Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Goodbye to the Zeroes

The nothing decade is almost over.

Goodbye to the zeroes.

Thanks for nothing.

Paging James Cameron ...

Roger Dean called. He wants his floating islands back.

Quoted in Avatar article

OK, kids. It seems I'm on a list somewhere of SF geeks. Erica Newport of the Bradenton Times called to get my response to Avatar. Always flattering when someone wants your opinion. She asked nicely, so I gave it. Am still fighting for time to put in a more nuanced response in the stub of my review. In the meantime, here are a few crunchy soundbites with a soft, candy center.

Breakthrough filmmaking is the ticket for 'Avatar'
Published Tuesday, December 29, 2009 3:00 am
by Erica Newport

Throw out technology and any modern-day scientific advancements and find yourself absorbed in a world where creatures rely on their profound connection to nature, spirituality and physical endurance – welcome to Pandora. May we introduce you to the Na'vi natives?

Paraplegic war veteran Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, in an incredible performance) is sent to Pandora, a moon about 4.3 light-years from Earth.

Its natives, the Na'vi humanoid race, have their own language and culture, but they inhabit an area of this surreal forest land, where nature grows in mid-air in hyper-color and dragon-like creatures swarm through the trees and clouds, that a corporation wants to excavate for a precious material that could solve the energy crisis on Earth.

In exchange for the spinal surgery that will fix his legs, Sully gathers intelligence for the cooperating military by infiltrating the Na'vi people with the use of an "avatar" identity.

Here's where the love story begins. Sully begins to bond with the his Na'vi mentors and the native tribe, and falls in love with Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana, and ends up changing his mission to help the natives protect their people and their land from the corporation's greedy tactics.

The official “Avatar” Web site says that director James Cameron, whose past credits include “Titanic,” “The Terminator” and “Aliens,” first conceived of this film 15 years ago, “when the means to realize his vision did not exist.”

The movie was rumored to have cost anywhere from $200 million to $500 million, and The Internet Movie Database says the actual figure was $230 million.

Considering the movie has a one-week box office take of $177 million, according to, Cameron's “Avatar” seems to be driving ticket sales and a galactic movement in movie making for the future.

Go ahead and compare this to “New Moon,” the latest installment of the “Twilight” saga. Its five-week box office take is at $277 million.

But the story isn't really all that original. It's a very good science fiction-fantasy story, and maybe the plot is familiar to many sci-fi followers.

Marty Fugate of Sarasota said he's published a few science fiction pieces, and is now focusing on science fiction cartoons, comic-strip type creations with local artist Austin McKinley.

Fugate said his friends call him the “science fiction dude.” He saw “Avatar" a week ago with his 20-something son Andrew Fugate.

“For any serious fiction writer, this is a good movie to see,” Marty Fugate said. “I would say that it does what a good science fiction movie should do: grabs you and pulls you into its world.”

Fugate said Cameron doesn't necessarily have a reputation for having the most original ideas. He said in some ways it's “Dancing with Wolves” – only in space.

He said the plot is also similar to several short stories and science fiction novels, but in this day and age it's tough to come up with something completely original and it can be a safe way to go back to the roots of the familiar with any audience.

But the technology is certainly groundbreaking and takes motion pictures to a higher level, especially when compared with George Lucas' “Star Wars” prequel trilogy, a fake and airless production when compared with “Avatar,” Fugate said.

The film is making new waves in Hollywood, with its stereoscopic filmmaking using cameras made just for "Avatar."

“I really enjoyed the movie,” Fugate said. “I ended up being touched by it and felt that we might have the same intimate relation with the living systems of our own planet if we'd taken a different evolutionary path. I highly recommend it.”

Without giving too much of the story line away, the movie is a love story in its purest state.

Cameron seamlessly projected a message of strength throughout the movie. His female characters ran the show and displayed the faith and courage needed to overcome continuous obstacles.

To imagine a world under a canopy of an untouched ecosystem, where people are spiritually connected to the earth and its creatures while joining energy to unite in prayer to save lives, feels somewhat foreign in our world of texting and Facebook updates.

“Everything is backwards now, like out there is the true world and in here is the dream.” Jake Sully says in “Avatar” while on Pandora.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Is it just me ...

... or is there something about getting an engineering degree that leads you down the path to terrorism?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The future is now

What a gutless century the 21st century has turned out to be. So far.

Insanely great things await us. We're like the wimps in the Bible who glimpsed the Promised Land and wet their pants.

"There's giants over there! They're scary!"

We see the vision. And it scares the crap out of us. We come running back with our tails between our legs. Ahhhh. The future is scary. Let's live in the past.

Why did America vote for George W. Bush? He was a bridge to the 19th century.
What's Osama bin Laden's appeal? He's a bridge to the 13th century.

I'm a science fiction writer.

I love the future.

My job, as far as I can see it, is to force myself to look at the future and honestly write about it. It's terrifying at first, yeah.

The future isn't wires. The future isn't cyberpunk. The future isn't rocketships and angry robots. It's not apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic or Calypso or apoplectic. The categories we've invented to imagine the future (as rigid as the notion of the Wild West in "Gunsmoke") don't apply.

The change we are facing is so basic our brains don't have categories to deal with it.

I have been to the mountaintop. I have seen the promised land.

It's all about stuff.

I'm talking material sciences.

Right now, stuff is either dead or it ain't.

You got rocks, steel, glass.

You got wood, straw, coral.

Rocks, steel, glass. Dead stuff? You can melt it in a mold, you can chop it up and mash it together, you can stamp stuff on it, you can glue it.

Wood, straw, coral. If it's dead, you can do what you do to dead stuff. If it's alive, you have to let it grow the way it wants to grow.

Nanotechnology, you mouth-breathing dopes, means we're moving into a world where we grow stuff. Where we grow everything.

You don't nail the chair together from pieces of wood.
You grow it.

You don't melt glass or plastic or clay and fuse it in the shape of a bowl.
You grow the bowl.

You don't put the car together from bits and pieces.
You grow it.

The distinction between dead stuff and living stuff will evaporate.

Everything will change.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

OK. Here's something fun. I just watched the "Inglorious Basterds" DVD. Way cool, yep. One line it didn't contain --

"The only thing I will admit to is resisting you sons-of-bitches to my last breath."

Bridgett von Hammersmark (the German movie star/spy for the Allies) says this to Hans Landa (quintessential Nazi rat-bastard). Then, cruelly and ironically, he throttles her.

I remember seeing this in the movie.

It ain't in the DVD.

Funny thing. It ain't in the movie, either. I READ it in the PDF of an early draft of Quentin Tarantino's script. (I read the script before actually seeing the film.) The dialogue was so vivid, when finally I did see the film, my mind imagined the line and imposed it on my experience of the film. Hey, it's a strong line. The scene is weaker without it.

My mind re-edited the line back in.

And then remembered hearing it.

Funny how that works, ain't it?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Kekulé, Fran and Ollie

Shit. Can't deal with no BENZENE TRANSISTOR without throwing a Thomas Pynchon reference atcha. Now, y'all know, back in the 19th century, Kekulé was stuck with the molecular structure of the Benzene molecule? Couldn't figure the damn thing out, see. Then he had him a dream with that there eternal snake chomping its tail in its mouth. That dream solved the whole dang problem! And, whaddya know, folks come up with all kinds of evil shit based on the Benzene molecule Kekulé glimpsed in that there vision. Yep.

Anyhoo, that there's the context for this here quote from Gravity's Rainbow:

Kekulé dreams the Great Serpent holding its own tail in its mouth, the dreaming Serpent which surrounds the World. But the meanness, the cynicism with which this dream is to be used. The Serpent that announces, "The World is a closed thing, cyclical, resonant, eternally-returning," is to be delivered into a system whose only aim is to violate the Cycle. Taking and not giving back, demanding that "productivity" and "earnings" keep on increasing with time, the System removing from the rest of the World these vast quantities of energy to keep its own tiny desperate fraction showing a profit: and not only most of humanity -- most of the World, animal, vegetable, and mineral, is laid waste in the process. The System may or may not understand that it's only buying time. And that time is an artificial resource to being with, of no value to anyone or anything but the System, which must sooner or later crash to its death, when its addiction to energy has become more than the rest of the World can supply, dragging with it innocent souls all along the chain of life.

--Gravity's Rainbow, V412

Molecular transistor

From Yale University's Office of Public Affairs --

New Haven, Conn. — A group of scientists has succeeded in creating the first transistor made from a single molecule. The team, which includes researchers from Yale University and the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, published their findings in the December 24 issue of the journal Nature.

The team, including Mark Reed, the Harold Hodgkinson Professor of Engineering & Applied Science at Yale, showed that a benzene molecule attached to gold contacts could behave just like a silicon transistor.

The researchers were able to manipulate the molecule’s different energy states depending on the voltage they applied to it through the contacts. By manipulating the energy states, they were able to control the current passing through the molecule.

“It’s like rolling a ball up and over a hill, where the ball represents electrical current and the height of the hill represents the molecule’s different energy states,” Reed said. “We were able to adjust the height of the hill, allowing current to get through when it was low, and stopping the current when it was high.” In this way, the team was able to use the molecule in much the same way as regular transistors are used.

The work builds on previous research Reed did in the 1990s, which demonstrated that individual molecules could be trapped between electrical contacts. Since then, he and Takhee Lee, a former Yale postdoctoral associate and now a professor at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, developed additional techniques over the years that allowed them to “see” what was happening at the molecular level.

Being able to fabricate the electrical contacts on such small scales, identifying the ideal molecules to use, and figuring out where to place them and how to connect them to the contacts were also key components of the discovery. “There were a lot of technological advances and understanding we built up over many years to make this happen,” Reed said.

There is a lot of interest in using molecules in computer circuits because traditional transistors are not feasible at such small scales. But Reed stressed that this is strictly a scientific breakthrough and that practical applications such as smaller and faster “molecular computers”—if possible at all—are many decades away.

“We’re not about to create the next generation of integrated circuits,” he said. “But after many years of work gearing up to this, we have fulfilled a decade-long quest and shown that molecules can act as transistors.”

Other authors of the paper include Hyunwook Song and Yun Hee Jang (Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology); and Youngsang Kim and Heejun Jeong (Hanyang University).

Citation: 10.1038/nature08639

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Just saw Avatar. First impression? It did what good SF should do: it transported me into another world. Solid acting, solid tech, solid story.

The story seems more like Carpenter discovered it than Carpenter wrote it.

Which is as it should be.

More to come.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Chicago way

America -- as far as I can remember from Poli-Sci classes in the previous milleniumn -- is meant to be a "Republican democracy." It's a grand experiment. Huzzah.

"Huzzzah" aside, the experiment is at risk from too much information – an unintended consequence of the media revolution.

My Cliff Notes assumption is that, in a democracy, an educated public (via free speech and free press) is supposed to have an educated discussion (re: political philosophy and policy application) and elect representatives accordingly. Screw that.

From the days of Nixon in 1968 (See The Selling of the President) politicians have been rebranding and packaging themselves. (A response to a new media called television, of course. For a good laugh, watch The Manchurian Candidate.) Political philosophy and policy gets boiled down to air bubbles like “Peace with honor." Granted, politicians have been lying bastards since the dawn of time. But McLuhanesque media forced them to make a science out of it.

It didn't always work that way.

According to my cousin (U of C military history major) Chicago Ward politics is the model for all successful politicians. Basically, there’s the horseshit you tell the public, then the shit you actually do. Based on corruption, graft, favor and promises, you must pay back the people who put you in. This necessitates a practical, reality-based confrontation of what-is. As a politician, you’re forced to face facts and deal with the real world. You owe patronage. You owe payback. Words don’t count. Your patrons need results.

The result was a no-nonsense, pragmatic practicality in the backroom deals American politicians made with the opponents they supposedly hated. As dirty as the system was, it forced politicians to confront reality – and make decisions accordingly. And not on the basis of the rhetorical horsecrap that got them elected. Talk is cheap. You gotta bring home the bacon. So it was.

Speeches are crap. Every chump pushing a broom knew that. What counted were the actual deals. The quid pro quo. What you got. Speeches aside, what you wanted was a guy who knew the score and got things done for the people who put him in office.

In other words, when it comes to American politics, there’s a layer of bullshit rhetoric above a layer of reality. Surprisingly, until, say, the 1960s, most people knew that. Even dirt farmers and sharecroppers. They weren’t that stupid. Huey Long said, “Every man a king!” What he meant was, “Put me in the goddamn governor’s mansion and I’ll make sure your kids get into college.” Even the dumbass hicks knew the score.

But, thanks to the power of advertising, the average American today doesn’t have the sense of a shitkicking hick from the 1930s.

To sell himself today, a politician must brand himself, and keep the message simple.

It’s morning in America. Elect me, and all the little children will have ice cream.

Somewhere along the line, people started taking this shit seriously. Then the politicians started taking their own shit seriously. Modern media killed the rough, reality-based pragmatism of backroom politics. What's left is ideology. Bullshit bulletpoints that sell.

Duh, the liberal media hates America. Duh, the evil corporations are putting thoughts in our heads.

Today’s cyber-savvy voters are networked. They know everything. There's a flood of information going into their heads. But they filter it all through the pre-existing narratives of Left or Right. These narratives have a quasi-religious certainty. There’s no discussion – no need to ask questions. Government is evil. Business is evil. You don't have to think about it, don't have to talk about it. You know.

Back in the bad old days, voters would ask selfish questions. What’s in it for me? What have you done for me lately? Huey Long would say, Jesus, this global warming thing. If this goes on, we’re screwed. He’d cut a deal in a smoke-filled room and make a speech that was filled with lies. But something would get done.

Back in the day, politics was bullshit. Nobody believed in it. But shit got done.

Today, the politicians believe their own bullshit. The people do too.

And nothing gets done.

America's stuck, kids. Our tires are spinning in the sand. We ain't going nowhere.

"Change" aside, that isn't likely to change.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Facebook -- pure evil, or what?

Is Facebook pure unadulterated evil, sorta like that swirling green cylinder of Satan-in-a-Can in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness?
The jury of my mind is still out. Partly, because I’m predisposed to hate Facebook. I’m a writer/cartoonist. I’m not a people person. I’m not chatty. I crawl in my cave, enter a trance, laugh insanely at my own jokes, then emerge with something to show the tribe. It’s how I’m wired.

Facebook is chatty by design. It’s a people-place for people-people to meet people. It resembles nothing so much as a high school cafeteria where the guys and gals are filling the echoing walls with oh did you hear about saundra I think she’s pregnant no she’s just fat stop what’d you think of true grit god my dad likes that that’s like for old people oh my god that looks like puke I’m not going to eat something that looks like puke already stop poking me god no I don’t want to be your friend like what part of fuck off do you not understand

Any content you introduce in this Babel is a rock dropped in a bottomless well of chat that quickly sinks out of sight.

So, the words you put into Facebook are probably wasted. FB will probably lay waste to the words outside of it as well.
So, when I finally emerge from my cave with something for people to read, I suspect they’ll either be on FB or have the attention span of a hummingbird with ADD and not want to read in their spare time anyway.

Being a cranky writer, that’s what I’m predisposed to think.

Or maybe not.

To quote Fugate's Law of Media: Each new wave of media is followed by a reactionary anti-wave of media critics claiming the new media is turning people into idiots and anti-social bastards.

Corollary: Like stopped clocks, reactionary media critics are sometimes right.

Music videos, comic books, rock and roll, radio, television, movies, jazz music, the Wizard of Oz books, the telephone and the printing press were all blamed for the decline and fall of everything. As McLuhan points out, even literacy itself was accused of destroying oral memory and poetry in ancient Greece. But the "stopped clock" argument remains. TV, for example, really did turn people into idiots. Facebook may very well accelerate the process. Soon, we will all be devo.

The jury is still out.

Additional musings:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fugate's 39th Law

A socialist government that owns all the businesses is functionally no different than a oligarchy of big businesses that own the government.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Peace in Our Time

They awarded Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize today. The prize was delivered by a Terminator robot from the future. "We are giving him this award for something he hasn't accomplished yet," said the robot. "But in the next few decades, he will."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Public Service Announcement

Across America, cops are cracking down. We’d like to say come to a complete stop, use your seat belt obey the speed limit and don’t drink and drive, but it won’t do you any good. The economy sucks and the government needs the money. You’re going to get a ticket whether you’re guilty or not. Especially if you’re black.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Science fiction dream

All right, gang. Here's the dream that flashed through me head last night. More accurately, it's a crude pencil sketch of a dream I dimly remember. The outlines. The blurry afterimage turning to dead whiteness in the light of day.

There's a man. Or someone who used to be a man. He's sent back into the past with a mission. It's not clear if he's actually going back into time or merely changing people's memories. This may be reality; it may be virtual reality. It isn't spelled out.

Whoever he is. Whatever he's doing. Whoever's in charge ...

In comes down to the same thing.

He makes the crooked paths straight. He unlocks the doors.

He sets frustrated artists on the right path, as opposed to the paths they took that fucked up their careers. He finds lovers who murdered each other and rewinds their lives to the exact word that started the fight that led to blood, and then unspeaks that word. He re-edits the life-or-death moments of parents when the right eye contact or precise nod of understanding tilts the balance between one day of suicide and many days of freedom for their child. He nudges, he whispers, he hints, he shapes.

He turns death into life.

And, yes, that sounds like Mr. Jesus Christ. But our hero isn't Jesus Christ. His motives are good, but they aren't entirely unselfish and pure.

Someone, something, it isn't clear -- aliens? angels? -- made him a promise.

Let's spell it out, OK?

There's a quid pro quo. There's a deal.

If our hero Photoshops the past, in exchange, they'll give him a future.

They'll give him a world he can shape to his own imagining.

His own future.

A blank slate.

Yeah. You know what I'm talking about.

Tohu wa bohu.

Exactly. An emptiness of pure potentiality he can make his own. Not in the sense of sweeping up road apples and broken glass and gluing and mending and patching the fragments of centuries and centuries of fuck-ups until it seems like something more-or-less OK, OK? Something new.

He won't be editing. He won't be patching.

He'll be creating something new.

Like, for want of a better term, God.

That's the deal.

And that, my friends, is the reason our hero has endured thousands and thousands of year of shit. Years and years and years of losers and whiners and liars. Of walking corpses who don't appreciate the fact they're breathing. Of chucklehead fuckers who assume they can can stumble through life and phone in their parts and fuck up every possible moment of grace because, like Superman, like Underdog, at the last possible moment, a Savior will appear and turn their F- into an A+.

He is that Savior.

You think it's fun? You think it's easy?

Yeah, you may think being the Savior is a simple matter of changing grades on report cards. It's not like that. Each life is a string of moments. To change even one life, you have to get into those moments. One at a time. From beginning to end. And you can't speed it up. No. You know what it's like when some boring motherfucker is telling you about the taxi ride from the airport in Berlin that went to the wrong place and you don't fucking care? It's like that. You have to listen to the asshole, listen very carefully. Again and again. Each word, each inflection. Again and again. You have to listen. And then listen to every possible permutation of the same conversation. Again and again and again and again. You have to listen very carefully. Then, after many centuries, when you finally understand, you go back to the airport, back to the exact moment when everything went wrong, then make him take the right taxi. That's what he does.

Again and again.

He's the Savior. It's a shitty job.

And, as you've probably already guessed ...

The angels or the aliens or somebody are fucking him over.

Up in the clouds or dimension X-N, they're watching him. Shining beings, but bastards nonetheless. They're using him. That's what they do.

One of them says ...

"We're fucking him over."

"Yeah, I know," says the other one.

"We get what we want. He goes through centuries and centuries of shit. And he doesn't get shit. He's not going to get his glorious future."

"No he's not," says the other one. After a long pause, the shining bastard says: "I think he knows."

He knows.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

War, hugghhh

Apparently, we're still fighting in Afghanistan. No, seriously. We are. How freaking bizarre. It's like The Simpsons. You figure the show would've been cancelled a long time ago. But no. It just keeps going on and on.

War's a lot like a bad relationship. Lot easier getting into one than getting out.

Today, Obama's trying to get out of Afghanistan.

It ain't that easy.

Obama is basically in the position of Nixon in 1969.

History, like Fate, is not without a sense of irony.

Here’s a little history:

Starting January 20, 1969, President Nixon inherited Lyndon Johnson's war in Vietnam. As some of you may know, Nixon sailed into office with the promise of a “secret plan” to end that war. Yeah, right. Short of nuking North Vietnam, there was no way to end the Vietnam War. The VC wanted us out – and most of the Vietnamese people agreed. The VC had a supply chain from the Soviet Union and China. They were more willing to die than we were. We could fight forever. But we couldn’t win.

Hey, that didn’t mean we had to lose.

The Vietnam war wasn’t exactly unwinable. It wasn’t exactly a war. If America had said, "This is a police action. We're the planetary cops. We'll send our troops to get killed -- forever," the South Vietnamese government would probably still be going strong. But Nixon knew the commitment of the American people wasn't infinite. America was willing to shed blood. But not forever, as various riots and demonstrations had proved. So, Nixon -- and his advisors -- came up with a crackerjack idea called Vietnamization.

Which was a fancy way of saying: “Our war. Is now your war. See you later.”

Nixon’s secret plan amounted to a hand-off.

Strictly speaking: We bomb the crap out of Cambodia and North Vietnam. While the VC is picking its ass off the ground, we hand the war to South Vietnam – and split.

Cynics have suggested Nixon being Nixon, QED, Vietnamization was a scam from the gitgo. I don’t think so.

And, yeah, I know that Nixon is on the record that, “I will not be the first goddamn American President to lose a goddamn war.” No, he didn’t. But I think there’s more to it than that.

Nixon being Nixon, didn’t want to lose.

I think Nixon’s reasoning was: We’re propping up a corrupt government. The South Vietnamese won’t clean up its act because they know Uncle Sam sweeps up their road apples. On the other hand, if they know we’re definitely gone, Nguyen Cao Ky and his cronies just might step up to the plate. Challenge and response. Shit or get off the pot. I’ll take the fucking gamble.

Nixon’s only other choice was:

A) A forever war.

B) Telling the American people, “The Vietnam War was a bad idea. Yeah, I know I told you I had a secret plan, but that’s bullshit. We can’t win. We’re withdrawing all our troops now.”

Vietnamization was a gamble. Nixon lost. We assume it’s a historical inevitability. But maybe not.

Today, Obama is in the same position.

Like South Vietnam, the current Afghanistan government is a malignant, festering mass of corruption. Screw the rule of law. It’s all about the payoff today! They can afford to screw around – because they know Uncle Sam will sweep up their road apples. Like the South Vietnamese, they figure we need them, and will pay any price to keep them in power.

The corruption of the Hamid Karzai government is the fuel that keeps the resurgent Taliban going. But that corruption depends on the assumption of infinite American support. Like Nixon, Obama demolishes that assumption.

Obama says, “We’re leaving in ten months.” That tells Karzai and his cronies they can’t rely on us forever. Either they clean up their act. Or they’re screwed.

Obama's gamble is Nixon’s gamble. It has nothing to do with domestic politics.

Other than the fact that Obama knows the American people won't keep sending our troops to die forever in a war we can't win.

If McCain was President, he'd be in the same position.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino does it again. Cool movie.

In terms of verisimilitude, it's right up there with Hogan's Heroes.

I mean. Come on ...

Plot Thread #A: The Nazis cook up with a propaganda film called Stolz der Nation. True story about a Nazi Sergeant York -- a crack German sniper who mows down a human meat mountain of American GIs who try to storm his position in a tower. Said sniper plays himself in the movie, with that wacky auteur, Joseph Goebbels, directing. OK. So, gee, where should we premiere this movie? Hmmm ...

Well, why not Paris? You know, that city with that funny tower over in Vichy France. We could have Hitler, Goebbels, Goering -- hell, the entire German High Command could attend the premiere! Hey it's spring of 1944, the Allies haven't invaded yet, why not?

Naturally, we wouldn't need to bother with setting up troops in a security perimeter in the streets outside the cinema or cordoning off the city blocks around it. For that matter, who needs guards in the lobby? It'll be fun! What could happen? It's not like the smoking hot theater owner is secretly Jewish with a burning heart for revenge or something.

Plot Thread #B
The OSS drops a team of stone-cold killers into occupied France. Eight of 'em, all Jewish, led by Brad Pitt. (That wacky "Wild" Bill Donovan. Sure lives up to his name.) Anyway. Their mission: rip-off The Dirty Dozen. Well, more specifically, to inflict Apache-style torture and humiliation on the Nazis to demoralize the ranks. Eight guys, one with a baseball bat. Should be enough.

OK. Captain Obvious says ...

Faults with Plot Thread #A
The Nazis were evil, but they weren't stupid. They'd have !@# guards around the cinema and a ten-block radius of the city around it -- and clear out all the civilians for good measure. They'd inspect every square inch of the cinema. They'd pack every square inch of the cinema with human pit bulls from the SS. And have their own dudes running the projector and working the popcorn machine. Or they would if they decided to hold the premiere there. But they wouldn't. No way in hell. It'd open in Berlin.

Faults with Plot Thread #B
If a team of pseudo-Apaches from the Bronx were scalping and mutilating the Nazis, the Nazis would, of course, respond. They'd divide occupied France into a grid and begin a systematic, scorched-earth campaign, laying waste to Square G-7, Square G-8, etc. -- working square by square until they wiped out the team. But they wouldn't stop there.

The Nazis, would begin reprisals against the civilian population of occupied France -- and probably American POWS -- since the "Basterds" were, after all, violating the Geneva Convention.

The Nazis were in the habit of wiping out villages as reprisals for resistance. (Maillé, Lidice, a long bloody list) They'd do worse in this humiliating scenario. Say ...

A ratio of 10 dead French civilians for every German solider the Basterds killed. Or 100-1. 1,000-1. (Not only killing them. Probably replicating any torture the German soldiers received.) The Nazis would do whatever it takes, until the Basterds (or their superiors) couldn't stomach the collateral damage.

Over in China, the Japanese massacred 250,000 Chinese civilians for helping surviving airmen from the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo escape. Something like that.

And, as Sun Tzu pointed out in The Art of War, the Nazis would never surrender to the Basterds if they knew they'd be tortured, killed and mutilated. As Tzu noted, torture is a lousy strategy. You don't demoralize the enemy. You put 'em in a frame of mind where they'll fight to the death and never give up. The Apaches lost, remember?

OK, I had to vent. All that said, I don't have a problem with QT's wild violations of plausibility and logic.

His movies (especially the recent ones) are more like dreams than realistic narratives. Like dreams, they're a mix of granular realism and loopy violations of logic.

So, in Kill Bill, The Bride boards a plane to Tokyo, and they let her take her Samurai sword on board? It's hanging off her freaking hip while she's looking out the window?

Stuff like that.

Inglourious Basterds mixes its violations of logic with extremely believable stuff. The "Jew Hunter's" interrogation of the French farmer hiding a Jewish family under his house at the beginning of the movie, for example. It's not that QT can't do realism. He does, when he wants to -- and does it very well. But he doesn't always want to.

Inglorious Basterds is a dream -- more specifically, a revenge fantasy. The Jews Strike Back. They kill Hitler. Wouldn't it be pretty to think so?

Hitler gets shot full of holes and blown to pieces in 1944. For once, WWII has a happy ending. I know how the real story ended.

But I like this movie better.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bringing it all back home

Finally caught the ending to Battlestar Galactica on DVD. It did not disappoint.

First, they actually ended the series. That in itself is an amazing accomplishment. They didn't leave the poor bastards stuck in space like the folks on Gilligan's Island.

More than that, the ending was actually satisfying. Storm and fury and mythic themes and spectacular deaths do not alone make for a satisfying series ending. (See X-Files.) But they pulled it off.


Essentially, they come back to earth -- our earth. Dylan's song leads them all back home. Pretty much, the series creators could either make the Battlestar humans our (A) decendents or our (B) ancestors. The answer is (B).

Ultimately, it's divine intervention time. Deus Ex Mechanae, yep. Now, it may be disappointing to some to drag God into it just to settle your plot points. But frak it. Until very recently -- going back to Oedipus -- the point of dramatic fiction was usually WE'RE ALL THE PAWNS OF DESTINY.

In this case, the shadowy entity guiding the show isn't all-powerful, as the angels representing Him/Her/It seem to imply. God nudges things along, but the humans/robots being nudged can still screw things up. I'll buy that for a dollar.

Up until that hallelujah moment, the series maintained a gritty believability. On the DVD commentary, Edwards James Olmos was quoted saying something to the effect, "If I see any three-eyed aliens, I'm off the show. If this is an honest extension of the implications of Blade Runner, I'll consider it." That's exactly what it was.

The series creators set a tough goal for themselves and pulled it off. In the process, they exceeded everything that came before. (Too bad Fox aborted Firefly, but there it is.)

For now, Battlestar Galactica is the gold-standard in televised science fiction.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the war room

Taiwan? Sounds tasty!

Our friends at the RAND Corporation speculate on a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

Friday, August 14, 2009

District 9

District 9 is fairly close to the premise of Alien Nation. Fairly close as in just shy of out-and-out plagarism. But that's OK. Nothing new under the SF sun.

Basically, a massive ship of alien refugees came to earth in the '80s -- and had the bad luck to land (or hover) in Johannesburg, South Africa. The aliens (now numbering about 2 million) have been herded into a refugee camp. Much tension between the shelfish-like aliens (called "prawns") and the locals. It seems humans can't fly the alien ship or use the alien weapons -- so they can't even trade their advanced tech. The aliens are being relocated to another camp further from the city. A clueless bureaucrat is in charge. Let's just say he finds the process transformative.

A fun movie that takes stuff we've seen before (power suits, alien refugees) and twists them around to make a fairly original statement about human rottenness and redemption.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Remember the fabulous '80s?

When I first saw this, moralistic bastard that I was, I thought it was a sign of the impending doom of civilization. Now, it just cracks me up.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sally Forth's Rainbow

"A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now."

Sally Forth (a rather sweet, if plain vanilla comic strip) cribbed the opening to Gravity's Rainbow (a snarling pit bull of a Nabokovian novel portraying Tyrone Slothrop's flayed-alive descent into the polymorphous perversity of a postmodern techno-hell) for its Sunday strip.

What's next? Linus and Snoopy on acid reprising the opening to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas ...?

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold ...


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Robot does not eat corpses

Robot 'not a corpse eater'

Inventors of a US military robot that powers itself by devouring everything in its path are trying to quash publicity that it will feed on human or animal flesh.

The Guardian says that the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot ploughs through trees, grass and even, according to reports, dead bodies.

Headlines have labelled the machine a "corpse eater" and "creepy". The machine's inventors say that it does power its engine by digesting organic material.

"We completely understand the public's concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population, but that is not our mission," said Harry Schoell, the chief executive of Cyclone Power Technologies, one of the companies behind the machine. "We are focused on demonstrating that our engines can create usable, green power from plentiful, renewable plant matter."

Gee. I feel better now.

"Our robot does not eat corpses ... as such."

This is sorta like that SNL skit where the chain of funeral homes had a slogan: "We do not sleep with your dead."

If you have to deny it, it's hardly reassuring.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Into the memory hole

Kindle users who had purchased selected works by George Orwell, including “1984” and “Animal Farm,” were taken aback recently after receiving a notice saying that the selected works had been removed from their Kindle and their money returned.

OK. The Kindle being what Jonathan Zittrain calls a "tethered appliance," the folks at the top have a backdoor to come in and digitally scrub any intellectual property they feel doesn't belong there. It's sorta like having a bookshelf of self-burning books that could be emflamed by remote control.

In this case, 1984 and Animal Farm were turned to digital ash over an intellectual property dispute. Considering the books in question ...

Kinda ironic, ain't it?

PS: I like that sexy look Julia is shooting Winston on this vintage 1950s pulp fiction-style cover.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Blue Moon

The problem with space is earth.

I.e.: a space-faring infrastructure has to be created on earth, first, before space exploration becomes feasible.

Consider the analogy of Columbus. Yes, he explored the New World. But he did it on the back of existing exploration technology and infrastructure. He didn’t invent boats, sails and tackle; or maps compasses, stellar reckoning and other navigation technology; or the ability to store large quantities of food (however rancid). Once he discovered the New World (and those poor, unlucky folks on Hispaniola); a technology existed in Europe to quickly send follow up voyages to exploit the hell out of them.

This would not have been feasible if, say, Columbus had arrived in a disposable Santa Maria that shot across the Atlantic like a cannonball while burning up in stages, then landed him on a beach with another disposable cannon-craft that would shoot him back – if he was lucky and his European pals could fish him out of the ocean – alive.

Werner Von Braun – the original visionary behind NASA’s space program – thought long term. He was very clear on the need to create practical, space-faring infrastructure. He wanted to build a low-orbit space station. Then a high orbit station. Than a temporary moon base. Then a permanent base. He wanted to colonize the moon, Mars and beyond – in very clearly worked out, practical stages. First things first; one thing at a time.

The work horse of all this was going to be a space plane. Not the !@#$ ridiculous space shuttle strapped, idiotically, to two giant tanks of rocket fuel that have to fall off exactly right in every flight. A true rocket plane that could take off from the earth and land.

OK, his initial concept still had the rocket plane attached to a booster rocket as a payload. Still, it was a piloted rocket craft.

This is the only practical way to maintain any real commercial in space – first between the earth and a space station. Then between the earth and various moon bases. Then Mars. Then ...

The US military’s X-plane series was a step in this direction.

The space program of the 1960s was a massive detour.

Because of our “space race” with the Russians, we scrapped Von Braun’s feasible and well-thought out implantation of space-faring infrastructure. Instead, we got to the moon – quick and dirty – using giant disposable rockets with one-way capsules on top.
Once the American public thought we’d “won” the “space race,” the American public lost interest.

NASA lost funding.

With its budget slashed, it attempted to go back to Von Braun’s vision – but on the cheap – with the half-assed space shuttle program.

We need to get beyond that – and start working on a true rocket plane.

What we don’t need to do is go back to the idiotic idea of a disposable space capsule attached to a giant, disposable rocket that fires astronauts to the moon just because we can.

Hell, we might as well put a shitload of money in a space capsule and fire that at the moon. It would have the same practical effect.

We need to get to the moon, Mars and onward – but we need to do it intelligently.

We need to get there, and stay there and live there.

Eventually, we need to start terraforming other worlds.

Humanity needs more earths than this one.

Space really is the final frontier. We need to go back, not because it’s cool, but because this blue marble we live on is damned fragile. An asteroid could blow it up. A comet could blow it up. Hell, we could blow it up – or kill the planetary ecosystem. Even if we don’t, the sun will eventually go cold in space. Humanity has put all its genetic eggs in one basket.

The sooner we find new baskets, the better.

For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me

OK, feeling sentimental. I'll admit it.

Here's Jethro Tull's song about Michael Collins, the astronaut who got left behind on the moon landing. Poor sumbitch was stuck up there orbiting that dead rock while Neil and Buzz hogged all the publicity ...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Lunar links

Tom Wolfe has an interesting perspective:

For some !@#$ reason I can't seem to turn this into a link.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

R.I.P. Julius Shulman

Julius Shulman died today. I don't have any clever words to throw into this white space like so many yarrow stalks. Simply put, he was a brilliant photographer. He loved architecture. I did too, once. I had once planned to give my life to her. Like an old girlfriend, she still haunts my dreams. Shulman, like nobody else, captured the seduction of architecture. Below is the photo everyone remembers. Hell, I'm not trying to be clever here. It's the obvious choice. But it's the photo that burned into everyone's brain. And here it is ...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Powers of Ten

The classic from Charles and Ray Eames.

Friday, July 3, 2009

St. Obama

I like Obama. I voted for Obama. I wanted change. Change I got.

But ... I hate to say it.

I think he's getting ready to jump the shark, folks.

Bush combined religiosity with a smarmy cowboy swagger. The nation goes to war, and he tells us it's time to NOT sacrifice. "Buy bigger SUVs and Hummers, born more gas, buy more shit. The time has come to affirm America's deepest value: acting like selfish pigs."

Well, OK. Like a fratboy on a cocaine binge in his daddy's convertible, Bush drove us into a dangerous neighborhood and wrecked the car. Now, St. Obama has to deal with the wreck. A righteous alternative to hog-wild cowboy Bush.

But he's too damn righteous.

There's a fine line where it starts to seem prissy and hectoring. Brush your teeth, floss, eat your oatmeal. St. Obama is getting very, very close to that line. What happens when you cross it? You start to look like Jimmy Carter.

Fortunately, there are warning signs of Carter syndrome:

Enlarged front teeth.
The use of the word "malaise."
Peanut butter breath.

These signs are not necessarily fatal.

The day Obama swims in terror from a killer rabbit, you know it's over.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Quote of the week

Every now and then, somebody says something that's so lucid, so obvious-yet-hidden-in-plain sight, that your mental landscape changes when you hear it. Orson Scott Card is one of those people. (He's the author of Ender's Game, and other brilliant SF novels, in case you've been locked in a Supermax prison watching reality TV since the mid-1980s.)

In Serenity Found (Jane Espenson's latest anthology of essays on the late, great SF TV series Firefly and the big damn movie that followed), Card defines the distinction between fantasy and science fiction. And defines it brilliantly.

To paraphrase: Readers come to science fiction for radically new experiences. They want their expectations blown to hell. Readers come to fantasy for the same experience, over and over again. They want their expectations confirmed.

Brilliant. But let's let Card tell it in his own words.

Be forewarned, in his eyes, Star Wars and Star Trek are fantasy in SF clothing.

The money quote ...

"People reading Star Wars and Star Trek novels are getting the opposite of the experience readers of the genre always looked for. The science fiction genre, in print, had always been about having new experiences.

There were series and sequels, of course, but the best writers prided themselves on having each entrant in a series be quite different from the others. And, unlike the mystery genre, the sci-fi genre allowed writers of successful series to do completely unrelated books -- and the readers would follow along.

[He offers examples.]

Whereas with media tie-in novels, readers are disappointed if they don't get exactly the same experience they had before. The story is cosmetically different, but it takes readers to the same place; that's why they buy it.

It is an exercise in familiarity.

So not only was film and television sci-fi mired in an old-fashioned kind of story, it had become so financially and culturally successful that it was driving real science fiction into a corner, both in print and in film."

Amen, brother. Wish I'd said it first.

I remember the days when New Wave and Golden Age and hard SF titles bumped shoulders like so many angry, talkative smart drunks in a bar. All those titles, clamoring for attention in the back of the bookstore, right next to the pornography section. Heinlein and Ellison and Clarke and Silverberg and Zelazny and Lem and Niven and Dick and all the rest, all fighting to be heard, fighting to top the others, to be the book you buy, the book that blows your mind.

Then, like a cloud no bigger than a man's fist, the Lord of the Rings series appeared. Then the Lord of the Rings imitators. Dragons and elves, elves and dragons. Then Conan and friends. The inevitable Frank Frazetta rip-off cover of some humongously muscled, bare-chested freak holding a sword to the threatening sky while a blonde in breast plates coiled around his ankles. Then Star Trek spinoffs. Star Wars spinoffs. One after another, like the demonic brooms in the Sorcerer's Apprentice, they multiplied. They crowded out Dr. Bloodmoney, The Big Time, Childhood's End and all the stuff that made you think. They ate up the shelf space.

And the clerk looked up at you. Eyes untroubled by the thought process.

"Asimov. Uh. I think we've got him in the self-help section?"

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The King of Pop is dead ... for now

Jeez, Michael Jackson is dead. Excuse me for not getting on the "Aw, Michael Jackson is dead" train. I've always been of a mind that "Jacko" died a long time ago. Yep. I am a member, in firm standing, of the Michael-Jackson-Was-Murdered-And-Substituted-By-An-Alien-Who-Took-His-Form persuasion.

Which leads me to think the Michael Jackson autopsy will be a grim affair indeed ...

Sorta like that scene from John Carpenter's "The Thing" ...

Yeah, OK. I know that's cruel. His music -- a highly synthesized, Quincy Jonezed mutation of Smokey Robinson -- ain't my cup of tea, but I can recognize his musical and performance genius. The truth is, Jackson has gone to a very dark place for the last 15 years or so. Thinking he's been replaced by an alien parasite is a more comforting thought.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Story of Stuff

Here's an interesting take on the implications of product life cycle. This is embedded from YouTube.

The original site is:

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tiananmen Square

Twenty years ago. Hard to believe, ain't it?

Sadly, "the whole world is watching" only works when the whole world is actually watching. The real story has been dropped in the Memory Hole of history. We only know it by its absence; the unimaginable scene of horror that must have taken place when they cleared the reporters out, the cameras weren't rolling, and the tanks were.

Balls of steel, this guy. A true hero.

Stop H*Commerce

Very interesting take on what hackers have evolved (or devolved) into ...

Plastic people ... oh baby, now you're such a drag

There's a vortex of poisonous plastic double the size of Texas swirling in the Pacific. Who knew?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Star Trek

Placeholder. Driveby review to go here.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

To boldly reboot where no one has rebooted before ...

OK, in case you've been encased in a block of carbomite* since 1966, here's a recap:

Star Trek (the Paramount sci-fi franchise) had effectively written itself in a corner. Nemesis was depressing. Enterprise was inspiring, but had never built a fan base. J.J. Abrams, of Lost fame, pulled a clever hattrick. He lost the whole series of series that had gone before. Abrams rebooted Star Trek, not in the sense of reimagining it, but in the sense of shit-canning its existing timeline.

All the storylines. All the plots ...


Star Trek (the Original Series)
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Star Trek: Voyager

Gone. Not to mention ...

Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek: The Search for Spock
Star Trek: The Voyage Home
Star Trek: The Final Frontier
Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country
Star Trek: Generations
Star Trek: First Contact
Star Trek: Insurrection
Star Trek: Nemesis

Also gone.

A ballsy move on Abrams' part.

Even the freaking original Star Trek pilot The Menagerie (starring Jeffrey "good-enough-to-play-Jesus-Christ-but-not-up-to-the-task-of-seducing-green-women" Hunter) as Captain Pike is gone, because it happened after the disruption to the timeline in this movie.

To be fair, Star Trek: Enterprise remains canon, because it happened before the disruption of the original Star Trek timeline. Everything else ...

Is gone.

It's as the Star Trek universe was an Etch-a-Sketch drawing.

And Abrams picked it up and shooked it to a randomized nothingness of pure potentiality.

OK, so, what's up with that?

Essentially, a pissed of Romulan travels back in time, kill Captain Kirk's father and blows up Vulcan. Kirk winds up on the Enterprise after cheating on his Kobayashi Maru finals. Captain Pike winds up in a wheelchair again -- but he's not horribly disfigured and promoted to Admiral, so it ain't all bad. Kirk, in the process, saves planet Earth. Yay. Oh, forgot to mention, through clever manuevering, Kirk winds up in the Captain's chair of the Enterprise a full 5 to 7 years before he does in the original series. Essentially, this punk kid from Iowa winds up as a Starship Captain at the age of freaking 24 after being booted out of the Star Fleet Academy.

Abrams has managed to do a few big things:

He's jettisoned all the existing storylines and made infinite storylines possible.

He's also shitcanned the later, darker and/or more politically correct Star Trek incarnations. He's gone back to a young Kirk and the original crew -- a cocky, womanizing, Testosterone-soaked Kirk who, literally, sleeps with a green woman as the movie opens. Along with Kirk, there's a conflicted Spock, a 17-year-old Checkov who pronounces his Vs as Ws, a cranky Dr. McCoy, an engaging Scotty, a fencing master Sulu, and a multilinguistic Uhuru with her drop-dead gorgeous legs in the miniskirt of the future.

The diehard Trekkies who never accepted Star Trek: the Next Generation and all the rest of it will eat it up.

The 20something target audience -- who have no stake or nostalgic buzz from the original material -- will also eat it up.

Storywise, Abrams proves himself brilliant. Hey, great storyteller. Lousy logic, lousy science. (A black hole isn't a dimensional gateway, it's a dimensional trash compactor. There ain't no such thing as red matter. If the Romulans attack Earth with a ginormous intergalactic can opener, the evil ship would be surrounded with earth vessels attacking it. Etc., etc.) But, screw science and logic. It's a ripping yarn, however preposterous.

*This is a double pun, not a mistake. In "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back," Han Solo was encased in a block of CARBONITE. In "The Carbomite Maneuver," James T. Kirk bluffed his way out of an alien standoff by saying all Federation ships came equipped with a self-destruct device triggered to explode a lump of CARBOMITE.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Quisp saves earth

The above is evidence why John K is my favorite animator. The comic timing is nothing less than perfect.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Re: sites for sore eyes

OK, kids. You'll note the new link to John Kricfalusi's web site. This is the man responsible for Ren & Stimpy and The Goddamn George Liquor Show, not to mention the incredibly sexy cartoon video he did for Bjork. John K is, simply put, a cartooning God. To say I agree with his cartooning philosophy is not to say enough. But let's have it out anyway.

A cartoon is a cartoon. Cartoons ain't life. Disney's so-called "imitation of life" is more accurately an imitation of death. I.e., it's an unholy recipe for creating animated zombies: stinking corpses that shuffled around and refuse to die.

John K's website is pretty much a graduate level college course in the history of 20th and 21st century cartooning -- with a special nod to the Pre-Cambrian explosion of creativity that took place in the 1930s and 1940s. His cartoongods are Bob Clampett and Tex Avery. They stand on the mountaintop as a result of their ceaseless experimentation.

What's happened since (largely inspired by Disney, but giving credit to cheapness and gutlessness as well) has been a devolution. A slavish devotion to model sheets. A fear of going "off-model" akin to pissing on the Holy Grail.

I like to call myself a cartoonist. John K's site makes me want to earn the title. He inspires me to work harder at it. He bitchslaps me to realize the level of mediocrity I've accepted in my own work. He reminds me what it was like when I was 14 years old and I'd stay awake all night -- drawing and redrawing -- just to get the damn thing right.

Writers bitch and bitch about how hard it is. You should try cartooning sometime.

Writing is just something I fell into because it's easier.

And -- you wanna hear something really funny?

It pays more.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Chemical Muse

Heard interesting interview -- didn't catch source, either NPR or Nation Magazine's radio show, still tracking it down. According to Dr. David Hillman, the muses of the Ancient Greeks (ah, those fabled daughters of memory) were drug pushers. Homer was stoned.

If you'll check out the picture, he has very, very red eyes.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Quote of the Day

Fairy tales don't need to tell children that dragons exist; children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales exist to tell children that dragons can be killed.

- G.K. Chesterton

This reminds me of my favorite scene from Aliens in which Ripley discusses the existence of monsters with Newt, a child who'd been hiding in a facility overrun with the acid-blooded alien creatures ...

NEWT: My mommy always said there were no monsters. No real ones. But there are.

Ripley's expression becomes sober. She brushes damp hair back from the child's pale forehead.

RIPLEY:(quietly) Yes, there are, aren't there?

NEWT: Why do they tell little kids that?

Newt's voice reveals her deep sense of betrayal. She's seen that the world can be just as terrifying as her most primal child's nightmare if not more so, and that's a lot worse than finding out there is no Santa.

RIPLEY: Well, some kids can't handle it like you can.


Monsters exist. But monsters can be killed.


Saturday, April 11, 2009


April 11 is the 101st day of the year.

The Pinwheel Galaxy (also known as Messier 101 or NGC 5457) is the location of planet Uriel, the home of the angelic beings disguised as crazed witches in Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.

In The Matrix, Neo's apartment number is 101.

In 1984, the torture room where you face your personal definition of "the worst thing in the world" is Room 101.

There are, of course, 101 dalmations in 101 Dalmations.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Hey -- fuck you, America!

This North Korea talking. We talking to you! Hey! We not out of the picture! Look at that rocket! That big rocket, huh? Size matters! You don't tell us what to do! We fire off big rocket we want to! That's just a satellite rocket! Sorry you can't find a satellite, you calling us a liar? Fuck you! We don't have a nuclear program but we could if we wanted to!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Thinking the Unthinkable

Like the man said, the world is not only stranger than we imagine; it's stranger than we can imagine. The universe doesn't work by simple, cause-and-effect Newtonian principles and Aristotelian logic, as the emerging sciences of complexity and chaos theory make clear. Simple thinking applied to complex reality creates unintended consequences, as politics make clear.

They key thing simple-minded politicians miss is co-evolution.

If you tap landline phones, drug dealers use cell phones and throw them away.

If you create an anti-SAM missile that homes in on radar beams, the terrorists invent lots of throwaway radar boxes that confuse the anti-SAM missle with thousands of fake signals.


Joshua Cooper Ramo's Thinking the Unthinkable gets into all this, brilliantly. It's an excellent stab at what politics based on uncertainty, complexity, chaos and constant co-adaptation would look like. An excellent, if disturbing, read.

Strange days.

And they're getting stranger.

Fonzie jumps the shark

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Who watches the Watchmen?

Me, that's who.

This is an overdose of mind candy for any fan of graphic novels, Alan Moore fans especially.

His original Watchmen was hallucinatory in its visual brilliance -- or visual potential. Don't get me wrong: X's graphics were great. But they pointed to something more; I think I could see what he was trying for in the infinite budget movie in my mind's eye. This film actually looks like that movie.

The story has been progressively strip-mined by several waves of graphic novelists and film directors. The Incredibles comes to mind. I.e.: a law makes masked superheroes illegal and drives them underground. Someone starts killing superheroes forcing the survivors to unite and deal with the threat and find out who's behind it.

As in all good narrative art, story flows out of character. If masked crime fighters really existed, they'd be vigilantes outside the law -- a death squad with capes and tights. If you didn't question your own absolute moral righteousness, you'd essentially be Travis Bickell in a mask (Roarshack). If you questioned it, and wiped people out anyway (on the you-can't-make-an-omelet-without-breaking-eggs theory) you'd either be a smug version of Adolph Hitler protected by your own rationalization (Ozymandius) or a thug coming psychically unglued because you don't buy the rationalization (The Comedian). The character logic holds -- and, I have to say -- holds better than it did in The Dark Knight Returns. I loved that movie, but looking back at it, TDKR sacrificed the inner life of its characters in favor of a relentless narrative drive. You just sorta assume Batman is a tortured soul, and that's that. The Watchmen is all about the inner life of it's characters. It's not an action movie. It's a movie about souls in conflict occasionally punctuated by action. It's a higher level, a higher standard, and much darker material.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Quote of the Week

"When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to."

-- Clay Shirkey

Link to full text:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

SF Dream #2457

I'm at a pool party with various friends and family. We're playing some sort of game. It's a board game -- but a huge, floppy board like an interactive membrane that accepts vocal and gestural commands. (It resembles a weird, organic descendent of the strategy and tactics games my cousin played in the 80s.) The board flops in and out of the pool and the terrace around it. Various groups of people are doing various things to it. Somewhere out there, there's another team and we're playing against them.

I have a big, huge complicated area. I stare at it in horror. Then it occurs to me. Cut the problem in half. I draw a line with my finger. The problem has automatically been simplified by 50%.

I'm pleased with my self. I get up to inform my friends of my cleverness.

There, standing at the edge of the pool, is the Grim Reaper holding a scythe. A cartoony Grim Reaper, vaguely Terry Gilliamish, but not cutesy. Big mother. About 7 feet tall. I see glimpses of decay and deterioration beneath his dark hood -- a line of smiling, rotting teeth. He isn't trying to take me away, yet. He just wants to hang out at the pool party. I don't try to throw him out. Cartoony or not, when the Grim Reaper appears at your pool party, you give him his proper respect.