Sunday, May 16, 2010

Many Cultural & Scientific Wonders

Lots to cover... science, culture, problem solving, energy crises, more science...


No, I haven't had time yet to write my long, thoughtful essay on "Avatar and the Well-Meant Wrong Message from Hollywood."  That will just have to wait.  But, as a popular culture stopgap…

...has anyone seen the new Russell Crowe Robin Hood movie? I admit I haven't yet. But I did see one one of the trailers and found It filled with clues to the basic plot of the film.  And in ninety seconds we can see that it will not go back to the standard, clichéd Robin Hood plot, nearly all of which revolve around "good King Richard" being held for ransom in Austria, after getting captured on his way home from the Crusades. In that cliche, bad Prince John plots to steal the ransom for himself. Robin foils the plot. Richard returns to banish John and re-enoble Robin. Yawn.

Here are  hints I noticed in the new film's trailer:
- he is the SON of the Robin who (in all other RH movies) helped Richard return -
- it's not Prince John, but King John -
- Crowe rants about "we want our rights IN LAW!"

At home I went online and offered a wager. What important historical event must this film be all about?  Why, the Magna Carta, of course. And why does it make me happy… in a world where most films swwon toward the notion of kings, solipsistic wizards and vampires? Clearly, Tom Charity of CNN and Kenneth Turan of the LA Times are not getting smarter with age.  Both, nonsensically and weirdly called the new movie a "prequel."

When I learned that the script was by Brian Helgeland, I perked up even more.  While I have mixed feelings about the Postman movie that Helgeland scripted for Kevin Costner (Costner never even bought me a beer), Helgeland tried hard, under difficult conditions.  He definitely caught the heart message from my novel, with its pro-civilization theme. He remains one of the bright lights in Hwood-writing, these days.

I'll go see Robin Hood with high hopes.

(See more musings about Popular Culture...from Star Wars to Star Trek and Lord of the Rings.)

== A New Facebook Page for the Uplift Universe ==

banner_upliftIt will offer updates, links & background on Uplift books. The go-to source for everything about Uplift! with updates on books...and the science behind them.

Plus a new web page dedicated to Uplift.


Amateurs have always played a significant role in scientific discovery, particularly in astronomy, biology and other natural sciences. This tradition has been masked, somewhat, by the prodigious growth of Big Science. In the last century, we've seen an increasing trend toward professionalization of all aspects of society; however, back in the 1980s I started forecasting a counter-trend, toward a rising Age of Amateurs.  Indeed, the sheer number and complexity of our challenges will demand a wider proliferation of skills than just one-per-person. may soon witness a return to greater emphasis on citizen-contributors, in areas like national defense and self-reliance at networked information gathering.

The scope of SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, will be enhanced by thousands of amateur dishes scanning the skies, sharing their results through the internet.  Now I talk about this in a newly posted video: The Age of Amateurs that may open your eyes to a fascinating trend.

CTOChallengeEvery year I help run a special "Architechs" creativity workshop at the Future in Review Conference, challenging some of the world's top Chief Technology Officers, from corporations like Cisco, Intuit   Deloitte and Microsoft, to solve a major problem in 48 hours. Here’s a clip of FIRE’s 2008 CTO Challenge: 'Using Technology to fight Wildfires.”  Part1:   Part2:

At this year's FiRe Conference, (just finished), I  challenged the CTOs to come up with great new ideas for spurring the development of "Scalable Alternative Energy." The result was clear thinking from bright fellow at Intuit, Deloitte, Microsoft, Cisco, CalIT2 and other visionary companies. With wisdom provided by my old Caltech classmate Professor Nate Lewis. I hope to be able to link you to the video soon.  (Tell your companies and groups that I do these events as "creativity stimulating exercises" for hire! Customers are always happy!)

Check this out: An Interactive Scale of Universe: You can zoom in and out by sliding the bar along bottom to see changes of scale: from Quantum foam, the fabric in Einstein's space-time theory (10 to the -35 meter) to the observable universe (10 to the 27 meters).


The near complete Neanderthal genome sequence (first cut) has been released! What about the differences? "When it comes to protein coding genes, they're pretty minor. Only 78 differences in the sequences that encode proteins are uniformly present in humans but absent in Neanderthals. Only five of those would change the primary structure of the protein. ... Much of the action instead seems to be happening in areas that may regulate the expression of genes. There were over 230 changes apparent in the parts of genes that flank the protein-coding section (the 5' and 3' UTRs). In the areas that have been identified as Human Accelerated Regions (HARs) based on the large differences between humans and chimps, the Neanderthals had the human form 90 percent of the time, but that still left 45 HARs in which humans have picked up significant differences since they diverged from Neanderthals."

The authors also went looking for cases where there was evidence of what's termed a , where a useful mutation occurs and spreads through the population, dragging its area of the chromosome along with it. We can detect these by looking for large chunks of the chromosome that are essentially identical in modern humans, but differ from the Neanderthal versions.  Researchers found over 200 of these. Many of them appear to contain genes involved with neural development, including DVRK1A (implicated in Down Syndrome), Neuregulin-3 (schizophrenia), and CADPS2 and AUTS2 (autism). The authors also point out RUNX2 is part of a selective sweep; mutations in this gene lead to skeletal deformities in the face and shoulders, areas which differ significantly between humans and Neanderthals.
Gosh I want to know more about the autism and down syndrome links!

The data implicates gene regulation - rather than the protein-making genes themselves - as a significant driver of the evolutionary adaptation in humans. That's the next frontier.

At the same time, the genome sequence does provide evidence that humans and Neanderthals have interbred. This became apparent when the Neanderthal genome was paired against human genomes from different parts of the globe. The Neanderthal DNA consistently matched European and Asian samples better than it did African; the difference was small, but consistent. It suggested that the Neanderthals, which were restricted to Europe and Asia at the time modern humans originated in Africa, had interbred with humans once they began migrating out of Africa.

=== Attempted Transparency ===

I like this effort to create a cloud-movable utility for group judging the credibility of journalist-reporting.  It could, in theory, lead to what I portrayed in my 1989 novel EARTH -- and in my next novel EXISTENCE -- as "credibility ratings."

Alas though, I cannot see how this fine idea would gain enough traction -- in today's fractured net-world -- to reach the critical mass of users that would make it truly effective.  This is one of a hundred places where a little seeding by a billionaire visionary could make a huge difference... or else if the company and method got incorporated INTO Google.

 === Misc science ===

See a famous math wizard/billionaire's new endeavor that's making the future you will live in.  Seriously.

CrystalSpheresNewestProblem Detected with Voyager 2 Spacecraft at edge of solar system. Mission managers can no longer decode the science data beamed to Earth from Voyager 2. The space probe and its twin Voyager 1 are flying through the bubble-like heliosphere, created by the sun, which surrounds our solar system.

Explanation?  Duh?  Passed through our “Crystal Sphere.”

The sum of human knowledge just took an order of magnitude leap: Zettabytes overtake petabytes as largest unit of digital measurement! The size of the digital universe will swell so rapidly this year that a new unit -- the zettabyte has been invented to measure it. Humanity's total digital output is expected to pass 1.2 zettabytes this year. One zettabyte is equal to one million petabytes.

Stan Seibert writes in to recommend another 3-D “object printer.”  The Makerbot It is a 3D printer kit for $750 that is assembled by the end user.  “It can produce objects on the 10x10x10 cm scale with a few different kinds of thermoplastics, though ABS is the most common.  Although too young to have experienced this, I'm told the MakerBot is the 3D printing equivalent of the Altair 8800 or the Apple I.”

A team of international researchers has brought the primary component of mammoth blood back to life using ancient DNA preserved in bones from Siberian specimens 25,000 to 43,000 years old. Studiesreveal special evolutionary adaptations that allowed the mammoth to cool its extremities down in harsh Arctic conditions to minimize heat loss.

"A 1-millisecond advantage in trading applications can be worth $100 million a year to a major brokerage firm, by one estimate. The fastest systems, running from traders' desks to exchange data centers, can execute transactions in a few milliseconds--so fast, in fact, that the physical distance between two computers processing a transaction can slow down how fast it happens. This problem is called data latency--delays measured in split seconds. To overcome it, many high-frequency algorithmic traders are moving their systems as close to the Wall Street exchanges as possible.

At its most abstract level, the data-latency race represents the spear point of the global movement to eradicate barriers--geographic, technical, psychological--to fair and transparent markets. "Any fair market is going to select the best price from the buyer or seller who gets their order in there first," says Alistair Brown, founder of Lime Brokerage, one of the new-school broker-dealers, which uses customized Linux servers to trade some 200 million shares a day. "At that point, speed definitely becomes an issue. If everyone has access to the same information, when the market moves, you want to be first. The people who are too slow are going to get left behind."

Tech Briefs Design Contest: Create the Future. The Create the Future Design Contest was launched in 2002 by the publishers of NASA Tech Briefs magazine to help stimulate and reward engineering innovation. The annual event has attracted more than 7,000 product design ideas from engineers, entrepreneurs, and students worldwide. Entry  categories include: Machinery & Equipment, Consumer Products, Medical, Safety & Security, Transportation, and Sustainable Technologies.

Astronomers find Recoiling Supermassive Black Hole: "Astronomers have found a possible supermassive black hole that is recoiling out of a distant galaxy at high speed. The black hole, visible with X-rays as a clear star, is not located in the center of the galaxy, as would normally be the case. Recoiling black holes are interesting because they provide insights into how supermassive black holes develop in the center of galaxies."

About Space elevators: A Hoist to the Heavens: .
and The "Space Elevator: Physical Principles"

Hydrogen from Seawater Using Molybdenum Oxo Catalyst
World Futurist Society's 20 predictions circa 2025.
10 hot energy projects that could electrify the world
Lessons from history for technology designers.    

Emory University scientists have dscovered that simple peptides can oganize into bi-layer membranes.
The finding suggests a "missing link" between the pre-biotic Earth's chemical inventory and the organizational scaffolding essential to life.

Cell phones could double as night vision devices. 
Google Invests in Firm That Tries to Predict the Future. 

Social media has overtaken pornography as the #1 activity on the web. TV took 13 years to reach 50 million users. Facebook has topped 200 million. If Facebook were a country, it would be the world's third largest country. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. 

Excellent collection of material on space-based solar power.

==== SETI and more silly shouting ====

Davies+-+The+Eerie+SilenceTo mark the 50th anniversary of SETI, as well as the publication of Paul Davies's The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence, (a new book about our search for extraterrestrial life), Penguin UK and National Science and Engineering Week will be firing off up to 5,000 messages into space via a radio telescope. The messages can be up to 40 words, and can say anything you like – greetings, warnings, confessions, jokes. The 50 best will be revealed in The Daily Telegraph in March, with each of the winners receiving a copy of Davies's book. To enter the competition, submit your message of no more than 40 words at Entries will be accepted until February 28.

 Personally, I think a message should be: "Know that humans are exuberant and impatient.  No international consultations have discussed how best to make wise contact.  Until our most-sage human thinkers have pondered and discussed this with the Earth's citizens, rash "messages" like this one should be taken as informal bursts, from individuals, that don't speak for humanity."

I have seen THE EERIE SILENCE... Paul kindly sent me a copy since he cites my recent positions on the METI Controversy (whether to shout into the cosmos).  Alas, he failed to cite my far more important "Great Silence" paper from the 1980s, which is still the only review article and overview the field  ever had.  Paul is one of the fine and original minds of our age.  I hope now that he is Chair of the Post-Detection Committee (from which I resigned in disgust, a few years ago), that he will change and broaden his view of the range of thought experiments we need to ponder, in this "topic that (so far) lacks any subject matter."


Jim C wrires: "From NYT via Firedoglake, how the risks of a spill were increased through the same destruction of the civil service that you've been discussing for some time now.  It would be nice to see the oil-spill / civil service relationship explored more in the popular media."  Yes it would, Jim.
All right, the decks are now mostly clear.  Hoping to get back to work now.


Tony Fisk said...

Sorry to gatecrash the wonders (will comment on them later), but I think this is worth reporting:

Australian Wikileak founder's passport confiscated ... at Melbourne airport.

Stefan Jones said...

Those in the Bay Area, or within easy driving distance:

The Maker Faire is next weekend!

I'm skipping this year but heartily recommend it.

Anonymous said...

I hope it is about the Magna Carta - or as Brits paraphrase it - "All Lords are created equal..."

A noble sentiment the we Americans have expanded upon to include ourselves...

David Brin said...

Actually, the Magna Carta had plenty for the yeoman (non-serf) proto middle class to be overjoyed about. Suddenly, commoners (who owned a little land) had to be judged by a jury of their peers and could vote for members of the proto parliament.

It was still pissant by our standards. But for then it was HUGE. It led to the English armies of Edward etc to be longbow-yeoman-based and meant that the English yeoman was the least oppressed peasant in Europe.

A good start, worht CROWE-ing about.

I hope the flick is good.

Duncan Cairncross said...

On transparency

In the UK there is the "Official Secrets Act"
With penalties for revealing official secrets.

I always thought there should be an Audit of secrets with similar penalties for incorrectly classifying something as secret.

Still have the secrets but if you classify something incorrectly you pay the penalty

Tony Fisk said...

the English yeoman was the least oppressed peasant in Europe.

Well, what do you call a yeoman with a 2m/150lb draw longbow and the pecs to use it?


mangu: Japanese still-life with tropical fruit

Unknown said...

Well, what do you call a yeoman with a 2m/150lb draw longbow and the pecs to use it?

A contortionist! ;)

SteveO said...

Heh, you beat me to it atomicsmith...

I had an opportunity to shoot a yew longbow in England. It was about a 90 lb draw, and since longbows were not recurved, it was all 90 lbs on major muscle groups that did not involve pectorals. :) I had done a little archery, but that pull was one to make you grunt. And I learned to appreciate how examining forearm length differences on skeletons can tell you if the person was a longbowman.

I put a number of hand-forged clothyard shafts most of the way through hay bales - you can definitely see how those made a mockery of armor and begin to understand how the longbow contributed to change in both warfare and society.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Planning on watching Robin Hood tonight after work. Will give my impressions afterward.

Exsrusim: The exorcism of ninja ghosts.

rewinn said...

Just to be contrarian about the longbow, it's worth noting that, Poitiers, Crecy and Agincourt notwithstanding, the French still ended up owning France.

Robin Hood is still very cool.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Well, it was a very enjoyable movie, all around. I'm sure someone more familiar with the era would be able to point out a host of historical inaccuracies, and, of course, you have the usual Hollywood physics, but there was nothing particularly outlandish or noticeable if you weren't keeping an eye out for it.

Regarding the plot, Dr. Brin is half right, or mostly right. It's not specifically about the Magna Carta, but it is a prelude to it. They do a fairly good job of making the point of the issue with the king/nobles being above the law, etc., though I think they could have touched on that a bit more. They also did a good job with making Robin a 'common' peasant, a yeoman. They didn't over-play it, they kept it fairly low-key, pretty subtle by typical Hollywood standards, but it makes the movie better, and Robin a more believable character, to have him be a commoner undermining the nobility than a fellow noble.

I also suspect there are a lot more subtleties to the movie that would be more apparent on a second viewing than the first.

Again, all in all a good movie that's worth watching either way, and falls pretty close to Dr. Brin's prediction (another one for the registry? } ; = 8 P ). Scores points for being subtle (at least for Hollywood, and possibly more), the accuracy of Dr. Brin's plot prediction, many nods to the classic legend, avoiding several medieval cliches, a respectable romance without getting steamy for ratings (almost no titillation in the whole movie, which I have to give them props for), and a very strong and independent female lead, plus a good plot and fun yet largely believable action scenes (minimum of Hollywoodization and improbability).

Tony Fisk said...

Dang that Kate! I couldn't remember the name of the back muscles and thought I could get away with some artistic license!

The 150lb draw is based on longbows retrieved from the Mary Rose (medieval period longbows didn't have a long working life and aren't actually that easy to come by.

The French won the hundred year war for a number of reasons:
- continual distractions from the Scots
- the Black Death tended to cramp everyone's style: less populated Britain more so than France.

rewinn said...

@Tony: ... and let us not forget that in a seige, anybody can shoot a crossbow down at a longbowman.

Eventually the longbowmen get hungry and go home ... or become cannoneers ... both of which make for lousy drama.

David Brin said...

Joan of Arc had cannon, which made the English castles less defensible and mass armies more decisive.

Biggest reason. The English kings became... English. It became their native tongue and thus they were foreigners in France.

Ilithi Dragon said...

@Rewinn: That's actually how King Richard dies in the new Robin Hood movie: Shot through the neck by a random crossbow bolt fired by a cook, who had picked up a crossbow while the troops on the ramparts were grabbing some of the soup he'd just brought up.

JuhnDonn said...

For movies this year, we're gonna only be hitting kid flicks at the theaters (Shrek, Avatar: The Last Airbender, etc.). These things have become so expensive (we end up having dinner in town) that we do only one a month. For everything else, have to wait until they hit iTunes/AppleTV. Hopefully, Robin Hood will be available by September. I have just about every major Robin Hood movie except for the Kevin Costner one. Really like the Patrick Bergan one. "Bloody Normans!"

I've shot up to a 65 lb bow (d-section long bow) and yeah, not doing it regularly, it's a work out. Can't imagine what a 150 lb bow would be like.

'Course, I have started daughter on basic Red Bear flat bow (9 lbs) last summer and she can now put 5 arrows into a hay bale at 15 yards. Have been working with just form, no target on bales but this summer, will work on precision and accuracy.

I need to get back in to it. Currently just have wife's 30 lb recurve. The local archery shop (in Abq) has some unfinished oak and hickory flat bows in the 50 lb-70 lb range for around $100. Not bad for a basic bow. 20 years ago, I was winning SCA kingdom level archery contests (both speed and accuracy). Wonder if I can get back to that.

Marino said...

Beware of spoilers

I saw the movie in Rome last Sunday.
Interesting, as it doesn't retell the old story.
Yes, it's about a proto-Magna Charta, one King John revokes as soon as he can in name of the divine right of the kings
(oddly, the whole tirade sounds a bit anachronistic, divine right was more an ideology of the modern age and the absolutism than of the feudal age. It's King John, not James Stuart. Anyway, call Dr. Guillotin, ASAP)
The debate scene where Robin states the principle of the rule of the law for everyone , king included, reminded me of the more later Putney debates during the revolution of 1648-49.
btw, odd that there are a lot of movies about Elizabeth I and the defeat of the Armada (being myself from a Catholic country...go, sir Francis Drake, go...sink the damn Papists), but iirc just one about Cromwell...tunnel vision? selective blind spot?

There is even an hint of Dan Brown-esque Masonic allusion: Robin's father was a stone mason executed in an earlier attempt of revolt, one in which the father of Robert Loxley also took part (it explains the slogan "Rise and rise again until lambs become lions" inscripted both in Robert's sword hilt and on the gravestone of Robin's father. Interesting point, as it would show the fight for liberty stemming from the embryonic middle class of skilled artisans, not from aristocratic grievances agains growing power of the king.

both on script and visual, the movie shows a strong level of intertextuality ( polite criticspeak for a nasty p- word, as in "copying from one is plagiarism, copying from many is research")

Robin Longstride (does anyone remember the nick of Aragorn in LOTR?) assumes the identity of knight Robin of Loxley, gets back home by the royal ship, and Robin's father (great Max von Sidow) suggests him to stay with him and the widow, who, as a commoner cannot inherit Robert's estate... The Return of Martin Guerre/Somersby, anyone?

The boys at Robin's village have fled their homes like the street kids during the Russian Revolution, and now live in the woods hunting and stealing, see Peter Pan and the Lost Boys meet Lord of the Flies.

Civilians are to be burned in a barn, straight from a WW2 movies on Nazi atrocities, or from Emmerich's The Patriot.

The French land at... Omaha Beach, with a nice falaise overhanging on the beach,
up to and including arrows shooting thru water in slo mo and using landing crafts with prow ramps (ok, even Orcs used them in The Two Towers, but Saving Private Ryan comes to mind first) , and when they're defeated, the fleur-de-lys flag falls at the bottom of the sea in slo mo like the CounterReformation implements, crossses and such, in the defeat of the Armada scene in Elizabeth.
Cate "Galadriel" Blanchett does a Eowyn at the end...

last, minor quibble: how come that the Sheriff has a tax roll with amounts written in Arabic numerals? movie set in 1199, use of Arabic numerals in Europe popularized by Fibonacci in his Liber Abaci in 1203...

Acacia H. said...

It appears that the Internet is getting ready to claim another traditional media victim: YouTube has more viewers each day than the four major networks combined for their Prime Time viewing, with two billion views a day. In addition, YouTube is changing viewing behavior, and it appears that a new wave of amateur creators are finding an outlet for their creations that is proving not only far less constrained than the Networks, but also allowing some of them to make a living doing what they love. When you consider that YouTube was considered at one time a waste of money with experts claiming it would never make a profit... well, I suspect Google is laughing all the way to the bank, along with (hopefully) hundreds of amateur creators.


On a more worrisome note, April of 2009 was the warmest April on record for most of the world. That's dating back to 1880, mind you. The report goes on to state "Russia, China, the Western United States, and parts of South America were colder than normal last month, but much of the rest of the country recorded higher-than-average temperatures."

Despite these warmer-than-usual temperatures, there was still a killing frost in mid-May for Northern Massachusetts and probably further north and west as well. While the Deniers will claim that the frosts prove global warming is fake, these climate ostriches are just burying their heads in the sand and refusing to accept that global warming doesn't just mean warmer-than-usual temperatures... but larger extremes in temperature variations. Though I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here.


Finally, there's a report showing a probable link between exposure to organophosphates and increased risk of children developing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Naturally, the pesticide industry disputes this, and several pesticides claim "it's not our pesticides doing this."

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Webcomic Reviews

Pat Mathews said...

Brin calls it on the nose again! Seriously OT, but ---

I was rereading Earth - still am - and came to the point where Alex's rescue of the berserker went viral on YouTube. In fact, that's exactly the terms I was thinking in until I realized --

HOW far in the future was YouTube at the time of writing?

Ilithi Dragon said...

... Ok, Dr. Brin, if you don't start sharing winning lottery numbers, I'm gonna call the Department of Temporal Investigations.

Acacia H. said...

First, here's an article concerning BP's refusal to "measure" how much oil is gushing out of its well, suggesting there is an economic reason (so they don't have to pay for as much cleanup after the fact).

On a related note, I've been reading about fears of water being de-oxygenated by oil-eating bacteria, causing "dead zones" in the Gulf. I've an idea I'm curious if anyone has bandied about on the large scale: using compressors to pump air into the ocean, much like you would with a fish tank. If you put some compressors on a hundred or so fishing boats, which are currently forced to not do anything constructive due to the oil spill, then you could start large-scale oxygenation of the water. This could also accelerate the ability of oil-eating microbes to devour the oil, and prevent it from being a significant problem.


Rob H.

David Brin said...

Pat what page number was that... in EARTH?

Anyone care to post it at:


Pat Mathews said...

Page number. It's on my reader sized up to Medium, so it's hard to say.

BTW, if anyone has an extra hardback copy of Earth - SFBC edition fine - that's not falling apart, I'm interested. The scan job on the ebook was vile, and the paperbacks are falling apart. yes - plural - I unloaded the worst one on a church book sale and still have #2.



Tony Fisk said...

Pat, maybe if you described the section in more detail, and where it occurs in the book
(I don't recall any berserkers! Do you mean when Alex is trying to battle dragons on Easter Island while Daisy's cutters are scything the human population? Or earlier, when he's trying to stop the helium leak in the gravitic probe?)

haninc: the organisational structure of a certain country

David Brin said...

I seem to recall when Alex is FIRST visiting New Zealand, driving, he witnesses someone "losing it" violently in public and he intervenes ... and it gets published online? Is that it, Pat?

Anyone care to help find the scene?

David Brin said...

On rec from Stefan I looked at Jeremy Rifkin's entertainingly drawn and pitched riff in favor of Worldwide (otherness) Empathic Civilization.

Yes, artfully done and inspiring...

... till you realize he says absolutely nothing that will convince a single person who is not already "otherness" oriented and fully in forward-looking, expansive-inclusion mode.

It's all rah rah preaching that "my view os the only logical and reasonable and moral one." Sure, I happen to agree with the view, overall. But I also know that it arises as much out of recent western social mores and satiation and SATIABILITY... which does not occur in many cultures...

...and Haight's "liberals" using only two of the five drivers of morality. Those who still think that in-group, purity and authority are essential moral groundings ain't gonna listen to Jeremy Rifkin.

Oh, I am being contrary, of course. Again, I don't disagree with a SINGLE thing he says... (except when he blithely dismisses our hard/soft wiring for bloody-minded self-interest).

I just don't see him being anywhere near as original or helpful as he thinks he is. Sigh.

But judge for yourself. It certainly is a cool peace of preachy-polemical art... and I would not mind a bit being wrong about its ability to convince the unenlightened, under-empathic masses to empath-up.

Tony Fisk said...

Ah yes! The 'dozer' incident.

The section on citizen reporters mentions videos as a general tool (but doesn't include that particular scene).

LarryHart said...

Concerning Robin Hood--I'm getting very confused by all the reviews. As may be expected, it's being billed as a "Robin Hood for the Tea Partiers", which would seem to make it almost the opposite of what Dr Brin suggests. It also appears to be about a commoner who ASSUMES the identity of Sir Robin, rather than the son of the original. Admittedly, I haven't seen the film yet. Can someone who has done so sort out the conflicting information?

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin was operating off of limited information. As a result, some of his speculations were off the mark, such as Robin being the son of Robin Hood. He's a yeoman who is asked to impersonate Sir Robin so Marian can keep the property (being a commoner).

Rob H.

Pat Mathews said...

Yes. It's the dozer incident. And the point is, that I immediately thought of YouTube.

Ilithi Dragon said...


It does speak strongly about limiting the power of the king, and thus the tyranny that he is capable of, which I'm sure would attract the Tea Party crowd (hey, they're talking about limiting government! Yeah!).

However, it stresses the need to limit a tyrannical king who had absolutely NO limitation under law, was not subject to the law, and operated above the law and as the law himself.

It also stresses the establishment of the rule of law, so that all men are governed equally (!) by the law.

On the surface, it will appeal to Tea Partiers, but only at a surface level (which is really all the deeper they tend to go, anyway). The core of the movie has little to do with the Tea Party movement, though, and is much more about the need for a rule of law, and painting the concept of ruling nobles in a very unforgiving (and realistically unattractive) light. Even King Richard, the grand returning hero-monarch and 'just ruler' in pretty much every other incarnation of the tale, is made into a fat, unattractive slob who only looks half-decent when dressed in armor and helm, doing show stunts to impress his troops during a siege. He is also shown to be vain and unforgiving (though he at least shows enough intelligence to recognize some of the BS involved with the realities of being 'king').

The movie also champions the abilities and worth of the 'common peasant', because all the truly heroic people in the movie, and most of the competent and decent people, are commoners or of common birth (there are a handful of 'decent' nobles in the movie, but they are all mired in the ideas of 'superior' noble blood, etc.).

Acacia H. said...

Well, the People have Spoken, and the message is? Republicans have let the wildcat out of the bag, and it doesn't care which side it mangles as it casts incumbents aside. The general message seems to be that Americans are sick and tired of the BS going on in Washington and want real change. Starting with who represents them.

Paul's victory over the Republican Party states something: Conservatives aren't going to march lockstep alongside the Party. Instead, they are going to start getting rid of the corrupt deadwood in office and replace it with people who represent their message. The same can also be said for the ouster of Arlen Specter, despite support by the President and the Democratic Party over his challenger.

More telling, perhaps, is the election of Mark Critz in the special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District; the Republican Party was claiming they would win this, and start a steamroller to take back the House of Representatives. Instead, they got rebuffed solidly (though they will have a second shot at the seat in half a year).

While Republicans are expected to take a seat in Hawaii's upcoming election, that seems to be more due to two popular Democratic candidates splitting the vote rather than actual belief in the Republican message. If the unexpected happens and one of the Democratic candidates wins Hawaii... I suspect the Republican Party will be very quiet and try to downplay it.

I do wonder how much of this might be due to President Obama going out into the nation and defending his stimulus program on a local level while pointing out the Republican Party's tendency to decry it while claiming responsibility for benefits reaped by it. Given that the "Great Recession" is receding, and job growth is on the rise, Democrats may end up looking more rosy come the fall. Should the economy not stumble in the next two years (with China, the EU, and Russia being potential stumbling blocks that could pull the global economy back down), it's quite likely Obama will get reelected in 2012. (It'll be interesting to see who is thrown to the wolves to run against him; I could see the Republican Party giving Hucklebee his shot at the sun, so that Romney has a clear shot at the Presidency in 2016.)

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

Rob, as someone living in Hawaii I think you nailed it. If the Republicans take Abercrombie's old seat, it will be because the Dems can't get their act together and promote just one candidate, rather than overwhelming support for the Republican cause. Lingle was the first Republican governor in almost forever, and her last couple of years in office have NOT proven that the Republicans have a superior handle on running government, as she has managed to tick off almost everyone with her high-handed "royal" approach. She seems to be drawing her demographics from the loud 4% or so that post constantly in the online opinion section of the newspaper. Where are the Dems to counter? Trying to keep the state government going despite massive cuts, furloughs and layoffs; we don't have time to yell about it in online fora.


bainc: large financial entity who accepted bailout money, then used it for executive bonuses.

LarryHart said...

It does speak strongly about limiting the power of the king, and thus the tyranny that he is capable of, which I'm sure would attract the Tea Party crowd (hey, they're talking about limiting government! Yeah!).

That's what gets me about the tea party movement. They are so adamant about being for "freedom", and yet, what they really seem to be arguing for is freedom from any sort of rules of the game. Like baseball players arguing for freedom from umpires. They CLAIM that they want to limit the power of a tyranical "king" (Obama), but what they really are attempting (in that model) is to limit the power of the pariliament, and thus (however unintentionally) INCREASE the power of the king to do as he wills. In their minds, this is somehow a pro-freedom argument.

Anyway, thanks for clarifying the Robin Hood movie. I probably will see it eventually.

Ilithi Dragon said...

No problem, Larry. } : = 8 )

As I said, it's a good, enjoyable movie. Not yet sure if it would be considered a 'great' movie, but it is still good nonetheless, and I definitely recommend seeing it if you get the chance.

Acacia H. said...

A report by the National Academy of Sciences is urging strong action to curb greenhouse gases. The report also suggests that the IPCC report stating oceans will rise 1.5 feet was... conservative. The NAS suggests that oceans will rise 5 feet instead.

The NAS report also goes on to specify some expenses that will be incurred, no matter what we do:

Meanwhile, the government and communities need to prepare for threats that are likely no matter what actions we take, said Thomas J. Wilbanks of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the chair of a third panel that considered potential adaptations to global warming.

"The most dramatic possible threat, by 2050, is a sea level rise in the Gulf Coast of 2 to 4 feet., plus the prospect of more intense coastal storms," he said. "We may need to consider contingency plans … such as movement of infrastructure and settlements away from vulnerable areas."

Preserving water supply in the Southwest, which will inevitably become more arid, will also be crucial, he added.


Rob H.

Sean Strange said...

Mr. Brin, I wonder if you could comment on the imminent Dark Age that is bearing down upon us? Do you have any plans for surviving in a post-Enlightenment world? Do you own farmland? Are you skilled with weapons? Will you try to position yourself as a member of the new nobility, as forward-thinking Romans and barbarians did during the twilight of that empire? Do you actually think there is an optimistic, pro-technology, progressive future that is remotely feasible at this point, given all the catastrophes converging upon humanity? If so, are you religious?

Sorry for all these questions, but as an extremely disillusioned former believer in progress, I have a hard time understanding how intelligent people like yourself can remain optimistic about our prospects or believe in any kind of mainstream solutions within the failing systems that we currently have. Is it possible that a global reboot, in the form of collapse and a dark age, are the only solutions?

Acacia H. said...

There is a saying: hope for the best but prepare for the worst. I suspect that the true meaning to this saying is that you should not descend into cynicism and defeatism. You should always strive to better the world around you (if only by bettering yourself). However, you should not just blithely assume things will go well. To do that would be to be the grasshopper in the cautionary tale of the grasshopper and the ant.

The best solution is to embrace both the grasshopper and the ant. Work and prepare for bad times... but don't just assume they are coming and that there's nothing you can do. For years, people just tossed out trash, littering, feeling there was no point in not doing so. And then someone pointed out that if every single person picked up one single piece of trash and threw it away (or recyled it or whatever), then the world would be a bit cleaner. If everyone picked up TWO pieces of trash? Or three? Or more?

If everyone worked together to help save the environment... then the environment would be saved. Because small steps count. Every little bit helps. Even if you don't see how it could.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Dr. Doomlove, I believe in taking general precautions for my family... say up to the "normal Mormon level." I have a large garden and basic preparations.

And I refuse to go any farther than that. I have been listening to doom-criers since the 1950s. EVERY year seems to be the verge of the fall of everything. And dig this... EVERY other decade had far more reason to feel that way than this one.

Sure, Culture War has been designed by our enemies, who use every propaganda means to destroy the American genius for pragmatic, forward-looking willingness to negotiate solutions to problems. If it continues, then those who want us to fail will finish igniting the third phase of the American Civil War.

I don't give a crap whether you or I are right about the odds or I am right. The fact is, we owe everything we have to this civilization.

That means we are obliged -- as citizen soldiers of civilization -- to stay and fight for it, rather than selfishly running and turning our backs on it. I have NO right to survive after a "fall" unless I have first done everything I can, to prevent the fall, in the first place.

Cripes, you expected a different answer from the author of The Postman?

Ilithi Dragon said...

And that is why I follow Dr. Brin's blog.

LarryHart said...

previously, I said:

They CLAIM that they want to limit the power of a tyranical "king" (Obama), but what they really are attempting (in that model) is to limit the power of the pariliament, and thus (however unintentionally) INCREASE the power of the king to do as he wills. In their minds, this is somehow a pro-freedom argument.

Just to clarify a bit more what so annoys me...

Back during the 2008 campaign, I used to post vignettes of Mad Magazine-style parody songs about the candidates. When Obama clinched the Dem nomination, it occured to me to write a parody of something from "Jesus Christ Superstar" about his candidacy...only to realize that no changes were appropriate. The funniest thing I could do would be to post the songs verbatim and assign specific individuals to the various roles. And of course, Obama had to be "Jesus", and of course, I was taking a swipe at my own side by saying that--casting Obama as the guy who may be too wrapped up in his own personal importance and losing the bigger picture.

And my conservative friends loved that! Obama-as-messiah was a big meme of theirs at the time.

So how did that get turned around so fast, such that those same conservatives now see Obama cast as Caiaphas and/or Pilate and/or Judas in the same story? They look at WWII and see Obama as Hitler because (apparently) Nazi Germany had socialized medicine. They read "Atlas Shrugged" and see Obama as the leader of the moochers and looters. Now, they apparently see themselves as Robin Hood standing against Obama's Bad King John (never mind that their hero Ayn Rand absolutely HATED the image of Robin Hood and wanted to see it wiped out in her lifetime). They think Thomas fricking Paine is one of THEM, for Chrissake!

Sorry to rant, but it's so very, very hard...

Stefan Jones said...

Hmmm, obviously the National Academy of Sciences has been infiltrated by Al Gore-style humanity-hating communist alarmist econazis who want to everyone to live in thrall to Nancy Pelosi.

Didn't they see where Fox News pundits put a copy of "Inconvenient Truth" out in a snow bank? That should be proof enough that global warming is a hoax!

* * *

Larry, you're talking about what Mencken called the booboisie.

Don't expect consistency or logic from them. They are seekers after the Truthiness, and the momentary gloat-fix.

yawdia: Like Boomdeyada.

Jonathan S. said...

Re: the death of Richard I:

History of that period is an iffy proposition, of course, but it would appear that the bolt that felled the Lion-Heart was indeed fired by a noncombatant. The source I found said that it was a "beardless boy", seeking revenge for the death of his father. The same source claimed that Richard forgave the boy, although as soon as he died his second in the field ignored this and had the boy executed...

David Brin said...

Anyone who make excuses for King George and his vizier Darth Cheney, amid their shamelessly barefaced garbs of imperial-royal power, has no privilege to yatter at me now as a "tea party" freedom lover.

It is exactly like 1861, when Slavocrats screeched "Tyrant!" at President Elect Lincoln before he had a chance to do a single thing and without sending a single delegation - sincerely - to learn his intentions and negotiate with the legitimate winner of a national election.

D_J said...

There's two types of Tea Partiers...the Rand types aka the true believers, who call Lincoln a tyrant and believe the Constitution to be a pure document (tell that to the slaves and women). And then there's the general population feeling disenfranchised by the political system and so they hop on board the TP train.

Like any political movement, or any human endeavor perhaps, the logic is flawed. Obama is the quintessential candidate Tea Partiers should support...after all he's almost brand new to the national political scene. A classic outsider. But I suppose inexperience only counts among the TParty if you're a member of the Republican party.

Another example of Brin's prescience? Whistleblowers receiving multi-million dollar payouts from the IRS:

David McCabe said...

third phase of the American Civil War

For those who are new here: What was the second phase?

Pat Mathews said...

"Preparations up to the normal Mormon level" sounds good to me. IN fact, I'm putting together my "If I get hit by a truck tomorrow" ring binder (being 71 years old, it's high time I did) from an LDS checklist.

Way back in the late 40s, Robert Heinlein suggested we all get a cabin in the mountains away from the fallout and basically, turn survivalist. Anyone who had followed that advice would have wasted an entire person's lifetime that could have been spent enjoying life. But then, he was expecting WWIII to break out at any moment, not realizing that (to use a forest fire analogy) the tinder was all burned out and sparks were no longer being produced. That is, the whole world was utterly exhausted and wanted to get back to normal.

Unknown said...

@David McCabe
third phase of the American Civil War

For those who are new here: What was the second phase?

I'm going to hazard a guess before he responds.

1. The actual Civil War. South seceded, went to war with the United States, and lost.

2. The Civil Rights era. The South resisted treating black people equally under the law, and lost.

3. The Culture War. A populist movement, most popular in the South and Midwest, to define politics as a struggle between conservatives (read: authoritarian traditionalists) and liberals (read: everyone else).

I live in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama. I have a comfortable life here and have put down substantial roots, though I have always been at odds with the politics. I'm currently fretting over political ads like this one.

Election year in Alabama always makes me a little depressed. Most of my college friends fled the state upon graduation, which also makes me sad. If such people stayed, the state might change within a generation.

Alabama is certainly more conservative than the U.S. average, but unless there are very large numbers of stunningly ignorant people I never see, it's not conservative enough to warrant the above political ad. I suspect there is still a lot of cultural momentum from the bad old days that makes socially liberal people afraid to speak up and allows bigots to speak without fear of confrontation, so that bigots are overrepresented in the cultural consciousness.

rewinn said...

As for doom-preparedness, IMO we should all work on our "resiliency" because even though Collapse Of Civilization is highly unlikely, disasters do happen and it's always nice to have x days of food-and-water-and-internet-connection when they do.

There are side benefits: gardening is good for mental health; storing food in bulk saves you money; making a home self-sufficient in energy does both AND can help keep our little ball of Earth in shape for the next generation.

I recall (and likely most readers do) the time when we practiced "Duck And Cover" on the grounds that with maximum 30 minutes notice "We Will All Go Together When We Go". In contrast to that actual real-and-present danger, the current obsession with terrorists-with-boxcutters strikes me as rank cowardice whipped on by the Aristocracy to keep the peasantry in line. Longer run concerns, notably the carbon poisoning of our atmosphere, must be addressed but the opponents there are, largely, the same Aristocracy.

I am greatly cheered by the massive increase in intelligence enabled by the internet; while most of it by volume may be spam, porn and funny videos, there is none-the-less plenty enough evidence of an increase in group intelligence to give me confidence that Darkness Will Not Fall.

JuhnDonn said...

Interesting look at high finance from an anthropologist's point of view.

From Shadow Elite:Derivatives, A Horror Story

Gillian Tett's fieldwork studying marriage rituals in a mountain village in Tajikistan helped her, years later, understand how risky derivatives proliferated, and went unnoticed, until they helped detonate the global financial system. Tett is also a social anthropologist by training. Now she's a top editor/journalist for the Financial Times, by trade, and she joins others with anthropological know-how offering crucial insights on derivatives and the "dark markets" that have been key areas of combat in the financial reform fight being waged on Capitol Hill.

Tett is the author of Fool's Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at J.P. Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe. Last fall in Anthropology News, she made this comparison:

...bankers (like Tajik villagers) operate as a tightly defined group, with specific cultural patterns and a quasi language (or jargon) of their own. Also like Tajik villagers, bankers are generally trained to think in rigid "silos" and, as a result, find it hard to see how their overall system operates, or to see the contradictions in their own rhet oric and internal organizations.

From the outside and with hindsight, the contradictions now seem glaring. Inside this closed culture, the ideals of the free market are repeatedly espoused, but not upheld. Derivatives, the exotic financial contraptions that vastly enrich the banking business, have flourished in the shadows, not in the open marketplace.

As I discuss in Shadow Elite, bankers capitalized on this aura of unmatched complexity, ever-changing technologies, and unstoppable financial "innovation", all during an era when deregulation had become the norm. They used jargon, as Tett points out, and also a stranglehold on information as weapons to obscure, making effective oversight very difficult. She elaborated in the FT on the warring Wall Street "tribes" within a single firm, and how the derivatives tribe came to dominate.

Groups such as Citi or Merrill appear to have developed a more hierarchical pattern, in which the different business lines have existed like warring tribes, answerable only to the chief. Moreover, the most profitable tribe has invariably wielded the most power - and thus was untouchable and inscrutable to everyone else. Hence the fact that, in this tribal culture, nobody reined in the excesses....

No one reined them in within the firm, the ratings agencies, or Washington. Anthropologist of finance Bill Maurer explained to me the 'complexity' narrative.

[It is one] that empowers the [bankers and their lobbyists] who can say, 'listen Congress, listen policymakers, we're the ones who know what's going on. So just back off. There's no way you can understand unless you have a degree in advanced math or advanced physics.'

Damning evidence of this kind of hubris can be seen in a statement to Congress in 1998 - when the derivatives timebomb might have been defused - from then-deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. He clearly internalized the idea that the Wall Street pros knew best.

....the parties to these kinds of contract are largely sophisticated financial institutions that would appear to be eminently capable of protecting themselves from fraud and counterparty insolvencies.

LarryHart said...

I recall (and likely most readers do) the time when we practiced "Duck And Cover" on the grounds that with maximum 30 minutes notice "We Will All Go Together When We Go". In contrast to that actual real-and-present danger, the current obsession with terrorists-with-boxcutters strikes me as rank cowardice...

Hey, I was hoping I wasn't the only one to notice that. I've been saying for years now that, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, the meme of the tough-on-terrorism conservatives and the scared-wimpy liberals is exactly backwards.

The response to terrorism advocated by the Right is to be so cripplingly scared that some terrorist somewhere might succeed in doing...something...and to spend all our national blood and treasure in a futile attempt to prevent such an outcome at any cost to personal liberty is the epitome of cowardice. "Please, please, please, Mr. Leader, you can do whatever you want with me, but don't let the Big Bad BinLaden get me!"

What I thought we should have done immediately after 9/11 was to metaphorically dust ourselves off, bury our dead, and then resolutely go about the national business as if the bad guys were not significant enough to notice. Oh, for good measure, a special forces unit or ten should have swatted Bin Laden like a gnat, but the message would have been "You do NOT mess with us, because not only will you pay a price, but you'll also fail to accomplish anything." That would have been the brave thing to do.

Instead, the war-mongers sent the message "Please DO mess with us, because no matter the price you pay, you'll hurt us more than we can possibly hurt you."

David Brin said...

D_J I wish one could ascribe most tea parties to either rabid libertarianism or disgust with government. It is mostly far simpler. Since the GOP is not thoroughly discredited as having committed treason-level depredations on the American nation, desperately and reflexively loyal reactionary-minded people will do anything to avoid concluding that

1) they were wrong earlier
2) the opposition to the GOP might actually be better.

Since they have to admit the neocons were horrors, this means they must do a two step, fostered by Fox/Beck etc:

a) the neocons were an aberration, a fall from natural conservative grace; if we make a big show of slapping their wrist and getting tearful recantations, then we can go back to loving them

b) however bad the goppers got, the lib-dems are even worse, even if that means making stuff up wholesale.

All else... including anti-tax rage (taxes are near an all-time low since WWII) is rationalization and window dressing

Phase Two of the Civil War was the Civil Rights Era.

Heinlein was all over the place. He grumbled about making mountain retreats... while calling for everyone to fight to refine and better civilization. You had to pick & choose among his rants... as YOU folk have to pick and choose which of MINE seem sane... versus.... ;-)

Stuart said: "Most of my college friends fled the state upon graduation, which also makes me sad. If such people stayed, the state might change within a generation."

You nailed it. I think racism truly has waned, considerable among Red Folk. That is no longer the driver of their rage. My guess is something visceral... three generations watching the best graduates of HS and college scurry off to Blue Cities as fast as they could. That has GOT to hurt. An immense implied rebuke...

... and you can feel the pain under the humor of Foxworthy and Engvald and Larry the Cable Guy, in which they (charmingly!) speak up for the value (and possibly preferability) of dumb-ass clods. In fact, I love those guys. But I am starting to read the subtext.

In fact, "bluish" college cities in the south are starting to make a difference. See No.Carolina and Virginia.

But yea, bigots are over-represented. Here is why.

Rweinn storing food in bulk only saves money if you eventually eat it all! Get some mormon cookbooks for tasty ways to eat year-old survival crackers....

LarryHart: we suffered a 9/11 of damage every week of WWII. Why does no one point out that the "decadent" blues have been far more brave and less panicked than reds?

Rob Perkins said...

David, I think it's because it doesn't fit the polemic, *and* the blues don't think it noble to pitch in in an emergency. It's just what you do.

Get some mormon cookbooks for tasty ways to eat year-old survival crackers....

Forget the crackers: just store staple grains; they'll keep in cans for 15-30 years. Rotating through that stuff means you're making homemade bread every week, which is always more delicious than the stuff from the store.

The Mormon cookbooks are at or, or probably any decently formed google search.

Jonathan S. said...

If the good Doctor will permit me a prolonged quotation from another author...

"A nation," [Milgram] heard himself say, "consists of its laws. A nation does not consist of a situation at a given time. If an individual's morals are situational, that individual is without morals. If a nation's laws are situational, that nation has no laws, and soon isn't a nation."...

"What did you say?"

"Are you really so scared of terrorists that you'll dismantle the structures that made America what it is?" Milgrim heard himself ask this with a sense of deep wonder. ...

"If you are, you let the terrorists win. Because that is exactly, specifically his goal, his only goal: to frighten you into surrendering the rule of law. That's why they call him 'terrorist.' He uses terrifying threats to induce you to degrade your own society."

Brown opened his mouth. Closed it.

"It's based on the same glitch in human psychology that allows people to believe they can win the lottery. Statistically, almost nobody ever wins the lottery. Statistically, terrorist attacks almost never happen."

- from William Gibson's Spook Country

Tony Fisk said...

'listen Congress, listen policymakers, we're the ones who know what's going on. So just back off. There's no way you can understand unless you have a degree in advanced math or advanced physics.'

Julius Sumner Miller, a professor of advanced physics and curmudgeonly science populariser of the 70's, often commented that you can't claim to understand something unless you can explain it to someone else.

I've been saying for years now that, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, the meme of the tough-on-terrorism conservatives and the scared-wimpy liberals is exactly backwards.

Within hours of the London bombings in 2005, the website 'We are Not Afraid' was set up... and went viral.

Getting back to the original theme of cultural & scientific wonders (I suppose Mormon cookbooks would qualify ;-)...

Speaking of 'Earth' earlier: using acoustic measurements and diamond anvils generating 120G
Pa pressures, a new layer has been identified in the Earth's structure. Occupying a 300km region between the lower mantle and the outer core, this layer appears to be made up a new phase of perovskite (dubbed post-perovskite) Its properties help explain transfer of heat to the outer layers which, in turn, explains how continents have developed, and why Earth has such a strong magnetic field.

The phase has electrical conductivity that is 'orders of magnitude' greater than normal perovskite. Being several thousand kilometres down, I suppose it qualifies as 'unobtainium'.

(All we need are indications of a dendritic structure...! Actually, No cosmic hairballs are implicated, although the layer appears to have a couple of 'continents' of its own!).)


The same edition of SciAm has a report on 12 events that could change everything. One of these (artificial life) looks like it's the first one off the starting block, courtesy of Dr Venter & co.

New Scientist has a special report on what constitutes denial Link

Acacia H. said...

I feel almost embarrassed bringing up an article about a certain science fiction movie after those two superb links... but The Empire Strikes Back is now 30 years old, and Ars Technica takes a look at what it calls "one of the best science fiction movies ever made." Among points made to explain why it's such a good movie include the fact that "Empire Strikes Back may have had the least input from George Lucas, and the all-too-human characters and dialog is proof that this was a good move. The film was written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, based on story notes from Lucas."

Among other notes that made Empire the best of the Star Wars movies, "Echo Base looked like an actual military base, and the AT-AT assault on the installation as the rebels bravely try to buy their friends time to escape by counter-attacking with outgunned Snowspeeders was amazing." They also launched proton torpedoes at the digitalized Yoda of future films, stating "It's not worth dragging the new trilogy out to beat it up again, but pay attention to Yoda in this film and contrast him with the soulless creation of the later films. Brought to life in both physical performance and voice by Frank Oz, Yoda in Empire Strikes Back was emotional, sly, and as the movie progressed, we began to see the hidden wisdom."

I also fully agree with them on this point about the Force: "In the prequel trilogy, we learn that the Force is just parasites in our blood. In Empire it's something magical, something that lives inside all of us. We are told that we can do amazing things by mastering our feelings and believing in something greater than ourselves. We are, as Yoda puts it, luminous beings, not just flesh and blood."

The article is summed up with this conclusion: "Empire Strikes Back is a science fiction movie with a soul and a beating heart. The characters are put in peril, they say interesting things to each other, and they learn about themselves and the world around them. Why is this such a great movie when the rest of the series is so flawed? It's endlessly arguable, but it doesn't take away from the fact that it's a film that stands the test of time, and remains a grand adventure. Happy 30th birthday, Empire."

(This also reminds me of a "Take That!" that a defunct mad science webcomic (I think it was Radioactive Panda) volleyed with an excuse given to the story mad scientists looking into alternative reality travel because their George Lucas died before the prequel series was made, and that Stephen Spielberg went on to create six additional award-winning movies based on his friend's works... but that the scientists wanted to see what Lucas's vision would have been, with the assumption it would have been even better.)

There is also a link to an article on the "secret history" of restoring the Star Wars movie which may be of interest to readers.

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

And for another link, an article looking at the "historical" Jesus, and on interpretations of the history, literature on it, and the like. I think Dr. Brin will particularly enjoy this as he has commonly stated that if Jesus were alive today, he'd be everything that neocons and the Religious Right decry in Democrats. ;)

Though I have to warn you, it's five pages long. So you've some reading ahead of you. ^^;;

Rob H.

sociotard said...

So, any thoughts on the "Iron Man" movie? I watched it, and the only part I really didn't like was Tony Stark's stance that only he should get to wear the Iron Man armor.

sociotard said...

Oh, and this article says something interesting that relates to Dr. Brin's "Rise of 10,000 McVeighs"

White Domestic Terrorists Slip Off Media's Radar

David Brin said...

They showed Tony S to be narcissistic and foolish for doing that. In fact, it is a plot necessity. I don't mind a superhero movie twisting a bit in order to keep its demigod unique. At least this demigod stands up for science & technology! Like Spiderman stands up for the common man... and lets the common man stand up for him.

What I hated about I2 was all the ridiculous cameo BS with "Nick Fury of Shield!" W'the? A complete boring nonsequitur saved only by watching Scarlett Johansson strut and shimmy and pretend to be deadly. "I want one," indeed.

Altogether, it near totally lacked the charm of the first.

Just saw Terry Gilliam's "Imaginarium" thing. Oh, what awful dreck! Gilliam does his romantic/preachy twaddle against reality in all its forms. The film's moral basis is below gutter level and the plot logic makes LOST seem like a meticulously charted Michener novel, by comparison. A tedious yawner. At least BARON MUNCHAUSEN had real charm... between the boring rants against a modernity that gave Terry Gilliam everything.

I keep hoping that, as they trust Gilliam with ever decreasing budgets, he will reach a point where he returns to his roots.

I despise ingratitude. But romantics cannot help it. What is unforgivable is when they get predictable and plain dull.

Anonymous said...

David, your METI message is 51 words long, and the limit was 40. Sorry. :)

David McCabe said...

Humans are exuberant and impatient. No international consultations discussed how best to make contact. Until our wisest thinkers have discussed this with Earth's citizens, rash "messages" like this should be considered informal bursts, from individuals, that don't speak for humanity.

Ian said...

Iron Man 2 would have been a lot better if they'd eliminated the SHIELD story line and cut 20-30 minutes off the movie.

Bytowner said...

Yeah, well, get rid of Fury and SHIELD and you'll pull the Avengers backbone right out of Marvel's movie franchise-building strategy. They're not about to do that.

tvindy said...

There's an interesting theory about Neanderthals and autism here:

In a nutshell, the neanderthals' normal mental state was Aspergers. Because we have acquired neanderthal DNA, modern humans occasionally are born with enough of the right neanderthal genes to function mentally more like a neanderthal than homo sapiens.

It's a fascinating theory and fun to read, but I'm don't think there's much concrete evidence to back it up. (It kind of reminds me of TOOCITBOTBM by Julian Jaynes.)