Category Archives: Uncategorized

Alpha Update

My continued apologies to anyone looking forward to upcoming alpha posts — I assure you, they’re coming. The next one, the 3-posts-in-one from the weekend retreat, is nearly finished! Sadly, technical difficulties are preventing me from finishing. (I’ll be looking for a public WiFi tonight, though.) 🙂
So, stay tuned; they’re coming!

Don’t confuse human ability with miracles.

(Update: As usual, Roger Ebert does a far better job discussing the issue; and, he has person experience with it.)

As I write this, the last of the Chilean miners, trapped underground for more than two months, has been rescued successfully! I can’t even imagine the trials they must have faced, and the joy and relief felt by their family and friends must be overwhelming.

It’s a wonderful, amazing accomplishment of human determination, courage, and ingenuity. What it isn’t, is it isn’t “a miracle” as many are professing.

I understand that many say things like “it’s a miracle!” figuratively, and don’t actually mean a deity has altered the laws of reality to willfully change events in the world in ways that can’t be explained in any naturalistic manner — which is what a miracle is. Some people throw the term around when they really mean to say something is wonderful and amazing (as this story is), without thinking about the physics-altering nature inherent in “miracle.” I and other non-believers have been known to exclaim a “thank God!” now and then, but we shouldn’t be accused of being closet believers.

But there are many who do refer to the Hand of God when they say this rescue is a miracle, and I find that horrifically insulting, belittling, and dismissive of the enormous work, toil, cost, tenacity, and bravery of those who did all the work and shouldered the cost of the rescue.

What kept the miners alive was that there were caches of food and supplies placed throughout the cave because hey, mining is dangerous and collapses happen. Humans thought to do that.

Some of the men were well-experienced professionals who had the skills and abilities to keep them organized and calm and able to ration and stay positive.

Human skill and industry drilled the air and supply holes down to them. And enormous human skill and labor went into drilling and constructing a rescue tube and cage that worked flawlessly.

Human compassion and ability kept those men alive and saved them. Human skill and ingenuity has continued to battle nature and make a dangerous industry somewhat less so, not divine intervention: how far mine safety has come. (Ironic article source.)

If the mine had collapsed and an unknown person appeared among them from nowhere, staying with them and helping them through the 69 days, only to disappear before the rescue tube was finished, that’d be miraculous. If their store of food literally never depleted, that be a miracle. If the ground had shook and a perfectly straight tube opened up from the surface to the miners on its own: miracle. If the 33 miners had suddenly been poofed to the surface, instantaneously, definite miracle. But instead, every component of what saved them was purely natural, explainable, human. Wonderful and amazing! But human nonetheless.

And to give credit to an unseen force that has no marks of having done anything, is to crap all over the very human bravery and fortitude, intelligence and experience, strength and will everyone involved added to the rescue. We should rightfully be celebrating life saved, as well as human qualities that help us, more often than people realize, rise to the occasion!

Same with when someone says, “God/Jesus/angels/happy-thoughts fixed my organ/cured my cancer/brought me back to life.” No, ungrateful: a staff of humans who spent years and ridiculous money in medical school and nursing school, and years in residencies and practice, who read journals and attend conferences to learn latest techniques and treatments, and who spent significant time and energy and effort on you and your condition, fixed/cured/saved your whatever.

If a deity is to be thanked for being responsible for the rescue, it should also get the blame for the collapse:


Atheist Meme of the Day: Atheism is not nihilistic


Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

Atheism is not nihilistic, cynical, or despairing. Most atheists experience great meaning and joy in our lives, and are passionate about engaging with the world and making it a better place.

Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Atheist Meme of the Day: Beliefs should be verified

If you care whether the things you believe are true, you need to ask whether those beliefs can be confirmed or verified. And that includes religion. Religion is not a subjective experience that’s true for some people and not others — it’s a hypothesis about the external, non-subjective world. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Offshore drilling–a forgotten yet most important reminder.

Alex Palazzo has a brief blog post with pretty charts letting us know how next to inconsequential opening up offshore drilling would be to U.S. gas prices and economy (although it would be a huge boon to the oil lobbyists working in the McCain campaign and the oil companies they lobby for)

But here’s bit of info that gets almost completely lost in the debate but is as an exceedingly vital component in how strongly we want to make oil drilling a component in who to vote for–and especially where we shoud be butting our tax money:

When the offshore oil fields are opened up, who’s going to go drill it? Is it the U.S. Army? The National Guard? Citizen volunteers? Noooo…. it’s multi-national oil companies. And what will they do with that oil? Will they barrel it up and hand it over to the Governor of Texas with a red bow? Noooo…. They sell it on the international commodities market.

In short, “our oil just sitting off our shores” is not our oil. It’s Shell and Exxon-Mobil’s oil. And it’s a decent bet that very little (and possibly none of it) would go to U.S. refineries to make its way into U.S. gas pumps. Just keep that in mind, McCain voter, next time you want to shout “drill drill drill!” and scoff at U.S. based wind and solar farms.

Side but related note: I’m pleased to have recently learned that Obama is not entirely against increased nulcear energy production! Yea!

What would Jesus do as CEO?

A few days ago, in the post “The right to persecute” I made a follow-up comment regarding how at a Promise Keeper’s rally nearly every speaker (and comedian even…everyone except the musicians) exclaimed to enthusiastic approval that atheists are ruining the country and must be eradicated, likewise feminists and socialists. And, being a somewhat newly minted Marxist cultural critic, I had no choice but to think about this admonition to eliminate the Socialist Threat through a religious context.

  • First, a very brief grounding in Marxist criticism and why I think it’s appropriate for this examination:

There’s a difference between political Marxism and Marxist cultural criticism. (The politics is simply an outgrowth of the criticism, and that’s not what I’m concerned with at the moment.) The cultural criticism is a purely objective (ideally) historical and material examination of a cultural product or development. Sometimes something “small” like a genre of film, and in this case something more significant like religious ideology. Religion, like politics and manufacturing and cultural morés, are part of what’s called “the superstructure.”

Imagine a skyscraper, if you will, as it’s being built. All the metal girders and beams, the framework that will house everything that will go inside and define the building. Religion, government, clothing and fashion, everything that makes up a culture is part of this building’s superstructure.

But, what ultimately holds up the superstructure, what the framework and everything that is this building, extends out of the foundation, or “the base.” The base, in this metaphor, is the economics of the culture–who owns the means of production and distribution. From this base, the the paradigm of the ownership of capital, all aspects of culture spring forth. And cultural ideology is what supports and benefits those owners of capital. This is the basis of Marxist criticism: examining the material base which creates and supports the cultural products and can be purified down to these two questions: Who uses it, and what is it for?

  • Now that you know where I’m coming from, let’s take a look at this marriage of religious ideology with socio-economics.

This Christian hatred of evil socialism seems to have begun at the same time “under God” was inserted into the Pledge and the country went hog wild anti-Soviet Union. Before that time, during the 20s and 30s, socialism was not vilified among the American populace–in fact, there was quite a lot of support for it. There were even Communist politicians who were just as valid and accepted as Democrats and Republicans. But once the United States came out of an era of war and slight economic upturn since The Depression, those in power, the politicians and the ever-increasing industrial capitalists, found a way in which the country’s economy could be boosted and accelerated–the development of the military industrial complex. By the constant and perpetual preparation for war, manufacturing could grow and get stronger, more and more jobs can be created, and patriotism and capitalism could become inexorably intertwined benefiting both the political power and the corporate power.

(History lesson warning!) Note that before World War II, America was in general isolationist, non-interference, and avoided foreign conflicts as much as possible (as per George Washington’s sage advice). Also note this was mainly true for the general populace, as there were those in government who were slowly expanding empire, starting with the Spanish-American war, by taking over Central and South American and Philippine countries by both force and buying the help of local revolutionary forces.

In order to justify and maintain the burgeoning military industrial complex, an enemy was necessary. The United States, which was broke, despondent, basically a “developing nation,” in the course of less than ten years exploded into being a military and industrial super power. Who else was an emerging super power? The uneasy WWII ally, the Soviet Union. A growing empire that, while originally having more than a little early support in the U.S. and especially some in western Europe, was admittedly lead by a tyrannical and murderous dictator, Stalin. (Who started his rule founded on the socialism of Marx and Engels and the idealistic struggle of Lenin, with the help of Trotsky, but then banished both Trotsky and true socialism in favor of fascist dictatorship. Yet, the myth of communism stuck as part of USSR’s identity.)

(OK, here’s where the history lesson starts to give way to explanation of the Christian marriage with capitalism….) In order to be properly adversarial, in conflict, each side has to thoroughly identify with the antithesis of the other’s assumed beliefs and ideology. Even though the people of the United States was by and large non-religious before the late 40’s, most Americans identified as Christian. Stalin on the other hand, having been trained to be a priest in his young adult life, saw religion as a threat to his omnipotent dictatorship, and sought to abolish it (not, as today’s evangelicals would have you believe: because Stalin was a staunch atheist and wanted to create a secular rule–but simply because he wanted to rule absolutely; and being well educated in theology, knew he could utilize the symbolism and trappings of religion and apply them to his own image to encourage the people’s worship of him instead).

So, our enemy is the godless USSR, and after the Soviets detonated their first H-bomb (1953) a fiery movement begins to reinforce America as a Christian nation, by inserting “Under God” in the Pledge (1954), making “In God We Trust” the national motto (1956), a cultural push in the arts and entertainment begins to create an image of Americana as church-going, God-fearing people. And it’s at this point in the mid-20th century when American prosperity, thanks initially to the industrial military complex and the beginnings of modernist capitalism, becomes ideologically married to the idea of Christian religion.

  • Now, some theological posers:

Prior to the 1950s and the merging of religious identity with capitalism, what socio-economic system do you think Christianity was more supportive of? I would posit socialism. Throughout the Christian Bible we find examples of both Hebrew prophets up to and including Jesus himself and the founder of the religion, Paul, teaching the values of socialism and admonishing the selfish “individualism” and greed that is the basis of modern capitalism. The Beatitudes point to worth and value and reward not in the strident individualist money making up-by-your-bootstraps robber baron. The rich man is told he’s likely not going to be blessed by Heaven. Followers are told to give and not horde. Taught to take care of “the least among you.” The poor and the sick are the responsibility of all.

I really think it’s a work of mental acrobatics to try to make Christianity out to be pro-capitalism and anti-socialism. Ergo, the fact that the fundamental and evangelical Christian movement in America is so heavily anti-socialism is both evidence of the ideological manipulation of the superstructure by the economic base, and evidence that people tend to believe the ideology they’re raised into without examining or critically thinking about it. Christianity in America, thanks to the hegemonic dominance of late capitalism, has become a material wealth religion. Turn on pretty much any televangelist or Christian “teacher” or leader, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Pat Robertson, and they’re preaching the message of wealth and supporting the capitalist ideology in ironic disagreement and conflict with the message evident in the Christian Bible.

And you can’t say they’re exceptions, or not “real Christians” (whatever that means), as the message of capitalism and wealth is evident down in the trenches of the every-day Christian no less. Coming back to that Promise Keeper’s rally, the message Belief + Faith = Material Wealth and Fortune, and Material Fortune = Proof of God’s Favor, ergo Capitalist Ideals = God’s Ideals was heavy throughout the weekend. In fact, the final speaker of the event was a fellow who spoke to us specifically about financial prosperity, doing business with and associating with primarily other Christian owned businesses, and gave an implied message that if your business isn’t doing well (interesting how he was speaking to thousands of men and spoke as if they all owned and operated their own small businesses) then you’re not “right with God.”

  • Final thoughts

Well, I’d like to think that the conclusions are self-explanatory. Religion is a cultural product. The Russian Orthodox Christianity is virtually a different religion from American Catholicism and Protestantism, which are different religions from Medieval European Christianity (and Irish Christianity was a different religion from Roman Christianity), which are all different from 2nd century Christianity. They may all share the same faith on a few constant ideas, but otherwise the shape and form and belief and practice in these ideas are completely and entirely the result of the socio-economic base of a culture.

Religion is just one of many pieces of the superstructure which is used (here’s the big kicker) to control the masses and get them to support and benefit those in power. Whether it’s Stalinism, or The Church, or capitalist Christianity, the religion of the land is formed and manipulated to reflect the ideology that controls the 99% and gives control to the 1%.

Science education vs. proud ignorance.

I was having an imaginary conversation with myself yesterday, debating the question of why not allow people to have their misguided pseudo-scientific beliefs. I was thinking about it in context of things like ghost-whispering psychics, and wheat grass juice, and Airborne supplements, etc. Things which seem harmless enough (except for Airborne. You risk vitamin E poisoning if you take the recommended dose).

And I came to a similar, although less dreadful conclusion as today’s Cectic comic:

Cectic 18 April 08

This is one very real consequence of unfounded belief in falsehoods.

Continue reading Science education vs. proud ignorance.

Thoughts on this year’s ICFA.

(Note: At some point my blog decided it no longer liked the word “from.” It wouldn’t post if I had too many of them. So after a while you’ll find “frm” instead. Sorry for the inconvenience.)

Spectacular! I got back from this year’s International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts just this morning. Was there since Wednesday last (today’s Monday) and already sorely miss being there.

It was my second one, I blogged my reactions to my first, last year: Back from the ICFA. It’s very likely this year was even better, despite a couple major downers:
Most disappointing, my wife couldn’t come along with. 🙁 Since the conference overlapped Easter, she needed to stay home and do family-time for the holiday. She had a great time last year, and I’m going to make sure she can go next year even if it means shanghai’ing her. *wink*
The other downer was I couldn’t afford to stay in the (nice) hotel the conference was held at, despite the conference rates. Had to stay in an Econo Lodge a few miles away. Not a huge deal, but very annoying and inconvenient.

But on the plus sides:
The friends we made last year came back! (Well, Mrs. P. and Ms. N. did, and Ms. B. for some of the time. Unfortunately, Mr. B. and “The Germans” couldn’t make it, but I did get an opportunity to get better acquainted with other regulars which was nice. The more the merrier!
But I have to say, I’m so glad to have gotten a chance to get to be better friends with P. and N. They’re smart, funny as all-get-out, friendly, talented, and are a real inspiration for me to keep working on my own writing! I so suck at corresponding with people, but I pledge to do so with them. More in a bit….

Alright, the conference.
It was held at a much nicer hotel than in years past, and in Orlando instead of Ft. Lauderdale. And the best thing, there was a variety of restaurants in the area! Although I mainly went to Bennigan’s. *grin* Miss them since leaving Iowa (although, I have to say, I was disappointed with their Ruben).

I attended a variety of sessions, but I tried to focus on ones that involved a posthuman subject or approach, since that’s my main area of scholarly focus. One panel in particular that was rather entertaining and wildly informative, was “Cyberpunk and Beyond.” The panel included editor Ellen Datlow (I’ve always liked her editing…how nerdy is that?!), James Patrick Kelly, and John Kessel (and some other fellow I didn’t know, but who also didn’t participate in the panel much). Kessel and Kelly have edited compilations together, such as Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology (which I’d gotten not long ago for research on my own paper), and it was just hilarious how the two bickered and argued and corrected each other. Like an old married couple. While they were so often at odds, you could still detect the professional respect they have for each other. It was great. Datlow found herself often in the middle of Kessel’s dour dismissals and Kelly’s theatricality.

Anyway, that panel was about discussing what made up cyberpunk as a (distinct?) sub-genre of SF, who was responsible for it (Bruce Sterling) and more importantly–what may come to replace it as “the next big, great thing in SF.” While there are some interesting things being done with slipstream, for example (another sub-genre Sterling is trying to raise to cyberpunk fame), but the forces of change in the publishing industry and technology and culture, make it nearly impossible for another powerful and popular sub-genre to spring up like that again.

I presented my paper on Thursday, and I think it was pretty well received. It generated some discussion afterward. It was about the death of science fiction (complicated issue) and how the posthuman is intimately tied in with the material forces that are killing scifi as a distinct genre. Which is not a bad thing. Another Marxist approach for me, sure. I’d post it up on my “scholarly” blog, GrogMonkey, except that after my paper presentation, an editor for the Journal for the Fantastic in the Arts (a peer-reviewed scholarly journal, and a product of the IAFA) came to me and said he’d like me to submit it for possible publication! *glee*. What’s interesting, is the day before during another fantastic panel: Publishing for Grad Students, in which several journal editors discussed their publications and gave advice on writing articles, stated emphatically that when an editor says “send it in,” they mean it. They won’t say it if they weren’t really interested. *glee*
So, as soon as I finish writing my take-home midterm for my cultural studies class, I’m going to work on the article and get it ready!

One of the two continuing threads of conversations that got brought up here and there and discussed by various people, was the issue of finding a good (MFA or PhD) program that will truly fit your needs and wants. I plan on continuing on from my MA to my doctorate studies, but the issue of where is vital and very quickly becoming something I desperately need to consider! I very much want to attend McGill in Montreal. Partly because it’s Montreal, mostly because it’s one (if not the) most prestigious university in Canada. However, despite the high quality and immense prestige McGill enjoys and instills, I honestly can’t say I know anything about their various programs–so, it may not be a good fit for me. There are other universities that have programs that are more fitting for my interests in posthuman cultural studies (and creative writing), but I need to start selecting now.

Unfortunately, the problem is, I have a family. I can’t just pick up and move. My wife is currently looking for a new job, we may have to move to where she can find work, which means I will probably end up getting my doctorate frm whatever local university is where we go. It’s not exactly like I can move to another city for a few years without them while I worked on my doctorate. *shrug*

The other consternating conversational thread, much less serious but still very interesting to me, was the topic of fanfic.
I have seriously conflicting thoughts regarding fanfic.
In some ways it’s always compelled me. I remember constantly daydreaming, as a kid, about myself in my favorite TV shows and movies, like classic Star Trek. Sometimes as a captain, sometimes not even. As a kid I even wrote some of these “Marty Stu’s” down. To this day I get the urge to write ‘fic, especially since Firefly! (Not as much with putting myself in it, though.) But on the other hand, I have a lot of trouble reading fiction based on existing visual media–even published works. I tried reading Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire (popularly and critically considered one of the best Star Wars novels), and I couldn’t get halfway through it, I was bothered so much. Thing is, I have such a connection to characters as portrayed by the actor, that any representation, even merely in words, seems like a pale impostor. Which is silly, really, when you consider a character (especially on TV) is a creation of usually many writers and several directors. Nevertheless, the representation created by the same actor has to be maintained by that actor or else it just feels wrong.

Let me give an example: one of my all-time favorite authors, Steven Brust (not a great author, but a whole heck of a lot of fun to read! and a really nice guy to boot), recently came out with his own short Firefly fanfic, posted for free on his site. And I have to tell you, as much as I LOVE Brust and LOVE Firefly, I’m having a hard time getting through this. The story is developing nicely, the writing is very Brustian, and I like it–but the characters feel like caricatures, because he’s using affectations developed by the actors and lines pulled frm the show. But the thing is, what else can he do? How can I expect him to portray Mal and Wash and River without using stock elements of them? But it’s still grating, like when he has Mal say to Jayne “Why are we still talking about this?” as a conversation ender, has River stick her tongue out, has Wash complain to Zoe about needing a vacation with her without her having to ask the captain’s permission…all feels counterfeit and contrived. Like, he’s resorting to these iconic moments for these characters as a way of saying “See here! I’m giving you the Firefly characters! See, see?!” And it bugs me.
But it’s my problem. Because, I love the idea of fanfic. I love the possibility of writing fanfic. But I already have a pathological hatred of writing anything that feels derivative of another work–how the heck can I write characters directly frm another work in their world?!

What’s this have to do with the conference? Because P. and N., and E. on one night, talked at length about ‘fic and the very serious and dynamic community for ‘fic, and I was amazed and fascinated and intrigued…and quite intimidated. I really really (I wonder how often I say “really” when I’m not paying attention?) want to try, and express that 25 year old need to write with the characters and settings that I know and love frm TV and film. But the thought occurred to me, that I’m so neurotic about feeling like I’m just copying something else that it’s prevented me frm completing no more than a few of the scores of stories I’ve attempted to star writing, perhaps if I already burn that bridge by actually copying characters and settings then I can just say “F* You, neurosis!” and just write! Might not be a bad idea.

Anyway, the way N. and P. talked about their many many (gotta love reduplication) ‘fic writing moments of enjoyment, I couldn’t get enough. It really sounds like a blast. I have to bite the depleted uranium rocket and go for it. But as for dipping my toe into the oceanic waters of the fanfic community–very scary. There are protocols, and expectations, and boundaries, and everything that is involved in a “community,” and that’s great. I mean, I’ve been a denizen of various online communities since circa 1994, and I enjoy the privileges of following decorum and being accepted as respectable member of a community, but the learning is intimidating. Fortunately, I’m the kind of guy who sits and watches and tries to get a sense of what’s going on. well, we’ll see what happens.

OK, a lot of digression, but there it is: some thoughts about this conference. I learned a lot, had a fantastic time, and have great expectations for the next 11 months of writing and corresponding before the next ICFA.

What In the NAME of God?

This is some great information on the origins and evolutions of the name of the Judeo-Christian God (Yahweh, Elohim, Abba, etc.)

http://northernway.org/fathergod.html

A lot of the information we have on the evolution of the Judeo-Christian God has come from the discovery of the proto-Hebrew Ugaritic writings. Probably as important a discovery to Western religion as the Rosetta Stone was to understanding Egyptian.

http://members.bellatlantic.net/~vze33gpz/canaanite-faq.html
The culture/religion that the Jewish tribes/religion sprang from.

http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Ugaritic

I Started Jogging The Other Day…

…and I quickly gave it up, and started walking the other day.
Man! I am SO out of shape. I’m kinda fat, I admit, but not too bad. But I’m VERY out of shape and get tired just reaching up over my head!
So, in an effort to tone up and get some endurance, I started getting up early in the morning and walking for 30 minutes. I thought I could start jogging, but that lasted about one block. I figure once I can walk hard for 30 minutes without feeling any amount of strain or soreness, THEN I can try jogging.

But this is tough for me, getting up in the morning any earlier than the last minute with only just enough time to shower before work. It’s hard when that alarm goes off to justify actually getting up instead of sleeping for another 45 minutes. But, I just have to keep thinking about how much I want to not have a big stomach and be able to do anything physical without having an early heart attack.

Last year I went paintballing for the 1st time. And after the second round, I had to leave the field feeling like I was having asthma-coronary combo death. Hurt like heck, to the point of tears, and that was only after 20 minutes of sprinting in short bursts. Fortunately, once the endorphins and dopamine kicked in, I got past that “wall” I think runners refer to, and was actually able to keep playing (a little subdued) for another couple of hours. But, I really don’t want to have to keep doing that. I don’t want to have to hit any wall just playing some paintball.

And so I’m getting up early in the mornings and hoping my sore legs don’t make it that much tougher to get up at ungodly:30 a.m. every day.

Commercial Space Flight

If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was a joke!
http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/space/06/02/private.space/index.html
The first time a non-government ship will leave Earth’s atmosphere! I almost never thought it’d happen in my lifetime. If it works, it will mean the opening of a whole new world of space exploration!
http://www.scaled.com/projects/tierone/New_Index/body.htm

As cynical as I am about commercialism and blatant capitalism, they’re often the driving forces in scientific advancement. And making things cheaper. Once it’s shown it’s possible for private ventures to enter space, we’re going to start seeing more projects to explore the asteroids, the moon, Mars, perhaps even further! So long as there are commercial benefits, rare minerals to be found, off-Earth communities, zero-G farming, tourism, people will find the way to make space flight cheaper and faster.

The flip-side, it may also make it less safe. NASA has been doing well having only three major accidents involving death (four if you count the non-fatal mission failure of Apollo 13,) over four decades of space flight. Once you get companies wanting to do it cheaper and faster, cost saving failures may increase the risk of spaceflight. But then, no one wants to have their investments blow up and deaths to prevent investment…so who knows. The 1st Mars rover, a complete success at a fraction of the cost of other NASA projects because they cut the size of the development and management team to a handful of people and next to no bureaucracy, shows that good things can come from smaller/no government fingers in the pot.

Ever since that shortlived T.V. series in the early 80’s about a private reusable rocket and the family that built and flew it (forgot the name of it) I dreamed of space travel available to the public and not limited to a small group of Air Force officers and pilots. Oh, granted I doubt *I* will ever get to go into space. I’m unskilled at anything useful for space, and have no “connections” and no money. But I relish vicariously this incredible advancement for all Earthlings..

“I, Robot” Debacle

Holy mother of god, the movie “I, Robot” scares the b’jeebees out of me!
Seen the trailer for it yet?
Take a look here: http://www.apple.com/trailers/ in the “20th Century Fox” section.

Now, I don’t know how many other people out there have read Issac Asimov, I have a feeling very few. He was one of the greatest sci-fi authors of all time (and a very prolific non-fiction writer too!) Thing is, he was the granddaddy of “hard science fiction,” where while the story and setting may have been far future or interstellar, it was always based and grounded in hard, believable science. And his shortstory collection “I, Robot” is by no means the high-impact action sci-fi thriller the movie appears to be!

First, let me say that by itself the movie “I, Robot”, if it retained its original name of “Hardwired”, might be a very good action movie on its own. I like Will Smith, and I adore Proyes (the director, who did 1st “The Crow” and “Dark City”.) It could be a great flick! But, the fact 20th Century Fox has stollen the name “I, Robot” and applied it to this film that was originally written with having nothing to do with any Asimov story, makes me angry and disgusted. I started watching the new trailer with glee and anticipation, and turned away from it in disgust. And that’s when I started doing to research on the movie. Here’s some interesting links:
Boycott “I, Robot”‘s opening week
A review of a screenplay for “I, Robot” written by an accomplished sci-fi author.
An explanation of how the current “I, Robot” movie came to be.
Another’s op-ed on the movie.

I really hope Alex Proyes has a figurative gun to his head held by 20th Century Fox when he makes statements supporting the tenuous-at-best relationship the movie has with the Asimov fiction. I can’t imagine any fan of Asimov, or sci-fi in general, abusing the image and spirit of Asimov in that way for profit.

My wife made a good comment last night about how no movie can accurately present the scene and setting of a sci-fi or fantasy book because they’re so far removed from what we know, everyone has a different version in their head. True, absolutely. When you’re talking about buildings, clothing, cars, visual images people should be able to give film producers a lot of slack. But if a movie is going to claim to be in any way based on a novel, it should resemble the plot or at least themes of that novel in some fashion. By all accounts (and to be fair, no one will know FOR SURE until the movie’s released) the movie has no resemblance to the book in any shape or form except for the inclusion of the “Three Laws of Robotics” Asimov developed. Although the Laws have become so ubiquitous that they’re found all over contemporary sci-fi.

I have to agree with the writer of the op-ed linked above, that if Proyes thinks that “breaking the Three Laws” is what the Asimov stories is all about, he’s either a moron or the studio has blackmail photos of him. I read Asimov’s “Robots of Dawn” when I was in Jr. High, and it introduced me to the world of hard sci-fi. I followed it up with “I, Robot” and later the “Foundation” chronicles. And I can say with certainty that the themes of Asimov’s robot stories exactly is how “bad things” can still happen BECAUSE of strict adhearance to the Three Laws that were designed to protect humans from robots.

A point was made somewhere on a chat page, that Asimov himself (or his book publisher) actually “stole” the title of “I, Robot” from a earlier film. This is true. And because of this, there is a kernel of forgiveness in my heart for 20th Century Fox. A precedence has been set for capitalizing on the very effective title “I, Robot.” However, I feel that title more accurately represents the collection of stories Asimov wrote which developed an understanding of the underlying “beingness” of robots. The philosophy of robot/human understanding and misunderstanding. I really don’t see how it really applies to rampaging “mad robot” action.

The best thing in the world would be for millions of people to see the film, for some significant number of those people to go read the Asimov stories, and afterward feel “where the hell did they get that movie from THIS?!” Unfortunately most filmgoers will have no interest in reading in general, and much less in hard science fiction. They’ll probably put the book down after 5 pages and forget all about it, and then go buy the DVD to store next to their “Tomb Raider” disc.

I know one thing good from this controversy, it’s prompting me to go back and revisit a wonderful time in my life when Asimov was a new, glorious dicovery for me. I’m going to go back and re-read “I, Robot” and remember those early teen days when I had the time to read just about a novel a day and I wasn’t yet jaded and cynical.

Same-Sex Marriage

http://www.workingforchange.com/comic.cfm?itemid=16523
I think that kind of gets the point across.
If you oppose same-sex marriage, great. That’s your right. What should you do about it? Protest if you want, speak out, avoid marrying someone of the same sex. But what right does the government have in determining for consenting adults who they can marry? Is that really the auspice of the Federal Government?!
At worst it’s up to the individual states to decide. After all, there’s that crazy part of the Constitution that says: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
Sounds to me like they meant for the Federal Government to have a limited set of rights and responsibilities, and all other matters should be left to the states or, get this, the people themselves! Wow! What a crazy idea! People responsible for their own lives? Able to make their own decisions? Republicans, for all their desire to have “smaller government” sure do like telling us what we can do as consenting adults.
Well, to be fair, so do Democrats.
Which is why I’m Libertarian…unfotunately the Libertarian Party is too busy getting stoned or something or really become a viable 3rd party. So until then, we have the lesser of two evils we have to decide on.

Current Music – Never Tire Of It

I’m fortunate in that I can listen to music at work. I’ve ripped my entire CD collection onto my computer, and it takes up almost 5 GB. I ripped the tracks at 128 to 160 bit, which sounds perfect to me and is a convenient size. Anything more than 160 tends to cause speaker distortion.
And, I listen to Launchcast, which is streaming radio. It’s free if you don’t mind medium quality music and occasional commercials, or only $4 a month for high quality and no adverts, and a few dozen extra channels.
Check it out; it’s fantastic!
>http://launch.yahoo.com/

There’s a few bands I’ve found that I can listen to the same album every day and never get tired of it: Soul Coughing’s Irresistible Bliss is the big one. It’s just such upbeat, positive music. Unique and fun. I’ve been listening to it since 1999 and I still love every track.
The Gorillaz is another one, but to a lesser degree. It’s also unique and has a very unusual style. Usually music with a unique style gets old fast! But not these. Give ’em a try!

As far as favorite music in general, if you’re interested: Nine Inch Nails is top of the list! It’s rough, brutal, often emotional music that really plays on both the gut and the head. And I can’t WAIT for the new album. (They finally updated the Web site.)

Actually, Tea Party is even higher on the list. I get a lot of crap from my brother about them, calling them “Led Doors.” And to be honest, justifiably so. The lead singer sounds a LOT like Jim Morrision, and they use a LOT of Led Zepplin as their influence…as far as to take some of their riffs and rhythms. But, I consider it honorific as opposed to stealing considering Robert Plant and Jimmie Page love them, and let them open for them on a tour a few years ago. Tea Party may take a lot of inspiration from Led Zeppelin, but they really make it into their own music. They do have a unique style. Their writing is smart and skillful, and their playing is just as skillful and highly adept. They’re very popular in Canada, but not here in the States. Maybe their next album this Spring will be their breakthrough. =)

Next is Tori Amos. Beautiful singer, great songs. I still tear up occasionally when I listen to Little Earthquakes.

Peter Gabriel is also one of my favorites. Nickel Creek and Pink Floyd are up there. Definitely Pink Floyd. From beginning to end, Piper at the Gates of Dawn all the way up to Division Bell.

Score One Against Spammers!

Yahoo! In the midst of some terrible totalatarian, negatively ultra-conservative government and corporate actions (eg: FCC crackdowns, holding U.S. citizens indefinitely and without any rights under SUSPICION of terrorist activities, John Ashcroft in general,) the government is starting to make good on their fight against cyber-terrorism, or “Spam!”
http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/04/29/internet.spam.ap/index.html

I love the quote regarding one of the spammer’s reaction when arrested:
“Sadek’s lawyer, James L. Feinberg, said U.S. agents arrived at Sadek’s home early in the morning ‘out of the clear blue’ and arrested him.
‘He was absolutely shocked,’ Feinberg said. ”

I bet he was! Yea!!

Maybe We Should Have Rethought It…

Something comedian and “fake” anchorman Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” said the other night got me thinking. He was interviewing the author of a book about freedom and the Middle East, and Jon asked, “Is part of the problem with Iraq that they don’t have a good story to go with their liberation? In America, we have stories of a ragtag militia fighting the British and creating a Constitution–I mean, would we as Americans be like we are, would we have been happy if the French had come over and gotten rid of the British and wrote our Constitution for us?” To paraphrase. And I think he really hit on something there I hadn’t thought of.

The guest agreed somewhat, and mentioned the obvious: Of course Iraq, in the middle of a region where anti-Americanism is so strong, would have resentment about the big and powerful Americans coming to liberate them, no matter how morally justified. Then the U.S. goes and gets some expatriated Iraqis living in the U.K. and tells Iraq “OK, here are the people who are going to run your country, now.” No matter how much longer it was going to take, it would have been preferable to have the liberation run by the U.N. where more appropriate and Iraq centered plans and goals would have been utilized.

You know (if you’ve read my blogs, that is *g*) that I have no love for the Bush administration but thought the war in Iraq was just and proper and long overdue…and now I’m not so sure. I mean, on the one hand, there’s no denying Hussain’s murderous barbarism. He’s responsible for the murder of thousands of his own people, attempts at genocide of the Shi’ites and Kurds, torture, brutality, raping and pillaging the Iraqi economy for his own goals…there’s no denying Iraq is a better place without Saddam, regardless of whether the region or U.S. or the world is safer. But when you really consider it from the other point of view, the obvious kind of hits you upside the head. What if back in the 18th century we had despised the French, and then they took it upon themselves to come over here and wage war on our land to get rid of King George (well, Cornwallis at least,) and then stuck around in order to gather up some of our crops for themselves and tell us how to form our new government. There’s no doubt that Saddam Hussain is a thousand times worse than 18th century British Empire, but could we have waited the months it would have taken for the U.N. to have gotten around to doing something?

We know NOW that we could have. There are no WMD, there’s little to no ties of AlQueda and Iraq. Neither the U.S. or any other countries were at any risk from Saddam; the only people at risk were the country’s own citizens. I’m thinking, maybe we SHOULD have waited, done nothing until the Iraqi people got fed up enough with the tyrant to run him, his army, the elite Red Guard out…of…OK, so like I was saying in a previous blog it’s pretty impossible this day and age to overthrow a government unless you have the military help you in a coup, especially in a country where you got tortured, or if you’re lucky just simply shot, for saying a single negative comment about the ruler. So, the Iraqi people had nearly no chance of getting rid of Hussain on their own, but they’d certainly be more receptive to a world-wide organized endeavor. Perhaps a lot would have ended the same: the same military maneuvers, the same fighting insurgents and former Baathists, but the political and commercial programs and rebuilding certainly look less like the Bush administration raping and pillaging their economy.

Hindsight’s 20/20.