1/11/15

3 TV shows you might want to watch

1/11/15
The Village

It's hard to describe this show without comparing it to Downton Abbey, so I'll just go ahead and compare it. The first season of The Village is better and feels more realistic, if depressing, than much of Downton. The first season is just very good. The second season is good, but--and maybe it's just because it's more uplifting than the first--it falls a bit short of the bar they set.

The show is like Downton, only from the perspective of poor and working class families, and a little from the wealthy. Contrary to Downton, while it tends to focus on one poor farming family, it does well by diversifying and giving us insights into many lives of those in the village--you get to see what it's like from not only the poor, but the factory workers, the women, the politicians, and the young.

My one gripe: The farmer's wife evolved rather quickly, and I'm not talking about her foray into politics. The first episode shows her as a caring, but submissive wife. A handful of episodes later, and especially in the second season, she's a very independent woman, speaking her mind and standing up to everyone in her way, including her husband. I can understand the change, but it seemed sudden.

Still, probably one of the best shows I've seen in a while.


Marco Polo
Handy Netflix link

A great series so far. I'm sure it's taken quite a few artistic liberties with the history, but history lessons are probably not why anyone is watching it. Marco Polo is like Vikings (it's a little better than Vikings), only with a lot more nudity. It's all very great but for a few things.

It follows Marco Polo during his time with Kublai Khan, who only wants to conquer the world.  Kublai is set up as some great conqueror, but has a hard time with one particular city. There's almost a contradiction there and it just doesn't feel like the show hashed it out enough. Couple that with the allusions to warring the West and it's almost unbelievable. A few fight scenes are over the top, but those moments are sort of few and far between.

And then there's Marco's character. He's almost genius, with encyclopedic knowledge--which is fine, it's TV--but just prior to and during his trip to the East, Marco is portrayed as a complete dumbass. Apparently, we're supposed to think that some martial arts training, fed to us via montage of course, turns the naive idiot into a savvy, worldly go-getter.

Other than that, Marco is a great show. It's got that stranger in a strange land thing going on.


Old School

This is a show from Australia. You'll need to get creative, if you want to watch it in the U.S. It's not a perfect show--I found myself wanting to skip some parts--but it pays off. Every episode is solid crime-drama-comedy fun.

Maybe other shows have done the cop-teams-up-with-robber thing, but I can't seem to remember any. In any case, this is not your ordinary rinse-and-repeat cop show. It's a season long story, developing every episode, and wraps up nicely. So nicely in fact, that I wonder if there will even be another season.

The acting is very good, and the comedy just flows from the dynamic of the two protagonists. If you're bored, and have already seen (or aren't interested in) the other shows mentioned here, definitely give Old School a try (if you can find it).

1/8/15

Free Speech vs Extremism

1/8/15
Juan Cole has a thought-provoking post on his blog about the recent terrorist attack in France. His post surprised me, really.

Ever since I first heard about the attack, I just assumed it was carried out by crazy Muslims who are among the type that get super pissed off about cartoons. I just kinda assumed they were an invisible subset of young males among the Muslim population, teetering on the edge of sanity for various reasons. They exist, they are out there, and we almost never know who they are until someone draws a cartoon and they snap.

But I'm wrong about that.

No, they don't exist in a vacuum. Of course Islamic culture plays a role in the disproportionately huge representation of Muslims in terrorism (it's stupid that this factoid is almost considered hate-speech).

Yet they aren't remotely representative of (at least) Western Muslims. Else we wouldn't be talking about attacks here and there, we would be discussing the latest news from the front lines in World War III.

So we've got a small group of people that keep popping up from within a large Muslim population that not infrequently kill innocent people. This has not changed since 2001. Actually before then.

I see two solutions to this kind of problem:
  • (1) Get rid of all the Muslims (preferably by deportation); or 
  • (2a) Vigorously engage in an expensive, long, drawn-out campaign against the cancer that keeps popping up while 
  • (2b) winning the hearts and minds of the rest.
There are problems with both approaches, but #1 looks especially icky, is illiberal (to put it mildly), and may prove counter-productive.

I think we tried option 2a at first without much of 2b--well, mostly the U.S., Britain, and a few other allies in the months and years after 2001. I don't think 2a works without a lot of 2b. It seems, I hope, the world caught on sometime between then and now. It's still expensive, long, and drawn out though.

But I don't know if this new and improved war on terror has been remotely successful. I don't even know how to define success here. No more terrorism? That's like trying to achieve light-speed: The closer you get to the cosmic limit, the more energy you will need, increasing to infinity. It would require an infinite amount of resources to utterly stop all future acts of terrorism. I admit my analogy is terrible--insurgencies have been put down, revolutions squashed, seiges overcome, wars both cold and hot were won, so it seems entirely likely Islamist terrorism can be reduced to a satisfactory extent. But, and answer honestly, do you see light at the end of this tunnel?

I'm not sure what the answer is.

It's just that it finally dawned on me why national leaders' early reactions to Islamist terrorist attacks are to defend Muslims and Islam. It's it's ham-fisted, condescending, insulting and borderline offensive--as if we were all on the verge of forming a lynch mob--but I understand it now.
The operatives who carried out this attack exhibit signs of professional training. They spoke unaccented French, and so certainly know that they are playing into the hands of Marine LePen and the Islamophobic French Right wing. They may have been French, but they appear to have been battle hardened. This horrific murder was not a pious protest against the defamation of a religious icon. It was an attempt to provoke European society into pogroms against French Muslims, at which point al-Qaeda recruitment would suddenly exhibit some successes instead of faltering...
My first reaction was wondering how the hell Juan Cole knew these murderers were 'professional' terrorists. Is he sleeping with Fran├žois Hollande too? But he's probably right: the cartoon-hating murderers had MACHINE GUNS, methodically wiped out their targets, then shot everyone else they could, and successfully (so far) fled.

So these aren't random Muslims who just snap at an offensive cartoon; these are guys who are trained, have a support network, plan in advance, and may have just been waiting for an excuse (or opportunity).

If they truly hate us, or "hate our freedom," or "hate infidels," or whatever you want to define their motivation as, why are they targeting cartoonists and journalists? Why shoot innocent civilians, or blow up public spaces? I mean, if you want to deliver a blow to your enemy, wouldn't you rather hit some important industrial or government building?

They did that on 9/11 and since then I assume it's probably a bit more difficult to pull that kind of an attack off. I'm sure they try, but for a 'professional' attack, Charlie Hebdo seemed a relatively mundane and sort of Pyrrhic target. Maybe they are so sensitive they feel murder is the only way to deal with blasphemers.

Maybe it's a morbid marketing strategy:
Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.
And that is how terrorists fight option 2b. So I get it. Howard Dean says of the terrorists, "they're about as Muslim as I am" despite them actually being Muslim. The media hypes #illridewithyou during the jihadist-wannabe hostage situation in Australia, without much fact-checking. Obama says "ISIL is not Islamic." Not once do you see the words "Muslim" or "Islam" in national leaders' responses to the attack unless they are used to demarcate the religion from the violence. We love the Muslims, but we hate the terrorists.

It's just so tiresome:
The “tiny minority of extremists” read on jihadism to the same end was a staple of Bush’s administration, but that concept implies that they do indeed function within Islam in some sense. That’s what it means to be a minority within a larger population rather than a population in your own right. Lately, though, that concept seems to have slid towards insisting that jihadis simply aren’t Muslim in any sense of the word. Sure, they may swear by the Koran, and sure, most of them come from the Middle East, and sure, they act with plenty of moral support from Salafist clerics based in the same country where Mecca and Medina are located, but hey — that doesn’t make them Islamic. ...

If you feel obliged to remind Americans for the thousandth time that it’s unfair to punish one individual Muslim for the actions of another — and if you do still feel that need after the first 999 iterations, you should probably reflect on your own prejudices — then just say that. Shifting into Imam Dean mode and issuing a fatwa rendering the Charlie Hebdo terrorists haram looks ridiculous...

The 2b rhetoric is, I think, getting better. Other than Howard Dean's inept comment and a few others, the race to defend ordinary Muslims and oikophobically preempt any 'Muricans from committing hate-thoughts is well, not as ham-fisted as it was, seems to me. An Islamophobic backlash would be bad, and undermine the 2b strategy. Just try not to be so condescending about it--not all non-Muslim Westerners are cavemen.

This attack was about religion. It was about free speech. And it was also about murderers being murderers. Despite what the politicians and liberal blogs tell me, I know those three are not mutually exclusive. I'm not going to speculate as to what goes on in a murderer's mind. And I don't want to get into the religious aspect, other than to say it's so obviously there that it must feel smart to ignore it, and even smarter to say that it's not really there at all--which is just stupid. I'm not ignoring it, I just don't have the expertise nor energy to go there.

Which brings me to free speech. Apparently some news organizations decided to censor out the cartoons Charlie Hebdo was famous for, cartoons which brought the explicit ire of the terrorists. Will Wilkinson says it better than I can:
It seems that satire especially riles those most ripe for it. Those who murder in the name of God, or other high ideals, are monstrous, but also, somehow, ridiculous. In the gap between the true-believer's moralising self-righteousness and the vicious reality of what he defends there is a fog of delusion. The satirist minds that gap, despises the fog and shines a merciless hot light on the nonsense. The wider the gap, the greater the sustaining delusion, and the more damaging, and dangerous, the satire will be felt to be.
Which is why it is so important for satire, the simple but powerful tool to shine on the ridiculousness, and reveal it for what it is. Ross Douthat makes a similar and equally salient point:
[W]e are not in a vacuum. We are in a situation where my third point applies, because the kind of blasphemy that Charlie Hebdo engaged in had deadly consequences, as everyone knew it could … and that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good. If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn’t really a liberal civilization any more [emphasis mine].

These were silly cartoons! And people are censoring them! I don't know if it's more offensive to act like most Muslims are precious little snowflakes that we may or may not be afraid of, or to show the most blasphemous cartoon fullscreen! It's lose-lose, might as well err on the side of free speech and showing highly relevant news material. When the federation of united aliens sends a delegation to review our application for entry into the galactic community, they will ask, "Why were some of your people murdered in Paris?"

    "Because they drew some cartoons that ..."

    "They were murdered over cartoons?!?"

    "Well, yes, but the cartoons blasphemed a prophet, which ..."

    "Application denied. Please try again in 3000 years. Have a nice day."

Yes, a short sci-fi allegory about humanity. That's how ridiculous this is, that's how ridiculous most terrorism, especially the Muhammad cartoon-controversy is to the civilized world, and Charlie Hebdo kept pointing that out.

So I debated with myself on whether or not to post the cartoons in question here. I don't wish to offend anybody, but these are just cartoons. I think the world is grown up enough to handle blasphemous cartoons, and if not, a little push in that direction wouldn't hurt. The more these cartoons are spread, the more commonplace and expected they become. Repeated exposure desensitizes. Hopefully, in time, this tiny fig leaf of justification the terrorists are claiming will get even tinier.


From left: I think the bubble text says "Must not mock!"
The center cartoon says, "The Koran is crap. It does not stop bullets."
Cartoon on the right says "Love is stronger than hate."

There's a bunch more (translated) here.

1/2/15

Bending space-time in his garage?

1/2/15
As I understand it, space and time are indivisible. And just by having mass, we are able to bend it, a very, very, insignificantly, virtually unmeasurable, tiny bit. That's not news; that's just what the documentaries and various Wikipedia articles tell me.

What is news, is this guy compressing space in his garage with some kind of motor. I assume, if this is real, the effect is measurable and not insignificant.
[A] strange instrument made up of V-shape panels with fractal arrays on the surfaces. . . is the latest version of what Pares believes is the world’s first low-power warp drive motor.

He turns around and points to the back of his garage door, where a red laser — beamed at the weight and reflected back against the door to demonstrate the movement happening in the case — drifts from its original spot. Slowly, in incremental amounts, the weight is drawn toward the V-shape motor.
I must digress here: unfortunately, those few sentences and one further in are the extent of the 'news' in the article. The other two dozen plus paragraphs are exposition, fluff, filler, and crap.

I really wish journalists would provide a little more detail as to what exactly is happening. If you don't understand it, then please explain what you saw in detail, and if you didn't see it (you shouldn't be writing the article then), try to explain in more than 2 sentences what is occurring with as little technical jargon as possible. Is not that the point of journalism?


If true, this is pretty big news. Compressing space is a key ingredient to any kind of plausible FTL or near light-speed travel. Professor Pares says he should have a "spacecraft" to demonstrate in 6 months.

Again, take this with a cubic light year of salt, because if it's not one thing with Warp Drive scientists, it's another.

Try googling David Pares and you'll run into more than the recommended dose (zero) of UFO idiot sites. This guy has no qualms about being interviewed by quacks. You're not helping reduce the stigma of Warp Drive science by associating with UFO fetishists, Pares.

(I mean come on, at this rate we'll have singularity-level AI robots before we get out of the solar system. They'll be building Warp Drives before we are.)

Then there's NASA's Harold 'Sonny' White, who is apparently working on a Warp Drive, but either smartly, or trollishly, won't say anything useful about it. But hey, at least we got a sweet artist's rendering, so I guess that's something:

Quickie review of The Interview

Better than expected, which is not saying much, but still not completely terrible. I enjoyed it, and laughed a few times (the cringe-inducing teenage ribaldry was there, but sparse). However, if this movie took place in a vacuum with no other context, it would be among the many mildly entertaining comedies which were utterly forgotten.

Yet, as is obvious, it was more than that. Not only was it an international political jab at a terrible regime, which approvingly* depicted a current dictator's assassination (I don't think that has been done from these high echelons in Hollywood since Hitler--and even then I'm not sure), but brought the ire of some (maybe North Korean) hackers leaking sensitive info and making 9/11 style threats.

Which in turn made the headlines and now our president and government got involved.

Who would've thought Seth Rogen and James Franco would have played a significant role in global politics, or what might be the opening of a major cyber front in the technically ongoing Korean War?

So, I guess this mildly entertaining comedy will be remembered. And despite the crude humor, that's a good thing. I hope the controversy around this movie enlightens a few million more people as to the ridiculousness that is the North Korean government. And perhaps its other, more subtle point, that international politics are ridiculous as well (and I almost think the world is reflexively trying to prove the movie right).

The movie is available everywhere online and some theaters. Even right here:



*There's a tiny bit of nuance and a bit of a plot twist they can hide behind there, but I would be spoiling the movie if I explained why.

12/17/14

Now I just want to see The Interview

12/17/14
Since Sony canceled it.

I never read nor cared much about the hacking and various leaks. From what I understand, it paints Sony leadership in a very bad light. I still don't care.

But I do like the idea of having movie companies able to operate without fear of some douchebag dictator, much less without fear of getting people blown up. Even if it's making awful turd sandwiches like what The Interview appears to be.

A month or so ago I watched the trailer and I was mildly intrigued. There aren't many movies about North Korea you know. But after watching the red band trailer it became painfully obvious that the movie relies far too heavily on idiotic teenage ribaldry. No thanks.

Then the #GOP (Guardians of Peace)--not to be confused with the GOP (Republican party), or the GOP (Gross Old People), or the oft underrated GOP (Grizzly Owl People)--threatened violence on the scale of 9/11 over a stupid movie.

This whole thing is either an elaborate and cruel prank, or the workings of a highly sensitive, self-absorbed, narcissistic douchebag. It is difficult to tell which.

Maybe Sony really went there and portrayed a petty dictator as a petty dictator. Or maybe it's just a red herring or convenient excuse for the hackers to hurt Sony. Or maybe Sony's got the most convoluted marketing campaign ever! Whatever it is, it kind of makes me want to see the movie now.

Content Warning: Strong Language

A few words on Cuba

It's about time.

If Obama will be remembered for anything positive, it's probably going to be this. While not ideal, still, good job. Props to the Obama administration.


I don't know if the theory about free trade and its liberalizing influence still holds much merit, but I think even while states are increasingly adept at avoiding such liberalization, exposing the masses to more trade and outside influence is generally a good thing.

Human rights: the not-so-ideal part about normalizing relations with Cuba. What is there to say besides that it sucks, and will take time to improve? Even the horrendous violator China is begrudgingly, slowly improving its human rights conditions.

I am reminded of that old Vulcan proverb, "Only Nixon could go to China." It's funny, I don't think a Republican president would have dared, nor could have gotten away with this. I tend to doubt Hillary would've done so either--she seems hell-bent on appearing hawkish.

Perhaps only Obama could go to Cuba.*


*Except he didn't actually go to Cuba.

12/15/14

Short people rule the world.

12/15/14
Yesterday, I was doing a lot of handwashing, dishwashing, and other sink-related tasks. Today, my back really hurts.

I am barely 6' tall. That might be considered "tall", but increasingly it is nearing average; and soon, I'm willing to bet that it will be below average for American males (at least black and white males). People are getting taller and it's obvious.
What is that, like 3 inches off the ground? Who is this made for?

What I'm trying to say is that I am pretty damn close to average, and yet the standard countertops, bathroom sinks, toilets, and other miscellaneous surface heights are designed for 4 1/2 foot pygmies. 

I get it. Why make it difficult for short and disabled people to use the sink when we "tall" people can just bend down a bit more? Got to check your privilege, you entitled snowflakes.

Well, I checked my privilege, and have found that while I enjoy the idea of being "tall", the vast, vast majority of all furniture, surfaces, and utilities found in everyday America are not accommodating to anyone near my height. You must accept your back pain and awkward positioning, for the short people demand it! They can't be bothered to get a fucking stool.

Ohhh.

I can dream. I dream of waking up in a strange new place. A world where I am the short person. Where I walk into what appears to be a bathroom, and have to use a stool just to climb atop a majestically behemoth toilet. Where every single thing is designed for 8' giants. I have no back pain. In fact, I probably have better posture than most because I'm always sitting or standing as tall as I possibly can, just to get by. That's a world I could get used to.

But I'll settle for a few more inches height on everything. Anything less is accepting the oppressive minoritarchy!

8/28/14

The Hobbit: 5 Armies, Mad Max trailers

8/28/14
Either you've seen these already or you don't care. My target audience is the .001% who were born yesterday and stumbled onto this blog with an interest in sci-fi/fantasy films. Rare birds.

Unlike most nerds, I have not actually read The Hobbit. So I don't know whats going to happen. I'm pretty sure Smaug will destroy a bunch of stuff and kill a lot of people. And Bilbo keeps the ring. Frankly, I'm just in it for the ride:



Also, a new Mad Max movie. I don't care much for the ritualistic torture, but that opening scene and the contrasting palette! They piled on the aesthetic frosting:


Our thought leaders

Perry over at Samizdata boldly went forth and commented on a Guardian article, which refers to the Pakistani and Arab rapists as "Asians."

Perry's comment:
I have never… ever… heard a person of Pakistani or Arab origins called ‘Asian’ in the UK other than in the mainstream media. Never. Not even once. ...
It was deleted of course. So what kind of comments aren't deleted on such an article?

This kind:
Perpetrators of abuse are members of society that come from all walks of life, all nationalities and creeds. How many members of society have known or know of a child that is being abused and do nothing about it. If you want to live in a civilised society then society has to take collective responsibility for their actions, otherwise it is just a veneer. It is the people that create and choose what kind of a society they want to be. Maybe some soul searching is in order.
I lol'd.

That comment isn't only not deleted, it is a recommended comment!

So a bunch of non-native "Asians" go on a raping rampage and the proper response is to "take collective responsibility" and do some "soul searching."

I may not be a fancy Guardian editor, but if a bunch of Americans went on a raping rampage in Pakistan, the last thing I would expect from Pakistan is for them to do some collective soul searching and ask how society contributed to it. That would be absurd. Comically absurd.

It's not because I think the West is superior or Pakistan is primitive, but because that kind of a response is a priori absurd. It's self-freaking-evident.

The only "soul searching" and "collective responsibility" going on should be about why the raping wasn't ended much, much sooner: Fear of being labeled racist. Nobody wants to be called "the nigger guy." That's a societal problem, that's an environment we created--Guardian editors probably more than others.

7/17/14

Just checking in

7/17/14
Sometimes I go for weeks (or months) without really wanting to write. Well, I want to, just not bad enough to log in and write something minimally intelligent and fairly coherent. It's like twitter is too short and weird, and a blog is just too formal (not really--that's just how I perceive it, which probably inhibits me from writing more frequently). I guess it's a psychological hurdle I should just plow through more often.

Like so:

Hey guys, I'm gonna share a video because I thought it was kinda funny, and stroked my ego because I, too, am a grammar nazi (all you 80s kids & nerdy types will probably particularly enjoy this as well):


By the way, I did finish the book I promised to review. I took notes, bookmarked several pages, have sort of a draft in my head, but never got around to writing it when it was still blogospherically relevant. So, unless I'm stricken with acute debilitating lethargy, it will be up soon.

6/2/14

New Olympic Games to be hosted in North Korea, China, and by various other pompous dictators henceforth

6/2/14
After decades of more or less irresponsible spending in most of Western welfare-state civilization, the return on investments of throwing money down bottomless pits aren't looking so good. A few of us caught on many years ago:
Sports teams bring little net economic benefit. No disinterested economist has found any justification for the premise that they improve the local economy - instead, they just shift benefit around.

Teams take better care of stadiums they actually own....

Teams always underestimate the tax burden of the stadium and the implied subsidy. Often you see them arguing that the stadium will be funded only out of the revenues from the stadium itself -- well if that's the case, then why does the public need to be involved at all?
Fast forward to 2014, when it's time to bid on the 2022 Olympics. The only bidders left interested are Kazakhstan and China. Haha:
Bidding on the Olympics has been justified for years by one big economic lie: investing in hosting Olympic Games will lead to long-term economic growth.

It doesn't.

In a 2006 paper, "Mega-events: The effect of the world's biggest sporting events on local, regional, and national economics," Holy Cross economics professor Victor Matheson took this idea to task:

"Public expenditures on sports infrastructure and event operations necessarily entail reductions in other government services, an expansion of government borrowing, or an increase in taxation, all of which produce a drag on the local economy. At best public expenditures on sports-related construction or operation have zero net impact on the economy as the employment benefits of the project are matched by employment losses associated with higher taxes or spending cuts elsewhere in the system."

Matheson also argues that Olympic economic impact reports often ignore the significant costs for things like security and conflate "general infrastructure" with "sports infrastructure."
Read the whole thing, and be sure to check out the video showing a lot of the abandoned Olympic stadiums of yesteryear. The only places left willing to throw money down that hole are desperate countries/dictators attempting to prove themselves to the rest of the world.

5/30/14

Time to close some tabs

5/30/14
I've been wanting to write about most of the stories behind the following links, sometimes starting a draft, sometimes leaving my browser open for days just to avoid extending my already absurdly long list of bookmarks (sleep mode is my new friend).

Hours, days, a week goes by and I just can't force myself to write about something a week old. It's odd how something seemingly so important is considerably less so a week later. But that's the nature of blogging, and news in general (I never claimed to be a great blogger). Also, distraction.

Image from Toolfools

In no particular order, some interesting stuff, even if a few are a bit old:

First, a few links related to what I'm reading. Glenn Greenwald's new book, "No Place to Hide," so far, is okay. I should finish it tonight.
'800 dead babies: if it could, the religious right would bury this story in the same septic tank.' Ignore the tactless linkbait phrasing: this is a big and awfully tragic story. Via The Prussian.

'The 'Miracle' Berry That Could Replace Sugar' and help millions effectively fight obesity.

Remember the Gibson Guitar raids? There may be more to that story.

This piece is over a month old, but I remember wanting to discuss it. I just don't remember why, exactly (obviously something to do with the ousting of the Mozilla CEO, Brenden Eich). It's still a good read however.
  • But if you read this blog post from Mozilla, it is maddening. What are they talking about? I'm so sick of vague language--it probably was mostly read as an apology for letting Hitler run their business. BUT, because it's so vague, it can just as easily be read to suggest that they are very sorry for their intolerance--evinced by ousting a man for having an opinion. Even though it was a very common opinion, one shared by Barrack Obama at the time.

Three links from Slate Star Codex:
I always wanted to try something like this. I tend to think I could easily succeed, but if my Thanksgiving experiences are any indication, probably not.

I want to write a post about anonymity on the Internet, which was partly inspired by this post from the Last Psychiatrist. I will write that post one day.

So VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and White House press Secretary Jay Carney resigned. Why does everything feel like it's all heavily scripted, like a bad TV show? Probably because it is.
  • Is it just me, or are presidential and senatorial politics are feeling very Orwellian, almost Soviet when it comes to appearances? I know congressional politics is highly susceptible to populism, but at least it's a lot more transparent--which makes me reconsider term lengths for the other two (but that's not about to happen).
Comcast, Netflix, and data caps... If you, like me, have given up watching TV through traditional means, be afraid, be very afraid. Relatedly, I've found if you spend enough time searching for channels you like--and they probably all exist--YouTube can all but replace your entire visual entertainment diet. Some people say YouTube is a bubble about to burst; I say it's just getting warmed up.

Possible blog post spoilers (lol, like anyone cares). Stuff I found in the last day or two I kinda want to write about:

'GOP House Votes To Leave States Alone On Medical Marijuana.' Despite the headline, note that the GOP votes in favor were decidedly a minority of GOP votes. At least they allowed a vote on it.

'Scientists Report Finding Reliable Way to Teleport Data'

'It's Time to Stop Babying Mars'

5/17/14

New Interstellar trailer. And why I dislike many "space movies"

5/17/14
Matthew McConaughey and Michael Caine together in a big budget sci-fi, directed by Chris Nolan... What could go wrong?

From the looks of the trailer, it surprisingly seems to be fairly balanced between a character-driven story and one driven by events or the environment.

Although space travel obviously plays a crucial role here, as a sci-fi fan of the Trekkie persuasion--and from what little I can glean out of this--it seems that space, and space travel won't receive the attention it should. Traveling through a wormhole and speeding through space I fear will be an afterthought, compared to the characters and the story (of course the characters and story should come first, but the space aspect should be emphasized, else why bother?). Like space isn't interesting, except as a way to draw in crowds--as if it's a troublesome hurdle to be quickly overcome and forgotten.
 
Oh yeah, and I'm sure it will be a great thriller movie. Because all space movies have to be psychological thrillers, can't have any awestruck adventure with a focus on sci-fi concepts now. I am sick of that Hollywood rule. Because apparently space isn't the fantastical vast sea of beautiful, mysterious, and mind-bending things it truly is. It's a backdrop. It's the thing between point A and point B--no need to explore. Spend a couple minutes in a spaceship and throw some CGI nebulae in the window. Remember Prometheus? Alien? Hell, even the new Star Trek movies have no sense of adventure. Don't have time for space, must kill bad guys.

Why can't we just have a space adventure film? I know I'm probably in the minority on this (likely because I spent way too much time reading Heinlein and watching classic Trek), but I'm tired of space movies that don't care about space. If you can replace outer space with say, the ground, a cruise ship, or a magic portal without affecting the main story, then it's a horrible "space movie." It's just a story that happens to be in space.

I hope I'm wrong. It's clear this movie isn't about space, and that's fine. It's about saving humanity or something, characters maturing. But the name is Interstellar, there better be a lot of time and emphasis devoted to space/space travel and how freaking awesome that is.

5/15/14

We just need a Death Star now

5/15/14
Life imitates art, or something.

Army's new helmet concept
Wookie hunter

Now that we've got laser guns, spaceships, and lightsabers, should we convene and formally establish the Galactic Empire already and build a Death Star? I mean, we've already got the blueprints for it.

Then again, perhaps we should wait till we have hovering cars. And it won't be long until you see the closest thing to a living, breathing Darth Vader on planet Earth.

There isn't much time. We've got to prepare!

5/14/14

The world isn't going to hell in a handbasket

5/14/14
Before people have started using that or a similar phrase in the affirmative, the world has only gotten better. We are all richer, live longer, less hungry than before, and it's only getting better.

Yet as we always have, we still complain like things are getting worse. This pessimism bias afflicts us all (perhaps that is what keeps us improving things).

Speculate about the Flynn effect, natural selection, availability of capital, population (more hands=more work=more stuff), whatever you want: life generally gets a little better everyday.



Let's hope we continue the trend.

5/11/14

Why patriotic, law-and-order types should consider marijuana legalization

5/11/14
My headline is a bit over-broad, but instead of saying xenophobic, anti-immigrant right wingers, I'll be both polite and accurate:

People who strongly oppose weak border security/illegal immigration (who also often oppose drug legalization for different reasons) at least in part due to the drug cartels and the violence they cause, more than they oppose some citizens getting high, should reconsider their position on the latter.

But why give those dirty hippies more weed, when we can solve both problems, if only the government would do its job! Well, the government is doing its job about as good as it is going to do. And it sucks at it. This is why we libertarians, conservatives, and a few liberals oppose big government and its endless programs.

Legalization, (even if highly regulated) is doing a better job at harming the cartels than prohibition could ever do:
Facing stiff competition from pot grown legally and illegally north of the border, the price for a kilogram of Mexican schwag has plummeted by 75 percent, from $100 to $25, the Post reports:
Farmers in the storied "Golden Triangle" region of Mexico's Sinaloa state, which has produced the country's most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop…increasingly, they're unable to compete with US marijuana growers.
As demand for pot is satisfied better elsewhere, what happens? The cartels turn to other banned-in-America substances.
Mexican heroin is flooding north as U.S. authorities trying to contain an epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse have tightened controls on synthetic opiates such as hydrocodone and OxyContin. As the pills become more costly and difficult to obtain, Mexican trafficking organizations have found new markets for heroin in places such as Winchester, Va., and Brattleboro, Vt., where, until recently, needle use for narcotics was rare or unknown.
I'm not going to win over many people saying we should legalize heroin, too. The cartels are following the path of least resistance, economically speaking. The demand is always going to be there. We can have cartels supply that demand, or we can have somewhat more responsible American citizens and businesses supply it.

That doesn't mean legalize everything, it just means that fighting this with blood and guns has accomplished very little over the decades, while marijuana legalization changed the cartel's behavior practically overnight.

If this were a science experiment, you would note well the variable that had an effect. And if you were a scientist with half a brain, you might follow that course.

Dawn of the sequel of the planet of the apes of the San Franciscan tropical jungle

Why is San Fransisco covered in vines and turning into a rainforest? Is it from the virus? Does it make apes and plants grow smarter and stronger? Or is it global warming?

I bet it's both.

Still, this new trailer makes me want to see it. It looks mind-numbingly predictable, but the whole intelligent ape society draws me in. A lot they could do with that. A whole lot they could do with that, and much better than the original, especially the awful 2001 film.

Gotham, sans Batman: the TV series. This is a thing now.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I thought the coolest, most interesting thing about the whole Batman universe, was, um, Batman.

Granted, there are other, cool things going on in the Batman universe besides Batman, but he's like the whole point of the thing. Not anymore it seems.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: My assumption has been that the reason this TV show can be done — rights-wise — is because Batman himself is not in it. That way, it doesn’t overlap with any films. Is that correct?

BRUNO HELLER: Certainly from Warner Bros. and DC’s business point of view, that’s why it can be done. For me, if they said, “Do Batman,” I would have said, “No.” I would have not been interested at all. I don’t think Batman works very well on TV — to have people behind masks. Frankly, all those superhero stories I’ve seen, I always love them until they get into the costume. And then it’s, “Oh, okay, they’ve ascended, they’ve stopped becoming humans.” It’s their apotheosis. They go to heaven and they’re Superman. There have been so many great versions of it. This is a version of something else entirely.
Those were sort of my first thoughts too, upon seeing the trailer--that Batman is too big for TV, and it probably has something to do with the rights. But after the wow-they're-really-doing-this-thing shock/interest wore off, I started imagining Batman movies without Batman. And all the potential coolness I initially hoped for, vanished.

Perhaps I just lack imagination. Maybe they'll pull it off:
When reading your script, I kept thinking how difficult this must have been to write — there’s so many tough decisions that need to be made, so many ways to do this idea wrong. How did you decide the tone, how realistic vs. comic, which villains you would use? Can you talk me through the creative process?

The first thing was starting with Jim Gordon, who is the most human and real and normal person in the DC pantheon. What would the city of Gotham look like to a young rookie cop coming into this world? And that’s where we calibrated. This is a world that’s going to become that familiar world of Batman, but it’s not there yet. It’s an embryo. A lot of the work was reverse engineering the story to look at what these characters were like when they younger. Penguin, for instance, is not a powerful gang leader, he’s a gofer for a gangster. It’s about giving the world room to grow, but at the same time giving the fun and pleasure and drama of that heightened world. One of the great things about the Batman world is [the characters] have no super powers. Nobody flies or leaps over buildings. You start with psychology and that’s where we build from.
So it's going to be a cop show in Gotham city. That's either good, or really bad.

If it's Gotham City: The Wire, hell yeah! It would make my day to watch Jim Gordon and his rag-tag group of mostly straight cops navigating the corrupt waters of the system, whilst trying to take out bad guys, not infrequently bumping into future Batman villains.

If it's Law and Order: Gotham, no thanks, I've got to keep a sharp eye on my Florida paint drying and my Death Valley grass growing.

Link via Ace, who warns: "Coming soon: Jimmy Olsen, Boy Reporter."
I hope not.

 

5/10/14

Dude

5/10/14
I was going to put this in the Mystery Link in the sidebar, but it's just too good (too good to check as well).

But my skeptical spidey sense is going crazy.


He's like, living the life of James Bond, without any actual spying . . . just consistently escaping death in sensational ways.

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