Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow...

Over at the Socialist Review, Mark Bould muses on the subject of H.G. Wells legacy (by way of the new Spielberg-Cruise movie). He makes an interesting point about the failure of our utopian dreams to manifest properly:

In his early scientific romances Wells depicted the vast expanse of space and time, and our relative insignificance. Like Darwin, Marx and Freud, he punctured the illusion of bourgeois man's centrality. The Time Machine (1895) and The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) recast humankind as one species among many, as a temporary condition found somewhere between ape-like ancestors and devolved descendants. The War of the Worlds (1898), originally serialised during Victoria's golden jubilee year, explicitly criticises the Tasmanian genocide while Martian invaders lay waste to the heart of the British Empire. These vivid early novels are rich in ambiguity. Moreau is a fabulously blasphemous gothic replay of the Garden of Eden and a Swiftian satire on modern man's self-image. The beast-men that Moreau creates demonstrate humanity's place in Darwin's universe. They embody the struggle between evolution and ethics. They are estranged versions of proletarian and colonial subjects. And Wells keeps all these possibilities in play, not permitting his novel to collapse into some monolithic allegory.

In 1926, when Hugo Gernsback launched the first pulp science fiction (sf) magazine, he called for 'the Jules Verne, HG Wells, and Edgar Allan Poe type of story'. He quickly reprinted 14 stories and novels by Poe and Verne, but reprinted 26 by Wells. Consequently Wells has often been dubbed the 'father of science fiction'. However, in the US pulp tradition, Wells's offspring were rather poor pupils. Its first decade was dominated by small-town bigots (as scared of the future as they were of women, people of colour and the working class) and dreadful writing. In the second decade the generation of Robert Heinlein bootstrapped themselves into competent-enough prose but abandoned Wells's metaphorical and moral complexity. Instead they championed reactionary renegades and unfettered capitalist expansion. They fantasised about purity, mastery and unbounded energies. Mostly, their offspring still do. Wells's real children are to be found in Britain, in Olaf Stapledon and George Orwell, M John Harrison and Gwyneth Jones.

Curiously, Wells's own sf novels after The First Men in the Moon (1901) fall into the error which so debilitates the pulp tradition he 'fathered'. Too often, from Gernsback to the Roddenberry-Lucas-Spielberg complex, a spaceship is just a spaceship and a robot is just a robot. They are there because they are there, not because they mean anything. Similarly, when Wells turned his art to the task of changing the world, he forgot that it was also necessary to fantasise it. He fixated on utopia's plumbing rather than the vision utopia allows you to imagine. Blueprints became more important than hope. Utopia demands such a radical transformation of self and society that it is unimaginable and inexpressible. But in the later Wells, as in most subsequent sf, social transformation became merely about superficial things.
We get so lost in the plumbing that we forget to fill in the gaps in our own ethics and pragmatism with a few judicious fantasies. This is an important detail that we often forget, in politics and in life: that however great and shiny and new our ideas may be, they need to be tempered not just by the practicalities of human nature but also supported by the breadth and depth of our imagination.

If no one had envisioned a world without slavery as the backbone of commerce, we never would have had the Civil Rights Movement. But also, we can't get lost in dreamland, mistaking metaphors as the real thing. Robots aren't just Robots. Likewise, homosexuals, socialists, and terrorists aren't just cardboard cutouts, stand-ins for our fear and self-loathing. They are intrinsic parts of the world around us. And if we spend our time fighting CGI-bogeymen and Queers in rubber masks, then we won't bother to address the real reasons that those forces exist: that in our dreaming of the World of Tomorrow, we got so swept up in making sure the sky scrapers were high and the cars fast, that we forgot to include everyone in the fantasy.

King Ubu and the Library of Babel

I just received an e-mail from a friend who works at the Library of Congress:
There are rumours floating about that if [current Librarian of Congress, James H.] Billington retires, Bush would assign Lynne Cheney.
HORRORS!
Horrors is right. As Bob Harris put it, this isn't Government, it's Dada performance art.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Frogs Don't Turn into Princes, After All

Yahoo News (AFP):

LONDON (AFP) - Young girls who enjoy classic romantic fairy tales like "Cinderella" and "Beauty and the Beast" are at greater risk of becoming victims of violent relationships in later life, a British researcher says.

A study of both parents of primary school children and women who have been involved in domestic abuse claims than those who grew up reading fairy tales are likely to be more submissive as adults.

Susan Darker-Smith, a graduate student who wrote the academic paper, said she found many abuse victims identified with characters in famous children's literature and claimed the stories provide "templates" of dominated women.

[...] "They believe if their love is strong enough they can change their partner's behaviour," Darker-Smith said. "Girls who have listened to such stories as children tend to become more submissive in their future relationships."

I always suspected there was something unwholesome about the way Cinderella's mind worked. Of course, it's not like we're really allowed to say that Fairy Tales warp little girl's minds but it strikes me as common sense that if you use a submissive princess as your role model, you're going to end up in a heap of hurt as an adult. Nothing ever ends happily ever after.

I'm currently reading a fairy tale that pretty much explicitly says this, The Princess Bride. William Goldman lays it out plain and simple: life isn't fair. Things don't end happily, or neatly. They don't really end, either.

Fifteen minutes after they are reunited, Westley and Buttercup have an argument. Westley chides her for not being that bright, and she gets on his case for not being dead. They still love each other and as anyone who's seen the movie knows, they do ride off together at the end but not before having to overcome doubts, complications, promises made and broken, and realizing that perfection, while it sounds like a nice thing, is more trouble than it's worth. Princes aren't charming, they're selfish. Princesses aren't beautiful, they're vapid. Pirates on the other hand, understand real inner beauty and appreciate the value of true love.

(Link via Jessa Crispin at Bookslut)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Surprises in the Desert

Kevin and I were in need of some mindless entertainment last night, so we went to see Sahara. Surprisingly, it was a lot of fun. I expected the standard bad dialogue and gagging oneliners but there weren't any. Too my surprise, it was a tightly plotted adventure movie and Penelope Cruz didn't completely suck.

The most implausable plot element, the Civil War Ironclad that sails across the Atlantic and gets lost in Africa, isn't all that far fetched, especially when we consider the benchmark film for all other action adventure stories involves a search for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. The pending ecological disaster subplot dovetails nicely with the treasure hunting plot, which is a plus. I fully expected to be swinging back and forth from maudeline eco-histrionics to cut throat adventure but was pleased with how the script writers, all sixteen of them, managed to segway from one to the other and back again without breaking anyone's neck or stretching credibility too far.

On the Indiana Jones scale of adventure movies, I give it 4 out of 5 fedoras.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Cat and Fish



I'm feeling the effects of too much Grad School today. I'm tired, in that mentally exhausted way I haven't been since... Well, end of last semester. This time is different, though. I'm done with School, forever this time, in about three weeks. Then a bit of a vacation. Then it's continuing on with the job search. Should be fun.

Also, I've made a few changes to the sidebar, added a few new links and divided the links into two categories, Arts and Letters and Current Events. Not exactly the most descriptive cataloguing system in the world but it's a start. Obviously, there's some overlap as sometimes writers bitch about politics and sometimes political wonks blather about what they're reading. But you get the idea.

Speaking of blather, Norbizness at Hairy Elated Ferret bulletin Board has announced the winner of the knock down drag out best comedy movie ever for all time competition: Dr. Strangelove.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

News That's Really Important

This story may have gotten ignored in the ruckus surrounding Pope Palpatine* and the slow-motion car wreck of Tom Delay's political career but the results of it will far outlive both:
For more than a century, it has caused excitement and frustration in equal measure - a collection of Greek and Roman writings so vast it could redraw the map of classical civilization. If only it was legible.

Now, in a breakthrough described as the classical equivalent of finding the holy grail, Oxford University scientists have employed infra-red technology to open up the hoard, known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and with it the prospect that hundreds of lost Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems will soon be revealed.

Just roll that last bit around in your head a moment. Classics literature thought last for the last 2000 years, rediscovered. As if that isn't enough to tweak your noggin, savvy this:

In the past four days alone, Oxford's classicists have used it to make a series of astonishing discoveries, including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia. They even believe they are likely to find lost Christian gospels, the originals of which were written around the time of the earliest books of the New Testament.

I'm a big fan of new knowledge. When that knowledge may make the superstitious squirm, all the better. This could shed new light on our collective cultural history and heritage, and allow us to better know where we came from and thus, better decide how to get where we want to go as a civilization. This transcends Popes and politics. This is all about the business of being Human.

(Link: SciAm Blog)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Way to Go, Cardinals

ABC News:
VATICAN CITY Apr 19, 2005- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, the church's leading hard-liner, was elected the new pope Tuesday evening in the first conclave of the new millennium. He chose the name Pope Benedict XVI and called himself "a simple, humble worker."
So much for the hopes of love, peace and a more tolerant, progressive Catholic Church.

UPDATE 4/20: Pope Palpatine's Wild Berlin Adventure

A lot of people are making hay over Pope Benni (minus the Jets) and his Hitler Youth escapade. We're told by the talking heads and those in the know that well, gee, everyone was in the Hitler Youth back then, so we shouldn't hold it against him. Sorry folks, the "just following orders" excuse didn't fly in Nuremberg and it ain't flying now.

For some reason, we're now to believe that the German Teenagers of 1933-45 were the only ones in history who weren't rebellious by nature. Right. Sure. He was drafted into the Hitler Youth and went along for the ride, just like a lot fo other young kids did. Children are impressionable and regret the choices they make. A lot of Germans got caught up in the mob mentality of the Nazi party. That's what was so scary about the Nazis: they tapped into a secret desire and gave everyone involved an excuse to give in to their dark side. But that's not an excuse. It's never an excuse.

When you're 14, you can still tell right from wrong, even if everyone else is doing the wrong thing.

Also, we're expected to believe that this man is an exceptional member of the human race, virtuous and sanctified. Except for the years he was in the Hitler Youth, The he was just another German kid going along with the crowd. Who just happened to grew up to be Grand Inquisitor.

Monday, April 18, 2005

I Went Looking for God and Found Science Along the Way

Mike, at the Corpuscle has an interesting take on the ID debate:

We can't know, of course, why Sir John's outfit is putting up the money for (post-)Dr. Murphy's research. Based on what we do know, however, we can probably assume that somebody thinks that studying the possibility of changing universal constants will lead to some sort of evidence of God.

Which, you know, I think is great. As long as the research is intriguing, and the experiments are rigorously performed, and so long as it's their own money and not mine, who the hell cares why the money is put up? And I'll tell you what, I'm in a hell of a lot better position, as an atheist, if they do prove God exists than a believer would be. I mean, then I could go, "Oh. Okay. What do you know? There's a God." The believers, on the other hand, would have a cataclysmic crisis of faith, which is to say they wouldn't have any faith at all anymore. How can you have faith in the existence of something that you already know exists? I'd stay away from the subject, were I them. But, hey, it's no skin off my nose.

The horror for me would be if everything the most obnoxious, radically-right, fundamentalist, fire-and-brimstoner types say about God turns out to be true. You know, being a mortal, if my situation gets so god-awful I can't stand it anymore, I can at least kill myself and flee into the eternal peace of oblivion. If, however, I am immortal and I am faced with an eternal being that demands I love him no matter how despicably he behaves... well, where you going to go then? There's Hell, I guess, but from what I hear that ain't no picnic. You're looking at eternity, pal, either burning in Hell or sucking up to a right-wing nightmare.
He makes an interesting point in that True Believers have a lot more to loose than us Atheists. After all, if it turns out there is a God but he's not the all-Punishing firespitter that the likes of Pat Robertson and Tom Delay have been worshiping for years but instead is, say, all wise and compassionate, with a killer sense of humor, who actually means it when he says, "Blessed are the peacemakers," then Pat and Tom are royally fucked. Whereas Mike and me and Carl Sagan can say, "Sorry for not believing in you there, God but we didn't have a whole lot to go on." and God would say, "Hay, no big deal. You guys were more concerned with the search for truth and knowledge, which is an admirable quality. I figured you guys would catch on eventually, so don't sweat it." Which would really piss of The Hammer and Dr, Robertson, since they would be pretty much proven to be what we've suspected all along: ignorant jackasses who get a kick out of bossing people around and nosing in on the business of others while hypocritically wearing a pious suit and fancy, Sunday ass-kicking shoes.

Mike goes on to nail exactly what fascinates me most about dingbat theories and whirligig thinking, "We live in a culture where crackpot millionaires spend their own money methodically researching out-there questions, and maybe in the process they find answers that will take us to places we never dreamed of being able to go." If not for wooly thinkers like Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla,1 we wouldn't have lightbulbs, telephones, alternating current, radios or motion pictures. Creativity leads to some pretty unusual corners of the mind, where often, unexpected but usueful things are to be found. And nothing is more creative than a crackpot trying to prove to the world that he is right.

_________
1. Edison had some unusual ideas about the soul and spirits in general while Tesla thought he talked to aliens. Other oddball geniuses include Newton, who not only defined the way we think of gravity but was also a deeply religious man and an ordained minister. Hook, who refined the microscope, drank mercury on a regular basis.

Friday, April 15, 2005

And Many Miles To Go



Today is another busy Friday. This semester, I've been doing an internship and on Wednesdays and Fridays, I spend the whole day locked away in the special collections room of a library, handling moldy books. Not exactly how I intended to spend my second anniversary as the savior of media as we know it/ scourge of mainstream media as we know it/ harbinger of the end of Western civilization-- a blogger.

Today, the Invisible library is two years old. No one is more surprised than me.

But I'm not through, not by a longshot. I've still got a head full of things to say, books to write, art to make, rants to... rant. I don't know quite where I'm going, with this post, or my life. None of us does and anyone who claims to is wearing flammable pants. But hay, that's what life's all about, isn't it? The journey. The discovery. The cat pictures you find along the way.

So, in the coming year, look for a little more fiction, a little more content-- I finish Grad School next month and once that's done, I'll have a lot more time to devote to this blog, and my writing in general. Plus, hay, I'll be looking for a job, moving and maybe even starting a family. It should be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Congratulations!

To LC member, Rivka who, on Monday gave birth to a baby otter.

Monday, April 11, 2005

This Just In...

...From the Unitarian Jihad:

We are Unitarian Jihad. We are everywhere. We have not been born again, nor have we sworn a blood oath. We do not think that God cares what we read, what we eat or whom we sleep with. Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity notes for the record that he does not have a moral code but is nevertheless a good person, and Unexalted Leader Garrote of Forgiveness stipulates that Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity is a good person, and this is to be reflected in the minutes.

Beware! Unless you people shut up and begin acting like grown-ups with brains enough to understand the difference between political belief and personal faith, the Unitarian Jihad will begin a series of terrorist-like actions. We will take over television studios, kidnap so-called commentators and broadcast calm, well-reasoned discussions of the issues of the day. We will not try for "balance" by hiring fruitcakes; we will try for balance by hiring non-ideologues who have carefully thought through the issues.

We are Unitarian Jihad. We will appear in public places and require people to shake hands with each other. (Sister Hand Grenade of Love suggested that we institute a terror regime of mandatory hugging, but her motion was not formally introduced because of lack of a quorum.) We will require all lobbyists, spokesmen and campaign managers to dress like trout in public. Televangelists will be forced to take jobs as Xerox repair specialists. Demagogues of all stripes will be required to read Proust out loud in prisons.

Join the fight and get your very own Unitarian Jihad name.

-- Brother Sword of Enlightenment

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Burying Caesar

I've been trying to wrestle my thoughts about the Pope's death into a coherent shape for the last week. Not being Catholic, I don't owe the man any more respect than that paid to the average schmoe I never met, if that. There's a lot of talk about how the Pope helped the poor but you know what? There are still poor people in the world and the Pope still lives in a palace. Frankly, I never liked the man very much.

Pope John Paul II was a bone fide son of a bitch who was the figurehead of one of the most repressive institutions in history. Karol Wojtila was a nice man, good with children and animals, tolerated Bono and was said by his friends and admirers to have a cracking sense of humor. That both people happened to inhabit the same body is an all too-common occurrence, and it is a misfortune of greatest concern that these inconsistencies must be glossed over by those looking to judge a man by his shoe size or sum him up neatly. Trying to reconcile these inconsistent facts is hard. I don't want to demonize the guy. He tried to do what he thought was right by his faith and followers, It just turns out that he failed miserably on several occasions and his followers, all umpteen million of them, didn't quite have the guts or the faith to call him on his tragic and deadly mistakes.

But for some reason, we're now supposed to forget, or at least not mention these shortcomings. It's more than just the custom that one does not speak ill of the dead.1 But I'm not sure what other factors, not being mentioned, we're supposed to be accepting on faith, and that's what I've been trying to figure out this week. So has Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon:


I'm tired of feeling forbidden to speak ill of the dead right now. Pope John Paul II was ultimately a wicked man, and he was wickeder still for thinking of himself as righteous. Two simple things were at hand for him to promote that would have done enormous good for his flock--the condom to stop a disease that kills and contraception to make poverty more manageable. On top of that, his complete refusal to expand the church's view of women as anything more than helpmates and breeders certainly damaged the status of women in this world and may have damaged the overall well-being, as it's a well-known fact that in order to best improve a society, you improve the lot of the women in it. And, as Steve Gilliard has been pointing out, the pope and the entire Catholic church infrastructure bears responsibility for the molestation of children by priests--not because it happened so much, but because they tried to hide it and avoided dealing with it.


I think the reason the media-tamed populace fawn over the Pope is because, even though we fought a war for independence form the whims and injustice of royalty, a large portion of the population still has this fairy tale fixation on Kings and Princesses. The Pope is basically King of the Catholics.2 He was popular because he always smiled and looked so good in those fancy robes and stately hat. Just like Princess Diana, only without the messy divorce and love affair with a Muslim.

Maybe this is Disney's fault, giving us saccharine visions of princesses to feed to our children, never mind the horrible state of affairs of your average Disney peasant (and even worse state of affairs for real world peasants. Fuck em, they're only poor.) Basically, we're willing to overlook the Pope's massive, nearly genocidal faults, because he's rich and the talking heads on the TV screen tell us he was a nice guy, never mind the facts to the contrary. More than that, even though he was a celibate misogynist and homophobe, many Americans would trade places with him in a heart beat. Because it's good to be King.

_________
1. This is an old custom, going back to our collective primordial days, when the fear of death was so pathological, it gave birth to religions. You don't talk bad about the dead, so that when they go a haunting, they leave you be. And to win points with the Big invisible Man what lives in the sky.

2. Hobbes (the philosopher, not the tiger) described the papacy as, "nothing other than the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof." Which is as fine a definition I can think of as any. The Pope; all Popes, now and forever, are the shivering shade of Caesar, traveling the world, smiling at the peasants and inspecting the troops on the edge of a dead empire.

Friday, April 08, 2005

A Long Week's End



Rather than a long weekend. I feel like climbing into a paper bag and hiding, too. Remember, kids, Grad School is a lot of fun. Sure it is.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Google Grid

We had an informal workshop at work today about Google, not just Google the search engine but Google the social phenomenon. The Google Perspective. ePIC 2014.

The group seemed to agree that professional researchers build their skills not by choosing which fancy tools they use, but by working the basics of the trade - kinda like the word processor doesn't make the writer (but the clothes make the man, I'm so so confused).

Spending the time to find the right material and handling it responsibly is a serious investment of energies, as any researcher at any level will tell you. Are schools and parents teaching this survival skill to their college-bound children? Are students wanting to lear how to think critically, or is school just a hoop in a larger maze of socialization? What about those who don't care about college and the education-information industrial complex?

Yahoo didn't have this kind of buzz or cache back in the late 1990s. Repetitive acts of material consumerism helped by a product and information portal is not like the serial acts of a persistent intellectual imperialist structure of a single information aggregator? No it's not. But is that one of the differences between Google and Yahoo? Or behind the race for a universal, cosmic, international pan-digital library? Is that really what we're facing?

Technology is an aid to research, there's no substitute for the real thing. Automated, corporate-sponsored, air-brushed, steriod-laced realities are nice to collect, but they are not the only kind out there. Human diversity is not threatened by Google. The only thing to fear is fear itself. The truth is out there, grasshopper. You can find it.

Portrait of the Author, Polishing the Brass on the Titanic

John Halbo has been dissecting the work of sociopolitical Philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, specifically in this post, concerning his (to me) rather incoherent definition of Liberalism. It's an interesting discussion, one that gets to the heart of a major problem that liberas have been wrestling with for the last decade or so, the problem of identity.

This problem arises from the fact that there is no coherent liberal ideology.1 Unlike Conservatism, which has a core ideology and a list of talking points, plus a hierarchy to enforce them, Liberalism is actually a broad category tearm used, these days, to describe everything west of Reganomics and historically, anything that fell in-between Anarchism/ Communism/ Socialism on the left and Conservatism/ Fascism on the Right. Liberalism is a broad term, in that it has a list of categorical traits that may or may not apply to any individual or group that gets tossed into the category. Inherent contradictions arrise when we try to paint everyone in an ad-hoc category as belonging to a monolithic movement. Conservative movementarians (you know, dingbats, bobble-heads and the mentally ill) especially fall prey to this mistake.

This problem arises from one of the inherent faults of the Conservative mindset: the reliance on heirarchical power structures as the only reliable model of organization. There must be a head, a body and a single goal, it is reasoned, because this sort of hierarchical inheritance is the only power structure that Conservatives recognise.2

Zizek (among others) wants to look at Liberalism as if it were the result of Chairman Mao and Emma Goldman sitting down and hashing out plans for world domination, appointing leaders and issuing orders to their minions at the ACLU, simply because this is the only sort of arrangement they can conceive of. That it is an oversimplification and a fantasy is besides the point. It achieves a desired goal: to frame the opposition in the mind of the casual citizen that Liberals are a distinct type of advesary, and they want to sodomize your sons and convince your daughters to join Greenpeece. That many people buy this nonsense and actually think middle of the road moderates like Howard Dean have a radical plan for foisting the UN approved, Homosexual agenda, with Government subsidized healthcare for all and Jesus for none, just proves that there is no such thing as the Liberal Media. Which, liberals have known all along and tried to tell you, before the country slid into a one party state ruled by Randroids and Neocons. But most Americans were too busy listening to Newt Gingrich prattle on about card carrying pot heads in the Clinton White House and worrying about how Monica's little blue dress would end Civilization to notice that we were all being manipulated, prepared for the bloodless coup of the Bush administration.

But that's OK, because most Liberals are now too occupied with pointless navel gazing, trying to figure out if maybe we should follow the Conservative model of governance and organise ourselves into a movement to actually do anything constructive to oppose the Bush regime's radical agenda. Weather or not streamlining our incoherent jumble of conflicting ideas into a solid, internally consistant ideology is a good idea or not is really beside the point as well. We should have had this debate ten years ago, when we saw what the Republican party was trying to do. But we didn't and so now it's too late. They control the country in every major aspect and can paint us as week-kneed ninnies, Bin Laden's boy toys, Francophiles and Egg head academics who hate apple pie and like to molest goats and our only response is to shout as loud as we can, "Nuh uh!" and then sit silently on our hands as we ponder our socks, while they lumber past, reshaping the world in their image.

Contrary to popular belief, I think we should embrace our incoherence and force the dialog back into our territory. We make the media admit that it oversimplifies arguments, that every situation has multiple facets, not just one and a half sides and that this was the ideal on which our country was founded. That the world is a messy, complex place and anyone who tries to simplify the debate and foist one idea on the world is the true adversary of democracy.
_________
1. Which, in my opinion, is a good thing. Ideologies metasticise. Followers of them become dogmatic and proponents of them become blind to the truth of the human condition, that we are vast and contain multitudes. Democracy is a plurality. Sacrificing our individuality and broad acceptance to fight a loosing battle for identity politics is not going to do anyone any good. Liberalism, such as it is, worked in the past because of a broad consensus of what needed to be accomplished. It worked because the landscape had not been minimized and filled with sound-bite landmines.

2. which explains why we invaded states like Afghanistan and Iraq in order to fight stateless terrorists. You can't actually wage a war on terror, so you fall back into the standard categories, and start looking for states that will substitute for the real threat .

Needs More Java

Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing linked to the Starbuck's Delocator, which in principal, sounds like a great idea: a website that helps you locate non-Starbuck cafes. In reality though, the site leaves a lot to be desired.

First off, the entire site is one long chain of popups. Because everyone loves popups.

Secondly, as Cory points out, they don't actually use the Starbuck's name anywhere on their site, for fear of Corporate reprisal. Which means, you can't find it by doing a Google search (at least until more people link to the site, to raise its hits).

Thirdly, and most importantly the site doesn't seem to work. I did three tests, to see if it could find any cafes.

The first search was for the area around me here, just south of Baltimore. It found no cafes. I found this odd, since there's at least a Panera Bread Company down the road. I know I'm out here in the burbs, but is this thing really telling me the closest cafe is Red Emma's, a twenty minute drive into the city? But hay, it did identify two Starbuck's franchises in the area.

The second search I did was in Savannah. This was the real test, as there's a great little non-Starbuck's cafe, Gallery Espresso, a block form mine and Elvira's apartment, with free Wifi, hip music and plenty of comfy couches. The Delocator couldn't find it but it did find four Starbuck's franchises.

It did, however, on the third try, locate College Perk, the coffee house near campus. It also located 8 Starbuck's franchises in the area as well.

I'm not too terribly impressed, as the site seems to know where every Starbuck's is, but can't find even well known cafes. Makes me wonder if it's really just a marketing toy Starbuck's cooked up for techno geeks.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

What Would the Lords of Kobol Do?

Over at the Battlestar Galactica Blog, Ron Moore discusses the implications of Starbuck's torture scene, and other troubling moral quandaries that have been addressed on the show:1

Would I personally behave the same way in similar circumstances? I hope not, but neither am I so confident of my own immunity to the pressures felt by an interrogator charged with finding a nuclear weapon or to the enormous weight sitting on a chief executive trying to protect her citizenry that I can say I would absolutely have made the more "moral" choice.

[...]

These are the debates that I hope you have among yourselves, your families, your friends. I want the show to provoke you into thinking about the times you live in and the choices that are being made all around you every day. In a time when the President of the United States actually asserts that he has the power to arrest without warrant and detain indefinitely without charge or appeal, any citizen (indeed any person on the face of the Earth) simply by designating them as an "illegal combatant," we should all be engaged in a vigorous and energetic debate about who we are as a people and as human beings and exactly how we do intend to respond to the very real threat posed to this nation and to the foundations of liberal democracy posed by people capable of, and willing to, fly airplanes into buildings.

What is admirable is that Mr. Moore and his staff writers don't take the easy way out. "I do see the show as an opportunity to raise questions in the minds of the audience and ask them to think, which is something of a rarity in these days when politics seems to be about stoking emotionalism and finding simple-minded slogans to stand-in for actual answers to complex problems. ("Culture of Life!" "Right to Die!" "Ban Smoking!" "The Ownership Society!")"

It's hard to say what we would do in the situations dramatists on the show. But the fact that someone has made a show that asks the tough questions without offering glib, shallow platitudes instead of answers while still being a lot of fun is something we need more of on TV. Now if we could only get our politicians to do the same.

Be sure to check out the discussion board where all this talk started. There are some nicely thoughtful comments, as well as the usual Gung Ho, kill 'em all freeperisms.

_________
1. For those who don't watch the show, some of the thorny sceneries involve the President of the 12 colonies flushing a Cylon out an airlock after promising him his freedom, Commander Adama shutting down a tribunal that was about to get ugly and pretty much everything Baltar does. Baltar is the real morally complicated character of the show. He's withheld vital information about Cylon sleeper agents in the fleet, all to save his own ass.

Snap Your Fingers, Cats

April is National Poetry Month. Last year, I posted a few poems to celebrate. Seems the trend is catching on this year. Glad to know I started something besides that fire on the living room table.

Wild Dreams of a New Beginning
Lawrence Ferlinghetti

There's a breathless hush on the freeway tonight
Beyond the ledges of concrete
restaurants fall into dreams
with candlelight couples
Lost Alexandria still burns
in a billion lightbulbs
Lives cross lives
idling at stoplights
Beyond the cloverleaf turnoffs
'Souls eat souls in the general emptiness'
A piano concerto comes out a kitchen window
A yogi speaks at Ojai
'It's all taking pace in one mind'
On the lawn among the trees
lovers are listening
for the master to tell them they are one
with the universe
Eyes smell flowers and become them
There's a deathless hush
on the freeway tonight
as a Pacific tidal wave a mile high
sweeps in
Los Angeles breathes its last gas
and sinks into the sea like the Titanic all lights lit
Nine minutes later Willa Cather's Nebraska
sinks with it
The sea comes over in Utah
Mormon tabernacles washed away like barnacles
Coyotes are confounded & swim nowhere
An orchestra onstage in Omaha
keeps on playing Handel's Water Music
Horns fill with water
and bass players float away on their instruments
clutching them like lovers horizontal
Chicago's Loop becomes a rollercoaster
Skyscrapers filled like water glasses
Great Lakes mixed with Buddhist brine
Great Books watered down in Evanston
Milwaukee beer topped with sea foam
Beau Fleuve of Buffalo suddenly become salt
Manhatten Island swept clean in sixteen seconds
buried masts of Amsterdam arise
as the great wave sweeps on Eastward
to wash away over-age Camembert Europe
manhatta steaming in sea-vines
the washed land awakes again to wilderness
the only sound a vast thrumming of crickets
a cry of seabirds high over
in empty eternity
as the Hudson retakes its thickets
and Indians reclaim their canoes

Sin Effin' City

Kevin, Jenny and I saw Sin City Friday night. Fantastic. The single best adaptation of comic to film, ever. It seems to be getting mixed reviews, however. Those, like me who've read the graphic novels love it. Those who aren't familiar with the source material however, seem to come out shocked and disturbed by the violence. I find this odd, since the title of the movie is Sin City. Not Pleasent Burg or Village of the Kittens. It ain't Naughty Town, people. They aren't fibbing to grandma and stealing pies off of window sills. These are prostitutes, killers and crooked cops. They kill, kill, kill people. Sometimes they torture them first. The film, like the comics, is Noir with a capitol N. I don't remember seeing any puppies and dreamy, romantic kisses in the trailer, just guns and thugs. You were warned.

Prior to going to the theater, we ran into someone else who was disturbed by the film. She called it misogynistic. She must have had her eyes closed during the Big Fat Kill sequence, when the prostitutes stand up for themselves and do what they must to ensure that they stay free of mob influence, free of abusive pimps and free of the cops. There are more independent, strong female characters in Sin City than in a half dozen Hollywood movies put together, but for some reason, this person couldn't get past the surface of the prostitutes and thugs to really get the story. It's all about loyalty to one's friends, standing up for yourself in the face of certain doom and doing what you think is right, even if it's confused and uncertain. Marv's actions are brutal, but noble. They are a scream of defiance at an unjust world. Sure, Dwight's a killer and Miho'd sooner slice your balls off than say hello. But when they're fighting against cannibals, pedophiles and serial killers, you root for them anyway. Because they may not be pretty but they're still better than the real bad guys, the crooked cops, flesh-eating priests and sick, twisted psycho offspring of senators. Complaining that Sin City is too violent is like saying Sense and Sensibility is too Victorian. That's just the setting, folks. Sometimes the heros don't wear white hats and aren't rich and nice. I know this flies in the face of American Mythology, where the rich, well dressed people are good and the dirty drunks and whores are bad. But this is Sin City. Things are different here.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Not a Eulogy

Pope John Paul II is dead. Being non-Christian, this effects me quite a bit less than my Catholic wife (she's never really been a fan but is Catholic, still). I've always given the Pope credit for dragging one of the most reactionary and regressive institutions in the world kicking and screaming into the 18th century by recognizing heliocentrism (and thus, pardoning Galileo), making ecumenical inroads by being the first Pope to say Muslims and Jews, Hindus and Atheists aren't necessarily going to Hell (so long as they follow the rules) and generally sweeping up after 1900 years of anti-semitism. He negotiated treaties, helped euthanize Communism and generally tried to play down the fact that he was head of the wealthiest organization on the planet. Sure, he talked a good talk about helping the poor but still lived in palaces while millions of children starved, but one man can't change the world through personal sacrifice... Unless he like, I don't know, emulates Jesus or something.

Still, JP has a horrible record when it comes to women's and reproductive rights, often allying himself with equally backwards trogladytes in the US and other countries. Of course, it's quite possible that the Vatican will elect some Ultra-Conservative nincompoops as a replacement and we'll look back and wish for the good old days of JP II.

Update: Steve Gilliard reminds us of another one of JP II's legacies: the refusal to deal with pedophilia priests and the people they've abused.

For all the good John Paul II did, for all of his courageous stands, for all of his promotion of life and opposition to war, his ultimate legacy may well be the sea of abused children left in a wake from his priests. For no other act has so undermined the faith that parishoners had with their church. The reign of molesters like Shanley, not in isolated incidents, but over decades, is a key aspect of how John Paul II will ultimately be seen. The Chruch's molestation problem exploded in the 1990's and was isolated and ignored. When it came back, 10 years later, the accusations are still ripping the church apart. And in many cases, those who hid these crimes against children were promoted, not sanctioned, like Edward Cardinal Egan of New York.

Then, of course, there are the scandals resulting from gay priests seeking out seminerians for sexualk partners. Last year, pictures of priests and seminerians kissing and otherwise sexually involved. Homosexuality in the priesthood is widespread, because straight men do not want to preclude the ability to have sex with women. The number of priests is declining sharply as each decade passes.

Yet, in many ways, the Pope was such a social conservative, that facing these issues honestly was impossible. The Vatican had to be dragged into dealing with pedophile priests and encourage DA's to get reports of these criminal acts.

Friday, April 01, 2005

April Shenanigans



It's April 1 and starting to feel like Spring, at last, at last. Teresa Nielsen Hayden has a fine assortment of notions making the rounds today. Be sure to check out Wikipedia's selected article of the day as well.