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megpie71: AC Reno crouched over on the pavement, looking pained (Some days...)
Monday, September 16th, 2013 08:50 am
Apparently the Liberals are claiming the recent Australian election was a "referendum" on the various policy packages of the major parties, and that as they won the majority of seats in the lower house of parliament, they therefore have the right to implement all their policies (even the ones there's strenuous opposition to for practical reasons, such as their NBN-on-the-cheap one).

Let's just break this down a bit. If an election is a referendum on policy, then clearly these policies should be readily stated in detail, adequately debated, and fully costed, and all of these details supplied to the public at the beginning of the campaign. As it stands, neither of the major parties supplied all of this detail to the public even by polling day (and the Liberal party was by far the most egregious offender in this regard - there were more and better costed policies from the Greens than from the Liberals).

In a referendum, the winning answer needs to get a majority of votes nationally, AND a majority of votes in all the states. Referendums, being voted on yes/no questions, don't go to preferences, because they don't need to - it's straight first past the post all the way. Yes, there are a majority of Liberal and National party members in the House of Representatives at present (if we're going to be continuing with the "referendum" analogy, presumably they'd count as "yes" for the Liberals, and "yair" for the Nationals), and there are more of them than there are members for the ALP (who are presumably the "no"s in this analogy). But where does this leave the Greens, the Palmer United Party, and the other few Independent MPs in the chamber? They don't readily analogise to a straight yes or no response.

As regards to the majority of the states, the composition of the new Senate is still being decided (further complicated, of course, by the fact that only HALF the senate seats were up for contest in this election, so we still have a senate which is being half-decided by responses we made to questions asked back in 2010), but it seems likely the Liberals and Nationals won't have a clear majority there, and will be required to do some horse-trading with the various minor and opposition parties in order to get policies passed. Or, in a return to our referendum analogy, the Liberals did NOT get a majority of senators in all the states... and thus the referendum doesn't pass.

The Liberals don't have a simple "mandate" for their entire policy list. Particularly since at least some of their policy list is stuff which is disputed even within the party itself.

Now, if the Liberal party really does want each election to be a referendum on policy rather than the current popularity contest, here's a suggestion for how it would need to work. Firstly, the parties would be required to have their policies worked out, costed, and ready to defend at the beginning of each electoral campaign period. These policies would need to be summarised into single line items, and each line item policy would be placed (with its costing - no costing, no consideration) in a list, with tick boxes at the end of each line - one for yes, one for no.

Incidentally, this could be a big saving, because it would mean only a single ballot paper for both the House of Representatives AND the Senate, and only a single ballot paper Australia-wide. Yes, that does mean people in Melbourne and Sydney would be voting for and against pork-barrel measures aimed at people in the rest of the country. On the other hand, the rest of the country would be voting for and against pork-barrel measures aimed at people living in Sydney and Melbourne. Just think, winning Federal policies would most likely be the ones aimed at the entire country, rather than the ones aimed at winning individual seats.

In each seat and each state, the respective yeses and noes would be added up. For the House of Representatives, the candidate for the party whose collection of policies best conformed to the wishes of the voters for the seat would be chosen as the member for the individual seat. The current parliamentary convention of the Prime Minister being the parliamentary leader of the party with the greatest number of members in the House of Representatives could still apply. In the senate, the votes would be counted at a state level, and as each constellation of policy choices which matched a particular party's platform reached a quota, a senator from that party would be elected.

In addition, the AEC at the end of the day would have the ultimate opinion poll on which policies were supported and by which percentage of the population - and they could basically hand this to the incoming government with instructions that THIS is what they have a mandate for. Each individual member could also be given the same sort of run-down for their individual seat as well, thus indicating which way they were mandated to vote by their electors.

It would certainly change the How-to-vote cards.
megpie71: Text: "My grip on reality's not too good at the best of times." (losing grip)
Tuesday, August 21st, 2012 09:39 am
So I went on a bit of a buying spree on Friday, and got myself a few DVDs (Iron Man I and II, Thor, Captain America, the Robert Downey Junior Sherlock Holmes), and then spent most of Friday and Saturday in a watching spree. Now the whole thing's had enough time to settle a bit, here's my reactions to various bits and pieces.

Long rants and rambles under fold )

I'll accept a lot of handwaving in the science of things like rockets, arc reactors, missiles, super-soldier serums and the like. But I expect a bit of consistency with regards to things like illnesses, poisoning, and recovery from same. The information is out there on the internet, and viewers and watchers are able to access it just as readily as writers are. And yeah, we're going to pick nits, and point out things like plot holes large enough to steer a supertanker through.
megpie71: Tips of coloured pencils behind text: "Fandom: we colour outside the lines" (colour outside the lines)
Monday, June 25th, 2012 09:24 am
(This has been cross-posted to [community profile] fanficrants. If you're seeing it twice, I do apologise).

As I'm no doubt certain long-term readers of my various journals are well aware, I tend to be a bit fussy about word usage. I'm a big fan of the correct word in the correct place, as well as being somewhat intolerant (pronounced "shriekingly furious") about the wrong word being used in the wrong place. Mucking up "definite" and "defiant" because you pronounce "definite" with an "a" and therefore spell it the same way will certaily raise my blood pressure. Ditto using the words "taunt", "taut" and "taught" interchangeably (they aren't interchangeable - they're different words with different meanings). Don't get me started about "lose" and "loose".

This is part of why I feel that a good sized dictionary (and by "good sized", I mean "hardcover, and heavy enough to kill small crawling things") is an essential part of any writer's toolkit.

No, MS Word Spellcheck and Grammar check is not a good substitute. Here's why:

list below the fold )

A good dictionary will give you all the information you need about the words you're using in your fiction writing. It's worth investing in one, and using it as a backup to the spellcheck program in your word processor of choice. Because here's another thing about dictionaries: they're generally created by a committee of people who are interested in words and who have spent their lives being fascinated by words and the way words are used. Dictionaries are created by professional linguists, as opposed to the professional computer programmers and professional managers who create spell-check functions for word processors. I'm more inclined to trust a dictionary to be correct on matters of word choice and usage than a spellcheck program - because a dictionary is more likely to have been edited by people who are interested in more than just the business end of town.

My personal preference is for the Concise Oxford Dictionary, because the bound copy I bought about five or so years back came with a version of the whole thing on disc, designed to be installed onto a computer. I use the PC version as a backup for the spellcheck programs of whichever word processing package I'm using at the time - if the spellchecker picks something out as a possible misspelling, I'll check it against the dictionary. Most of the time, the difference is between UK and US English - I'll be spelling things with the extra "u" or similar, while the word processor tends to have problems with anyone not using US English like they say they're using in their computer settings (I use Commonwealth spellings and US keyboard settings because I'm from Australia - we use dollars and cents here as our default currency, and MS Windows doesn't come with a language setting for "English: Australian"). Rather than getting into a lengthy argument with my word processor, I just double-check things against the dictionary, and spend a certain amount of time telling spellcheck that it's wrong.

[1] Oddly enough, there is an adjective meaning "made of or coloured silver" - it's "silvern". One for the poetically inclined in the FFVII fandom, and hopefully this will prevent me ever having to see "silveret(te)" again.
megpie71: Avon looking unimpressed, caption "Bite Me" (bite me)
Friday, May 11th, 2012 10:46 pm
I'm busy re-reading some back issues of Tiger Beatdown at the moment (great blog, love it to bits), and I'm currently going through the stuff from about late August last year - back not long after Sady posted her critique of either "Song of Ice and Fire" or "Game of Thrones" (whichever one is by George R R Martin, anyway) and started getting inundated by the nerdrage. And one of the things I'm realising is that while I may be am a geek (I geek statistics, for fuck's sake; there's not much more out there which is geekier), I don't really identify myself as a member of a particular geek community.

There's a reason for this. The majority of the most vocal geeky "communities" out there tend to be represented in public by people who are possibly their least likeable members. The ones who are blatantly and openly sexist, for example. The ones who are ardent Mansplainers. The ones who take out their rage at the Mean Girls and Jock Guys from high school on the internet at large. The ones who perpetrate the worst acts, and then try to excuse it on grounds of being geeky, being fans, being nerds, having been bullied at high school, or basically anything other than "I'm finally on ground where I feel unassailable, so I'm going to make everyone else's life hell".

Basically, a lot of the problems I have with identifying as a geek, or identifying as a member of any particular geeky or nerdy community (including fandom, in a lot of ways) is that I get a strong feeling that I'm immediately supposed to become entirely passionate about the subject in question. For example, I consider myself a fan of Dr Who - I've been in love with Doctors One through Seven for years now (since I first started seeing episodes of Dr Who at around age five or six - so about 1976 - 1977), and even found a few good things to say about the telemovie which introduced the Eighth Doctor. But recent Dr Who fandom, I find, is entirely too damn polarised. One has to be 110% passionate about the subject, one has to be completely and utterly engaged with it, one cannot criticise things AT ALL (when at least part of what I loved about the Old School fandom was their willingness to engage with the wobbly sets, point out the plot holes, make fun of the scenery chewing, and the regular double-entendre of "we must act now!"). Instead, in order to prove one's membership of fandom, one has to be completely passionately devoted and delirious about the subject to the point where I'm certain the actors and writers must find at least some of this just a little scary. That's not the fandom I want to be identified with.

I'm a fan. But that doesn't mean I'm blind to the faults of what I'm seeing. For example, I have a lot of problems with a lot of what Stephen Moffat (the current show runner for DW) writes, and have done since I was first watching "Coupling" on DVD. Yes, he's capable of writing good dialogue; yes, he has a nice touch for comedy; yes, he can handle drama very nicely too. But he also has a rather nasty streak of often unremarked-upon sexism in his writing.

I have problems with the current formula timewise, because it tends to lend itself more to the one-shot sequences - one of the things I liked about the old format was the way that a plotline was strung out over multiple weeks. I dislike the high-tech effects, too, because quite frankly one of the things I loved about BBC science fiction back in the late 1970s and early 1980s was the way that the BBC's effects team worked to suggest so much with so little. Watch "The Ark In Space" - there's a moment in there where an actor manages to pull off a very convincing performance as someone who is undergoing an horrific transformation into a totally alien creature, and all he uses to do it is a green-tinted bubblewrap glove. These days it's all CGI or high budget effects, and we lose that wonderful combination of good scriptwriting and good acting skill which put the BBC stuff several cuts above what came out of the US studios in my book.

I don't like the constant "reunion" episodes at the end of each series - that was one of the things the old format had very right, I thought - the ability to convey that the Doctor went out of the lives of these people, and their lives went on without him. What isn't pointed out quite as obviously is that as far as the Doctor's life goes, he had to go on without them - and he'd lived over nine hundred years by the time Tom Baker's tenure was done (I'm not too sure how old the character is by the time Christopher Eccleston stepped into the role, but I'm sure by now he's hit his millennium). The Doctor has had to learn to be very good at leaving people behind, and learning to live with that. Bringing everyone back at the end of each season for a grand final reunion is just rubbing it in, to my mind.

Now, yes, I do have these problems with New Who. But that doesn't mean Old Who was completely faultless either. As I said before, there were the wobbly sets, the zip-up-the-back rubber-suit aliens, the chewing of the scenery, the stories with the Obvious Filler chase scenes, the Monster-of-the-Week format, the recurring monsters who weren't used to their full capacity. For example, the Daleks were sometimes used as rent-a-thugs - yes, in some of Terry Nation's scripts, back before he wrote "Genesis of the Daleks". Then again, Terry Nation actually meant for the Daleks to die off at the end of the first storyline they were introduced in, but they became fan favourites, so he was stuck writing them for about twenty years. There's actually a lovely story in the commentary or interviews on the DVD set of "Genesis of the Daleks" where the script editor points out that "Genesis" was the second storyline they'd requested from Terry for the Daleks - the first one was a rather predictable chase sequence, and it was knocked back as a result. So then he sat down and did a full retcon on the origins of the Daleks, and a new legend was born. But that was the other great thing about Old Who - while there were some absolute shockers, there were sometimes these unregarded gems in the middle of things. For example, the 5th Doctor story "Kinda", which actually turns out to be a very interesting piece of genuine science fiction storytelling (provided you're willing to ignore the giant snake effect at the end).

I count myself as a fan of the Final Fantasy series of games, too. But I'm aware they're not perfect. They're written from a Japanese perspective, which means that yes, there's a lot of embedded sexism in the way that gender roles are visualised, and yes, there are a lot of in-game tropes that I sometimes don't have the cultural background to understand. In the earlier ones, the graphics are clunky, and in the later ones the hero-figures are, quite frankly, irritating (Tidus and Vaan both inspire me with a strong desire to thump them over the head). The fixation on providing add-ins to the Final Fantasy VII continuity annoys the crap out of me (particularly the whole business of Crisis Core - Genesis wins my personal prize for "video game character I'd most like to slap"), as does the tendency to create sequelae to just about everything (whether or not there's actually a story hook to hang things onto). The outfits for the female characters in the later games tend to be somewhat stripperific (exhibit one: Fran the rabbit-woman and her "playboy bunny" armoured lingerie), and Tetsuya Nomura definitely majored in "impractical armour", since I think the last properly-armoured major character in the FF series was Cecil, in FFIV! Don't believe me? Check Dissidia. Bartz from FFV is wearing a tunic. Terra from FF6 wears a mini-dress and leggings. Cloud (FF7) is in cargo pants and a knitted top, with one paudron. Squall (FF8) wears leather pants, a t-shirt and a leather jacket (at least he wouldn't get too seriously flayed in a motorcycle crash). Zidane (FF9) is wearing boots, a poofy shirt, and trousers (all apparently fabric). Tidus (FFX) is at least wearing that glove-cum-arm-protector thing. But really... there's at least two (if not three) of these people who live in cultures where a battlefield generally means there are bullets flying around. Is it too much to expect they're going to have at least a little bit of protection from high-velocity lead poisoning?

(And yes, this is my geeky side coming out again - I'm a practicality geek, I'm a plothole geek, and I qualify for life membership of the Overthinkers Club. I am the type of person who will spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make the worlds of Blake's 7 and Firefly co-exist, who will write a long and involved post about the political and economic situation of Minas Tirith post-Ringwar, and who will spend much time and effort trying to figure out what the fsck is going on with the world of Final Fantasy VII to create the Shinra Electric Power Company).

I find things interesting because they make me think. Even if what they're making me think is along the lines of "how the fsck does that work again?" I'm not set up correctly for unthinking adoration and devotion of my source material. I'm more set up for mild-to-moderate irritation at various qualities of it, and a willingness to make snarky comments about it. I get pissed off when the only fan-space I'm allowed to inhabit is one which requires total and utter worship of the creators and everything they do - I think that fan-space not only insults me as a fan, it also insults the creators of the original work, because it sets them up as beings incapable of handling critique, incapable of handling dissent, incapable of handling any different viewpoint to their own. I write myself, and what I find I appreciate most as a writer is not the person who writes a simple "loved it, plz rite moar!", but rather the person who asks questions, the person who offers bits they liked and why they liked them, the person who engages in dialogue about what I've written (I so rarely hear from these people - I've started being a bit more open with being one myself in the hope of encouraging more of them!), and the person who isn't ashamed or afraid to tell me "this sucks, and this is why!". I'd like to believe that the creators of some of my favourite fan properties have a similar attitude toward criticism.

My point is, being a geek, or a nerd, or a fan, should not mean that we switch our minds off and become uncritical worshippers. In fact, I believe very strongly that as a fan (of a series, a genre, or a writer), I'm in a better position to offer criticism, because it's coming from a position of overall love.

I'll be honest, though - I'm more than just a fan, more than just a geek. So I'm always going to be a little on the outer with these communities, always feeling I don't quite fit in, because I just cannot maintain the posture of unquestioning adoration which appears to be required. I can do enthusiasm. I can do critique. But I think I'm a bit too old and cynical for adoration these days.
megpie71: Animated "tea" icon popular after London bombing. (Default)
Sunday, July 10th, 2011 03:14 pm
There's been a fair bit said lately about how making money from fandom isn't the aim of people who are in fandom. I'm going to burble for a bit about what I think might be the reasons why.

Effectively, it boils down to there being three main types of people. There are makers - people who make things, whether this be through material creation such as cooking, sculpture, tailoring, rebuilding an old car body into a working car, etc, or through intellectual creation such as computer programs, writing novels, and yes, fanfiction. Makers make things because that's how they get their psychological satisfaction - they can point to things and say "I did that". Makers make things because the making itself is psychologically rewarding - a maker would be making things if they were living in luxurious splendour in an isolated compound in the middle of nowhere with no connection to the outside world.

The next group of people are the breakers. Breakers destroy things. They take them to pieces with no intention of putting them back together. And yes, they get psychological satisfaction from this. An extreme breaker is a force of entropy, and they're the type of person who'd be destroying the raft which is protecting them from the sharks. They're not necessarily bad people - I regard them as being a necessary part of the universe, since if you allow makers to make things unrestrained, the universe rather rapidly becomes cluttered.

Finally, there are the takers. These are the people who take things and use them. They don't destroy it - they may take it apart and put it back together in a slightly different order, or repaint it - but they don't make anything new, either. They just use what's available, without making any major alterations to it. They can do making and breaking activities, but they'll do them out of necessity, rather than out of any particular passion - it's the difference between cooking yourself a meal because you need to eat, and cooking a meal for friends and family because you want to share your enjoyment of the food.

Everyone has bits and pieces of each of the three types in them. We all have a bit of maker, a bit of breaker, and a bit of taker within us, and our various maker, taker and breaker facets reveal themselves differently concerning different fields. But generally one facet tends to predominate. If a person is a majority maker type, they'll get their psychological fulfilment from maker activities - the creation of something new, something different. If a person is a majority breaker type, they'll get their psychological satisfaction from breaker activities - the destruction of existing structures and items. The problem arises when a person is a majority taker, because taker activities don't really come with an inbuilt measure of psychological satisfaction. A maker can point to all the stuff they've made, a breaker can point to all the stuff they've destroyed. So majority takers tend to use money as a scorecard (note, they're using money - they've not created the idea, they're not destroying the structure, they're just using it within the framework available) to measure what they've done.

This tendency to be using money as a way of keeping score leads to majority takers being mainly interested in ways of boosting their score (or their supply of money). To them, this seems to be the only legitimate activity, or the only legitimate reason for involving themselves in making or breaking activities - if I'm not getting paid for it, they think, why bother?

So a majority taker will tend to be bemused by a majority maker's tendency to create new stuff and not sell it. Or to create new stuff and just show it off to their friends. Or just to create new stuff, without any notion of whether or not it can be sold. Or creating new stuff that they know they can't sell, that it isn't legal to sell, where selling it can never be a priority. They sincerely do not comprehend that makers do things for the love of making. To be fair to them, the majority taker will also be completely overwhelmed by the majority breaker's tendency to saw off the branch they're sitting on, or to destroy things simply because they exist - again, there's the whole "if you're not being paid, why bother?" thinking to deal with.

Bringing this back to specifics, and in particular the specific case of Mr Mander and the LOTRFF archive, I get the strong impression that Mr Mander is primarily a taker, rather than a maker or a breaker. His resume doesn't actually list any making hobbies (he's not a cook, a musician, a programmer, an artist, a sculptor, a writer) - instead, he lists things like advertising, poker and magic (which are about manipulating your audience) and lucid dreaming (which is about manipulating yourself). He's stepped into a primarily maker culture (that of transformative fanwork) that he really wasn't aware of previously, and its his particular misfortune that he's stepped into a very active, very noisy, very old-established part of this primarily maker culture. His previous two ventures have been into less active, or less established parts of the fandom world, and he really wasn't prepared for what he was confronted with.

So, for Mr Mander, and any other primary takers out there: trust me, maker cultures are gift cultures. We get our satisfaction from the process of creation - we make things because that's what satisfies us (and heck, we don't even have to finish making the things to get the satisfaction, she says, looking at the large pile of unfinished fic on her hard drive). We don't want to sell it; however, we'll readily share. We aren't interested in the money because by and large, we don't really need it to feel happy about the process of creation. This doesn't make us stupid, it just means we have different priorities to your good selves. What we primarily want from our places where we display and store the products of our making is that they exist, and that they remain in existence, even if nobody profits from them; even if nobody likes what we've done.

It's worth noting: copyright law is a taker's way of understanding makers - it puts a monetary value on the results of creation, so that a taker can understand what's so important about intellectual property. But fan fiction and other such transformative works are still part of the same maker mindset as literary, musical, or artistic creation, so often there's an understanding between the two groups of makers - so long as the fans don't attempt to profit from their works (generally they don't want to anyhow), or deliberately bring those works to the attention of the IP creator (because then they have to take action) they're allowed to carry on making them, and the original creator will feel somewhat flattered by all the stuff their stuff has inspired.
megpie71: Animated "tea" icon popular after London bombing. (squee)
Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 09:35 am
First up, the morals of the story:

1) Not all wealth "just lying around out there" is free to claim. Ask whether it belongs to someone else before you start picking it up.

2) Even though someone else has different priorities to yourself, they aren't necessarily stupid or foolish. There's more than one type of wisdom in the world.

3) Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy, and taste good with ketchup/tomato sauce (depending on dragon's preference or ethnicity).

A big thank you to everyone who has praised my little fable/parable. I wrote it because I tend to think in analogy, allegory, simile and metaphor, and I was trying to come up with a way of explaining the gift culture of fanfiction writing to someone who wasn't able to understand or wasn't willing to listen to a longer explanation. And yeah, the best example I could come up with was a group of squatters growing veges on the fields of someone else's castle, and occasionally throwing aside a gold nugget in order to clear the ground for their plants.

From there, I pulled in the long-standing fable trope of the town dweller versus the country dweller, where the town dweller thinks they're all that, while the country dwellers are just ignorant yokels. This fitted nicely into the divide between the business-minded taker and breaker types, who seem to think that the world begins and ends with money and that money is more important than anything else ever, ever, ever; and the less materialist maker types, who create things for the pleasure of creation, and see monetization (despicable term) of their hobbies as not being a priority.

The "growing vegetables" thing is because those of us who make transformative works are doing it to nourish something inside us. We do it because we want to, because we enjoy it, or in extreme cases, because if we don't, we get twitchy. It's putting something back, using someone else's stories and ideas as a basis. In the case of Tolkien fanfic, the stories and world-building work that JRRT put in are the ground we're growing our vegetables on - and it's very fertile ground indeed.

On a purely structural note, I'll admit I'm not overly happy with the ending of my little tale. But then, it's based on the real world, and in the real world, we still don't know whether the city boy is going to put down the rocks and let people go back to their farming without argument; or whether he's going to continue on his current course. Said current course does tend to resemble him starting to sing very loud, very rude rugby songs about dragon-slaying, while trying to make his escape with the gold and jewels and hoping the dragon won't notice him.
megpie71: Cloud Strife says "Meep" (Cloud 1)
Wednesday, June 8th, 2011 05:44 pm
This one is pretty specific to Final Fantasy VII fandom. If you're not a part of that fandom, you may not find it particularly interesting.

Fandom Specific Stuff Below )

(All figures are taken either from the Final Fantasy Wiki for fandom specific data, or from Wikipedia.)