Saturday, 31 May 2008
Friday, 30 May 2008
Definitely cool, but it had better come with one hell of a magnifying glass or it might as well be a bit of speckled enamel.
Britain made a fresh appeal today for the release of five British men who were kidnapped exactly one year ago from a finance ministry building in Baghdad.Unless that message is delivered by a squad of Royal Marines with the safeties off, I doubt if it will get much attention.
Thursday, 29 May 2008
Wednesday, 28 May 2008
We have a similar type of craft in the Anglophone world, only we follow proper grammar and call them "manned".
Update: I particularly like the way they refer to "non-human items".
When SciFi Weekly used this phrase to describe the 2008 remake of The Andromeda Strain, I could feel the cold hand of foreboding resting lightly on my shoulder. Any time a television production pairs "attractive" with "cast" it invariably means something that looks like the image on the left; a load of pretty people with solemn expressions taking the place of real actors on a pseudo hi-tech set with odd lighting.
And that pretty much sums up the production that aired on A&E last Monday and Tuesday evening. It was originally supposed to be on the Sci Fi Channel, but the parent company noticed that some of the screen personalities had somewhat recognisable names and therefore deserved to air on a channel it was less likely to rub shoulders with repeats of Boa vs Python.
I had a difficult time coming up with a way to describe this remake of the 1971 Robert Wise film until I realised that this was not, in fact a remake of the The Andromeda Strain, but Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Or Alien. Or whatever other story revolves around a malignant life form invading an unwilling host and taking it over for its own disgusting purposes. In this case, The Andromeda Strain has been infested with a strange hybrid of The X Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Outbreak, and (God help us) Resident Evil.
Since this is 2008, it's a union rule that The Andromeda Strain must be "reimagined" and screenwriter Robert Schenkkan reimagines the hell out of it. All you have to do is look at the main cast (who will, against screaming protests, be referred to as an "ensemble") to see this. Where in the book the scientists were all middle-aged white men and in the film they were middle-aged white men and a middle-aged white woman, in 2008's version the producers used an "inclusive" criteria that reduces the cast members to ethnic representatives in a fashion that is at the same time so self-congratulatory and so cynically racist and sexist that it makes the bad old step-n-fetch days of Hollywood look like the height of enlightenment. Without exception the main cast is all young and attractive with a Germano-Peruvian Indian leading a black woman, a female doctor who is (another union rule) a hot babe, and a Chinaman late of the People's Republic who inexplicably speaks with a flawless American accent. Oh, and there is a white guy, but he turns out to be gay. To balance the latter out, he's also a US Army major, which means he's belligerent, racist and constantly advocating nuclear strikes, but who suffers a risible death at the hands of an unlikely atomic reactor. Nowadays this is what passes for imaginative.
The basic plot of the original book and film about a team of scientists in an underground laboratory studying an American satellite that returns to Earth with a deadly alien germ on board is kept, but Schenkkan seems almost embarrassed by his source material. Where Robert Wise focused on a taut, claustrophobic thriller/mystery about characters racing against time trying to understand an alien menace while cooped up in an antiseptic facility so artificial that even eating and sleeping are banished, the 2008 version looks and feels like every other sci fi offering on television since somebody thought that scientists only work in oddly furnished, windowless places underlit from entirely the wrong angles and populated with a highly improbable assortment of characters–in other words, Torchwood. The plot, as I said, is still there, but where Wise made the hunt for Andromeda (the code name of the germ) into almost a procedural that used the mechanics of science as a way to build dramatic tension, the 2008 version treats the science in an offhand way–except when it gives an opportunity for pointless slow motion shots of someone walking through bubbly liquid. Where in 1971 we'd see the intricacies of testing for amino acids or preparing blood samples, 2008 has people walking in and casually mentioning that the germ has no DNA as if they were commenting on the weather.
This is surprising, given that the 2008 version runs at almost twice the length of the original, but maybe they needed more time for the pointless soap opera plots about Bill Clinton reborn several stone lighter and without the sleaze, divorces, estranged teenagers and laboratory romances that would only be realistic if the super secret laboratory in the midst of a crisis was run along the lines of a television production company office. Or maybe it had to do with the ramped up violence and horror as the disease spreads with a virulence and pure bloodymindedness that made me wonder why they didn't just go whole hog and have the übervirus bring the victims back as zombies and be done with it. Then at least we could have had Milla Jovovich blazing away with an Uzi in each fist. The horrible thing is, this would have been an improvement. As it is, we have to make do with dream sequences and double-talk about buckyballs and wormholes.
Don't even get me started on the time travel rubbish that makes the current series of Doctor Who look like Out of the Unknown.
Some of the violence is downright disturbing, though not in the way that director Mikael Salomon intended. The grisliest ends in the film are reserved for women with one committing self-immolation and a (union rule) female fighter pilot trapped screaming in the cockpit of a crashing F-16. These are depicted with such loving detail that one wonders if the director doesn't have certain... issues.
Writer Schenkkan justifies all this because "If you're going to update the story, which is our mandate, you have an obligation to reflect the world as it is."
That's updating as in ignoring the fact that the United States gave up bioweapons development forty years ago. And it reflects a world "as it is" where there are no straight white men–at least, none that aren't in the pay of the Military Industrial Complex or a coke-addicted journalist who wants to both Woodward and Bernstein who is caught in the web of a hideous conspiracy perpetrated by an American government run along the lines of the Cosa Nostra.
The latter is part of the "updating" that Schenkkan grasps so tightly to his chest. Wise's 1971 approach to the story is far too old fashioned, so Schenkkan updates it with a paranoid storyline about an evil government bent on evil conspiracies, which is far more modern.
If you define "modern" as 1967.
Tuesday, 27 May 2008
And so freedom of speech gives way to self-censorship.
It was quickly pointed out by civil libertarians that the eventual happy outcome did nothing to reverse the consequences of the initial error. If expressive materials at a public protest can be confiscated pending two weeks of review by prosecutors, then not much is left of the right to protest, practically speaking. What few in Britain have pointed out is how vague and pathetic the text of the Public Order Act is. Objectively, one cannot say that the police officers acting as a praetorian guard for Scientology were overstepping their bounds under the act. No one ever calls a religion a "cult" without intending to insult it, and any "alarm or distress" thereby resulting must entirely be in the eye and mind of the beholder. The boy was, under the act, arguably quite guilty.
It constitutes no "victory" for freedom of expression that he was let off arbitrarily just because the public took his side against a secretive and widely ridiculed religious group. On the contrary: the police succeeded in communicating their real message to those who might wish to imitate him. Watch what you say. We have enough power to give you a hard time, whether the crown backs us up in the end or not. And make damned sure your targets are relatively unpopular, or you might not find so many columnists and activists leaping to your defence.
It'll be interesting to find out what the Mrs. Grundys of the anti-smoking branch of Ingsoc make of this one, seeing as there is no so-called secondhand smoke involved and therefore the current bans can't possibly apply. I'm no fan of coffin nails (I'm a cigar man, myself), but anything that puts the thumb in the eye of the Neopuritans who want to suck all the joy out of life is fine by me.
Treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant is a totalitarian's dream. Since carbon dioxide is involved in every from of combustion imaginable, it is theoretically possible to ration, tax and regulate everything up to and including breathing.
The shade of Stalin must be kicking himself for not thinking of it.
Monday, 26 May 2008
This is no war of chieftains or of princes, of dynasties or national ambition; it is a war of peoples and of causes. There are vast numbers, not only in this island but in every land, who will render faithful service in this war but whose names will never be known, whose deeds will never be recorded. This is a war of the Unknown Warriors; but let all strive without failing in faith or in duty, and the dark curse of Hitler will be lifted from our age.
Sunday, 25 May 2008
Nasa's Mars Phoenix Lander is due to touch down on the red planet at 5:00 PM PDT in the first fully-automatic soft-landing attempt since the disastrous Polar Lander mission in 1999.
Whether the crew at JPL still has any fingernails left by then is open to debate.
Update: Phoenix is down and working.
However, no word from Captain Black yet.
Hammering down this cynical attempt by Red Ken and Chavez to bribe London's poor into backing a tin-pot South American dictator shows that the windows are being opened and the fresh air of sanity is at last being allowed in.
Given their part in the committing the worst campaigns of mass murder in history while enslaving a sixth of the world's population and bringing us all to the brink of nuclear annihilation to further their own sick ends of universal conquest, one would think the heirs of Marx and Lenin would just thank whatever lack of deity they worship that they aren't being hounded the way the Nazis were and just exit history quietly.
With an output like that I could run Chez Szondy and still have enough left over for a nice little death ray.
Saturday, 24 May 2008
Friday, 23 May 2008
A video report on the Exeter bombing from The Telegraph. Apparently the mentally retarded man was getting text messages of "encouragement" from his "friends". To quote a police source,
This really does mark a low point for Muslim extremists. We are all horrified by what has happened here.
I'm not exactly jumping up and down about this one. While it's great to see New Labour taking one in the eye, it isn't much of a win when it goes to New Conservative, which runs on the manifesto of "we're just like New Labour except we'll do it bit less wretchedly."
Now if they'd won on a promise of (for a start) repealing everything that New Labour has done in the past eleven years, dismantling the Welfare State forthwith, placing a moratorium on immigration, quiting the EU immediately and admitting flatly that we are at war and that it will be prosecuted as such with full vigour and a tripled defence budget with all combat operations funded by emergency spending bills, then you'd get my attention.
Thursday, 22 May 2008
Stand by for the inevitable-but-never-evident Anti-Muslim Backlashtm.
Update: The suspect turns out to be a mentally ill man with the mind of a ten-year old, who was primed and set off by his "brethren".
What a charming lot these Jihadists are.
Until I can sort out a work around, EI will be working on diminished service.
Please feel free to line up outside of Google headquarters and point at them with disapproval.
Wednesday, 21 May 2008
Tuesday, 20 May 2008
Monday, 19 May 2008
(T)he idea is to do it in a way that's not crazy.Yes, that "crazy" hurtle is always the toughest. To quote the late Pete and Dud on being called a nutcase,
They said the same of Jesus Christ, Freud, and Galileo.
They said it of a lot of nutcases too.
Given the track record of allegedly user-friendly technology and that when I'm trapped in the ruins of a flooding building while the waters are cresting my lower lip that last thing I want is to be stimulated, reassured or enlightened by a hunk of animated tin, I shan't be surprised when the suicide rate among disaster victims skyrockets.
Sunday, 18 May 2008
Putting aside the fact that tigers, muggers and open manholes are somewhat resistant to digital editing when you're up close, we'd like to respectfully point out that Zaphod Beeblebrox got there first–with predictable results.
Some of these possibilities are so radical that the creatures benefiting from them would no longer be “human”, in the way we think of it. The end of humanity then is not in itself a concern; making sure that those who replace us are better than we are is a huge and timely concern.When a professor of bioethics talks like this, it makes the most bloodstained Druid look like a humanitarian in comparison.
Saturday, 17 May 2008
The moral of this 1980's nuclear parable from the BBC:
Thatcher is ever so mean, listen to the CND, unilaterally disarm and give in to those nice, peace-loving, non-expansionist (I've just scratched Arthur Scargill's name on my pencil box) Communists now or you're DOOMED!!
Friday, 16 May 2008
Trouble was, no newts.
Leicestershire County Council last seen walking away slowly while looking up at the sky and whistling.
In a nod gritty realism, Whedon confronts today's grim fact that anyone who looks like a model, dresses in dark tones and sports a solemn expression must be up to no good.
Thursday, 15 May 2008
A beautiful example of Whitehall logic: The most sophisticated warships in the world and the MOD wants to run them on salad dressing.