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.