Quotulatiousness

October 23, 2014

The risks of writing near-future SF stories

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Charles Stross tells a sad tale of woe about his “Laundry” series of SF/Occult novels:

There’s some kind of bizarre curse hanging over my Laundry Files series. Or maybe it’s a deeper underlying problem with writing fiction set in the very near future (or past): I’m not sure which. All I’m sure is that that for the past decade, reality has been out to get me: and I’m fed up.

My first intimation came a long time ago — in 2001. I’d just finished writing The Atrocity Archive and it was being edited for serial publication in issues 7-9 of the Scottish SF magazine Spectrum SF (which folded a couple of issues later, in 2003). It was late September, and I found myself reading a terse email from the editor, Paul Fraser: “Charlie, about your story — do you think you can possibly find some new bad guys for Chapter 4? Because you’ve just been overtaken by current events …”

In Chapter 4 of The Atrocity Archive Bob learns from Angleton who the middle eastern bad guys who kidnapped Mo, intending to use her sacrifice to open a gateway to somewhere bad, really were … and when I originally wrote the story, in 1999-2000, they were a relatively obscure bunch of anti-American zealots who’d blown up the USS Stark and an embassy in Africa. I know this may boggle the imagination of younger or more forgetful readers, but Al Quaida and Osama bin Laden had not at that time hijacked any airliners, much less etched themselves into the pages of world history: they were not, at that time, the Emmanuel Goldstein of the New World Order.

October 21, 2014

A legal warning shot for Manga fans in England

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:14

A man in Middlesbrough has been convicted of possessing illegal images of children … in his Manga collection. That is, cartoon drawings in the Japanese style called Manga. Gareth Lightfoot reports on the case for the Gazette:

A jobless animation fan has made legal history as he was convicted of having illegal pictures of cartoon children.

Robul Hoque, 39, is believed to be the first in the UK hauled before court over his collection of Japanese Manga or Anime-style images alone.

He admitted 10 counts of possessing prohibited images of children at Teesside Crown Court.

His barrister Richard Bennett said: “These are not what would be termed as paedophilic images. These are cartoons.”

And Mr Bennett revealed that such banned images were freely available on legitimate sites.

He said: “This case should serve as a warning to every Manga and Anime fan to be careful. It seems there are many thousands of people in this country, if they are less then careful, who may find themselves in that position too.”

Police found the images when they seized Hoque’s computer from his home on June 13, 2012, said prosecutor Harry Hadfield. He said officers found 288 still and 99 moving images, but none were of real people.

They were classified as prohibited images as they depicted young girls, some in school uniforms, some exposing themselves or taking part in sexual activity.

For obvious reasons, the newspaper article does not show any examples of the images in question, but Rob Beschizza warns you not to read his post at BoingBoing if you’re in England, as it does show an image that may or may not have been part of the investigation.

October 19, 2014

Sex-toy-shaped installation deflated by Paris vandal (or someone with good taste)

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:49

In the Telegraph, David Chazan tells the tale of the now-deflated artwork:

Vandals deflated a blow-up art installation in an exclusive Paris square on Saturday after outraged conservative groups said it resembled a “giant sex toy”.

The 79-foot-high inflatable green exhibit was called “Tree” because it looked vaguely like a Christmas tree, but the American artist, Paul McCarthy, told Le Monde newspaper that it was inspired by a sex toy known as an anal plug and was meant “as a joke”.

However, conservative politicians and many Parisians failed to appreciate the humour and called for the removal of the “offensive” installation after it was erected in Place Vendôme on Thursday.

Hours later, McCarthy, 69, was slapped in the face by a passer-by who screamed: “You’re not French and this has no place in the square”. The artist was dazed and shocked, but unhurt. “Does this sort of thing happen often in Paris?” he asked as his assailant fled before he could be apprehended.

In the early hours of Saturday, vandals climbed a metal fence around the exhibit, cut the power supply to a pump that kept it filled with air, and severed one of the straps that held it upright, police said.

By the morning, it was a shapeless green mess. McCarthy said he did not want it to be repaired or re-erected.

October 17, 2014

Interesting discovery about the recent Anglo-Saxon gold find

Filed under: Britain, History, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:56

As far back as the seventh century, they had metallurgical tricks to make poor quality gold jewellery look far better:

Scientists, examining Britain’s greatest Anglo-Saxon gold treasure collection, have discovered that it isn’t quite as golden as they thought.

Tests on the famous Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon treasure, a vast gold and silver hoard found by a metal detectorist five years ago, have now revealed that the 7th century Anglo-Saxon goldsmiths used sophisticated techniques to make 12-18 karat gold look like 21-23 karat material.

Scientific research, carried out over the past two years on behalf of Birmingham City and Stoke-on-Trent City councils, which jointly own the hoard, has revealed that the Anglo-Saxon goldsmiths had discovered an ingenious way of, metallurgically, dressing mutton up as a lamb. It appears that they deliberately used a weak acid solution – almost certainly ferric chloride – to remove silver and other non-gold impurities from the top few microns of the surfaces of gold artefacts, thus increasing the surfaces’ percentage gold content and therefore improving its appearance. This piece of Anglo-Saxon high tech deception turned the surfaces of relatively low karat, slightly greenish pale yellow gold/silver alloys into high karat, rich deep yellow, apparently high purity gold.

Archaeologists had never previously realised that Anglo-Saxon goldsmiths had developed such technology.

“We had no idea they were doing it,” said Dr Eleanor Blakelock, a leading British archaeometalurgist who carried out the tests on the Staffordshire hoard gold.

H/T to David Stamper for the link.

Germany’s arms procurement plight

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:22

Peter Dörrie explains the German government’s current embarrassment due to the revelations about the desperate straits of all German military branches. The combination of delivery delays, cost overruns, technical faults, and low equipment availability mean that Germany could not come to the aid of NATO allies in a crisis:

The German armed forces have come clean. They’ve admitted they’re incapable of managing arms procurement — and have systematically neglected the hardware that’s already in service.

Military procurement and management in Germany have been under heightened scrutiny ever since Berlin’s attempt to buy an European version of America’s Global Hawk drone ended in miserable failure in mid-2013.

In late September, the German military sent an explosive report to parliament, confessing that half of the armed forces’ heavy equipment is unserviceable and can’t deploy in a crisis.

The German navy, for example, possesses 15 Sea King helicopters, but 12 of them are grounded. The situation is similar with respect to the naval Sea Lynx helicopter — just four out of 18 can fly — and the heavy-lifting CH-53 helicopter. Sixteen out of 43 CH-53s are functional.

The Luftwaffe can field only 80 Typhoon and Tornado fighters, out of 140 on the books. So short of equipment, at present Germany would be powerless to respond if a fellow NATO member were to ask for military assistance.

And the bad news doesn’t stop there. On Oct. 6, Defense Minister Ursula Von Der Leyen released a report by an outside consultancy analyzing the military’s nine biggest weapons purchases.

The report is damning. Every single procurement effort suffers some combination of cost overruns, delays and technical shortfalls. And owing to the ministry’s unwillingness or inability to negotiate proper contracts, the government has had to pay for the overruns itself. The arms manufacturers waltz away with their full fees.

This is sounding disturbingly similar to Canada’s military procurement problems.

October 16, 2014

Finland is concerned about recent Russian actions, but not enough to join NATO

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 15:12

In the Christian Science Monitor, Gordon F. Sander reviews the state of Finnish-Russian relations and the unusually uncomfortable situation Finland finds itself in now:

Seven months ago, when Russia seized and annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, Finns seemed relatively unconcerned. The world’s northernmost country shares some 800 miles of border with its huge neighbor, but just a quarter of Finns said they felt threatened by Moscow. And a similar number told pollsters their country should consider joining NATO in interest of self-defense.

Since then, Russia’s behavior has become more provocative, and not just in eastern Ukraine. During one week in August, Russian military aircraft conducted three unauthorized overflights of Finnish airspace. The Finnish public reacted accordingly. A poll last month by Finnish daily Aamulehti showed that 43 percent of those polled perceived Russia as a danger, an increase of nearly 20 percent from March.

But support for Finland joining NATO remained almost unchanged: a mere two percent higher, the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation (YLE) found. Why hasn’t Finnish wariness translated into stronger support for NATO membership? And what, if anything, would persuade Finns to join the defense pact?

Defense Minister Carl Haglund says that the foundation for the Finnish public’s aversion to NATO membership stems from its complicated, and oft-misunderstood relationship with Russia. “This [reluctance] goes back to [our] history,” he says, “especially the end of the Second World War and the cold war.”

“Put it this way,” says Pekka Ervasti, political editor of YLE. “Finnish neutrality dies hard.”

Italian recession officially ends, thanks to drugs and prostitution

Filed under: Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:21

As Kelly McParland put it, it’s “another reason to legalize everything nasty“:

Italy learnt it was no longer in a recession on Wednesday thanks to a change in data calculations across the European Union which includes illegal economic activities such as prostitution and drugs in the GDP measure.

Adding illegal revenue from hookers, narcotics and black market cigarettes and alcohol to the eurozone’s third-biggest economy boosted gross domestic product figures.

GDP rose slightly from a 0.1 percent decline for the first quarter to a flat reading, the national institute of statistics said.

Although ISTAT confirmed a 0.2 percent decline for the second quarter, the revision of the first quarter data meant Italy had escaped its third recession in the last six years.

The economy must contract for two consecutive quarters, from output in the previous quarter, for a country to be technically in recession.

It’s merely a change in the statistical measurement, not an actual increase in Italian economic activity. And, given that illegal revenue pretty much by definition isn’t (and can’t be) accurately tracked, it’s only an estimated value anyway.

Prog Rock and the occult

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:33

Peter Bebergal discusses some of the occult influences of Progressive Rock at Boing Boing:

At a recent gallery show of his artwork, Roger Dean — best known for his lush and fantastical album covers for Yes in the 1970s — was enjoying the crowd when a man approached him and held out his hand to shake. “Mr. Dean, your work has changed my life,” he said, “I have gleaned so many amazing, mystical secrets from looking at your album covers, can you tell me sort of what you meant by it.” Dean, ever polite, tried to let the man down easily. “I didn’t mean anything at all. It was just a good — looking album cover.” His superfan, disillusioned, and possibly embarrassed, now turned nemesis, “Well, what do you know?” he angrily spat, “You’re just the artist!” Despite his protestations, Dean might have taken some responsibility for contributing to casting a wide mystical net over an entire subgenre of music, known sometimes derogatorily as progressive rock. You are unlikely to find a prog-rocker who refers to their own music in those terms, but the term serves as a way to describe a movement in rock, one steering a massive ship away from the siren call of blues-based rock that had so long dominated popular music, toward a more English tradition of what Greg Lake of the supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP) described as “troubadour, medieval storytelling.” Rock would inherit this mantle proudly, looking toward the mythology of the past — often heavily informed by occult images — to construct the sound of the future.

Psychedelic rock bands set the course, but in the 1970s, a new wave of bands looked beyond the drugginess of psychedelia to classical music as the true guide. Coupled with the instruments of the future — particularly Moog synthesizers — progressive rock crafted rock suites, with some songs clocking twenty minutes or more. Dean’s paintings were otherworldly landscapes of floating islands and boulders, or stone structures rising up like trees. Largely unpopulated, save for the occasional butterfly/dragon hybrid, there were no aliens, elves, or wizards. His worlds might be long-dead civilizations, like the lifeless plains of Mars haunted by the once-thriving Martian societies in Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, or future lands where people have taken to hibernating in the inexplicable constructions of their cities, endlessly waiting. Dean had perfected the merging of science fiction with mysticism, invoking the imagination of prog-rock listeners who were convinced there was some story or greater truth behind his art, and spent hours listening and poring over the album covers, meant to coexist in an ideological way.

October 15, 2014

WW1 US Military Railroads in Europe

Filed under: Europe, Military, Railways, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:34

H/T to Roger Henry for the link.

October 14, 2014

Hastings, 1066? Think of it as a real-world model of Game of Thrones

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:45

In the Telegraph, Dominic Selwood explains the Norman Invasion of 1066 and the many shades of grey (or red) that are missing from the traditional story of the rise of the Normans:

As we wait for the next series of Game of Thrones, I cannot help but think I have seen it all before ­— dynastic families so intermarried that the members’ only loyalty is to self; ambitions so uncompromising that war is the inevitable result; and carnage so total that the threat of defeat is existential. But whenever the story takes me to the throne room in the Red Keep at King’s Landing, all I see is Westminster Abbey — because this is an old, old story.

We like to think that Anglo-Saxon England was brutally cut down in 1066 — unexpectedly — in a battle lasting just one day. To reinforce our assumptions, we still revel in Victorian and Hollywood melodrama stereotypes of dastardly Normans persecuting flaxen Saxons in box-sets of Ivanhoe or Tolkein’s thinly disguised versions set in Middle Earth.

The reality, of course, is far more complex.

[...]

The road to Hastings began ordinarily enough. A man lay dying. As it happened, it was Edward the Confessor. But what marked the event out as singular was that he had failed in one of his key royal responsibilities — he was leaving the world childless. To no one’s surprise, as the end approached, he nominated as heir his brother-in-law, the 46-year-old Earl Harold Godwinson of Wessex.

Harold was the kingdom’s richest noble, and a great military commander who had subjugated Wales in 1063. The Witenagemot promptly proclaimed him king, and Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury crowned him at Edward’s gleaming new Westminster Abbey the following day, the 6th of January 1066, the same day Edward was buried there.

But the dead king’s ineffectual leadership had passed Harold a major headache, as one of Edward’s favourite political strategies had been to promise all sorts of people he would make them his heir. Given his strong attachment to Normandy, it is no surprise that he had, most likely in 1051, promised the throne to Duke William of Normandy, a distant cousin. In fact, Norman sources go further, saying that in 1064 Edward had even sent Harold to Normandy to confirm the arrangement. At the same time, in front of William and on a box of relics, Harold apparently swore a sacred oath to uphold William’s claim to the English throne.

The headache did not end with William. There were other claimants, too. King Harald III “Hardraada” (the ruthless) of Norway had a claim to the throne via an earlier agreement between Harthacnut (king of England and Denmark) and Magnus I (king of Norway and Denmark). Over in Hungary, Edgar the Ætheling had a claim as grandson of King Edmund II “Ironside”. And in exile in Flanders and Normandy, Tostig Godwinson, Harold’s rebellious brother, was nursing a venomous grievance against the Anglo-Saxon establishment.

Germany’s university tuition experiment

Filed under: Cancon, Europe — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:35

Lots of university students sat up and took notice of a report that the German government was abandoning the practice of charging tuition for university students. Not a few here in Canada immediately asked why Canadian universities couldn’t do the same thing. First, however, it needs to be noted that German Länder (provinces or states) only introduced tuition charges relatively recently, and not all of them did. Alex Usher explains why the cases are not parallel and that getting rid of tuition here would be an outright gift of money to the wealthy and would not benefit the poor at all:

It would be trivially easy for us to eliminate tuition. Heck, we already pay net zero tuition, in that what we charge domestic students is more or less equal to what we spend on various forms of non-repayable aid. If we got rid of all our student aid and scholarship programs we could have free tuition. It would be a bit rough on low-income students, students with dependents, and college students (who for the most part would lose money on the deal); it also would be a windfall for wealthier kids who go to university, but I’ve yet to meet anyone in the free-tuition camp who seems to care about that. Of course, that too would make us more like Germany, where direct funding for living costs is pretty meagre: only about 20% of students there qualify for student aid, and it tends to be for far less than what our students get.

At another level, of course, it would be even more trivially easy for us to “do a Germany”. All we need to do is stop spending so much public money on higher education. Their expenditure on higher education is about half of what ours is: per-student funding to institutions in Germany is about $10,000 (€7,000); in Canada, it’s about $15,000. And that has impacts as well: professors there, on average, only get paid about 60% of what ours do. When education costs are so low, it’s not difficult to keep tuition down.

German participation rates in higher education are also lower than ours, in part because they have no money to accommodate more students. They could have kept tuition fees and directed institutions to use that money to expand access, but they preferred not to do that. And so, as a result, the German student body is much more socio-economically selective than ours is – indeed, it is one of the most selective anywhere in Europe, and was so before fees were introduced.

October 13, 2014

Russian media’s favourite German professor

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:59

Professor Lorenz Haag is frequently invited to provide a German opinion for Russian consumption — opinions that amazingly co-incide very well with those of the Russian government. There’s only one problem with Professor Haag: he appears to have been fabricated specifically to fulfil that role.

German Professor Lorenz Haag is what you’d call a Kremlin apologist.

Russian media regularly quotes him as praising President Vladimir Putin’s leadership, defending Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and urging the West to take a softer line toward Moscow.

“Professor” Haag, however, is by all accounts no professor.

And the organization he allegedly heads, the German “Agency for Global Communications,” has also been denounced as bogus.

Dmitry Khmelnitsky, a noted Russian architectural historian based in Berlin, was the first to cast doubt on the purported academic’s credentials.

“Professor Lorenz Haag, the head of the Agency for Global Communications, exists only in the imagination of ITAR-TASS correspondents who have interviewed him regularly and for many years in the capacity of ‘German expert,'” Khmelnitsky wrote in an October 6 post on Facebook. “There is no such professor in Germany. And no such agency.”

Khmelnitsky’s allegations have sparked intense speculation on the Russian Internet about Haag’s identity, motives, or even existence.

According to Russian blogger Pavel Gnilorybov, the state-run ITAR-TASS agency — which recently reverted to its Soviet-era name TASS — created the fictitious professor back in 2007.

The Royal Navy’s “weirdest” ship

Filed under: Africa, Britain, Health, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:31

David Axe on what he describes as the weirdest ship in the Royal Navy:

Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel RFA Argus pictured supporting Operation Herrick in Afghanistan (via Wikipedia)

Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel RFA Argus pictured supporting Operation Herrick in Afghanistan (via Wikipedia)

The British Royal Navy is deploying the auxiliary ship RFA Argus to Sierra Leone in West Africa in order to help health officials contain the deadly Ebola virus.

If you’ve never heard of Argus, you’re not alone. She’s an odd, obscure vessel — an ungainly combination of helicopter carrier, hospital ship and training platform.

But you’ve probably seen Argus, even if you didn’t realize it. The 33-year-old vessel played a major role in the 2013 zombie movie World War Z, as the floating headquarters of the U.N.

[...]

The 575-foot-long Argus launched in 1981 as a civilian container ship. In 1982, the Royal Navy chartered the vessel to support the Falklands War … and subsequently bought her to function as an aviation training ship, launching and landing helicopters.

Argus’ long flight deck features an odd, interrupted layout, with a structure — including the exhaust stack — rising out of the deck near the stern.

Weirdly, the deck’s imperfect arrangement is actually an asset in the training role. Student aviators on Argus must get comfortable landing in close proximity to obstacles, which helps prepare them for flying from the comparatively tiny decks of frigates and other smaller ships.

RFA Argus photographed off the coast at Devonport (via Wikipedia)

RFA Argus photographed off the coast at Devonport (via Wikipedia)

October 12, 2014

Finnish research vessel harassed by Russian navy ships

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:29

Uutiset reports on a Finnish marine research ship’s run-ins with the Russians in the Baltic Sea:

Finnish research vessel SS Aranda near Turun Linna

Finnish research vessel SS Aranda near Turun Linna (via Wikipedia).

The Russian Navy has twice interfered in the movements of the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) marine research vessel Aranda in international waters. According to SYKE, the two incidents occurred in August and September, when Aranda was conducting research for the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute off the coast of Sweden. In both incidents, the Russian warship attempted to prohibit the research vessel from accessing a sampling location in international waters east of the Swedish island of Gotland.

In the first incident on August 2, the Russian warship made radio contact with Aranda and urged it twice to change course. The Aranda initially obeyed the request, but at the second warning, the ship’s crew replied that it would not deter and intended to stop at the research point as planned. At this time, the crew of the Aranda observed a submarine moving along the surface of the water.

The second incident on September 2 saw a Russian helicopter approach Aranda several times. After this, a nearby Russian warship took a course directly towards the ship’s stern, passing the boat in very close proximity. The Aranda maintained its course and speed throughout the incident.

October 11, 2014

“[French] society is corrupted and doesn’t have any moral principles”

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:47

The Guardian‘s Catherine Shoard on the reception Gérard Depardieu received from a “conservative” Russian politician:

Gérard Depardieu’s move to Russia had the effect of making the actor repent sexual activities conducted in Europe, a conservative Kremlin politician has said.

Reacting to the publication of Ça s’est fait comme ça, Depardieu’s memoir in which he discusses stints of employment as a grave robber and a male prostitute, Vitaly Milonov expressed sympathy for the actor.

“It wasn’t easy for him in France,” he told Russian newspaper MK. “There, society is corrupted and doesn’t have any moral principles.”

“I view Gérard’s book as sort of repentance, confession of old sins. Now that he breathed in the purifying air of Mordovia, all that filth left him. He sincerely repents what he was forced to do in his youth in France. He wants to live in a new way, without all that filth.”

Older Posts »
« « Display of naval flags on Her Majesty’s Canadian ships| Canada’s “six-pack strategy” » »

Powered by WordPress