A piece of the future that has been promised to me in my childhood had finally arrived when the reusable first stage of the Space X Falcon 9 rocket successfully landed upright after the mission successfully delivered a commercial payload to orbit.
There is a bit of a discussion if this indeed a historic event or if Space X merely comes second after Blue Origins successful landing a few weeks earlier. Needless to say that I side with history on that one. Falcon 9 was not a prototype tourist spacehopper on a test flight, it is a rather massive orbital vehicle that added an upright first stage landing to an already successful commercial mission.
The stackexchange space exploration site has a nice post discussing the differences. I was a bit amused to see that Blue Origins (and Amazons, evidently) Jeff Bezos congratulated Space X on the landing of its “suborbital booster stage” (as a repartee to Elon Musk congratulating to the suborbital Blue Origins test flight earlier), but really this is a bit petty. Yes, the first stage did not go to orbit (first stages never do – if they could we wouldn’t need staged rockets at all), but its flight profile was still quite more ambitious than Blue Origins hovering (albeit at great height) in the air.
Next step (well maybe not the next, but it is getting closer): Mars. Other than I imagined as child I will not be on board the future ships that go there, but at least I might live to see the day, and that’s really quite something.
25th of May is Towel Day, a tribute to the late Douglas Adams who died 11th May 2001. I do not actually wear a towel (at least not physically – I guess whosoever read Adams will forever wear a towel in their mind), but I found the obituary I wrote all those years ago and so it might as well republish it for the occasion.
“nothing travels faster than light, with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys it`s own special rules. the hingefreed people of arkintoofle minor did try to build spaceships that were powered by bad news but they didn`t work particular well and were so extremenly unwelcome when they arrived anywhere that there wasn`t really any point in being there.”
douglas adams “mostly harmless”
we’ve now spent more than a month looking for the hingefreed people of arkintoofle minor, since we felt an urgent desire to meet them, to shake tentacles with them and to tell them to piss off immidiately. most suprisingly we didn`t find them, although there were certainly very bad news around.
could it be true? could the man who inventend the man who invented the pangalatic gargleblaster just, you know, die? we hoped it would turn out as a joke. this was infinitly impropable, since the jokes of this particular man used to be particular funny in almost exactly the same way the bad news mentioned above wasn`t. but because of the quasi-reciprocial and circular nature of all improbalitiy calculations, everything that was infinitely improbable was actually very likely to happen, so there was a glimpse of hope. unfortunately, bad news obeys it’s own special rules, so the joke turned out to be plain true: douglas noel adams died on friday, 11th of may, following an heart attack.
douglas adams as a writer guided his readers hitchhiking through the galaxy, took them for dinner at the restaurant at the end of the universe, provided the answer (alas not the question) to life, the universe and everything, bade a prophetic so long and thanks for all the fish before he classified – his only known error – earth as mostly harmless. he wrote dirk gently’s holistic detective agency, the long dark tea-time of the soul, and, together with john loyd, the meaning of liff, which, in many of the more relaxed english speaking civilizations, has already supplanted websters complete and unabriged new riverside university dictionary as the standard repository of all knowlegde and wisdom. in 1990 he teamed up with zoologist mark carwardine and wrote last chance to see, a tremendously funny book about the tremendously desperate efforts to save tremendously endangered species.
adams, who was admittedly fond of computers, was also a founder-director of digital village, a digital media and internet company that launched the starship titanic and he successfully adapted the ‘hitchhikers guide’ to earthling conditions and to the internet.
from his writings, one can characterize adams as a gentle, goodhearted, graceful genius, although we guess that any appropriate alternative alliteration also applies.
with adams´ untimely demise, a unique sense of humor has become extinct. if you want to spare some amiable creatures a similar fate, please donate to the dna memorial funds of douglas’ favourite charities:
To sum up: Professor X, Magneto, Storm, the black guy who wasn’t really introduced, burning man, the clanking metal boy who had showed up for like two seconds in X2, China’s answer to that gun from “Portal” and a condescendingly portrayed native-indian type of fellow get slaughtered amongst some thee lines of dialogue in a not to distant future that has moved on form Harrier-like VTOL and machine guns to almost non-newtonian motion by shapeshifting killer robots in just a few decades while Wolverine, sent back by Shadowcat (who has hooked up with Iceman which tells us something about the fate of Rogue and possibly something other about the moral character of Bobby Drake), mucks about with the past to erase all memory of the stinker that was formerly known as X3 – The Last Stand.
Okay, so that wasn’t the most concise sentence ever but I propose that the problem is with the movie rather than with my writing. Which really is a bit of a pity, since for me personally this was the most expected feature this year and after it had turned out as a bit of a meh – experience (not really good, not really bad, just “meh”) all I have to look forward to this summer is a movie about a talking specimen of the species Procyon lotor.
First the good points: The wonderful escape scene from the Pentagon featuring Quicksilver accompanied by Jim Croce’s “Time in a bottle” – I have to admit that alone would have made the movie worth watching. Also a few of the in-jokes, like Quicksilver saying “So you control metal ? My mum used to know a guy like that”, or James McAvoy asking “who can curve a bullet” (he did, or at least his character, in “Wanted”). The rest was neither bad nor good, just, as I’ve said, meh.
What I had expected was indeed not meh but, as would befit a Marvel timetravel story, two carefully entwined timelines that interact with and influence each other. However the future in those days of future past is just a thin foil – we see just enough of it to get the action started, then it’s for most intents and purposes dismissed and forgotten (Meta-objection: this is the future that will not have happened, so it does not need to look real. Meta-objection hereby happily dismissed). And it seems rather gratuitous to deploy major Marvel assets like Bishop or Colossus (and yes, even Sunspot, Blink or Warpath) and send them to rather gruesome deaths without giving the audience any opportunity, or reason, to relate to them. That is simply not good storytelling, especially in a franchise that so far spent most of it’s time on building elaborate backstories for it’s characters.
And talking of bad, the science in the movie is even worse. And I’m not talking about telepathy or people who shoot flames from their body; with an X-Men movie that comes under “suspension of disbelief”. I’m talking about the quaint idea espoused in the Singer movies (also Vaughn in “First Class”, which has Singer as producer and with a story credit) that evolution works hierarchically and that there are “higher” and “lower” forms of evolved live. That is not at all how it works; evolution is not a ladder that goes upwards; Homo sapiens did not drive the Neanderthal to extinction because they were superior; Homo sapiens is the “dominant species on the planet” only inasfar as they are the ones who made up words like “superior” (if you’re the only one talking you might as well brag). “Survival of the fittest”  does not mean that the physically or mentally strongest (whatever that means) will inherit the earth; it means that an organism is adapted to fit a niche (think a Paramyxovirus in a kindergarten run by Jenny Mccarthy).
If you claim, as both the “good” and the “bad” guys do in X-Men, that it is the natural order of things that lower species are superseded by “superior” species you are no longer talking theory of evolution; your talking Social Darwinism, i.e. bloody, dangerous nonsense. With the rise of the internet the argument has not, alas, progressed, rather is has evolved to a point where it fills a thousand niches that haven’t existed before.
That brings us back, rather unhappily, to the topic of backstories. I think it was the first Singer movie that turned Magneto into a jewish survivor of the Nazi concentration camps (the idea has since adapted for the comics), taking on the old adage about the victim that becomes the perpetrator – a bit tasteless if you talk about a member of group that is regularly, if quite absurdly, accused of doing to the Arabs what the Nazis once did to them. However it is “First Class” that took “tasteless” to a new level when Erik Lensherr tells the Mengele stand-in Sebastian Shaw: “I’d like you to know that I agree with every word you said. We are the future. But, unfortunately, you killed my mother”. So the Jew is the Nazi, the only thing that separates them are some misgivings about a mishandled family matter. No wonder the homo goyim sapiens try to defend themselves in DOPF, especially as their society had already been infiltrated by mutant zionist fascists at the highest level (Kennedy!) .
At least that tells us where Singer et al. got there views about evolution from – not from Darwin, but from the likes of “evolutionary psychologist” Kevin B. MacDonald who claimed that Judaism (Magnetos Brotherhood of mutants) is a group strategy to acquire and maintain genetic traits superior to those of the goyim. So the X-Men movies are not only extremely well-made and entertaining, they are also anti-semitic and anti-scientific claptrap that will stick in our heads far more pertinently than the somewhat haphazard science lessons our educational systems occasionally afford.
What lesson do we take away from all this ? Well, if in the olden days a middle-aged man wanted to get really grumpy about something he had to turn to the Sunday newspapers and compose letters to the editor complaining that the funnies were not as entertaining as they used to be. Today I can replicate the very same thing using merely a blog, a pair of 3D glasses and a 200 million CGI-spectacle. Thus it would seem there has been some progress after all.
From the magazine section of the New York Times:
“And perhaps you know that worldwide demand for quinoa has become so high that many of those who live in the regions of Bolivia where the crop is grown can no longer afford to buy it.
Yet we still don’t explore quinoa’s full potential […]”
Because if we eat more of the stuff we might manage to starve a few of them darn Peruvians, too.
A movie from 1999 about a six year old boy who falls in love with a 16 year old girl after he has killed at least a few dozen people in the destruction of their “droid control ship”. After all these years I still find that plot a bit unsettling.
Slate has an interview with Richard Dawkins (if you don’t know who that is the following will mean nothing to you) who is asked the explain the criticism towards his person. He answers by alleging that “some people fear clarity”.
I’m sorry, but that is a shmuck’s answer – “they don’t like me so so they must fear me”. I cannot judge Dawkins the biologist but I have read some of the stuff he has published on atheism. I have to say I rather dislike Dawkins the atheist because he is not at all clear.
The case for atheism can be summed up in four words, “there is no god”; that’s pretty much the be-all and end-all of it . The added rhetoric actually adds very little, all that “who would want to believe in the ghastly god of the bible anyway”. Duh, it’s christians .
It wouldn’t be so bad if he sticked to biology as his area of expertise. He doesn’t do that, presumably because that would involve rather technical arguments that people without a background in biology (such as, for example, me) would have a hard time to understand. Instead he dabbles in history, sociology, philosophy and related disciplines, and he isn’t even particulary good at it, mostly because he presents the issue as a disjointed series of smoking guns instead of carefully building his case on the preponderance of evidence.
In constrast, an extremely good example of careful reasoning is Sean Caroll’s lecture “God is not a good theory” in which Caroll explains how the idea of god does not contribute to our understanding of the universe around us. Again, I cannot judge Sean Caroll the theoretical physicist  but I can judge if his is an coherent argument.
Caroll’s lecture starts with careful defitions – what, in the scope of the lecture, is meant by “God”, what is a theory, how do we judge (again, in the scope of the lecture) if something is good or less so. Subsequent arguments follow from, and are build on top of, prior ones. And most importantly, he comfortably stays within his own area of expertise. God is a bad theory not because Hitler paid his church taxes but because the laws of physics already explain anything that God was supposed to explain; HE is not necessary .
So while the outcome is the same – god’s non-existence does not depend on the quality of the arguments for it – I find Sean Carrol’s approach much more preferable. Dawkins is much more antagonizing, and however how noble the intentions these days that always end with two factions on the internet throwing shit at each other . I think this is not a good approach – if all I want to do is shout at other people I do not need the pretext of scientific argument in the first place .
What it boils down to is that Dawkins says that religions turns people into assholes and that therefore we should eliminate religion. However since it has turned out people can be assholes without help from any religion I’d posit that Dawkins atheism does not do anything to explain general assholery; it is not necessary and hence a bad theory. Rather than stop being believers it might be prudent for all people if they’d tried and stop being assholes instead.
- Please note that is not so much about atheism vs. religion and more about what standard of argument one should accept in public discussion. If you are a believer then by all means proceed; I’m an atheist, not a missionary.
- I’m talking here mostly about “The God Delusion”, a book that, without a prominent name attached to it would not have survived copy editing, or at least shouldn’t have. You can keep all quips about my own copy skills (spelling!) to yourself.
- I have read, and would recommend his books “From Eternity to Here” and “The Particle at the End of the Universe“. However I found them more entertaining than enlightening – I would be troubled to explain the physics of a boiling water kettle, so I don’t think I’m in any position to discuss quantum mechanics etc., or to be a judge if Caroll’s theories are correct. Not that the very same predicament stops other people from doing so.
- There is an awful temptation to mention Occam’s razor at this point. However that would be terribly unfair – “Plurality must never be posited without necessity” was meant by Ockham to be an argument in favour of the existence of god, not against.
- And constantly claiming victory over each other on their respective blogs and forums (forae ?).
- Admittedly this describes Dawkins followers rather than the man himself.
Over 100 receipts retrieved from a building believed to have been used by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghrebʼs local accountant shows an organization intent on documenting even the most minor expense.
This reminds me of Terry Pratchetts adage that chaos will always triumph over order because chaos is better organized (seeing that, in contrast, most orderly governments are easily capable of mislaying a few billion bucks). Plus it makes me somewhat afraid that the CIA will hatch a plan to poison all african macaroni supplies as pasta seems to be the main staple of terrorists.
Eine der schauerlichsten Folgen der Arbeitslosigkeit ist wohl die, dass Arbeit als Gnade vergeben wird. Es ist wie im Kriege: wer die Butter hat, wird frech.
Es ist nicht nur, dass die Koalitionsrechte der Arbeiter und nun gar erst die der Angestellten auf ein Minimum zusammengeschmolzen sind, dass ihre Stellung bei Tarifverhandlungen immer ungünstiger wird, weil bereits das Wort ›Tarif‹ bedrohliche Wettererscheinungen in den Personalbüros hervorruft … auch die Atmosphäre in den Betrieben ist nicht heiterer geworden. Zwar jammern die Arbeitgeber: »Wir können die Untüchtigen so schwer herauskriegen – heutzutage kann man ja niemand mehr kündigen … « keine Sorge: man kann. Und so wird Arbeit und Arbeitsmöglichkeit, noch zu jämmerlichsten Löhnen, ein Diadem aus Juwelen und ein Perlengeschmeide.
One of the most horrific consequences of high unemployment is that employment is dispensed as an act of mercy. It’s like it used to be in the war, he who has the butter scorns the have-nots.
In 2008 I gave a lecture (read here – german only) on apocalyptic themes in science fiction. I was chastised for being unfair after I suggested that cyberpunk renders the genre meaningless as it only predicts things that are happening anyway. If you don’t read german, I used Darko Suvins definition (which I suspect Suvin has nicked from german studies, specifically from the definition of “Novelle” (novella)) that says science fiction explores the consequences of a ‘novum’ (‘unerhörte Begebenheit’ in the classic german definition) that is introduced earlier in the story  and I pointed out that if the imagined world is just as, and in the same way, fucked up as the real world there really isn’t much of a novum to explore. People, as far as they still listened at that point, disagreed heavily.
Now, earlier this december Charles Stross wrote in his blog that the “Halting State” trilogy (not cyberpunk, but close enough) would not actually get a third installment because real life has turned out to be pretty much congruent with the plot of the two published novels. Which of course makes the whole excercise pointless.
I’d say when it comes to authorities in contemporary science fiction Stross is as big as it gets, so as far as I’m concerned I’d say that history has vindicated me .
- Of course when Suvin wrote this most science fiction actually was written in the novella format. Now that the genre expresses itself mostly in multi-volumned tomes is Suvin still relevant or do we need a new definition ? Discuss.
- Somehow I had hoped that I do not need to point this out, but since I was asked – of course that headline was supposed to be funny. Hahaha.