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Making the connections [21 Jul 2010|04:30pm]

This is interesting (to me), as it tries to explain the big overlap between SF and Libertarianism.

"Libertarianism as a philosophy, a poetics and a praxis in SF is popular for the same reasons as emerging magical powers are in fantasy: both are fundamentally literatures that emerged from and remain embedded within the almost universal, semi-magical pubertal processes of development: the transformation of an ineffectual, child-like body and consciousness into a pseudo-adult with a finally sufficiently effective mind-body that yet finds itself and its new powers inexplicably and uncomfortably constrained by unforeseen sociocultural constraints. This happens *before* the development of a mature prefrontal cortex that can both act as an nearly invisible, internal censor of actions and desires and help the individual fully and pleasurably inhabit the embodied sensations of conformity with sociality."

All of which makes sense, but he needs to bring (a) computer geekery and (b) prog rock into the equation to have a complete thesis on the Libertarian mindset. Why is Robert Nozick so seldom quoted by typical liberal-thinking types, but massively popular with people who work in IT? Why did Rush like Ayn Rand so much? Maybe one day we'll have the answers.

Vaguely related: Michael Moorcock once said that he'd rather see someone reading Mein Kampf than reading Robert Heinlein, although whether that was down to Heinlein's staunch libertarian beliefs I'm not sure.

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Items not allowed into the Gaza Strip [08 Jun 2010|08:28am]
biscuits and sweets
dairies for cowsheds
dried fruit
fabric (for clothing)
fishing rods
flavor and smell enhancers
fresh meat
fruit preserves
gas for soft drinks
hatcheries and spare parts for hatcheries
heaters for chicken farms
industrial margarine
industrial salt
irrigation pipe systems
musical instruments
nylon nets for greenhouses
planters for saplings
plastic/glass/metal containers
potato chips
ropes for fishing
ropes to tie greenhouses
seeds and nuts
sewing machines and spare parts
size A4 paper
spare parts for tractors
tarpaulin sheets for huts
various fishing nets
wood for construction
writing implements

EDIT: I should just say - this isn't a complete list, just what we know based on observations to date.
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The kid is half my age. Pleased to meet you, Mr McGazz [05 Jun 2010|04:26am]

I went to a Fall gig recently, the first one since The Time My Band Were The Support, three lineups ago. When I was younger, I used to wonder about the slightly milky milky older blokes you saw at Fall gigs and never saw anywhere else. The other week, I was one of them.

Despite never posting, I visit Livejournal pretty much every day, mainly to see how a few people I like and admire (who haven't moved on to Twitter) are doing. It's ironic that I used to post much more often when both I and the bulk of my 'friends' lived in Glasgow and I'd likely bump into a fair few of them in the pub or at a gig before they'd had a chance to read my latest nonsense. Now that I'm no longer a five-minute bus ride from the 13th Note, I should be leaning on the whole Global Village thing a lot more. Yet I don't. I tweet a fair bit, but that's not really talking to people, it's shouting in a crowded room full of other people shouting.

Part of my thorough disconnect with former acquaintances is down to a certain embarrassment at L and I having a major relationship malfunction the last time we visited the old country together, which is why my rare recent trips north of the border have been cloak and dagger affairs, my imminent presence being made known only to a select few. But mostly, it's just a natural evolution. I'm a different bloke now.

Before I moved, my life revolved around music – gigging, recording (band and solo), watching live bands. Not so any more - these days, I often don't hear new stuff by my favourite artists until months after the fact; I go to as many gigs in a year as I used to in a week; I've all but given up on my 'Frankie Boyle fronts the Pet Shop Boys' recording endeavours. Formerly a mildly pretentious indie/electronica type, my favourite live experiences last year were a doom metal band and an aged Italian prog rock outfit.

I used to spend a lot of time arguing on the internet – purely for its own sake (like all internet arguing). I had my own messageboard, where I could be king of the castle and use moderator privileges to get rid of anyone grinding my gears. Now I love nothing more than finding a blog where the standard of debate in the comment threads is far enough above my head that I wouldn't dare throw in my tuppence worth, far less engage in slanging matches.

I've experienced that moment where you realise that your 'day job' is actually your 'job'. I've held down my current position for over twice as long as any previous one, which is a big change. It could be related to my arriving early in the morning most days, rather than staggering in at 9:58 as I used to.

My relationship dynamics have changed as well. Back in the day, it was my girlfriend who was the older, wiser, disengaged one with a mortgage and I was the hotheaded younger one trying to make a name for myself. With C and I, it's exactly the reverse and I'm comfortable with that. I used to know loads of people – maybe not all that well in most cases, but certainly enough to make me a minor ace face in certain quarters. Now I'm perfectly comfortable with anonymity, both online and off. Someone asked me recently about my “social circle” - the fact is, I don't have one. There's C, obviously, and the people I work with (who're pleasant enough), and that's enough. In short, I've gone from someone who wanted to be noticed to someone who doesn't want to be noticed.

There are other things: I drink a lot less, I've started to get into Formula 1 (surely the most Dad-ish of all sport), I no longer consider a bag of pasta and a block of cheese to be a complete food inventory. I've finally admitted that the sitcom about the miserable bloke who sold rotten fruit and veg from a van was a product of my imagination (that was hard). I even genuinely considered joining a gym the other day, after straining the muscles around my rib cage turning over in bed (lack of fitness never bothered me before, but when it's causing me injuries in my sleep, I start to worry).

On the other hand, some things haven't changed: I still smoke like a priest, I'm still a raging Commie (albeit in a 'have actually read books about it' kinda way, rather than in a generalised 'down with the system' manner), I still spend too much time in front of a PC.

Anyway, that's, to use a hideous bit of management speak, where I am. Writing this has not the effect on my insomnia that I was after, so I'm off to read some more and smoke more fags. G'night all.

6 ripostes| fire off a missive

Rock the vote [14 May 2010|11:34am]
A bloke at work came up with this alternative voting system while driving home from Ikea the other night (hey, it's as good a place to have ideas as any). I'd be interested to know what people think? It goes like this:

The country is divided into constituencies, as it is now. The parties register before election, naming their candidates for each seat (a party can put candidates up in as many or as few seats as they want - although they'd have to have at least 1). This means there will be important candidates such as the higher ranks of Labour, Lib Dems and Tories in some constituencies and nobodies in others (as now).

Everyone is given the same ballot paper, with all registered parties throughout the whole country on it. Everyone gets one vote, for their preferred party.

All the votes cast across the country for each party are totalled up. These translate into a pot of votes for each party, which they then use to buy up constituencies...

Say the Greens get 4% of the popular vote in the election (which would be about a million votes). They would have to decide whether to spend all of that on one or two seats (probably ones that have lesser-known candidates from the major parties standing), or whether to gamble on trying to get more seats and risking spending all their votes with no result.

The vote counting would be done in two segments:
  • A national count to see how big each party's pot is
  • A second section done by sealed bids (up to 3 rounds), where the parties submit offers against seats, like in housebuying.
It's evil, but could be fun.

Full-on PR buffs always seem to favour the profoundly fiddly Single Transferable Vote, because they expect everyone to be as into psephology as they are. I'm a D'Hondt person myself, because of its transparently simple arithmetic and the fact that it gets proportionality without deviating from the idiotproof 'one 'X' in a box' formula. With either, the size of the constituency is the thing - a 3-member seat for Sefton would be a very different ballgame from a 15-member Merseyside one.

Some food for thought - Proportional First-Past-The-Post as proposed in 2005 by the late Chris Lightfoot.
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Fabulous Frisbee [01 May 2010|09:46pm]
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You're always psychologising [27 Apr 2010|03:03pm]

Poster for The Room

I finally got to see "The Room" at the weekend. The way I've been summing it up to people is - not just the worst film ever made, but possibly the worst film it would ever be possible to make.

For anyone who doesn't know what I'm talking about, go to Wikipedia and then maybe the reviews page on IMDB or this Times article.

Like most people who're aware of this film, I'd seen the few short clips that were on the net. I'd laughed at the beyond-wooden acting, Tommy Wiseau's bizarre diction and slurred speech, the clumsy dialogue (one reviewer reckoned it unlikely that the script was ever actually written down). I had an idea in my head of this cheap and nasty melodrama, perhaps resembling a slightly less boob-heavy version of a Sky Movies late night "erotic thriller", with a horribly miscast (by himself) male lead; something the calibre of "Showgirls", but with Kyle McLachlan's part played by a stroke victim. Having now seen it, I realise I was well wide of the (oh, hai) mark. To make a comparison like that would be to damn it with faint derision.

Unlike any film I've seen to date, "The Room" manages to be rubbish at every conceivable level. Script, acting, cinematography/mise en scene, editing, sound/music, continuity - a big fat zero out of ten for every single one. It doesn't even get anything right *accidentally*. If you gathered the cream of filmmaking talent from around the world and told them to make the Worst Film Ever, they wouldn't have managed anything half as bad as "The Room". I'm not going to inventory all the fail (spoons, "I did NAHT!", Peter becoming Steven, "chocolate is the symbol of love", etc) as that would take forever and spoil your enjoyment if you haven't seen it yet. There are tons of reviews doing that as is. However, some of the basic things that Wiseau manages to cock up will make your jaw-drop. Two examples: Lisa fixing herself and Johnny "scotchkas", and the fuzzy greenscreen backdrop in the rooftop scenes - a film that can't make "pouring a drink" or "being outside" seem realistic is going to struggle to sustain dramatic tension.

Of all the adjectives used in the various reviews I've read of it, the one that stands out is "queasy". Part of that is the sheer discomfort is being kept in a constant state of amazed disbelief for an hour and a half - the howlers are so relentless that it almost hurts to watch. But there's also something quite unsettling in the idea that the film was made at all. As a filmmaker, Tommy Wiseau is most often compared to Ed Wood, the damaged alcoholic rehabilitated as a perma-grinned optimist by Burton and Depp in one of their mutual indulgathons, but to blame it all on his combination of hopeless naivety and grim determination almost seems to be letting the other people involved off the hook. I suppose out of work actors will do just about anything for money and we know no one behind the camera was around long enough to have much input (a bloke claiming to be from the second of the four different crews used during the shoot revealed that Wiseau tended to ignore everyone on set, as he wanted to - like his method actor heroes - stay in character.

Also, "The Room", despite the enjoyment many people get from it, remains an utterly charmless film. I don't really see 'good' and 'bad' as objective terms the way some people do and I don't subscribe to the whole "so bad it's good" philosophy beloved of dozy student ironists, leaving me immune to well-worn, camp, ill-judged guff like "Battlefield Earth" or Leonard Nimoy's "Ballad Of Bilbo Baggins". One of my favourite films is "Liquid Sky", another 'midnight movie' cult oddity that receives praise for its sheer wrongness. But it's possible to argue that certain aspects of "Liquid Sky" are worthy of praise: Anne Carlisle's performance (playing both the female and male leads) has a certain woozy appeal; the bizarre, Fairlight-composed music stays with you; the special effects, while hardly mind-blowing, aren't *that* bad for a film made for half a million dollars (even accounting for inflation, that's a fraction of the $6 million "The Room" cost). At the very least, it's interesting as a No Wave period piece. "Liquid Sky" is a film I've grown fond of. "The Room" has none of that. It's not a wacky, high-concept film, nor a haun-kitted, micro-budget affair. It was made in 2003, but looks like it could be from any point in the 90s; the sets and costumes have a blandness that would shame any self-respecting pr0n director (if that's not an oxymoron). The comically overused shots of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz are the only things that suggest a location. It looks - and, thanks to dubbing, often sounds - as if it was recorded in a vacuum.

I need to see it again, as soon as possible.
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Majority Report [11 Apr 2010|01:56pm]

If I were the kind of Mondeo-driving, 2.4 kids type that political parties supposedly try to 'triangulate' around, who would I be thinking of voting for next month? Dunno - far too many hypotheticals there.

The fact that I live in one of the UK's safest seats means that my vote is one of the most worthless in the country. Even if I lived in a "key marginal", I'm employed in the public sector, in perfect health and, most importantly, childless, meaning that I count for very little anyway in the eyes of parties and their spin doctors.

Labour, we all know about. There are all those issues, like illegal wars, the surveillance state, privatisation, etc, that unshaven, rollup-smoking Reds like me get worked up about, but about which the mythical Everydad couldn't give a flying monkey's.

The problem with the Tories is simple. They haven't changed. They're still exactly the same party that they were in 1997.

Between their landslide defeat in 1983 (caused primarily by the brief popularity of the SDP/Liberal Alliance rather than any contentious manifesto pledges or post-Falklands nationalist sentiment among the public) and Blair's election win in 1997, the Labour Party did a huge amount of public soul-searching and changed both what it stood for and how it operated. Clause Four was rewritten, the Trade Union block vote was abolished, their position on the EEC/EU flipped from anti- to pro-, lefties were thrown out, they became supporters of the nuclear deterrant, and so on.

Conversely, in the 13 years since John Major was hounded out of office, the Conservative Party have... changed their logo to a drawing of a tree. They're still desperate to find ways to cut the taxes of the super-rich at the expense of the other 90-odd percent of us, their knee-jerk EU-refusenik stance seems to operate nowadays at the level of a race memory, they still aren't comfortable with the existence of homosexuals, they're still convinced that society's ills are all down to the breakdown of the nuclear family, they're still horribly antagonistic to the public sector, they're still ropey on green issues - they still support fox-hunting, ffs. And this is the leadership we're talking about here, not some recalcitrant old scrotes who won't get with the programme. The alleged differences between the "modernising" Cameroon wing of the party and the Bufton Tufton types out in the sticks are, on inspection, minimal. Rather than spending their years in the wilderness looking for a new approach and ways to shed the 'nasty party' image, they've just sat there and waited for the public to get tired of New Labour.

The problem I have with the Lib Dems, meanwhile, is this. They're the Apple of the political world. They have a small, loyal fanbase, who stand by the party despite it representing their interests no better than either of the two main parties and who have projected their own ideals on them. The way that some Apple enthusiasts talk about the company and counterpose it to the 'evil', 'corporate' Microsoft, you'd think Steve Jobs was running some kind of worker's cooperative, rather than a large corporation who make personal computers that are slightly different but no better or worse overall than their rivals'. Similarly, I know quite a few people who're socially liberal and economically centre-left who sing the praises of the Lib Dems despite Nick Clegg's party being neither of those things. The same hypothetical fag paper than can just be squeezed between Labour and the Tories can also completely fill the gap between them and the Lib Dems (although, granted, there is the odd pleasantly surprising moment - Cable having a go at bankers, Clegg blasting Policy Exchange for Islamophobia, and the response of some LDs to what is now the Digital Economy Act - cancelling out the Orange Book, daft "mansion tax" plans and Sarah Teather).

From what I can see, a lot of people buy into the LD brand, seemingly as a way to be seen to be 'thinking different' without actually having to do something risky, like support an actual left-of-centre party. Witness the massive sigh of relief among the LD-heavy Badscience-fanboy community when they discovered that the genuinely centre-left and socially liberal Green Party had a dubious position on the crucial issue of stem cell research - "thank Dawkins for that - we've got an excuse not to vote for them now" exlaimed the Liberal Conspirator/New Scientist-reader crowd  - who hate the idea that the party that matches their positions on the most issues is a party containing badly-coiffed anorak-wearers who don't share their religious belief in the power of [Pyke]Science![/Pyke] to sort everything out.

You could argue that the Lib Dems are bigger and more electable than smaller but better groups. It would therefore be ironic if Clegg became kingmaker in a hung parliament. We know from experience (in Scotland) that the LDs' price for support in a coalition is the introduction of proportional representation, which would make smaller parties a viable prospect.

Anyway, it looks like I, as opposed to any marketer-created fiction, will be voting for TUSC (also known as the 'comprehensive news blackout party'), in the absence of anything better, next month.

4 ripostes| fire off a missive

You do the math, dear [22 Feb 2010|03:00pm]

I'm a big fan of OK Cupid's blog articles, where they number-crunch their own data and, in doing so, expose fascinating patterns of behaviour among daters.

This recent post on the benefits of dating older woman (something that guys on OKC don't seem that inclined to do) is a case in point.

What I found really interesting though, was that the median figures for the lowest aged women that men of different ages would consider going out with follows almost exactly the old rule of thumb "half your age plus seven".

I can find lots of references to this 'rule' online, but no indication as to where it came from. Anyone have any idea?

fire off a missive

Game Zover [19 Feb 2010|02:40pm]

2010 has seen me catch some kind of decluttering bug. I've recently been selling some of my CDs and books on Amazon. It doesn't bring in a lot of cash (sometimes just pennies per item), but I think selling things on to people who want them is a more sensible way to operate than dumping Stereolab's back catalogue in my nearest charity shop, where it'll no doubt remain until hell freezes over. That wouldn't be decluttering - that'd just be moving my clutter elsewhere.

In the process of listing items, I'd come across a seller called 'zoverstocks' who had an annoying habit of, once you'd listed an item, dropping their price to 1p less than you were offering.

Another name you tend to come across when investigating the logistics of punting the CD collection is Music Magpie (no link provided, for reasons which will become evident, but google them), the most well-known 'cash 4 cds' type site. Now, in their favour, MM make it really easy for you - you type in the CD's barcode and it instantly quotes you a price, and they provide freepost envelopes for you to get the stuff to them. On the other hand, they're famous for offering crap prices.

"Ministry of Sound: Beaver House Buttshakers 9" - 68p
"The Bible, read by Jesus Christ and Prunella Scales (unabridged)" - 72p
"That Obscure Indie Album That Carries No Cachet Any More" - 31p

'zoverstocks' is (one of) the name(s) used by Music Magpie when selling on their cheaply-gotten gains on Amazon.

[the remainder of this post removed at the request of zoverstocks]

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It's not what you say... [31 Jan 2010|12:44pm]

...but it should be.

I like this:
"Intellectually, the debate between religion and secularism is an arid one; there’s barely a single point made by Ditchkins [Dawkins & Hitchens] or their interlocuters that wasn’t made 80 years ago by Bertrand Russell and his opponents. So why is the mass debate - the mots juste - so lively? It’s because what’s at stake isn’t an empirical proposition, but egos. When someone says “I am a Christian” or “I am an atheist”, the emphasis is entirely upon the “I”. "

Read the whole thing here.

It reminds me of that old quote about politics - "if you can fake sincerity, you've got it made" (attributed to George Burns, Groucho Marx and various other cigar-smoking wisecrackers).

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iStole This Joke [28 Jan 2010|02:23pm]

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Bloggington Bloggl [20 Jan 2010|10:52am]

I gave up on the Wordpress blog. As some of you may have noticed, I hardly ever post anything here. Dawkins knows why I thought starting another blog on another platform would get me writing again.

It's obvious that part of the problem is Twitter. It's too easy to, on seeing, hearing, or thinking something interesting, just knock out a sentence and move on. But it's fun. People I know who avoid it tend to be either tedious, real ale internet users, who've written it off as a fad among young flibbertigibbets, or holier-than-thou types who've read all the Stephen Fry-heavy broadsheet reports and see it as some kind of app for stalking celebrities, which, as the only people not swept up in sleb-obsessed culture, they are uniquely able to rise above.

Micro-blogging aside, I don't blog much for the same reason that I don't do music much any more - I'm both contented and lazy. Unlike the music, I can't blame technical issues - my coffin-dodging PC may no longer be able to run Fruityloops without having a silicon asthma attack, but it can still produce a Notepad window (after thinking about it for 10 seconds). What it comes down to is: I've done both for a bit, proved to myself (and around 6 of my friends who follow my work) that I'm quite good, and don't see the need to continue going over old ground. I'm not as affected by things around me as much - I can absorb the fact that large numbers of people are not only completely wrong about things but have the temerity to burp their glib nopinions at anyone in range without having to compose a rant on the subject to calm myself down.

It's not that I've become apolitical - far from it - it's just that I don't ram it in people's faces. Arguing with knobbers online is like wrestling with a pig - you get dirty and they enjoy it. I'm not going to make, say, a Libertarian recant his pseudo-religious market fundamentalism by shouting a lot and linking to empirical evidence proving he's wrong any more than theealex will get Creationism consigned to the dustbin of history by screaming "DARWIN!" in wingnut Christians' faces or giro_playgirl will change opinions among the weird, quasi-feminist cargo cult she stalks on LJ by injecting reality-based commentary into their allergy arms race and mooncup poetry looniverse.

I will make more of an effort this year to post stuff. I reserve the right to be snarky and dismissive to stupidity I come across, but I'm going to try to do it in a wise old owl kind of way, rather than acting like exactly the kind of uppity little keyboard commando bawsack I get pissed off by in the first place. And sometimes I might just post links to cleverer, funnier people.

Is that fair enough?
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Glasnost [08 Jan 2010|02:25pm]

Okay, I'll do that 'answering questions' thing.

Bonus points for any that allow me, in the course of my answer, to come across like a wise old sage rather than an angry loser.

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Well, exactly. [07 Jan 2010|01:29pm]

Livejournal is being an arse and not displaying this cartoon for me.

Stolen from Broken TV, of all places.
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Noughty Boy [12 Dec 2009|09:52pm]
I fancied doing that "my decade" thing, but couldn't face typing up loads of stuff, so here is the compressed version in chart form.

McGazz"s Noughties
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My noughties 1: Two zeroes, defaced to look like tits [12 Nov 2009|09:24am]

Momus doesn't think much of the blog The Noughties Were Shit, seeing it as symptomatic of 'English self-deprecation' and its attendant arrogance. After a quick scan of the blog, I reckon he's being a bit unfair.

It's no secret that Momus would rather we all looked to places like Berlin for our culture and marvelled at low-rent, sub-Fluxus art made by moneyed American dropouts in jewfros. But when he lists the 10 albums that shifted most units in Britain in the 00s (every one an competently-marketed slab of flavourless musical tofu), he's expressing the same frustration with suffocating blandness and the invasion of corporate values into every last area of life as the writers of the Noughties blog.

Momus' argument seems to be that, by forever criticising history, we are doomed to repeat it. However, I reckon pointing out why James Blunt or "Twilight" are so awful is as important as explaining why [the obscure thing that you like] is good. It's contrast, innit? Ignoring the crap isn't an option when it's impossible to move without being exposed to it. We can learn from criticism even when it's snarky, and it allows for a certain amount of catharsis and even bonding (hence the first four words in the title "Is it Just Me Or Is Everything Shit?" Ironically, being negative can have its positives.

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Proper posts (not) about girls and clubbing. [03 Nov 2009|12:26pm]

After putting it off for ages, I'm attempting a 'proper blog'.


Let's see how long this lasts...
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Going Postal [29 Oct 2009|08:44pm]

It's a bit weird that the LRB seems to be the only publication allowing the posties' to give their side of the story (letter is a follow-up to this).

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Indeed. [27 Oct 2009|07:36pm]
"I've seen Roy Rodgers movies more nuanced than the official narrative of the goings-on in Yugoslavia."

I'm just posting this here as a note to myself.
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Pay Freeze = Pay Cut in real terms [09 Oct 2009|03:42pm]
Tories "gamble" by appealing to the large, Mail-reading constituency who believe that all public sector employees earn a fortune for doing hee-haw.

I  think the definition of "public sector employee" should be expanded to cover all private contractors who do work for the state. I've found that there's nothing the free-spirited, rugged, Marlboro Man individualist, small state-loving entrepreneurs of the private sector love more than a chance to suck on the juicy teat of Big Government.

Also, since I'm essentially paying for the bankers' hubristic folly, (while the bankers themselves remain unscathed) I think it only fair that, when I lose my job, HBOS pay my mortgage off for me. Call it a "bailout" if you like.

Yes, I said "juicy teat".
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