A classic of the genre

The genre being stupid people discover their actions have consequences:

An outraged Brexiteer has been ridiculed on social media for complaining about a queue at an airport in Amsterdam.

Colin Browning, who has been widely described by British media as one of the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit, took to Twitter on Thursday to complain that about passport check wait times at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.

The tweet reads:

Absolutely disgusting service at Schiphol airport. 55 minutes we have been stood in the immigration queue. This isn’t the Brexit I voted for.

… and it’s worth clicking through because some of the responses are very funny indeed. But the bit that made me laugh was Colin’s claim that:

This isn’t the Brexit I voted for.

Yes it is.

Celebrating curiosity

Today is International Darwin Day, which aims to inspire people to reflect and act on the principles of intellectual bravery, perpetual curiosity, scientific thinking, and hunger for truth as embodied in Charles Darwin. There are events taking place around the world, none of which we attending — it is a school night, after all.

We will not, however be ignoring the day entirely.

For Christmas, Alex received a box of Frightful First Experiments which we have been working through ever since. We are intending, tonight, to harness the power of static electricity. But given that Darwin was a biologist, here’s an experiment we did earlier.


The Prisoner: Hammer Into Anvil

I have, over the past few months, been reacquainting myself with The Prisoner. This was a TV series, originally screened in the late 60s and repeated in the early 1990s which is when I first encountered it. I enjoyed it at the time and am now catching up yet again on DVD.

The series stars Patrick McGoohan as a spy who, after resigning for unexplained reasons, is kidnapped and transported to an isolated island community known only as The Village. This location is secured by a panoply of surveillance systems and hosts a population in which no-one uses names. All residents are assigned numbers — seemingly at random — which make it impossible to determine whether any individual is an inmate or a guard.

All of this is overseen by Number Two, a position filled by someone different each episode (which, I know, contradicts what I said in the previous paragraph — but there it is) who seeks both to extract information from the protagonist, Number Six, and possibly to recruit him into whatever mysterious organisation he represents.

Overall the series combines several genres in a manner that is surreal, often paranoid and devastatingly effective. The stand-alone episodes can be a bit variable from one to the next, but at their best they really are superb.

Which brings us to Hammer Into Anvil.

This episode opens with a sadistic Number Two (played by Patrick Cargill) driving another inmate to suicide. Number Six informs Number Two that he will answer for this and thus begins Number Six’s campaign to destroy his adversary.

What makes this episode so memorable is that rather than fighting against the system, as Number Six usually does, he instead manipulates it in order to turn the panopticon against itself. What’s more, he does this in a manner that is both playful and transparent. It is clear from the outset what Number Six is doing, but Number Two’s increasing paranoia, combined with his endless search for an underlying meaning — even when none exists — blinds him to the obvious.

This is the first episode in which Number Six demonstrates a sense of humour as well as being the first in which he is able to enact a retribution.

I still have five more episodes to watch, including the two-part finale, but Hammer Into Anvil is a definite high point of the series.

Five Things #24

In Fortune’s Final Hand Adam-Troy Castro envisages a casino in which memories can be gambled and asks how much of you would still be you if your memories once belonged to someone else.

Rich Pelley talks to David Jason and Brian Cosgrove about Danger Mouse.

Renewable energy still has a long way to go. Wednesday was Belgium’s Grey Day, the day when notionally the country’s green electricity production is used up.

Klaus Sieg visits Sirplus, a chain of German supermarkets selling expired yogurt, mislabled jam and weird potatoes.

Chris Grey argues Brexiters need to stop campaigning and start governing.

Ancillary Mercy

Ancillary Mercy is both the conclusion and the high point of Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy. The series follows Breq, the last splinter of a destroyed starship, on her journey from soldier seeking vengeance to…

I’m going to stop there because I don’t want to give away too much, but the ending is both surprisingly low-key and deeply satisfying.

At its best, science fiction is able to use a broad canvas to explore very human concerns. And the Imperial Radch trilogy — and especially Ancillary Mercy — really is science fiction at its best.

Autonomy matters. Personhood matters. And, if personhood is a function of sentience, then there is no rational reason to limit it to humanity. When the autonomy of people is acknowledged — regardless of whether those people happen to be human, or a sentient space station, or a warship, or more — then a small group can work together to achieve the seemingly impossible.

It’s a message that could easily come across a trite but, in Leckie’s hands, the effortlessly gripping narrative incorporates these ideas in a manner that is both unobtrusive and effective.

This is all the more impressive given the way Leckie cherry picks her way through the mass of space opera tropes. Rather than a series of epic space-battles, we have determined individual, a stubborn space station, a teenager, and a lot of discussion. While the backdrop for this novel is huge, involving an interplanetary war between the various selves of a divided, and quite possibly mad, tyrant, the focus is very much on the characters, their relationships and the immediate problems they face.

Ancillary Mercy is a superb finale to an excellent trilogy and a remarkably good novel in it’s own right. And while this story arc comes to a very satisfying conclusion, there is clearly a great deal of space for more stories to be told in the same universe. I sincerely hope that Leckie finds the time to tell some of them.

Preparing to fail

Do you remember that photo, taken shortly after Theresa May had formally informed the EU of Britain’s intention to leave, of David Davis and the UK’s negotiating team meeting their EU counterparts. On the EU side, the negotiators each had thick folders stuffed with detailed guidelines intended to shape the direction and outcome of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiations. On the UK side, the negotiators had… David Davis’ inane grin.

Before that, of course, we had the utter insanity of Theresa May invoking Article 50 and setting the clock ticking on the UK’s exit from the EU without having the first clue of what she wanted to achieve or how she was going to get there.

This was followed by three years of chaos as the UK’s clueless and incompetent government stumbled from one crisis to the next while allowing itself to be pushed into taking ever more extreme positions by their own Bennite wing. This carried on until everyone was so fed up with the whole mess that they let Boris Johnson tell them that throwing Northern Ireland under a bus and caving in to everything represented some sort of victory.

David Allen Green notes that nothing has changed:

The European Union chief negotiator produced draft negotiation guidelines for the next stage of the Brexit process: that is the future relationship agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

You can read the draft here, thirty-three pages of detailed guidelines, which if adopted will shape the next stage of the negotiations.

As Green notes, the EU negotiators understand the process and have put thought into making sure they are fully prepared for the next part of the Brexit negotiations.

The UK could have done something similar; a draft negotiation document, for example, which could have been put before Parliament for approval

There would be no problem with the Prime Minister doing this: he has had the civil service machine at his disposal since summer — plenty of time for the government to know what it wants from the next stage of negotiations, especially as he wants the agreement in place by the end of this year.

And there would be no risk for the Prime Minister in doing this either: unlike his predecessor, he has a majority in the House of Commons and so he could be confident of any such guidelines getting parliamentary approval.

Of course, no such document was published.

The obvious explanation for the United Kingdom government not publishing a document as detailed as that of the European Union is that it has (currently) no proposals as detailed as those of the European Union.

As in 2016-2020, the United Kingdom does not have a clue in practical or detailed terms what to do next.

This government hasn’t learned a thing.

Double Bronze

I mentioned, briefly, that Macsen had another karate tournament yesterday. He did well, coming third in both the kata (knowing the moves) and the kumite (the actual fighting) sections.

He even managed to join the rest of us in time for the pancake frenzy.

So Sunday proved to be a rather successful day all around.

How was your weekend?

Happy Palindrome Day

Today’s date — 02/02/2020 — is a palindrome. What’s more, it’s a Palindrome in both European and American date formats, which makes it doubly special. We shall, of course, be celebrating with beer and pancakes.

That’s not entirely true. The local youth group organises a pancake day every year on the first Sunday in February, and every year we go along to support it — and eat unlimited pancakes. The fun starts at 3:00 this afternoon. Well, for the twins and I anyway.

Macsen has another karate tournament — something else that also always takes place on the first Sunday in February — so he and his mum will be joining us just as soon as they can.

We will probably be skipping dinner tonight.

Road to Nowhere

David Byrne described Road to Nowhere as “a resigned, even joyful look at doom, at our deaths and at the apocalypse… (always looming, folks).”

The Invisibles are “a Postmodern Offbeat (Ska) Band” founded in The Netherlands in 2013, when the singer, composer and arranger Enrico Cioccolini Gotink put together a 14 international musicians’ line-up.

Their version of Road to Nowhere is really rather good.