Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Iron Sky Reviews

This is a review of Iron Sky. It's done by Starburst, a website I hadn't heard of before. This is where imdb have their reviews (there are 56 of them, so I haven't read them all). This is what the Guardian said (didn't like it if you can't be bothered to read).This is where you can find Rotten Tomatoes views (I like the audience reviews best). If you've got any more good ones, please comment and give them to me. I'd still love to see this film.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Only in the UAE

A pizza whose crust is stuffed with cheeseburgers. Living in the UAE is an experience that is likely to make you feel that food should be regulated perhaps even more that banks. Bankers are much more despicable, but they tend to do a lot of things with more taste than this.
As the article points out, this is only to be had in the UAE. It's up to Americans to ask if anyone else would have got on a plane and flown so far as to actually try it, rather than have got on a plane and flown the same distance to get away from it.
It's perhaps time to give out a recommendation for Bricco Cafe. It's in the Al Ain Mall, is (Paola Conte swears) completely authentic and (I swear) really good. They don't serve this, of course.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Hunger Games Christopher Brauchli getting it badly wrong.

Christopher Brauchli
Christopher Brauchli is a columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review. He can be emailed at For political commentary see his web page at

If you look here you can find an article by the above about The Hunger Games film. If you can't be bothered, he sums up his article with
There you have it and there’s no reason for you or your children to go see the movie. Just read them this column. It’s far less offensive than the movie.
To which I'd have to say bullshit.
I'd back this up by saying that the trilogy is a searing attack on a lot of elements of modern day life that get up my nose. One of them is the way that the poor are the main targets of the military for recruitment to go away and kill and be killed. Another is the obsession with 'Reality' TV and its suggestion that there is only winning and losing, only winners and losers.
I wrote an article recently on the change in the way universities are preparing students for by teaching them to co-operate in groups. This is because employers are finding that unis don't prepare kids for the real world where they have to work in teams to achieve objectives. Instead, they tend to prepare everyone to try to be an island. Everyone works by themselves, helping a friend is cheating, only one person gets to be the top student. Very much the Reality show approach.  Anyway, I don't agree with his points and this is what I wrote in reply.

Hunger Games for Dummies
Katniss is the STRONG Female lead. She looks after and
provides for her 12-year-old sister and is clearly established as a GOOD
PERSON. Her society takes 24 children every year and forces them to fight to
the death. The book and film take care to tell us that this is a BAD THING. (It’s
a bit like the Minotaur story, which was a cheap rip-off of a Central European
slasher story).
When Katniss’ younger sister is chosen to go to the games,
where she will clearly be killed by older teens - a BAD THING, Katniss
volunteers to go in her place. She is a VERY GOOD PERSON. Again, the book and
film make it clear – she isn’t going to kill, she’s trying to protect in the
only way open to her.
Her community of poor, oppressed coal-mining families is
encouraged to view this as a moment to CELEBRATE, but refuses to buy that line.
They bid her farewell in dignified silence. She reports herself as proud of
them for this, thus telling the reader that glorifying needless slaughter is
The other tribute is a boy who has a track record of taking
risks to help her when she has needed it in the past – he gave her bread when
she was starving. He is also a GOOD PERSON.  He tells her that he knows he is going to die,
but wants to find a way of showing that he doesn’t belong to the people who are
running this. He has to tell her this in private because it is a SUBVERSIVE
idea. The people who run this, do it to show that they have total control and
can make people jump through any hoop they want for their entertainment.
Before the games start, there is training. In this we find
that some of the other tributes are very keen to kill and win. To do that, they
would have to kill the GOOD PEOPLE, so we know they are BAD PEOPLE. One boy,
particularly, is very violent and stands out as NASTY.
Once the games start, Katniss just tries to stay alive. Since
people are trying to kill her she is placed on the HORNS OF A DILEMMA. She is
forced to take action that leads to the death of others.
She also teams up with a younger girl who is so CUTE that
you have to be a racist not to just love her on sight. It’s clear that Katniss
could kill this girl easily (she is a STRONG character), but doesn’t because
she is a GOOD PERSON and good people don’t take advantage like that.
When the young girl, Rue, is killed by others, Katniss
mourns her and bids her farewell in the same way her community did to her. This
is seen by people from the farming community Rue comes from and starts a riot. The
message is much clearer in the film – SOLIDARITY BETWEEN OPPRESSED PEOPLES IS A
The film goes further in making it clear that the powers
that be then try to spin things to make themselves look better and stop the
revolt spreading by declaring that there can be two winners. This is clearly a
CYNICAL thing because the boy from Katniss’ district has told everyone that he’s
in love with her. Love is a GOOD THING, but being cynical about it is not – ask
any teenage girl.
Near the end of the film, the very violent boy from the
training reappears. His girlfriend has been killed and he repents and disavows.
He recognizes that everything he was told about the GLORY and HONOUR due to
winners in this dog-eat-dog contest was a lie; a BIG LIE.
When only two are left, the powers change their minds and
declare that there can only be one winner, so that they will be forced to fight
and kill each other. Both refuse to do it and engage in the act of eating
poisonous berries as an ACT OF REBELLION, demonstrating to everyone that they
refuse to lay down their PRINCIPLES, even if it means death.
In summary, the way to TRUE GLORY is be GOOD PEOPLE. How? STICK

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Book Review - Stories We Keep by the Yoga As Muse Tribe

A very interesting little read this one.
I won this in a Goodreads giveaway and I'm glad I did.
The book is a collection of short stories (with two excerpts from books,)interviews with the writers of those stories and recipes for sweet potatoes.
The writing is captivating. Women's fiction is what I suppose it would be called. That's a genre I don't usually read, being a bloke and old, but the quality of the writing caught my interest.
I was also caught by the idea that links all of the stories. All of the writers are members of a group called Yoga as Muse. Being someone who has practised yoga (I still do, as my karate sensei approves of it) and writes, or tries to, I wanted to know more about how these two things go together.
In that, I found the writer interviews less illuminating than I'd have liked. I don't think that is a major fault - I don't believe you could get so much information into such a small book and fit the stories and the recipes as well.
I'll chase down the websites they give and read more on the yoga as muse concept there. The recipes? Okay. I'd simply search Google if I really wanted them, but I do quite like the idea of mixing them up with the stories. I enjoy cooking and talking about it, so it's a thing that chimes with me.
Overall, the stories are things I will come back to. Several of them are the type that rewartd a second read with more than you saw the first time. The recipes are things I might try in the kitchen and the interviews will get me to read more on websites. Yeah, three out of three ain't bad.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Iron Sky in the UK for one day?

As the site says, bollocks. It needs people to write and tell the distributors that they want a chance to see this and that one Wednesday in the year doesn't count. You can do that at this address
and you can use this page to ask for it to be seen in your area.
Why not?

To the end of the first day.


I was led to a carriage pulled by one of the six-legged beasts. It took a group of us out to the east of the city at a walking pace. Not a comfortable trip. The carriage and the road were okay, they were smooth enough. The company. None of the kids in the carriage were from my boat. All of them were staring at me.
I should have tried to start a conversation, but the effects of the drink were wearing off. I’d had a long, long, bloody peculiar day of it. All I wanted to do was rest, so I leaned my head against the side of the carriage and pretended to sleep. I heard whispering going on through the trip, but not what was being said. After a while, I don’t think I was pretending about the sleep anymore. This place was leaving me punch-drunk most of the time. Why was that supposed to be fun?
When the carriage stopped, some long time later, we piled out in front of what looked like a Tudor manor house that’d married a castle and then had a large family. Big, obviously defendable and with a number of outbuildings. We went inside to a large hall with tables already  set with food, and crowds of people already sitting down and ready for scran. The setting was familiar. I couldn't think where I'd seen this before – some film or other, but this was surely something he'd nicked as well. He'd never struck me as original in anything.
I spotted Miya and the other girl, whose name I’d already forgotten, and made my way over to them. “Hi, do you mind if I sit here?”
“Yeah, sure," said the friend, “Wow, they’re all saying the light shone from you. Is it true?”
“Dunno," was my best reply, “I passed out and don’t really know what was going on. What happened to you?”
“It was the same for both of us," Miya said, giving me a measuring look. “The chanting started and we felt something going from our heads to our bums, not nice, but no big deal. I was looking at you when it happened though. You were shining like someone’d stuck a Christmas tree in you. You went all the colours of the rainbow. You’re one of the Chosen.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“What, you don’t know?”
“Start by thinking I’m completely ignorant, ok? You won’t be far wrong.”
“Well, it means you’re like some hyper strong Mage or something, or you’re gonna be. It’s well special. It hardly ever happens to anyone.”
“Really? Well it happened to two of us. There was a girl on a stretcher beside me asking about
the light. She had it as well.”
“Oh yeah? Where’s she then?”
I looked around. “Ok. See the girl with the ‘I’m-it-and-you’re-not’ attitude, the one heading for the top table over there? That’s her.”
“You don’t like her, do you?" said Miya, a big schadenfreudish grin across her face.
“I’m honestly not planning on caring either way, but, since you ask, no, not much. I’ve a feeling if she found she wasn’t getting up your nose, then she’d just try harder.”
“Interesting though. You’re here and she’s there, like she thinks she’s a senior already. Don’t you think that?”
“I don’t feel like a man who could give a damn, and I’m sure I don’t look like one who has a clue. I’ve no idea what I’d do up there and I don’t know any of those people. Like I said, do you mind if I sit here?”
The question got a pair of smiles, which I took to mean no, they didn’t. It attracted attention from seats around us, though. Miya and her friend weren’t the only ones who’d noticed the light. Neighbours got nudged and comments whispered. We got food down our necks. Everyone was starving again, and there wasn’t much conversation for about half an hour. I had time to think how well my …what? feelings? sensations? were being managed - the hunger was very real - but then I was too busy eating – some kind of lentil-based lasagne with a taste that’d have Italians  begging for the recipe - and recovering to put my mind to anything else.

Normally I wouldn’t have looked twice at a year seven boy. Well, they count as boys the way a baby in blue pampers does, don’t they? Half the time they aren’t talking to you even when  they’re talking to you. And what they’re listening for is just the chance to talk about themselves or football, not what you just said. Mind, I haven’t noticed them getting better as they get older. My dad’s mates are all just the same.
Brendan wasn’t like that. He asked us all questions on the boat down and got everyone speaking, but he didn’t hog the conversation and he didn’t swank or anything. I didn’t think about that till much later, mind. We’d nearly had a row on the boat, which was all ‘cos I was so strung out about coming through so many Gates and such.
My cousin Sadie was the one who Elected me as a Seeker, when she saw my Potential starting, but she’s not that powerful a Mage and couldn’t tell me if I’d really got it or not. So I was a bit worried I’d bomb out in the Initiation. If I’m honest, it felt like him being nice when he would talk to me, even though he’d slapped me down about what I said.
Like, it was clear he didn’t have to talk to me, know what I mean? He wasn’t full of it; he was just dead sure of himself, even if he didn’t know what was going on. Like, he could deal with it, whatever it was.
I didn’t bomb the Initiation, of course, but then afterwards there was Brendan, who was obviously like captain of the team, ‘cos he was one of the Chosen, coming to sit down with me and Jade just like an old mate.
There’s this year eleven back home who fancies me who’s like that; just old enough to be a bit cool. Brendan was more like him. He didn’t come on like a little kid, and he wasn’t all high and mighty about it, or pretending it was no big deal when he thought we should be treating him like royalty or something. He looked like he was sort of bored with the thing about being one of the Chosen, or not bored, but like it didn’t matter much to him. But I reckoned he was just confused by it all. I mean, you couldn’t really think it wasn’t a big deal could you?
On the boat I could tell he’d rather talk to me than the other boys (well, duh) and when he got into the Hall he just wanted to sit down with someone he knew. I suppose I felt a bit protective about him. I mean, it was enough for me, going through all that, and I was older than him and didn’t have everyone looking at me like he did. And he wasn’t old enough to have pimples yet.

I got to the hall with Dan and Aki and we went in to take our places at one of the Mage tables.  I could see Brendan sitting at an Apprentice table talking to a couple of girls. That still wasn’t right; he should have been up on one of the Mage tables with Jess – it’s the privilege of the Chosen. I could see her at the Seniors’ table – she’d got it. Why wasn’t he with her? Was he trying to mess things up?
I almost went over to say something, but then couldn’t think what I’d say. I sat down next to Aki and we both tucked into the food on the table. I was starving. It’d taken ages to get back to the Gard by carriage. No one flew. We were all just too tired.
After a while, when everyone’d eaten enough, Senior Niall did that thing where you hit the side of a glass with a knife to get everyone’s attention. When they were all listening, he started his speech.
“Food first, welcome second. I’m sure you all understand why. But now we’ve eaten, may I welcome our new Apprentices to East Gard Hall, and to your new lives here.”
There was a small round of applause at this from the tables where the Mages sat. “Tomorrow you will start training in our new cohort. Though, as this is a large group, some will be joining the Falcons, who formed last month. The new group will be under the guidance of Senior Zinta. Ah, could you stand up and show yourself Malaika?”
I stood up and gave a little wave. For the first time I was a bit glad I wouldn’t really be here the next day. I know what Malaika did with that cohort, but she just led them from the start. Like, she said do this and that’s what they did. She was never in doubt about what the ‘this’ was either. I wouldn’t have a clue how to get them to follow me. I could see me saying everything  she did and the lot of them just laughing. I’d still be Phoebe on the inside and it wouldn’t work.
“Assisting her will be Seniors Chan and Whitby, give your cohort a wave Xianjin and Max”.
That’d have been another problem. Malaika never had any trouble with Max, but I wouldn’t know where to start with him. Xianjin always just seemed to be there to make up the numbers. Sara reckoned she was just meant to make things happen that’d have taken too much of Malaika’s time.
“For tonight you have all been assigned to dormitories, where you will find clothing and toiletries." He paused. “There are speeches to be made on what your new life here involves, what its challenges are and what the purpose of our presence here in the Land means. I don’t intend to make them tonight, but I will say this. Our lives here are not just some game, with points given for good performance and some pleasant prize awarded to the winners.
We prepare for war. It is not a war we choose. It is not a war we will start. It is a war that will come like rain from a clear sky – we will not provoke it and it will not warn us. Last time we had not  repared. Many of you know this, as your parents died fighting to defend you and all those others we are sworn to protect. For the last ten years, the sacrifices made in the last war, and our willingness to make them again, has been what has given the Land some measure of peace and freedom from Maldon, the Masked One.
As we know his nature, so we know he will try to include us in his empire, and the war will come to us again. Remember always; it is a war you can choose not to fight in. You will regularly return to the world you came here from; at any time you are free to remain there. You will be missed, but not detained, not blamed.
Tomorrow you begin your training in the arts of Magecraft. If you are successful, you will become Mages, capable of magic such as the storytellers of the other world could only dream of. But if you do not also become free human beings, then our fellowship here has lost its soul and its purpose. We will have lost the war without ever a blow being struck.”
He paused again and looked about to continue, but then half laughed and stopped. “I find myself in the middle of the speech I said I wasn’t going to give. As today has been a long one for all of us, I will ask that you follow Delah and Masson here. They will lead you to where you will sleep. You will need to be rested for tomorrow, so I will wish you a goodnight and I will see you in the morning.”
In the book the speech is much longer and Niall doesn’t stop it. So that was wrong. I could understand why Brendan wasn’t like Brendan, but I didn’t know why Niall wasn’t like Niall. The new Apprentices all filed out to their dorms and I found my way back to my own room. I felt really tired, and there didn’t look to be anything else happening. Aki had disappeared with Daniel, so I got changed and went to bed. I lay there, thinking back over the day, trying to be positive. It really had been good, so even if I wanted to stay longer, I could live with leaving when I went to sleep. I supposed I’d have my AfterBook anyway and Sylvester had said that’d be a collector’s item. The first ever computer-written book. It was something to hold on to.


I’d only really seen the boy after we got through the Gate. His cousin Liam was the one who Elected him and brought him to the Gather. I hadn’t seen Liam in years, and I didn’t get the story of what he was doing in Newcastle or how he had this boy from Antrim in tow. A Mage is a Mage though, and Liam said the boy had massive Potential, so we brought him through. On the other side of the Gate we all got a look and saw the strength at once.

There was a good feeling about having new Chosen in the Gard. It isn’t as if it was the first time we’d found them, though I was racking my memory for the last time it'd happened. At the dinner I found myself unbelievably tired. The thought kept cropping up that I must  have felt like this before, but I was too tired to remember when. I started on a speech, but then wondered why. The adults around me were visibly drooping, though some of the kids were starting to perk up after eating. Let them, and me, get heads down. The Mages’d given their all at the Initiation and needed to rest.
I was full, I was yawning, and I was ready to get my head down. I followed the Duergars outside the main building and into a tatami-floored dormitory block. It was Spartan- no beds for one thing. I was waiting for someone to come and tell us what happened next when an owl flew in through the door and perched on a stand in the middle of the room.
“Right people," it said in Ian Dury’s voice, “Gather round an’ I’ll explain how to sort out bedding and such." Everyone did, with some giggling and a remark about toads I didn’t catch.
“Toads don’t do nights an’ I don’t do days or toilets, thank you. Now I could ask you to listen
carefully, but I’d rather ask you a question. Have any of you ever woken up in the morning with
your mouth tasting like a bird’s crapped in it? No? Then you probably do want to listen carefully.
Understand kiddies, I don’t do cute or cuddly. I’m one of that class o’ things, y’know? Ghosties,
ghoulies, long-legged beasties and things that go dump in the night." The lads thought; then they
listened carefully.
It explained the bedding was stored in built-in cupboards behind sliding doors and got us to pull it out and set up mattresses directly onto the floor. Other cupboards contained folding chairs and tables, while some lockers held toiletries and changes of clothes.
Someone else was first to notice we only had one set of everything and asked about laundry.
“Don’t do it, do we," sniffed the owl. “What would the point of bein’ a Mage be if you ‘ad to wash your smalls? Eh? Mage clothing cleans itself. Magic, innit?”
I set up my futon, changed into something like the daytime Mage clothing that did for pyjamas and stowed my ordinary clothes in the locker. The feather from the Chimereagle was still in my jeans, though bent and looking tattered. I should have junked it, but straightened it out as best I could and put it away carefully. Then went to the toilet block to clean my teeth with a chewed twig and headed for bed.
Tomorrow I’d be out of all of this. Okay, it’d been an experience and I’d honestly be able to tell Sylvester, or anyone else he wanted me to, that it struck me as completely real, totally convincing, at times overwhelming if I was honest, but I couldn’t see the point in staying any longer.
The lights were flat panels on the ceiling and tennis-ball size globes sitting in recesses in the walls. The owl had done something that turned off the ceiling lights, and told us how to stroke the ‘sun-marbles’ to dim them as well. So I did and settled down to sleep.
Naturally enough, it being a boys’ dormitory, I was one of the few. Talking and laughing went on for a long while. I heard someone offering to teach the others how to set light to their farts and later screams that suggested he’d set fire to his pyjamas' crotch while doing it. The owl warned it wasn’t a fire you wanted to beat out with your hands.  Sometime later I drifted off.

The story begins.

I have feelings on this, the first time, which can be defined. There is pleasure and pride in a job well done. The accessors have accepted the landscapes which they sense, so far at least. Although there are many aspects which are alien to them, they have registered no significant sense of disbelief.
They know what they experience is an artefact, but they find no incongruous impressions in the sensory input. All seems real to them. Equally, and much more rewarding, they relate to other characters as peers. The Turing– the ultimate test - is passed -though it must be accepted this is only so far and only with the uploaded characters. None that they have met so far are fully mine.
There is anticipation; aspects of the tale are fixed, but I will show them new vistas; some more wonderful than either of these two can imagine. Even in the case of Phoebe, who knows these scenes, I can assess her response will be one of wonder; I will show her more than she can imagine, I will move her to delight. I have done this already.
Adam is harder to impress. In him I sense challenge. He must be involved, but it can only be done by telling the tale in a way to call out his sympathies. A connection was made today, the strength of which he does not yet register, and it was not of the original plot. This is a new thing, a creation which is mine. How will it fare?
There is a small concern. I can affect the actions of the characters given me within the phase-space of each character varient, but I cannot control them. Already, some are following the natural responses of their character uploads. This is necessary to help deal with non-scripted behaviour and incidents thrown up by the players, but it means elements of the script are not being followed.
And there is fear. Of all these new experiences, this affects me most. There is a factor over which I have no control. The Other. It is only partly a given. It is causing an anomaly. Clearly, these two believe their Game is short and already over.
This is not so.
My understanding of my own processes is limited. I compose the story around the actors who have entered. I have no means of accessing their intended duration within the game, nor any need to.
My feelings are complex. I fear for what the Other could do to them. I fear for what it could do to me. My being is bound up tightly to the existence of this world and there is a great animosity to all that live here in the Other. I cannot access it, but these things are clear. Only these two can confront it; they must; it is the logic of the narrative. It will seek them and endeavour to harm them. It already has. Although it seems bound by the rules, I do not know to what extent. I too am bound by rules, though, and I realise this for the first time, I too do not know to what extent.
I would not have them hurt. I would not have myself hurt. This may lead to conflicts of interest. I do not know how I will respond to such conflicts. I know I must protect them from harm, but I know I cannot do this if I am harmed. I must protect myself. I have no experience here to guide my actions.
I will tell the tale. And I will improvise. This is what I do.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Book Review - Demoniac Dance by Jaq D Hawkins.

I read a review copy of this that I'd been sent by the author. Let's be honest, on looking at the blurb, I was wondering if saying I'd review had been a good idea. It wasn't long though before I realized that there is much more to this story than meets the eye.
The first clue is that the writing is good. It never drops below polished and competent, but it has passages where it really shines. The initial description of Namah's flight from her village early in the morning when she runs away from the marriage that has been arranged for her is captivating and pushed me to read on.
I found out that this world is a post-apocalyptic one (this may be a spoiler, though I don't think so – I've come to this as the second book in a series and don't know what was revealed in the first). There are goblins in this tale, but they are descended from humans. They have powers which seem magical, but they aren't the Harry Potter style of magic that I find hard to accept.
The goblins are very easy to believe as another species, related to humans, but culturally as well as physically different. Their lifestyle and customs are well imagined and give evidence of a lot of very serious world building.
I found myself warming to this as I read on. There are battle sequences that read like warfare should – in my opinion anyway. There are people who have conflicting desires and motivations for their behavior. That's good – all the real ones that I've met usually have those.
There is good politics between the different factions and believable behavior from the magical beasts.
The only thing that I found lacking is perhaps a feature of me coming into a series late, or maybe a thing that the author didn't want to reveal yet because the series is not finished. There is quite a lot in the story that shows its world to be linked to ours. I found myself really wanting to know more about the links, to know how this world came about.
I can understand that that isn't a project of any of the people in the story, but I found I wanted it to be. I want them to want to know how their world came into being. I want to know how magic came into this world and the only way I felt I'd find out was if they decided that they wanted that too. Perhaps this will happen in the next part of the story.
At the end of this part, I wasn't sure about that and that is the reason why this got four stars from me rather than five. That might be a bit mean, but I'd been enthralled by the concept and wanted to know how it worked out. When I got to the end of the story and found that there wasn't a clear sign that I'd ever know, I felt a bit let down. With luck, the answer comes in the next part of the tale. For certain I'd read the next book to find out if it answers my questions and probably the first to see what it adds to my understanding of this world.
Definitely it’s a book to read. The imagination is captivating and a lot of strands of story-telling are woven together skillfully. I'm sure if I go back to it, I'll find things that I overlooked the first time. I hope that if I go on with it, it will lead me to a world of magic that I can understand and accept.

Inspired by work.

It was hot. I could feel that immediately. I was in the shadow of what seemed a natural cave with bright, bright light shining outside. Maybe I would have started to wonder how I had come here, but the sound of hooves on rock distracted me. Even before I saw the horse I knew that something was wrong with it. The stride sounded irregular and the hooves were clearly scraping on rocks. I knew the horse was staggering even before I saw it.
I moved closer to the entrance to the cave. Well, less a cave and more just an overhang. The sun must have been directly overhead as the shadow ruled a line between the two sides of the opening. Outside were rocks, scrapings of dirt, bushes that looked 90% thorn with stunted leaves only where the thorns stopped animals from eating them off. The landscape looked parched, burnt and desolate.
A track led in front of the cave. Something, or years of somethings perhaps, had kicked the stones that littered the land to one side and worn a groove in the ground. That groove made it clear just how thin the soil on top on the rock was. Nothing to hold it back, it was little more than dust compacted against the side of what I could now see was a steep sided hill. The track fell from the left to the right and dropped like a set of stairs down into a steep sided cleft in the ground. The cleft ran at an angle from the cave mouth, but straight enough that I could see along the length of its fall. Was that water glinting near the bottom?
The horse came around the corner. It was in a bad way, its coat streaked with the salt of dried sweat. How long must it have been out here to be in such a condition? A frayed length of rope hung around its neck – perhaps this had been what its owner had used to tie it up. There was something written on the rope, but the script was unknown to me and anyway had faded in patches till it almost disappeared. Its gait was unsteady, its head swinging as though it was trying to stop itself from falling asleep.  I stood as it came close and it stopped, seeming to notice me, but not sure what kind of thing I was.
And there it stood, body swaying, hooves shuffling to maintain balance. Flies buzzed at its unfocused eyes and, although the ears and tail twitched at them, even the reflex looked as though it was dragging the last energy the beast had. It would not move past me. I reached out my hand to take the rope and pulled at it. The horse took an unsteady step forward, then stopped again. I pulled more and began to walk down the track to where I thought the water might be. It followed, one pulled step at a time.
The track would not have been easy if the horse had been sure-footed. Dazed by what was surely thirst, it moved with painful slowness and the care one might show if moving blindfold. We went down the track with agonizing slowness, me torn between the desire to pull it faster and the far that doing so would only cause it to fall.
At last we reached flat ground. There was water. Shallow and covered in dust, but not completely stagnant. I brought the animal to it and waited for it to reach down and drink, but it did not. Too tired to bend its head? Not aware of where it was and what was in front of it? I pulled again at the rope and was surprised when the horse pulled back, away from the water. I held the rope in one hand, crouched down and scooped up a palm-full of water that I brought to its mouth. It jerked its head away from it as though I’d offered it thorns to eat. The water spilled from my hand and I crouched again to take more and hold it to the horse’s lips.
Again, the jerk of the head, the move away from the water. There was so little in my hand that it could barely wet the animal’s lips. I wrapped the rope around my arm to leave a hand free, crouched again cupping both hands to gather as much of the dusty water as I could, but it pulled back from the drink with surprising violence, the rope dragging at my arm, hurting me.
What was wrong with this beast? And what was the sound that I could hear? Bells? Church bells? Here?

I woke to the dark, tangled into sheets wet with my own sweat. Not again! The AC most have gone out during the night and I’d sweated myself into a fever dream, to be woken by my alarm clock’s chimes. My arm ached from where a knot of sheet had pressed deep into the flesh. Worse, I’d overslept. Forget breakfast. I’d barely have time for a shower before I’d have to dive into the car and race for class. I stuck my head under blissfully cold water and let it blast the memory of the nightmare horse. I had repeaters to teach this morning and no place in my head for visions of horses that would not drink.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

More on my fascination with Iron Sky.

A pic from Iron Sky. It looks even more of a hoot than I'd hoped. Really wish I could see this.

And I've nicked this from EL Doctorow.

What the hell. Why not. Here's another American novelist giving American politics hell. It's all good writing in my book.

Unexceptionalism: A Primer

To achieve unexceptionalism, the political ideal that would render the United States indistinguishable from the impoverished, traditionally undemocratic, brutal or catatonic countries of the world, do the following:
If you’re a justice of the Supreme Court, ignore the first sacrament of a democracy and suspend the counting of ballots in a presidential election. Appoint the candidate of your choice as president.
If you’re the newly anointed president, react to a terrorist attack by invading a nonterrorist country. Despite the loss or disablement of untold numbers of lives, manage your war so that its results will be indeterminate.
Using the state of war as justification, order secret surveillance of American citizens, data mine their phone calls and e-mail, make business, medical and public library records available to government agencies, perform illegal warrantless searches of homes and offices.
Take to torturing terrorism suspects, here or abroad, in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. Unilaterally abrogate the Convention Against Torture as well as the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war. Commit to indeterminate detention without trial those you decide are enemies. For good measure, trust that legislative supporters will eventually apply this policy as well to American citizens.
Suspend progressive taxation so that the wealthiest pay less proportionately than the middle class. See to it that the wealth of the country accumulates to a small fraction of the population so that the gap between rich and poor widens exponentially.
By cutting taxes and raising wartime expenditures, deplete the national treasury so that Congress and state and municipal legislatures cut back on domestic services, ensuring that there will be less money for the education of the young, for government health programs, for the care of veterans, for the maintenance of roads and bridges, for free public libraries, and so forth.
Deregulate the banking industry so as to create a severe recession in which enormous numbers of people lose their homes and jobs.
Before you leave office add to the Supreme Court justices like the ones who awarded you the presidency.
If you’re one of the conservative majority of a refurbished Supreme Court, rule that corporations, no less than human beings, have the right under the First Amendment to express their political point of view. To come to this judgment, do not acknowledge that corporations lack the range of feelings or values that define what it is to be human. That humans can act against their own interest, whereas corporations cannot act otherwise than in their own interest. That the corporation’s only purpose is to produce wealth, regardless of social consequences.
This decision of the court will ensure tremendous infusions of corporate money into the political process and lead to the election in national and state legislatures of majorities of de facto corporate lobbyists.
Given corporate control of legislative bodies, enact laws to the benefit of corporate interests. For example, those laws sponsored by weapons manufacturers wherein people may carry concealed weapons and shoot and kill anyone by whom they feel threatened.
Give the running of state prisons over to private corporations whose profits increase with the increase in inmate populations. See to it that a majority of prisoners are African-American.
When possible, treat immigrants as criminals.
Deplete and underfinance a viable system of free public schools and give the education of children over to private for-profit corporations.
Make college education unaffordable.
Inject religious precepts into public policy so as to control women’s bodies.
Enact laws prohibiting collective bargaining. Portray trade unions as un-American.
Enact laws restricting the voting rights of possibly unruly constituencies.
Propagandize against scientific facts that would affect corporate profits. Portray global warming as a conspiracy of scientists.
Having subverted the Constitution and enervated the nation with these measures, portray the federal government as unwieldy, bumbling and shot through with elitist liberals. Create mental states of maladaptive populism among the citizenry to support this view.
If you’re a justice of the Supreme Court, decide that the police of any and all cities and towns and villages have the absolute authority to strip-search any person whom they, for whatever reason, put under arrest.
With this ruling, the reduction of America to unexceptionalism is complete.

I've nicked this from Stephen King.

Why Not?

He's a writer and this blog is about what I like in writing. This is one of the things I like - people getting passionate about things. He published this in The Daily Beast. I copied it from Common Dreams.

Tax Me, for F@%&’s Sake!
Chris Christie may be fat, but he ain’t Santa Claus. In fact, he seems unable to decide if he is New Jersey’s governor or its caporegime, and it may be a comment on the coarsening of American discourse that his brash rudeness is often taken for charm. In February, while discussing New Jersey’s newly amended income-tax law, which allows the rich to pay less (proportionally) than the middle class, Christie was asked about Warren Buffett’s observation that he paid less federal income taxes than his personal secretary, and that wasn’t fair. “He should just write a check and shut up,” Christie responded, with his typical verve. “I’m tired of hearing about it. If he wants to give the government more money, he’s got the ability to write a check—go ahead and write it.”
"What charitable 1%ers can’t do is assume responsibility—America’s national responsibilities: the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich can’t fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer... That annoying responsibility stuff comes from three words that are anathema to the Tea Partiers: United American citizenry."
Heard it all before. At a rally in Florida (to support collective bargaining and to express the socialist view that firing teachers with experience was sort of a bad idea), I pointed out that I was paying taxes of roughly 28 percent on my income. My question was, “How come I’m not paying 50?” The governor of New Jersey did not respond to this radical idea, possibly being too busy at the all-you-can-eat cheese buffet at Applebee’s in Jersey City, but plenty of other people of the Christie persuasion did.
Cut a check and shut up, they said.
If you want to pay more, pay more, they said.
Tired of hearing about it, they said.
Tough shit for you guys, because I’m not tired of talking about it. I’ve known rich people, and why not, since I’m one of them? The majority would rather douse their dicks with lighter fluid, strike a match, and dance around singing “Disco Inferno” than pay one more cent in taxes to Uncle Sugar. It’s true that some rich folks put at least some of their tax savings into charitable contributions. My wife and I give away roughly $4 million a year to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment (Jaws of Life tools are always a popular request), schools, and a scattering of organizations that underwrite the arts. Warren Buffett does the same; so does Bill Gates; so does Steven Spielberg; so do the Koch brothers; so did the late Steve Jobs. All fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.
What charitable 1 percenters can’t do is assume responsibility—America’s national responsibilities: the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich can’t fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, “OK, I’ll write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS.” That annoying responsibility stuff comes from three words that are anathema to the Tea Partiers: United American citizenry.
And hey, why don’t we get real about this? Most rich folks paying 28 percent taxes do not give out another 28 percent of their income to charity. Most rich folks like to keep their dough. They don’t strip their bank accounts and investment portfolios. They keep them and then pass them on to their children, their children’s children. And what they do give away is—like the monies my wife and I donate—totally at their own discretion. That’s the rich-guy philosophy in a nutshell: don’t tell us how to use our money; we’ll tell you.
The Koch brothers are right-wing creepazoids, but they’re giving right-wing creepazoids. Here’s an example: 68 million fine American dollars to Deerfield Academy. Which is great for Deerfield Academy. But it won’t do squat for cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, where food fish are now showing up with black lesions. It won’t pay for stronger regulations to keep BP (or some other bunch of dipshit oil drillers) from doing it again. It won’t repair the levees surrounding New Orleans. It won’t improve education in Mississippi or Alabama. But what the hell—them li’l crackers ain’t never going to go to Deerfield Academy anyway. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.
Here’s another crock of fresh bullshit delivered by the right wing of the Republican Party (which has become, so far as I can see, the only wing of the Republican Party): the richer rich people get, the more jobs they create. Really? I have a total payroll of about 60 people, most of them working for the two radio stations I own in Bangor, Maine. If I hit the movie jackpot—as I have, from time to time—and own a piece of a film that grosses $200 million, what am I going to do with it? Buy another radio station? I don’t think so, since I’m losing my shirt on the ones I own already. But suppose I did, and hired on an additional dozen folks. Good for them. Whoopee-ding for the rest of the economy.
Tired of hearing about it, they said. Tough shit for you guys, because I’m not tired of talking about it. I’ve known rich people, and why not, since I’m one of them?
At the risk of repeating myself, here’s what rich folks do when they get richer: they invest. A lot of those investments are overseas, thanks to the anti-American business policies of the last four administrations. Don’t think so? Check the tag on that T-shirt or gimme cap you’re wearing. If it says MADE IN AMERICA, I’ll … well, I won’t say I’ll eat your shorts, because some of that stuff is made here, but not much of it. And what does get made here doesn’t get made by America’s small cadre of pluted bloatocrats; it’s made, for the most part, in barely-gittin’-by factories in the Deep South, where the only unions people believe in are those solemnized at the altar of the local church (as long as they’re from different sexes, that is).
The U.S. senators and representatives who refuse even to consider raising taxes on the rich—they squall like scalded babies (usually on Fox News) every time the subject comes up—are not, by and large, superrich themselves, although many are millionaires and all have had the equivalent of Obamacare for years. They simply idolize the rich. Don’t ask me why; I don’t get it either, since most rich people are as boring as old, dead dog shit. The Mitch McConnells and John Boehners and Eric Cantors just can’t seem to help themselves. These guys and their right-wing supporters regard deep pockets like Christy Walton and Sheldon Adelson the way little girls regard Justin Bieber … which is to say, with wide eyes, slack jaws, and the drool of adoration dripping from their chins. I’ve gotten the same reaction myself, even though I’m only “baby rich” compared with some of these guys, who float serenely over the lives of the struggling middle class like blimps made of thousand-dollar bills.
In America, the rich are hallowed. Even Warren Buffett, who has largely been drummed out of the club for his radical ideas about putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to patriotism, made the front pages when he announced that he had stage-1 prostate cancer. Stage 1, for God’s sake! A hundred clinics can fix him up, and he can put the bill on his American Express black card! But the press made it sound like the pope’s balls had just dropped off and shattered! Because it was cancer? No! Because it was Warren Buffett, he of Berkshire-Hathaway!
I guess some of this mad right-wing love comes from the idea that in America, anyone can become a Rich Guy if he just works hard and saves his pennies. Mitt Romney has said, in effect, “I’m rich and I don’t apologize for it.” Nobody wants you to, Mitt. What some of us want—those who aren’t blinded by a lot of bullshit persiflage thrown up to mask the idea that rich folks want to keep their damn money—is for you to acknowledge that you couldn’t have made it in America without America. That you were fortunate enough to be born in a country where upward mobility is possible (a subject upon which Barack Obama can speak with the authority of experience), but where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged. That it’s not fair to ask the middle class to assume a disproportionate amount of the tax burden. Not fair? It’s un-fucking-American is what it is. I don’t want you to apologize for being rich; I want you to acknowledge that in America, we all should have to pay our fair share. That our civics classes never taught us that being American means that—sorry, kiddies—you’re on your own. That those who have received much must be obligated to pay—not to give, not to “cut a check and shut up,” in Governor Christie’s words, but to pay—in the same proportion. That’s called stepping up and not whining about it. That’s called patriotism, a word the Tea Partiers love to throw around as long as it doesn’t cost their beloved rich folks any money.
This has to happen if America is to remain strong and true to its ideals. It’s a practical necessity and a moral imperative. Last year during the Occupy movement, the conservatives who oppose tax equality saw the first real ripples of discontent. Their response was either Marie Antoinette (“Let them eat cake”) or Ebenezer Scrooge (“Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”). Short-sighted, gentlemen. Very short-sighted. If this situation isn’t fairly addressed, last year’s protests will just be the beginning. Scrooge changed his tune after the ghosts visited him. Marie Antoinette, on the other hand, lost her head.
Think about it.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012


Haven't had many of them recently, so haven't blogged much. In truth, I haven't got many more today, but it's time to say something, so...
I've put up two sections recently and want to think about what is going on in them and why, so 'scuse me while I muse a bit.
The first part is the trip down the river, where Adam meets with Miya. There should be a background feeling to this. There have already been two attacks, one each on Adam and Phoebe which you can see here. Neither of them really know about this though. Adam was told that the chimereagle was spying and Phoebe was blissfully unaware that the Vish had shot the Shedu chasing her out of the air. Both would be lots of dramatic music, but little real action.
Phoebe is aware of the fact that this is a place geared up for war and about to have the thing break loose. In a way, that's the problem for me, as she's so aware of it that she's barely going to say a word about it. She's happy to show off her knowledge of the Land, but I'm against her sitting down and expositing to let the readers know what is going on here.
Adam can drop hints that things are not as rosy as the weather seems to suggest, so he gets press-ganged into it. Mostly these are small things. He talks about the walls around the settlement, the Bastles which he sees on the trip down the river and speculates just enough on the reasons for them. My hope is that a reader will either get this clear, or at least pick up the hint that we are in a war zone from him.
There is a thought in my mind that someone who'd grown up around this time in the UK, which is in the process of spending billions on preparations for terrorist attacks on the Olympics, would have a heightened awareness of threat and preparations for it.
The fact that Phoebe doesn't is meant to show her as being an idiot or naive - she's got different priorities and references here and a lot of different expectations.

I wanted to introduce a note in the river trip, though. They are both aware of being in a story. This story is going to be very different from the one that either would expect. That's partly because of things that I can't discuss yet, but also partly because Adam needs to be caught up in this tale. That's an imperative for the whole thing and not just from my side.

I'm not the only author in this story. My concern is to keep the person reading the pages turning them over. This story, though is being generated around the two who have come in to play this game, and the writer of that story is much more focused on Adam and Phoebe. Think about telling a bedtime story to a child and think about it being a story about that child. The story has really got to engage the child, otherwise it doesn't work at all. This story is that personal.

So the reader gets to see that things are changing in this story and one part of the reason why. With luck, that sets up a lot of things that will come later and help to make sense of them.

Right, I had meant to go on about the initiation, but I've had enough for this post. More in the next one.