Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Today in unrepentantly jerk moves...

Above: Pete Posthelwaite in the Jurassic
Park sequel looking surprised that anyone
remembers that he was in that one.
So Pete Posthelwaite has this line in Jurassic Park: The Lost World where he says-huh? Yes, I have an almost encyclopedic ability to recall lines from forgettable movies, anyway, he's playing a professional big game hunter who comes to the island to hunt dinosaurs because he was sick of being hired to take rich dentists on safari, which I never realized was a thing rich dentists really did until yesterday when it was announced that a rich dentist from Minnesota killed a beloved lion from a Zimbabwe nature preserve.

A move which he now regrets...sort of. It sounds like he doesn't so much regret killing the lion as he regrets the fact that people are upset about it. Besides, the whole thing is somebody else's fault. Behold:

Walter Palmer, lying through his perfectly
aligned and brilliant white teeth.
"To my knowledge, everything about this trip was legal and properly handled. I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I retired on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt...I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion."
Be vewy vewy quiet...we're
destwoying ewidence...
At the risk of jumping to conclusions based on like three articles I read on the internet and a pre-existing distaste for people who not only shoot animals for sport but who pay (in this case) $50,000 to do so, I'd like to call bullshit. Bullshit I say. First of all this lion, called Cecil, lived on a nature preserve. Palmer and the two guides he hired actually lured the creature to a spot half a mile a way so Nimrod could shoot him full of arrows like it's the goddamn bronze age. Then they destroyed a GPS collar the University of Oxford had tagged Cecil with as part of a study because hey, nothing shady going on here.

It's like the internet issued a plush fatwa.
So now Palmer's two guides from a company called Bushmen Safaris are being held by Zimbabwe-ian...Zimbabwen authorities? Authorities in Zimbabwe and will face criminal charges and probably prison time for poaching, but Palmer says he hasn't been contacted yet. So yeah, he'll probably be getting away with it. While it's a small bit of justice, there has been a brutal Twitter shaming, people are leaving stuffed animals at his practice and his Yelp page is entirely about how awful he is as a human being.

Ok, even if he didn't knowingly do anything illegal-which, c'mon he absolutely did-he's still an asshole who flies halfway around the world and pays what most people make in a year to be carted around in a Land Rover and shoot at animals. 
Bushman Safaris®:
"Helping dentists feel better about themselves since 1992."

Monday, July 27, 2015

Guns: They're their own solution!

When you find yourself on the same
side of an argument as Ted Nugent, 
it might be time to reevaluate.
Somebody had to say it. Well, ok, nobody had to say it, but it was inevitable that someone was going to open their big idiot mouth. Anyway, Wayne LaPierre, President of the NRA, said it after Sandy Hook, after the Boston Marathon bombings and after the Naval Yard shooting in Washington. Before him, Ted Nugent, President of Crazytown said it after the Aurora Colorado movie theater shooting. And now Rick Perry, would be President of Real America, just said it in the wake of Thursday's movie theater shooting in LaFayette, Louisiana.

So what do these guys all agree is the solution to the problem of gun violence in America?
"Why, more fucking guns. Obviously."
-Rick Perry, seen here recklessly 
firing off a pistol on a busy street
Ok, those are perhaps not Perry's exact words the sentiment's there. On CNN's State of the Union, Perry was asked what the government could do to prevent people with psychological issues from getting their hands on guns and while he admitted that poor gun law enforcement was part of the problem, he went on to say:

Because armed vigilantes would definitely
make dark, crowded movie theaters much safer...
"...these concepts of gun-free zones are a bad idea...I think that you allow the citizens of this country, who have been appropriately trained, appropriately backgrounded, know how to handle fire arms, to carry them. I believe that with all my heart that if you have citizens who are well trained, and particularly in these places that are considered to be gun-free zones that we can stop that kind of activity, or stop it before there's as many people impacted as what we saw in LaFayette." 

Maybe, but usually from other guns,
so I'd say it's kind of a wash...
Ok, couple of things. First, I don't think you can say 'backgrounded.' It's just not a verb. Neither is impacted, but I'm picking my battles. Secondly, he's suggesting that the problem isn't the guns, but gun-free zones. Like seriously? These horrific and now almost routine mass-shootings can't be traced back to our culture's unhealthy love of all things ballistic, but rather to the fact that the shooters unsportingly brought guns to a no-gun zone? So if only everyone else in the theatre was allowed to come armed, this wouldn't happen anymore?

Rather than try and limit where people can carry their assault rifles, his solution is to wait until someone goes bananas in a populated area and just hope to hell that some fine citizen happens to be packing? Couldn't we just tell people they can't have assault rifles in the first place? It just seems like a time saver.
I'm not sure I'm comfortable with a plan that
relies entirely on John McClane showing up.
Pictured: What James Madison had in mind
when he wrote the 2nd Amendment.
I know, I know, Second Amendment, but isn't the Second Amendment kind of ridiculous in the first place? Look, again, I'm not a constitutional scholar but interpretations of the Second Amendment are usually pretty murky. Like, it says the right to bear arms will not be infringed upon, and that's great, but it's also completely unreasonable. It doesn't make exceptions for limitations of any kind. It doesn't say some kinds of guns are legal and other aren't. It doesn't say gun owners have to be of sound mind, or that they can't have a criminal record.

We put limits on guns because it makes sense and because it's not the 18th century anymore. I don't mean to say that guns are necessarily the entire problem. I mean, obviously they are, I'm just not saying it. But can we at least all agree that it's kind of hard for something to be the solution to the problem it poses in the first place?
"Cold turkey? Nah, smoking's one of those
addictions you have to smoke your way out of."

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Yup. I'm taking the bait.

Yeah, there was really no way I can let this pass without comment. It's an interview Republican hopeful Ted Cruz did with New York Times magazine in which he is asked by writer Ana Marie Cox whether he prefers Captain Kirk or Captain Picard. It's maybe not the best example of hard-hitting journalism, but it is a completely valid question. Needless to say, he got the answer to this very personal and subjective question wrong.
No, he didn't say Captain Archer. Good guess though.
"What? I'm a huge Star Track fan. 'Keeenn!'
See? You know, from the Wrath of Ken?"
Look, I think we can and should judge our political leaders by their choice of favorite Star Trek character. It's an excellent gage of a person's priorities and values. That said, the last thing we want in a leader is a Kirk fan. Check out Cruz's rationale:

"Kirk is a passionate fighter for justice, Picard is a cerebral philosopher."

-Ted Cruz, not very good at being trekkie

First of all, I'm not sure that phasering a primitive society's malfunctioning computer-god really qualifies as justice, but sure, I'll give him passionate.
Pictured: Vaal, the computer-god on Gamma Trianguli VI which Kirk
destroys before warping away and leaving the planet's natives to pick up
the pieces of their shattered culture and-holy shit, Kirk sort of is America...
Twice the fists, twice the
raw punching power.
Kirk was definitely one for dropkicking his way through problems, and that can make for interesting television but the whole point of Star Trek was that humans in the future would resolve their problems with reason and cooperation. Of course, this was TV in the 1960's so Kirk did a lot of double-fist punching which he usually followed up with a heavy-handed and halting speech about how violence isn't the answer. He was, by the standards of the time, a cerebral philosopher even if he's now held up as the action captain to Picard's thinking captain.

Poor Lieutenant, Leslie. He will be
missed. By someone. I assume.
But are punching skills alone really what we look for in a political candidate? I mean, the Oval Office comes with missile codes. I don't see where cerebral is a bad thing for a President to be. Sure, the ability to take decisive action is always going to be important, but so is not getting people killed. There's a reason the term red-shirt has worked its way into our language. Someone did the math on this out of a crew of 430, 59 crew members bought it at some point during the show's 3 seasons. That's 13.7%. If you joined Kirk's crew you had a worse than one in ten shot and winding up dead. One in ten. I mean holy shit, why did they give this guy a starship?

I'm not saying that Picard's crew didn't have their share of Borg-related mishaps and sentient oil-slick related fatalities, but 64 out of a crew of 1014 over seven seasons? Way better odds. Also, they had holodecks. Whose ship would you rather be on?
One of these captains is an accomplished, competent
Starfleet officer. The other is Captain James T. Kirk.
A whole movie, in a language like 8 people
actually speak and he's calling you out Ted.
Oh, and then he said this:

"I think it is quite likely that Kirk is a Republican and that Picard is a Democrat."

-Ted Cruz, digging 
himself in deeper

Even William Shatner took to Twitter to call Cruz's assertions ridiculous, and he once shot an entire movie in esperanto. 

This is where I'm always a little suspicious of conservatives who identify themselves as trekkies. Like it's a show about how the future will be a shining secular humanist utopia where everyone gets along, there's no war and humans don't believe in money. So what's the appeal for guys like Ted Cruz?
I'm not saying there aren't people like Ted Cruz on Star Trek,
I'm just saying their not exactly Captain Kirk.

Friday, July 24, 2015

To boldly blow...

In yet another reason that Captain Picard is better than Captain Kirk, Sir Patrick Stewart is now using his considerable nerd-clout to save the whales, you know, before they go extinct and someone has to travel back in time to the 1980's to kidnap some more before that alien probe thingy comes along and kills us all.
No really, that was the plot of Star Trek IV.
Snotbot: getting sneezed on
by whales, so you don't have to.
Let's say you're a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of whales and the ocean and you've just come up with a new way to collect valuable research without freaking out your favorite marine creatures. Now let's further suppose that your idea is called a Snotbot and it's a drone that hovers over the blowholes of whales and collects mucus whenever they...blow. Awesome, right? Well, no, it's actually pretty gross and can't possibly be an easy sell to investors. After all, most of us go to great lengths to avoid mucus.

Sir Patrick Stewart, acting
the shit out of this scene.
Enter Sir Patrick and quite possibly the greatest Kickstarter video ever. Behold! No, you're supposed to click on the link, I'll wait. Back? Great. That's Sir Patrick Stewart, member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, star of Star Trek and X-Men, getting shot at with a nerf gun, for science. He's a goddamn hero that man. Anyway, the drone is an alternative to more invasive collection techniques that freak out the whales with airhorns and needles and it will revolutionize the field of marine biology. And that's all great, but I would advise some caution.

I'm not saying that whale research isn't an incredibly worthy cause, it is, it's just that someday robots are going to be smart enough to figure out that we've been sending them in to do some really unpleasant jobs so that we don't have to and well, let's just hope they don't have long memories...
"That was for Snotbot!"
-ED-209, not entirely unjustified

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sic Semper Also-rans!

I'm not like the word police or anything, but could we please stop misusing-wait are there word police? Because if there aren't, there probably should be.
In the criminal justice system, definition based offenses are considered especially heinous.
In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members
of an elite squad known as the Special Letters Unit. These are their stories...
Vote Cruz 2016
"No, you're thinking of Jeb Bush,
Ted Cruz is a totally different guy."*
Sorry, I was just taken aback by the fact that Sesame Street once did a spoof of the Law and Order spin-off about sex crimes. Anyway, word police. So I'd like Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz to please stop murdering the word 'tyranny.' Here, watch him use it in a sentence:

"We did not establish a rule by unelected elites to seize decision-making authority from the American people...Indeed, that is the very definition of tyranny." 

-Ted Cruz, all butt-hurt
because bakers have to
bake gay wedding cakes

Did you hear that? Ted Cruz is
very disappointed in you all.
Hang on, when did we establish a rule by unelected elit-oh. He means the gay marriage thing. Right. And The Affordable Care Act. Yup, he's still crying about that.

"Much to my great disappointment, this past term the court crossed a line and continued it's long dissent [sic] into lawlessness to a level I believe demands action..."

-Ted Cruz, on how the court is 
basically Lord of the Flies in robes 

His solution? Term limits and recall elections. Holy shit! Ted Cruz must be some kind of genius! Why didn't the those bepowdered-wig wearing, quill-jockeys come up with that? Is there some kind of glaring flaw with making Supreme Court Justice an elected office just Senators and Congresspeople and the Presi-riiiiiight...
Pictured: all the best arguments against letting the American people
choose our own leaders rolled into one smirking, leathery jackass. 
Above: Speech.
See what I did there?
I'm not like a law scholar or anything, but I think the reason Justices are appointed to the bench for life is so that their decisions aren't influenced by the need to answer to voters. Sure, politics inevitably enters into the equation when one of them dies or retires and the President needs to appoint a new one, but we elect the President (usually). Yeah, sometimes the Court's decisions aren't going to be popular. It happens. Remember Citizens United? Nobody was talking about making Antonin Scalia hit the campaign trail after that one.

There were other probably other factors.
Like the way they put a 'u' in color.
That was objectively bullshit, but you can't just call anything you don't like the definition of...tyranny. Not every law or court ruling is tyrannical just because you don't agree with it. The word has a definition. Like, you can look it up and everything. See? 'Oppressive power exerted by government.' Like when the British taxed our tea and made us quarter their troops? That was tyranny. So much so that our cheap-ass ancestors rebelled and started their own country. But is the ACA really oppressing anybody? Sure, there's some forms to fill out, but come on.

And marriage equality? Is gay marriage really tyrannical? Like, if the court ruled that everyone was required by law to marry someone of the same sex I could see their argument, but that wasn't super-likely so could we all take it down a notch?
"I hereby find that the 14th Amendment does in fact mandate gay marriage for everybody.
All citizens have 60 days to comply...and I've got dibs on Channing Tatum. What?"

-Supreme Court Justice Gaylord T. Mankiss

*His actual campaign slogan.

**Ok, no it's not, but it might as well be.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Let's use a Cheat Code!

"Greetings, we've come to spread the
gospel of space Jesus. Also, we'll
take any gold you might have..."
Hey, check it out. Stephen Hawking is backing a new initiative to search for signs of extraterrestrial civilizations and-wait a minute, wasn't he trying to scare the shit out of us about aliens like a couple of years ago? Why yes, yes he was...

"If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans," 

-Stephen Hawking, on the unspeakable
horrors lurking among the stars

Ok, but now there's a $100 million budget and in fairness the project, awkwardly named Breakthrough Listen, is about searching for alien radio signals and not just broadcasting our presence to a potentially hostile galaxy. Well, not at first. There's also an awkwardly named companion project, Breakthrough Message, which will come up with a message to send to the aliens if we ever find any.
"Attention universe! We're a primitive, defenseless post-industrial
civilization with 7 billion potential slaves for your spice mines, any takers?"
...and then steer clear.
The plan instead is to use two of the largest radio telescopes in the world, the Green Bank telescope in West Virginia and the Parks Observatory in New South Wales, Australia, to scan for extraterrestrial radio emissions. They'll also use the Lick observatory in California which can detect laser transmissions as weak as 100 watts. This will allow the project's astronomers to determine whether or not other civilizations have reached a Coachella-level of development.

You know, like the UN except
but aliens and, you know, effective.
But then what? Once we find aliens, what's the plan? Turns out, we're going to start the Federation:

"We hope to learn if we are alone or if, instead we may join in a large collective of sentient beings with whom to share this universe."

-Geoff Marcy, NASA researcher,
and no really that's the paln

Pictured: June 2020.
(source: my questionable math skills)
Sure, it might sound overly optimistic to go from zero to space UN right away, but it's not a bad idea. Assuming we find aliens and further assuming that they're more advanced than we are and that we somehow manage to attract their attention, we could probably use their help. Like, in a big way. Did you read this? Temperatures this June were .22 degrees hotter than last June. That might not sound like much, but a quarter of a degree every year adds up pretty quick.

I'm not suggesting that people like Ted
Cruz are contributing to our extinction
I'm just suggesting that...uh...<cough>
Ever hear of the Fermi Paradox? It asks why if there really are other millions of planets capable of supporting life, as we think there are, then how come we haven't met any aliens? One possible answer is the 'Great Filter.' It's the idea that there is some step in development that civilizations can't get past without annihilating themselves. Maybe it's war or disease or runaway climate change which the aliens could have done something about if the stupid idiots on their planet would just shut up and accept the preponderance of scientific evidence.

Goddamn, were they trying
to give us aneurysms?
So did you ever read Nintendo Power magazine? Hang on, I'm going somewhere with this. Before strategy guides and online walkthroughs, Nintendo had a phone number you could call to ask someone how to get past a really difficult level in a video game. The Great Filter is kind of like Deborah Cliff in Castlevania 2. There was no hint, no clue in the game that even came remotely close to explaining what the hell we were supposed to do. Somehow Konami just expected us to guess that if we equipped the white crystal and knelt at some random dead end that a tornado would take us to the next level. I mean, what the shit?

Look, I'm not saying that we should bank on helpful aliens warping into orbit above our planet with a cargo hold full of Rhode Island-sized air conditioners, but given the rate at which the Great Filter seems to be bearing down on us, $100 million and some time on the telescope doesn't seem so ludicrous. 
"Hello? Zeta Reticula? It's Earth and we're stuck on the part where our
climate is spiraling out of control and we're maybe twenty years away from
food wars and Thunderdomes. Is there like a cheat code or something?"

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Let's hear it for humin eror!

Hey, so some idiot rear-ended a Google self-driving car which was stopped at an intersection. There were minor injuries, so understand that when I say 'some idiot,' it's not because I'm trying to be insensitive, it's because the driver doing the rear-ending not only hit a stationary object, but one with cameras, infrared sensors and the ability to email an insurance claim before anyone even gets out of their cars.
Pictured: The gleaming white SUV with roof-mounted sensor array that the driver
of the other vehicle failed to notice. In broad daylight. Like, right in front of them.
In fairness, they do have a lot to answer for.
Google's been testing about twenty prototype self-driving cars in Mountainview, CA as part of the prelude to a robot uprising and in six years there've been eleven accidents like this one. Eleven. Like, I'm no mathmaticist...mathemagician? Math guy, but eleven seems like kind of a lot. Twenty cars, eleven accidents? Google points out that in none of these incidents were their cars at fault, but at some point you have to wonder if people aren't deliberately slamming into these things because they really just hate Google.

Note: I said 'probably.'
The point of self-driving cars is both to eliminate human error and make it easier for us check Facebook while on the road and these are laudable goals, they really are. I mean, we are, on the whole, terrible at driving. We speed, we text, and nobody understands the blindingly obvious mechanics of the zipper merge (spoiler alert: you take goddamn turns). Self driving cars have no such problems. They'll drive defensively, they can't get distracted and they'll probably never achieve sentience and try to murder us.

"You say 'robot uprising' like it's a bad thing."
-Self-aware Murderbot
The only way we're going to cope with the increasing numbers of cars on the road and mounting distractions is to take human decision making out of the mix and turn our fates over to the cold, rational logic of the machines. So what's the massive glaring flaw in Google's plan? Other than the aforementioned robot uprising? It's that every other non-robot car on the road is still driven by squishy, easily distracted, emotional hew-mons. The self-driving cars are only as safe as the other vehicles on the road which is to say not very.

So either we all sign up for robo-cars or none of us do. And since Google once had the audacity to charge $1,500 a pop for the privilege of strapping the internet to our faces, I don't think many of us will be prepared for the ridiculous asking price of a technology that lets us screw around on Pintrest while watching House of Cards on the way to work.
Although Pixar has prophesied just that, so what do I know?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

They just snubbed the Yub Nub!

Wookie warriors almost make Ep. III
worth sitting through. Almost...
Look, yak hair is expensive. That's just the world we live in. It's one of those hard truths you have to accept and then move on. But still, it's hard not to look at Return of the Jedi and wonder: what if? What if the cost of shaving a few hundred central asian mega-cows wouldn't have put the production over budget? What if George Lucas had stuck with his original plan and set the end of the movie on Chewbacca's home planet of Kashyyk instead of the forest moon of Endor?

What if instead of an ignominious defeat at the hands of a village full of stone age teddy bears, the Empire was thwarted by a tech-savvy cadre of insurgent Bigfoots? What if?
All I'm saying is that whenever some asshole dredges up the old 'Enterprise Vs. Star Destroyer'
debate, I like to remind them that the Empire was outclassed by the goddamned Ewoks.
This is why we can't have nice things, J. J.
Well prepare to have your faith in the unstoppable might of the Galactic Empire restored. There's a new Star Wars novel coming out in September. It's by Chuck Wendig and it reveals what officially happened after Return of the Jedi's celebratory Yub Nub scene. I say officially because Timothy Zahn's Thrwan Trilogy as well as dozens of other tie-in novels and comic books already filled in the post-Jedi universe, but last year Disney jettisoned like 35 years of expanded universe Star Wars canon so that J. J. Abrams could start fresh. 

Here's hoping The Galactic Jizz Wailers
find their way into the new canon. 
What the hell am I talking about? Here, read this. Or if you don't actually give a shit about the vagaries of what counts as official continuity in the Star Wars universe, it's enough to know that as far as The Force Awakens is concerned, the history presented in Wendig's book, Aftermath, is the only thing that counts. And according to Wendig, everything goes to shit after the Ewok dance party. There're some excerpts on, but the Empire is somehow still a thing despite the loss of the second Deathstar, the Emperor and Vader.

Above: Our heroes, blending in.
Which, c'mon. As fans, we're willing to except some pretty ridiculous things in a Star Wars movie: the spaceships, the space magic, the way the characters were able to sneak around the largely monochromatic interior of the Empire's most important military installation with a stiff-jointed shiny gold robot, an elderly man in monk's robes and a seven-foot yeti. But how in the name of hell would the Empire manage to drum up new recruits after Endor?

And before you point out that the prequels revealed that the Storm Troopers are all clones, let me remind you that Luke wanted to go to the Imperial Academy at the beginning of A New Hope. Unless you can sign up to be a clone, the prequels are full of shit, so how are these guys still in business? 
Our ships hardly ever careen into stationary objects!
"The Empire? Pfft...those idiots?
No, we're a completely different
bunch of guys in white space armor."
Well, I suppose technically the Empire isn't in business anymore. The Stormtroopers and Tie-Fighters in the Force Awakens trailer are part of 'the First Order.' Why the name change? I suppose I could read Aftermath and find out, but that's not going to happen. I'm happy to hand over $11 for new, probably not terrible Star Wars movies, but I'll be damned if I'm going to work my way through a summer reading list of tie-in material just to follow the story. I'm just going to assume that after the whole Ewok debacle, they wanted to distance themselves from Palpatine and all the exploding.

Of course, you could argue that the very existence of Aftermath and The Force Awakens diminishes the ending of Return of the Jedi. Like, that was supposed to be the big climax and as implausible as it seemed to have the rag-tag Rebel scum triumph over the better armed and organized Empire, it was an underdog story and we like it when the underdog wins. 
Here, for no reason, is a painting of that time a scrappy, poorly organized band of
rebels cast off the oppressive rule of a superior imperial force with British accents.
What, did someone knock the
plug out of the socket?
Reversing that victory totally changes the tone of Jedi. Now they just won a battle not the whole star war. It's sort of like when Alien 3 came out and revealed that the characters we cared about and rooted for in Aliens died off-camera in like a stasis tube malfunction or something. Now go back and watch Aliens with that in mind. It's kind of a bummer. The tension is gone because you know that no matter how hard they fight to survive, most of them are going to die of freezer burn shortly after Ripley kicks the Queen out the airlock.

On the other hand, after enduring three prequels-worth of Jedi lazily lightsabering their way through wave after wave of incompetent, disposable battle droids, I'm willing to stretch my willing suspension a little if it means bringing the Storm Troopers back. Sure, it kind of puts a damper on Yub Nub, but as long as the opening crawl doesn't start with a bunch of horseshit about trade sanctions, they've got my eleven bucks.