In 2002, Bowie submitted this application for the tiny pool of Rock and Roll Comeback stories.
The grunge and noise rock inclinations of the Reeves Gabrels era are scaled back. The music that came before was like an overgrown forest, while Heathen has strip-cut and burned out areas of emptiness. If nothing else, the album has space.
It labours mightily to recapture the magic of 70s Bowie. The lead single “Slow Burn” is reheated “Heroes”, a song that captures distance and time with reverb-soaked guitars and a vaguely motorik-inspired drum performance (and a Pete Townsend guitar solo, too). The Pixies cover “Cactus” strangely echoes the jangly, raw Mick Ronson era.
And there’s one song that blends past and present bewilderingly: a cover of the Legendary Stardust Cowboy’s novelty song “I Took A Trip on a Gemini Spaceship” (Bowie, in a decision that will never be explained, changed the title to “-Craft”.)
The “Ledge”, incidentally is an odd character from Lubbock, Texas, briefly famous in the 60s (he inspired Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” name) and then forgotten. Bowie had heard that he was complaining of never making any money from Ziggy Stardust, and figured out a way to make him whole!
“Everyone Says Hi” and “A Better Future” are charming and innocent, but thin starvelings of songs. “5.15 The Angels Have Gone” is heftier, and has better hooks. The title track “Heathen” is wonderful, containing lumbering guitars, and lonely saxophone lines (which evokes “Heroes” once again).
I like a lot of Heathen, but I prefer the baroque side to the efforts at writing hits on the first half of the album. I’m also surprised by how good the covers are. Normally, covers are the weaknesses of Bowie’s albums, not the strong parts.
Radio personality Ron Bennington described comedy as a game of “tell a joke, or become the joke”. Audiences view their interest in you as an investment; fail to reward that investment and they exact their reward with tar and feathers.
John Romero, bad boy game designer, quit id Software (which he had co-founded) in 1996 to launch a new company, Ion Storm, under the mantra “design is law”. It was supposed to revolutionize 3D gaming. Instead, he became a joke. Daikatana was planned to ship with the 1997 holiday season, but instead it came out in 2000 in a plague field of negative publicity, after going through two engine upgrades, a full dev team, and thirty million dollars in funding.
What went wrong is a fascinating story (told here by Gamespot’s Geoff Keighley) which has become an industry cautionary tale. It ended Romero’s career as an A-List game developer, and he’s spent twenty years bouncing from company to company, leaving a shallow strew of indie and mobile shovelware. Assuming you’re immune to the charms of Gunman Taco Truck and Pettington Park, Daikatana will likely remain Romero’s last hurrah as a game dev.
Was it any good? Well, that depends on what you want. If you’re eager to play four badly designed half-a-games at once, with a graphical engine years out of date, it’s quite good.
It’s a first person shooter featuring “RPG” “elements” (LEVEL UP flashes on the screen occasionally, and this apparently does something.) Things start off with a cutscene: an old man dying of polygon deficiency explains the plot to you. It goes on for quite a while, and the developers must have decided it was static and dull, because they have ninjas jump out of the shadows, beat the shit out of the old man, and run away…after which he continues explaining the plot to you. A mood is created. I don’t think it’s the mood the developers intended.
The story is confusing and lacks direction: it reminds me of a ten year old boy’s narrative about Spiderman fighting Sonic in Fraggle Rock, or whatever. It has no setting except the collision of random cultural debris. There’s time travel, ancient Greece, a black sidekick called Superfly (note the spelling) and an Asian female sidekick who’s into martial arts, a giant sword…
The game has massive “depth”, but so does the Marianas Trench. Eleven thousand meters of water and squidshit isn’t interesting, and nor is Daikatana’s huge stack of poorly-integrated, half-tested features.
Why did they shove in RPG-like stats when they have no visible impact on gameplay? Why is there an XP system? What does it do, and why do I care? Why design unique enemies for every level when they all feel like variants of either “annoying fast flying enemy” or “enraging slow ammunition-sponge”?
None of the weapons obey logic. There’s a double-barrelled shotgun that fires six shots at once (???), a rocket launcher that shoots two twisty rockets that hit everything except the enemy you aimed them at, etc. This is MC Escher with a gun catalog. The titular weapon, the Daikatana, proves to be a gigantic sword that blocks a large portion of your screen when you have it equipped. It cuts everything in half, starting with your own vision!
But worst part is the sidekicks.
They have the worst AI I have ever seen. They run in front of your gun. They get stuck on corners. They get crushed by elevators. They ignore weapons on the ground and charge heavily-armed enemies using their fists. When they die you lose, and they exist at all times in a state of permanent about-to-die. They are comprehensively broken.
Daikatana off the box is unplayable because of the sidekicks. Unplayable. I recommend you download the patch that deletes the fucking sidekicks from the game, thus rehabbing it to “barely playable”.
The graphics are visually interesting at times (how often do you see the colour purple in FPS titles?), but mostly dull and ugly. There’s no vibrancy. Why did they upgrade from the Quake engine when the colour scheme recreates most of Quakes excesses?
What else was happening in 2000? What did the market look like? System Shock 2, Perfect Dark, Deus Ex, Half Life, Unreal Tournament, NOLF, and two Quake games. Next to these titles, Daikatana just looks dated and old. Daikatana isn’t as bad as people say: it’s worse.
Paralysis based on traumatic shock lasts for a few minutes. Careers based on cultural shock last only slightly longer. Irvine Welsh, Bret Easton Ellis, Clive Barker, and Will Self gained fame through transgression and then lost it, with the world moving on and forgetting them.
Chuck Palahniuk is still toiling on in 2018, though his 1996 book Fight Club increasingly resembles a tombstone. Adjustment Day tries to recapture Fight Club’s urgency, along with trying many other things. It’s a confused book, windmilling punches in all directions.
It begins as a parody of generational aggrievement. A surplus number of young men threatens to disturb the global order, and so the ruling classes plot a staged war to dramatically thin their numbers. But, at the urging of a tract by the Big Brother-esque figure of Talbott Reynolds, the young men rise up and eliminate the ruling class first, seizing control of the United States.
Adjustment Day is somewhat successful here, because Palahniuk manages to hit some socially relevant points (the young men share a list of names of people to kill and vote on them, like a Reddit thread). And the revolution, when it comes, is entertainingly ultra-violent.
But the book then shifts to a parody of cultural balkanisation. The United States splits into three nations, the exclusively homosexual Gaysia (which is run like a continent-sized bathhouse), the white ethno-state of Caucasia (which is like A Handmaid’s Tale), and the black ethno-state of Blacktopia (which is like Wakanda).
One of Adjustment Day‘s many weaknesses is that everything in it is exactly like something else. It doesn’t have an identity, it steals existence from other things. “Remember this? Were you aware of this? Remember the emotions this piece of media made you feel?” In a moment of desperation, Palahniuk even name-checks Fight Club, which feels like a musician trying to rouse a tepid crowd with an old hit.
The prose is spare and minimalist, but hard to read. Adjustment Day feels like eating a huge urn of light whipped cream. The characters are spasming balls of angst and introspection, none of them seeming like real people. The book soon collapses into broad farce before the ending occurs, which is so dull that I’ve already forgotten what happens.
I didn’t like it much.
Waterworld is a dystopian film that came out in 1995, stunning audiences around the globe with half-empty cinemas and poor box office profits.
The film depicts a future where water covers the entire planet, and mankind survives on bolted-together rafts and floating cities. The nameless protagonist (played by Kevin Costner) has gills, allowing him to swim to the ocean floor and retrieve dirt and other artifacts.
Waterworld relies on TVTrope’s Rule of Cool, meaning its setting is dictated by aesthetic concerns and not realism or logic. In order to make sense of Waterworld, you must assume that large amounts of information presented in the film isn’t true. But some of it’s interesting to think about – for example, the gills. How realistic are they? Would (or could) a population of humans living on an endless sea evolve gills?
First, we need a time-frame: how far in the future does Waterworld take place? We aren’t told, but probably decades to centuries. Long enough that humans have forgotten civilization, but short enough that artifacts of 20th century civilization remain. The base of the villainous “Smokers” is (in a heavy-handed touch) the Exxon-Valdez oil tanker, and it’s still floating. Production designer Dennis Gassner stated that the film is set in the year 2500. Let’s assume this is true.
Already, there are insurmountable problems. 500 years is equal to only twenty human generations, not nearly enough time for complex new adaptions to appear in the human genotype. In evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski’s famous experiment, it took twenty thousand generations of e. coli  before a useful novel trait emerged (the ability to metabolize citrate). Considering a human generation length of 25 years, an equivalent time-span would be half a million years. We aren’t even within the right three orders of magnitude!
Evolutionary traits emerge slowly, through a grinding process of random mutations which appear at a rate of approximately 0.5×10-9 per basepair per year. Even if the mutation rate in Waterworld was ten times the current rate (through elevated background radiation or whatever), that’s still only 0.5×10-8 per year. Virtually all of these mutations do nothing, the ones that do something typically cause a loss of function (it’s easier to break something than accidentally improve it), and the ones that do help have a 50% chance of vanishing in a child of the next generation anyway.
It gets worse when you consider that the gills are clearly not a de novo mutation. The men on the atoll instantly recognize the slits behind Kevin Costner’s ears as gills, and they even have a name for him (“Icthyus sapien”). They have seen men like him before. The gill trait has existed for a while, and might be under a (insert joke here) Fisherian sweep, thus cutting the timeline further still: the gills might only be ten or fifteen generations old!
It is vaguely possible that humans could evolve to be aquatic. We have examples of land-based mammals returning to the sea, the most famous being the cetacean order (whales and dolphins), which evolved from an amphibious ancestor not unlike the modern hippopotamus. But this process took millions of years, and cetaceans never evolved gills. They kept the respiratory method they already had. Gills, it appears, evolved only once (4), and the creatures that evolved an alternate method never went back.
And this leads to the second issue with humans evolving gills: we already have lungs.
Virtually every single thing about our respiratory system and upper-body bone system would need to change to accomodate them. We wouldn’t even look human. The men of the atoll wouldn’t have needed to check behind Kevin Costner’s ears to confirm that he’s a mutant. It would have been obvious at a hundred paces.
Fish require special bone structures called branchial arches to support their gills. The tetrapod lineage (which humans belong to) has long since repurposed those bones to make the thyroid gland, part of the jaw, the larynx, and the bones in the ear. If Kevin Costner magically evolved gills, he would suddenly be unable to talk (no larynx), unable to hear (no inner ear), and unable to eat (parts of his jaw and hyoid structure wouldn’t exist!).
Truthfully, gills probably wouldn’t evolve in humans given any length of time. We’ve gone too far down a different path. Evolution would have to awkwardly walk back many millions of years of development to our chest cavities.
Even if gills were a desirable method for breathing in humans (which they probably aren’t) evolution is highly limited by the fact that it’s step based, with all intermediate forms needing to be viable. In other words, humans can’t halfway evolve gills. Imagine a toy model of gills that relies on five traits. 1) a Branchial arch 2) a transport mechanism for moving oxygen around the body 3) a filtering system for elimination of waste 4) the gill tissue itself 5) and a gill spiracle, or slit. All of these would need to be present for the creature to survive. Suppose a creature miraculously evolved 1-4, but not 5. It would instantly suffocate, as it couldn’t expel water.
Truthfully, gills aren’t even the wackiest stuff in the movie. There’s an embarrassing part where Kevin Costner fights a Resident Evil 4 boss. Where did this thing come from in 500 years?
You might ask “are these even gills? Or are they some weird new breathing method that everyone calls gills out of convenience?” Good questions, which I’d answer “no” and “yes”.
These things look and behave nothing like gills.
1) they’re too small. Costner’s ear-slits are just a few inches long. Compare with how big they are on fish, and consider that humans are endotherms, regulating their own body temperature, with significantly higher oxygen needs.
2) They’re ridiculously efficient, to the point of breaking the laws of physics. An adult human land aspirates about eight liters of air per minute – hold your hand over your nose, and feel how much air you’re pumping and out of your body. Water only has about 5% as much oxygen by volume as air, so if we assume that gilled humans have similar oxygen needs, Kevin Costner would need to “breathe” one hundred and sixty liters of seawater every minute just to survive. (There’s even less dissolved oxygen in the deep oceans where the Mariner dives).
By way of comparison, the fog nozzle hoses used by firefighters typically discharge 60 litres of water a minute. Each of those tiny slits behind Kevin Costner’s ears is ejecting nearly half again as much water as a firefighter’s hose, every minute. Even if he could do this, he’d rapidly exhaust the local environment of oxygen and suffocate. The gills could only be used for brief dives, not lengthy underwater swims as shown in the movie.
3) Visual evidence is…incompatible with gills. Here’s a screen-capture of Kevin Costner underwater. There’s a massive problem – can you see it?
His mouth is shut! How is oxygenated water entering his body? Through his nostrils? Those tiny openings that are designed to keep water getting in? Are those tiny holes sucking in a hundred and sixty liters per minute?
Or this shot, where we see bubbles appearing from Costner’s…mouth? Shouldn’t they be coming from behind his ears?
Most damning is the mouth to mouth resuscitation scene with Jeanne Tripplehorn. There’s no air in Costner’s lungs! How is he doing this?
I have no clue how he’s breathing. But he is absolutely not using gills.
Given the confused terminology used by the characters (one asks if the gills are fully functional or merely “vestigial”, which makes no sense – a vestigial part is a functionless organ left behind by evolution, not a new trait), it makes most sense to assume this is a totally novel breathing mechanism that’s everyone calls gills because they don’t know any better.
Given all of the above strangeness, how does Waterworld waterwork?
There are two theories:
1. Waterworld is set on alien planet. This would solve many plot issues (such as how the melting of the polar ice caps covered the entire world), but create many bigger ones. We see countless terrestrial artifacts: crayons, cigarettes, bottles of Jack Daniels, and even a photograph of Joseph Jeffrey Hazelwood (the captain of the Exxon-Valdez). The film is absolutely set on Earth.
2. Waterworld is The Truman Show.
Let’s ignore the opening narrative (who is this person, and why assume they’re truthful?). Suppose that a futuristic government cordons off a large area of ocean, fills it brainwashed or deluded people, and allows them to think that the ocean covers the entire world. How would they ever know otherwise? The occasional sailors who reach the shore could be turned back (after being brainwashed again).
This provides explanations for the “gills” (genetic engineering), the sea monster (genetic engineering), the fast-decaying tobacco and oil (discreetly supplied by the government to add excitement to the game, like a weapon at a WWE event), and a host of other problems. (It should be noted that in 1997 Acclaim published a four-issue comic series which tried to address some plot problems. For example, the main character is explicitly genetically engineered.)
But it would have made for an unsatisfying story. Trick endings only work if the truth is more interesting than the illusion (Psycho, The Usual Suspects, and The Sixth Sense), and if it’s not (The Village), the audience feels cheated. “It was all a lie” would be a troubling note to end on in a movie devoted to heroism and bravura spectacle, and the screenwriters were probably wise not to go down that route.
And despite the film’s problems, the ending rings true. Everyone thinks Costner’s character is crazy for wanting to go back to the water, but if we take the film at face value, he’s the only sane one there. The future of humanity isn’t on a tiny, plague-ridden island, it’s in the ocean, and he is one of the first of a new race.
1. The Making of Waterworld by Janine Pourroy (August 1995). Production designer Dennis Gassner states: “The date was 2500.”
2. Blount, Lensky, et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0803151105)
3. Scally A (December 2016). “The mutation rate in human evolution and demographic inference”. Current Opinion in Genetics & Development. 41: 36–43. doi:10.1016/j.gde.2016.07.008. PMID 27589081.
4. Origin of Vertebrate Gills, Nature 2017/02/22
Reviewing games in 2019 is impossible. You’re shooting at a moving target: every game in 2019 is a weird quasi-finished v0.5 Pre-Release Early Access Beta, requiring a 24/7 internet connection so it can stream five gigabytes of updated content each day.
Once, a game was a $60 box with a CD in it. It was finished. It did not change. But now, a game is a spewing open sewer on your hard drive, fountaining out a never-ending deluge of shit: new characters, new mechanics, new loot boxes, new collectible cards, and new internet memes.
The ever-changing nature of modern games makes them difficult to talk about. It’s like reading a book with George RR Martin yanking pages out and gluing new ones in, or watching a movie while Peter Jackson is still directing it.
Apex Legends is the new contender for the battle royale throne. It features the genre’s standard game mode (a huge number of players, vying for dominance on a map that shrinks in size), merged with the team-based heroism of Blizzard’s Overwatch. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds asked “where will you go?” Apex Legends asks “where will you go, and with whom?”
The game leaves an indelible visual impression. Every battle royale game has a launch sequence, but this is the most visually stunning one yet, with the screen wracked by bloom and lens effects and your characters quipping as they skydive. I enjoyed the way everyone leaves coloured trails of smoke (so you can guide your team away from groups of players…or towards them, if you like living dangerously).
When you land, you loot. Your first port of call should be a gun (or two guns): the characters are absolute bullet sponges, and it’s frustrating to empty a full magazine into someone’s chest and have them continue charging at you.
It also takes time to learn the idiosyncrasies of each weapons – for example, the Peacemaker shotgun has such a tight spread that it can be almost used like a rifle, and the Mozambique is laughably underpowered, to the point where it’s better to use your melee attack. The Devotion energy rifle has a “spin-up” (the longer you fire it, the more damage it inflicts), which in practice means the enemy takes a weak shot or two, runs away, and the powerful end of the burst splatters uselessly against a wall. The gunplay as a whole, feels slightly underdeveloped.
So, too does the much-hyped character-based element.
Before each game, you choose your “legend”, each of whom has different tactical abilities. Unlike Overwatch, these are fairly subtle and seldom game-changing. Bangalore can throw smoke. Pathfinder can set up a zipline.
The number one reason to choose one legend over another is their hitbox size – Wraith is the current favorite among the Twitch elite, because her tiny size makes her difficult to hit. You will have a miserable time playing as Gibraltar and Caustic: their massive hitboxes attract every bullet on the server, or so it seems.
So there are balance issues between weapons, and balance issues between legends. I’m sure these will be rectified – hence why reviewing games is pointless. Anything I can criticize might be completely different tomorrow.
One thing that deserves unreserved praise is the pinging system. In other games, communication with your allies is difficult: you either have to type a message, or get on voicechat and entrust your teamplay to pubescent voices and $5.00 microphones. Not anymore. Apex Legends allows you to rapidly ping locations on the map, indicate supplies for your team, flare enemies, and even cancel the last message you sent in the case of a false alarm. They really did think of everything, and a good team can execute complex strategies based on two seconds of pinging.
I also must praise something that isn’t in the game – there are no emotes for dabbing, or floss dancing, or any of that shit. Good.
But overall, the game needs more content. There’s still only one map, and eight legends, two of which must be unlocked (didn’t Overwatch launch with 21?). There’s a lavish assortment of paid skins – the game is free, and this is how they plan on making money – and it’s clear that a lot of effort that could have made Apex Legends a stronger game instead went into creating fluorescent blue Mirage vests and sparkly glitter covers for guns.
On balance, I had a good time with Apex Legends. I hope it gets better, but what they gave us isn’t bad. The battle royale genre is now out of its formative stage, and into its development stage. Genres are being mixed up and recombined, in the hopes of scoring the next crossover hit. I have no idea whether Apex Legends will still be the state of the art in six months, but it’s clearly the state of the art right now.
In my review of Rock & Rule, I stated that it’s an adult film with no adult content.
This is not true; I saw an edited cut. According to the Rock & Rule wiki (??!), a version exists featuring brief nudity from Debbie Harry’s character, Angel. (Described below by an anonymous superfan, who gets way too into it. The Zapruder film wasn’t this obsessively analyzed.)
For most of the film, Angel wears a conservative but stylish red blazer over a black top with matching black pants, boots and a gold belt. After Mok enslaves and drugs her, she is forced to wear a very skimpy outfit for her involuntary performance at his concert. The outfit is a dress with a bare back and a front narrow enough to expose the sides of her bare breasts. The lower half of the dress is two fabric panels in the front and the back divided by slits up to her pelvis on either side, exposing her legs to the top of her hips. Also, Angel is not only going in her bare feet, she also isn’t wearing anything underneath her dress. We can see she’s bare underneath when the breeze periodically causes the fabric panels to lift, exposing her bare tush and the creases of her pelvis. This especially happens when she is singing to the demon and the back panel of her dress flips up, revealing her bare bum.
Can the coast guard mount a rescue mission for this man’s keyboard? It appears to be drowning in an ocean of its owner’s drool. Additional credits to society chime in the comments.
Based on her haircut, general appearance, it looks like they actually modeled her at least somewhat on Debbie Harry, who provided her singing voice.
Nothing gets past Sherlock here.
Angel’s brown” fur is actually her skin. After all, “fur is skin” exists according to TV Tropes & Idioms. So her sexy, thick, buxom, toned body is exposed.
A compelling argument, backed by citation. Can I suggest a career as a lawyer? You’ll be spending a lot of time in courtrooms either way.
Yeah, I think she and would get along well to being friends and having fun as girls. Her natural personality reminds me of a lot of the I usually hang out with. You rule Angel girl!!!! <3 :)
You shouldn’t think that, because Angel’s not your friend, or even a real person. She’s a cartoon mouse. Parasocial fixations on fictional characters are unhealthy, and you should make some real friends.
By the way, reading the heart ASCII <3 requires that you tilt your head to the right, and the smiley emoticon :) requires a tilt in the opposite direction. When the two appear back to back, you’d technically have to whiplash your head 180 degrees to read the text. Pretty painful, and if you did it fast enough, it might even prove fatal.
This could be used as an assassination method. Copy and paste “<3 :) <3 :) <3 :) <3 :) <3 :) <3 :) <3 :) <3 :) <3 :)” into an email, send it to your enemy, and see if they snap their spine. Or maybe that’s not how it works, maybe you’re supposed to imagine that the smiley is tilting its head. Can smileys be killed this way? Let’s try. :) :( :) :( :) :( :) :( :) :(. There. I just rocked and rolled it to death.
You’ve heard about this, or will: James Gunn was dismissed from the production of Guardians of the Galaxy 3.
First, condolences. I don’t often talk about this, but I was fired from a multi-million dollar movie production too. To get technical, I was “fired” in the sense of never being hired for one, but still, the wound is fresh.
What led to his firing? Some tweets, years old. Some are innocent, their context snipped away by sélecteur Mike Cernovich (a far right figure who apparently wanted Gunn fired). A couple were clearly jokes.
This scandal has provoked opinions, most of them bad. So far, nearly everything I’ve read about the firing of James Gunn is united in missing the mark.
“Why joke about that sort of stuff?” Why not joke about it? People joke about all manner of things. “It’s offensive!” Thank you, @JudenGrinderPepe1488, for being the voice of moral guidance we sorely need. “It trivializes pedophilia!” No, it doesn’t, dumbshit. It’s transgressive humor, which means it relies on shock and outrage. If pedophilia is trivial, the joke does not work.
I realise that many people don’t find Gunn’s humor funny, and don’t comprehend how anyone could. Let me attempt an explanation: when you joke about pedophilia, the goal is not to get a laugh but to provoke a shocked “ew!” response in your audience, which is isomorphic to humor in the minds of some people. In the same way, people eat chili peppers, not because capsaicinoids taste great, but because the burning sensation on your tongue is pleasurable. Maybe you don’t find it funny. This is because you’re trying to read a language without the necessary vocabulary. I think jazz is unlistenable, but this isn’t jazz’s fault: I’ve been trained to process music in certain ways that, unfortunately, have welded my brain shut to Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. Your sense of humor was shaped by things, too, and when you judge something as unfunny, it judges you back.
You should still understand that firing people for jokes is wrong. After all, someday a person with power won’t understand one of your jokes.
But there’s an even more annoying sentiment being expressed, mostly from the political left. They are attempting to finesse some sort of culture war story where where unprincipled right wing conservatives are getting leftists fired in bad faith, something that would never happen in reverese because only the left has standards and decency and honor and (heavy breathing commences).
This narrative collapses under five minutes of investigation, but that isn’t the point. Cernovich did not fire Gunn. He does not own Disney, is not on their board of directors, and has no power over them whatsoever.
Disney fired Gunn.
Twitter’s remedy is “don’t pay attention to trolls like Cernovich”, which isn’t a solution at all. Bad faith actors are everywhere, and someone else will pull the same stunt tomorrow. Playing whack a mole with individuals is a waste of time in an ecosystem this vast: and Gunn-esque firings will continue to happen until we think systemically.
This requires a sidetrack into another topic: computer viruses.
In my lifetime, I have seen an interesting shift in who we blame for viruses on the internet.
In the 90s, we blamed the creator of the virus. When your computer got infected, you felt personally slighted, as if hax0rkid69 did the equivalent of leaving a bag of flaming shit on your front porch.
In the 00s, a shift happened, and we blamed the user. It was grandma’s fault for not recognizing that the .jpg had a hidden .exe at the end of it. Partly it was the fact that the era of personal “you got pwned by hax0rkid69!” attacks were over. Viruses relatively bland and anonymous, as if they’d achieved sentience and were programming themselves, and most had goals of marketing or theft rather than blind destruction. Mostly, it was learned helplessness. There were so many that trying to drop the hammer on individual virus creators was futile. The only way to stop them was for grandma to learn how to use her damned computer.
But in the 2010s, another shift happened. Nobody blames virus creators, or grandma. Just as we accept that viruses exist and will never go away, we also accept that incompetent users exist and will never go away. If your defense model relies on everyone exhibiting pluperfect competence, you have failed as a security engineer.
Now, we blame the system.
Scott Alexander recently commented that Apple’s MacOS contains an autocorrect that works on medical terms (such as changing “duloxetine” to “fluoxetine”). Apple fans arrived to point out that this can be very easily switched off…and the backlash was amazing, and inspiring. It’s not the responsibility of several million end users to navigate around Apple’s potentially life-threatening incompetence. The responsibility rests with the creators of the system. What makes more sense, solving a problem in O(n) or O(1) time?
This is an evolution of thought that should be applied to bad-faith actors getting their political opponents fired. Blaming Cernovich is bass-ackwards – the equivalent of getting mad at a script kiddie who infected your computer. Blaming Gunn is equally counterproductive. He would still have his job if he hadn’t sent those tweets, but he couldn’t have known those tweets would cost him his job when he sent them, just as grandma can’t reasonably be expected to check her emails for .exe attachments. Additionally, “those tweets were unacceptable but James Gunn deserves a second chance!” is a subcategory of “blaming Gunn”.
The only people handling this correctly are the ones blaming the big mouse.
Gunn had the misfortune to work in a system that is both increasingly risk averse and sensitive to PR scandals. This isn’t unreasonable: PR scandals are one of the few things a big corporation cannot control. Fortunately, there’s a ready solution: make it so that firing people for Twitter jokes leads to an even bigger PR scandal. That’s a risk companies need to be even more averse to.
Bitcoin (as conceived by the vaguely Galt-like figure of Satoshi Nakimoto) was supposed to be the next evolution of money. What were the earlier evolutions?
Once, money didn’t exist, and nobody needed to it exist. Early man was apparently a fission-fusion society, with all of its members able to provide the means of their own survival.
Then our brains grew bigger, our toolmaking more sophisticated, and a problem emerged: some new skills took a long time to learn. It was no longer possible for one person to be good at everything. We began to specialise – some dug storage pits, some wove nets, some fashioned spears. Humanity went from being freestanding pylons to a truss-frame bridge, each member relying on the other members to not fall down.
We began to trade our skills, establishing the first economy. Contrary to common belief, there isn’t much reason to think early man made use of a “barter” economy, with goods traded directly for other goods. The more common scenario was likely a economies based on gift-giving (as is seen in hunter gatherers today). Either way, with lots of gifts, and lots of giving, everyone received what they need.
But barter and gift based economies have a weakness: some things can’t be easily swapped or traded. If I make hats and you make houses, how are we supposed to transact? Do I get a house and you get a hundred hats? Do you get a hat and I get a half a retaining wall? Suppose you can’t begin building my house for six weeks, when the weather improves, but you want your hat right now? Is there any way we can conduct business?
Yes, but first we need a way of storing value. Suppose we take all the pebbles from a beach, and distribute them evenly among the tribe. If I make you a hat, you give me a pebble. If you build me a house, I give you a hundred pebbles. If you can’t build my house for six weeks, then I have assumed risk (you might not build the house), so maybe you’ll agree to only take eighty pebbles as payment for your work. Skilled and valuable people will be rewarded with lots of pebbles (proxies for hats, and houses, and fish). If your supply runs low, then perhaps it’s a sign that you’re taking more from the tribe than you are giving.
The system works so long as there are a fixed number of pebbles in circulation. It breaks down instantly if I walk further down the coast, discover a new beach nobody knows about, and put hundreds of pebbles in a wheelbarrow. Now my store of pebbles no longer matches my input of labor to the tribe. The market is distorted, people will lose faith in it, and the stability goes away. Maybe a fish is worth one pebble, maybe a thousand.
The requirements of money are manifest: it must be rare, hard to fake, and testable. In other words, you have to be able to trust it.
Money in the United States is issued by the Federal Treasury, and has sophisticated anti-counterfeiting measures, including a 3D security ribbon, a pair of matching serial numbers, and a watermark visible under UV light. It is hard to copy. I’m reminded of how Egyptian pharoahs would engrave their accomplishments on limestone, and sometimes they’d chisel out the names of the old pharoahs and replace them with their own. The Ramisside Dynasty ensured against this by carving their achievements in five inches deep into the stone. Trust is the heart of everything.
For centuries, most of the world used precious metals and stones. In other parts of the world, work-based currency was used: Oliva carneola snail shells painstakingly ground down to size, and threaded through with beads. They were labour intensive to make that nobody could crash the market with sudden injections of volume.
But using physical items as money has its own problem, and it’s a sneaky one that doesn’t seem obvious at first: deflation.
Economies usually grow. This is a very predictable fact about them. Populations increase (adding extra labour input), technology improves (adding a labour multiplier) and infrastructure improves (facilitating trade). And if there’s a fixed number of snail shells in circulation, each of them becomes capable of buying more and more product.
The result? People start hoarding snail shells, because if they spend them, they’ve traded an increasingly valuable item for a flat line. The economy slows down, because not enough people are actually using the currency.
In recent centuries, most countries have passed from a metallist system (where money is backed by precious metals) to a fiat system, where pieces of paper are valuable essentially because the government has decided that they are. This allows fine-tuning, and intricate control. If the economy is deflating, the government can introduce more money.
The only issue, again, is trust. How much do you trust your government? Do you think they’ll look out for your best interests? And even if they do, how much longer do you think your government will continue to exist for?
The fiat system seems to work. The grass grows and the trains arrive on time. But it’s hard not to feel like Wile E Coyote running off a cliff into empty air.
Bitcoin was supposed to be the next evolution of money. Unfortunately, at some point this new transitional form ended up at the bottom of a tar pit. More later.
Paradox: a perfect sociopath would have a really good sense of empathy.
In CS Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, a devil laments the fact that evil is crippled, unless it also contains a strain of good. Bill Maher expounded upon a similar point: the 9/11 hijackers were courageous. They wouldn’t have been able to fly a plane into a building otherwise.
I see a lot of “low-functioning sociopathy” in the world, where someone attempts shenanigans and fails because they don’t actually understand how normal humans think. To really fuck with someone, you’ve got to be one of them. Or at least, you have to be able to model the way they think. A sociopath with an intact theory of mind would be really dangerous.
Recently, there was a protest at Columbia University. A few people attempted to frame the protestors as pro-pedophilia by infiltrating their ranks and holding up a “NO PEDO BASHING” banner.
The trouble is, actual pedophiles never never refer to themselves as “pedos”. The word is used as a pejorative. They instead use words like “boylove” and “hebephilia”.
The most visible of such organisations is the North American Man/Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA. A Google search for “pedo”/”paedo” retrieves just seven results (out of 161 total pages) on their website, all of which are either quotes from other people, sarcastic gestures towards the media’s “pedo-hysteria”, or furious negation that the term applies to them.
A pedophile group with a “no pedo bashing” banner is about as believable as an anti-racist group with a “no nigger bashing” banner .
It’s a plant. An obvious plant, unless you’re stupid, or pretending to be stupid. The banner itself is large and attractive, with lots of colours. It’s the best banner at the protest, from what I can see. Someone spent money printing it. Too bad that it’s a sign that nobody actually holding pro-pedophilia views would write.
(Do you imagine that when the sociopath showed the banner to his friends, a couple of them thought “it’s too obvious” but kept their views to themselves? I mean, what benighted soul would chime in with “it should say ‘no boylove bashing'”? You’d be forever marked as “that guy who knows a lot about pedophilia.” It’s like how all men are required by law to mumble and get vague when talking about feminine hygiene products.)
Apparently, this was the same group of waterheads who planted that embarassingly fake Rape Melania sign at a protest outside a Trump International Hotel…angled perfectly towards the camera, even though the rest of the protestors are facing the opposite direction, at the hotel.
I’m torn. I mean, it’s a pretty ignoble thing to do…but since they’re so incompetent at it, maybe they should be encouraged?
(By theory of mind, I mean the one Sally-Anne False-Belief ability that we gain at around four years of age. Tell a child this story: Tweedledee puts a marble in a box and leaves the room. Then Tweedledum enters the room, takes the marble out of the box, and puts it in his left pocket. Tweedledee now wants his marble. Where will he look for it? If the child is three or younger, they will answer “in Tweedledum’s left pocket!” Only as they mature do they realise that although they they know the marble’s correct location, Tweedledee thinks it’s still in the box. Of course, maybe Tweedledee heard Tweedledum enter the room, knows that he likes to steal marbles, and furthermore, knows that he is left handed. In that case, you might expect him to check Tweedledum’s left pocket first. Your theory of mind must reason two levels deep: Tweedledee’s mind -> Tweedledum’s mind -> reality. Or suppose Tweedledum is sneaky and puts the marble in his right pocket to confound expectations. You’re now three levels deep: Tweedledum’s mind -> Tweedledee’s mind -> Tweedledum’s mind -> reality. This can be carried forward an infinite number of steps, minds mirroring minds, until the test subject reaches the end of their ability.)
[Forgot to post this. No longer topical.]
Today, as on so many other days, America crouched in fear.
Why must history always repeat? We talk, and wring our hands, and promise to fix the problem, and yet here we are again: the quietness shatters like glass, and the air turns lethal. Once again, The United States is in the grip of an op-ed writing spree.
Right now, there are countless journalists picking firing words at defenseless strangers. Even as you read this, a delusional madman, prompted only by mental illness and a fetishistic need for attention, is about to unleash the terrifying staccato noise of a fully automatic keyboard.
In a just world, there would be a law banning civilians from owning unlicensed opinions. But thanks to lobbying by pro-opinion activists, American still labours under the loathsome “First Amendment”, allowing any psychotic to spray rapid-fire opinions at defenseless people.
Here is one shell casing. The NY Times declares that regulations in cars reduced the number of deaths via car, and that regulation for guns might produce a similar effect.
There’s a joke about economists who try to calculate the value of cows from the price of a steak in a restaurant. The NY Times appears to be doing the same thing, except the steak has already been processed through someone’s lower intestine.
They’ve taken a summary statistic (deaths per 100 million vehicle miles travelled), put it on a bar graph, and are implying that various regulations are the reason for the decrease. This sort of thing is difficult unless you know exactly how the sausage is made (ideally, the process should be reversible, with all the input variables known). Does the NY Times know this? Does anyone?
Urban roads are far safer than those in rural areas: “Based on data from 2009, highways in rural areas have a fatality risk that is 2.7 times greater than that in urban areas. In general the lower average speeds, greater provision of lighting, greater deployment of traffic control devices and fewer curves in urban areas more than compensate for factors such as the greater number of intersections and the presence of pedestrians.” Over the relevant period, the urban population of the US increased from around 50% of the total to nearly 90%. Could this affect anything?
Cars are safer and more reliable than they were in the 1950s. In some ways this is driven by regulatory requirements, such as the ones in the NY Times article. In other cases, they’re clearly not. Safer cars are more marketable, and I would expect them to out-compete unsafe cars. Early vehicles (such as the 1936 Cadillac had rigid dashboards, studded with knifelike projections. These were replaced with padded polyurethane dashboards, not through law, but apparently largely through market demands.
I’d also wonder about medical care, which is better today than it was in the past. This should have a reductive effect on car mortality, completely orthogonal to government regulation. If I stab someone in the chest in 2017, they’ll rush him to emergency, stabilize the injury, obtain a chest radiograph, perform an orotracheal intubation, clean the wound with saline, and if God is good, he might survive. If I stab someone in 1917, there’s probably nothing anyone can do.
You’ve got a summary statistic generated by a very complicated picture of background facts, and I don’t think we can even learn anything about car regulation from it, let alone gun regulation.