The Bortsworth Mysteries: Episode 2 – The Case of the Purloined Plates

“Excuse me,” she was in her mid 60’s. Dressed in Marks & Spencer and middle-class insecurity. I was busy, too busy to interact with the late-stage capitalist, incipient Brexit yeomanry of Bortsworth County.

“Excuse me,” she said again, clutching a local newspaper in her recently but inexpertly manicured hands, “are you the detective?”

I narrowed my eyes and moved my head to look at her. Not a lot of people know this but a triceratops has to move its head to change its field of view. Like a bird. Like a bird, who has decided to stop fighting gravity and instead team up with it. You decided to tussle with a triceratops then you had better believe I’m bringing my good buddies gravity and momentum to help me along.

“No,” I answered truthfully. I have a code and that code says I don’t lie to women – even mammal women.

“Are you sure? I mean, you match the advert, which, by the way, has a few grammatical errors. Also, there’s no such thing as ‘Bortsworth County’. Where you trying to sound American?” she pointed at the text of the classified adverts. Sandwiched between a lawn mowing franchise and an advert for dry-cleaners oddly rendered in Cyrillic was text that read:

Mysteries Solved! I as is the best detective in Bortsworth County.
I am a big triceratops. Called Susan. Will help with anything.

“You’ve got the wrong triceratops,” I said glancing at the advert.

“Are you sure?” she replied persistently waving at my rump in a manner that displayed both her distaste at waving at a person’s rump and her overwhelming middle-class right to wave at whatever part of a person’s anatomy she felt like.

Not a lot of people know this but a triceratops’s field of vision does not permit us to see our own rumps. We don’t need to. If we are backing up then it’s your job to get out of our way.

“Hey lady,” I adopted a tone I’d learnt on the mean streets of New York in the 1960s when I was working in Tin Pan Alley, “quit waving at my butt. ”

“Well, somebody has painted ‘Susan the Detective – I solve crimes!’ on your, ahem, haunches in white paint.” she gestured in a circular motion.

“Are you sure?” I answered.

“Hmm, it might actually be an off-white gloss. Maybe Dulux Hog Bristle wall paint. I’d need some swatches to work out for certain.” she reached into her handbag and brought out a phone and began searching the net for paint colours.

“Lady, you’ve been scammed. A no good rascal known as Timothy the Talking Cat has led you astray. The ad, the painted dino-butt, that’s all part of his basic MO. You are part of a play, a scheme, a shenanigan and I’m just the patsy he picked on.”

“But you do solve crimes don’t you?” she asked. Her eye filled with sadness.

“Listen lady – this once and only because I can’t currently move because the local parking inspector put a wheel clamp on my leg while I was sleeping after mistaking me for a small truck, I’ll help you. Tell me what the problem is.” I shifted my expression to be as sympathetic as possible, which is no mean feat as triceratops don’t communicate with each other by facial expressions but by bellows, scent and foot stomping.

“Well, I run a small charity shop just off the high street. Somebody keeps stealing small pieces of second-hand crockery. I wouldn’t mind so much but they somehow do it while I’m in the shop. My best friend Betty won’t come into the shop anymore because she thinks it is haunted!”

“The solution is simple. You leave a window open in the staff toilet at the back of the shop. Squirrels enter your shop via that window. They steal crockery when you are not looking and then take it to the nearby park to throw at cats. If you close the toilet window the stealing will stop.” I explained as swiftly as possible.

“That’s amazing! How did you possibly deduce all that!” exclaimed the lady, visibly impressed for the first time.

“Simple. I have a digitized repository of all the local crime articles from the Bortsworth Advertiser stretching at least five years into the future from the current date. Anticipating that Timothy the Talking Cat would continue to pressurise me into being a detective in his ‘cosy mystery’ series, I solved ALL the crimes in the local area for the next five years in advance thus enabling me to reveal the who, where, what and how of any mystery that he might try to throw at me hence robbing any story of any narrative tension at all.” I couldn’t help injecting an air of smug detachment from my explanation.

“That is amazing! I’ll recommend you to all my friends!” exclaimed the lady.

“But…” I said bewilderedly “there’s no narrative tension!”

“You solve crimes, Ms Susan and in next to no time at all!” said the lady with a degree of condescension that if weaponised would be outlawed by the Geneva Convention, “Narrative tension is for stories, from a detective people just want results! TTFN!” With that, she walked away in a cloud of perfume that if it had a name would be ‘Aux de Daily Express’.

I’d been played by an expert huxster. That cat had got what it wanted and made me a detective but didn’t mean I had to play by the rules. This triceratops was nobody’s patsy.

 

 

Red Panda’s Dragon Eligibility Sheet

According to wikipedia the red panda is also known as the red bear-cat and also the red cat-bear. Meanwhile, the enigmatic Red Panda Faction has developed a Google Docs spreadsheet for works with Dragon Awards eligibility. Part bear, part cat, part panda-racoon hybrid, who better to unravel the taxonomic intricacies of Dragon Award categories!

It’s here http://bit.ly/DragonCon2018Eligible

Modelled on the Hugo sheet set up by Lady Business, the sheet has multiple tabs for each Dragon Award category as well as publications date so you can check eligibility.

The sheet is open to public contributions and should be a useful guide for anybody who wants to check if a work they want to nominate was eligible.

Anybody can nominate in the Dragon Awards: http://application.dragoncon.org/dc_fan_awards_nominations.php

The deadline for nominations is July 20, so now would be a good time to nominate something if you feel like it.

dragonpanda.jpg

Review: Luke Cage, Season 2

Each Netflix Marvel series that has had a second season has been less compelling the second time. Daredevil had a less focused story and without Vincent D’Onofrio’s compelling presence, the season felt more episodic. Jessica Jones season 2 also meandered more. Overall though, Luke Cage season 2 feels tighter and more story driven than season 1. It still has its flaws and like all of the Marvel Netflix series would probably have been better with fewer episodes.

At the start of the season, Mariah Dillard/Stokes (Alfre Woodward) has inherited the crime empire of her brother Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, as well as the Harlem Paradise club that serves as a focus for both seasons. A former politician and philanthropist, Mariah is seeking one last weapon’s deal to give her the money to go legit. Detective Misty Knight is living with the consequences of events in spin-off The Defenders series, having lost an arm in the line of duty. Luke Cage is battling his relationship with his estranged father, drug dealers trolling him by naming drugs after him and his relationship with Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson).

Into this mix walks the enigmatic Jamaican gangster known as “Bushmaster” (Mustafa Shakir). Bent on revenge for unknown reasons and with his own set of extraordinary powers, chaos erupts around him and both Cage’s and Mariah Dillard’s plans and expectations unravel.

So, yes, once again the theme is “immigrant ethnic group crime gang” bringing chaos and brutality. That’s part of the weird 1970’s urban crime aesthetic that both the Daredevil and Luke Cage series try to evoke and it carries with it a whole set of problems and negative stereotypes. But also, there’s a degree of subversion there as the story unfolds, Bushmaster becomes less of a monster and more of a character as the story progresses. Yet, the Jamaican characters overall rarely get to be shown as more than stereotypes.

The first nine episodes are fairly tight. There is a slower pace for the typical Luke Cage episode on average as the show takes time for music and conversation but that pace feels appropriate this season. Episodes 10–13 drift a bit more including a comic book mandatory Power Man/Iron Fist team up which wasn’t as painful as it could of been (having said that I think I’m more tolerant of Iron Fist than most) but there is a clever arc there that again shifts the trajectory of who is the chief villain here. It is fair to say that the season ends in an unexpected place for Luke Cage as a character but there’s a logic to it.

A dashing diversion

A diversion from the news today is in order and so it is time for strong but frankly irrelevant opinions on punctuation.

I’ve a fairly loose relationship with grammar and I’m not famed for being a stickler for social norms on punctuation. However, I do have strong opinions on one aspect of punctuation because it is just poor design and that is in the area of dashes.

First a recap:

  • The hyphen – .The hyphen joins two parts of a word together, typically a prefix (e.g. co-ordinate) or as a layout consequence of a line breaking splitting a word in two. Use of the hyphen is more of a question of spelling than grammar as it pertains to the conventional representation of a word (e.g. many style guides promote “coordinate” over “co-ordinate” now). In addition to this, the hyphen is also used to join together distinct word together to form a single unit such as state-of-the-art as well as a whole heap of ways of joinging adjectives and adverbs together that I never get right. The hyphen is short and typically present on keyboards.
  • The en-dash – . I don’t know the full set of uses for the en-dash but the use I am familiar with is for connecting ranges. For example “ages 18–20” uses a en-dash to show the interval from 18 to 20. It can be used in a similar way to show a more abstract sense of a relationship between two things.
  • The em-dash —. The em dash is the perfect device for when a comma isn’t enough and parentheses are two much. It seperates parts of a sentence to add clarity.

The length roughly corresponds with the grammatical level of use:

  • hyphen is at a word level and used to join things to represent a single word-like concept.
  • an en-dash joins two concepts to imply a relationship between them.
  • an em-dash joins larger grammatical chunks together.

The problem is that they only difference between them visually is length and length is a poor indicator of anything in typography. Added to this issue we also have the subtraction symbol (−) which is basically just another horizontal line. For further confusion, we have additional horizontal line symbols that at least get some distinction because of their vertical positioning (the underline _ , the overline ‾, as well as things like the diacritical mark known as the macron ¯ which is supposed to have a letter under it).

Length is a poor distinguisher between letter like symbols as such symbols are meant to be invariant with size. An en-dash is visually indistinguishable from a hyphen written in the wrong size font. The “en” and “em” of the names refer to the relative width of the ‘n’ and the ‘m’ in the given typeface but those relative proportions aren’t fixed either.

It is just poor design.

So in the spirit of quixotic and hopeless reform let me suggest and alternative.

  • The hyphen should stay as it is.
  • The en-dash should be given a 5° rotation anticlockwise so that it appears to rise going from left to right. The rise is to suggest going from up from one place to another. Not all intervals shown by an en-dash represent an increase but many do when read left to right.
  • The em-dash should be given a 5° rotation clockwise so that it appears to fall going from left to right. The fall represents ‘briefly dipping out of the main thrust of the sentence’

The angle is small but big enough to be percieved without being visually distracting or in any danger with being confused with the forward or back slash symbols.

hyphens

And that is my contribution to the world for today.

Trump in perpetuity?

There is an excellent Tweet thread from the consistently insightful Alexandra Erin here:

She finishes with this observation:

‘the way Trump will deprive us of democracy is by two years of his collaborators sitting here and saying “But surely you wouldn’t suggest that he is.”‘

It’s an alarming thought and some might say it is itself alarmism. Afterall, I’ve heard (and considered) whether numerous leaders would somehow rig or cancel elections to stay in power permanently. I thought Margaret Thatcher would do that, I was worried that George W Bush might do that – I certainly read worried rightwingers who thought Bill Clinton or Brack Obama might do that. Notably, none of them did. Power shifted using normal means. Phew!

Yeah but…Vladimir Putin? Robert Mugabe? Or we cast the net wider and think of leaders who had to be forced from power by more assertive means such as Alberto Fujimori of Peru who ran for a third term as President when the role was limited to two terms (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alberto_Fujimori#Third_term ). The point being is that leaders in recent history have found ways to cling to power by authoritarian, corrupt and anti-democratic means. There is no shortage of cases and the leader subverting democracy doesn’t need to be a literal Hitler to do it. That’s not to say the Hitler comparisons are in-apt or a case of Godwin’s law – that Hitler came to ultimate power in Germany by quasi-constitutional means *is* a highly relevant example, it’s just that it is one of many.

So why aren’t we in the fifth term of a George W Bush presidency? I think two factors are in play:

  1. George W Bush really wouldn’t want to be President for life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not joining the rehabilitate-George campaign — his presidency damaged the world and damaged American democracy — I just don’t think he was ever really the sort of person who would want to cling to power. The key point being character. It takes a particular kind of paranoid narcism to want to hold on. It requires fear of your enemies gaining control and unwillingness to accept anybody else can rule.
  2. Civic society and institutions. Power requires societal co-operation. It requires generals to carry on running the army and the army to carry on following the orders of generals. It requires courts to continue functioning. It requires the police to carry on policing. It also requires people to literally carry on turning up for work each day.

For the kind of slow-coup to happen, where a leader can move beyond constitutional/formal limits and effectively suspend democracy both elements need to exist. You need somebody willing and eager to take control and weak institutions who won’t provide adequate resistance.

This latter point isn’t even one requiring powerful entities to be progressive or pro-democracy. What is required is that there are powerful groups who an aspiring dictator needs for his rule to proceed who would refuse to cooperate for reasons that could be cynical or high minded. The armed forces are the most obvious example and is why the slow-coup scenario is more likely to be of a rightwing nature (counter-examples would be when the military was born from a revolutionary movement in the first place).

So how do those two conditions apply now?

  1. I can’t say I understand Trump’s character. I openly wondered prior to the election whether he even wanted to be President. However, whatever his motives are they clearly aren’t uncynical or motivated by a desire to provide good stewardship. There are good reasons to think that by being President he avoids deep financial troubles and possible criminal prosecution  — both of which are reasons that he wouldn’t want to stop being President. He really wouldn’t want to lose in 2020 either just in terms of ego.
  2. US institutions have been actively weakened. Congress is not holding the President to account. The courts and federal agencies have been politicised in the sense that any actions they take are cast in party-political partisan terms by the GOP and the wider right. The press is economically and institutionally weak and news media is fractured and distorted.

Niether of those mean that Trump will attempt to remove democracy but it is more than fair to say that:

  • he has no deep attachement to democracy as a principle
  • the GOP has been acting anti-democratically with regard to a whole host of issues for some time (covered in Alexandra Erin’s thread above, i.e. ‘voter fraud’ fakery, gerrymandering & voter supression
  • US civic institutions are weaker in various ways and being actively weakened.

In other words, the concerns are real and the risks higher than they have been for a long time.

Surveying the Dragon Awards

Last year I tried to collate people and groups publicising nominations for the Dragon Awards (e.g. https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/07/26/time-for-those-dragon-projections/ ). I intend to do the same thing again this year. The purpose is so that when nominations are released, it’s possible to see the impact of campaigns and self-promotion for the Dragons – mainly for curiosity value but also to see how the awards function.

I’m already collating links. Jon Del Arroz’s “Happy Frogs” published a slate back in May and Declan Finn listed some possibilities back in March. I’m also collecting links to posts by individual authors  (for example). If people see relevant links, particularly in less obvious groupings or ecosystems, can you drop a link in the comments?

I’ve not seen anything from last years surprise Red Panda Faction but also currently Vox Day hasn’t posted a slate. The past two years have also seen works nominated around different groups such as Inkshares last year.  Overall, my general impression is a decline in interest. It’s possible that last year’s winners having many trad-published works have reduced interest in individual authors hoping to get a nomination.