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

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