Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fun Factoid of the Day

The first proper, official mention of the Time War comes during the novelization of 'Remembrance of the Daleks', when the Special Weapons Dalek recalls fighting in "the time campaign, the war to end all wars". This carries with it the interesting implication that for the Imperial Dalek faction at least, the Time War has (in part, at least) already happened. Meaning that perhaps this is the incident that Dalek Caan rescued Davros from...and the Seventh Doctor is participating in events out of synch with the Gallifreyan timestream. (Which is strangely in keeping with the Seventh Doctor's persona...)

It also confirms my general belief that the novelization of 'Remembrance' is actually the starting point for the 2005 series, conceptually if not actually. Which, in turn, confirms my general belief that Ben Aaronovitch is freaking metal.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

If the 112th Congress Were Your Roommate

Day One: You settle into your apartment, and you each agree on an equitable share of rent and utilities. The two of you sign the lease, taking an equal share of responsibility for making the apartment work.

End of Month One: Your roommate explains that he's starting his own business, which should bring even more capital into the system. He explains that for a little while, he needs to reduce his contributions to rent, but that this will pay for itself in the long run. When asked about the short-term, he suggests that the household just "run a deficit" for a little while. He shows you his business plan, and you agree.

End of Month Two: You find out that the business plan your roommate had was just a bunch of random guesses, and he's not spending any of the money he withheld on his supposed new business. When you confront him on this, he gets very upset that you're calling him a liar, and insists that you're just greedy and want his money. He tells you that if you want to balance the household budget, you could maybe cut the food budget (since he's eating out all the time anyway) and cut back on your heart medication and maybe turn out the lights when you leave the room. After a five-hour argument, you agree to turn out the lights when you leave the room. He does not concede anything.

End of Month Three: You're now having to kick in extra money to make ends meet on the household budget. Your roommate responds to this by suggesting that since you're clearly "hoarding" money, he should respond by reducing his contributions even further to get his business going and make the household function again. You point out that he hasn't spent any of the money he already has on his business. He accuses you of hating babies and caring more about homosexuals than you do about him. You insist that he start contributing his fair share again. He suggests that you look at the bills again next month to see if things change. When you refuse, he threatens to stop giving you any money at all and to let the landlord evict the pair of you.

End of Month Four: Your income is now stretched pretty much to its limit, as your roommate isn't even giving you all the money he promised to give you. When you point this out, your roommate suggests that you could probably make up the shortfall by selling your car, as he knows a friend who's in the market for one. He admits that his friend is aware of your financial troubles and won't offer too much, but some money is better than none, right? You point out that this is a short-sighted plan that will wind up costing you more in bus fare than it saves in gas, and he tells you that beggars can't be choosers. Reluctantly, you agree to sell your car.

End of Month Five: Your roommate is now driving your old car. He doesn't see why you're upset about the agreement he had with his friend to share it if you wound up selling it.

End of Month Six: Your roommate refuses to pay the phone bill, because he no longer uses the landline. You point to the agreement you signed with both your names on it. He shrugs. You pay the phone bill.

End of Month Seven: Your roommate finally agrees to pay the phone bill. A few hours later, you hear him in his room violently arguing with himself. A few hours after that, he comes out of his room and explains that he can't pay the phone bill after all. He appears to have hit himself a few times.

End of Month Eight: After another five-hour long argument, your roommate finally admits that his business plan has a few problems. He agrees to create a new business plan. The next day, he shows it to you. It's the same business plan he showed you seven months ago, only with pie charts and a new name.

End of Month Nine: Your roommate mentions that he got another angry call from the landlord yesterday about the rent, and he's not happy about having to deal with it. He suggests that you maybe stop spending all your money on drugs and prostitutes and work on making the apartment a better place again.

End of Month Ten: You find out your roommate has a $1000-per-week drug habit and has been bringing hookers into the apartment when you're at work.

End of Month Eleven: Your roommate starts pointedly reminding you that the lease is up soon, and that he's not sure he can support a deadbeat like you anymore. When you point out that he hasn't actually paid you his share of this month's rent yet, he calls you greedy. You find him in your room a few hours later with a tape measure.

End of Year: You start looking for a different roommate. Your roommate insists on being present every time you talk to someone, and calls them all communists.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The All-Crushed Team

I don't know about you, but I'm really excited to see the trailer for 'The Dark Knight Rises'. It looks like we're going to get a genuinely intelligent Bane, a socially-conscious Catwoman, and even some football. The scene where Hines Ward outruns not just the defense, but the collapse of Gotham City's football stadium, looks to be a major set piece. But who exactly are we going to see on the field, plummeting to their deaths behind Ward?

This came up at breakfast, no, really, it did. I live in a strange household...and we were talking about who we'd want to see killed by Bane in a brutal attack on Gotham's most beloved football team. For starters, we're pretty sure it's going to be a gadget play, with Michael Vick and Tim Tebow both on the field. Tebow would take the direct snap, behind the old Denver offensive line, but would lateral the ball to Vick. Vick would be planning to throw the ball to Tebow, but would find that he was being covered by Deion Sanders (who probably came out of retirement again, just to show everyone he was still as good as he said he was.) With Albert Haynesworth and Bill Romanowski advancing on him quickly, he looked to dump the ball off to Terrell Owens, but he'd quit on the route. So he had to pray for a long bomb to Ward.

That's where we left off--anyone else you'd like to see on the field for that play? Leave your choices in the comments!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why I Don't Like Ballot Initiatives

It should probably go without saying, but people who know me will tell you: I'm a pretty big fan of democracy. I vote, I encourage others to do the same...heck, I've even suggested in this blog that we make voting mandatory. It's not just a civic right, it's a civic duty, and it should be treated as such. And because I'm such a big proponent of democracy, it usually comes as a pretty big surprise to people that generally speaking, I think ballot initiatives are a terrible idea.

When someone said as much to me ("Are you against democracy?"), I replied with the simple statement, "No, but there's a big difference between democracy and mob rule." A ballot initiative is a single policy statement, made in a vacuum, usually vaguely worded and not made by experts. Rarely can those experts revise it subject to the realities of the situation. Frequently, the election surrounding it is subject to demagoguery and misinformation. To anchor your entire legal system around such statements generally cripples the creation of actual, sensible policy.

Take California, for example. California has been a big fan of the ballot system for a long time, and it shows in their budgetary crisis. They've had ballot initiatives that have overruled necessary-but-unpopular measures like tax increases with rules that hamstring the ability of the state legislature to raise money, passed by people who then turn around and complain that the legislature is ineffective in providing the services they need to live their daily lives. Initiative follows initiative follows initiative, like tying knots in a cord, until the law no longer stretches to where it needs to go.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that lawmakers are always sensible and wise and all-knowing. I read the papers just like everyone else. But the solution is what it's always been. Elect better lawmakers. Term limits and ballot initiatives and other gimmicks to save our system of democracy from itself only create new loopholes for canny criminals to game; the best solution is what it's always been, to put our best people into office and let them make their best decisions.

And to stop voting Republican. Because by this point, it's pretty obvious that "our best people" excludes them almost by definition.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

An Interesting Interpretation of Stephen King's 'IT'

I re-read 'IT' recently...well, relatively recently. Time moves pretty fast when you have a busy life, which is why I'm posting my Monday entry on Thursday. The point is, on re-reading it, I was struck by the idea that It doesn't actually seem to be very intelligent. That is, in all the scenes where it's interacting with people, it seems to be calculating and manipulative, finding people's secret phobic pressure points and skillfully working on them to extract the utmost in paralytic terror...

But in the scenes towards the end that are told from Its perspective, it doesn't seem to be much more than a mindless animal that kills and eats and sleeps. And it's interesting to re-read it in that light and consider the idea that maybe It's not intelligent at all. After all, just because something is capable of complex behavior doesn't mean it's actually reasoning; beavers build very complicated dams, but they do so purely on instinct. What if It works the same way?

Assuming It's telepathic (which seems pretty obvious from the book), it seems likely that it's capable of finding and reflecting our fears without ever actually understanding what they are. "If I look like this," It says to Itself, "and I make these noises that I see in that person's head, it will make them scared because this is what they are most scared of." Whether that fear is the Creature from the Black Lagoon or prostate cancer, it doesn't really matter to It. The fear is ours, the shape comes from us. Like all the old stories of a glamour, what we really see is ourselves reflected back at us. Even its attempts to scare off the Losers is nothing more than the blind reflex of a cornered animal, no different from a cat hissing or a rattlesnake's rattle save that we give it a more nuanced texture with our own thoughts.

Which means, of course, that in the end It's faintly pathetic. Because if It needs fear, if It feeds on fear (something King is ambiguous one point, he suggests that the feeding is only because it's such a primal fear, but at another, he suggests that the fear merely seasons the meat...) Then it's never realized that it could live just as long by scaring the same people over and over. We're always scared by the same stories, always trembling at the same myths. Unlike animals, who eventually calm down once they no longer have the threat of harm, people can be scared again and again and delight in it each time. Whatever It is, It's old and sad and probably needed to be put out of Its misery.

(Unlike Misery, who probably should have been left alive. That writer was just being a dick. But that's another post.)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Top Ten Missing Episodes

For those of you who haven't heard the wonderful news, two more episodes of 1960s-era Doctor Who were recovered today ('Galaxy Four' Episode Three and 'The Underwater Menace' Episode Two), bringing the total of recovered episodes to 36 and reducing the number of missing episodes down to 106. As always, this is a day of rejoicing for Doctor Who fans; as I mentioned in my post over at, no other fandom can really understand what it's like to not be able to sit down and watch every episode of their favorite series.

Interestingly enough, one article (full disclosure, written by a friend of mine who has a very good blog called "The TARDIS Erudotorum") cited these episodes as "not on anyone's Top Ten list of episodes to be recovered." Which led me to the interesting question, what exactly would the Top Ten list be? So, I thought, why not give mine? Keeping in mind, of course, that we have to keep it to individual episodes (so no "All of 'Marco Polo'") and also that, suckily enough, we can wish as hard as we want but that won't make it happen. So here are my picks for the most desired recoveries, should a benevolent deity grant our wishes.

10-9. The Invasion, Episodes 1 and 4. This one is the most interesting, even though it's at the bottom of the list, because it's the most likely. Rumors have persisted for years, started by none other than the late Nicholas Courtney, that a private collector has copies of the two missing episodes of this classic late-Troughton story, but that they're holding the BBC over a barrel and demanding an exorbitant fee before they allow the Beeb to "recover" them officially. (Courtney claimed to have actually seen copies of the film, which had picture but no sound. The BBC, as with all missing episodes, has sound but no picture. Any A/V club geek could resolve that problem.) Of course, this one is already "restored", in the form of Doctor Who's only (canonical) animated episodes, but it'd be nice to be able to watch the story as interpreted by the actors and not the creators of "Danger Mouse".

8-6. Power of the Daleks, Episodes 1-3. This is actually one I'd love to have in its entirety, but I'm trying to stick to the "individual episodes only" rule, and I just don't have the space for the full serial. And from the sound of things, to be honest, all the good stuff really happens before the Daleks give up on being cunning manipulators and just start killing people; the first few episodes are filled with tense political intrigue and the Daleks actually being clever and subtle, which is such a twist for them that I'd love to see it. Couple that with Troughton's first three episodes in the role, and I would love to see it come back home.

5. The Tenth Planet, Episode 4. And speaking of "regeneration stories", this is probably a lot of people's Number One missing episode. It's certainly of tremendous symbolic significance; the final appearance of William Hartnell, the first actor to take the role, is a major cultural touchstone among fans of the series. But I suspect, having seen the first three episodes, that it's more interesting as a "religious relic" than as an actual story, which bumps it a bit below everything else on the list.

4. The Massacre, Episode 4. Yes, I know. It does seem a bit odd that I'm actually prioritizing the first appearance of Dodo over the final appearance of Hartnell, but I really want it for all the bits prior to that. This is, by all accounts, a remarkably intense episode, with a shocking and devastating climax to the events in France followed up by a genuinely emotional confrontation between Steven and the Doctor. It would be well worth the small price of Dodo's near-nonsensical introductory sequence to get the scenes preceding it.

3. Mission to the Unknown. This has always sounded like one of the truly fascinating, quirky episodes of the series; a one-part story in an era where six and seven-parters weren't at all unusual, a story that features absolutely nothing of the Doctor, not even a mention, and a story that ends with the nominal hero dying at the hands of the Daleks, the Doctor's arch-enemies, with his dying message lost. I don't think it'll ever have the impact that the original story had (especially when it was followed up on with a four-parter that had nothing to do with 'Mission'...for almost five weeks, fans watched the show with the lurking knowledge in the back of their heads that the Daleks were out there, getting ready to conquer the universe, and the Doctor didn't even know about it.) But I would dearly love to see it.

2. Evil of the Daleks, Episode 7. This is another "Dang, I want every one of the missing episodes of this one!" story. But if you can only have one on the list, then it's got to be Episode 7. Absolutely got to. The Doctor's final gambit against the Dalek Emperor, the revolt of the humanised Daleks, the civil war on Skaro...this was epic stuff, and we've been denied it.

1. The Daleks' Master Plan, Episode 12. And speaking of "epic", this was a freaking twelve-parter. That's almost a whole season, one of the grandest and most ambitious stories ever done in the history of 'Doctor Who'...and the climax, involving the death of a companion (well, possibly, depending on how you count these things) and the destruction of worlds and Daleks melting from existence and great big huge exciting stuff, is gone. Possibly forever. **sniff** Could we have it back, please?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

What's Worse Than Pedantry? Inaccurate Pedantry!

At this point, it's almost as big of a cliche as the cliche it's making fun of: Whenever someone says, "I want everyone to give 110%!" someone else responds with, "You can't give more than 100%. It's the maximum amount possible." Cue people smirking at the stupid guy who delivered such a tired and lame motivational gimmick, or at least that must be what people do because jokes about mathematical fallacies rarely bring in the real yuks.

Except that it is entirely possible to give 110%. If I work at a call center, and the goal for the week is to take seventy calls a day, and I take seventy-seven, I have given 110% of that goal. If I sell vacuum cleaners, and my average sales-per-week is 200 vacuum cleaners, and this week I sell 220, I have given 110% of my usual effort. If I am a running back, and my personal best is a 100-yard rushing game, and I have a 110-yard rushing game, I will have given--guess what? That's right, 110% of my personal best.

Numbers greater than 100% exist. They are used routinely in mathematics and everyday life. When you tell someone "You can't give more than 100%," all you are really telling them is, "I'm not only a smug and arrogant cynic, I'm also bad at math, too!" Which isn't exactly the message you want to be sending. (I hope.)

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Crazy Fan Theory of the Day

Why stop with Season 6B?

Think about it. The stories normally associated with a Second Doctor who served as a secret, deniable agent of the Time Lords in between "The War Games" and "Spearhead From Space" feature a Patrick Troughton who looks considerably older than he did at the end of Season Six. (Admittedly, Steven Moffat chalks this up to "shorting out the time differential", and suggests that Time Lords revert back to their youthful state when no longer around their future selves, but he doesn't say that they can't look old because they're old.) He mentions his age as roughly 400-450 in "Tomb of the Cybermen", and Romana gives it as 759 in "The Ribos Operation", meaning that there's a 300+ year span of adventures in there (with plenty of room for gaps, especially in between "The Deadly Assassin" and "The Robots of Death", but the point is there's a lot of time to be accounted for.) And the Time Lords discuss a change of appearance, but they don't really present their actions at the Doctor's trial as a capital crime (or 1/13th of a capital crime.)

And when the Doctor regenerates, it is always into the form of a man in the prime of his life--of all the regenerating Doctors, only Pertwee was over 50 when he was cast in the part. And we don't see that regeneration. And according to fan lore, there's a gap in that space where missing adventures occurred. And the Third Doctor has plenty of suspicious gaps in his memories.

What if the Third Doctor, as well as the Second, operated for years as an agent of the Time Lords? After finally regenerating due to old age, he regenerated into a young, fit Jon Pertwee (who I for some reason picture as dressing like John Steed from 'The Avengers') who eventually, after a long period of service to the Celestial Intervention Agency, was finally sent to Earth to begin his official exile. This Season 6C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y and Z would also explain where the new Doctor picked up his driving skills, Venusian karate and aikido, and tattoo.

I propose that once the Past Doctor Adventures return, we...what? I can dream, can't I? I propose that once the Past Doctor Adventures return, we see the final adventure of the Troughton Doctor, and the first adventure of his young successor. What do you say, BBC?