Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013, Thoughts, Favorites, and Perspective

Each year I like to do a look back and try to make sense of the themes of the last twelve months, trends, culture, politics and life. This is my observations about 2013 and some of my favorite things from this year by category. Some of these may get fleshed out into longer posts, others not so much.

Trend: We have come to know Big Brother

I remember reading a couple years back an editorial in 2600, The Hacker's Quarterly, with the theme of "We've Won". The idea was that in 2012 or so, most people - if they want to - carry a powerful computer in their pocket that can talk to anyone else on the planet relatively cheap - if they choose to do so. This was one of the primary long term goals of old-school hackers - power to the people to utilize this wonderful, beautiful thing called "The Network" to at least some of its potential and it happened. This is not only technically feasible, it has achieved cultural penetration into our consciousness to the point where an 80 year old grandma reaching into her pocket to check her supercomputer because her son doing an engineering project halfway around the world just posted a picture of something he thought she should see on Facebook is no longer a "Whoa!" but just an accepted fact of everyday life. We are living in a Cyberpunk novel and it's wonderful.

I hope you brought your mirrorshades and pink leather trenchcoat

We have also accepted the ugly. That interaction was monitored a half-dozen ways by the United States alone (and maybe other nations' intelligence agencies along the way). Companies along the way are cooperative, coerced, or bribed to circumvent or allow for the circumvention of every "privacy" setting most of us ever think to enable or install. And, just as we have ingrained the ways technology has enabled us to do amazing things with ease, we have passively learned to love Big Brother.

Culture matters, and in many of the popular blockbuster films and television over the last several years and decades, we have seen "Heroes" access all manner of information to "Get the Bad Guy" with little, if any, haggling over whether or not taking all of this information was legal or moral. The NCIS team gets big data to lead them to the bad guy every week, Tony Stark or SHIELD doesn't fool around with all this "Due Process" nonsense, they get the data they need and save the day and that's all there is to it. Big Data saving the day is the entire premise of "Person of Interest" where the ultimate computer nerd and ass-kicking-CIA-Jesus team up to do the bidding of Big Data who is alive and who loves us and looks out for us.

The Passion of Big Brother

Culture matters, and our culture has been selling us super people with secret identities who save the day outside of the law for a long time. Just as 24, Taken, and Zero-Dark-Thirty led us to identify with a protagonist who tortures people, decades of stories in our culture have led us to identify with a protagonist, or entire team of them, who benevolently surveil us for our own good.

The reality, and bless Edward Snowden for shining a light on this, is that this information has been used widely beyond stopping terrorism, AND that it has not had much verifiable success IN its one and ONLY publicly accepted goal. It costs Billions and is used to gather evidence for the DEA (and likely others) then scrubs the evidence of its involvment. Unlike our worlds of fiction, this is not always a force for good and the time to discuss if this is the best, or even a wise, use of our resources is long overdue.

Person of the Year: Edward Snowden
This is the photo everyone has used for this guy for the last year

For the reasons listed above.

Book (Fiction):
Wages, Future Tales of a Hired Gun by Zach Parsons. Non-apocalypse future is the hardest kind to write. It's easier to imagine a future that throws back to the past than one that boldly forges ahead. This uses various future settings to make commentary on present events, getting sillier as we head towards the future, but I loved it all.

Book (NonFiction):
The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver. Silver writes a GREAT book about making better predictions and it is engaging from cover to cover.
(Last Year, Twilight of the Elites by Chris Hayes)

Movies: Much to say...
Biggest Grossing of the Year:
Iron Man 3

Big and Fun:
Pacific Rim

Big and Serious:

More Serious:
Assault on Wall Street
(Uwe Boll made a movie that will make you cry. I am not joking.)

Weird Indie Movie:
John Dies at the End.

Trend in Movies #1: Class Warfare on the big screen. Hunger Games is a rather obvious embodiment of this theme, but so was Elysium and Now You See Me. Audiences LOVE watching the wealthy and smug have their wealth redistributed against their will on the big screen. This is the entire premise of Assault on Wall Street and it WORKS.

Trend in movies #2: Let's admit it, the Old Guys are Old. Sly and Arnold made a film that no one went to see because we aren't living in 1987. Arnold made a movie (The Last Stand) that no one went to see. The Last Die hard was likely the last Die Hard, and White House Down was a better Die Hard than the last Die Hard movie. The Lone Ranger did only OK. Oblivion did only OK. Yup, Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp are hovering around 50 years old.

On his way home to catch Matlock before eating dinner at 4:30pm

Other Movie Mentions with One Sentence or So:

Warm Bodies
(Somehow a Zombie movie is original in 2013)
The End of the World
(So much brilliance and silliness all in one film).
Oz Great and Powerful
(I love every Army of Darkness reference and it is awesome).
Pain And Gain
(Oh.. Michael Bay is a genius, we forget that)
The Purge
(Concept horror. I love it)
(For the first time we see a Blue Collar Superman... this is strongly in contrast to Billionaire Bruce Wayne)
World War Z
(Not at all like the book but a good movie still)
Elysium, Now You See Me, and Hunger Games
(As mentioned above)
You're Next
(Home Alone: The Reckoning)
(Whoa... torture is... bad?)
Frozen and The Croods
(Family Animation I actually liked)
Wolf of Wall Street
(Scorsese and DiCaprio tell a great story about a sociopath but go read this too)

(My 2012 Movies were The Avengers and Cabin in the Woods for a Joss Whedon Sandwich.)

Television: Breaking Bad Basing this on it being talked about more than any other. The Joke alternate ending is out there and great too.

If you got this joke in its entirety, you are OLD

(2012 Pick, Life with Louie)

Video Games:THE YEAR OF NEXT GEN!, but really "Meh"

Video Game Trend #1) Next Gen is HERE!!!! With features that I can't justify spending the money on, with games that I cannot yet justify spending the money on. At E3 this year the new
generation of consoles had features fans flat out rejected until things were changed, so there is that.

Video Game Trend #2) The PC is BACK as a serious game platform This owes much to distribution systems (Steam, GOG, Etc...). They make it more reliable, Cheaper, with more time having fun playing games and less time fiddling with settings. We finally have an option to play old games other than piracy.

Best Video Game: Shadowrun, at least for me, because I have been waiting for a sequel to Shadowrun on the SNES for 20 years. This was a big validation of the Kickstarter method to actually make a working, commercially viable game.

Other Games with Sentence or So: Another Year of Sequels!
Saints Row IV
(This managed to be fun and parody so many things)
Grand Theft Auto V
(A big event every release)
BioShock: Infinite
(This would actually be Bioshock III in standard naming conventions but this one is supposed to be a prequel)
Arkham Origins
(This would ALSO actually be a "III" in standard naming conventions and this one is supposed to be a prequel)
Metal Gear Solid: Revengence:
(I have no idea what this would be numbered... does anyone?)

Personal Technology:Smart Watches... anybody use those? Those are a thing now I guess.

I am the one jillionth person to make this joke.

Politician of the Year: Elizabeth Warren

Showing us EXACTLY how much crap she will take

She has started, or brought to the front, about a half dozen conversations we should have been having long ago. One for example, maybe we should put bankers who launder billions for the cartels in jail?

Other Trends in American Culture:

These people work for the richest family on Earth

A realization we have finally come to: Companies whose business model is dependent on their employees getting Food or Health Care from the state or community in order to survive to work another day... are every bit as much on the public tit as their poverty wages employees. This needs to end. If "Always Low Prices" means "But your local food pantry will need more donations" then forget it. Competent business people do not need to force employees into desperate grinding poverty in order to make a profit. Most companies do well paying living wages. There is no need for desperate poverty for those who work full time.

Another discussion we are finally having: Workplace safety is a real concern, for those who work there, for the community around it, and it should be a global concern. The horrible tragedies in Bangladesh this year reminds many of us of the Triangle Shirtwaist incident that moved worker safety into the political sphere and eventually gave some of us the safe workplaces we have today. The explosion in West, Texas, and the lack of accountability, oversight, compensation, or change in ANY of those things afterwords also reminds us that we need to address this at home too.

A third thing long overdue: Death of "The Middle". We are finally taking note how the "Sensible, Serious, Consensus" and so on is actually quite far outside the normal. Our Overton Window of acceptable political positions should not be determined solely by a handful of rich, comfortable, beltway commentators with inescapable conflicts of interest. Not only do they not represent the views of the "average joe" whom they tend to believe they understand, but they aren't a particularly smart, honest, or articulate groups of human beings. For years Very Serious People like George Will and David Brooks were understood to add no value to any conversation by a handful of hyper-literate political junkies. In 2013, we ALL seemed to be coming around.

I needed a graphic here and I am getting tired

Big news items that were covered well:
The Affordable Care Act's next phase:
(Some bugs on the rollout, but over a million people have signed up for private health insurance from an exchange and over a million have signed up for Medicaid in an expansion state)

End of the Senate Filibuster
(On nominations anyhow)

An actual budget!
(But it looks like there is institutionalization of the Sequester funding levels, so not so good.)

The Shut Down!
(Remember 1995? House Republicans didn't)

Biggest Typhoon Ever!
(A mind blowing tragedy. And an AMAZING response that saved thousands)

First Egyptian Snow in a century or so.
(Even if the pictures we all shared were fake)

New Pope!
(First Resignation in centuries! New Pope has no history I know of involving either actively protecting pedophile nor of collaboration with the Nazis, which puts him far and away above the last two)

One WTC is Completed!
(Only 12 years after 9/11 a complete structure has replace the "Freedom Hole" in Downtown Manhattan)

Big News Items that Should have been covered well but weren't
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty!
(Remember when we at least had big discussions about NAFTA and GATT? Remember Seattle?)

(MORE Executive Power to detain, spy, and kill in secret?)

The Bradley/Chelsea Manning Sentence
(The sentencing of MANY Hackers this year, from parts of Anonymous to the people who opened StratFor's files to the world. Snowden is wise to stay away from authority)

Stories that DIDN'T happen despite old clueless people predicting they would:
Shortly after bringing women into combat arms and letting gays serve openly in the military... THE MILITARY HAS COLLAPSED INTO A CHAOS!



Well, this is by far my longest post of 2013. Happy New Year to everyone who has read any of my stuff and I hope to see you around in 2014 too!

8/25/2013... Never Forget


OK, Caveat... I don't see citations, sources, or other evidence for the veracity of the images presented, so I do NOT endorse this as evidence.

But this article from Political Blind Spot, and the images it shows makes it look like those of us who were rolling our eyes the entire time at the obvious publicity stunt were right to do so.

Before growing a Taliban beard, he was apparently attending Bayside High School with Slater and Screech

Even if it turns out this story isn't entirely accurate (I would like to know where they got the photos and how they are certain they are attributed correctly) I still feel vindicated that many others are coming around to the obvious publicity-stunt-by-way-of-manufactured-controversy nature of what happened last month.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Taking a Break with the Family for Christmas

Thank you to everyone who read anything I've posted over the last few months. Seeing your views double, then double again, and again really encourages a person to keep writing, editing, researching, and improving.

I leave you all with this, evidence that the dirty atheist communist multicultural conspiracy to replace "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays" that some people believe is just pure malarkey pushed by Fox News and Talk Radio with little to no truth behind any of it.... goes ALL THE WAY BACK TO THE 1950s!


(As a sidebar, I never understood what the audience response is supposed to be on those "WAR ON CHRISTMAS!" bits. If you buy some jewellery from Mr. Yurman and get a Falafel from Mr. Ahmed and they wish you "Happy Holidays!" or, god forbid, "Happy Channakah" or "Ramadan Kareem" are the Fox Viewers supposed to boycott their shops or come back and break the glass in their windows or something? I never got what the implied action step is in those narratives.)

Here is wishing a great Holiday season to each and every one of you!

Click here Frank and Bing sing classic Christmas tunes on Youtube

Friday, December 20, 2013

Duck Dynasty, False Realities, and the Return of the Kayfabe

So, in the reality we live in, the "News" cannot be only actual useful information about our lives and factors and decisions that impact it and the lives of the other people on the planet, how we have hit the lowest gas prices in about three years, how the recovery from the biggest Typhoon in history is going, the forced starvation of thousands in Syria, or that we can likely skip our multivitamins and antibacterial soap and be just as healthy.

No. That does not feed the beast. That doesn't generate enough viewers, "shares" or "clicks". The beast needs endless idiocy for idiots to consume. It needs to generate things that make the morons feel the need to wail and the smug feel the need to comment on (That's me!). There is another class that struggles to ignore the hose of idiocy fired their way by our culture 24/7, but I am not that enlightened.

The Idiocy this week is the interview a Duck Dynasty cast member gave in a promoted interview to GQ magazine. Phil Robertson, who plays the role of the "Patriarch" of the cast of the Duck Dynasty show, chose to make anti-gay statements in an interview in a national magazine known for fashion and liberal politics. This generated a response from many of the members of the majority of our society that do not harbor any special animosity to homosexuals. This was followed by a hideous non-apology, an attempt to use some paraphrased old testament bible verses to justify his position, and other actions and responses that are well documented here. Eventually A&E took action and "Suspended" actor Phil Robertson from playing his character for a season.

The other characters on other programs responded as the play went on. You see them ready to squeeze into the limelight at a moment's notice - ready to read their lines in an attempt to desperately grasp a little more of that attention they have learned to turn into money. Pretend Politicians like Sarah Palin and Hermann Cain, Pretend Ministers like Bryan Fischer, Fake Journalists like Todd Starnes, Sean Hannity and other FOX characters. The entire menagerie of miscreants who play roles for the more hateful half of America came out to recite their lines. I am personally surprised that Pretend Business Expert, Pretend Boss, and Pretend Presidential Candidate Donald Trump has not yet been trotted out to make his obligatory supportive statement.

As far as publicity moments go, this is a good one. Pretend controversy guarantees that even the least enlightened and least creative can participate in the conversation by having opinions they do not have to defend, justify, explore, or even come up with on their own. This phenomenon was on display just last September regarding Miley Cyrus and "Twerking". It worked well then too, I noted. This is a win for the Duck Dynasty cast, as they are paid $200,000 an episode to be split among family members and if one is "suspended" the family does not lose one single dime. This may put the network in a tough spot - they might lost some viewers if they do not reverse the suspension, but I doubt that Phil will be unsuspended, and also doubt that any measurable part of the fan base will turn away from the show. So, likely a big win with this stunt.

This also allows Mr. Robertson to focus on playing his character at other venues. These include Right Wing or Religious speaking engagements, a possible "Contributor" gig with Fox News or ClearChannel Radio, a 100% chance to run the FoxPublican "news" circuit and religious networks promoting his show (Expected interview statement "I felt obligated to speak the truth in the bible even it might cost me everything" he will say shortly before promoting the show and various other projects that make him money). Somewhere there exist people who can listen to this, nod their head at this "genuine heartfelt wisdom" and not realize they are the suckers whose attention, time, and money keeps the scam machine going.

I don't have a problem with reality television. Television will always have hours of stupid to fill. Maury is till seeing who the real father is, there are still fake courtrooms and fake judges, there is still Fox News. Sturgeon's law that 90% of everything is crap still applies. We get the culture we deserve.

What I DO have a problem with is that some of us don't realize this, all of this, is fake.

Do you remember growing up and meeting that kid who thought professional wrestling was real? It was an inevitable byproduct of the methods of professional wrestling that very young or very slow children will believe professional wrestling is real. Characters who play professional wrestlers are contractually required to practice Kayfabe, meaning they must remain in character whenever appearing promotionally or even when recognized in public by a fan. If Hulk Hogan wished to promote a product while under contract, he could not do it under his birth name of Terry Gene Bollea, he would have to do so under the name of "Hulk Hogan" and in character.

To do otherwise would be tasteless.

Kayfabe is a necessary part of wrestling, carnival freak shows, reality television, and other entertainment establishments of impeccable quality. This still does not bother me - usually only children or the mentally challenged accept such acts as "real". Here is where I am concerned... there are far too many of us who accept the actors in the never ending farce as human beings legitimately expressing their unrehearsed thoughts and feelings. The fictional reality constructed by Media establishments such as Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, or Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal have embraced the Kayfabe to such an extent that their consumers can no longer tell when the act ends and reality begins. Sarah Palin says her part, playing into the fake reality where a publicity seeking television actor is a genuine folksy American being persecuted by the big gay conspiracy for the crime of being a Christian - and that's fine - that is as expected as Macho Man Randy Savage trash talking his opponent before a match. But soon after REAL politicians such as Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz have felt the need to play roles in this play as well. There are millions of Americans (including possibly your grandparents) taking to "The Facebook" and AOL accounts to "Share" and "Like" and forward chain emails in support of the phony struggle being waged in the play before them. Kids interning as "Social Media Experts" of something similar are spamming websites and Facebook pages for actual political groups and even political parties with support for their wrestler in the ring tonight.

Because a network not paying someone they don't like is "Censorship"

There are REAL struggles that REAL political and cultural groups should be weighing in on. There is going to be a struggle to succeed or fail at extending unemployment benefits in a few days, there is going to be a fight around raising the debt limit to pay for spending congress has already approved in a couple of weeks. There are always economic, health, political and technology stories that absolutely will impact our lives and that we SHOULD be discussing and sharing and learning from each other about. Emotionally investing in one staged struggle after another is exhausting to your soul. There needs to be some caring left over for you family, your work, and your community. The False World that somewhere around 27% of our culture is living in is killing us. It is killing our ability to have a functioning government it is destroying our ability to have a functional economy. It is stealing our lives one stupid minute at a time.

We get the culture we deserve... but I thing we can change our behavior to deserve better, to GET better. Let's not play our roles as passive observers and consumers and hosts to the latest mind virus. Let's challenge the whole system. Let's plant the seed this time, and the next time, when something so blatantly staged is injected into our national culture. If someone says "It's horrible what they did to Phil!" respond with "And it was terrible what The Undertaker did to that muscular man-pantied fellow in that cage match that one time!". If someone states how the Duck Dynasty people are being persecuted for being Christian, mention how it was sad witnessing Stone Cold Steve Austin suffering with alcoholism. Fakery not worthy of the belief of children needs to be known as such.

Maybe this would work. Maybe, on the other hand, this is the best we will ever deserve. There is a frightening trend of professional wrestling fans and devotees of certain political affiliations (That rhyme with "funservative") being of the same membership and tendencies in beliefs. The wife of the head of World Wrestling Entertainment ran for the Senate in Connecticut and now works with a consultancy in Washington D.C.. The WWE had a presence at The 2008 Republican National Convention. The overlap is so strong that the WWE had to have a rare moment in which they needed to break Kayfabe to inform angry Glenn Beck fans that Wrestling is performed by characters and that their struggles are not real. You can view the video here via the Majority Report.

So, short version: Tomorrow, when every homophobe that is showing the early signs of dementia that you know finds a way to email, text, facebook, or pony express you to draw attention to how Phil "Duck Dynasty" Robertson was illegally poked in the eye by AE "Big Gay" Media in last week's title match... remind them it's fake.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I need to become inspired to write more. The purpose of blogging to me has always been threefold.

1) Practice Writing - every post is out there to be judged, critiqued, evaluated, argued with, responded to or ignored. This is true for the audience AND to author (upon revisions and other future visits.) No practice is better than doing and the only coest is time.

2) Articulation - Many forums out there - Facebook, Email, Comments sections and so on, do not lend themselves to longer and more thoughtful pieces describing one's thoughts, opinions, or random brain droppings as well as a blog. This was the reason for my first post.

3) Documentation - I like that I leave a footprint my future self or others can use to go back and see what I was writing/thinking/doing at a given time. This was more the purpose of my first blog MrVetinari that I started back in Baghdad in 2004 or so.

These are all fine motivations, there is only one problem, for any of them to be achieved, I have to, you know, actually write in the thing. One blog I follow had a good suggestion, which was to put "Updated Every (Tuesday or something)" at the top to always keep a sense of desperation going. It's a good enough idea, bloggers who have forced themselves to write weekly have managed to get enough material to have a book or other project they can piece together out of their writings.