Saturday, 22 April 2017

Television: 'The West Wing: Two Cathedrals' (2001) (Episode 2x22)

And then we all waited. For months. With 'Brothers In Arms' running on a loop in our minds. This was one of the best season finales in television, and we all had to wait. The 11th of September incident would intervene between seasons, and the beginning of the third season would be distinctly underwhelming, but for now we all revelled in having watched one of the best television episodes ever.

Great things defy description, while terrible things can be nitpicked into oblivion. Love is irrational, but hate has a reason for everything. That which lingers is what defines what we've experienced. In 'Two Cathedrals', we saw a cleaner picking up a flattened cathedral in a cathedral, a storm raging within and without, a ghostly visitation, and both a renunciation and an acceptance. We saw people worrying deeply about their futures, but then falling into line to bravely go forth and face them, and we saw faith on multiple levels. There were brothers In arms on many levels.

Sometimes, you just have to wonder at how people can make these things on a television schedule. How can it possibly happen? Where does the ability come from, and where does it go when it's done? Think of the dozens and dozens of people, all doing their parts of the work, and all to a common goal? They all made 'Two Cathedrals'. It's not just great writing, the super direction, or the titanically still central performance of Martin Sheen. It's everything. Thinking back to Sheen for a moment, how is it possible that one person being utterly still can be so magnetic? What is this strange ability that one or two screen actors have? It's perplexing.

Storms have been used metaphorically in fiction for what seems like eons, for example in 'The Tempest', as have ghosts. Reluctant heroes who betrayed themselves in their own past before turning back to the light are commonplace. The archetypes are potent, but it's the mixing that counts. Here, the mixing is perfect, and the lesson endeth here. It's a shame about season three, but what can we do. It will pick up again.

O.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Electoral Theory, II

Let's have one more go, and then put this surprising election and spate of politics to one side. It was a massive surprise for an election to be declared, and so the self-imposed embargo on politics was broken. Then, for twenty-four hours, all anyone in the hysterical media could say was that ghoulish made up term for leaving the European Union, which grotesque word will never be written in this weblog, which was almost unbearable even all these months after those backbreaking referendum campaigns of supreme negativity. It was monotonous, like a clanging bell on a distant dreary lighthouse. The prospect of more weeks of that tedium was, to say the least, unedifying. To say the most, it was the beginning of a possible assault on the group sanity of the whole country!

Now, after the initial clamour has died down, it seems like we could have a very interesting election. It's not as cut and dried as you might think with a twenty point lead in the polls for the rich people's party, and odd forebodings are swirling around in the atmosphere. It could actually be... interesting. An interesting election would be quite the novelty! Don't expect much more than that general idea here, though, as this will never be a political weblog. How interesting it is to have two main parties with significantly different ideas, though, which might actually lead to differences in policy. How unusual it is to have a major political party not deeply in thrall to corporate interests. How interesting to have an obvious contrast!

The blunt pencil tied to the wall awaits, but in the coming weeks there are bound to be all kinds of implications and answers to fascinating questions. Will Scotland's future still be a question after the election / birthday? Who exactly is going to be picking up the pickled pieces of defeat? Why will the Palace of Westminster be replaced by a giant candied replica? Who exactly is Edmund Blackadder? Will Teresa May still be jabbering on about grammar schools? It could well be a pipe dream to imagine that we will get a substantial set of campaigns, with some points being raised for the first time in generations, but it's a well meaning dream. In a way, it doesn't entirely matter who wins, as long as a pattern is set for a future wherein we can actually talk about the things which concern us all, and not be sneered at or ignored by people who take the status quo for granted. If we can't even talk about the evils of the past, for example, how can we hope to avoid repeating them?

Maybe nothing will change, but the suspicion here at Quirky Muffin Base is that things won't ever be quite the same again. This can only be good, because it has been pretty awful for a long, long time. Normal service is now resumed until election results day.

<resets mode>

Good grief, Steve Austin has been captured by crooks using remote control sharks to hijack a nuclear submarine? 'The Six Million Dollar Man' can be very, very hokey at times...

O.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Electoral Theory

Wouldn't you know it? In one moment, you're a happily deranged doodler or playing a good game of 'Paperback', and then the next moment some person goes and parks a great big general election on your birthday. That's what we call bad timing. Obviously, the government has noted my implied disapproval of their collective choice in neckties and targeted me for theoretical party sabotage. Oh, the horror, the passion, the sheer annoyance at having to vote again!

It has been ten months, but the voting fatigue from the referendum persists. The idea of having to make another important decision is frustrating, to say the least, but that's sure to pass. In our mixed up system, which would be far better if we could vote for our representative and our leader separately, all we really have to do is look at our candidates, choose the best one for us, and stick a cross next to their name with the dull pencil tied to the wall. It's pretty simple. Ah, the good old blunt pencil. I did campaign for a method of voting which involved specifically labelled lettuce leaves, but it never did take root.

Our elections only become complicated and broken if we try to consider all the indirect consequences of our vote. Yes, we vote for a person, and the winner goes on to form part of a bloc in parliament. If that bloc makes up the majority then we indirectly influence the formation of a government, which has a leader selected from within its own bloc. That government then nominates all kinds of others things, all three or four times removed from our cross made with the dull pencil. It's just too much. All we have to do is look at the evidence for own little contest, look at the leaflets, read the profiles, consider the issues, and finally choose who we think is best to represent us.

Sigh. Another election. More negative campaigning, more needless and malicious slapping down of the Corbyn, more lies and more disguised truths. It's all too much. One person, one vote, one box. Best candidate for you. Let's hope the agglomerated

O.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter

Ah, after a day of roughing out an outline for an extremely futile essay, and playing 'Paperback' for the first time, the Quirky Muffin will get its due. Many words, all in a rush, right now!

It's Easter, one of the two indisputably religious holidays of the year, and thus one of the two that makes you feel a bit icky for taking advantage of it as a principled agnostic. Yes, it's still a few days off, but it would be nice if it were slightly more neutral. Maybe too much thought it being put into this, though. Maybe no-one really pays attention to why the national holidays happen in the real world?

'Paperback' is a great word game, by the way. It's now one of the two great all time word games, along with Scrabble, as far as this blog writer is concerned. Ah, the joys of experimenting with new games. It's also nice to be reading once again, and this time the long neglected 'Father Brown' stories of GK Chesterton are being mixed in with the 'Brigadier Gerard' tales of Arthur Conan Doyle and the Chinese classic 'Journey to the West' to make a very interesting cocktail of literature. It's alarming that I almost never got to the Gerard stories. They are certainly some of Doyle's very best work. Amazing.

The Easter holiday is always a tricky needle to thread, with its expanse of theoretically free days, which should really be used to study, prepare, or write extensive and silly blog posts. Enforced free time is very much oxymoronic. It's obvious at this point that humans have been indoctrinated too much to actually take time off of their own accord, but this is a tricky concept to understand. Enforced relaxation?

And now, back to the e-mail backlog. Sometimes, a little is more than enough.

O.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Television: 'The Bionic Woman: The Bionic Dog, Part One' (1977) (Episode 3x01)

At some point in time, it no longer became palatable for people to make television like this. We diverged from one of the nicer timelines, where heartfeltness could function without schmaltz, and lost the opportunity to make 'The Bionic Woman'. It's quite the shame. 'The Bionic Woman' and 'The Six Million Dollar Man' have escaped any serious mentions to date here at the Quirky Muffin, but they are actually pretty important and very fun, especially the former.

'The Bionic Woman' was the spin-off with the evident heart, partly because Lindsay Wagner was a far far more emotive performer than Lee Majors, and also because it was developed by Kenneth Johnson, who deliberately intended to give the show a softer touch. Now, Lee Majors could do softer if he wanted, but he was only rarely given the chance. He was mostly wasted on 'The Six Million Dollar Man', but we'll get back to that at a later date.

In 'The Bionic Dog' (Part One!), Jaime discovers that the first bionic guinea pig was actually a dog called Max, who is being secretly kept locked up for reasons which can only be called dumb. Rudy, the genius inventor of bionics, is idiotically convinced that Max's upgrades are failing and that the dog will have to be put down and examined post-mortem. Jaime takes umbrage, and works with Max to lift him out of his depression, which is OBVIOUSLY because he has been penned up for four years. Obviously! It's amazing how dumb genius scientists can be. Sheesh. Finally, Rudy is so pigheaded he doesn't believe in any progress, so the new Bionic Duo escape and run away to live another day. They will win out in part two, we hope.

It was a different time, and one to which it would be nice to return in the future. If ever there were good reason to build up a television archive, this is it. You can go back and watch the comparatively naive shows from past times, shows which can be shared pretty much universally, and enjoy not being offended or whacked about the head with cynicism and despair. This is a near classical example, of which I should probably be ashamed, but being an admitted sentimental simpleton has its advantages. By all the modern rules, it should be impossible to have an episode of television where a woman befriends a dog, and spends lots of time running with him or worriedly sleeping next to his cage. The modern rules are plainly wrong.

Go, Max, go! This may be the final season, but you've given it a good start!

O.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The Monkocracy Is Nigh

'The Ninja Of Health' is wrapped up, even if ended up being a little unsatisfactory. A single post-script might be necessary, but the natures of these serial stories are very experimental and I think each segment really only functions as a snapshot of a larger narrative. That is why most of the problems get ironed out in the joined up, edited down, cleaned up and polished up versions. What would happen if all the segments in which I was casting around for the next direction for the story were removed? Wouldn't it get reduced down to five lines, every one of which involved the much ballyhooed 'Pattern'. I may never use the word 'Pattern' again, and even now it feels like I may have borrowed it from somewhere. There was a lot of talk about Order and Chaos in the LE Modesit 'Recluce' saga. Maybe it's connected to that? Was there a Pattern in the Roger Zelazny 'Amber' chronicles...? Yes! Yes, there was! It only took several years to remember! Oh, all those hopes of originality, lost to the winds. Go read those instead, at least the first cycle.

With 'The Ninja Of Health' finished, and put into the queue for a 'stitch-up' into one piece, that leaves a few other stories that have been on hold for a remarkably long time. 'The Glove' is out there, waiting, as are 'Diary Of A Laundry Robot' and the second phase of 'Wordspace'. That's quite a lot to be getting on with, in the usual halting style. The oldest story there is 'The Glove', so that seems to be the most reasonable choice to either finish or reinvent in some way. That has been one troubled experiment. Sometimes, it is tempting to just write it off, but there's a kernel of something in that effort. It feels like something that would be more cynical than its writer, though, so perhaps it needs to be re-bashed into a hat of a different shape. Or a fez. Maybe it should be rewritten and retitled 'The Purple Fez'? That, of course, was a joke. (But are you sure it was a joke?)

Yes, no more health ninjas for now. That will take some getting used to. Actually, they seemed to lose a lot of their ninja-iness pretty quickly, didn't they? They ended up being 'Monks of Health'. Now, monks don't get nearly enough time in the spotlight any more. Perhaps that can be the new fad of the twenty-first century: a monk renaissance? It's got a touch of style to it. Yes, '2017: Dawn Of The New Monk Republic'. We could have a monkocracy! Even now, it seems entirely practical. Westminster is practically a monastery already. Let's just shift a load more people in, with much quieter styles of discourse.

It all makes sense.

O.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Story: The Ninja of Health, XXXIV

( Part XXXIII )

"It is over, Ghost. You just don't know it yet." The Woman was firm in voice, no matter what trembles may have been stirring within.

The voice sounded as if it was lost in some other time, a hollow era on some other world. "I never asked for this, but there will be repercussions if you mess with me." The Oracle's eyes were getting wider and wider, before going blank as he collapsed backwards in a faint. It was almost comical to see him slumped against someone who wasn't there.

The Woman didn't dare look upward, to see how her companions were progressing.

---

In the balloon basket, Ken and the Man were finishing preliminary relaxation. One toggled switch saw some pouches around the edge of the basket open. Little bundles began to unroll, and unroll, and unroll...

Then, without a word, the atmosphere changed. A great wave of peace spread out, and the surrounding clouds began to coalesce into a new configuration. The stubborn patch of cloud to the East began to toss off screamers, but the new patch right next to the basket tried to hold its shape. It was a struggle.

---

The Oracle was lowered gently to the ground, a courtesy that wouldn't have been expected. Two footprints could be clearly seen in the gravel of the rock garden, shimmering slightly. "What are they doing up there?" Screamed the voice of the Ghost, and suddenly the Woman felt an iron grip at her neck, not quite right for stopping the flow of air but close.

"They're damping down your power. That's what they're doing. It's also what I'm doing." She was utterly calm now. "Do you know what it is we do exactly?"

---

The ribbons unfurled from the pouches completely, and stretched out in the air, following the odd patterns formed by the clouds. For almost fifty metres in all directions the colours wove and rewove, forming subtleties that had never been seen before in any of the previous Patterns. There had been ball pools previously, mosaic floors, the sand curtains at the clifftop crater and even the tablecloth of prophecy. Now, a massive circle of ribbons tangled deliberately across the sky above the chapel, spiralling and coalescing around the nodes of their Pattern, and a clarity spread pervasively. It was majestic, pretty and just a little frightening. Every injured animal in a mile's radius suddenly recovered and went home for a nap.

Ken and the Man were smiling as they almost-slept.

---

"You see, Mr Ghost, we're healers. We heal people. Welcome to clinic."

The phantom was becoming visible as the great calming power swept over them. His patch of vortex in the atmosphere was almost completely subsumed into the ribboned swirls.

"No. Please. Don't do this. Don't help me. Please help me." Sobs were being pushed out between the words.

"You will be helped. It's what we do." The Woman looked him in the eye, and removed his hand from about her throat. Then, with all the skill at her command, she healed the Phantom.

The ribbons in the sky flared.

---

The Two looked down at the pale and wan figure lying in the centre of the healing Pattern in the chapel. Ken was taking observations and organising transport back to their base in Scandinavia, where final recovery would commence. The Oracle was packing, his memory still gone, but relief was evident in his face. All his prophecies seemed positive, apart from the one about the baked potatoes which was probably an anomaly.

"How on Earth are we going to explain to people that it's safe to move back here again?" Mused the Man.

"I wouldn't worry about it. The government will send in inspectors, none of whom will get sick, and make up some stupid and credible story. That's what they always do. That's what happened with the Iron Horse." The Woman smiled a cynical smile. "Until then, we might have to get away for a while."

"Will they ever let him go? What do you think?"

"Maybe. It depends on what really happened. The omens are good. Maybe, one day, we will be one more in number."

"Children, children." Ken wandered over. "You might want to help escort the patient back to base camp. And then, well, perhaps you'd be interested in taking on a small side job while you're on holiday. Have you ever been to Montevideo?"

"Oh, for crying out loud, Ken!" The Two exclaimed in unison.

"Definitely grouchy. You definitely need to sleep more. Off you go. He shooed them off mischievously."

"You heard the man, milady." One roguish smile emerged.

"I sigh at you, good sir." Hand in hand, they went for a nap.

Yes, it's an end, but it's also a beginning. At least we finally got the ribbons into it.