Sunday, November 26, 2017

Steam Powered Rocket Funded by Flat Earthers

The Washington Post shows admirable restraint in this story about a California man whose hobby is building homemade rockets. He had some trouble securing funding for his latest endeavor, but joining the flat earth community and presenting his plans as a way to prove Earth is a disk garnered some cash. His pitch hits the normal conspiracy notes. Government controlled by Freemasons. Astronauts are actors and also Freemasons (although he references CGI rather than sound-stages as a backdrop).

Sadly, I suspect there is only one way the escalating series of launches will end for him, should he continue to find a way to pay for them. And proving the Earth is flat isn't it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

D&D in The New Yorker

Who would have thought I would see a world where Dungeons & Dragons gets an article in "The New Yorker" of all places. It's light on some of the main factors in the recent rise (e.g. Twitch). Though I'm greatly amused by the psychologist who couldn't see a direct cognitive benefit in the mechanics, followed by the litany of people with a different analysis.

Watching the Watchers: Shifting Opinions

Joseph E. Stiglitz believes "America Has a Monopoly Problem—and It’s Huge". The problem with the stagnant economy, he posits, isn't just globalization, it's giant companies that can outmaneuver market forces.

Ken Stern, former NPR CEO, talks about the half of America that the media doesn't cover. It's a good, if shallow, article and the charts are particularly interesting. Caveat: he's promoting a book.]

Opinions move and flow, and quiet voices in the wilderness sometimes build momentum, and sometimes get swallowed in darkness. Either way, it would seem we are in the proverbial interesting times.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Pop Occult

A few years ago, Poppy was a young, female youtube personality who's song covers were popular. She managed to get a record deal. After a time she removed all the old content from her channel, rebooting or rebranding it, you might say. But the new videos weren't the same tone as her older work, becoming stranger to the point of unsettling. Lexi Pandel describes her persona thusly in a well-worth-reading Wired article:
For me, the obvious explanation is she joined with a new collaborator, and became the face of his performance art project. A project that is both satire and criticism of the youtube culture, as well as celebrity in general and the religious/cultish parallels in fandom. It just happens to be well enough done to evoke the very thing it holds a mirror to. But that isn't how everyone sees it. Some would say that I am just another sheep being duped, and the young woman is yet another victim of the entertainment industry Illuminati.

For years now in certain circles of the Internet, there has been a persistent connection between pop music and so called occult symbology. Occult, in this case, being used for its original meaning: something secret or hidden. Specifically, the secret, hidden information that many celebrities are victims of mind control programs. The theory goes that the mind control research from the CIA's often illegal information extraction program MKUltra (or an alleged follow-on program called Monarch) has continued and been put into application to control the public, keeping us distracted and consuming.

They attribute the public personality shifts of celebrities from Marilyn Monroe through Brittany Spears and beyond to breakdowns in their mind control programming. They point to symbols in their music and videos as indications of their being enslaved to the programming. Eye symbols speak of control. Satanic symbols point toward ritualized abuse or torture. Doll-like images suggest the loss of self or creating of a new personality. Everything demonstrating that the person is not who they were before the entertainment industry got hold of them.

Even Taylor Swift has been pulled into the conspiracy. She is said to be a more recent recipient of the programming, noting her ascension into the mainstream of popdom and the rise of symbolism in her recent videos. All the gossipy drama between her and Kanye, Kim, and Katy is but a staged play orchestrated for our distraction.

Art and artists, such as those creating Poppy, have always dwelt in realms that suggest both deeper truths and realer illusions. And of course our Internet world allows the amplified over-scrutinizing of all things. One thing is certain, great celebrity must have a mental affect on people, and some will break down. Humans thrive in community, but the intensity of being a star, the focus of that community… The pressure to be attractive, inventive, a role model, and always, always being reviewed, judged, and watched is bound to warp one's life in many ways. No shadowy conspiracy required.

Vampire Scare

"The United Nations said on Monday it has pulled staff out of two districts in southern Malawi where a vampire scare has triggered mob violence in which at least five people have been killed."

A seasonal reminder that shadows of superstition still gather, or an acknowledgement that the U.N. is not properly equipped to deal with vampires?

Monday, October 16, 2017

Bookworming: Judge Dredd The Complete Case Files Vol. 2

Judge Dredd The Complete Case Files Vol. 2, Wagner et al, ***
The short stories of the first volume give way to multi-issue arcs as Judge Dredd takes on a post-apocalyptic gauntlet and Mega City 1's very own Caligula. The "Cursed Earth" story is one of the more widely recommended starting points for the series (though this volume notably omits a section of it due to copyright issues). The longer runs make for enough more depth to warrant a higher rating than the first, particularly by giving secondary characters a bit more room. The tone remains very on the gonzo pulp side.

Quote of the Moment

So I’ll just keep on pushing along to where I belong, writing down thoughts, singing my songs, yelling out words you’ve already heard about loving yourself and loving the world. – “My Reflection”, SanguinDrake

The World's Most Inadequate Post

Of all the dark, sad stuff that has happened this year, nothing has gotten to me like seeing the number of women I know or have met posting the me too hashtag. It's the season for pretending that evil can be banished by magic, faith, or a shotgun shell to the face. But the reality is, that all too often the woman who survived the maniac is the one right there next to you in the real world. These women don't need a hero, they just need us to not be the maniac.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Logic...

Posit: GOP against gun and birth control. Conclusion: Forcing re-population of their constituency in the face of inevitable ongoing deaths.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

On the Occasion of Hearing Nearby Explosions

The lot next door to my office is currently being cleared out for development. We were warned that they would soon be setting off explosives as part of the work, and so they did. Three times today, the office shook. The sound could be heard even in the middle of the building where I sit. It was a new experience for me. And that got me thinking about the folks who would not find it unusual to hear and feel a nearby explosion.

Lots of bad things have happened in the past year, all around the world and locally. Lots of people are facing trying circumstances, and pretty much everyone has something they struggle against. We could all use a break, but signs point to us not getting one. In the meantime, it is worth pausing from time to time to be grateful for the little things that are going well. Like, I procrastinated making a service appointment for my heater and today I got a coupon from the company. So that worked out well. Also, I have heat and can afford to run it.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Bookworming: Outer Banks Mysteries & Seaside Stories

Outer Banks Mysteries & Seaside Stories, Charles Harry Whedbee, **
Pretty much what it says on the cover. The book is short and the stories are bite-sized and thoroughly G rated. Whether these are pluses or minuses will depend on your tastes.

Friday, August 25, 2017

ISIS Suicide Bomb Vehicles on Display

In Mosul, Iraq the police displayed some of the homemade armored vehicles used by ISIS as suicide card bombs. If militant religious fanatics crossed with Mad Max in an urban setting doesn't give you the creeps, you are a more solid person than me. Doubly so since this comes from the real world and not the entertainment industries.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Bookworming: Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 01

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 01, John Wagner et. al., **

It was ironically a Sat. afternoon re-watching of the amusingly terrible Stallone Judge Dredd movie (not to be confused with the excellent Karl Urban fronted, presumably The Raid influenced, Dredd) that drove me to pick up this collection of 70s British comics. It is worth noting that pretty much every "how to get into Judge Dredd" article I perused recommended not starting with Vol. 1. I did anyway. These early comics are well into parody territory with a very cartoonish tone. There is quite a lot of carnage, and the eponymous Judge's brutal adherence to the letter of the law is on display. Unfortunately, that is the full extent of the character development. The stories are mostly juvenile and  are short even by comic standards, with many being a mere six pages. I quite enjoyed some of the artwork, with particular interest in the hyper dense line work of the Megacity 1 vistas, byways, and automation.

I really can not recommend this one unless you are interested in the character's beginnings, and even then, you don't get much. But I must admit to finding it amusing, in a dark sort of way. And if you take our current issues of environmental change, accelerating automation, and increased urbanization and turn them up way past eleven, you might start to see shades of relevance in Megacity 1. Might, if there was any depth to be found. Which there isn't, at least here.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Bookworming: Eon

Eon, Greg Bear, **
Starts off as a Big Dumb Object hard sci-fi with cold war sensibilities and becomes a science fantasy leaning a little too much on politics of a society which is barely introduced. For my tastes, the hard sci-fi mystery and cold war political tension started it off well, but the subsequent plot turns and shift of focus leaves it a bit flat. I haven't read this since I was a teenager, and either it hasn't aged well or my tastes have shifted. A lot of sci-fi tropes are on display, from the BDO to the cold war stereotypes, to awkward sex scenes. The world building in the artifact itself is excellent, but beyond things get considerably less focused. Back in the day, I liked it enough to buy the sequel, today it rates a 'meh'.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Bookworming: The Foxfire Book

The Foxfire Book, Eliot Wigginton, ***
This is a collection of magazine articles about Appalachian living around three to five generations ago, depending on the reader's age. It is a mix of how-to articles of questionable quality, stories, and tall tales. The depth isn't really enough to provide instruction on its own, so better to consider it as preserving slices of life from a time increasingly distant. Best for folks with some connection to the area, or interested in the subject matter.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Bookworming: Various Comic Trades

All of these titles are available to read free at the time of this writing if you have Amazon Prime. Naturally, they are all volume ones because the first one is... you know.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1 No Normal, G. Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Sara Pichelli, ***
Classic feels-out-of-place-in-society origin story made contemporary by having a Muslim hero.

Star Wars Vol. 1 Skywalker Strikes, Jason Aaron, John Cassady, ***
For the Star Wars fans that want to fill in the gap between Star Wars and Empire.

Star Wars Darth Vader Vol. 1 Vader, Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, Adi Granov, ****
Surprisingly good, self-contained but with places to go, it is still for the Star Wars fans, but if you are one, this is one worth a look.

Thor Vol. 1, J. Michael Straczynski, Coipel Olivier, ***
Largely setup, not really much here to hook me into continuing. Definitely fits into the "good if you like that sort of thing" category.

Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 1, ****
Surprisingly good hard-boiled PI story set in the Marvel universe.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Watching the Watchers: Those Who Do Not Learn From History

A well known TV personality, oft accused of shady business dealings, makes a run at being President. Written off by the media as a colorful distraction. A platform centered around anti-immigration, tax reform, and American values. Someone seeking to position themselves as a Republican, but who's assertions are met with skepticism both in and out of the party. Affable in public, said to be quick tempered and intolerant of mistakes in private. A rather, let's say old school, attitude toward women. Known to make accusations of misconduct against opponents without proof. Who is this man, you ask? Well, it's Pat Robertson circa 1988.

For those who say "things are different now" or "it has never been like this before", you are being mislead. It doesn't matter which side you are on, you are being mislead by a media in the midst of a disruption that started with 24 hour cable news and turned to 11 with the advent of the Internet. Right wing media, left wing media, it doesn't matter, all they care about is your attention. And nothing grabs your attention like scaring you. Nothing generates loyalty like tribalism, and nothing triggers tribalism like invoking "The Other". Right wing media has turned "liberal" into a cuss word. Left wing media has turned "conservative" into a synonym for racism. Neither of those are right. Politics is supposed to be a debate, not a war.

And if you are reading this and saying to yourself, it's the fault of the other side, then my friend you are part of the problem. I get that you're frustrated with and angry at the politicians, and you hate the media for not looking at your facts and calling them Truth. I get it because that is how literally every other person in America who has ever paid the slightest bit of attention to politics ever feels.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Quote of the Moment

"Beatniks and politics, nothing is new. A yardstick for lunatics, one point of view. Who cares what games we choose? Little to win but nothing to lose." –Strawberry Alarm Clock “Incense and Peppermints”, 1976

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Bookworming: Childhood's End

Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke, **
A classic of the science fiction genre, and the book that confirmed I'm not really a fan of Clarke's fiction. The story is set at the end of the U.S/U.S.S.R. space race, an end that is imposed by the sudden appearance of overwhelmingly powerful aliens. Beyond that, I can't say much more because it revolves entirely around two twists. This was my second reading of it, so naturally I knew the twists going in. This really hurt the engagement with the novel. To be fair, I didn't find it terribly interesting the first time around either. Because of the heavy reliance on the twists, and the minimally sketched characters there isn't anything else to hang your interest on save the philosophical musings on utopia that motivate the sub-plots. I would generally say it is worth a read for sci-fi fans, but it won't turn you into a sci-fi fan if you aren't there already.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Bookworming: Vision of the Future

Vision of the Future, Timothy Zhan, **
This volume concludes the story started in Spectre of the Past. Like the rest of the Zhan Star Wars books, I find it doesn't hold up as well as I remembered, and I didn't particularly remember this one  fondly to begin with. My primary issue with it is not having read the other "Extended Universe" books.  Future is steeped in the characters and events of those other books (and sets up what is apparently one of the most hated arcs in that loose series). As with its predecessor, it is more star diplomacy than Star Wars, and spread too thin between characters and through-lines. I suspect fans of the Star Wars novels might have a different opinion from mine, but this one is for them anyway.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Kickstarter Became a Public Benefit Corporation

I had no idea such a thing as a Public Benefit Corporation existed in the U.S., but it does, and Kickstarter became one. Interesting stuff.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Quote of the Moment

Many years ago I listened to Rush Limbaugh regularly. I picked up on quite a few tricks. One of them was to be vague enough to allow countering of attacks using quotations as out of context. So I'm putting this note before the actual quote, because after several readings, I conclude that it is virtually impossible to determine what the subject of the indirect object "them" is in the following quotation. The most grammatically close definite object would have it referring to "the media", or "the Democrats", but it could also be referring to "the Republicans". In case anyone thinks I am making up the vague accusation, there is a paragraph that begins "They're a monopoly. It's amazing. They lost their monopoly, it will be 30 years ago...", so there you go. Anyway, on with the quote.

"But as I said last week, there's no desire to find any mutual common ground, because there isn't any, so it's senseless to seek compromise with them or reach across the aisle, show that we can compromise and govern together. In fact, that's all a bunch of garbage." - Rush Limbaugh, "LA Times Laments Loss of Liberal Media Monopoly", April 10, 2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bookworming: Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman, ****
Eminently readable. Tales of gods and monsters from ancient times often come off stilted due to language or cultural context translations, and this one suffers from none of that. Those expecting serious literature may be surprised how silly many of the tales are. Much like the Greek myths, the gods here are flawed, and the stories are often nonsensical. And yet, the imagery within persists. This is an easy choice for anyone with interest in mythology, especially if you have not read these tales before.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The iPhone Healthcare Comparison

Congressman Jason Chaffetz recently stepped in a hornets' nest by implying the people should maybe not buy luxury smartphones and invest in their own healthcare instead. His statement was remarkably out of touch, and has been dismantled by the media (and social media), but there is something that I think has been missed. Here's my question: should a poor person buy a smartphone?

The view of the smartphone as a luxury add-on, convenient but not necessary, reminds me of The Innovator's Dilemma in business. It's old-way thinking. A different perspective, where the smartphone replaces instead of supplementing, may change the economics considerably. A mid-range smartphone and a reasonable data plan means you don't have to buy a computer, landline service, and internet service. (Also sat nav, still and video cameras, alarm clocks, etc.) It seems to me like a poor person should at least run the numbers, because they might just be better off with the smartphone.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Quote of the Moment

“The worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands.” –“The End of History?”, Fukuyama (1989)

Hat tip to PBS Idea Channel episode "Has The World already Ended? Or Just History?".

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Words They Use

In the recent political climate, with the impelling force of the internet behind it, has seen the rise of a common vocabulary on social media. Certain words are used over and over again to refer to people with opposing viewpoints. I can't help but be intrigued by the particular words in use right now. One side is pulling from a classic well: Nazi, fascist, white supremacist. The other side... isn't. They align against cupcakes, snowflakes, unicorns, flowers, and social justice warriors. I'm not entirely sure where that is coming from (though the influence of internet trolling is strong, as is a strain of older insults), and I don't know what it says about the current state of discourse. In any case, as someone who spends too much time in symbols, I find the uses of language interesting.

Quote of the Moment

"The hardest thing about human experience is that every human has one. And so it makes it hard to appreciate someone else's, but it also makes it a great and awesome challenge." –Mike Rugnetta, Idea Channel “Comment Responses: What Was the Hoodie?”

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Bookworming: The Laughing Corpse

The Laughing Corpse, Laurell K. Hamilton, ***
The second book in the Anita Blake series, The Laughing Corpse stands as my favorite of the ones I read from that series. I bailed out circa Blue Moon due to the change of tone away from grindhouse horror into supernatural romance territory. At this point in the series that turn had not been made, and Corpse is purely a horror book in the splatter mode which, like the first in the series, contains no actual sex. Folks that do not mind the conventions (and violence) that come along with the genre will find a good set of extremely one-dimensional baddies, a fair amount of action, and a plot that comes together nicely. Those that don't like violence should stay away. Most of the thoughts from my previous review of Guilty Pleasures still apply, and if you liked that one, you will probably like this one.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Letter of the Law

[Warning, this post contains both political and religious satire. You have been warned.]

Advisor: I would like to bring up some concerns over our branding efforts. Our stance on strong Christian values helped us achieve our current success, but some of the details seem out of alignment.
Leader: Oh? What is it that has you worried?
Advisor: Several of these values seem to run contrary to our actions. For instance, have you seen this bit about the rich and the well fed having already received their reward.
Leader: Of course, it's rather key. Very popular among the demographic.
Advisor: Do you not find the themes of sacrifice and universal caring somewhat contrary to our mission?
Leader: No, not at all. You see here, it says blessed are the poor.
Advisor: I do not understand, we are not poor.
Leader: Of course not! For as the values say, we must serve our fellow man! We want as many blessed people as possible. Thus we gather the riches to ourselves that we might aid the majority to be blessed. It is a sacrifice on our part, but it is our calling.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Watching the Watchers: Wherein I Agree and Disagree With Bannon

Quartz recently published an article about the beliefs for Steve Bannon, President Trump's close adviser seen as the driving force behind his policies. (As an aside, sites that look into such things rate Quartz's editorial bias as slightly left of center.) It's a very long piece, but an interesting skim. As a thought exercise, here are some unordered points where I agree with Bannon and some where I do not, as his views are presented in the article.

Agree:

  • Capitalism without morality can be more damaging than beneficial.
  • Focusing the economy on speculation rather than capital and production damages capitalism.
  • Both the Republicans and Democrats are to blame for the current state of America.
  • America's and American society's accumulated debit is a danger.
  • Capitalism is facing a crisis.
  • The media do not understand why Donald Trump won.


Disagree:

  • I believe abstract concepts such as egalitarianism can be laudable goals and are completely compatible with existing values.
  • I do not believe nationalism is a positive force, rather that it causes artificial divides and has historically been a driver of conflicts. Bannon appears to be conflating nationalism and shared values, and I just don't think they should be combined in such a manner.
  • I'm not sure how one can tout Judeo-Christian values while dismissing all forms of socialism. Jesus has some things to say about feeding the poor and treating foreigners...
  • I believe global warming is an economic danger.
  • I believe the health care system in the U.S. is horribly broken, from an economic/capitalist standpoint.
  • I believe the crisis capitalism is facing is of its own making, not due to magical liberals or radical religions.
  • I do not believe the media is the enemy, they are suffering from a disrupted business model and the loss of their long-lived monopoly on information spread. But we need them as fact checkers, investigators, and to be a check on government.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Diversion into Country Noir

"Country noir carves out a space for the small, the local, the defiant and the defeated. That losing side of the American mythology that walks out of the shining city on a hill spitting and reaching for a flask."

The age of the example works referenced in this essay by Court Merrigan as foundational to the "country noir" style remind us that as long as there has been an American Dream, there has been those the dream fails. And that, for all our technological progress, the prevailing social patterns of humans haven't really changed much over the last couple hundred years. The ragged fringes appear to be growing these days. Political and corporate power ever consolidating. But when has it not been that way? Our increased communications have exposed the best of us and enabled the worst of us, but we are a long way from the Dark Ages. Though sometimes is does seem we are headed in that direction again.

A current-day, real-life echo can be found in this Radio Lab summary of a series of On the Media podcasts about America's poverty myths.

These pair nicely with a previously referenced post pondering cyber-dystopia.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Watching the Watchers: Wars vs. Trek, the Getting Too Real Edition

Manu Saadia writing for "The New Yorker" gives some thought to the implications of Peter Thiel's choice in the Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate. Given the primacy of the entrepreneur in certain areas of business and society, it makes for an interesting illustration of values.

Thiel's full quote on the matter from the "New York Times" is, "I like “Star Wars” way better. I’m a capitalist. “Star Wars” is the capitalist show. “Star Trek” is the communist one. There is no money in “Star Trek” because you just have the transporter machine that can make anything you need. The whole plot of “Star Wars” starts with Han Solo having this debt that he owes and so the plot in “Star Wars” is driven by money."

As a final aside, I'll head off a nerdy dismissal by anyone who says he doesn't know what he's talking about because he confused the replicator and the transporter with the even more nerdy note that the replicator was based on transporter technology.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

#burnitalldown

Today's lesson in the internet and computer programming: I was perusing garfield minus garfield (a thing to see if you haven't), and had a lark to see what the original corresponding strip was. So I go to the garfield web site. It want's me to verify my age. To read blinking garfield. So naturally, I selected 1/1 and the year at the bottom of the drop down list, which was 1908. The site comes back with "the year must be at least 1917". Ctrl-F4

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The U.S. of Death Race 2050

The red band trailer (nsfw) for the new Rodger Corman movie Death Race 2050 has some wonderfully over the top hints at the state of the U.S. in it's twisted timeline. For starters, it's now known as the United Corporations of America and the stars on the flag have been replaced with dollar signs. The east coast is Onepercentia, the south Pharmatopia, the rust belt Upper Carcinogena, the southern border is Gasarcana and El Avion, The upper midwest is the Call Center Territories and Caucasia, the desert is the AmaZone. And the west coast is split into the Digital Zone and Guugleplex. Smaller annotations on the map (cities?) include Zukerville, Data Mines, General Utilities, Merchandiseland, Deadtroit, and New Jerusalem.

It's a nice reminder that not every dystopia in entertainment is a dark and serious thing, they have a long history of being campy too. And the most ironic apocalypses are the ones we make for ourselves.