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Ranking the sciences by how evil they are

11. Biologists

I actually think in their heart of hearts all biologists want to be mad scientists. The problem is that they’re really bad at it. You try attaching a chimp’s head to a man — that’s, what, half a casualty? That’s nothing! Even if you put the tinfoil hat on and say, ah, but lab leaks and viruses and whatnot — if we’re going to rank the sciences on their ability to do a pandemic, covid isn’t a particularly good showing when all most people under 90 remember of it is being really bored, sticking uncomfortable Q-tips up their nose, and baking sourdough bread.

They’re in dead last because of all the sciences in this list, biology has the largest negative kill count, having saved billions of lives and thus making themselves known as utterly incompetent at being evil.

10. Astronomers

Like biologists, every astronomer dreams of waking up to an imminent asteroid impact. (This isn’t a particularly secret ambition, either.) They’ve read and written all the sci-fi lit there is, and theoretically have a pretty good grasp on how to destroy the world.

Un­for­tu­nately when a mad astronomer says the world will end it carries the same tenor and believability of that snotty-nosed kid on the playground saying his uncle works for Nintendo. A gamma-ray burst will end all life on Earth? When’s that, sweetie? Oh? Two trillion years from now? That’s nice, dear. Ooooh, an asteroid that has a 0.001% chance of passing by the moon? Terrifying.

9. Computer scientists

If they really wanted to, the computer scientists definitely could kill everyone and break all electronics forever. Un­for­tu­nately they’d be out of a job if they did that, so i don’t think we have much to worry about.

8. Sociologists

The good news for sociologists is that they are, genuinely, completely fucking insane. The bad news is that they don’t even know how to write a paper with replicable results, let alone take over the world. If they ever figure out how to distinguish a fake article about toxic masculinity in dog parks from a real article about toxic masculinity in dog parks they might move up a bit in the ranks.

7. Linguists

This is actually a statistical error caused by Spiders Noam and should be ignored.

6. Psychologists

Psychologists have really fallen off since the initial publication of the Haber–Haber Scale of Scientific Evil back in 1932. They used to rip monkeys from their families and put them in cages, get people to administer lethal electric shocks, put people in prison for the lulz — now, alas, they seem content to let their perfectly developed evil skillset go to waste and futz around figuring out how to make people subscribe to emails instead. Sad!

5. Chemists

Chemists are great at doing evil. They can make poisons, kill people with radiation, pretend “α-(5,6-Di­methyl­benzi­mida­zo­lyl)co­ba­mid­cyan­ide” is a totally normal thing to say — the list goes on! The main thing bringing them down is that they don’t seem at all interested in doing evil. They know the nega-utils from working at big pharmaceutical companies are going to the economists here, right?

4. Physicists

Ah, physics, the “fuck around and find out” of the sciences, whose practitioners never met a death, destroyer of worlds they didn’t like. Ever since the atom bomb they’ve been a consistent presence in the upper tier, and it’s not hard to see why. Even when they’re not literally killing millions, they’re sticking heads in particle accelerators, developing new and innovative ways to undo the fundamental forces of the universe, and causing chaos among the general population by convincing them their collider would destroy the universe. Their fourth place position says more about the quality of those who ranked ahead of them than any faults of physics specifically.

3. Mathematicians

Mathematicians are barely holding on to their humanity. They haven’t seen the sunlight in days. They think quantum physics is just too soft and people-y. In this lies their danger: the possibility that they might snap.

Take Grigori Perelman, a mild example. He was a prodigy, proving conjectures that had stood unproven for hundreds of years — and then, at the apex of his career, the million-dollar prize… he just stopped. He just left the field, became a hermit, and was never seen again. Mr Perelman’s story is the best-case scenario.

The worst-case scenario? Well — the real reason mathematics is so high is that they have the dubious distinction of being the only field on this list to have spawned an actual terrorist. If it were up to me, i’d keep the mathematicians under 24/7 CCTV surveillance.

2. Economists

Self-explanatory.

1. Geologists

Geologists? What? Surely they’d be at the bottom: all they do is study rocks!

That was my thinking too. But then i thought about it. And thought about it. And uncovered the dark secret of geology. No, they can’t make earthquakes happen on demand, or turn themselves into lava. That’s theory. But what of applied geology?

Applied geology has other names. Chief among them: mining, fracking, and drilling. The geologist plan is a slow burn. They dig, and dig, and dig, guzzling up all the coal and oil they can muster, spewing their flames into the atmosphere. And by the time anyone noticed… it wasn’t their problem anymore. Oh, they say, that’s not us, that’s Nasa, that’s the biologists, that’s the economists, it could never be us humble innocent rock nerds. But they know. They know, deep down, that when the last forest burns itself up, when the last city falls into the sea — the geologists will look over the rubble, and the geologists will be king.

Mx Tynehorne’s link roundup, volume XXIX

The greatest impulse purchase in history

Step 1: Go on Wikipedia, as one does.

Step 2: Notice the following item in the “did you know” section.

Did you know… that Fabrizio Dori wants his comic book «Il dio vagabondo» to bring attention to an ancient Greek view of death?

Step 3: (See Figure 1.)

A biology textbook diagram labelled "Monkey *sees* action"/"Neuron activation"
Figure 1

Step 4: Activate dedicated hyperlink-clicking neuron that has evolved after years of online brain poisoning.

Step 5: Oh my god the main character is a satyr who lives in a tent in the suburbs.

Step 6: Oh my god it’s beautifully illustrated. (See Figure 2.)

A comic illustrated in a colourful style reminiscent of Ancient Greek pottery
Figure 2

Step 7: Begin seriously weighing up the possibility of The Greatest Impulse Purchase In History.

Step 8: Ctrl-F “English”. No results.

Step 9: Wallow in non-Italian-speaking misery.

Step 10: Ctrl-F “Dutch” as a last-ditch effort. You have been meaning to brush up on it…

Step 11: Oh my god they did a Dutch translation before an English one.

Step 12: Google “amazon” even though you know the URL.

Step 13: Click onto Amazon and look up the Dutch name of the comic.

Step 14: Find out there is one (1) copy left in stock.

Step 15: Look at the price.

Step 16:

Step 17: Pretend you didn’t.

Step 18: Buy anyway.

Step 19: Notice that they’ve finally gotten rid of that 2003-ass UI in the purchase phase.

Step 20: You have now completed The Greatest Impulse Purchase In History. It will be there in a week.

Stuff i watched recently, Marchuary edition

Letterboxd screenshot of a list of “movies about spice worlds”, with the two adaptations of “Dune” and “Spice World”
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation, season three. How did i let myself not get around to this earlier‽ This is soft sci-fi running at peak performance — a crew of hyper-competent and endearing1 people on a starship, sometimes just going on wacky space adventures, other times using science fiction as a lens through which to view our own world. 10/10. My three favourite episodes so far:
    1. “Tin Man”. Our character actor of the week, Harry Groener, plays a member of a mildly telepathic species who has a small problem: he has Space Autism, thus can’t turn said telepathy off. Man, does this episode get it. Every little thing about him is painfully relatable, the ending reduced me to tears, and i would like seven seasons of a buddy cop spinoff show starring him and Data right now, please and thank you.
    2. “The Survivors”. The third episode in the season, this is the one that made me sit up and go: God damn, that’s good television. Our character of the week, John Anderson, is the man of the house for an elderly couple who are the only ones left after the decimation of their planet. I can’t reveal anything more than that, but he sells it like noöne else could.
    3. “Deja Q”. This one’s just funny.
  • The Revenant (2015). Stepdad’s pick for family movie night. When the credits rolled, i thought it one of the best films i’d ever seen… but a few weeks on, i’m not so sure. The cinematography is epic, and Tom Hardy’s brilliant, no doubt, but i really feel more could have been mined from the premise. Leonardo DiCaprio’s half-Pawnee son in particular is the heart of the film, and the key role through which to interpret the conflict between the three warring groups, but he gets unceremoniously killed off halfway through, for no other reason than to bolster Mr Hardy’s villain cred and, i am left to infer, because the writers had no idea what to do with his character for the rest of the story. Mr DiCaprio himself goes completely overboard and could really take Lawrence Olivier’s advice to heart: “My dear boy, have you tried just acting?” 6½/10.
  • True Stories (1986). My pick for family movie night. This sweet and mild-mannered musical comedy is David Byrne’s only director credit, and that’s a damned shame. Most places call it a satire, and i can’t help but think they’re projecting. This is a genuine ode to small-town American life, whatever its pros and whatever its cons, and next time i’m sick, i know exactly what i’ll be putting on. 8/10.2
  • The Wicker Man (1973). Figured i’d watch a whimsical musical from the seventies in preparation for the next one on the list. Great vibes, great music, great ending, great showing from the legendary Christopher Lee3, but good heavens, is our main character ever an unsympathetic, bigoted prick. He’s stumbled on a conspiracy to murder, and he just won’t let go of the fact that he saw some NEKKID WIMMEN prancing around a henge! 7/10.
  • Wonka (2024). Mama’s pick for family movie night. This is a bad idea for a movie and they should not have made it. That’s fine, though: lots of good films make poor ideas on paper. This isn’t one of them. Timothée Chalamet is terrible! You never once buy him as anything other than Timothée Chalamet in a hat. He’s far too much of a goody two-shoes — not a droplet of the sinister nature of Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp’s4 Wonkæ is anywhere to be found. 3/10.
  • An American Werewolf in London (1981). Stepdad’s pick for family movie night. A bit of a throwaway, but there’s some good stuff in here, especially the titular American Werewolf (Who Went Hiking In The North But For Some Reason Is Taken To A Hospital) In London’s zombified friend. 6/10.
  • I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020). Shades of Tenet and Asteroid City here: it’s not Charlie Kaufman at his best, but it is Charlie Kaufman at his most, and he may have finally metatexted too close to the sun. Some really interesting stuff spread out over a turgidly paced first and second acts and a completely nonsensical third. I presume Jesse Plemons’s directions were just “pretend to be Philip Seymour Hoffman”. 5/10.
  • Dune Reloaded / Dune 2: Dune Harder / D2NE (2024). Seen in Imax. A titanic achievement that improves upon the often unfeeling first in every way. I take back everything i said about Wonka — Mr Chalamet is magnetic in a way that cements him as the zoomer generation’s first true movie star. Every gushing ten-star review you’ve heard is true. See it now on the biggest screen you can, with bass that shakes the leather in your seat, because you’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t. 9/10, with that final point conditional on the inevitable third part hitting the mark.

Mx Tynehorne’s link roundup, volume XXVIII

60% or so of uploads of “Tainted Love” on Youtube have the 👏️👏️ muffled to a damp squib, and it’s always a game of Russian roulette trying to listen to it. A very, very mild game of Russian roulette. Belarusian roulette, maybe.

Mx Tynehorne’s link roundup, volume XXVII

I started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation recently — starting at season three, of course, as i was repeatedly advised — and i’m positively kicking myself for not doing it earlier. This is bloody good television (except Wesley, but i imagine they give up and throw him out the airlock at some point), and only now do i realise how often i have stood on the shoulders of giants without even knowing it…

(Data’s the best character. Obviously. He’s literally me™.)

In praise of mustelids

An old etching of a European otter

Hail, the mustelid! Greatest family of the animal kingdom, nay, the eukaryote demesne. They are nigh universally cute — a charming sausage shape — and often small, but unlike their tamèd brers and sisters in Canidæ and Felidæ, they have never succumbed to human domestication and demeaning.1

Indeed, they are deceptively mighty for their size; the least weasel, an accurate name if there ever was one, proudly squeaks as the smallest carnivore on land, and with its mighty jaw can take down a rabbit ten times its greater, or even, should you believe the ancient Greeks, a basilisk. (So goes it for the otter, too: a lutra lutra might never look like it has a single thought running through its head, but show it to a streamful of fish, and you will witness a bloodbath that would make Tamerlane blush.)

I might myself take a broader view of the term and insert an O in that mustelid, bringing us up to the dynasty Musteloidea, where not only weasels, martens, and otters roam, but the mischievous American raccoon, the adorable red panda, and the e’er-defensive skunk. But the title says “mustelids”, and i am not one to argue with my fifteen-minutes-ago self, so in our little kindred we shall remain.

A last thing to note before we return to pathetic Prīmātēs, the greatest thing in all the family, the peak of all the realm of life, the chief reason among chief reasons that mustelids are the best:

They all sound like squeaky toys.

Stuff i watched recently

A still from “Poor Things”
Poor Things (2023)
  • Some Like It Hot (1959). My pick for family movie night. I’ve been accused of being a bit of a “miserabilist” (i’m sorry, but Synecdoche, New York bangs, and i have no regrets on making them watch it), so i thought i’d kick the year off with something a bit funny, a bit light-hearted, and a bit gay, and cor, was this an absolute classic! A comedy from the fifties about two men cross-dressing to infiltrate a women’s jazz band should be positively radioactive, but this misses all the potential pipelines of “well, you know, back in the day…” sewage and instead hits a gold-mine of timeless commentary on gender relations. I’m on Team Daphne — he’s so much more confident in being a woman than Josephine and does not deserve that terrible toad man. (And, having seen both this and Rear Window, i can finally weigh in: Grace Kelly is a thousand times prettier than Marilyn Monroe. Sorry.) An instant 10/10.
  • “Noöne knows who created skull trumpet (until now)”. Had to click this as soon as it appeared on my feed. There’s really something beautiful about the amateurism of the early web, how a woman with no formal training in graphic design or anything of the sort could make all these wonderful, whimsical images, and have one of them persist into the present day. Rest in peace, Cathy Jarboe, you beautiful diamond, you. 6½/10.
  • The Master (2012). Mama’s pick for family movie night. Philip Seymour Hoffman is incredible in this as an L. Ron Hubbard–style cult leader, to the extent that you often find yourself agreeing with him — i totally get why people join these sort of things now. Joaquin Phoenix, on the other hand… man, i hate to say it, but i might be falling off the Phoenix train? He’s always doing that same snivelling Joker thing, even when it’s totally inappropriate like in Napoleon, and it’s getting kind of old. Joaquin Phoenix Play A Character With Social Skills Challenge (Impossible). Paul Thomas Anderson directs the shit out of this. 6/10.
  • The Hudsucker Proxy (1994). Rewatched with mama.1 Loved it even more than the first time, especially Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character. Just a terribly good-natured film that only sits in obscurity because of its obsequious title. It’s a shame Tim Robbins disappeared after this — i looked up his filmography and he seems to have been in bomb after bomb (Green Lantern, Mission to Mars…). 9/10.
  • Poor Things (2023, but didn’t come out until 2024 here). Watched at the Tyneside. I’d been eagerly awaiting this since i saw the bonkers trailer back in September, and it didn’t disappoint. There was a moment 15% of the way through where i thought i might walk out, but good lord, did it ever win me back over! Bella Scissorhands goes on a steampunk adventure across Europe filled with childlike whimsy, discovers herself, has lots of sex, and winds up Mark Ruffalo. Everyone is absolutely brilliant in this — special commendation to Willem Dafoe as a Scottish mad scientist. Already the strong front-runner for my favourite of the year. 9/10.

Mx Tynehorne’s link roundup, volume XXVI

A collage of two film stills — in one, an astronaut exits a capsule illuminated by Neptune’s deep blue; in the other, a rover rides around the vivid crimson hills of Mars
If Neptune isn’t really that blue, can we at least put it in the club with Mars, where we just pretend it’s that bright because it looks cooler in movies? (Top: Ad Astra; bottom: The Martian)

The 2023 Satyrs’ Forest Horny Awards™

I would like to kick off the second annual Satyrs’ Forest Horny Awards™ with an epigraph from myself, at the end of 2021, predicting what lay ahead. I wrote, and i quote:

Avatar 2 will bomb and possibly kill James Cameron’s career. Really: who on earth is actually excited by the idea of an Avatar sequel? Someone? Anyone?

Hahahaha oops!!!

The Laurel Wreath Award for Annual Achievement in Film

And the award goes to… Avatar 2: The Way of Water!
It came out in December and i watched it in January of 2023 — i’m counting it.

Look. Look. I’m not happy about this either. But he got me. That fucking James Cameron boomed me. I’ve never even seen the first one!

Everything about Avatar: The Way of Water puts our decade-long glut of superhero movies to shame. The visuals, thirteen years in the making, are indistinguishable from reality. (You will believe the sexy blue cat people are real, and you will rewatch it three times in Imax and still never figure out how they composited the scrawny human kid in.) Every tiny anthropological detail envelops you in the world of Pandora, meticulously constructed by the new god-king of worldbuilding. But most of all, it’s sincere. There are no tiresome quips of ”well, that just happened”. The characters never make fun of how silly this all is. It just lets itself be itself.

Some might shunt the film’s story and characters to the back seat, and in many ways, that’s fair: nobody goes to see an Avatar movie to find out if Jake and Neytiri get a divorce. But that’s just the James Cameron style, man! He paints with a broad brush, and because of that, his stories connect with everyone from Chicago to Chittagong. Noöne ever complained about Titanic just being Romeo and Juliet on a boat, after all.

So, much as it might bug the poser in me to heap praise upon the fourth-biggest film in history, congratulations to the best film of the year: the one with the smurfs.

The Zoetrope Award for Classic Cinema

And the award goes to… Synecdoche, New York!

I have too many thoughts about Synecdoche, New York and i’ve never been able to organise them all into anything coherent, so i’ve set a timer for fifteen minutes and i’ll just stop when i stop. This is going to be a mess.

So, first of all, this film is only two hours long. I say “only” because it feels like four when you’re watching it. This takes place over, god, what, thirty or forty years? And you feel time slipping away just as Caden does.

Oh, uh, Caden Cotard is our main character, a hypochondriac playwright with ambitions of dizzying scale, played masterfully by the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. I’m not sure he’s meant to be a real person; rather, just as his fictional play (the size of the actual city of New York) balloons to its own world with its own Caden and its own play, he is just the creation of the unseen Ellen1, one world up, somewhere in between him and Charlie Kaufman.

There’s a moment halfway through that might be the best single second in a movie ever. Caden goes to Berlin to find his long-lost daughter Olive working as a prostitute — and as he enters the brothel, the door creaks behind him… sounding just like a baby’s cry.

I put off watching this movie forever because i knew it was bloody depressing, and indeed, i spent the last half barely containing a film of salt water behind my eyes. Two main candidates for best scene (spoilers!) — Sammy (the stalker who Caden hires to play himself)’s heart breaking, and the very end, where everything fades to grey.

Jon Brion’s score is incredible, by the way.

That shot, when Caden finds out his dad died, and Sammy’s shadow looms behind the curtains like the Grim Reaper? Brilliant.

The one piece of the puzzle i still can’t figure out is what’s up with Maria. She’s this corrupting influence on everyone Caden loves, but bears the name of the Virgin Mary — which makes it difficult to slot her in, as i tried, as the Devil to Ellen’s God. Hm.

It’s funny how Caden never really gets any sicker, but the world around him does. (There’s some gender identity stuff in there too, but honestly it all seems like the type of thing that could be attributed to other stuff to me. I don’t think Caden’s literally trans, he just happens to be the self-insert of a woman.)

That’s my fifteen minutes up. Synecdoche, New York! Greatest movie ever made.

The Pebbledash Dildo Award for Cinematic Disappointment

And the award goes to… The Congress!
Again, not a 2023 film, but i actually quite liked every 2023 film i watched, and i was annoyed enough by this one to put it on here instead.

It all started so innocently. It was a family movie night, and me and my mam were in the mood for something uplifting. I’d asked on Reddit for movies with the same manic exuberance as The Fifth Element or Elvis, where some strange new colourful thing is thrown at the screen a mile a minute and the viewer is ripped along for the ride.

Mad Max: Fury Road? Seen it. Mandy? Not in the mood for horror. But The Congress? Now that sounded interesting. The reviews were coy, but all praised the psychedelic, mind-bending world crafted by director Ari Folman.

Count us in, i suppose. And so began my journey into hell.

To get the “coveted” Pebbledash Dildo, you don’t just have to be bad. It is, after all, an award for disappointment. You must have a kernel of a great idea within you, one that is so simple to make something good out of, and fuck it all up anyway. That kernel can be found in a single brilliant scene, a diamond within this pile of filmic zirconia.

A live-action Robin Wright stands in the centre of a sphere of cameras blaring at her

The premise of The Congress is more relevant now than ever, in this age of digital doubles, deepfakes, and AI actors. Robin Wright plays herself, who reluctantly decides to scan herself into digital form, so the studio can use her likeness forevermore without her having to break a sweat. As she stands among the blaring lights of the scanner, her agent recounts to her the story of how they first met, bringing tears to her eyes. It’s a genuinely touching moment, and a springboard off of which so many ideas could dive, a trunk from which so many stories might branch.

Then it all goes to pot, and thirty years later, everyone is permanently on drugs, and so the film switches to oh god what the fuck is that get it off get it off get it off my fucking screen

So Robin Wright, now in a world of terrifying Newgrounds Betty Boop clones, attends the titular congress, where the CEO of the subtly named Miramount does a Hitler rally for his new drug. Then she meets generic Prince Charming man, the very person who scanned her in to the system — an interesting idea that they do absolutely nothing with — and they have ugly cartoon sex, she gets locked in a freezer for 300 years, and she goes in a balloon to find her terminally ill son… or… something?

I have never seen a film fumble the ball this badly, and be such an assault on the senses to boot. You won, Ari. Enjoy the money; i hope it makes you happy. Dear lord, what a sad little life, Ari. You’ve ruined my night completely.

Miscellaneous awards

  • The Golden Lyre Award for Excellence in New Music: Edinburgh-based Young Fathers’ euphoric senior album Heavy Heavy stole the show this year.
  • The Broken Link Award for Best Use of Hypertext: The best “miscellaneous thing” i saw online was Atlas Altera, an absolutely ludicrous worldbuilding project dedicated to the surgical maximalisation of global diversity.
  • The Fred Figglehorn Memorial Award for Online Video: Spanning the end of 2022 to the start of 2023, Geowizard’s “How not to travel America” series brightened up my day every time a new one appeared on my feed. People are just nice!
  • The Hubert J. Farnsworth Award for Good News, Everyone!: This one may be a wee bit controversial, but i have to go with the rollout of a new generation of obesity drugs (most famously semaglutide) — which not only finally work to combat obesity, but seem to dull all sorts of other harmful impulses too. One step closer to true freedom of form?