Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Its A Zombie! Saunter Slowly Away.

Why are zombies so scary?  After all they're slow, stupid and their reaction time sucks.  If you have to be pursued by a ghastly, netherworldly monster then the zombie is definitely the one to pick.  Let's face it you could have nipped out the back door, caught a cab to the airport and be safely on a flight to Bali while the zombie is still lurching up the drive.

Secondly zombies are easy to kill.  There's none of this mucking about with wooden stakes or silver bullets.  A shotgun loaded with mundane, cost effective pellets will do nicely.  Failing that just run them down with your car (note to Morganne; its probably not wise to try this with a bicycle).  Zombies definitely got the short straw in the hideous monster stakes.  Vampires are cool and murderously sexy, werewolves have that raw animal presence but the poor old zombie is just a badly maintained cadaver.

On the other hand if you get the choice there are a couple of advantages to being a zombie.  Unlike the vampire you can be active (very slow but still, technically, active) twenty four hours a day and you aren't expected to spend most of your disposable income on clothes.  Being a werewolf might seem fun but think of the shedding issues.  At least if a zombie sheds its generally something easy to pick up like an arm.

So there are definite swings and roundabouts to being a zombie but I think the worst part would be the lack of respect.  With vampires and werewolves everybody cringes in fear but when zombies attack every two bit convenience store clerk suddenly becomes an action hero.  There just isn't the same cachet attached to being a zombie as there is for the more socially acceptable undead types.  The zombie leads a bleak, miserable existence shambling slowly after prey it could only hope to catch if its potential victim suffers a heart attack while making its escape.  In all seriousness the only thing a zombie has a hope of catching is another zombie.  From which we can deduce that the simplest way to deal with the zombie menace is simply to wait until there is only one very fat zombie left.  That one probably won't be able to move at all.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Birthday Greetings# 27

Happy birthday to Theodosius II, Byzantine emperor.  Theodosius reigned (ruled would be an exaggeration) from 408-50AD during which time he achieved a lot by doing not very much.  Granted the fifth century wasn't an easy time to be a Byzantine emperor, revenues were down, barbarian raids were up, and the christian church kept finding new and interesting ways of splitting itself into mutually hostile factions.

Coming to the throne at the age of seven Theodosius wasn't really involved too much in decision taking at the start of his reign and he seems to have decided that this was a good way to continue.  He was fortunate in having a number of talented advisers who were quite happy to tell him what to do.  The first was his praetorian prefect Anthemius.  Anthemius was quite a hot talent, he made peace with the Persians, reorganised the grain supply of Constantinople so people didn't starve quite as much and built the Theodosian Walls surrounding Constantinople.  If Anthemius had been emperor they would have been called the Anthemian Walls but such is life.

When Anthemius disappeared (nobody seems quite sure what happened to him) Theodosius' sister took over as principal advisor.  Wars with the Huns, Vandals and Persians followed but this was probably just a coincidence.  Theodosius lost to the Huns and the Vandals but managed a nil all draw with Persians probably to everyone's surprise.  In between these events he somehow found time to found the University of Constantinople and appoint a commission to codify the laws of the empire.  Since the laws of the empire were largely a combination of precedent and what various emperors had found expedient at the time it was quite a job.  Still something was achieved and the results were promulgated as the Codex Theodosianus.

Getting a massive set of walls and a codex named after you is no mean achievement for somebody who would probably struggle to pass a civil service entrance exam.  When it came to religious disputes Theodosius was just as good as everybody else in sorting them out which is to say he was utterly useless.  Its hard to fault him on this however as religious disputation was pretty much a sport in the empire which everybody played.  It made things a bit tense at times (to say nothing of bloody and horrifying) but at least it gave people something to do.  Nestorianism made its appearance during his reign (Nestorius had made the mistake of getting involved in the dispute over whether the Virgin Mary could be called the mother of God seeing as how God had always existed and therefore couldn't have a mother.  Nestorius proposed a compromise whereby she was called the mother of Christ.  Like most compromises this united both factions in hating the person who suggested it).  Nestorius had been appointed patriarch of Constantinople by Theodosius who was now persuaded to unappoint him.

Eventually Theodosius died in a riding accident having muddled through for more than forty years.  One suspects that his longevity was enhanced by the realisation among his courtiers that whoever replaced him was unlikely to be as easygoing.

The Leviathan Will Kick the Kraken's Arse and Floss With a Tentacle Afterwards

How can you tell the difference between a kraken and a leviathan?  Simple, count the tentacles.  If you get as far as one it isn't the leviathan.  For those who want something a little more specific the leviathan is the one that guards the gates of Hell and the kraken is the dozy one that spends most of its time sleeping around Greenland.  In the kraken's defence there isn't a hell of a lot to do on a Friday night in Greenland.

The leviathan interest me though, especially the bit about guarding the gates of Hell.  Has anybody else noticed that in virtually every mythology there is some sort of monstrous beast guarding the gates of Hell?  Why?  Is there a dress code or something?  If you pop out for a cigarette does the leviathan have to stamp your arm before you're let back in?  What exactly was the conversation that took place when Hell was being designed?
"OK, flames; check, unimaginable torments; check, dark fallen angels; check, souls of the damned to undergo aforementioned unimaginable torments; check.  So what else do we need?  Oh yes, a door bitch."

I'm sure various religious scholars will point out that the purpose of these multifarious guardians is not to keep people out but to keep the damned in.  That's even more stupid, you create a place where the damned will be tortured for all eternity but you need a guard on the door to stop them wandering off.  Somebody didn't come up with an effective security system before rushing the designs through council.

I wonder how much something like the leviathan charges for its services?  After all its on the job 24-7 and that's before you factor in penalty rates, overtime and religious holidays.  Frankly I think it would make more sense to get rid of the door keeper and just put Hell on the honour system.  Sure you'd lose a few but there's always more turning up and it isn't like you're going get audited or anything.  Even if you were any sensible auditor would measure up the likelihood of turning up again on a more permanent basis and would probably give the thumbs up to a relatively lax security regime.

All of which means the overworked leviathan can take a well deserved break.  It can swim up to Greenland and give that lazy bugger of a kraken a good kicking.  Because, let's face it, the kraken has had it easy for far too long.  Sure it wakes up from time to time to drag some hapless ship to a watery doom but most of the time it just wallows around sleeping.  In the gruesome, mythical beast job description lottery the kraken definitely got the edge on the leviathan.  A little payback is in order I think and the leviathan is the creature for the job.  While the kraken has been getting fat and lazy among the ice flows the leviathan has kept down to a trim fighting weight chasing would be escapees all around Hell's front yard.  It probably even had to take Cerberus for walkies.  It wouldn't even be a contest, there would be a brief flurry of bubbles off the coast of Greenland and then we'll all be eating Leviathan brand calamari.  The kraken will rise all right but only if it wasn't properly refrigerated.

The Salmonella Curse

Macbeth is cursed apparently.  Anybody who scanned his career trajectory as depicted by Shakespeare would probably agree but I was actually referring to the play itself.  Tradition (that handy reference point when actual facts or sheer commonsense are absent or inconvenient) claims that "the Scottish Play" is cursed which makes me wonder why anyone puts it on at all.  Apparently the curse doesn't stop some people making money out of it.  To be fair with a plot line composed of equal parts of sex, murder and black magic probably the only real surprise is that it hasn't been made into a video game but surely if there was any genuine cursy activity going on surely people would be a little more hesitant about producing it.  Macbeth is ideal curse material of course, what with people getting murdered all over the place and general gruesomeness abounding.  It would be a little difficult to persuade somebody that As You Like It was cursed.  Even the dodgiest tradition needs a little something to work with and Macbeth provides it in spades.

On second thoughts possibly a curse isn't enough to scare anyone away.  The lure of money is pretty powerful and has proved to be capable of getting people to risk genuine curses not just ones cobbled together in the fifteenth century to provide an excuse for shoddy stage management and drunken actors.  Still everybody loves tradition and if its a creepy one so much the better.  At this point it would be positively mean to explode the myth.  Which is why the recent incapacitation of half the cast of the Bell Shakespeare Company's production of Macbeth with food poisoning is such good news.  It is particularly good news for whoever is responsible as they can just claim it was the curse.  For the company it is excellent if somewhat stomache churning publicity.  I for one will be going to see it if only for the possibility that all the main actors will be going off like Linda Blair in the Exorcist.  I might not get front row seats though.