Old Friends  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

A Failure in Generalship  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

Lt. Col. Paul Yingling has written a scathing assessment of US generals' failure to anticipate, respond to, and report to the public the extent of the Iraqi insurgency.

For reasons that are not yet clear, America's general officer corps underestimated the strength of the enemy, overestimated the capabilities of Iraq's government and security forces and failed to provide Congress with an accurate assessment of security conditions in Iraq. Moreover, America's generals have not explained clearly the larger strategic risks of committing so large a portion of the nation's deployable land power to a single theater of operations.

He's not interested, or it is outside the scope of his article, in whether or not the US should be there in the first place, but limits his criticism to the failure of the US military once involved. Still, an interesting read.

Gravel for President  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

Senator Mike Gravel made some brilliant points in this Democrat candidate debate, but he's an old man, who repeats himself, has frequent verbal tics ("You know something? You know something?"), etc. The impact of television on politics has predictably favoured better rhetoric over better policies. Of particular interest was his first point - if the Democrats had some balls (no pun intended, Pelosi) and were serious about ending the war, or at least making it clear what's keeping it going, they could.

Dear Mark Burton. Don't be an idiot. Yours, Us.  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in ,

Idiot Savant of No Right Turn fame has started a pledge on PledgeBank, requesting as many people as possible write to Mark Burton urging the repeal of New Zealand's sedition laws, which are quite ridiculous. He set his sights fairly low - 20 people - and the pledge had been met, but sign up and do the same. We need to start using PledgeBank more often. It's a fantastic tool.

I Not Chinese Lady, I Thai Lady  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

F&P alien foetus incubators:
manufactured in New Zealand, but for how long?

The EPMU is at least a little concerned about 350 jobs going offshore in Fisher & Paykel's leap overseas, but even they seem fairly resigned to the nature of New Zealand's current economic climate. One of the reasons given, however, is the Thai labour market.

No doubt things are a little more business-friendly there, as the Thai Labour Campaign explains. One sad feature of modern unionism is the lack of international solidarity, where unions represent only the interests of their own workers, often with little or no consideration for worker rights abroad. If Fisher & Paykel won't be providing similar labour conditions and effective pay rates to those in New Zealand, isn't there a moral issue at stake here too? It will be interesting to see what kind of conditions our washing machines will be made under after the move to Thailand is made.

What Iraq needs is more RPGs  

Posted by James Brown in , ,

Snow White ACUPAT and the seven eight dorks.

Forget what you've seen in the movies - war isn't all explosions and excitement. There are long quiet bits where the soldiers' worst enemy is boredom. As far as I'm aware (based solely on those movies I just told you to forget - I'm fickle), in World War II the average GI mostly kept himself entertained with booze, prostitutes, and Glen Miller. In Vietnam it was heroin, prostitutes and Jimi Hendrix. The one thing which has struck me over and over again about television coverage of the Iraq War is the surprisingly high geek factor of the modern GI. Every second US soldier seems to be pimply and bespectacled, and looks as though he would rather be playing a quiet indoor game involving polyhedral dice. Well, it turns out that impression is pretty accurate.

I think it's a reasonably safe bet that Ziggurat Con, on June 9th at Talil Airbase, near Nasiriyah, will be the first ever organised convention for role-playing enthusiasts held in a war zone. But it probably won't be the last. Apparently RPGs, table-top war games, collectible card games other forms of assorted geekery are a common pastime with entertainment-starved soldiers.

"There is a deeper sense of camaraderie in a war zone than you see back home," said SPC David Amberson, Ziggurat Con's organiser. "You eat with these people, work with them on a daily basis, and can even share a tent with the same people. When work is over for the day, we can sit back, relax, drink our favorite sodas, eat our favorite snacks, and play a bit of D&D. This helps us relax in a very stressful environment. We found a place where we can go somewhere far away from the IED's, mortar attacks, and gunfire, without ever leaving the safety of our camp. The next step was only logical."

It's hard to explain quite why I am so pleased by the knowledge that enough troops on active duty play role-playing and war games for there to be a convention. Maybe it feels like a sort of vindication for me and my fellow Followers of Gygax, or perhaps a sign that geeks have finally inherited the earth. Mostly it's because of the image of Bible Belt types getting wind of Ziggurat Con and the 'D&D evil'/'troops good' paradox causing their heads to assplode.

Oh yeah? What about Hitler?  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in ,

President Bush waves to his mate Godwin.

Naomi Wolf, famous (for being the) author of third-wave feminist classic The Beauty Myth, which I am trying to read at the moment but keep getting distracted by anonymous sexalicious lovelies walking past, has written a rather good Fascist America in 10 Easy Steps for The Guardian.

It's hardly the first time that similar points have been made, though it's interesting to hear it from someone who was once owned by married to one of Clinton's speechwriters. Here's a previous article in a similar vein: George W Bush and the 14 Points of Fascism. The original 14 Points of Fascism, by Laurence Britt, based on analysis of early 20th century fascist regimes and their preconditions. And thanks to Paul Litterick for this one.

You'd think that would help, but it doesn't, because it's no longer possible to have an intelligent discussion in which someone is compared to Hitler or Nazi Germany. This is because the same comparison is made in just about every unintelligent discussion had in the last 50 years. Nevertheless, it's an interesting read, and such prejudices must be put to the side in order to take a really good look at these indicators in American society (and perhaps other Western democracies) and whether or not they're cause for alarm.

Quid Auclandiam faciam?  

Posted by Tama Boyle in , ,

             Quamvis digressu veteris confusus amici

             Laudo tamen vacuis quod sedem figere Cumis



Aucklanders don't seem too cut up about Garth George leaving the Queen City. In fact, anyone reading the letters to the editor in yesterday's Herald could be forgiven for thinking that most people find George a bit of a cunt.

The fact remains, nevertheless, that, after many deliberative and surely tear-filled hours of contemplation, George has finally decided to call it quits and head for greener, petrol-soaked and rainbow-ringed pastures, somewhere his prejudices and dog logic will be far better received. After a preliminary inquiry, however, it is unlikely Gore will have him.

George himself avers “I am a man of a bygone era and while I have moved with the times(!) I have moved to my limit”, which apparently includes:

  • Being offended by people of the same ethnicity living in close proximity to one another;
  • Not being liked by his neighbours who are less likely to shake his hand than shake their fists at him (perfectly understandable);
  • Lamenting the pollution of the harbour, while doing little himself to aid or promote environmental issues;
  • Not liking Helen Clark;
  • And failing to read past the first five books of the Bible.

We wish him and Judith all the best and can but hope he finds enough time during his future pursuits (which will, unfortunately, include writing) likewise to quit being a fucktard.

Fuck you, you stupid cunt.

"You were in a snuff film?!"  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

Oh no. Bison.

Vlad, Yuri and their West Coast gang have done it again, with the first part of the second episode of Break a Leg. If you like Arrested Development, you'll liiiiike this. And if you don't like Arrested Development, it's because you're a bit dim. Just a wee bit dim, poor thing.

If you didn't see them earlier or have forgotten the story, episode one is here. But here is the new instalment. I am informed that the rest of the episode will be released over the next few weeks.

She Ain't Thinkin' Straight, With that Penis all up in her Vagina  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in ,

Lonesome No More  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in

Kurt is up in heaven now. So it goes.

Not much more to say, for his fans. The two sentences sum up his approach to life and to writing: funny, a little morbid, coming at things from strange angles that shed light on previously unnoticed aspects. But there’s a good chance you’re not a big Vonnegut fan, so I’ll explain.

When Kurt Vonnegut took over from the late Isaac Asimov as the honorary president of the American Humanists Association, he began his inaugural speech with, “Isaac is up in heaven now.” Everyone laughed. Vonnegut, you see, was a funny guy.

Kurt Vonnegut was born in 1922, in Indiana. He dabbled in writing and studying various things, before enlisting in the army in World War II. On Mother’s Day, 1944, his mother, Edith, committed suicide. So it goes.

During the Battle of the Bulge, Vonnegut was captured by German soldiers and ended up in a POW camp. That’s why he was in Dresden in February, 1945, when the Allies heroically firebombed the city into the ground for three days. He was one of seven American POWs to survive, a feat he accomplished by being in the cellar of Slaughterhouse Five.

24 years later, he wrote a book about his war experiences, that one in particular. It was, among other things, a book about a massacre. Vonnegut apologised to his publisher for the book:

And I say to Sam now: ‘Sam – here’s the book.’ It’s so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like, ‘Poo-tee-weet?’

It wasn’t just about Dresden, of course. Slaughterhouse Five was also about a man named Billy Pilgrim, who came unstuck in time and was kidnapped by Tralfamadorians and kept in a zoo with a porn actress named Montana Wildhack. Tralfamadorians experience time simultaneously, so they’re a little confused by humans’ concern with death.

When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is, ‘So it goes.’

What’s surprising about Kurt Vonnegut is that he survived as long as he did. His life was woven with such tragedy, and he took those things and turned them into words, and if I believed in things like Purposes and Meaning, I’d figure that God or the Universe or whatever made him especially for that purpose. But I don’t. So I guess he just had to become that kind of person or just die from it all.

As I said, his mother committed suicide when she was 23. In the aftermath of Dresden, the Nazis put him to work gathering bodies for mass burial. (“There were too many corpses to bury. So instead the Nazis sent in guys with flamethrowers. All these civilians’ remains were burned to ashes.”) His sister Alice died of cancer, and her husband died two days earlier, when his train went off an open drawbridge in New Jersey. The family tried to keep Alice from learning this, but another patient gave her a copy of the New York Daily News a day before she died, and she read about it there. Kurt and his wife adopted Alice’s daughter, Lily. Two years later, he attempted suicide himself, and failed.

Death and suicide and disaster pervade his books, which are almost invariably hilarious. One of my favourites was a story by Kilgore Trout, a fictitious failed sci-fi writer who appears throughout Vonnegut’s work. This story’s called Bunker Bingo Party. It’s about Hitler and co.’s last days in the bunker as the Red Army approaches.

Hitler’s in there with Eva Braun, Goebbels and his wife and kids. Hitler proposes marriage to Eva, she accepts, they have a nice wedding ceremony. Once again out of things to do, they play Bingo. BINGO! Hitler wins! He’s stoked. He tells everyone, “I’ve never even played this game before and I won it! This is a sign!” And so on.

Eva Braun spoils the moment by swallowing a capsule of cyanide Goebbels’ wife gave her for a wedding present. Trout wrote of Eva Braun, “Her only crime was to have allowed a monster to ejaculate in her birth canal. These things happen to the best of women.”

Above ground, a 240mm howitzer shell explodes. Flakes of calcimine fall on the deafened occupants of the shelter. “Look, it snows,” jokes Hitler, who decides that it’s high time he does himself in too. He holds a pistol to his head. “Nein, nein, nein!” shout the others. But the Fuhrer convinces them that it’s the right thing to do.

Now, what should his last words be? “How about,” he proposes, “I regret nothing?” But Goebbels points out that Parisian cabaret performer Edith Piaf has made a name for herself singing those same words in French for decades. “Her sobriquet is Little Sparrow. You don’t want to be remembered as a little sparrow, or I miss my guess.”

Hitler still hasn’t lost his sense of humour. He says, “How about ‘BINGO!’?”

But he is tired. He puts his pistol to his head again. He says, “I never asked to be born in the first place.”

The pistol goes, “BANG!”

Kurt, who never asked to be born in the first place, was my favourite author in the world, and now he is dead.

So it goes.

Now I have finished work  

Posted by Tama Boyle in , , ,

An inappropriate children’s drawing

A sign of things to come?
Can Section 59 be all that bad?

I am a man of infinite patience, which is probably why I only tell every other customer at work to fuck off. (Not in those exact words, you understand; but, at the very least, in different words approximating the same sentiment, such as “fuck away” or “fuck hence”.) It can be so extraordinarily difficult at times.

Naturally, at other different times, it is really rather easy.

RIP Kurt Vonnegut  

Posted by Ryan Sproull in


My favourite writer, ever.