Friday, September 28, 2007

Action heroes are big Nazis

Why do so many action heroes such assholes, or have such weird or deranged beliefs?

  • Erroll Flynn: big Nazi.
  • John Wayne: uber-conservative.
  • Charlton Heston: NRA gun-nut.
  • Mel Gibson: made a torture-porn movie about Jesus Christ; makes other racist-seeming movies (ex.- Apokalypto); slurred Jews in confrontation a cop. His father is a Holocaust-denier, just like Ahmadinejad.
  • Tom Cruise: turned out to be a Scientologist.
  • Chuck Norris: uber-conservative.
  • Steven Seagal: ditched wife in Japan; married another woman while still married to her.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger: Groped chicks against their will, picked on people growing up, and rumored to be a Nazi. Father was rumored to be a Nazi sympathizer. Uber-conservative.
  • Sylvester Stallone: allegedly an egomaniac who picks on his domestic servants.
  • Jean-Calude Van Damme: picks on people, picks on and gropes women against their will.
  • Colin Farrell: gets into too many fights.
  • Russell Crowe: flips out and picks on people.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Frank Herbert redux

A couple more kind-of prescient quotes from those old Frank Herbert interviews I discussed the other day:

I don't think that the mere writing of such a book as Brave New World or 1984 prevents those things which are portrayed in those books from happening. But I do think they alert us to that possibility and make that possibility less likely. They make us aware that we may be going in that direction. We may be contriving a strictly controlled police culture. B. F. Skinner worries the hell out of me. He is right out of Huxley. He is standing there like a small boy saying, "Please let me have a world like this because I feel safe in it!" He is saying, "I want to control it." He may be very accurate in his assessment that our total society is going in that direction and that maybe he is opting for the lesser of numerous evils, in his view. But what kind of a society would that produce?
I think that sums up the attitude perfectly, and Herbert's analysis is great. This is just the kind of personality liberals are striving against.

Here's another one:

I have this theory that heroes are bad for society, human society. And that superheroes are super bad. Some of the stuff that Kennedy did, for example, is just coming out. The problem with heroes and superheroes is that we don't question their decisions.
I kind of balked at this one at first, but I thought about it a little and now I get it. Bush and Giuliani- they're the heroes of our society nowadays. They're the guys who have been lionized. But, along with that, we don't question their actions. Sure, some of us do- informed liberals do. But a lot of people are very hard pressed to really listen to the liberals' criticism and understand its meaning, once they've heard the story-line that Bush and Giuliani are supposed to be the heroes. I think the polls are encouraging, but the influence of the "hero" tendency is still strong, and as we've seen it can take way too long to wake up from.

Speaking about how he handled his success in the context of working as a university professor, Herbert said,

The role patterns are very fixed in our society. I taught at the University of Washington for awhile. And the first to two classes I had to shatter all of those illusions. Say "shit" four or five times, you know? And sometimes even worse. You really have to do things that break up the patterns.
I tend to doubt liberals' gut instinct that those social roles always need to be challenged, and that they're always doing us more harm than good. But as Herbert is pointing out, it's empowering and can be important to recognize that those roles are, to an extent, illusions. And of course, if a particular person (like Herbert) is uncomfortable with what the paradigm thrusts upon him/her, he or she has to know how to bust out of it-- how to say to people, "Hey, I'm not a hero, I'm just a regular guy." And that may take saying "shit" 3 or 4 times, or whatever- whatever it takes to make people not see you as a superman. Literally saying "Hey, I'm not a hero, I'm just a regular guy" probably just sounds like false modesty-- even deeper buying into the hero paradigm-- nowadays. And we may discover that for acts of "heroism" that become increasingly necessary for our continuing betterment as a society and our collective survival-- resisting the B.F. Skinners-- it may be important to break down that hero image, and make those acts not seem like tremendous ordeals, so more people will feel inclined to engage in them. What starts as a big act of resistance, with one person, becomes thousands and tens of thousands of little acts of resistance. And that's the real heroism in a society.

Kid Nation

There's something that's been bothering me about the new reality show about 40 kids living on their own, without parents, in a ghost town, called Kid Nation: the kids compete to work in different "jobs" each week- laborer, merchant, cook, and "upper class." They are governed by a kid council. I've been wondering-- who thought up this arrangement? If it's truly supposed to be about kids living on their own, why couldn't they have thought up their own government-- like say, an egalitarian society with a system for proposing and selecting referenda that are voted on with full enfranchisement (any kid can vote, nothing can disqualify them from voting, and each kid has their vote counted each time) and full vote-equality (one person, one vote)? "Upper-class"?

Frank Herbert: visionary

I had the good fortune of being introduced to Dune by seeing some or most of the original movie as a little kid (probably on HBO or something- not on the big screen), not really following or understanding it but being intrigued with the look and feel of it, and then reading the original novel without having the plot spoiled for me in 7th or 8th grade. So I approached Dune without ever having too-quickly dismissed it as something stupid or corny, didn't know much about what it was about beside giant worms when I first read it, and at that time read the whole marvelous thing all the way through. I think I started reading it again as soon as I was done with it, and to this day it's one of the best things I've ever read (If you've seen the movie, there are some pretty significant changes (One significant change, which doesn't affect the characters or the plot, is that in the book, Paul Atreides teaches the desert-people martial arts, which apparently his people know bettter than they do, but in the movie, he teaches them to build and use a weapon which apparently enhances psychic telekinetic powers so ordinary people can use it to hurt people and destroy things-- the desert-people who fervently follow Paul end up being most effective with the weapon when they utter the name they've given him, Muad Dib, as they fire it. So, if you thought the weapon in the movie was corny-- it wasn't Frank Herbert's idea, as far as I know.) and things left out from the book, and the book is largely filled with the characters' thoughts about the situations they find themselves in (more so, in fact, than in any other novel I've ever read- and characters' thoughts are something which you can't put a lot of on film and make it work out well)-- more a literature book than a science fiction book, sci-fi just being the medium for a great story. So, the film is necessarily a lot different than the book, and the book is definitely worth reading.

I was looking at Frank Herbert's Wikipedia page today and I noticed, as one would expect, that he was a really interesting guy. The page links to some old intereviews of him, now online, and he has a few cool quotes in one of them (although some of it is a little hard to follow, because he speaks in a colloquial style, and about a lot of big ideas, all of which take some knowledge to understand). Standing out among all of them are these, in which Herbert (speaking in 1977) foresees aspects of the War Against Terror, proliferation of consumer use of computers, and the commercialization of the internet:

Herbert: I don't believe in fission power for the generation of electricity - not for the usual reasons. I would love to build a fission power plant for the generation of electricity. I know we have to find the energy somewhere. I say fission rather than fusion because I'm not sure about that either, but that's a different bag.

Breeder reactors are an act of desperation which are only going to cause us enormous trouble - ENORMOUS trouble. We are condemning our great-great-great-GREAT-grandchildren, many times down, to cursing us. If this society goes ahead with breeder reactors, our descendants will rewrite the history books to erase names. They will plow up our cemeteries to use the bones to make their china.

Interviewer: What's wrong with breeder reactors?

Herbert: They're targets. We're going into a period of enormous social unrest worldwide. Right now, one person, one kamikaze - I say we're going into the time of the kamikaze. As yet we don't have a means of preventing a kamikaze from hitting his target; we can't even prevent a kamikaze from hitting a president.

Right now, one man with a light airplane loaded with explosives could make the entire downriver of the Columbia (River, major waterway separating Washington state from Oregon) uninhabitable - from Hanford over here.

The thing that really gets me is not that we're going ahead with breeder reactors, but that we don't have anti-aircraft facilities and radar facilities around all of our existing atomic plants. We don't have such defense systems around. It is absolute stupidity.

When you say that you have guards and protection systems around these plants, there's an assumption in that, that historically has never been accurate. This is, that all your guards and your protective people - the operative word, ABSOLUTELY - are trustworthy. That they will never go psychotic or anything like that. You're saying all of these things - like, "We don't have that kind of protective system."

Even then, who did the programming? Who did the software? (laughs) What is your janitor like?

What we're doing is committing ourselves to building a system where we need absolute protection. And we have no absolute protection. The consequences of not having that absolute protection. The consequences of not having that absolute protection (Editor's Note: are worse) than if we just let it all go to hell and got by without the energy. Go back to burning wood, coal and all kinds of nasty things.

[material cut out by me ~Swan]

Interviewer: Let's take a look at modern day jihads. What lies ahead?

Herbert: We're going to have a lot of violence and upset. It's no simple, one thing. One of the things that's involved is the information explosion. Computers are going to have more influence on the society that involves this world for the next 35 years, very likely, than fire did. Computers are going to make an enormous difference.

I'll go WAY out on a limb. I think you're going to see biological linkage between human and computer. The computer is going to enter all phases of life, including what we generally feel is our individual freedom. The minute you can make a simulation model of a segment of society, then it's predictable that you're going to be able to refine that down to smaller and smaller bits. So you're going to be able to tell eventually what... you'll have uses. You see, this is not a totally bad thing. You'll be able to tell what the energy demand of the city of Seattle will be. You'll be able to tell the energy demand of the Mount Baker district. You'll be able to tell what the energy demand of Pete MacKenzie will be.

But you will also be able to tell what you talk, how you can talk Pete MacKenzie into buying "X". What are his buttons, yes. Now, the other side of that coin is that, historically, whenever this has happened people have tended to grow calluses.

They're having trouble on television right now selling things on television commercials.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Jena Six

The Wikipedia page discussing the Jena Six contains the "weasel words" (a Wikipedia term used to denote misleading language):

Some residents of the town - both white and black - have expressed the view that the current problem is more the fault of outsiders using racial politics to influence the justice system
As if, in a town with thousands of people, it matters what an unknown, unquantified "some" believe, so much so that it should be the fourth sentence in the article that will probably turn up within the first five hits most people will see on a Google search for "Jena Six."

Indeed, some are trying to influence racial politics, but they're not keeping it in small towns where they won't let Blacks be equal with Whites. They're on the Internet, where they're trying to affect how you and I perceive the development of integration and racial harmony in this country which you and I and all of us have a stake in.

"Some" would apparently have us believe that one thing this whole chain of events in Jena is about is a lot of young people's inability to respect the law. An occurrence from early on in the chain of events that comprise the total controversy and ultimately led to the assault that is the subject of the "Jena Six" trial was the local DA's statement to a group of students that "[w]ith one stroke of my pen, I can make your life disappear." I don't think the inability of young black people to understand the proscriptions of the law or what a DA can do to them is really what this controversy is all about. I think real lesson for the country of the Jena Six controversy is that one small town in Louisiana was not able to avoid a hell of a lot of trouble because it was not willing to let a few kids sit under a tree. This chain of events is the fault of adults as much as it is of kids.