abendgules: (maciejowski)
Recently I really enjoyed a repeat episode of Horizon called 'Are you good or evil?'.

Recommended if you have access, or perhaps on world service.

The title is a bit click-bait-ish, but the science seemed sound, rounding up different types of experiments trying to determine when 'morality' starts in infants, and examining differences between murderers' brains and other peoples' in their activity areas, enquiring about any brain injuries they had (like shaken babies) that might change their brains.

Interesting stuff about the competition between oxytocin (which encourages humans to bond) and testoterone (which makes people more aggressive).

A nice demonstration with a rugby team, with men playing together in warmup and practice: levels of both hormones rise as they practice, encouraging them (theoretically) to both work together effectively, and be more 'pumped' for physical action.

The bit that really interested me was training US marine recruits in hand to hand combat.

The trainer they interviewed said that when you train men by de-humanising the enemy, by calling them names (gooks, hajjis) and making them out to be sub-human, you start to break down the sense of moral right and wrong in the person. They carry that home and start beating up on their families and being generally aggressive to everyone.

The trainer said the more effective way to train to prepare to kill hand to hand is to appeal to the marines' sense of right and wrong, where they are presented as the defender and protector (IIUC, the hero of the narrative, not the bad guy).

In this way, you can train them to kill other people without breaking down their sense of who they are, and making them generally outwardly violent all the time.

This fits well with the idea that there are 'good' wars, where it's the right thing to do to sign up to defend your country, and there are 'dirty' wars, where it is not - or where those who fight are doing it for the 'wrong' reasons.

It also fits with the 'justifiable' war idea from the middle ages, and from the church: that it's ok to kill people for the sake of reclaiming Jerusalem for the Church, or to protect pilgrims, or to ensure access to holy shrines.

Those would be the right reasons for a Christian to fight, without having to appeal to the 'they're unbelievers so killing them doesn't matter' theory, which leads to dehumanising the enemey.

This whole idea really struck me; I'd always wondered how 'warrior monks' of any creed could reconcile their conflicting beliefs without their heads exploding. Yet it's clearly possible because lots of devout people fight, in history and today, in all faiths.

Now, it seems, there's a rational (as in, one that works w/ human brains in a predictable fashion) explanation.
abendgules: (self-portrait)
I gave Matt Smith a chance. Talked too fast.

Still giving Peter Capaldi a chance.

But he and the rest are being let down by lazy scripts.

I'm really tired of characters telling each other to shut up, shut up, SHUT UP.

It's happened in every episode so far, several times. It's like the writers can't think of any other way to change the dialogue from one person to another.

I was shocked when it happened in the last Dr Who. Not just shut up, but calling each other stupid.

It's not hip, it's not clever, it's not charming. It's just crass.

They spend so much time being really clever and funny in throwaway lines about eyebrows, and then can't be bothered to use better language to interact when it's important to change the direction of the conversation.

Anyone else finding this?
abendgules: (editor)
I'm a recent discoverer of Rev Richard Coles, and the show he co-hosts on BBC4: Saturday Live.

I've rarely so willingly got up for 9am Saturday.

Charming, warm, funny, gentle. So refreshing.

Very thoughtful, painful article, courtesy of my Twitter feed:

The Women I Pretend to Be: Feel free to join the tech industry, but remember: being yourself is not an option
abendgules: (prickly)
...of course, BBC didn't exist then, so to speak.

BBC is running themed history programmes to cover WWI, from now til 2019. It's the biggest 'season' I've seen on the Beeb - usually a 'season' is six related progarmmes.

If I were more cynical I'd think the corp was trying to dictate the public view of the war - where it belongs in our history, how we should think about it, etc. etc. I don't know if it's actually driven by public demand.

I have noticed that the current programmes are overviews, and about 'how the war started' - an overview of the changes to society over the war, one about life in the year 1913 just before the war, one about the royal cousins (Victoria's descendants who sprawled across the royal families of Europe), a fairly academic discussion of whether the war could be avoided (though didn't have nearly enough time to chew over).

The drama 37 days is a historical drama about the time from Franz Ferdinand's assassination to the start of the war. And propaganda or not, it's historical drama that BBC does so well: costumes, settings, acting talent and tight, intelligent scripting.

It spells out in comprehensible chunks how the conflict escalated from one assassination to a European war, in a way that I might actually remember longer than every previous documentary I've seen about WWI. For the first time it makes sense: honouring past agreements (some dating back to Waterloo and the war of 1870, which was still in living memory); entente cordiale; the war in Ireland that was widely anticipated (something I knew nothing about); the naval agreement renewed in 1912 (something else I knew nothing of).

It pointed out many nuances, to me.

That the German, Austrian and Russian(?) ambassadors were all cousins, part of a class of aristocrat-diplomats.
That everyone was trying to work around their summer holidays so at first the death in Sarajevo wasn't considered a very important assassination.
That many diplomats and officers had agendas, and could use the conflict to pitch their views. (Duh. This happens all the time, but somehow with history where outcome is well known, it doesn't feel that 'varied' in the recounting.)

Robert remarked that it still made the Kaiser Wilhelm out to be an aggressive antagonist, with unrealistic hopes of having a quick clean war before Russia could respond...and getting annoyed with his council for not doing what he asked while he was on holiday.

And it left out the Austro Hungarian emperor almost entirely, like he was just a puppet. It made me wonder if English and German histories are easier to source for BBC researchers and writers than Austrian ones.

The blog, of course, shows the geeks picking apart the details, and includes an explanation of the sources.

My annoyance is the near complete lack of women in the story; that somehow they had no part. I understand that to a certain extent women in 1914 did not have the role in public life that they do now. But it means that a lot of dialogue falls on one female character to pick up as the token woman.

If you have a chance - see it for yourself.
abendgules: (Mountjoy)
The night watch is running on Radio4X in early March, starting on the 3rd.

It's not a new production, but if you like his radioplays, it's on. It's because of the radio plays that I now know that Captain Carrot speaks with a Welsh accent, even though he's not explicitly from Llanmedos. (The latter is where the bards come from.)
abendgules: (self-portrait)
I've had this week off work, partly to spend time with [livejournal.com profile] badgersandjam, partly to hunt for our next place to live.

I didn't set out to take time off during the Olympics, that's just a surprise bonus, or something.
non-expert rambling about hockey )

Watching the skating makes me feel nostalgic for home - watching skating on TV feels like a part of a Canadian winter (as does turning on the TV, finding it's curling, and trying to find something else to watch).

It's charming to see that Canadians are still contenders on ice, and and that Brian Orser is coaching two of the top men. I always thought he was robbed of gold, and I'm not certain that their new scoring system is any better than the old score out of 6.0. Any 'sport' that needs a judge to tell you how you did, to me, isn't sport - it's athletic art.

It doesn't take away from the athleticism or the accomplishment, and I still like watching it - it just doesn't fit the 'higher, faster, stronger' qualification.

I tried to look up the names of the coaches for Canadian athletes, but it's as if they don't exist - they're not listed on the official Sochi 2014 site (which has all the athletes for all countries), and they're not on Skate Canada site and the Canadian Olympic site is a joke of a blog site. Hope they didn't pay a lot of money for the design, because it's appalling.

The British seem a bit embarrassed by the winter Olympics - as if it's not very British to be good at throwing yourself down a snowy hill at top speed, though it's ok to be expert at horse dancing in the summer events. Many people refer to the 'tea tray' event (skeleton and luge); I don't know who coined this term, but it's widespread in England, where I'd never heard it in Canada.

Blessedly, the BBC are doing an awesome job of coverage - they now have the capacity to cover all the events at once online, so if you don't want to watch the stick-fighting on ice, you can watch the flinging-down-the-hill events instead.

The BBC's crew is using a shopping trolley to carry their kit on the main campus, carrying light stands and other bits and pieces...and the trolley now has a following on twitter. It's extremely silly.
abendgules: (maciejowski)
If you have access, I recommend The Wipers Times, a docu-drama about the satirical journal printed by English soldiers while in the trenches in WWI.

(With anniversary of 1914 coming up, I suspect we'll see a lot of WWI content in the coming year. English are never happier when they're winning wars over again.)

It's on iPlayer, and might be on BBC World (no idea how they choose the content).

I'd heard of the Wipers times in a couple of previous BBC shows, including one by the main writer of this story, Ian Hislop (editor of Private Eye, on HIGNFY). A couple of officers found a printing press while scavenging for materiel in Ypres, and started their own satire magazine, poking fun at their situation.

In the film, many jokes are made into small comic sketches like vaudeville shows, to bring them to life, rather than just having the characters read them to each other.

The texts are not high comedy art, but it must have made a change from reading news, letters, and general grimness of living in a hole filled with mud. It was tolerated as 'good for morale' even when it mocked officers and command structure.

The published series is set in context of the mad obsession of fighting for a few yards of ground - the lead characters' orders take them from Ypres to Somme and back, twice in 18 months, gaining only a few yards of territory in that time.

It's a lovely English example of what is now called 'taking the piss'; refusing to speak seriously about serious issues, downplaying injuries deaths and misfortunes, enjoying wordplay and cleverness of language, playing up differences in social status.

The film itself is beautifully crafted, showing a tightly worded script that (I suspect) includes text found in the Wipers Times.

Recommended.
abendgules: (Mountjoy)
...is available on BBC iPlayer, with Benedict Cumberpatch and James McAvoy, among others.

First episode is also available as a podcast for drama of the week - hoping and praying that the rest become available likewise!
abendgules: (downhill)
This week's discovery is the Springwatch livecams: a selection of cameras poised to watch assorted wildlife in real time. This is both online, and on the digital TV, on the 'red button'.

What could be cooler than watching a couple of parent birds feeding their brood a dozen times or more an hour? I could watch this all day.

I came home on Tues evening and, as is my habit, turned on the evening news...near-war with Syria, journalists going into no man's land in previously prosperous cities...or watch nuthatches feeding their young? Hmmmmm.

Working out at lunchtime - do I want to hear yet more about the Euro crisis, something I can't fix, can do nothing about, and that seems predicated on talks between people I cannot influence? or watch wee fledglings struggle around a nest? Tough call.

It's not perfect - it's unlikely all the little birdies will survive because the biggest and fastest and most demanding ones get fed first, so the slower runty ones are neglected, but the earnest, heartwarming pleasant-ness of hearing birdsong in the evening is winning me over.
abendgules: (downhill)
Periodically BBC turn Pratchett's work into a radio play, and Radio 7 (online) does sci-fi, fantasy and mystery plays regularly.
This week it's Guards! Guards!
Bastiges have of course put it only on iPlayer (vs podcasts) so you can only listen to it live.
Also, Episode 1 has only 1 day left online.
Quick, listen fast!
abendgules: (Default)
Sadly, my education didn't include much art history. But I do love learning more about art, particularly in the SCA period.

This week I'm enjoying 'Private life of a Christmas Masterpiece', part of an occasional series called 'Private life of a Masterpiece' that examines a single famous work of art, and explaining why it's special. Last night's subject was Pieter Bruegel's 'Census at Bethlehem'; the night before it was Van Eyck's 'Annunciation' (with Bruges streetscapes I recognise! woot)

The series puts the artwork  and the artist in context of time and place; what styles had been common before the work was created, where you can see its influences afterward, and how there are often many layers of meaning 'coded' in the work.

I love love love these art history exposes. It's only by seeing what was 'typical' or 'standard' that I can understand how a given artist distinguished themselves - maybe technically (like Bruegel using a lead white base instead of a more common ochre), or in their choice of subject and their treatment of it (Bruegel fitting Mary and Joseph as tiny bit players into a huge Flemish winter landscape, no more or less important than the rest of the peasant figures).

I was fascinated to learn that Breugel had gone on a sort of Grand Tour to Italy, to see how those shit-hot Italians were painting everything - but he came back via the Alps in winter, and this difficult mountain journey had far more influence on his art than any number of Italian masters. To a guy raised in the flat lands of Flanders, they must have been an amazing revelation.

This is hard to picture for me: I've known about all sorts of landscapes, at least through TV, for as long as I can remember. Imagine never knowing what a mountain was (or even what snow was like!) until you actually had to travel through the Alps on horseback in winter?

Mountainscapes appeared in all his works from then on, rich in detail, dimensions and shading;he paints in Biblical figures as small sideshows to the landscape, when the rest of the painterly world was squeezing landscapes in around the shoulders of their human figures.

I also hadn't realised that his son, Bruegel the Younger, made his name simply by copying his father's works, probably from sketches left behind - a bit like generating a numbered print of a favourite piece. These copies, even though they're not nearly as vibrant, are now as valuable as the originals.
abendgules: (catching snowflakes)

Today I'm thankful for the BBC.

While I miss some aspects of CBC radio, BBC radio and TV produces some astonishing comedy, documentary and (awful phrase) 'current affairs' programs.

There's some dreck (Eastenders, the never-ending misery), and some derivative work (comedians running quiz shows are a sure bet - here are five more in the same mould!), but alongside is the brilliance, depth, wit and satire I've not seen or heard elsewhere.

And, of course, BBC brought back Dr. Who. I'm amused to find that in the BBC Shop, Dr. Who is his own category (DVD, Audio, Books Magazines, Children, Dr Who, Blu-ray, New Releases).

abendgules: (archery)
So:

1. China Zhang Juan Juan (world cup medalist)
2. S.Korea, Park Sung-Hyun (previous gold medalist)
3. S.Korea Yun Ok-hee (previous world cup medalist)
4. N.Korean Kwon Un Sil (prev. 9th in world champs) is 4th, lost to S. Korean

This is the first time Korea has not taken the gold since 1984.

I'm familiar with world championships, but 'world cup' is a new development in archery competitions.

I *think* it's possibly the pre-Olympic 'filter' event, that determines who gets to go to the Olympics from the world regions, but I'm not certain.

The N. Korean was an extremely 'tight' shooter - everything about her style was tightly controlled. She held the bow (even when wearing a finger sling), she stopped almost completely in mid-draw to turn her bow arm and set her shoulders, then drew aimed shot very very quickly, almost like a snapshooter. Almost no time to aim at all.

And her release ended up far behind her head, but in a very different way from the dynamic releases of all the other Asian archers.

The rain was absolutely pelting down for the 1/8 finals, but the scores were just a bit lower than typical: 105 and 109 vs. 112-114 (out of 120). More 8s shot, wider groups, at least to start.

It was sort of heartening to see even the elite archers, like Park, struggle with nerves - you could see that she was irritated with her results, and she only squeaked into the final. Most of the matches were only separated by 1-3 points. There wasn't much to choose between anyone.

The difference is that their 'nerves' result in an 8, whereas my nerves resulted in 6, 5 or worse. :-)

There were some very cool camera angles: a pinhole camera in the centre of the target showed some shots (replays, while filling arrow-collecting time) landing right next to it. Very flashy! though not very informative about the shot if it wasn't in the gold.

They had cameras directly in front of the archers, showing their draw and anchor and pull through the clicker, and release and follow through - good view of the relaxed (or not relaxed) hand.

There were some fine replays in slow-mo, showing the arrow leaving the bow, and its fishtailing motion down to the target, and also the tiny shower of rain springing off the stabilizers on release.

They also added a mic right in front of the archer, so you could hear both the release and the 'thuck' of the arrow hitting the target - a complete experience.

Even the Koreans are using a lot more 'body English' (body Korean?) after the shot - their follow through used to be so controlled, so mechanical, no matter what the conditions.

It's extraordinary to see how much freer they are now. Perhaps now the fact that the arrow is gone long before you can react has sunk into training, and so now rather than recommending a consistent followthrough on the bow side, what you do with the bow afterward doesn't matter.

The crowd following was crazy: I've never seen chanting fans at an archery competition before. :-) The Koreans and the Chinese were keenest of course, and cheered after every arrow. Astonishing.

It was sort of funny to see them toughing out the huge downpours: everyone broke out their plastic pocket rain jackets in translucent pastel colours - they looked like dancing candied almonds in the stands.

Yesterday in one of the elims a Russian and and American man shot off, and tied.
So then they have a single-arrow shoot-off, and tie, both shooting 8s.
So they shoot off again - and tie, again, with 9s.
So finally they get one more arrow to shoot off (if this one tied, they'd have to measure it from the centre of the target, which is a bit naff, but I suppose you have to break it somehow) and finally the American pulled a 9 out of his ass to the Russian's 8.

But they both looked almost embarrassed and awkward, at both losing their composure so much in this shootoff - each convinced the other would tromp all over them, only to be given a reprieve, twice.

Results pages, if you're interested. New Olympic record shot by one of the Korean men here - 117 out of 120. (World record of 120 out of 120 dates to 2005. Eeek.)
abendgules: (archery)
I was wrong - the archery has continued, at least some of it, but the commentator still hasn't learned anything aobu the sport.

So I wrote to the BBC editors:
abendgules: (Default)
Namedropping as I go...

BBC iPlayer has 'In search of Medieval Britain', a couple of documentaries about, well, Medieval Britain.

I'm excited about them because the narrator is Alixe Bovey - she led an art history course I attended at Courtauld a few years ago, and she's published a couple of monographs through the British Library (one is about the monsters in marginalia in illum MSS).

I have no idea how good the shows will be, but I'm willing to risk the time and bandwidth to find out!

Doesn't hurt that she's originally Canadian. :-)

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