The Effects of Post Modernism

Typical of my attempts to title things, this brief blurb’s title largely misses the mark. Another one of the things I wrote on those dead DanCarlin.com boards, perhaps even one of the last things I wrote. I’m sure I had some deeper point I was planning on making; but like most of my plans this one also went nowhere. How to distinguish what I wrote then from what I’m writing now? Hmm, that is a puzzler. How about the quote I selected from The Federalist article that thrashes Star Trek and liberalism? Yes, that shall be the demarcation point. What juicey bit of bullshit should I select from that piece, though? That is the question.

This was a critique of a critique that attempts to show the correlation between the decline of liberalism and the decline of Star Trek as a franchise. The postmodernism allusion was probably in reference to the now well-known belief that we live in a post-truth world. As if truth, reality, causality, really cares about human problems, a hallmark of my issue with everything postmodern. Reality continues being exactly what it was before, while the people living in it tell themselves different lies that explain it and believe that their lies change the existence of reality. but I digress.

Over nearly 50 years, “Star Trek” tracked the devolution of liberalism from the philosophy of the New Frontier into a preference for non-judgmental diversity and reactionary hostility to innovation, and finally into an almost nihilistic collection of divergent urges. At its best, “Star Trek” talked about big ideas, in a big way. Its decline reflects a culture-wide change in how Americans have thought about the biggest idea of all: mankind’s place in the universe.

In Timothy Sandefur‘s defense, he actually understands the degradation of Star Trek as a philosophical looking glass into mindless action-entertainment. This is why I haven’t considered myself a Trek fan since the Abramanation aired. I deemed Trek dead on the day that film released.  However, like nearly all things conservative, the author oversimplifies to prove his point. As an example, Star Trek 6 aired after Roddenberry died (and is one of the worst Trek films ever made. Weirdly Star Trek 2 by the same director is one of the best) but the multi-year rehabilitation of the Klingons that preceded his denouncement of their portrayal in Star Trek 6, starting with Worf on The Next Generation Enterprise is completely left out, because it complicates the point he’s trying to make.

As usual the intent to decry the ideology of another while uplifting one’s own leads to hypocrisy on the part of the writer. This is a serious problem with most conservatives these days. The real culprit here is not liberalism, but postmodernism. An ill that affects all modern ideology, philosophy and politics alike. Not just Star Trek and not just liberalism.


…and that is where I left it. For two and a half years. Why? Because I always aspire to knowing more than I know, and then the realization that I really don’t know that much brings the entire edifice crashing down. Postmodernism is an active ill in society, of that much I am certain. We can know things about the world around us, and not everything in existence is dismissible as the delusions of a weak mind. How we can know these things is a task for epistemology to figure out. That we do know them (existence exists) is not really in question here.

“Postmodernism, the school of thought that proclaimed ‘There are no truths, only interpretations’ has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for ‘conversations’ in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster.” Daniel Dennett

The Strange World of TV News

Robert Reich is the highlight of my Facebook experience.  I look for his posts in my feed to inform me about what is really going on politically from a left-sided vantage point.  He rarely fails to get my political brain turning over. Sunday he posted this status;

I’ve just come from ABC’s “This Week,” where Newt Gingrich, Matthew Dowd, Donna Brazile, and I went from talking about “American Pharoah”’s Triple Crown win to the Republican and Democratic primaries. In other words, it was all about horse races. The media seems to have no other way to address American politics than to ask who’s ahead and who’s behind, rather than what the candidates stand for and what America needs.

Seven months until the first primaries, and 17 until Election Day, we have plenty of time for a national debate about the nation’s real challenges. Yet every Republican candidate is repeating the same platitudes (strengthen the military, lower taxes, and promote religious values) the GOP has been spewing for 35 years. Scott Walker leads the pack in Iowa, but on the basis of, what? Fighting unions, defunding Planned Parenthood, making it harder for students and low-income people to vote, blocking abortions after 20 weeks even in cases of rape or incest, and threatening a constitutional amendment allowing states to decide on same-sex marriage. Oh, and he rides a Harley. He’s a brainless knee-jerk conservative whom the media is celebrating because he happens to be up in Iowa, whose Republican caucuses haven’t predicted anything in years.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are discussing real issues. She wants to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and expand Obama’s executive order on immigration, roll back Republican state laws designed to suppress the votes of the poor, automatically register citizens to vote when they turn 18, demilitarize the police, and get rid of mandatory prison sentences. Bernie Sanders wants to bust up the biggest Wall Street banks, make higher education free, and strengthen safety nets. But as long as the media remains fixated on the political horse race, America isn’t going to be debating any of this. Horse-race reportage allows the Republicans to get away with their racism, homophobia, anti-worker economics, and total dearth of ideas, while burying the important initiatives Democrats are proposing.

So what’s the answer?

TV news? It’s come a long way from the days when I used to watch it with my parents every night. We never missed the 10 o’clock news. Dan Rather.  David Brinkley. The giant himself, Walter Cronkite.  Most people watched television news at least on a daily basis, especially if you didn’t take time to read a daily paper.  You couldn’t consider yourself well informed without reading at least one paper a day.

Today the newspaper industry has either moved online, or fallen by the wayside.  TV news, the baseline for an informed society through most of my life, has become a pre-digested wasteland of oatmeal reporting on one end of the spectrum, and a haven for the craziest of right-wing political views on the other. You could still watch the nightly news if you wanted to, but why bother?  Most of the events that will be reported on during that half-hour broadcast are old news by the time the TV reports on them.

But I am a news junkie, have been one all my life.  I don’t feel like I’ve finished my day unless I’ve had a dose of the day’s events summarized for me.  So I need news, and a steady stream of it works best. Since I spend large sections of my day with a laptop, that’s generally not a problem.  Still, I like my news to sometimes be delivered in a video format. I am constantly two-screening as the saying goes; writing or gaming on one screen, watching something on another one.

I watched MSNBC daily for more than a year (probably more like three years) I started watching back when Dylan Ratigan was brought on.  The TV would be on and tuned to MSNBC from mid-afternoon through most of the evening shows, pretty much every weekday.  During that time I felt more informed, but spent large segments of my day trapped watching repetitive news items.  As the hosts of the afternoon and evening programming changed, with Ratigan famously flaming out (a moment I’m glad I got to see live) Cenk Uygur being added and then hastily removed, the inclusion of Al Sharpton’s hour-long program (which inexplicably remains on MSNBC despite his lack of journalistic competence) Chris Matthews’ maddening insistence on reporting politics as if it was a horse race (echoing Reich’s comments) rather than something real, I found my interests waning.

For the last few months I’ve moved away from watching any television news and getting my news almost exclusively from the internet.  The news programming on television feels disconnected from the reality of living in the US today; All In with Chris Hayes & The Rachel Maddow Show being the few exceptions to this observation (and a shout out to MHP on weekend mornings for being worth getting up for) but not worth the time to record and watch daily.

The only TV news I still reliably take the time to watch is faux news (as opposed to FOX news which is fake but treated as real) The Daily Show and The Nightly Show (which replaced The Colbert Report earlier this year) studies have shown not only that most younger people get their TV news from these shows, but that people who watch these shows are more informed than people who watch real TV news.  Which is a sad state of affairs if you think that TV news is important and relevant.

The solution to this problem is to move with the times.  As other commenters noted on the status, television news is a largely dying industry.  They influence smaller and smaller segments of the population.  The Young Turks gets more eyeballs than television news, and other internet sites do even better than they do at communicating news through text articles; the way humans have consumed news since the invention of the printing press.

When you look at the problem from a modern perspective, people are more connected than they have been in decades to the events around them.  This fact doesn’t reliably translate into actual influence of events, doesn’t sway the actions of the political leaders, probably because of the corrupting influence of money in politics.  The solution is to target the sources of corruption and get them closed off through legislative action in the states. It can be done, but it won’t be a short process.

Texas Rising. Too Bad They Didn’t Shoot it in Texas

Bill Paxton as Sam Houston

Seven minutes is all it took to pop me out of the History Channel’s Texas Rising event that they’ve been advertising for weeks. Texan Army Camp – Gonzales is a picturesque mountain hilltop – a location found NOWHERE in Texas (well maybe Big Bend) this is Texas people. It’s big. It’s flat. Very Flat in most places. Especially around Gonzales.

If I’m not mistaken this is part of a location used for Dances With Wolves‘ final sequence. Not Texas, in any case. I did end up watching the whole thing, just like the guys at Texas Monthly. I agree, it could have been much better, it could also have been much worse.

Facebook status updated backdated to the blog.

Richard Dawkins on Startalk

I’ve listened to the Startalk podcast for years. It’s not my favorite, but I do enjoy it. Far more engaging has been the Startalk show on National Geographic.  This week the interview was with Richard Dawkins;

The interesting thing about this episode was Neil’s inclusion of a Jesuit priest in the panel. The lead-in giving credit to the Jesuits for our current calendar was a nice touch.

I would like to note that the priest is far more antagonistic towards Richard Dawkins than the converse during this episode. The hurt expressed by him, that he is seen as being crazy or stupid because he wears a collar angers him. I get that. Imagine how atheists feel when they are told that they cannot be good people without god?

The Passing of an Age

Leonard Nimoy’s death represents a figurative passing of an age in a way that so many other’s deaths cannot.  When I heard of Robin Williams death at his own hands a few months back, I burst immediately into tears.  It was such a shocking event, it was so hard to imagine a man who was so alive being able to take his own life like that. I was prepared for the news of Leonard’s passing because of his announcement of suffering from COPD.

To be honest about this subject (which is what I try to be on the blog) his star was tarnished for me when he agreed to appear in the Abramanation. Had he died before 2009 I would have mourned his loss as heavily as the Wife did. She adored the man and his works in ways that made me look like a  passing fancier. I couldn’t possibly compete with her devotion to him and Star Trek fandom in general. I’ve never felt that strongly about much of anything aside from architecture and archeology. I was and am so conflicted about this subject that I started this entry to commemorate Leonard’s death a week after he died, and then didn’t finish it until two and a half years later (the date I’m typing this at now) I thought at the time let’s see what the effect of his death is before making a big deal about it, but in my heart I just couldn’t speak ill of the dead so soon after their passing. So I left the paragraph above sitting all that time, and refused to delete it when I scrolled past it for two years running.

So I’m finishing it now.

I said in 2009,

I can’t help but wonder what Leonard Nimoy (whom I will hold blameless) saw in this film to recommend his tacit approval and his venerable image to it. Spock prime stands in sharp contrast to the new cast, carrying with him into history a mantle of respect this revisioined Star Trek will never achieve. Because unlike Star Trek and it’s 42 years of history, the Abramanation is just entertainment.

 But I’m pretty sure what he saw was money. And why not? He’d never gotten the wealth or admiration he deserved from Hollywood or his peers. Never received the acknowledgement for creating a character so adored by people everywhere that even today, fifty years later, few actors can even come close to achieving. Every attempt at a portrayal of the emotionless Vulcans Gene Roddenberry originally envisioned looks silly compared to Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. Writers don’t even know how to write those kinds of characters, as exampled by every single series since Gene’s death. Stories in which Vulcan society is morphed into some kind of vindictive hellhole that looks a lot like humans trying to paint an alien world devoid of emotion, and failing at it spectacularly. I’ve read a lot of Star Trek novels over the years, few of them come close to imagining the kinds of Vulcan that I saw hinted at in Gene’s canon.

The problem is that the world went somewhere else between 1967 and today than where it went in the future that Gene painted back then. Emotionlessness has become synonymous with sociopathy, with dark plottings of revenge, as if T’Pring was actually representational of all of Vulcan. Never mind that revenge is an emotion, too. We are so bathed in emotion as human beings we don’t even know what it is to not have them; which is the genius of Nimoy’s portrayal.

On the positive side of future history departing from Gene’s vision, we didn’t destroy ourselves with eugenics wars in the 1990’s; on the negative side, we can’t seem to recognize the ghost of eugenics when it raises it’s ugly head and calls all Mexicans rapists. On the even more negative side, we still don’t have a moon colony much less warp technology and transporters, which were always trappings of story-telling and not actual predictions of future technology. But not having a Moon colony yet? That’s just blind human stupidity. There is absolutely no reason for that not happening aside from our inability to see our own impending doom.

Like a man happily puffing away on a cigarette for most of his life never realizing that he’s destroying his own life-support mechanism and bringing a too early end to his own life in the process, humanity doesn’t realize that all life on this little ball of mud can be snuffed out in an instant. Nature doesn’t care about our petty little problems. The pale blue dot can be wiped away in an instant by some minor space collision or other, and the universe would never notice. Not even an artifact of humanity left over aside from a couple of probes we’ve managed to send beyond the influence of our sun. Is that our future?

I really hope it isn’t. 

Beware Cosmic Religious Propaganda

I went looking for Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on various internet outlets recently.  I had the first episode in my sweaty little palms on loan from Netflix, and I was ready to give up and just get a cheap second hand copy of the program.  Having found good prices on eBay, I thought I’d compare pricing on Amazon.com.

Went to Amazon, typed in “Cosmos Carl Sagan” and midway down the page I found “Created Cosmos“. Unbelievably, Amazon had allowed creation propaganda  to be linked to Carl Sagan’s name and the most famous science series ever produced (if you click the search link in this paragraph, you will notice that this is no longer listed in the results. Thank You Amazon.com!) I felt obliged to review this travesty negatively;


I hate this for one very simple reason.  Not that I’ve seen it, it’s religion masquerading as science and not worth my time to investigate.  Much like the billboards claiming to care about poor pregnant women, but are actually nothing more than groups set up specifically to scare women away from having an abortion (every street in Texas has one of these billboards) this video exists merely obfuscate the truth of science and prop up the dying embers of religion in a scientific age.

No, the reason I hate this video, the presence of this video in my search results, is that I specifically went looking for “Cosmos Carl Sagan”. I didn’t want to get false results for Neil Degrasse Tyson’s new show (not that I don’t love it too) what I wanted was to see the purchasing options for Carl Sagan’s PBS program.  Instead of finding a good offering for the real program, I’m offered this schlock in its place.

I missed Cosmos when it was originally broadcast because the backwater of Kansas that I grew up in didn’t have access to public television.  We had churches on nearly every street corner, but only one tiny library.  Cable was a new invention.  By weird coincidence the cable company took over the Kingdom Hall across the street from my home in that small town, which was a great relief to us since the Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped at our house every time they went canvassing. While we couldn’t afford to buy cable services, at least we were no longer disturbed by people who wanted to pass on their twisted message of god on a nearly daily basis. There were no computers and no internet back in the days when I grew up.  We only had country music radio and two fuzzy TV channels we could pick up with an aerial.

I’m reasonably certain that the idyllic setting I’m describing is something that the liars who created & marketed this program on Amazon including the keywords “Cosmos Carl Sagan” would greatly prefer over the current ability to find accurate information regarding the natural universe and what we really know about it.  That they would give up not only blu-rays and Amazon, the current technological marvels of cell phones, electric cars, wind turbines, etc; all of science, medicine and progress. Give it all up and go live in caves clad only in the skins of animals that they had to kill themselves, if only they could be assured that their bronze-age god was real.

To them I say “go find your cave and give up your comfortable cotton clothing. Hand over your cell phones and your comfortable air conditioned houses. You do not deserve to benefit from the achievements of science, since you hold it in so little regard.” Either that, or pull this offering from the marketplace and apologize to the memory of Carl Sagan for ever creating it in the first place, much less placing it on Amazon falsely linked to his name.

I really want to know.  Why is this program included in my search results?  Why is the Creation museum allowed to key their products with the name “Carl Sagan“?  This is disturbing, like finding homeopathic cures, and cigarettes in my pharmacy. Oh wait, that happens too.

Blatant False Advertising and Dereliction of Schedule

Feedback letter for Discovery Science;

I want to start this off by saying, I watch Science Channel quite a bit. I like a lot of the programming on the channel; Wormhole, Prophets, Futurescape, Firefly, How it’s Made, etc. Idiot Abroad and it’s spin-offs are interesting from a cultural perspective, if not actually science.

There are also several programs on the channel that I avoid like the plague; Punkin, Oddities, etc; programs that I would not qualify as Science, and if it were up to me I wouldn’t be airing these programs on a channel that I owned and was identified as Science Channel.

Then there is crap like what aired Friday. Earlier this week I was enticed into setting up the recorder for a marathon of Strip the City, it was even advertised on the channel as being featured. Friday morning I tuned in for the re-airs of Prophets and noticed a quiet little banner in the corner suggesting that there was a bible marathon being featured instead of Strip the City. When I checked the schedule, Strip the City was still listed, so I did not cancel the recording.

When I got back home this evening from a rare pleasant outing with the family, what do I find? Four hours of bible myths on my recorder, mislabeled as a program that I found vaguely interesting from architectural perspective; bible myths that not only am I not even vaguely interested in, but aren’t even vaguely science related.

Why is this crap on the Science Channel? Why was the schedule not updated to show that the programming had been changed? In a sales environment, this type of behavior is called a bait a switch and is illegal. Since viewing is tracked through the cable boxes, Science Channel gets to claim that everyone who tuned in to watch Strip the City were actually interested in watching 4 hours of bible myths instead.

Next time please be more conscientious about altering the guides and schedules to accurately reflect what you are airing at any given time. I will be forwarding this message to my cable provider and the FCC. Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely

Much Ado About NSA

Dan Carlin chose to make his latest Common Sense episode all about the historic outrage that is the NSA spying on us, likening it to the kind of outrage that Lawrence O’Donnell pokes holes in during the attached video segment.

Approaching this idea from the perspective of ‘Vampiric Memories’ (memories of several centuries) as Dan does, what would be most striking was not that governments do what governments have always done; but that the people who run this government are more varied in race and sex than at any time previously in history.

Now, this observation can lead to other insights such as how white men aren’t nearly as bad as we’ve been lead to believe since we don’t run everything anymore and it all still sucks, or that inclusiveness in government hasn’t gone far enough because the suckage of government hasn’t been alleviated yet.

But what you cannot say is that this is an outrage as has never been seen before, and it’s only our relative blindness to change (for various reasons) that allow this outrage to continue.  Should the NSA programs be brought down?  Certainly, and it appears that they will be.  But can we tone down the histrionics, please?


Edited to add the following;

Seriously Dan?  Another podcast on the same subject? Only this time to attack the false premise that NSA spying isn’t a big deal?  I’ve been trying to tell people that privacy was dead for a decade or more.  I use my real name on the internet and yell from the rooftops repeatedly that there is no such thing on the internet as privacy, precisely because I suspected the NSA was doing exactly what it’s been shown to be doing over the last year.

Just because I’m ready for a new subject to discuss, has nothing at all to do with the assumed importance of the NSA spying problem.  The real problem is, most people who object to the spying aren’t willing to fight the hard fight it’s going to take to get the laws changed to forbid the government from engaging in this kind of data collection; largely because most of them think like you and don’t want to dirty themselves by getting into political fights, joining parties, and changing the system.

When you’re ready to seriously get involved, let me know.  I have some pointers on that score.

Netflix Hates Firefly Fans

It’s kind of been done, with Serenity, but yeah as a series. Let me give you one broad statement about these recovery shows. In almost every case the cult around the show gets more intense and smaller as time goes by. Arrested Development was the rarest of birds in that the audience of the show grew larger than the original broadcast audience because people came to discover it years after it was cancelled. The Firefly fan is still the Firefly fan from when it was on TV and there’s fewer of them and they’re more passionate every year. Whereas with Arrested Development we’re going to be serving a multiple of the original audience. Any of the other shows we could bring back would be a fraction of the original audience.

Stuff.TV, Ted Sarandos talks

Seriously? Perhaps The Stand deserves chance to be seen but Jericho? That series went nowhere after the first season, and I never need to see that again. Arrested Development? More people talk about that show than ever saw it or would sit down to watch it again.

But the Firefly fan base continues to grow, and that isn’t rocket science. Joss Whedon may not actually walk on water, but with the success of The Avengers under his belt (as well as Buffy) it’s hard to say he was wrong in creating Firefly and I can’t think of a better property that could be revisited given the chance. The problem isn’t Firefly, it’s Netflix. Imagine just for a minute that there were more than thirteen episodes to watch in the first place? It’s kinda like imagining that you could watch Babylon 5 as J.M. Straczynski first outlined it. What kind of show would that be?

The leadership at Netflix clearly lacks the imagination to create Science Fiction content on that level.

Facebook status backdated to the blog. They still don’t do SF on Netflix. Superheroes? Yes. SF, no.

Dr. Who Christmas Special. My First Amazon Review. A Twofer.

Image courtesy BBC
& Dalekdom on Deviantart
available on Amazon.com

Posted here on Amazon.

Let me set something straight. I love Doctor Who. I have watched every episode available from the First Hartnell to the latest Matt Smith. My cable system and PVR let me down and didn’t record this years Christmas Special, (wasn’t marked “new” apparently) so kudos to Amazon for having it available to purchase and stream (can I get a round figure on what it would cost to own all of the Doctor this way? Less than 5 figures, please) Doctor Who remains Doctor Who whether we’re talking about Hartnell’s Captain Kangaroo delivery, Pertwee’s 007 flamboyancy, Tom Baker’s charming teeth and curls, or Matt Smith doing a fair impression of Troughton’s second doctor. It’s all British, it’s all time traveling entertainment on a grand scale.

Watch this one, it’s good.

However, I write this post because, once again, I’m sent a message by Amazon asking me “how many stars I would give this show”. The same hook they use each time I purchase ANYTHING. From a song to a book to a movie that is 20 years old; to this film (which could probably benefit from a positive review) and each time I fall for the hook and wander over here, it’s demanded of me that I wax verbose on the subject of whatever it is. If I’ve purchased a single song, I cannot leave a review without writing an essay about it! That is simply ridiculous.

Please. Please, I’m begging here. Remove the requirement that essays be written for each and every product that you purchase, just so you can give an ‘attay boy’ to something that deserves it, without having to struggle with wit and punctuation, and heaven forbid CAPS LOCK. Let us just give a star rating, please? At least quit pretending in your e-mails that a star rating is all you want.