Sunday 31 May 2015

Hobby Projects: female Company Command Squad, Saurus Oldblood

Jute Loyal Company Command Squad

I've had a nice little break and its time to get back to it. For a start, now I have both the Heroic Scale Female Heads from Statuesque Miniatures and the Kilted Legs from Victoria Miniatures its high time I made some of these female Imperial Guard I've been banging on about for months. Hence:
Yes, the officer is shorter than everyone else because my snips slipped and I had to cut off the bottom of the torso. Sadly, this is the only officer torso with boob-concealing flak armour so my officer gets to be a bit on the short side. I like that, though, the image of this stocky middle-aged woman in charge of a Guard regiment. I sort of imagine her played by Miriam Margoyles or Sandy Toksvig.

I'm leaning more towards Toksvig because of the no-nonsense voice.

One Week Model Challenge
Saurus Oldblood
Yeah, my big mistake was trying to do whole units in a week so, from now on, its going to be single models. This week: the Oldblood from the Carnosaur kit, who is fantastic even if my shitty photography doesn't show him off to best effect.

Friday 15 May 2015

Reed Richards will bow before the might of Cameron!

I'm not trying to turn this into a political blog. I'm not suited to that sort of content as a person or a writer, plus it has this “shouting into the wind” quality of futility given my traffic numbers, but...
when the Prime Minister makes public statements that can be seamlessly and without editing pasted onto Doctor Doom (or Baron Greenback or Lord Humungous or Calvin Candie or Skeletor, they've all been done, too) its time to ask some very serious questions about where politics in your country is going and whether you might not have spent five years underestimating just how much crap the Lib Dem half of the coalition was protecting us from. 

Thursday 14 May 2015

The Warhammer Armies Project

I game with a pretty laid back group and I'm glad of that. There's been at least one occasion when an old rule we assumed to still exist turned out not to but it was too good to drop so we all came to a gentlemen's agreement to let it stand (for the sake of clarity, the rule was the one allowing Bretonnian Damels to sit in the middle of a lance formation and use the unit's line of sight for casting).

So having discovered Mathias Eliasson's Warhammer Armies Project I'm relatively confident I could make use of one of his fan-made army lists with the minimum fuss. He's so far written Army Books for Albion, Amazons, Araby, a Bretonnia update and expansion, Cathay, Chaos Dwarfs, the Cult of Ulric, Dogs of War, Estalia, Halflings, Hobgoblins, the Kingdoms of Ind, Kislev, Nippon, the Norse and the Pirates of Sartosa. All available for free as PDFs at the link above.

And I am amazed by the production values on these things, they more than match the official publications. I haven't read all of them but I went straight to the Cathay book. There was a time when the original Ogre Kingdoms book came out and it had so many references to the Chaos Dwarfs and Cathay that we all assumed there was going to be a push east and we'd see new armies springing up to represent places and peoples missing from the game since second edition.

It never happened and I've always wanted the option of a Cathay army or an Araby army like the one in Warmaster (because elephant cavalry!).

Anyway, I checked out the Cathay book and it seems pretty well-balanced. Just about every unit has obvious strengths balanced by significant actual weaknesses. Elite units have low armour, horde units have low weapon skill and so on. Pretty standard but I've seen some horrendously unbalanced fan lists in my day.

I want to build a Gong. You can have a Gong in this army and its useful. It acts as a sort of super-musician to the units around it.

It would be a ton of conversion work but, to be honest, I think the bodies of most units could be easily made using various elf kits since a lot of those models use Asian influences. Low armour units could easily be represented by strapping the right weapons to High Elves Archers, high armour units by High Elves Spearmen and Wood Elves Eternal Guard.

I just have to somehow source or create appropriate some Han-style heads and work out a kitbash for Cathayan longswords since all existing human greatswords are very chunkily German.

I'm trying to concentrate on the Lizardmen and the Orks but this is damned attractive and it'd consciously be a very slow build. Damn it, I'm convincing myself. Oh well. 

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Forever tempted towards White Scars

What is it about White Scars that tempts me so? I mean, I know I can't paint them as they have absolutely the most unforgiving colour scheme ever invented. Yet there's an attraction to the idea because they're very different from the (excuse the expression) standard template Space Marine army.

And they're absolutely one of my favourite ideas in Warhammer 40,000. They are superhuman, power armoured Mongolian horse archers except that since they're too large and heavy to ride a horse they ride giant motorbikes instead! They don't fortify positions or hold ground in any way, total freedom of movement is at the heart of how they prosecute their wars. I love to settle my games in combat, I find ranged fighting unsatisfying, so they're pretty much perfect for me.

They also don't make use of a load of things that have always been mainstays of my Space Marine armies. They don't operate Devastator Squads as they're far too static, using tanks Rhino-mounted Tactical Squads for fire support. They don't use Dreadnoughts (and I bloody love Dreadnoughts) because locking a White Scar inside a metal box, forever disconnected from the feeling of the wind on his face, is nothing short of a nightmare for them. They don't have Chaplains, merging the role with their Librarians.

Chris Wraight's excellent Horus Heresy novel Scars made me love this idea even more since it presented their philosophy of war in these terms: structures have weaknesses and will always fall once an enemy identifies the location of that weakness. Constant movement eliminates the existence of an identifiable centre, which the Khan views as the ultimate weakness. In fact, Wraight has the Khan pretty much predict the inevitability of something like the Horus Heresy simply because the Imperium has centred its massive beaurocracy on Terra.

There's also a lovely throwaway line in which Malcador the Sigilite (aka God's Best Mate) forgets the Khan when discussing the unaccounted-for Primarchs and muses “That was why he was created, after all.”. (He also has a line in which he reflects that he told the Emperor to make the Primarchs daughters instead of sons).

But.. painting white. I know I said I cracked it but that much white is a whole other challenge. Ugh... 

Tuesday 12 May 2015

The disturbing moral implications of Pokemon

Last night I couldn't get to sleep. Bored beyond words, too tired to do anything but too awake to sleep, I grabbed my old Game Boy Advance from the draws by my bed and decided to grind a few levels in Pokemon Leaf Green until I finally nodded off. An hour later, somewhere on Route 11 outside Vermillion City with the time approaching 2am in the real world, I started to consider the morality of my actions.

I'm not even talking about the fact Pokemon is basically a dogfighting simulation with a fantasy anime coat of paint. I mean, that's disturbing on its own if you choose to view things that way but it goes deeper than that.

Here I am (and by “I”, I mean the player character), a pre-teen girl travelling without supervision through a heavily forested country infested with dangerous animals. Why am I doing this? Because a scientist who can't remember my name, my gender or the name of his own grandson is too lazy to do his own research. Literally, that's what the Pokedex mechanic is for in-story: to gather data on the Pokemon you encounter on Professor Oak's behalf. And what was my mother's reaction to all this? Approval. She's fine with it. She knows girls want to travel.

That's just the broad sweep of the story, when I consider my actions during that short play session it gets even more disturbing, or at least it did when the fatigue made me think too deeply about it.

In the short hour I spent last night walking down Route 11 with the my captive animals I went hunting in the long grass for wild animals to victimise; attacked several electricians who were just going about their business laying cables; was picked on in turn by numerous shirtless old men; and practically mugged several children who were using vastly lower level Pokemon than I was, netting myself over six hundred dollars / yen / whatever of their money in the process. My captive animals were continuously poisoned, knocked out, electrocuted and concussed and when I returned to Vermillion City to have them revived no questions were asked of me. Nurse Joy simply took them off my hands, treated them and handed them back, no fuss whatsoever.

What's more, in every battle I sent out my weakest Pokemon first, a Level 14 female Paras, who would get one pathetic attack in, get absolutely walloped by the opposing Pokemon and then I'd replace her with something that stood an actual chance. Why? Because just being in the fight for one turn would mean she'd get an equal share of the XP and level up to something approaching usefulness.

The moral of the story? Take it as you will, either this is a good object lesson in how academic education can make you read too much into things or it shows that you should never take anything at face value and critique everything. Both are true, in my opinion. 

Monday 11 May 2015

The Comics Ramble: Harley, is that you?

Left to right: likely Bronze Tiger; Captain Boomerang who isn't called Captain Boomerang;
apparently Enchantress; definitely Katana; almost certainly Rick Flagg; claims to be
Harley Quinn; heavily marketed as Deadshot; take your pick of Blockbuster, King Shark
or Killer Croc, cos I dunno; and what I am assured is El Diablo and not a zombie. 
Oh, I could rant about this image for hours. It'd be an easy post, a post you've likely already seen elsewhere because I am slow as hell with these things and we all know how it goes. I could point out how this image started a forty-comment long Facebook conversation between myself, three other comicbook geeks and an ICT teacher whose Google Fu is worryingly good yet there were still two character we couldn't identify. I could draw all the standard comparisons between the DC-Warner and Marvel-Disney approaches. I could make all manner of hyperbolic, nay histrionic, statements about how DC's obsession with looking like adults does nothing of the sort.

But I'm not gonna. I'm tired of being angry, about this and so many other things, so I'm going to try and unpick something interesting (if still highly critical) out of this image. You might remember when the photo of the Leto Joker hit I said that when they released a publicity shot of a halfway decent Harley Quinn then I would permit myself to hope.


Now, I don't want to use the phrase “slutty schoolgirl fantasy” out of politeness... but I suspect the phrase probably came up in a design meeting or two at Warner, is all I'm saying.

Harley's been a lot of things over the years: a gangster's moll; an abuse survivor carving out a life for herself; an arch-manipulator capable of using everything from her education to her own mental condition to twist others around her finger; an anarchic free spirit running an apartment building for some very odd tenants... that's a lot of different interpretations. I've seen her “be” a lot of different characters in a lot of different media, so what is it about this version that screams “Not Harley!” to me?

Hell, I don't even mind the whole “Property of the Joker” line on the back of her jacket. I mean, it does combine with the Joker's “damaged” tattoo to make me wonder exactly how many show don't tell violations this film will have (does Will Smith have “sniper” written somewhere on his rifle, I wonder?) but when introducing Harley to a whole new audience its probably important to start with her in classic The Joker's Girlfriend mode and work up to the later interpretations we comic fans all know and love.

(I'm giving you credit here, Warner Bros., so please make her more than a beaten woman and prove me right, okay? That shit's okay as a starting point in the story, not as a whole character. Please don't make me cringe through continuous scenes of abuse with no pay-off. Please don't make me explain those scenes to the many co-workers who come to me after every comicbook movie with trivia questions. Don't do that to me. Thank you.)

No, my essential problem with this costume is it looking nothing like a harlequin. It actually seems to have escaped everyone's notice when designing this thing that Harley's name is a pun. Even this monstrosity...
makes reference to that fact in its use of colour. Even though its the least Harlequin-esque of her costumes it conveys a few important visual cues about her personality: the red and black are a bold contrast, noticeable, its a performative costume that she wants to be noticed; its more blatantly sexualised than her more usual look but that still draws attention to her physicality and Harley is a very physical character; the white skin (bleached in this version, usually make-up in others) references her link to the Joker and serves to make her stand out even further.

Movie Harley has a bit of slap on her face, almost invisible given the lighting of the picture, and we return to one of my initial problems with the image as a whole: who are these guys? There's not much visual information conveyed about these characters: some are clearly soldiers, some are in civvies; there's a mummy hiding in the rear to be as indistinct as possible; a relatively on-model version of a very minor hero; there's Will Smith being all marketable; and our subject for today: what appears to be a bad modernisation of Sandy from the final act of Grease.

Yet I can see what they're going for here once I scrape away my confusion about who's who and look at this as marketing. Let's just take the bull by the horns and compare this cast to the Avengers: there are more women on this team and its more ethnically diverse even than the post-Age Of Ultron Avengers. That message just gets drowned out because so few of the characters have good visual identifiers and its the geek media who are meant to share this around and go “Look! Look which characters they're doing!”.

And yet here I am confident the woman in the middle is Harley Quinn only because she's the blonde. There should be more to work with than that. 

Sunday 10 May 2015

Weekly War Diary #3: Build-A-Lizard week

Given the run-up to the election and the slump of ennui that followed I got little done this week. Still, something happened yesterday that made me want to jump back into my hobby head-first: I went round a friend's house and watched some games.

My gaming group has mainly been playing 40k since February for Dave's map campaign but yesterday some of us got together and had some games of Fantasy. I didn't even play, I was shattered from work and was on rulebook duty (which, by the way, is not only a great way for someone not playing to feel useful but really helps prevent rules-flicking from disrupting the flow of the game).

We actually got three small games done that afternoon: Matt's Orcs & Goblins vs Tom's Empire; Tom's Empire vs Iain's Chaos Warriors; and Iain's Warriors vs. Tom's Empire. Wins: Orcs & Goblins; Warriors; Empire.

It was fun. God, we were rusty, though and the rulebook got a good workout.

Anyway, I've got a week off and not many plans since no one's around during the day. I want to play Fantasy and I feel the Vampire Counts have run their course so I want the Lizardmen up and running. Working from the army list I posted up a week or so back I've already got the 12 Skink Skirmishers and the plastic Skink Priest done plus the other Priest and the Kroxigor from the box of stuff Matt gave me.

Plus it'll give me something to do with my hands while I catch up with some audios. 

Saturday 9 May 2015

Japanese War Tubas

They existed. Here's photographic evidence. They were an acoustic, pre-radar form of aircraft detection. The operator wore earphones attached to the giant tuba horn.

Yeah, I'm just not up to anything more complicated than this today. 

Friday 8 May 2015

An open plea to Conservative voters

Given that the next five years are not going to be fun for me, can I just ask this one thing? Just one thing and it won't take you long?

Take your copy of the Conservative manifesto (and if you don't have one, please download it and consider carefully why you didn't have one but voted this way regardless) and take note of the policies and promises that led you to vote the way you did. Keep the notes, keep the manifesto and every now and again read them over again and check to see whether the promises and policies you voted for have been delivered on.

This isn't even me saying the Conservatives will naturally ignore their manifesto promises: I was planning to post this regardless of who won. It would be up here as “An open plea to Labour voters” if things had swung that way or an “An open please to Liberal Democrat voters” if we lived in a wildly different alternate universe, just with a different opening paragraph.

I'm not even saying that if you find a single promise undelivered on that's a huge betrayal. Things change and needs evolve, just take a cold and cynical look at it if it happens. If more people took time to actively track the delivery of manifesto promises we might see the Number 10 changing hands a lot more often than we do. 

General Election 2015

So, I was wrong. As I write this with 620 seats declared the Conservatives are on the way to an overall majority or to being a minority government so close to true majority it doesn't make a difference.

I've made no secret that I really hoped the days of majority government were over. Coalition governments are actually quite common in the rest of Europe and I was hoping that the necessity of actively involving more minority parties at the policy level would soften the neoliberal tendencies that all three major parties display to one horrifying degree or other.

Well, two major parties now since the Liberal Democrats have only won eight seats when they previously held fifty-seven. I don't know how I feel about that. I understand why it happened but the numbers tell an odd story, at least to me. Labour have lost seats unless they sweep the board in the remaining forty constituencies so the logical conclusion is that LibDem voters, frustrated at their party spending five years as an extension of the Conservatives, have voted Conservative.

I just don't understand people. This is my third General Election and I've never seen people more politically engaged. I've never seen minority parties make gains in public recognition that would have been unthinkable even ten years ago thanks to social media and other resources relieving the strangehold the tabloids had on our political understanding (and, seriously, look at some of the blatant attacks on the front pages the last few days). I've never seen people looking into minority parties as a legitimate wayto exercise their franchise instead of as an impotent “protest vote”.

Yet after five years of austerity measures that haven't worked; after numerous attacks on public services; after years of rhetoric attacking the poor and unemployed during a recession; and with the chance of a new coalition giving value to voting for a minority party for the first time in my generation's lifetime...

a massive vote of confidence in the status quo.

Seems Gordon Brown was wrong: the Scots didn't need to vote SNP to get a Tory government, its happening anyway.

I know this is just the gloom talking but the only hope in my life right now is that South Thanet hasn't been called at this time and we might yet be rid of the Testicle-Faced Hobgoblin. 

Thursday 7 May 2015

Creators and the Progressive Pedestal

The Joss Whedon thing is still young but there are a few things I want to tease out of it because I think they have value in a broader context. As I said yesterday I don't want to dive too far into the specific scene that started all this because I've only seen it once whilst half-distracted by people around me texting, eating and being generally annoying. No, I want to discuss some more peripheral aspects of this whole thing, first of all the tendency we have to put creators on an unsustainable pedestal.

Let's get some distance from Whedon first because emotions there are running hot and that's never useful to a conversation. One of my favourite webcomics is Go Get A Roomie by Belgian writer-artist Chloe C. One of the most notable aspects of the series is the amazing diversity of its cast which features a surprising variety of sexual and gender identities, each explored in interesting and considered ways. There's even a character (currently) portrayed as asexual and, let me tell you, as someone who identified as asexual for years it is refreshing not only to see that identity portrayed but portrayed with a clear understanding that there's nothing socially or medically wrong with the character. Once the context of her sexuality is understood by the other characters its accepted and any “pushing of boundaries” is either done by her own agency or in reference to the still open question of whether she's aromantic.

(I'm summarising hugely here, by the way, and the character may turn out not to be as asexual as she currently seems but, hey, I'm intimately aware that sexual identity can change so yet again we're in “Yay! Representation!” territory as far as I'm concerned. Seriously, read this comic, its cool.).

Okay, so apart from a two paragraph fanboy plug how does this relate to our subject today? Well, because Chloe C. has several times addressed concern about how people put her on a pedestal when it comes to queer issues. It isn't hard to see why people are inclined to do this, she's a fantastic author and I've learnt things as a direct consequence of her work so I definitely see why its happened. For the record she's expressed her discomfort with the pedestal both on her Tumblr where she's cautioned people that any advice she gives on these issues should not be taken as a definitive statement and in the strip itself through the title character Roomie having insecurities surrounding other idolising her.

(Tumblr, by the way, is probably the worst blogging system that exists for when you want to quote something: posts don't have titles and the archive system uses this not all that useful thumbnail method and though I can't find the post I want to quote, this Ask one pretty much sums up the whole shebang).

So what's wrong with the pedestal? Well, its unsustainable, frankly. People screw up. Everyone. You, me, Chloe C., Whedon, the lot of us. There's no amount of editing or self-critique that's going to stop someone someday putting out something that will play poorly to someone out there, maybe to a lot of someones. To use another example, one of the braver creative acts I've seen on the internet was when Jeph Jacques, writer-artist of Questionable Content, revealed one of his characters to be trans and openly said in a news post:

I have to admit, I am nervous about posting this comic, because including a trans person in my cast is something I have wanted to do for years and I really, really want to do a good job of it. One of the major themes of QC, I think, is of inclusion, and this seemed like a pretty important thing to include. I have given it a lot of thought and done a lot of research, so hopefully I won't screw up. I'll do my best, anyway.”

This brings us to a second issue I want to bring up, a sentiment that I've seen in a few quarters and that I'm going to paraphrase because I don't want to look like I'm calling anyone particular out. This has been expressed in a lot of different ways and to a lot of different degrees but the basic sentiment is this:

If Joss Whedon can't write good female characters he shouldn't bother.”

Sidestepping the question of what “good” even means in this context because I could write a dozen posts on that alone, the idea that a perfect portrayal is the only one that can be worthwhile is intensely problematic. Jacques introduced a trans character and expressed his concerns that he might not be able to do the idea justice and in other places he's solicited criticism to help him improve that portrayal. In an ideal world criticism is about a social conversation, not necessarily involving the creator under critique but that's a nice bonus if you can get it, about how art can be improved. Just yelling “Stop!” when something isn't perfect defeats the whole point because how does anything ever improve under those conditions?

Also, why would anyone create under those conditions? There's no incentive to take risks there. All the creatives I've mentioned in this post have one thing in common: they're progressives (or liberals or social justice types or however you want to express it). Jacques and Chloe C. identify inclusivity as a central tenet of their art and Whedon came to prominence through creating Buffy The Vampire Slayer which is perhaps most notable for its female and queer characters.

As a not unnatural consequence the fans of these peoples' work are also generally progressives because people tend to latch on to things they agree with. In the dim mists of long ago when I started writing this post I mentioned how I identified with the sexual identity of one of Chloe C.'s characters and that's a big part of why she became a creator I took an active interest in to the point of, say, reading her tumblr and looking up her Deviantart page instead of just reading that one project of hers.

And because progressives are interested in progress (not, y'know, unnaturally) when one of these creators takes a retrograde step, intentional or not, it can make the progressive fan very angry. Progressives are usually politically engaged and by the nature of that we're often politically enraged in what feels like an increasingly conservative culture. So when one of our heroes, one of the people we've emotionally invested in for agreeing with us when so much mass media doesn't, makes a mistake we can take it as a very personal betrayal.

We're not unjustified in feeling let down, I'm not suggesting anyone gets a free pass here. Criticism is an important force that should be applied to all art as a matter of course. Its just that I think we would all (creators, critics and consumers alike) be better served by remembering that no one and nothing is perfect and never will be. Mistakes should be brought up and discussed but by no means should they be reason to disregard all work of the author, let alone future work that could be improved by a reasoned conversation about those mistakes the creative could learn from. 

On voting, not voting and coalitions

Its election day and there's been a lot of discussion the last few months about whether not voting is a valid act or protest. I am voting, as it happens, but I wanted to say this:

If you aren't voting because you can't find a political party whose policies you believe in then I totally respect that. Voting is ultimately an act of conscience and it would be morally wrong of me to encourage someone to vote for something they don't believe in.

If you don't feel any connection to politics then I'd ask you to reconsider but I wouldn't blame you. I'd blame the political culture for forcing that disengagement through decades of betraying the common trust.

I do believe there's some worth in voting and I do have a party whose principles I've come to believe in. I actually have missed a couple of elections, mainly local ones, in my younger years but over the last six or seven years I've become much more politically engaged. It is an uphill struggle, though, given that so much news media biases to the right (it really does, no matter what the right says because deference to power equals access to power so most media tends to defer to those in power) and there's an increasing amount of fact checking you have to do to take anything a politician says as truth.

I'm not one to predict how these things go but I do think we'll have another coalition because the rise of minor parties the last few years (for good or ill) means we aren't facing a world of two horse races anymore. In a way this makes voting more important as the composition of government is going to be more complex than simply achieving a parliamentary majority. A small increase in the number of, say, Green or SNP members in a theoretical coalition would have a real effect on policy.

You see how this could be better than a majority party? Voting for smaller parties who could never form a majority becomes more valuable. There could never be a Green or SNP government, under majority rule they'd always be on the opposition side of the house, at least in any immediate term. Now, if one of those parties gained a significant block of the members and a coalition was needed they'd have a genuine chance to affect policy from within the ruling party instead of simply voting for or against when presented with an already written proposition.

If you agree more with Green or SNP policies you can vote for them with a chance they'll be in government even if they aren't the ruling party, its actually quite exciting. 

Wednesday 6 May 2015

Extra History and the GOOD side of the internet

The internet is a shitty, shitty place at times. Just this week controversy over a character beat in Avengers: Age Of Ultron somehow snowballed over social media into Joss Whedon receiving death threats and shutting down his Twitter account. That controversy is certainly worth discussing because that discussion could take in a lot of larger issues of female representation in film and also works as a good case study in why we shouldn't put creators on a political pedestal that they'll inevitably fall from because they're human and unable to consider every socio-political angle of their work.

But, of course, this is the internet and so a section of this debate gave in to the human tendency towards extremism and starting screaming threats. This, however, is a discussion for another day, in my case preferably a day when Whedon has released more details about what was said to him and when I've viewed the scene in question more than once.

Today I want to cheer myself up by talking about something good on the internet, something educational that gives me faith that the average person on the net isn't just there to make themselves feel big by screaming their views at the top of their capslocks with zero critical thought applied to themselves.

I want to talk about a little Youtube series called Extra History.

I've written in the past that I believe strongly in populist history. Not dumbed down history, not inaccurate history (though small inaccuracies are sometimes a necessary evil which we'll get to later) but presenting history in an accessible way.

I love history but the history I love isn't the history I was ever taught at school. History at school was very dry, a list of facts that create a very clean and ordered narrative leading from A to B to, about 70% of the time, a World War. The other 30% of the time we were doing the later Tudor monarchs. We didn't get much context outside of the big facts we'd need to know for the exam.

So that's why I love populist history series like The Mark Steel Lectures and the series we're talking today: Extra History.

Let's take one of the subjects I allegedly “learnt” about at school: the outbreak of the First World War. As far as my teachers and, sadly, I was concerned how it went was Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand was shot in a way presented as a sort of dress rehearsal for Dallas 1963 and a few weeks later the war began. We were given no context, no details of the politics that led to the assassination. All we were told, all we were judged to need, was that Ferdinand's death was categorically the spark that ignited the war. I don't even think it was a whole lesson.

A couple days ago Youtube threw Extra History at me in my recommendations and they had a series of five videos called World War I: The Seminal Tragedy. Two things were important about these videos. The first was that it covered the assassination of Ferdinand and the other events leading into the Great War in greater detail than I'd ever heard. They presented the story as grand tragedy, which it obviously is but which school failed to fully clue me in on. The players are presented briefly but concisely and I was startled by the fact that several attempts to kill Ferdinand that day failed and how he eventually died only through a startling coincidence.

The second thing that was good about the series was the final video, subtitled simply “Lies” in which the series writer James Portnow corrects some artistic mistakes (anachronistic flags), common mistakes he made (saying “Moscow” instead of “St. Petersburg” in reference to the Russian capital of the day), confessing that some incidents in the video were based on common readings of events rather than absolute facts and offering some extra context that couldn't fit in the previous episodes due to time considerations. Portnow gains great respect from me for then saying “don't trust us […] don't trust any one source”, which is one of the most important things to learnt about history.

I actually took the fact about Britain's national debt in yesterday's post from the Extra History series on the South Sea Bubble, something I'd heard the name of but had absolutely no idea what it was even though it continues to affect our country's economy. I did make sure to do a little reading before citing it and, though some details were glossed over in the video, the fact was sound enough to use as the basis of a post.

I guess this brings us to the “necessary evil” of small inaccuracies, which Portnow admits to in that one episode. First off these videos are made by a staff of three people and he's the sole writer so there are going to be things he misses. Second is, as he says, its good practice to check you've been told the truth or if there are other interpretations, which the day before a general election I think is a lesson worth teaching for a lot of other aspects of our lives.

But why does this restore a little of my faith in humanity after the Whedon thing? Because Extra History started off as a marketing thing: a series on the Punic Wars paid for by the makers of Rome: Total War but now its paid for, and the subjects voted for, by Extra Credits' Patreon backers. Those backers voted for the South Sea Bubble over the campaigns of Julius Ceasar. They chose an obscure event over one they would have known to be flashy and exciting. Its a decision that was considered and driven in the majority of cases by a genuine desire to be educated. That version of the internet, a tool for education used by people who want to be educated, is one I wish I had more examples to crow about.

[Extra History is hosted on the Extra Credits Youtube channel here.]

Tuesday 5 May 2015

A quick note about national debts

One of the issues that has been doing the rounds in the run up to Thursday's general election is the matter of our national debt. This is apparently very, very important if you listen to how the Conservatives are building it up.

The thing is that as important as national debt it and that it affects the cost of things and all sorts of other bits of economics, paying it off isn't as important in the immediate term as is being advertised. Let me give two examples of debts owed by the government.

First there's Lend-Lease, a loan agreed in 1941 to supply war materiel made in the United States to us, the Free French, China and later other allies. The basic sense of it was we got our planes and tanks for free in the short term and paid off the debt after the war. The UK paid of its share of Lend-Lease in 2006.

What's more, three months ago George Osborne signed off on a payment to settle part of a debt the government has been paying off since 1710.

As I said at the top of this post: national debt is an important issue with a lot of effects but don't be fooled into thinking its going to bankrupt the nation any time soon. These things are calculated to be paid off in terms longer (sometimes far longer) than a human lifetime.

And people wonder why I do so much reading around political issues instead of just listening to what politicians say on television. 

Monday 4 May 2015

Torchwood, eh?

Big Finish have announced the second of their “New Series” projects and its... well, probably the most obvious and somehow the oddest of choices: Torchwood.

On the one hand its not hard to see why: the Torchwood TV series has ground to a halt after its fourth season and there have been several Torchwood radio plays in the past.

So why am I surprised? Well, to be honest, because of a rather unpopular opinion of mine: I don't think Torchwood ever really worked. Of its four seasons the only one I'll go to bat for and say was all that good was the second. The first season was all sorts of insecure, working out a bunch of anxieties about being the BBC's first “adult” post-watershed sci-fi by doing the obligatory sex alien episode and having everyone shag everyone else at some point in the show. The second season largely got over those jitters, settled on a tone and got on with things but then the series started haemorrhaging cast members at a rate of knots. Then came the mini-series era with Children Of Earth and Miracle Day, neither of which really came together for me.

Maybe its just me, of course, and I can't claim that Big Finish haven't taken worse ideas and made them work. There was one good season, after all, and John Barrowman is always a delight as Captain Jack.

And maybe we'll finally find out what happened in those three yeas he can't remember from back when he was a Time Agent that was alluded to waaaaaaaay back in The Empty Child. I'm reasonably sure that never got resolved in either TV show. This is the company that made me like Mel Bush and turned Steven Taylor into something other than a plot-convenient cipher.

Time will tell, it usually does. 

Sunday 3 May 2015

Weekly War Diary #2: Complete Lack Of Progress Report

Well, not actually zero progress but nothing really worth commenting on. I ended up painting the Skinks in a very, very crap way before breaking, paint-stripping the lot and investing in a copy of How To Paint Citadel Miniatures: Lizardmen.

I have to say that I like these ebook How To Paint guides a lot more than the paper ones. The stage-by-stage images are a lot easier to follow when you can press the “next” button and the image changes before your very eyes. In the paper version its more like a comic strip and sometimes the subtler effects can be a bit hard to distinguish, especially since layering is used to describe about five separate techniques.

Anyway, the purchase is paying off. Although the guide seems convinced the Citadel Spray Gun was a good idea it didn't take me long to work out what base paints to use since my spray gun went in the bin months ago.

One Week Hobby Challenge
Okay, so my second attempt to complete a unit in a week resulted in a second failure so let's streamline this down a bit. Its 40k's turn on the Challenge so I'm going to paint my copy of Kaptin Badrukk, aka my Ork Warlord Kaptin Thunderguts Snarla. 

Saturday 2 May 2015

Fox, please just give up on the Fantastic Four

So apparently Fox have announced that in their new (hate-boner commissioned) Fantastic Four movie Reed Richards will not have stretchy powers. Instead he will warp time and space around his limbs.


And no, this is not about “respect for the source material” or some fannish nonsense like that. I don't mind changes to the source material that do something to improve the plot. Take, for instance, making Drax an alien in Guardians Of The Galaxy instead of an altered human: that was a good idea because Star-Lord being completely disconnected from any human contact was important to the plot.

This, though? This is a change that will likely do literally nothing. His power is still making his limbs longer its just instead of being made out of rubber flesh he'll be manipulating time and space. Why? Because it's less silly and apparently Fox is one of those companies making comicbook movies that still cares about looking like adults.

I watched Avengers: Age Of Ultron on Thursday and they showed the Fantastic Four trailer beforehand. It was painfully generic, said nothing, showcased none of the supposed changes to the story besides Johnny being black and that science lab scene that makes it seem oddly likely the FF's powers will be induced intentionally instead of being a tragic accident. You know what, though? I can kind of dig that just this once. Yes, it ignores the central tragedy that all the pop art insanity of the FF is built on but since a) they screwed that up good and proper last time and b) I really, really doubt this thing will get a sequel, it might be interesting as a one off thing.

That still doesn't solve what seem to be the central problems here: this is a movie Fox doesn't want to make; has previously failed to make work to the point of cancelling the series on a cliffhanger; and has only commissioned so the rights won't revert to Marvel Studios and no one has to explain to their bosses how Marvel made hundreds of millions on an idea they couldn't score a profit on.

Its just dumb. Really dumb. Time and effort is being wasted here for no reason other than spite. Millions of dollars, too, on a film rebooting a series that couldn't make a good enough profit even when it largely prototyped the astronomically successful method Marvel Studios uses on all its films.

I'm serious. More with the first one than the second but Fox's last Fantastic Four efforts gave them pretty faithful costumes and aside from Doom they all had their established personalities and interpersonal dynamics intact. What alterations were made were either in service of streamlining the origin story or pointless alterations to Doom's personality to reference the actor's role in Nip/Tuck. Hey, I didn't say it was all good.

Yet now they seem to be going with the dark and gritty treatment that has gone so well for DC-Warner because this is just how insecurity manifests in the production of superhero movies. 

Friday 1 May 2015

Summer Project 2015 army list

To start the month off right here's the army list for my Summer Project, a good chunk of which I want to get done over the course of May. Just a little something to work to, at least to start with, based on the following considerations: (1) what's in the Battalion I already own; (2) what's in the box of miscellaneous stuff Matt sold me; and (3) what looks pretty and I want to paint.

Saurus Oldblood armed with hand weapon and shield, wearing light armour and the Talisman of Preservation. 205pts
Skink Chief armed with hand weapon and shield, wearing light armour. 44pts
Skink Priest, Level 2 Wizard using the Lore of Heavens. 100pts
Skink Priest, Level 1 Wizard with the Lore of Beasts. 65pts
20 Saurus Warriors armed with spears and shields, full command. 250pts
24 Skink Cohort armed with hand weapons, Lustrian javelins and shields, 2 Kroxigor and Skink Brave. 230pts
12 Skink Skirmishers armed with hand weapons and blowpipes, Patrol Leader. 94pts
Bastiladon with Solar Engine and 3 Skink crew. 150 pts
5 Cold One Riders armed with spears and shields, full command. 200pts
1 Stegadon and 5 Skink crew armed with hand weapons, Lustrian javelins and giant bow, Sharpened Horns. 235pts
20 Temple Guard armed with halberds and shields wearing light armour, full command. 310pts
3 Terradon Riders armed with hand weapons, Lustrian javelins and rocks, Sky Leader. 115pts

Total: 1998 points

I think this just about covers all the bases: three rank-and-file infantry units; two fast units; a combat-oriented general; some magical support; a Skink Chief because nothing else would fit in the points; and, most important of all, plenty of the big dinosaurs centrepiece models. What's even better is the Battalion is a huge chunk of it so there's not much more financial outlay to be had (until I inevitably want to expand, of course).