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This is why we don't have nice things

[community profile] scans_daily is currently posting bits from the old "Doom's Master" FF story, which included both one of the worst moments of Doom characterization I can conceive, much less know of — lets just begin with Victor Von Doom calling somebody, anybody, anything, "Master" — and one of Doom's crowing moments of awesome, when he was thoroughly trashed (I'm being hilariously understated here) and thrown back into the Pliocene to be eaten by giant sharks. That's not the awesome part, of course (except in that it implies you're the kind of person who rates the sort of enemies who can do that) – the awesome part is what he did then. So I've always been ambiguous about that.

Except that now they are also posting bits of Dark Avengers #176, showing how the Thunderbolts, in the far past for irrelevant reasons, happen to rescue Doom. The Thunderbolts. Rescue. Doom. And he of course betrays them for their time machine, and that's how Doom survived that thing.

No. Nope. Nooooooope. No-no. No chance. Nah. I refuse to acknowledge that Marvel just retconned one of Doom's Peak Doom moments into little more than outrageously good luck. It's worse than the time DC retconned Hal Jordan's completely understandable grief (together with maybe completely understandable plans) and subsequent one-man blitzkrieg against the Crops and grim semi-godhood into "possession by weird cosmic entity," rendering meaningless what had been a psychologically and narratively *interesting* event. Mostly because I'm a gazillon times more interested in Doom than in Hal and, to borrow a 2016 vernacular we'll never use again, the eons-long Big Bang-sized dumpster fire that is everything the Guardian have tried to do, ever.
[First World problems took over my day.][Number of calls to the Customer Service dept of four different companies: 39 (going by my phone's history log).][Annoyance level: Code Pitchfork.]

Marcus Aurelius would ask me to go to any random news site and see if this stuff is worth getting angry about, and he'd be right. Organizational incompetence and mendacity can and do cause a lot of human suffering, but flaky internet and credit card issues hardly qualify.

I do feel somewhat better after thinking this through.

But, boy, I could name four companies that are very lucky I don't have the Roman Army at my disposal.

An off the cuff observation

There's probably an strong reverse causality effect here, as well as latent variables, but still: my favorite Marvel movies tend to be those with strong soundtracks that become part of the movie's identity. Iron Man's, for example, including those fantastic end credits (and the post-credits scene, a hundred-million dollar idea if there ever was one). Deadpool. Guardians of the Galaxy, where the music was more of a McGuffin than the official McGuffin.

Further evidence: DC allegedly shot again parts of Suicide Squad as setting the trailer to Bohemian Rhapsody basically overwrote whatever bleak semantics they had planned for the movie.

I'm quite ignorant about movies and music (among an infinity of other things), but it does seem to me that, as you can't do comics POW, getting the soundtrack right and pump-y is one of the core aspects of shooting a superhero movie.

More correlation than causation (maybe Marvel/Disney just has better institutional knowledge about soundtracks, or at least more attuned to my tastes), but it was something fun to think about, and also an excuse to watch again a couple of old trailers.

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Books! (Death and Circuses Edition)

Site Realiability Engineering: How Google Runs Production Systems (Ed. Betsy Beyer, Chris Jones, Jennifer Petoff, and Niall Murphy, 2016/#47): A very interesting book, if this is the kind of thing that interests you. Not just in terms of technical details; in some ways Google (and Amazon) are facing issues many other industries are going to have to, so seeing how they do it, what works and what doesn't, is instructive. The book is an uneven collection of individually written chapters, though, and if they first ones hadn't been so interesting, I would have probably, and perhaps more appropriately, just read bits of it.

Gothic Immortals (Marie Mulvey-Roberts, 2016/#48): An analysis of Gothic novels involving, at least partially, the pursuit of physical immortality through Rosicrucian(-like) methods. I found it interesting more because of the topic than of the analysis (it also has to be said that most of the source novels, except Frankenstein, aren't particularly good reads, at least to my tastes). As a side effect, it provides further reminders of the extraordinary nexus of talent that was the Byron-Wollstonecraft-Shelley-Godwin-etc-etc menagerie. There's only one degree of separation between Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley, and if you don't find the intellectual and artistic possibilities in a collaboration between them fascinating, I don't know what to tell you. Debauched superstardom, feminism, unhallowed biotechnology, programming, vampires... There was a little nexus of future in there (maybe not unrelated to how much tragedy there was in their lives). As an aside, there're plenty of obvious and petty reasons why Byron's memoirs were burned, but I'll be very disappointed with the zeitgeist if there isn't a "Lord Byron et al were a sort of Planetary and much of what they wrote was based on their experiences" graphic novel sooner or later.

Popular Culture in Ancient Rome (Jerry Toner, 2016/#49): A very useful complement to most of the books I've read about Roman history, which focus on elite or military matters. It describes a harsh, hierarchical, extremely competitive, and very believable society. The author makes an explicit attempt to try to avoid either over-projecting modern patterns or rejecting human commonalities, and I think he by and large succeeds.

The Father Hunt (Rex Stout, 2016/#50): A regular Nero Wolfe story.

Homicide Trinity (Rex Stout, 2016/#51): Three shorter Nero Wolfe novellas. Satisfactory.

The Borgias and their Enemies (Christopher Hibbert, 2016/#52): I finished this book not quite sure of why the Borgias ended up with the reputation they have. Sure, they were cruel, lascivious, violent, greedy, corrupt, et cetera, but it doesn't look as if they were qualitatively worse than most of their contemporaries. Maybe it was the coincidence within two generations of a very able Pope (within the ethical non-constraints mentioned above), an extremely charismatic soldier, and an exceedingly able noblewoman (both of the same mother, the also quite extraordinary Vannozza dei Cattanei), all of them working in concert. Alexander VI would've been scandalous on his own, mind you, but the combination was impressive, and the way he doted over his children possibly led him to do things otherwise he wouldn't have (e.g., I can imagine an issueless Alexander dedicating himself to strengthening and reorganizing the Curia and the Papal States, with perhaps as much sexual incontinence, but also more of an institutional focus). And of course there's all the gossip about incest, which I don't really believe. The three of them were as sexual as pretty much everybody in Italy seems to have been at the time, and this was a time when people sometimes stood by the bed of noble newlyweds to audit the process, so to speak, but nothing in their actual biographies suggests anything darker. I believe most of the charges of murder, though. Heck, even Alexander VI believed most of the charges of murder against Cesare, and he loved him.

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I'm reading Alan Moore's Providence (a twelve-issues mini of which I think nine have been published so far). Some random observations:


  • You could say it's something like "Planetary meets Lovecraft and the Gang."

  • You have to assume trigger warnings for graphical depictions of pretty much everything you could imagine.

  • The way it plays with time, dreams, and symbols is fascinating, and leverages the medium very well. It's Alan Moore, of course; that's kind of what he does.

  • The humor... I don't know if humor is the right word, YMMV, but another way of describing this would be Mr. Magoo Goes to Hell. This is bleakly funny sometimes, and other times almost intolerable. Every issue ends with a few pages of the protagonist's Commonplace Book (more of a journal, actually), which you definitely shouldn't skip over.

  • The story is its own meta, unashamedly and deliberately so.

Movie paused to ask myself

... Did Dick, dressed as Batman, just comment on some katana-wielding Sisters by saying That would make them nunjas?

Yes. Yes, I think he did. Of course he did.

I think I now understand better Robin's tactical role. No matter how focused you are on following your plan, it's impossible to stay on mission when there's this kid dressed like a colorblind elf saying things like that. You just can't. You'd be aiming at Batman's back, ready to shoot, and you'd hesitate half a second too long, struggling between your cherished goal of killing Batman and your sudden, physical need to shoot that kid so he'll shut the fuck up. Must've been excruciating.

Hell, I'm sure Batman had to train himself specifically so he wouldn't stop during a fight to make sure he heard Dick say what he knows he said. Alfred probably has to deal every month with one or two young orphans bent on revenge who have crossed the world to reach Wayne Manor and learn Battle Punning at the feet of Dick Grayson.

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Another almost impossibly beautiful thing

Look at this (still not peer-reviewed) bioRxiv paper: Thanatotranscriptome: genes actively expressed after organismal death.

One one hand, yes, it's intellectually fascinating molecular biology, and might even help understand how things work for non-dead organisms.

On the other hand, they are studying the thanatotranscriptome. I feel some sort of IP routing error landed on my feed reader a paper from a much more interesting parallel timeline. This is a paper you want to print out and read by candlelight, while a storm howls outside as if Nature knew of your plans and were voicing her outrage at the very idea.

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I can't even

I continue going through the Poirot tv series. The Poirot-Hastings-Japp dynamic is a joy to watch; most of the time it's a low key, deeply amiable version of the Holmes-Watson-Lestrade archetype, and some days that's precisely what I want.

Right now I'm watching a bit of The A.B.C. Murders where Hastings is washing up the tea service the victim's relatives have just used during their interview at Whitehaven Mansions, while Poirot stands next to him wearing the tidiest white apron you've ever seen, drying things up as Hastings passes them over, but passing them back if he seems something wrong with them.

You can tell they are already used to this by the way this is done automatically while they discuss the murders, and how Hastings doesn't complain or even makes a face as Poirot returns the same saucer for the third time (and Hastings spends about 17% of his time making faces at Poirot), he just takes him back and re-washes it without even looking at it.

If that's not domesticity, I don't know what is.

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Books! (Death and History Edition)

Maigret's Little Joke (Georges Simenon, 2016/#41): A reread. Maigret relaxes and has fun, and so did this reader.

The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien (Georges Simenon, 2016/#42): A reread.

The Shadow in the Courtyard (Georges Simenon, 2016/#43): A reread.

Retrogame Archeology (John Aycock, 2016/#44): A low-level look at some of the programming tricks in old (as in, mostly 1980's, and some earlier than that) computer games. Intellectually fascinating on its own, it also naturally triggered a certain amount of nostalgia; not just about specific games and programming environments, but also the mindset involved in playing or woking in them. Feelings can be associated to skills as strongly as to anything else, I guess.

Eminence (Jean-Vincent Blanchard, 2016/#45): A readable biography of Richelieu; not disparaging, but rather realistic about his skills as politician and statesman. Spends a lot of time describing Richelieu's efforts and difficulties managing his relationship with Louis XIII, which was clearly a more-than-full-time job on itself and, in a political system like France's, a prerequisite for doing anything else; it's fascinating how the still not quite centralized politics of the place and time are shown in the frequent *military* challenges from nobles (including relatives) to the monarchy, something that definitely feels pre-modern. If nothing else, Richelieu wasn't just a passionate patron of theater (seriously, he spent a lot of money and time on incredibly luxurious theater halls and plays), but also quite good at staging psychologically impressive political drama, not that people around him were particularly stoic either. I mean, the concept and practice of the "royal favorite" is fascinating from a comparative point of view, particularly the custom of giving them power in addition to money and palaces; human, perhaps, in the context of a culture where government was something you did instead of an entity you were part of (and would've probably applied to female mistresses as well if not for the axiomatic misogyny), but awfully problematic from a practical point of view.


Might as Well be Dead (Rex Stout, 2016/#46): A shortish, pleasant Nero Wolfe story (despite an unexpected death).

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On the constancy of human nature

Today I heard for the first time Figaro's aria from The Barber of Seville with translated subtitles. Mutatis mutandis, it could've been released yesterday! (on Tidal, probably) He's literally boasting about how cool his life is, how he's the greatest guy in town, how everybody choruses his name, and about all the "perks" that come with his job (interestingly enough, both young women and young gentlemen).

About 85% of the reason why I love this song is Bugs Bunny, but now that I've read the lyrics, I like it even more.

ETA: Even if you already knew the lyrics, do watch the video. The guy playing Figaro nails the attitude.

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