Monday, July 25, 2022

Climate change - reality will 'win' over scepticism propaganda

Last week's heatwave set new records for temperatures in the UK. It was an uncomfortable and oppressive couple of days. The transport system was badly affected and we even saw wildfires on the edge of London in Essex. This all led to some serious discussions about the changing climate and the way weather systems are altering.

The sudden newsworthiness of climate change as the mounting evidence becomes harder to ignore reminds me of the central message of AS Byatt's book called Ragnarok (which I blogged about ten years ago!

In the book's preface, Byatt explicitly links her retelling of the myths to climate change and compares the failure to act to prevent disaster as akin to the gods mucking about and wasting time even though they all knew their prophesied doom was drawing near. The gods' attempts to ignore reality just made their destruction more inevitable. 

As I said earlier this year, reality tends to win against rhetoric. The planet is going to get hotter no matter how many lies are told by right wing politicians who are guided by their donors or grifters masquerading as 'sceptics'. Climate change is happening now whether people believe in it or not. In the same way that coronaviruses don't respect anyone's firmly held opinions about whether or not they are dangerous, the damage done to the climate isn't prevented by how many people decide they don't believe in it. 

Ultimately there will come a point when the people who have been spreading the climate scepticism propaganda will be shown to have known that it was true all along, in exactly the same way that Big Tobacco knew that cigarette smoking caused cancer while still denying any links. 

The climate sceptics may even get away with it if there is no longer a functioning human society. Who will call them to account after the apocalypse? 

There was nobody left to ask the gods why they didn't do more to stop Ragnarok. 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Blood Bowl match review - a fumbling failure-filled first game for the Bling-Lizards

A week ago I played my second Blood Bowl game of the month, with a first outing for my Lizardmen team, the Bling-Lizards, aka the Gilded Skulls. They are led by Roxy, a big reptile called a kroxigor who is unfortunately a bit dim and occasionally forgets who they are meant to be punching. (Seriously, I had to roll a dice every time I wanted to use Roxy to determine whether the player could understand what they were supposed to do!)

I painted Roxy and most of the other team in a metallic green paint made by a company called Turbo Dork. I'm pleased with how the red uniforms and gold armour and skull-shaped helmets combine well with the shiny skin-tone. I hoped the combination might dazzle the opposition.

My regular opponent Bryan stuck with his trusty dwarf team and the teams lined up to scrimmage. 

The first half was notable for just being one long congested series of pushes. The rules are if a player gets pushed back into another player, that player also gets pushed back in a "chain push". This can mean players end up moving several squares through being pushed from different directions. One chain was five pushes long.

This was the third different team I've played with this year and it had some advantages over the orcs and humans. There was more variety in the players in the team, ranging from big "Saurus" blockers through to small, fast skinks. I successfully got the fast-moving skinks into the end zone waiting for a pass that never came because the dwarfs kept hold of the ball but were held back by a defensive line led by Roxy.

The only other noteworthy thing in the first half was one of the Bling-Lizards got sent off for a vicious foul that took one of the dwarfs out of the game. Worth it!

The second half started with the Bling-Lizards trying to pick up the ball. After three attempts they finally managed it, with the most agile team members fumbling the first two goes. Those frustrating low dice rolls!

Then, while attempting a pass forward, the most likely candidate to make a pass somehow fumbled it and the ball ended up three spaces behind him, having flown over the heads of Roxy and another team-mate.

After that bodged pass, the dwarf team were able to gain possession, and with the very last roll of the dice on the very last turn of the match, the dwarfs scored a touchdown to pull off a late, late win.

The Saurus player is merely running over the congratulate the scorer, honest!

Overall, a disappointing defeat for the shiny reptiles, but they are an enjoyable team to play and are really fun models.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

The Grangetown Zoo goes Jurassic

There was a dinosaur theme for the Grangetown Zoo community art project this year, and Cathy provided another awesome exhibit for our window.

...complete with crucial details in a zoo information panel.

I was more involved in the zoo experience this year, helping to set up, man and take down the stalls that were set up in our local park, Grange Gardens, which was guarded by more prehistoric beasties. 

I also had a stint in a dinosaur suit - as seen in this picture.

Another stall was being run by staff from the National Museum of Wales, who had dinosaur fossils for kids to handle, including a tooth from a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

There was a trail of activities and art installations around Grangetown. It was a super-hot day and I had important dinosauring duties so didn't get to see much of the trail. But the great thing about this project is the way it creates art that sticks around. So a few days later I got to see this large scale mural of some dinosaur descendants on the side of The Grange pub.

And so that was the third and most dinosaur-tastic Grangetown Zoo weekend. Roll on next year!

Monday, July 11, 2022

Marvel's religious pluralism in Thor: Love and Thunder

We went to see the latest Thor film on the weekend. It was highly enjoyable, and is the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has theological implications that piqued my interest. There are some spoilers below the film poster - read on at your own risk of spoilerisation. There are also some spoilers for some of the Marvel TV shows, especially Ms.Marvel.

There was a lot to like in this film, from the opening few scenes that showed Thor trying the patience of the Guardians of the Galaxy until they went their separate ways, through to the reunion of Thor with Jane Foster in her guise as The Mighty Thor. I felt it was Natalie Portman's best performance in a Thor movie as she was given some material to work with both as Jane and as her version of Thor. 

Mining the same vein as Thor Ragnarok, this film contained a lot of comedy. It was fast-paced, thanks to the direction of Taika Waititi, who also voices the character Korg. It does feel like the difference between the first two Thor movies, which were helmed by Kenneth Branagh and Alan Taylor, and the most recent two is linked to the choice of director. There is also a strong musical theme in the movie, with Guns 'n' Roses songs prominent during major set pieces.  

The plot is fairly basic. There is a being called Gorr who possesses - and is possessed by - the Necrosword, a black sword that can kill gods. He embarks on a revenge mission to wipe out all gods in the universe after his god fails to intervene and save him and his daughter who are the god's last faithful worshippers.

Thor gets involved when Gorr attacks the Asgardian colony on Earth. That's more than just an attempt to kill another god - Gorr wants something else, which will lead him to his ultimate goal. 

On returning to New Asgard, Thor discovers his lost love, Jane, now possesses Mjolnir, Thor's hammer that was destroyed in the previous Thor movie. This begins a very funny sequence where Thor tries to reconnect with Mjolnir, causing his new weapon, the axe Stormbreaker, to get jealous. That sounds ridiculous, but it works surprisingly well and provides some light relief. 

Thor also tries to reconnect with Jane as they go into battle together. This includes a detour to Omnipotence City, where all the gods live. And that's where the theology gets interesting.

Marvel has gradually been co-opting every mythology into the MCU. That includes Greek myths in Eternals, Egyptian gods in the series Moon-Knight, and most recently djinns from Arabian and Muslim stories in Ms.Marvel. Now it seems they have decided that all gods exist somewhere in the universe and they are all characters. 

But - and this is an important point - Marvel have also decided that gods are not worthy of the worship afforded to them. Zeus basically says this when Thor challenges him to intervene and do the right thing. Humans - and presumably other creatures - exist to suffer for their gods and there is no eternal reward. It's an incredibly bleak perspective from a mortal point of view. 

Back when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 was released, I wrote about how the movie depicted deicide. This film goes a step further into active antitheism. The gods are depicted as powerful and capricious, only interested in their own affairs. 

Marvel are hedging their bets a bit with this stance, though. Nobody really cares about the Greek, Norse or Egyptian pantheons. Marvel can do what they like with those redundant religions because nobody will get upset about what's said about those gods. Things would change quickly if Marvel started turning the gods from the big current religions into movie characters. 

Marvel might be testing that water with having a Muslim superhero in Ms.Marvel, where her religion is an important aspect of her character. However the supernatural characters in that show are djinns, which are a bit like Christian beliefs in demons. They're supposed to be real, but not something that can be blasphemed against so it's reasonably safe to make them aliens from another dimension instead. 

There has been a definite trend in the MCU from a god-like character being evil in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 to the sheer narcissism of "actual" gods inviting the audience to question whether any gods are worthy of worship in Thor: Love and Thunder. Especially gods - or Gods - who let children die while the prayers of their followers go unanswered. It leaves me wondering where they might go next.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

The lucky unlucky generation of politics students

Reflecting on a chaotic week in British politics. I keep thinking how exciting things must be for anyone doing an A-Level in Politics at the moment or starting one soon. I can't help comparing this to when I did my politics A-level from 1992 to 1994.

In the preceding decade there had been one change of Prime Minister - when John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher in 1990. The big "current" story was analysing the gap between the polls - which predicted Labour would win the 1992 General Election - and the reality, when John Major won a slight majority to extend Tory government for another five years. In the USA, Bill Clinton won the Presidential Election against the incumbent President, which was slightly unexpected because incumbents usually win. We did one year on UK politics and the second year on US politics, so Clinton's win was well-timed to be current. 

And that was just about it. The various seminars I went to in the course of my A-Level had very little else to discuss except for those misleading polls. I heard lots of theories about it, including from Tony Benn and Alastair Campbell before he became the infamous master of spin for Tony Blair. The most obvious reason for it was that people were ashamed to admit they voted Tory so lied to pollsters. 

Compare and contrast that to the situation now. A decade ago we were in the middle of the first official coalition government of my lifetime. There was a referendum on independence in Scotland. Then there was a General Election where the Tories won an unexpected majority as the Liberal Democrats reaped the reward for their alliance with the Tories and were immolated at the ballot box. That was 2015 - seven years ago - and everything has gone all kinds of crazy since. 

The only picture of this man you will see on this blog

Anyone studying "recent events" since then would struggle to keep up. There was the Brexit referendum (I voted to Remain). David Cameron quit as Prime Minister and was replaced by Theresa May. She gambled on getting a larger majority to push Brexit through against her own rebel MPs, and then lost the governmental majority in a general election in 2017

Although Theresa gamely struggled on, she was effectively sacked by her party in 2019, replaced by Boris Johnson. He then called another election - in 2019 - and won a massive majority by promising to "Get Brexit Done". That got fast-tracked and the UK had a 'hard Brexit' in January 2020 ending the 47 year membership of the EEC / EU. And then we've had all the ongoing shenanigans, corruption and lies culminating in a resignation that wasn't really a resignation.

And that's just the UK. The USA political scene hasn't been quite as dramatic, although the election of Donald Trump, thanks in a large way to the weaponisation of evangelical Christians in a 'Culture War', and particularly the end of his reign with an attempted insurrection on the steps of the Capitol, could keep an A-level student in essay topics for days. (Incidentally, the Tories have attempted to co-opt religion over here - it's just not such a massive demographic to tap in to.)

I really don't know where people would start studying all that. Even so, part of me is kind of jealous when I think of how boring politics was in the early 90s.

However, my envy for the current generation of A-Level students is tempered by knowing they are going to have to live with the consequences of all this nonsense. Particularly Brexit, which is already having dire economic consequences. But also the way the country now seems to have a choice of frothing right-wingers intent on pandering to racists and bigots to be its next leader. Who knows what fresh hell will be unleashed from the people eyeing up the job of Prime Minister.

Today's students are going to have to live with these consequences for longer than I will. They might have more to write about in their A-Level work, but at what cost?

Thursday, July 07, 2022

Popcorn politics

Well, this is some week in politics (and it's not over yet).  It's been a week to break out the popcorn, settle down and watch the news. Much of the country has watched faintly aghast and disgusted as the Prime Minister has tried to hang on to office like a particularly persistent bacteria fights a rear-guard action against antibiotics.

I'm just going to go ahead and post this tweet, because it's rare enough that I get to say "I told you so" quite so spectacularly. So indulge me.

If you want to see some other things I've tweeted about Boris Johnson over the intervening period, here is a handy preloaded Twitter search. It's not complimentary. 

The real problem, as Cathy succinctly pointed out to me, is that people knew what he was like - he has a history of racist remarks, abandoning his multiple families, lying, taking large amounts of money from dubious donors, and pandering to right wing racists. And people overlooked all that and voted for him anyway.

This current political meltdown is on all of the people who voted for this arch-charlatan. We know why they voted for him in droves. He said he would get Brexit done. Which, I will admit grudgingly, is about the one promise he has kept. Even if it was a brutal version of Brexit that is tanking the economy and will impoverish future generations.

Almost immediately after the UK crashed out of the EU we had the pandemic, which is being spun to us as a Boris success. Except it wasn't. The UK has the highest number of deaths compared to EU and EAA countries in Europe (including 20,000 people who have died so far in 2022). It wasn't Boris that saved the nation from an even worse outcome. It was NHS staff who reorganised services in double quick time, worked to breaking point, and organised the largest vaccine roll out ever seen in the UK.

The NHS saved his life too. And what was the thanks - when the wave of stories about lockdown parties in Number 10 broke - Boris Johnson's defenders said it was no different to nurses having a drink in the break room at the end of their shift. This slur has been angrily challenged by every healthcare professional I know.

In my most uncharitable moments, I have said that the biggest tactical mistake ever made by anyone working in the NHS was keeping Boris Johnson alive. I'm not saying a replacement would have been outlandishly better, but it can hardly have been any worse.

So we come to the last few months. Almost every week has brought a new scandal. More hypocrisy. More corruption. More sexual indiscretions. (The most recent one caused an explosion of jokes when he was alleged to have knocked up his hairdresser. Most people seemed incredulous that he had a hairdresser.) More lies - until eventually a civil servant said enough was enough and publicly stated that Boris Johnson definitely did know that his deputy chief whip was a serial groper and his denials were lies. 

Even the way he has sort of resigned today reveals the real Boris Johnson. He snidely blamed the 'herd mentality' of Tory MPs, subtly implying they lost their nerve and were bitter ingrates. He saw the last election as his victory, his parliamentary majority to do with as he wished, his mandate to rule, and now it was being taken away from him because of the cowardice of others. No sense that he brought this on himself. In his eyes it can't possibly be his fault even though his decisions are the fuel that has kept this bin fire raging for months. He's not even leaving properly - appointing himself the sitting duck caretaker Prime Minister so he can stay in his corrupt little palace for as long as possible. 

So he is going. Not gone. Like I said, the week ain't over, Neither is this shitshow.

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Snack of the Month - deconstructed Snickers

This is a 'snack mix' version of the popular chocolate bar.

It's a hefty bag, weighing 300 grams. So, here is a sensible portion of 50 grams. 

There are three components to the mix - roasted peanuts, small chocolate buttons, and caramel cubes. 

The caramel pieces are very sweet. They have a crumbly fudge consistency rather than being chewy. The chocolate is generic Mars chocolate. They're also very sweet. The peanuts are roasted and are reasonable quality. They aren't greasy but it is a bit weird eating roasted peanuts that don't have any salt on them. 

It's a decent snack. Good for munching on during a film or a TV binge. But it's not terribly exciting and an actual Snickers would be nicer. 

Sunday, July 03, 2022

Blood Bowl match review - humans v dwarves

As mentioned in my previous blogpost, I recently started painting up a human team that have sitting neglected since I bought the first Blood Bowl reboot back in 2017. I went with a chocolate and cream colour scheme, inspired by a retro shirt I saw on a football website. Now they are semi-painted it was time to give them a go and see what they could do. 

As ever, my opposing coach was Bryan, who brought his dwarf team round to play. Whereas I am trying out different teams, Bryan is very loyal to his dwarfs.

The first half was evenly matched. The humans did carve out a great opening at one point, and it looked like they were going to score. However, a dwarf blitzer made two rushing yards and tackled the ball carrier, negating the danger.

For the first time, we started using the 'fouling' rules. This is an opportunity to gain a sneaky advantage but it does carry a risk of being spotted and the player being punished. When the teams lined up for the second half, Bryan was down a player because one of his blitzers had been sent off.

Naughty blitzer in the dug out, top right

The game ground on and it really looked like it was going to end scoreless, until somehow the human thrower gained possession in the dwarf half and was able to throw the ball to an unmarked catcher near the end zone. A short dash later and TOUCHDOWN!!!

The ball was thrown directly over a dwarf player. Bryan could have rolled to try and interfere with the pass, but the dwarf's poor agility rating combined with various modifiers meant that he would have had to roll a seven on a six-sided dice. Obviously, that wasn't possible. Our conclusion - dwarves can't jump!

The game finished 1-0 to the humans so a winning start for them. In the very last turn of the game one of the foul rolls went wrong and a human got sent off to even out the red cards. 

Saturday, July 02, 2022

June 2022 - a summer month of wet weekends

Well, June is gone and we are now over halfway through 2022. I had a busy month settling into my new job with plenty keeping me occupied at the weekends too. Unfortunately it felt like the weekends were wet when I wanted to be outside and sunny when I wanted to be inside!

At the start of the month I cashed in the Lego Store gift card that my former work colleagues gave me as a parting gift. Among the heap of Lego goodies I purchased was this epic set.

Yes, that's right. Optimus Prime, heroic leader of the noble Autobots, in all his original 1980s style glory! I remember this being an apex toy when I was a kid - I envied my friends who had one. This model actually converts from robot to truck and back without having to take the Lego apart. It's fab!

The Dog's Trail display of Snoopy statues located around Cardiff, Caerphilly and Porthcawl came to an end with a special weekend extravaganza outside City Hall. Cathy and I braved the rain to visit the statues, including Tally, which was one of the statues that we saw had been vandalised in the first few days of the trail. We were glad to see Tally had made a full recovery.

After seeing all the Snoopys we walked back through the city centre. There was a pop up shop selling American sports merchandise. Long story short, I got myself a new lid (as the kids say).

I spent the one sunny Saturday visiting a stamp fair for the first time since before the pandemic, mainly to attend the Annual General Meeting of the British Thematic Association. I wasn't intending to buy anything, but I picked up a few items for my 'Cymru a Gymraeg' collection that I'm working on. 

I got a couple of fun stamps for Cathy too. They feature the mascots for the Rio Olympics and Paralympics. 

Another wet Saturday was spent at the Grangetown Festival where the Friends of Grange Gardens had a stall. The weather was a mix of thundery downpours and bright sunshine. At least we were able to prove that our tea towels with a screenprint design of the park were both very absorbent and colour fast!

Our gazebo was also conveniently located next to the war memorial statue so I felt pretty safe when the lightning started because that is a massive lightning rod right there.

And I even had time to experement with some paint schemes for one of my Blood Bowl teams. I wanted to paint them chocolate and cream, and mixed my own pinky cream. But I wasn't too happy with that and bought a more yellowy shade on one of my trips to Firestorm Games. Here is a half and half shot with both shades of cream on show.

I had already played a game of Blood Bowl in June and I'm delighted to say that it wasn't too long before these guys were getting an outing. A game review will follow!