Sunday, 10 June 2018

sufficiently morally worthy

In criminal law, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” (Blackstone’s formulation).

For social benefits, the principal seems to be “It is better that ten deserving persons starve than one undeserving get even a single penny” (Conservative formulation)

Punishment beatings by public demand - the truth about welfare reform
the benefit sanctions regime neither helps nor encourages people to find work, and leads to destitution, ill health and even crime. Nor does welfare reform save much money - predicted savings on disability benefit, housing benefit and council tax benefit have all failed to materialise. The government stokes hysteria about benefit claimants, the public demands these presumed moral miscreants be put through the mill, kangaroo courts impose kangaroo moral judgments. The results are unfair, ineffective and inefficient.

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Friday, 8 June 2018

what to do with tree stumps

We saw an old tree stump carved with heron-like birds in Prestbury.

It seems to be a bit of a local theme, as we saw some meerkats(?) later in nearby Mobberley.

It certainly beats uprooting old dead trees.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

view from a hotel window

I’m in the Hotel Jagdschloss Niederwald, Rüdesheim, Germany, for the Beilstein Bozen Symposium 2018 on Information and Noise: Chemistry, Biology and Evolution Creating Complex Systems.

The view from my window is gorgeous.
If only the view over all car parks looked like this one

It’s a nice small symposium, and the peaceful venue is an old hunting lodge (although somewhat recently rebuilt):

I’m looking forward to lots of great presentations, and to talking with the other delegates about chemistry and evolution.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

the high cost of epublishing

I usually think the print cost of technical books is rather high, and that the e-version is hardly any cheaper.  But I've not come across this pricing strategy before:

A £15 surcharge for the privilege of not having a hard copy?

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

TV review: Grimm season 5


This fifth season starts off with the fallout from season 4: new-Hexenbeast Juliette having killed Nick’s mother, tried to kill Nick, then herself been killed by Trubel. Only, in the best way of fantasy tales, Juliette isn’t as dead as she once was, having been taken by Hadrian’s Wall, the covert anti-Wessen organisation Trubel now works for. They have turned Juliette into Eve, a super-powerful emotionless Wessen killer with a strange taste in wigs. Meanwhile, Adelind and her new baby, Nick’s son (from when Adelind was disguised as Juliette), has become part of the good guy team, and Nick seems quite happy to change the target of his affections. And Black Claw, a powerful covert Wessen organisation, is out to take over the world, starting with Portland.

Yes, it’s getting complicated. And a bit of a mess. The overall season arc is the fight against Black Claw, but still with the monster-of-the-week detecting to do. When the stakes are low, fighting monsters one at a time seems fine; when the stakes have risen to world domination by Wessen, I would have thought a more joined-up response would be better. That’s what Hadrian’s Wall is for (although rather sparsely staffed), but Nick can’t just join them, for some reason. In fact, the monster-of-the-week is often the light relief from the darker background tone. And this time it’s Wu’s turn to misguidedly keep secrets from the others. Also, Hank now appears to be about the only normal human on the planet.

Two characters have massive plot-driven changes. Adelind becomes one of the good guys. Even when the humanising potion wears off and she’s got her hexenbiest powers again, despite dire warnings and fears of her turning bad, she stays the same. And Reynard’s change seems rather under-signalled: his flip to the Dark Side needed more motivation, which it would have been easy to provide, given his background. Then the Magic Stick is found, and forgotten for a few episodes, before becoming potentially, but not actually, decisive. Maybe next season?

For all my SF TV reviews, see my main website.

Monday, 28 May 2018

film review: Ready Player One

[Wade in VR headset]
Society has all but collapsed, but everyone is happy playing in the OASIS virtual reality. Wade [Tye Sheridan] has just got a full body suit, not just a headset, so is fully immersed as his avatar Parzival. The creator of the OASIS has left various puzzles and challenges: the first person to solve them and reach the end will inherit the OASIS itself. When Parzival solves the first puzzle, things stop being a game, as he suddenly finds that the sinister Corporation is after him, in VR and in reality. Wade and his VR friends are in a race against time, against the Corporation, who want to take control of the OASIS.

[Aech, Parzival, Art3mis in the OASIS]
This is the film of the book, and is good fast paced imaginative fun. On the technology side that is – provided you have a fair knowledge of 1980s computer games. The “human” plot is the standard boy meets girl, girl shows no interest in boy, girl is hiding a secret she thinks boy won’t like but boy doesn’t care now that he knows her, boy and girl (plus an underwritten team of sidekicks) save the world together.

Unlike some other VR plots, this has answers to some of the “trapped in VR” issues: so here there is a reason why Samantha [Olivia Cooke] can’t escape when trapped by the Corporation. For the most part, there aren’t any eXistenZ-like confusions about reality v. VR, Inception-like scene tricking the Corporation boss. Although people know they are in no real danger in the OASIS, they have a good reason that they don’t want to “die”: they will then lose all the gaming “coin” they have accumulated. Maybe this greater “realism” here is due to the protagonists being teenagers rather than adults; teenagers are presumably more VR-savvy and need such questions addressed.

[Aech, Parzival in VR]
Despite these pleasing aspects of plausibility, however, I remain to be convinced by people at the end walking around outside in the real world whilst fully immersed in their VR experiences. And I am puzzled by the economics of the real world. Even if everyone escapes to VR most of the time, presumably they still have to eat: where do they get the money for food? They all look fit and well-fed.

Worth watching for the visuals and action and semi-coherent plot. But don’t expect a lot of depth.

For all my film reviews, see my main website.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

book review: Men Explain Things to Me

Rebecca Solnit.
Men Explain Things to Me and other essays.
Granta. 2014

The first essay in this little book starts with the now-famous anecdote:
[pp2–4] … I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, my book on the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.
     He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?”
     So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingénue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I’d somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book—with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.
     Here, let me just say that my life is well-sprinkled with lovely men, […] Still, there are these other men, too. So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, “That’s her book.” Or tried to interrupt him anyway.
     But he just continued on his way. She had to say, “That’s her book” three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a nineteenth-century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn’t read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless—for a moment, before he began holding forth again.

The term “mansplaining” was subsequently invented by another author, and so we now have a name with which to skewer this kind of behaviour.

After the light-hearted tone used for telling this anecdote (albeit with more than a hint of gritted teeth), the essay rapidly gets darker and more serious. The whole book is a short series of essays covering various aspects of patriarchy: from mansplaining, to rape culture; from why same sex marriage equality does indeed threaten “traditional”, that is, grossly unequal, marriage, to the obliteration of women's voices; from arguing with Susan Sontag arguing with Virginia Woolf, to the history of women's movement.

All this is beautifully written with verve, and passion, and rage, and makes for excellent, but uncomfortable, reading.

For all my book reviews, see my main website.