Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Revisiting 300

300RiseOfAnEmpireAll right, so the sequel is out… and doing well.  The stylish combat film “300: Rise of an Empire” topped the box office last weekend with  $45.1 million, seven years after the original Miller-Snyder flick “300” became an international hit.  I haven't seen the new one yet, but two thoughts occur to me:
(1) This sequel covers precisely the parts of the story that I have pushed for, ever since the first "300" came out.
That original film, based on a comic book by Frank Miller, told egregious historical lies, cramming into the mouth of the Spartan general- Leonidas -- things that he would never have said.  For example dripping contempt for the Athenian shopkeepers and potters and fishermen who had destroyed an entire Persian army, just ten years before, at Marathon.
Spartans still stung with shame over having stayed out of that fight.  But to have Leonidas rant… while ignoring what was in plain view from his cliff-edge… an Athenian-led navy holding the vast Persian fleet at bay, guarding his flank… that omission in "300" slandered Leonidas and betrayed the audience.
300-MILLERAcross six years, I've occasionally written about the travesty that the original "300" perpetrates, not only against factual history but against the very notion of democracy and citizenship and the power of volunteers defending their people, homes and nation. 

I suggested that any sequel focus on Themistocles and the Athenian fleet - and on the notions of volunteer citizenship that enabled them to keep succeeding where Startans failed -- with flashbacks to Marathon and then moving forward to the glorious victory at Salamis, that saved western civilization…
… which is apparently what this new flick does!  Though with lots of Millerian sneering cartoon-villains, when the real thing was dramatic enough.  Ah well.
(2) I'll go see it.  What the heck?  In hopes that, maybe, Mr. Snyder has decided to love the civilization that's been good to him, ignoring the incredible hatred of democracy and enlightenment that pervades nearly all of Frank Miller's works.
 == The Blackjack Generation? ==
Next-America-boomersTuesday evening on The Daily Show, author Paul Taylor discussed the millennial generation and his book The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown.  In discussion with Jon Stewart, Prof. Taylor said that the clade following the millennials… encompassing those born after 2000… does not yet have a name.  Um, well… may I weigh in?
Way back in 1989, in my novel EARTH, I portrayed folks in the 2030s referring to this generation as "blackjacks"… because they were the first ones born in Century Twenty-One.
Blackjack? Twenty-one? Get it?  Cool, eh?  Oh… never mind…
== News flash:  The Justice Department is now conducting two inquiries
1) looking into whether the CIA illegally snooped on congressional investigators and 
2) another looking into whether those same congressional investigators broke the law by sneaking documents out of CIA HQ to protect them from erasure. The accusations include lying to Congress and to the Justice Department, and spying on congressional investigators to hide what the CIA was doing.
== Continuing panic over terror?  ==
So many misconceptions!  During the Obama Administration, the U.S. has suffered its fewest number of terror-related attacks per year of any substance, going back to the 1960s, yet somehow we manage to stay stoked in panic.  In fact, according to a briefing I got last week at the Pentagon, the curves are extremely clear.  International terrorism attacks peaked across the Reagan and Bush administrations at roughly 400 to 500 incidents per year. They plummeted starting around 1992 through a nadir in 2001, the very year of the 9/11 attacks. (Coincidentally, this steep decline encompassed the Clinton years, though the aging out of European radicals probably also played a role.) There was a bit of a rise under GW Bush, though not to pre-Clinton levels.  The decline continued under Obama…
….though the US figure does not apply to the whole world.  The missing jet from Malaysia is deeply worrisome, for example. There are Chechen-related events in Russia and so on.  This is not a call for complacency! Still, it is yet one more reason to choose to shake off our dismal funk and the pessimism foisted on us by cable news.  We still have time to start the "real 21st Century" in a mood of rising confidence.
Wish I could share the chart.  It's amazing.
== Some folks get-it ==
SURVEILLANCE-COVEILLANCE A WIRED article by Kevin Kelly promotes sousveillance and reciprocal accountability by translating/combining them into the word "coveillance"… a term that may confuse the chemists out there… but that captures the heart of by two-decade argument -- that we can negotiate in our own best interests if we can see.
 "A transparent coveillance where everyone sees each other — a sense of entitlement can emerge: Every person has a human right to access, and benefit from, the data about themselves. The commercial giants running the networks have to spread the economic benefits of tracing people’s behavior to the people themselves, simply to keep going."
And… "Amplified coveillance will shift society to become even more social; more importantly it will change how we define ourselves as humans."  Interesting!
(Ah, but Kevin… do cite others along the way.)


Franklin K. said...

Strauss and Howe, the authors of the books "Generations" and "The Fourth Turning" came to agree on the term "Homelanders" for the next generation. It's a bit pessimistic in that it refers to the overarching bureaucracy born at the same time they were, the Department of Homeland Security, but it also has a generic appeal that could be applied to environmentalism, world (and space) travel, and family.

Lorraine said...

"Homelanders" is an attempt to saddle the blackjacks with the legacy of 9/11, and in the process promote 9/11 as the major game-changer event. Hopefully the blackjacks will view post-9/11 hysteria much like McCarthyism is generally viewed today, as a particularly dark chapter of history. Ultimately it's their agenda not mine though.

Concerning coveillance, I have more confidence in an adversarial equilibrium between surveillance and sousveillance.

LarryHart said...

Back on "300" again. I loved the comic when it came out a few years before 9/11, but when I rented the DVD of the movie, I had to turn it off in the middle because I couldn't stand the polemic, even though the story was virtually identical. But I just knew that the movie was meant as an allegory for Persians=Muslims and Spartans=Europeans=Right Wing Americans bravely standing up to terrorism.

Dr Brin, you might not realize that in the 1980s, Frank Miller was considered a genius of the comic book form. He almost single-handedly revived the Batman franchise with his "Dark Knight Returns" miniseries in 1986, the same year that Watchmen hit the stands. The latest round of Batman movies had plots that obviously took inspiration from that set of books. In the 90s, there was nothing by Miller that I wouldn't devour lovingly.

Then came 9/11, which, in his case, certainly changed everything. Suddenly, Miller became a one-story author, and that story was "Terrorists are evil. Heroes do whatever it takes to stand up to terrorists." This went to ridiculous extreme a few years ago when Miller went on a rant against the "Occupy Wall Street" protestors by rhetorically sneering that they must never have heard of Al-Quaeda. It made me wonder if he thought they were protesting a war, because that was the only way I could force the two concepts to belong in the same sentence. (Or did he really believe that investment banking was keeping us safe from Osama Bin Laden?)

The comic if "300" predated 9/11. The movie came at the height of Iraq War II. Timing is everything.

Tim H. said...

You may wish to read this review before you see the new 300 movie:
Howard Tayler has sat through it, and warned us.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

The missing jet from Malaysia is deeply worrisome, for example.

Ok, it was two or three years ago on this very list that someone talked me into reading a huge novel called "REAMDE" (yes, it's an intentional misspelling of the computer term "readme").

Is anyone here familiar with that book? If so, did you immediately remember how a plane flown by terrorists intentionally dropped off of radar with a rather slick maneuver in almost exactly the same part of the world.

If the plane turns up in British Columbia, I'm going to freak!

LarryHart said...


I'm just re-reading your old column you linked to about "300". Which then led me via another link to an old column about Ayn Rand.

And I'm reading not just the posts, but the comments under each of them. And I didn't quite realize how many of them are my own. Man, I have a big mouth sometimes. ;)

LarryHart said...

This old comment of mine, under the Ayn Rand thread, I'm particularly proud of:

As discussed above, the Laws of Robotics and the "laws of humanics" shouldn't be expected to correlate, since the former are designed to make tools useful and harmless, whereas the latter describe optimum interactions between sentient individuals possessing inalienable rights.

What makes MORE sense to me would be to recast Asimov Laws as the Three Laws of "Corporatics":

1) A corporation must do no harm to human beings

2) A corporation must act to fulfil its specified charter as long as doing so does not violate the First Law

3) A corporation must act to insure its continued viability [this is where maximizing profit MAY come into play] AS LONG AS DOING SO DOES NOT VIOLATE THE FIRST OR SECOND LAWS [emphasis mine]

I'd be up for a constitutional amendment requiring all corporate charters to be subject to those three laws.

David Brin said...

Great stuff LarryHart!

All: see i)9's torching of 300:2!

Tim H. said...

When one doesn't have time to watch worthwhile movies, such reviews are a public service ;) .

Alfred Differ said...

Confusing the chemists? Heh. They already suffer when the laborers around the world adopted the word 'unionize'. 8)

matthew said...

Posting the "Three Laws of Corporatics" to my Facebook page with a link to the discussion here provoked several of my red-state right winger friends to previously unseen levels of apoplexy. Seems that threatening the corporate masters with some sort of ethical system is a big no-no with the 'Merica crowd (seriously, I got threats of bodily harm from people I'Ve known for twenty some years. As such, I think the meme needs to be reinforced. At the very least I'm going to put the three laws on a tee shirt.

matthew said...

Oh, Larry, you OK with the above plan re: tee shirt printing? I'll credit you...

Larry C. Lyons said...

Here's my take on 300 Rise of an Empire. I wrote this in response to Dr. Brin's G+ comment but thought it would be appropriate to put here.

After all this discussion I decided to see the movie last night after work. It was almost if a studio exec read Dr. Brin's critique of the first movie and told the writers and Miller to try and get it right this time. They still didn't.

The movie had the Athenians fight at Artemisium alone (all the Greek city state navies were there), then losing all but 5 of their ships (there were about 300 Greek ships surviving) and then essentially glossed over Salamis. There was no mention of the evacuation of Athens, or of those not on the galleys lining up along the shores to fight any Persians who managed to make it through. Nor did they do anything with the other Greek states, such as the brilliant ambush by the Aeginans or the attack on the Island of Psyttaleia by a scratch force lead by Themistocles chief rival in Athens.

but if you like brutal sadistic films this was filled with it. Even the obligatory sex scene was brutal - more like a mutual violent rape than making love. I think it could have been done much better.

David Brin said...

Yipe… Larry. So there's nothing much about Salamis? Seriously? They don't mention that the Athenians + allies were victorious?

Any mention of slaves/slavery?

Escaped Spartan helots?

I imagine Themistocles looks up and sees Leonidas battling on the cliff?

Crap, if it's this bad, I may have to pay to see it now, in order to diss properly.

Anonymous said...

mathew, a couple of Smith quotes for your 'Murican friends (from Wealth of Nations):

Our merchants and master-manufacturers complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price, and thereby lessening the sale of their goods both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.
Chapter IX, p. 117

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty or justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary.
Chapter X, Part II, p. 152

Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen, its counsellors are always the masters. When the regulation, therefore, is in favor of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favor of the masters.
Chapter x, Part II, p. 168

The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers.
Chapter XI, Part III, Conclusion of the Chapter, p. 292

The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it."
Chapter XI, Part III, Conclusion of the Chapter, p. 292

It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.
Chapter II, Part II, Article I, p. 911

Every tax, however, is to the person who pays it a badge, not of slavery but of liberty. It denotes that he is a subject to government, indeed, but that, as he has some property, he cannot himself be the property of a master.
Chapter II, Part II, p. 927

Interested Observer said...

Readers who want to understand the ideological dimension of the renewed conflict with Russia may find this piece by Alexander Dugin, chief theoretician of modern Eurasianism and Russian imperialism, of interest:

Dugin makes a few interesting points. He characterizes liberalism as a nihilistic, negative ideology that frees people from and puts them in opposition to non-liberal ideologies, but has difficulty being *for* anything. By defeating its major enemies, liberalism has lost its purpose and begun to implode. So he claims we are entering a period of global chaos, and to avoid this the liberal elites are going to try to make Russia into the new great enemy of world liberalism (radical Islamism not being powerful enough to fill this role).

Anyway, I thought it was a pretty interesting perspective, and one that should be taken seriously since Dugin apparently has the ear of powerful people in Russia, including Putin himself.

Larry C. Lyons said...

DR. Brin,

3/4's of the film is Artemisium, and even that isn't accurate. There are flashbacks to the original 300 throughout the movie, but no meeting between Themistocles and Leonidas or one seeing the other fighting.

At Salamis (I still cannot help thinking of there must have been a lot of spicy sausage there) there are 5 Athenian ships left to fight the battle- in reality over 200 made it back, and was joined by another 150 Athenian triremes. The movie shows the Greek ships as being relatively smaller than the Persians, again in reality the Greek ships were larger and "heavier" than the Persians.

Where they were not hacking each other to pieces, the movie was filled with monologues and speeches. I knew that the Persians were going to lose - they did the most monologuing, and that's a dead giveaway. The bad guys always lose after they monologue. Also they must have had some very fast form of transportation, traveling the 100 miles or so from Athens to Sparta only took a very short time a few hours.

The deal breaker for me was when the rest of the Hellas navies showed up, bearing down on the Persian fleet in full sail - a pretty dumb thing to do given that masts collapse and tangle the decks. Then the Spartan queen goes berserk on the Persians with the rest of the Spartans. Again no connection to reality.

I would have loved to have seen them include more on the evacuation of Athens - that would have been very dramatic, the arguments over what to do - after all Themistocles essentially set up both sides, first by convincing the Persians that the alliance was breaking up and the Athenians would defect, and second by letting the allies know if they didn't follow Athens lead and fight at Salamis the Athenians would abandon Greece entirely for their Italian colonies.

As for the slavery, aside from early on showing Artemisia as a sex slave on a Greek ship, only the Persians were shown using slaves as rowers. The Greek rowers had no chains on and apparently were freemen.

Go see it for yourself. You may want to see it in the theater, if so, see it in 3D or the Imax3 D at least. The 3D and CGI effects were well done at least. At least you could see how they managed to botch your suggestions.

David Brin said...


Thanks Larry….

LarryHart said...


Posting the "Three Laws of Corporatics" to my Facebook page with a link to the discussion here provoked several of my red-state right winger friends to previously unseen levels of apoplexy.

Yipes, and I use my real name here!

But seriously, when I originally posted those "laws", it wasn't an attempt to destroy corporations as such. The Third Law could even be construed as the part that requires a corporation to maximize its profits. It just has to do so within the constraints of the first two laws. Which, if you think about it a bit, just defines what corporations were designed to do in the first place. Corporations don't exist in nature--they are tools created for a reason. General Motors makes cars. Baskin Robbins produces ice cream. If all they do is "maximize profits" without concern for their actual function, then what are they for in the first place?

Asimov conceived his Three Laws as a way of making robots safe and useful tools. I just applied the same reasoning to corporations.

That's something to threaten bodily harm over? Really?

LarryHart said...


Oh, Larry, you OK with the above plan re: tee shirt printing? I'll credit you...

Go for it!

The meme's the thing, after all.

Tony Fisk said...

Buff lads in budgie smugglers not really being my viewing preference, I'm going to echo LarryHart's 'then and now' reaction to Frank Miller.

Not Miller, specifically, but Disney.

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I went to see 'Frozen', which was great fun: subtle villains (Ooh, the gasp from the audience at 'the reveal'!), and some interesting things to say about isolation (it may have been based on Andersen's 'Snow Princess' but only very loosely)

What really got my attention was the completely different feel of the short before it: a Mickey Mouse original cartoon which had been messed around with to have Mickey escape the screen and exact his revenge by 'controlling the vertical'. I think the base material was an original and, boy, was it crass! (daughter thought it highly unfunny, and I couldn't see what there was to laugh at either)

I may be amplifying this from another example: daughter's grandparents bought her 'Pinnochio' one Christmas. They enjoyed it when it first came out but, on review, felt the scenes with the 'bad boys' weren't suitable.

Tastes changing as angels get better?

sociotard said...

Wasn't there a bit where the cow tries to hitch a ride by swinging her udder?

yeeeeah. tad misogynistic

Lorraine said...

(Or did [Frank Miller] really believe that investment banking was keeping us safe from Osama Bin Laden?)

For all I know maybe they do. At least some portion of intelligence funding is off the books, meaning the money has to be laundered somewhere.

Confusing the chemists? Heh. They already suffer when the laborers around the world adopted the word 'unionize'. 8)

Isn't IUPAC a labor union? B>

LarryHart said...

@Tony Fisk, re: Disney then and now...

For one thing, very early Disney cartoons were pioneering cartooning itself. Much of it was no more than "Look what we can do to simulate motion on a movie screen!" The level of sophistication was orders of magnitude below what can be done now, but I'm not sure one holds that against the early ones. Better to simply recognize that all has progressed since then.

I may be amplifying this from another example: daughter's grandparents bought her 'Pinnochio' one Christmas. They enjoyed it when it first came out but, on review, felt the scenes with the 'bad boys' weren't suitable.

Tastes changing as angels get better?

I'd say tastes change with the times. Perhaps that's the same as what you said?

I liked "Frozen" as well, but I became most impressed with "modern" Disney a decade back when my daughter was of an age that I first saw "Mulan" and "Aladdin" (even though the movies themselves were another decade old by then). I was expecting to be disappointed in comparison to classics like "Snow White" and "Cinderella". Instead, I was quite impressed by the intricate level of plotting and the sophisticated rendering of the settings.

Tony Fisk said...

I have become even more impressed with Frozen since I've just heard it's scandalising right wing christians.

Reindeer love, ftw!

Tony Fisk said...

"sophisticated reindeering"


'compact tstilocu'

- avoid those 'bitcoin' moments at the TSA desk.

Jumper said...

Georgia (U.S.) war on transparency

Acacia H. said...

So in other words he's confusing Liberalism with Fascism. Which took a people, called them the Enemy, and then sicced the collective hatred of a nation on them.

Acacia H. said...

Sorry, that comment was for Interested Observer's comments on Liberalism. Didn't bother to refresh this morning...

Unknown said...

Concerning "the Three Laws" :

The link between robotics and corporations is narrower than what you present. If you go from the rather anthropomorphic notion of sentient robot to a more general notion of AI entity,
one of the most likely modes of appearance would be as an evolution of the networked computers/programs of a corporation such as Google. The legal frame is already there : corporations already have the status of potentially immortal "person". In that perspective Robots are expendable agents, not the main distributed entity.

It also induces a new twist on the Turing test : at what point will the meaning of "working for a corporation" become literal for all humans concerned, even CEO's.

David Brin said...