Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bronycon 2014: What I saw

I was walking back to the convention center with my son. Coming the other way, a girl of about ten or eleven walking with her family threw her arms open for us as if we were long lost friends. We were complete strangers, but she hugged us both.

"Fees Brony hugs!" she said, then walked on.

This scene (far from the only unsolicited hug I got at Bronycon)  illustrates the My Little Pony community as well as anything else.

I'm not a Brony, but my son is. He begged us half a year ago to take him to Bronycon. I ignored him for awhile; at his age passions come and go. But he was persistent, so eventually I bought tickets. It was in Baltimore this year,  or "Baltimare" as it says on the badge.

I'm not going to tell you what a Brony is like as if you don't know. But it's important to emphasize that Bronies are first and foremost fans of the currently running "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" series, run by Lauren Faust; the rest is supplemental. In preparation for the con, I watched a few episodes with my son, the ones he said were significant (the two Nightmare Moon episodes that began the series and the first two episodes with Discord) along with a few others.

It's a very good show. There is no doubt it's made for little girls, but the quality of the art, the music, the writing and the voice acting are all top notch. That doesn't make it a rarity today, necessarily. We are living in a golden age of kids' TV. Shows like "Phineas and Ferb," "Adventure Time," "Legend of Korra" and many others stand head and shoulders over the crap they were making for kids in my generation. The difference was made clear in "Riffing is Magic," an event we attended Friday night in which the wretched old 80s My Little Pony show was played, accompanied by MST3K quips from the panel. So there are a lot of good kids shows today, but they don't have a fan base that will put together a con and attend it in the thousands. Why does MLP:FIM?

After seeing thousands of Bronies together this weekend, I'm beginning to understand.

The first thing we went to was the vendor's area, which I'll talk about later. We looked around, and Jeff was fairly restrained about wanting to buy things. I told him he could buy some stuff, but to look around and make sure he knew what he wanted because we couldn't spend a lot.

The next thing we went to was a woodcarving panel, because Jeff has become interested in carving. It was mostly a demonstration; the man who led the panel was carving a figure of Luna's "cutie mark," the brand that each pony has to distinguish her personality or special quality. He gave some guidance (bass wood is the best wood to start with, apparently). But much of the time he was just carving into a camera and talking about his favorite ponies. "Is this boring?" he asked at one point, and the crowd responded urgently to the contrary.  "What else are we here for?" someone said.

We took a break after that and spent some time in the hotel, since for a kid Jeff's age that's a thrill in itself. When we came back, it was time for the first night of Bronypalooza, the Brony concert of the year.

As with a number of events, Bronypalooza began with a long line through switchback barriers. As with all of them, the line was practically unnecessary: once the event was opened you could just walk straight in without waiting at all. But for the bronies the line was its own pleasure. Because of the barriers, you kept walking back and forth past the same people, and every time was an opportunity for a "bro-hoof," the MLP fist-bump that was the universal greeting here.

Bronypalooza itself is a lot like any other rock concert. It was pro-level in every way: there were huge colored track lights, enormous thumping speakers and really good bands in every genre. There was a boy-band pair whose name I can't remember, followed by an acoustic singer-songwriter named (I think) MondoPony. On Saturday night there was a metal band playing a Metallica-like song about Discord and a number of dubstep DJs (especially the amazing Alex S.) who would be right at home in the best dance clubs I've ever been in. You might forget where you are for a moment until someone started singing "Everypony Smile" and all the young men earnestly start in. And you noticed they were all holding Pinkie Pie plushies.

Consider the degree of rebellion in what they are holding in their hands. At that age, there is an enormous pressure to prove one's masculinity. This is why young men do so much of the stupid shit they do, sex and violence and rock and roll. Becoming a Brony is, among other things, a big FU to the expectations of what a young man in America ought to be. But is it so surprising? What kind of rebellion is left for this generation? Everything has been done: grow your hair long, get high, fight and march and stick baby pins through your cheek. It seems there's nothing left, and then a bunch of young men embrace a TV show made for 6 year old girls.

When I say embrace, I mean it. This is not ironic; that's been done. To wear a faded t-shirt with faded My Little Pony characters and a rainbow to a punk rock show is the kind of thing my generation specialized in back in the 90s. We might have even watched the show and argued over which pony was the best, if we'd been high enough.

What we never would have done, while standing in line for 30 minutes waiting to get into a show, is enthusiastiacally chant, "fun, fun, fun," and mean it. I know I keep coming back to this, but the most foreign thing about this to me, as an irony-numbed Gen-X veteran of the 90s, is the utter sincerity of the whole thing.

That might make the whole thing sound cult-y. But the individualism of everypony at the convention is visible in the outpouring of artistic creativity in the vendor's area. The room would be familiar to anyone who's been to any major fandom con. There is now a whole culture of people who make a living pushing the boundaries of copyright and making fan-related art and selling it on Etsy and at cons. What's extraordinary here is the manic remixing of MLP with nearly every other touchstone of fandom and pop culture: Firefly, Bioshock, Portal, Minecraft, the Avengers, kaiju, Adventure Time, Game of Thrones, and countless others I no doubt didn't recognize. And Doctor Who; MLP and Doctor Who have an especially large overlap in fanbase. One of the most popular "background characters," (after Vinyl Scratch) is Doctor Hooves, a pony that looks like the Tenth Doctor.

There is a difference here too. In the Bob's Burgers "Equestranaut" episode,  a creepy middle-aged fan scams Tina out of her rare pony figure, because he greedily wants to own all the best figures. One with any experience of other fandoms can see why one would expect at least some MLP fans to be this way. I couldn't help be reminded of the moment when my son and another man went for the last Pinkie Pie plushie at a vendor's table. But when the man saw that Jeff wanted it, he said, "Oh, you have it," and Jeff responded with, "No, you," and they went back and forth that way like Chip and Dale. Finally they agreed on a game of rock, paper, scissors, which Jeff won.

But the wide range of hand-made plushies and hand-drawn art is only a beginning of the creativity on display at Bronycon. In addition to the bands playing at Bronypalooza there was a second stage for less well-known bands that was occupied all day, every day. MLP has a huge amount of fan-made animation, much of which was being shown on various screens. As a break from the first day of Bronypalooza we saw films where entire episodes of Disney shows (including the commercials) were overlaid with clips from MLP. But there are also entire hand-drawn episodes of nearly equal quality to the original show. There is an entire stable of fan-created ponies with their own fanbase. There are spectacular hand-drawn music videos, some of popular songs, some of dubstep like that of Alex S., and some of the enormous number of songs written by Brony musicians. There are video games, including an entire remake of Super Smash Bros. Brawl featuring the MLP characters.

Then of course there's the cosplay. That leads me to the cosplay contest, which was later on Saturday. I'm jumping around in time a bit now, but I noticed something at the cosplay contest that connected to something I saw at Bronypalooza as well.

The costumes were impressive, no doubt. I'm sure it's better at Comic-Con (though some of the costumes had probably been worn there recently enough as well). They got big cheers, of course. But just after a spectacular hand-made Twilight Sparkle costume would go up, someone would go on with a few things they'd obviously just bought at the vendor. And people cheered them nearly as much. It was the same during the concert. A dance pit would open up and someone would throw down some spectacular hip-hop dancing. But then right after a regular schmoe would go in and flop around no better than I would be capable of. And everyone would be just as happy for them.

And that illustrates what makes  MLP:FIM different, I think. That's what gives it a fan base that will throw a con that 20,000 people will attend. Because unlike most of the other high-quality kids' shows on Nickelodeon or Disney, it is not drenched in irony. It can be funny, but it does not throw in clever pop-culture references that only adults will get. For a long time it's been an open secret kids' cartoons have two audiences: little kids and stoned adults, and the makers of most shows take that into account. But MLP:FIM is not really made for stoners. Instead it drew a different kind of adult audience: people who really believe in friendship and caring and loyalty.

And that's what leads to the open-arms inclusion of everybody that comes. In the Equestria con in Bob's Burgers the attendees are almost all creepy middle-aged men. In fact, the majority of the Bronies at the convention were guys between fifteen and thirty or so. There were plenty of guys my age and older, and boys Jeff's age (11) and younger.

There were a significiant number of women and girls as well, by my eyes maybe thirty or forty percent. The brony community is sometimes described as "young men who like MLP and their admirers," but these weren't all or even mostly Bronies' girlfriends. Some of them were teen girls and young women, and a significant portion were what is known in the MLP community as the "original fan base," i.e. little girls -- and why not? Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference, and it's possible that given the size of the MLP community now it's easy to imagine going straight from being a little girl who braids an MLP's mane straight to being a full-on Pegasister.

The point was, contrary to Tina's Equestria experience, everyone is just as welcome here. That's why a 10 year old girl feels comfortable hugging a strange man and his son in the street.

I'm not going to say I know nothing creepy happened to anyone. I know cons and I know young men, and anything wrong that went down wouldn't have happened to someone like me. Hopefully the con has a good harassment policy and it was enforced when necessary.

But this really was different from other cons I've been to, from the people offering random bro-hooves to anyone they saw to the young women and men walking around saying "free hugs!" -- and really giving them.

There was another night of Bronycon, and Jeff cleaned up like Texas Slim at the Appaloosa Hold 'Em game. He got an autograph of one of his favorite animators, Animated James, at the quiz panel "You Don't Know Applejack." We saw more animation and music and the cosplay show.

The last event we attended on Sunday was a Brony census; in addition to all the other arts practiced by Bronies, some of them are hard-working statisticians. I don't know how good the data is, since much of it is from online surveys. But I think the answers people gave were probably useful enough to say something.

Some of it wasn't surprising. Bronies tend to come from the upper middle class, and the majority are from families whose parents aren't divorced. The majority are white, and most are men. I saw a larger percentage of nonwhite Bronies than the statistics here suggested, but then again the con was in Baltimore, which is more than 60% Black. Their mean age is 21, and most are between 10 and 30. 72% live with their parents, but that's not so surprising since a lot of them are teenagers or college students.

One might expect that a large percentage of people who participate in something that challenges gender expectations so much are gay or trans, but by the survey answers these populations are no more highly represented than in the general population: 81% of Bronies identify as heterosexual, and almost all are cisgender. 25% are in relationships of 12 months or more, but again I don't think that's atypical for middle class males in that age range.

 There is always that bittersweet moment at the end of a con where you check to make sure you have your badge on only to realize you won't be needing it anymore. I saw it in Jeff's eyes once, and was surprised to be feeling the same way myself. One of the first thing Jeff said as we were leaving was "where is the next one?"

I know Jeff had the time of his life; he told me as much. I had more fun than I ever expected, as well. A lot of it was just the pleasure of spending a whole weekend with my favorite person in the world, my son. But a lot of it was meeting a group of people that have challenged my idea of what it is to be a young man.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Master: Most Pathetic Big Bad Ever?

So I've been re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 1 with Jeff, and enjoying it quite a lot. I think he is too, but he's not enjoying it quite as much as I hoped. There are some parts that are genuinely scary, usually the Monster of the Week, like the jackal-possessed children and the smokin-hot teacher that's actually a praying mantis, but honestly the first season is pretty ridiculous, and the vampires are the least scary part. At the pinnacle of unscariness is The Master, of whom I must ask: is he the most pathetic big-bad ever?

Here's a typical plotline involving The Master: he gets some supposedly super-strong and scary vampire to go and kill Buffy, or to facilitate some plan to escape the hand-wavy (literally) stuff that keeps him locked inside his lair for some reason. Buffy kills or defeats them, occasionally with the help of Angel, and TM has a screaming temper tantrum like a 3 year old. He's supposed to be like 1000 years old, but he has less maturity than the Chosen One, or whatever he's calling the 9-year-old vamp who is somehow supposed to help him escape. Boss Hogg and Roscoe P. Coltrane posed more danger to the Dukes of Hazzard than this guy poses to Buff. Cordelia is like 1000 times scarier than this guy.

While I'm on the subject, it is also more ridiculous than ever at my age that a 240-year-old Angel would fall madly in love with a 16 year old Buffy. Although this led to a pretty funny conversation with Jeff, in which he said that Angel looked like a teenager. I said that he looked almost thirty, at which he pointed out that so did all the other "teenagers" in the show.

I wonder if I should just skip straight to the season with Spike and Drusilla?

Friday, May 9, 2014

An imagined conversation with an iOS program:

 "Hello, iTunes, I was told I have to talk to you to get some files from my iPad..."

"Welcome to iTunes! I have lots of music that's really easy to download! What do you want to hear? How about Shakira? She has a new album!"

"Yeah, actually I don't want any music. It's just that I was told that you were the only one that could give me access to my iPad files."

"Hmm...files, files...do you want to watch X-Files? That's a TV show. I also have TV shows. Movies, too!"

"No. No, I don't want music, movies or a TV show. It's just that talking to you is the only way to copy..."

[iOS program assumes a stern but loving expression.]

"We don't use that word 'copy' around here. Some people copy things they are not supposed to. We call them 'pirates.' Hey, I know! Why don't you watch Pirates of the Carribean?"

"I'm not copying anything illegal. I want to copy my files, things I made. My documents, my photos..."

"Photos? Oh, I don't deal with photos. You will want to talk to iPhoto for that. This is iTunes. Tunes is another word for music. But we also have movies and TV shows so I see how that could be very confusing for you. Hey, do you want to watch Looney Tunes?"

"Right, but they're all just files. I just want to put my documents on this backup drive."

"Did you say backup? Why didn't you say so before? I can make a backup for you."

"I can do it myself if I can just see my..."

"Do you want me to make a backup? I can make a backup!"

"Umm, okay. Make a backup."

"Okay! That will be thirty minutes!"

[IOS program  goes in a room and closes the door.]

"Wait! Can't you just..."

[IOS program looks out the door.]

"I'm backing up your files. Do you want me to stop backing up your files? Because then you might lose them all."

"Um, okay, no."

[IOS program closes the door.]


"Did you finish backing up my files?"

"Yes! Backup complete!"

"Great! Can I see the files please?"

"You don't need to see them. They're backed up. Nothing to worry about."

"I know. I mean I need to get at them. Where are my files?"

"They're all backed up, don't you worry."

"I believe you. But I want to work with them."

"You want me to put them back on the iPad?"

"No! I can already see them on the iPad. I want to work with them on another computer. I want to put them on another drive."

"Drive, drive, here we go! Do you want to watch Drive, starring Ryan Gosling?"

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Westeritis: A dangerous new epidemic in fantasy fiction?

So I was incredibly excited to read Elizabeth Bear's new book The Steles of the Sky, the third book in the Eternal Sky trilogy. Since I've begun it, however, I have found that I just can't get into it at all. I'm sticking with it and hoping I'll get over it, but it's a real slog and I keep putting it down for more engaging things, like Clash of Clans. The problem is, there are just too many storylines and each one is too complicated, so I can't keep track of who's who. It may not be fair, but I am tempted to blame George RR Martin.

Anyone who's either read the Game of Thrones books or watched the TV series knows that you practically need a spreadsheet to keep track of all the characters. If you've read the books and you watch the show with someone who hasn't, you'll find they keep asking you, "wait, who is that again?" I haven't watched all the shows, just part of the first season, and when I read recaps of them I don't remember half the people they're talking about.

Is it fair to say that Bear is imitating Martin in trying to balance all these storylines? Does the Eternal Sky trilogy have a case of Westeritis? Certainly it's not that simple. Martin was far from the first person to make fantasy series that sprawl all over the place. But perhaps if the world of Westeros hadn't set the example her editors might have told her to trim things back a bit.

One might say that this kind of thing works for someone like Martin, but not as well for other authors. But honestly is it true that it even works for him? The main storyline is incredibly engaging but it's hard to care about every single one of his characters. This was revealed starkly in A Dance With Dragons, his most recent of the series, which disappointed a lot of readers by focusing entirely on what most people would consider secondary characters and giving us little time with the people we want to know the most about. Part of Bear's TSoTS's book's problem is that it's been a long time since I read the previous book and I don't remember who everyone is. I anticipate a similar problem when Martin finally stops giving us dribs and drabs of The Winds of Winter and finally puts the book out.

For other fantasy authors overcome by the urge to fantastic sprawl with countless pov characters, I prescribe a two aspirin and a dose of Patrick Rothfuss, whose Name of the Wind is as sophisticated and complex a fantasy book as there is out there with only one pov character. The third book of the trilogy is not coming for a while, but I will have no trouble remembering who Kvothe is.

Monsters, anonymous: Helene Wecker's The Golemn and the Jinni

Must we be who we are?

We like to think we make choices all through our lives, but mostly we make the same choice over and over again. So many of our inclinations are baked into us from before we can remember, and we either surrender to our nature or struggle against it our whole lives. In Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni this dilemma faces not only the eponymous monster protagonists, but the Jewish and Syrian immigrants of turn-of-the-century New York they find themselves among. 

Chava, a golem, was made to be the obedient and faithful wife of a European Jewish man named Rotfeld. But Rotfeld died less than a day after bringing her to life on a boat to America, so she soon finds herself alone in the Jewish community on the Lower East Side. Her nature is to serve and obey, and without a master she is assaulted by the needs and wants of everyone around her. She is only saved when the kindly rabbi Avram Meyer recognizes what she is and brings her home.

Ahmad, a Jinni, springs from a lamp when it is repaired by the tinsmith Boutros Arbeely in the now-vanished Little Syria in the West Village. After more than a millennium of imprisonment under circumstances he can't recall he finds himself in a weakened state, bound by an iron band around his wrist to an unknown master. This goes against his nature, which is to drift in freedom above the desert, with no allegiance to anyone. 

Every monster in a book is at least partially a metaphor for something else. Godzilla was partially the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Lestat was partially a gay man in the time of AIDS. Chava and Ahmad are partially newcomers to America, dropped in a bustling city that is only a little bit stranger to them than to the thousands of other immigrants around them. Among other things, this book is a well-researched portrait of its time and place, reason enough to enjoy it. 

But every monster should also be a monster, something other than human, and Chava and Ahmad are. Even their names are simply conventions to allow them to relate to the humans around them; neither being feels especially attached to this central identifying aspect of the human experience. It is a challenge particular to the author of speculative fiction to create a being that is not human but nevertheless possessed of will and desire and needs that engage the reader and drive the plot. And this is Wecker's real strength.

The golem and the jinni have desires and needs, but they are not people's desires. Neither, however, are they stereotypical straightjackets, for each questions and struggles against their urges, just as all the other characters struggle with their own. They each have superhuman strengths and weaknesses, and they fight not to be confined by them. Most of all they live in danger of their inhuman natures being revealed.

Ahmad, a being of fire, can melt metal at a touch, quite a useful skill to the the tinsmith Arbeely. But he has an artistic temperament and struggles against the boredom of day-to-day craftsmanship. His free spirit constantly leads him to put himself in danger of being discovered as an inhuman being, for example when he seduces an uptown socialite.

Chava, a being of clay, has no such urges. She has a boundless work ethic and endurance and puts it to work as a baker and a seamstress. She has to resist the urge to work all night, which would reveal her own superhuman nature. Her drive is to serve and obey anyone, and she instinctively knows what everyone wants. Worse, she has the potential to go into a killing golem rage which would be catastrophic given her superhuman strength.

As the book progresses Ahmad and Chava find their stories intertwined with each others and many other people, among them a demon-possessed doctor, a passionate social worker who has rejected the faith of his rabbi father, a mysterious rabbi-magician and a mute orphan. In addition to being a portrait of its time and place the book engages us in the life of each of its characters, while also plotting them tightly into a fast-moving adventure which unfolds with mysterious secrets about the past of each monster.

The balance that keeps the book alive is that neither of the monsters is entirely bound by their nature, but nor do they entirely escape it. And in that way they are human after all.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

One, two, three... WOW! Those are Fibonacci numbers! (Nymphomaniac)

So I waded through the misanthropy of both parts of Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac, and I now hate humanity almost one tenth as much as von Trier does. But I didn't want to talk about the whole movie, I just wanted to comment on one element that annoyed me spectacularly: the shallow fake intellectualism of the character Seligman.

The movie is basically a sex addict named Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recounting her penis-filled life story to an asexual bachelor named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard - no, I'm not looking up the HTML code for that 'a' with the circle on top character) after he finds her beat up in the alley. A central theme of the movie is Seligman saying something supposedly smart and intellectual after Joe recounts some sexual encounter. The problem is, most of the 'intellectual' things he says are in fact really stupid.

An example is when Joe says that the first time she had sex, her boyfriend Jerome humped her three times in her vagina and five times in her ass. "Those are Fibonacci numbers!" says Seligman, and goes on to say some hand-wavy stuff about how they're connected to other mathematical things, like the Golden Ratio and such.

While it's true that they are Fibonacci numbers, this is an incredibly trivial and stupid observation to make when confronted with the numbers '3' and '5,' considering there are only two numbers, too little to imply much of a series, especially when these two numbers are part of countless other significant sets and series (the odd numbers, the prime numbers, the smallest Pythagorean triplet, and so on).

A humanities equivalent would be see the letters 'e' and 'a' and then to say 'Amazing! Did you know those are two letters in the name of the name of Ezra Pound, a writer of poetry, an art form also practiced by the great thinkers Rumi and Samuel Taylor Coleridge?'

It might be a little less idiotic if Jerome had humped her 13 and then 21 times, but I'm not sure that Joe could count that high; stupid as Seligman is he's still an intellectual titan compared to her.

In the second movie, when Joe tells  Seligman she lost her ability to orgasm, he tells her something like "you were just like Xeno, who could never reach his goal!" Even Joe gets annoyed here, though not because she recognizes that this is even stupider than the Fibonacci thing. For her situation to resemble Xeno's Paradox she'd have had to tell him that she got asymptotically closer and closer to an orgasm but never quite reached it (a not unheard of situation). Instead, she lost all sexual sensation whatsoever; she never even crossed the starting line. She's more like the Tortoise in Godel, Escher, Bach and the Charles Dodgson dialogue on which the dialogues on that book are based. But I doubt Seligman could get past the second page of that book.

It has occurred to me that von Trier might be doing this on purpose. Maybe Seligman is supposed to be a fool who is convinced that he is a genius. But I don't think so; the stuff he says about fly-fishing are clearly meant to sound really brilliant. No doubt if I knew more about fishing those would look just as dumb to me.

But did you realize that the first word in 'fly fishing' has three letters, and that three is the first digit in pi?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Boots on the WHAT? Am I the only person who remembers what Russia IS?

I have watched with my jaw agape as people have discussed our options regarding Ukraine over the last few weeks. Republicans, predictably, are saying that this is only happening because Obama is not "tough" enough. From the other side of the aisle, we get this amusing but naive article from The Onion, mocking us for meekly watching Putin's actions.

The readers of the Onion are at least probably young enough to have been born after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But everyone else lived through the same Cold War that I did. So for those too young to remember or those who somehow blocked out the last 50 years of the 20th Century, let me remind you of some simple realities.

When people start saying they don't want "boots on the ground," they are implying that there are some other military options besides all-out war. Drones, cruise missiles, whatever. This is the delusion of an empire that's gone too far. For some reason no one has been explicit about this simple fact: there are no military options regarding Russia. Period.

Russia is not Iraq or Syria. They're not even Iran or North Korea, countries we could at least theoretically invade and conquer, if only at the expense of a bloody invasion that would kill tens of thousands of Americans and devastate our economy, to say nothing of the innocents that would be slaughtered in those countries.

Russia is one of the few countries, if not the only one, that could quite literally wipe America off the map.

At the time of the end of the Soviet Union, Russia had tens of thousands of nuclear "devices" (i.e. missiles and bombs) pointed at our country on a hair-trigger. It's safe to say there are a lot fewer now, and they're not pointing at us (yet). According to Wikipedia they had "only" 2,700 in 2009. This is enough to turn every community in America larger than Moscow, Idaho into a smoking nuclear crater.

Of course we'd destroy them right back. If that makes you feel any better, you'd get along great with this guy:


So, you respond, what are you saying? Just lay back and do nothing?

For practical purposes, yes.

Of course we'll do something. When you can't use military force, the other option is sanctions. We have tried this with Russia before, when they invaded Afghanistan. They didn't work then and they won't work now because we can't get Europe on board.

We can't currently get Europe on board because they are utterly dependent on Russia for Energy. People have pushed Obama to speed up American natural gas exports to Europe. But even if we ramped up this effort enormously, we couldn't come close to matching the 40% of natural gas that Europe currently gets from Russia. And it wouldn't happen for a few years, which would be cold comfort to European leaders watching their citizens riot at their energy bills doubling or tripling.

It's easy to publish funny articles. But unless you have a serious suggestion about what we should do about this, (and vague suggestions about "getting tough" aren't serious), then maybe you should just shut the hell up.