, then just pray you never have any problems with your internet. For example if you simultaneously have a line problem *and* a router problem, as we did, then you will find, after speaking to twenty-plus people, many of whom will call you a liar or insult you personally, or, in the case of one bizarre man, try to quiz you on the principles of TCP/IP networking in the hope of catching you out, that the only way to get the line fixed *and* a new router is to cancel the broadband account and get them to set it up again. This will leave you with no service at all for a week, they tell you.

You will then find, shockingly, that they forget to bother to set up the new account. You will discover this when, the day they tell you the new service will be up, it isn’t. They will then tell you that you still need to wait another week if you want a connection, because they sent the engineer out to the exchange to remove your access (even though it was only a dummy disconnection) and need to send out another one to give it back again.

Meanwhile, they will be billing you for ‘Bastard Telecom Vision’, their TV service. This despite you not requesting it, it not being installed, you repeatedly telling them that you don’t want it, and them agreeing that you never asked for it or received it and they’ll stop the account. Even though you don’t have a TV, have never owned a TV in your adult life, and even if you did wouldn’t want a ‘service’ whose only selling point was, until yesterday, the presence of Setanta Sports.

They will eventually send debt collectors after you, charging you £100 on top of the £26 they originally charged you for the service you never wanted or got. Meanwhile, of course, you aren’t receiving the only service you *did* want from them.

The second ‘phone company are Tiscali. Our experience with Tiscali was rather different. I phoned them up on Tuesday of last week and said “Can we have some internet please, since Bastard Telecom have messed us about?”
They replied “Certainly, though this might take two weeks, rather than the one week the Bastards say they will take”
To which I replied “That’s fine, as at this point I’d rather wait the extra time and be sure that I’ve got the connection, and I don’t want to give the Bastards my money.”

That was on Tuesday of last week. Today, six days sooner than they said it’d be ready, I got an email saying “Your line is connected, and your router should be with you within two days”. When I got home, the router was already there.

I am still on a contract with BT for the phone, which I can’t break, alas, but I would rather lose at least one of my testicles than ever do business with them again. On the other hand, Tiscali have thus far been exemplary – they’ve done what they said they would, without any further prompting, quicker than they said they would, and without me having to waste hours of my life on the phone listening to tinny recordings of The Marriage Of Figaro or bad sax solos. It may in fact be the first time in my entire life that that’s been the case with a phone company.

I’m sure Tiscali will do something to disappoint or annoy me soon enough – I do not believe there’s such a thing as a competent phone company in the UK – but they’re the first ever to get over the basic, tiny hurdle of saying they’ll do a thing and then doing the thing they say they’ll do rather than a different thing.

Normal blogging resumes tomorrow.

(ETA For some reason this didn’t post yesterday when I clicked post – it was meant to be posted last night)

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