Friday 31 July 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-07-31: Belle

Chilled out kitty.

The cat introduction process continues, very slowly and cautiously. Belle is looking more confident now which is a good sign.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

A good feature of The Phantom Menace

Seriously, I'm not joking.

Due to the impending release of Episode VII, my plan to write some other blog posts on Star Wars, and beer on Friday lunchtime impeding my higher brain functions, I decided to re-watch Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

In the third act of this film, Queen Amidala is a strong, independent, heroic character. She defies pressure from old men (Palpatine, Qui-Gon Jinn) to stay safely in exile on Coruscant. Instead, she forms a plan, makes an alliance with old rivals, leads her forces in battle, takes back her planet and frees her people.

I really do like that. The battle plan is kind of stupid, but this is Star Wars, so I'm willing to cut them some slack and give credit for a good idea. Natalie Portman's wooden performance is unhelpful, but better actors than her have struggled to make George Lucas' dialogue sound like something a human being might say. The real problem is that Lucas doesn't give this story any space to breathe.

Instead of giving Portman a chance, we are subjected to lots of time with Jar-Jar Binks and Anakin Skywalker. Jar-Jar is so unbelievably irritating, he manages to overshadow the annoying qualities of Anakin, who for some reason has tagged along. What the hell was Qui-Gon thinking, taking a nine year-old boy into the middle of a battle, then leaving him to sit around unsupervised while he heads off to duel with Darth Maul? I wouldn't leave a child that age alone at a football match, never mind a combat zone.

Anakin goes joyriding in a fighter craft. (Bizarrely, there was an Anakin-sized helmet left in the cockpit; I guess the regular pilot has a really small head.) By a combination of dumb luck, supernatural piloting skills, and help from the long-suffering R2-D2, he flies around making idiotic cutesy remarks, before blowing up the Trade Federation control ship, killing everyone on board. Maybe thousands of them, from the size of that ship.

They were all funny-looking aliens who speak with a ridiculous mock-Japanese accent, and pawns in Darth Sidious' evil plan, so they had it coming, right?

Seriously though, a nine year-old boy kills thousands of people. What kind of horrifying Ender's Game shit is that? As a reward, they have a big party, Amidala smiles at him, and then he gets taken away by Obi-Wan for Jedi training, leaving his mother as a slave back on Tattooine. A nine year-old boy, remember. I'm amazed he didn't turn to the Dark Side sooner.

Still, credit where it's due, Amidala taking back her throne is pretty cool.

Friday 24 July 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-07-24: Freddie

Our insolent little cat is sticking out his tongue at us.

Introductions between Freddie and Belle are still a work in progress. Unfortunately there was a setback, when we put them in the same room and Freddie started a fight within twenty minutes. He hasn't spent much time being socialized with other cats, and I don't think he recognised Belle's hissing and growling as a warning to back off.

Still, we are persevering and hoping the newest member of our family will learn some manners.

Thursday 23 July 2015

God, Gays, and Lib Dems 2: The Lake of Fire

(Part 1, in which I explain why I care about Tim Farron's religious views, is here.)

It seems fair to assume Tim Farron, the new Liberal Democrat leader, thinks gay sex is immoral. He refused to answer when asked three times by Channel 4 News if it was a sin, but his life would be much easier if he had simply said no.

Now, Farron himself said we are all sinners. Evangelical Christians like him believe all sorts of things are sins. They certainly think atheists like myself are grievously offensive to their deity:

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. --- Revelations 21:8
(So, I'm morally comparable to murderers and whoremongers? Thanks a lot. Also, I'm told "the abominable" is usually interpreted to mean homosexuals.)

I'm the second damned sinner from the right, between the murderer and the whoremonger.
Image source: Iguana Sell Pens, who have some very nice Inferno-themed fountain pens.

Tuesday 21 July 2015

God, Gays and Lib Dems 1: Why it matters

Tim Farron, the newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats, is an evangelical Christian. In and of itself, this is not a problem; but Farron appears to believe gay sex is immoral, and that most certainly is.
Appearing on Channel 4 News, Tim Farron was asked three times if he believes homosexual sex is a sin. Three times, he didn't give a direct answer, instead choosing to say "my firm belief is we are all sinners". --- BBC News
In an interview with Pink News, Farron claims to support gay rights such as the equal marriage law, but is somewhat equivocal on the details.

To start with, why should anyone care what the leader of the Liberal Democrats thinks?

Monday 20 July 2015

Who benefits?

Some people thought the euro was a bad idea from the beginning.

A gloomy but interesting column by Paul Krugman in today's New York Times has some of the details:

That is, [the euro] sounded forward-looking, European-minded, exactly the kind of thing that appeals to the kind of people who give speeches at Davos. Such people didn’t want nerdy economists telling them that their glamorous vision was a bad idea. 
Indeed, within Europe’s elite it quickly became very hard to raise objections to the currency project. I remember the atmosphere of the early 1990s very well: anyone who questioned the desirability of the euro was effectively shut out of the discussion.

I've seen people blaming "the bankers" for the economic catastrophe in Greece, and by extension for creating the euro in the first place.

It sounds sort of plausible. It's always useful to ask cui bono -- who benefits? The bankers benefited, therefore they must have had a hand in it.

The trouble is, the beneficiary is not always the instigator. If someone wins the National Lottery, we don't assume he somehow influenced the lottery draw or was responsible for the lottery existing in the first place. He's just a lucky guy who was in the right place at the right time. He won the lottery because somebody always wins the lottery.

Similarly, it is a mistake to assume the euro was the creation of some sinister banking conspiracy, pulling the puppet strings of European politicians for the last thirty years. Instead, it sounds more like a case of naive political groupthink. There wasn't an evil plan, just a lot of mostly well-intentioned people who weren't interested in criticism of their exciting new idea. The wolves of Wall Street are making money out of the resulting crisis, because they always do.

In a way, the groupthink explanation is more disturbing than the conspiracy. The euro crisis was not orchestrated by some cackling supervillain; it grew out of public servants trying to do the right thing.

Monday 13 July 2015

Terminator: Genisys: Review

Terminator: Genisys is a competent, entertaining action movie.

If that sounds like damning with faint praise, let it be said that I am an enormous fan of the first two Terminator films. They made a major impression on my teenage years, and I still think they are two of the finest sci-fi action films ever made. The question was not whether T:G would measure up to its illustrious predecessors, but whether it would be another tired and pointless retread along the lines of Terminator 3 or Terminator: Salvation.

Mercifully, T:G is not too bad. In fact it's pretty good in places.

Friday 10 July 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-07-10: Freddie

Enjoying the morning sunshine.

We're told Freddie has only ever been an indoor cat, but he's definitely curious about the outside world. Once he and Belle are more used to each other, we'll let him out the cat flap and the world will be his.

Strength versus beauty

This graphic has been circulated on social media for a while:

I must admit, I smiled when I first saw it. But if you stop to think about it, the graphic overlooks a more serious point.

Of course they are both unattainable, idealised body types. But what are they ideals of? Barbie's body represents an ideal of beauty, whereas He-Man's represents an ideal of strength.

Strength is an active quality. If you are strong, you can rescue a child from a burning building. You can build a house, sail a ship, slay a dragon. You can be a hero.

Beauty is a passive quality. If you are beautiful, then at best, you can persuade other people to rescue children, build houses, sail ships, or slay dragons. You can be the decorative reward for the hero.

Moreover, there are many ways to be strong and athletic without looking like He-Man. Mainstream standards for feminine beauty in our culture are much more narrow. Telling boys they should aspire to be strong, and girls they should aspire to be pretty, is one way sexism gets started.

To be clear, there's nothing wrong with a person of either sex wanting to be beautiful. It just doesn't strike me as a great idea to promote it as the most desirable goal in life.

Friday 3 July 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-07-03: Belle

Belle and her fluffy tail commanding the stairs. 

(Introductions to Freddie are going slowly but the cats should be getting along soon enough.)

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Unfunny jokes

Dear Facebook friend,

Yesterday, you "liked" an anti-immigrant joke on Facebook. The punch line was:

You're British mate, you're entitled to fuck-all! (*)

You're a perfectly pleasant and likeable person, not normally given to sharing immigrant-bashing posts. I really, sincerely hope this was a one-off and you didn't give it much thought.

Residents of the UK are entitled to all sorts of things, often taking them completely for granted. For all its faults, the UK has a good standard of living, world-class health and education institutions, and a vibrant and diverse culture. That is why I've chosen to make my home here -- instead of Canada or the USA, as I have the right to do -- and pay thousands of pounds in visa and citizenship fees for the privilege. It's curious, and a little sad, the author of this "joke" has less pride in the UK than I do.

One might protest that I am one of the "good" immigrants. This distinction is not as helpful as some appear to believe. We can all agree criminals are "bad" immigrants, but beyond that it very much depends on subjective opinion. In addition, certain politicians don't bother with these niceties when blaming "immigrants" for everything from unemployment to bad traffic on the M4.

I know the Facebook post isn't about facts or reason. It's about having a cheap laugh at the expense of immigrants. Speaking as one of them, I am not impressed.

In the old days, it was easier to indulge in a little hypocrisy. Open and honest discussion may be a virtue, but I've got plenty of other things to worry about, and my life would be simpler if I didn't know you "liked" this joke. Now it is known, I can't un-know it, and I'm writing about it because it bothers me.

Hypocrisy isn't as easy as it used to be. All of us should all bear in mind that when we "like" anything, Facebook's ever-so-helpful algorithms will push it to our friends and acquaintances, who may not have quite the same reaction as we do.

Best wishes,


* - This is why punctuation is important:
  • You're entitled to fuck-all: You're entitled to nothing.
  • You're entitled to fuck all: You're entitled to copulate with everyone.