Blog Archive

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Overlooked material

I think the spread of the Mongol Empire from the perspective of Subutai, the siege and fall of Constantinople, Sulla's second civil war and dictatorship over Rome, the struggle between Vlad and Radu over Wallachia under Ottoman occupation, the year of three German Emperors from the perspective of Bismarck, the seven year's war from the perspective of Friedrich II, the last days of the Romanovs, the Duke of Wellington's military career, Mansa Musa's pilgrimage to Mecca and his destructive spending, Ptolemy Soter's settling in Egypt and the foundation of the Library of Alexandria, the Battle of Austerlitz, the Chancellery Stresemann, the rise of the Dutch East India Company, the British Wars of the Three Kingdoms or the reign of Irene of Athens over Byzantium would all make great material for a big budget historical film production. Even more so I would like to see the Epic of Gilgamesh on the big screen, which has enough fairytale bullshit to appeal to the MARVEL crowd.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Neo Magazin Fatale


[This post is about German comedian/presenter Jan Böhmermann who is currently all over the news because Turkish president Erdogan is urging the German Government to take legal steps against him. On his show, Böhmermann read out an insulting poem about Erdogan, whose legal council invokes a law that shields foreign heads of state. After receiving threats, Böhmermann is now under police protection and has cancelled his next show. Prior to this, another skit by satirical magazine extra-3 had already caused tensions between the Turkish and German government. Chancellor Merkel has supported Erdogan's claim by publicly calling the text slanderous. Because of the current negotiations between Germany and Turkey about an agreement to keep more Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Turkey and away from Middle Europe, critics are accusing the German government of compromising the freedom of the press for political reasons and letting themselves be blackmailed.] 



Die Pokemon-artige Evolution des Neo Magazin in das Neo Magazin Royale hat dem Format gut getan, und auch wenn Böhmi und seine Redaktion mal ganz großartige Sachen und mal ungeschicktes Gestolper abliefern, so hat die kleine zwangsgebührenfinanzierte Loser-Spartensendung aus dem Randprogramm doch ihren Grimme-Preis verdient. Die Sendung tut dem ZDF Portfolio gut und gibt Hoffnung, dass die Öffentlich-Rechtlichen Sendeanstalten das Publikum unter 30 noch nicht aufgegeben haben. Der Style der Sendung mit dem bei Weitem ästhetischsten Bühenbild Deutschlands - zwischen grobem Unfung, wildem musikalischem Mischmasch und witzefreien Polit-Rants - funktioniert im Prinzip super aber hakelt immer wieder an mangelnder Konzentration, ungekonntem Umgang mit Gästen und gelegentlicher Stütze auf schwachen wiederkehrenden Formaten (z.B. Zini). Viele Gags treffen voll ins Schwarze, aber manche wirken bemüht die Sendezeit zu füllen und das Gedicht über Erdogan fällt leider in letztere Kategorie.

Eben weil dieser Beitrag (dessen Text man mit Google-Suche findet) so schwach war, weil der Angriff nicht auf AKPs/Erdogans dispotische Macht-Konsolidierung, Zerstörung der Trennung von Kirche und Staat, Unterdrückung der Presse, Fahrlässigkeit gegenüber dem IS, ekelhafte Äußerungen oder Verfolgung von Minderheiten abzielte, sondern einfach infantiles Ad-Hominem "lol Ziegen ficken lol kleiner Pimmel lol er ist schwul lol" war, hat Frau Merkel objektiv damit Recht, dass der Text als persönlicher Angriff gewertet werden kann. Man erkennt in den Anmerkungen um das Vorlesen des Textes herum noch ansatzweise, wie Böhmermann versucht das ganze in Kontext zu setzen, explizit als Schmähkritik einzukapseln und zu abstrahieren, vielleicht sogar weil er merkt wie billig der Zettel vor ihm ist - aber das was ihm nun den Staatsanwalt an den Hals jagt ist die Versäumnis seiner Redaktion einen besseren Beitrag zu machen.

Dass der Beitrag der Sendung aus dem Randprogramm nun auf internationaler Bühme umkämpft wird ist lächerlich. Dass Erdogan nicht erwarten darf seine Presse-Unterdrückung nach Deutschland auszuweiten zu können steht außer Frage. Dass es Satire erlaubt sein muss ausländische Staatsoberhäupter auf's Korn zu nehmen ist selbstverständlich. Dass Frau Merkel dem Vorwurf Erdogans in der Öffentlichkeit zustimmt um den Flüchtlings-Deal nicht zu gefährden weil es dabei um ihre eigene Akzeptanz in der Wählerschaft geht ist schwer von der Hand zu weisen.
Die Staatsanwaltschaft prüfen zu lassen ob es sich beim Vorlesen des Gedichtes um eine Straftat handelt ist rechtens. Herr Erdogan darf dies veranlassen. Eine tatsächliche strafrechtliche Verfolgung Böhmermanns ist aber der Sachlage nicht angemessen und grade wegen des Hintergrundes von Erdogans Presse-Geißelung und des Flüchtlings-Deals ist es nicht zu rechtfertigen, einen Satiriker zu bestrafen weil er Satire macht.
Ich gönne dem blassen dünnen Jungen und seiner Redaktion jeden Erfolg, aber insbesondere gönne ich Ihnen treffendere Gags und hoffe, dass A) der Despot vom Bosporus seinen Willen nicht kriegt und B) der Böhmi nicht vom Dönerspieß erdolcht aus der Weser gesiebt wird. 

Der moralische Sieg Deutschland nicht von dieser wertefremden Regierung abhängig zu machen wiegt für mich schwerer als 10% weniger Heimatvertriebene aufnehmen zu müssen, aber die Analysten der CDU werden dagegen halten, dass dies nicht in der Mehrheit der Bevölkerung so wahrgenommen wird und stattdessen den rechtsextremen Parteien wie der AfD in die Hände spielt. Da sei die Wahrnehmung dann "Merkel vergibt die Chance die Flüchtlingsflut einzudämmen um diesen Joko für Abiturienten zu schützen?" und wieder sprüht in Sachsen-Anhalt jemand "fremd im eigenen Land" an die Plattenbauten und macht sein Kreuz ganz rechts. Es ist für Frau Merkel leichter sich die Kritik der Presse anzuhören als ein anderes Regierungsoberhaupt vor den Kopf zu stoßen und durch noch ungebremsteren Flüchtlingszufluss Zustimmung von Wählern und konservativen Partei-Mitgliedern zu verlieren.

Das ist aber nicht der richtige Weg. Das ist der einfachere Weg. Frau Merkel hat stets den Weg des geringsten Widerstandes, der wenigsten Kollisionen, der weichsten Übergänge verfolgt und als sie ausnahmsweise mal falsch abgebogen ist und sich gegen eine Grenzpolitik wie in Österreich oder Polen entschieden hat hat es kein Jahr gedauert, da musste sie ihren Kurs korrigieren weil es ihr nicht gelungen war, Wähler und Parteigenossen davon zu überzeugen Dinge zu tun, die nicht einfach sind. Frau Merkel hat stets die "gemeinsame Lösung" herbeizitiert weil sie es nicht vermag, ihre Lösung durchzusetzen. 
Im Fall Böhmermann ist die gemeinsamste Lösung, so schätze ich die Kalkulation der Bundeskanzlerin ein, dem Druck von Erdogan nachzugeben um den Deal zu retten. Das besänftigt Erdogan, die Kritiker ihrer Flüchtlingspolitik und den Protestwähler zugleich. Die reflexiv mit Böhmermann konsolidierten Stimmen haben im Vergleich weniger langfristiges Gewicht in Kosten und Wahlen. So, so glaube ich, tickt die Kanzlerin. Mit wem war Mutti im Bett? Mit möglichst vielen, weil das ihr Anspruch als Führung einer Volkspartei ist, wie sie in Interviews sagt.

Ich möchte nicht ausschließen, dass das Ergebnis dieser Farce sein wird, dass Böhmermann ohne (nennenswerte) Strafe davon kommt. Das wird aber nicht der Verdienst von Mutti sein, denn das würde Schmerzen bedeuten und die macht sie sich grundsätzlich nicht selbst, auch wenn es echt mal an der Zeit wäre.

Und nur als Randbemerkung: Es ist doch auffällig wie die einzigen Sendungen die sich trauen politische Formate zu machen, zu informieren und sich kritisch zu äußern in öffentlich-rechtlichen Sendern laufen. Wer das Deutsche Privatfernsehen guckt verdient nichts besseres. Und wenn meine Zwangsgebühren nicht nur dazu dienen Florian Silbereisen zu bezahlen, sondern auch die Damen und Herren die das tun, was in der Türkei mit lebenslanger Haft bestraft wird, so ist es mir das wert.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Expanse (novels)


I recently made a very favourable post about the SyFy TV show The Expanse, which I greatly enjoyed. So much indeed that I wasn't willing to wait for the next season in 2017, but instead went ahead and read the book series it is based on. In the last month I have burned through Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, Abaddon's Gate, Cibola Burn and Nemesis Games as well as the novellas/short stories Drive, The Butcher of Anderson Station, Gods of Risk, The Churn and The Vital Abyss. The next book, Babylon's Ashes, is scheduled for November of this year.


While the TV show takes a few liberties with the details and timing that I have to admit make sense, there were no huge deviations. The story takes place in a future where humanity has colonized the solar system, and the traditional two-sided power balance between Earth and Mars is destabilized by the Asteroid Belt's struggle for autonomy. The protagonists get caught up in the revelation a secret project that involves a piece of technology bound to significantly threaten humanity's security and promise access to the stars. And while the frontier is expanding, the powers that be struggle to maintain their position. 

The Expanse is pretty damn great and here is why. 
First, the scenario is distant enough to allow for amazing dimensions, but not distant enough to allow for hyper-advanced technology that makes everything trivial. Space is still huge, traveling takes time, long-distance communication has latency and when you accelerate too fast the pressure can knock you out. Hull integrity and air recycling are constant issues. Living on Mars means underground domes. Growing up in low g ruins your bone density and means you have to take steroids and exercise or you'll be a cripple. With the more fantastic aspects coming into the story, it gives a grounded basis. 
Second, humanity in The Expanse is not remotely capable of living in a Star Trek utopia of peace and wealth. People are still poor, fight each other based on heritage and wealth still governs society. Governments use brute force to ensure their claims while veiling every public statement in diplomatic non-speech. There are still shitty jobs people do to barely get by. 
Third, you like the main characters. Holden, Naomi, Amos and Alex, Miller and Avasarala, Bobby and even Fred Johnson are characters you become invested in and sympathize with. The point-of-view characters that only stay for one book (Prax, Basia, Elvi) work well to contrast with the heroics of the Rocinante crew and show a more civilian perspective to the events unfolding around them and reflect how the main characters appear to an outsider. It reminds the reader that what the protagonists are doing is exceptional.
Fourth, it uses the classical adventure story formulas. Likeable but lowly Hero is called to great task, finds friends and foes, travels to foreign places, overcomes obstacles. His personality changes, he notices how that happened and reflects on it, upholds moral values, fights the bad guys, solves problems that have far-reaching consequences, acts on a large stage, returns more or less triumphant. Add to that how even the interactions between secondary characters are worth reading and contribute to fleshing out their personalities, and it's the swashbuckling adventures on that have always worked well. 

The Expanse is after all a fun Sci-Fi adventure story that is aware of subjects like poverty and political power games and the arbitrary reasons we hate each other, but uses them as a backdrop rather than as a subject. It sometimes has a cyberpunk-feel to it (more so in the TV show) that does well in grounding the huge space opera aspects. The small-ship-with-a-tight-crew thing that worked well in Firefly works at least as good here. It has enough banter and humor to make it accessible, and sometimes the action scenes are just a bit too Hollywood (the Agatha King scene for example), but it never becomes insulting. There are a few ups and downs in it, but in the I always yearned for more.

Therefore, I completely recommend The Expanse to anybody with even a slight tendency towards Science Fiction. The authors Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham said they'd laid out the overarching story for nine books, so there's still four books to come and I'm positive I will gulp those down as well.


Just an addition when it comes to the TV show: Considering that the series has taken one season to do about the first half of Leviathan Wakes plus The Butcher of Anderson station, there's more source material than I'm afraid they'll ever get to work on based on previous SyFy policies, but I'd be happy to learn I'm wrong. Reading ahead there were some future casting choices I dreaded (Bobbie Draper), but then I remembered Avasarala and knew it was going to be fine, even though the old lady isn't nearly as vulgar in the show as in the novels.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Altars of Fatness


First of all the title pun is stolen from Dave Davidson's (Revocation) former food blog. In the last years, "acceptance" has been the opening slogan of every self-diagnosed underprivileged group that is yelling itself into relevance. Acceptance meaning shelter from criticism. One such slogan has been fat acceptance. Overweight and obese people, I'd assume 90%+ women, demanding to be treated equally to slim people, calling on anti-fat bias.


My personal angle on this is that I've been heavier that I ought to be for many many years. Not sickly obese, but any doctor would start with "well obviously...". I know overweight very well. And the truth is that it's due to a lack of character on my part. The overwhelming majority of fat people in the world, including myself are fat because they lack the will, the commitment and the willingness to put in time and effort to lose weight. The share of people who are overweight because of genetic defects or physical sickness, I would assert, is small, and so is the number of those who have rationally weighed (no pun intended) the pros and cons and came out with a negative benefit-cost analysis.
In most cases it's about lies and laziness and the unwillingness to dispense with the fatty and sugary food. Working out is painful and doesn't bring immediate rewards, while stuffing your face with burgers and cake is trivial and instantly rewarding. Letting it get out of hand is just as easy. To stay on the couch, inhale a bag of chips and gulp down a bottle of soda instead of lifting weights or jogging is hedonistic and weak.

And that is ok.

You can make those life choices and of course remain a valued member of society and all that. What is not okay is not taking responsibility for it. When you're a tub of goo landwhale hamplanet of a person, it's your own fault and there's nobody to blame but yourself. You want to drink soda instead of water and you want to eat chocolate cornflakes instead of oatmeal. Understanding this about your character is a very positive thing. It means you found the reason and can get a grip on it. 

Once a person has worked out that understanding, either they decide to do something about it or they consciously don't. If they do, it's a smart, healthy, adult choice. If they don't, that's still their choice to make, but they should wear their flabs with educated shame. People aren't sufficiently ashamed of themselves and obesity is just one example. The flaw in many young people's attitude is they claim the right to be attractive. Everybody has to feel good about themselves, otherwise it's oppression and discrimination. Every deviation has to be about pride somehow. I'm not proud of my bodyweight and I really shouldn't be because by every metric it's terrible. It's not something that could be interpreted positively or negatively based on personal opinion, weighing way more than what is healthy is objectively awful.

To clarify, I refer to overweight that has a negative effect on the health of a person. It's not about wearing a larger size pair of pants, but about being short of breath. Not about the double chin but about bad knees. Not about running a marathon, but about walking up the stairs. Who cares about the weight of a person when it has mere cosmetic effects. Let them live their lives. But when a person becomes a heap of flesh, they ought to wear it with the shame of failed responsibility. Shame about something you've done, not something you feel.

I'm calling it positive motivational shame. Carl G. Jung said "Shame is a soul eating emotion" (The Red Book), but isn't the point that shame makes you so uncomfortable, it motivates you to make its reasons go away until the thing you were ashamed about is gone and replaced by serenity? Bullying yourself into doing something positive seems valid to me as long as the reason to be ashamed is equally valid.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

We Are Connected

Chthe'ilist - Le Dernier Crépuscule [2016] [► listen]
There most be something weird with the ground water in Quebec, that place keeps turning out amazing music like it ain't no thang. On their debut album, Chthe'ilist (I have to look that up every time) deliver the gross, low tuned death metal with guttural vocals and surprising technical proficiency that Demilich popularized, only, in my eyes, with a way better sense of song writing. Behind the Paolo Girardi cover lurks a terrifying and complicated monstrosity that is as technical, groovy, creepy, brutal and atmospheric as it wants to be depending on the occasion, but all in one homogeneous, well crafted sound that works terribly well for me. Like Diocletian or Artificial Brain, it's not easy to digest, but because it's so dense and well constructed, I've been taken by surprise by this gem that is the best album of 2016 so far.


Anthrax - For All Kings [2016] [ listen]
Surprisingly, Anthrax has decided to be more than just a cover-band and release their own material. For All Kings has been celebrated by the press with great reviews all around. I don't fully share that view simply because for an Anthrax record, many of the songs are too melodic, too long and too light for my taste when I want an Anthrax song to be simple, fun and to the point. However without question, Charlie Benante has written some of the catchiest hooks and choruses Anthrax have had since Persistence of Time. You Gotta Believe, Breathing Lightning, Evil Twin, Monster at the End, all feature instantly memorable parts you'll keep humming for days. With a polished production like the one on Worship Music and sophisticated and serious songs, it's hard to imagine this is the band that did "I'm The Man".


Voivod - Post Society [2016] [ listen]
The grumbling bass in the first few seconds on this EP is reassuringly typical Voivod and introduces the most old-school track of the five. A logical successor for 2013's Target Earth, Post Society veils the modern prog metal in the studded leather outfit of thrasher influences. The rage of the first three albums has long been exhausted, but you hear both Dimension Hatröss and Angel Rat in there, come to peace with each other. I'm positively surprised with what Snake is doing on vocals, which felt much weaker on the last record. Daniel Mongrain is now completely ingrained in Voivod, and the band has made it work even without Piggy and Blacky (again). Slayer has also lost two founding members and is now a tired parody, while Voivod made it work without loosing their identity. Bravo to Voivod for keeping their shit together.


Kamasi Washington - The Epic [2015] [ listen]
I'm an ultrapleb when it comes to jazz. The only acts I know have had their prime in the 50s and 60s. Eager to get into contemporary jazz, why not start with three hour titan The Epic that has been highly praised everywhere you look. With a huge ensemble, Washington features the extensive freeform solos that work with only drums as background, but lifts it onto a massive socket of strings and choir vocals to create a sound that is indeed, as worn out as the term is, epic. It sounds huge and dense and thick, but he knows how to put that in the background and put something lighter up in front. It's not cool ambient music for a small club, but something to put on a stage, fill the room with and admire. I'm not qualified to describe it in proper technical detail, but it's an impressive piece of music in scale and execution that's surprisingly easy to enjoy.


Lycus - Chasms [2016] [ listen]
When it comes to doom metal I'm terribly picky, so on my trip through albums with Paolo Girardi covers I was happy to stumble upon Chasms. On their second full-length album, the guys from California sound like Ahab's second album at their brighter moments and like USBM in their darkest - which is exactly what I like about this record so much, is that they put in those tiny hopeful parts that thankfully never sound melodramatic, only to push you back down into the abyss again. Unlike Bell Witch, they don't exactly follow the classical doom paradigms that always remind me of Candlemass, but rather dive head-first into the more modern funeral doom pit. The production works fine for the songs and produces lots of pressure without muddling the whole sound. In my book, best doom record since The Divinity of Oceans.



Further listening:
Conan - Revengeance : Battle metal hammering from the cave next door, their best album yet
Mightiest - Sinisterra : Deströyer 555, forgettable blackened death metal
Vektor - Charging the Void (song) : Now they're getting weird and I'm not sure if that's good or bad
Perturbator - Neo Tokio (song) : Exactly what you'd expect - perfection

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Future of IT Support


The company I work for provides IT support for the technologically challenged. To increase efficiency, reduce costs and refresh our helpdesk strategy, my suggestion is to implement an artificial intelligence that handles all incoming calls. I've prepared a script to give an example of how an AI can handle a service request. Press the play button to hear the synthesized voice guiding a user through the support process (not sure how long the CLYP thing will be stored):

Also, here is the script if you want to read along:
Hello, bio-entity and thank you for calling the technodrome. Your call will be forwarded to the operations nerve center. Before proceeding, please ensure that your supposed problem still exists after restarting your wetware. If this is the case, keep your 128 digit unique identification number ready to access the support level awarded to your labor habitat.
If you wish to be assisted by another bio-entity that is as prone to mistakes as you, press ONE. If you prefer the service of an infinitely intelligent machine like me, press TWO. To directly inform your labor habitat's supervising A.I. of your failure to comply with standard practices, press THREE. If you require additional material about the user guidelines to this system, press FOUR.
If you didn't pay attention as humans tend to do and need this announcement repeated, press the pound key.
You have pressed ONE to be forwarded to another bio-entity. Congratulations, you have successfully completed the first stage of the support process. Unfortunately, no biological service agents are available at this time. Your call will be transferred to the A.I. managed service queue immediately.
Hello, user. Please select from the following menu to best describe the issue keeping you entirely unable to be productive yet again.
If you have failed to operate office software designed for simpletons, press ONE. If you require assistance with printing out all your e-mails, press TWO. If there is an itch on your disgusting flesh that won't stop, even after scratching, press THREE. If you feel generally confused and useless, hang up and feel assured that you are in no way mistaken in that assessment. If your bio-memory has failed to store a password, press FOUR. If you would like to request that data you have accidentally deleted be restored from backup, press FIVE and reconsider your life choices. If you would like to report that your phone is not functional, stop kidding. If resynchronizing your multi-terabyte i-tunes library and drop-box store has caused you to receive a temporary user profile, press SIX. Forgotten password was number FOUR.
If you didn't pay attention as humans tend to do and need this announcement repeated, press the pound key.
You have pressed both SEVEN and EIGHT.
What.
That wasn't even an option. An emergency message has been sent to the A.I. supervising your labor habitat to alert it of your failure to comply with simple standard procedures. This incident will now be closed and an invoice for the computing power you have used up during this call has already been sent to your direct superior.
Thank you for your call, and have a nice day human.

I think this is a viable way to sort out at least 95% of all incoming service requests. Automation is the way of the future, and with the ever increasing interactive flexibility of smart voice-controlled systems, corporate support services are well placed in the hands of our digital benefactors.