The X-Files: I Want to Believe

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Last Friday I went to see the latest X-Files movie, I Want to Believe. It was a nice movie (I rarely manage to get into crappy movies lately because I always do my IMDb research in advance). I should mention that I am an X-Files fan, and I think that the X-Files series was one of the best TV series ever created, perhaps the best. I hear you ask, better than Prison Break, and Lost? Well, yeah, much better than those.

I think it was a very good decision for the movie to go for a weird, creepy, Frankenstein, body-snatcher, only — borderline — arguably — parapsychologic approach, rather than the grand alien conspiracy theory of the first movie. The science behind removing people’s heads and transplanting them onto different bodies (un?)fortunately does not exist yet, but that doesn’t matter, since parapsychology doesn’t exist and never will, either. It doesn’t matter, because the movie was good.

My problem (ah, of course I have a problem) is the need of the scriptwriters to shove into the plot a romantic relationship between Mulder and Scully. I would have no problem if that relation actually helped the plot development one tiny bit. But it doesn’t. You could just remove the scenes where Scully and Mulder are in bed, making jokes about the size of Mulder’s dick (yeah, you read it right, they do that), and discussing their relation and whatever. You could just skip them and the message of the movie would remain completely unchanged. All that sex part feels completely artificial and unnecessary. They probably just added it to satisfy some imagined need of the fan base. Well, reality check: the guys who form the core fanbase of X-Files are not really horny teenagers any more, so they won’t fall for this sort of thing. Most of them are already well into their 20s, like myself, and either have a life or else are still playing CounterStrike and pasting UFO posters in their mothers’ basement (I’ll let you guess which category I fit into). Mulder and Scully having sex won’t impress the first category, and won’t do the second too much good, either. I heard many a slap on the forehead and an annoyed whisper in the cinema audience when Mulder and Scully were at it (not sex, actually, there’s none, just relationship-boring-talk)… so I’m not the only one that thinks this way, I assure you.

Another minor problem is that the movie is a bit too long. They could have compressed it a good deal, and made a good episode-length — well, episode. Not one of the best episodes, but a good one. Of course, we’d probably have lost the drama about Scully and the dying kid that she is trying to save against the will of his parents, and that is contributing fairly significantly to the message of the movie. So it’s a fair call.

Still, I think the description that sums up this movie best is: A good X-Files episode with some drama and pointless sex added on top.

Oh, sorry, I forgot something: Warning, this post may contain spoilers! Well, what, stop whining! I didn’t even tell you that Mulder and Scully had a kid who died a few years before the time of the movie…

Written by tma2

18 August 2008 at 12:58 am

Posted in Movies

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The Dark Knight: It’s alright to spy on people

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A couple of weeks ago, I saw The Dark Knight, the latest Batman movie.

Good movie. Not really the masterpiece that everybody makes it out to be, but still good. Great, by comparison with the insipid junk routinely served by Hollywood nowadays. Doesn’t kiss the soles of Sin City, though. But I’m not writing to praise the movie, there’s enough of that already.

The one thing that really stuck with me was the story about why Fox, the geeky scientist working with Batman, creates a spy system that relied on cell phones to develop real-time sonar images of any place in the city. This technology doesn’t exist, of course, but that’s unimportant. I don’t remember the exact words, but here’s how the argument went:

Wayne: “I want you to create this technology.”
Fox: “No, I won’t, it’s unethical.”
Wayne: “But it’s needed for the safety of Gotham.”
Fox: “OK, but just this once. Then, turn it off.”

So, as I see it (and it was difficult not to, they shoved it down my throat), the message goes like this: “It’s alright to spy on people, as long as it’s temporary and for their safety.” And Morgan Freeman’s grandfatherly confidence-inspiring face says: “It’s alright to spy on people as long as you trust the person who has the plug.”

Well, BULLSHIT! It’s never alright to spy on people. The safety of the people from this largely fictitious monster-in-the-closet of the 21st century, the terrorist, is much less at risk than the governments are marketing it to be, so that they can push their slimy, Orwellian spying programs through. The safety of the people is much more at risk from the governments spying on the people and knowing everything about them. Repression of dissent is just one short step away. And you can never trust the person who has the plug, because that person is either just another lying, two-face political whore, or directly controlled by such a whore.

The following statement by Benjamin Franklin is quoted more and more often, but maybe it’s good to quote it one more time:

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Oh, and just before the Dark Knight, another choking bit of the Wise World Leaders’ [*] agenda was being pushed down my throat by a trailer to this idiotic braindead movie. The message of the trailer was “War is fun! Having people blown to bits and their heads chopped off is so great!” Yeah. Sure. I wish all the team that produced this movie serves in the military for a couple of months in a war. Then let’s see who’s still laughing. Morons.

[*] One of the three words in phrase “Wise World Leaders” is sarcastic. Let’s see you guess which.

Written by tma2

10 August 2008 at 5:03 pm

Posted in Movies

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I hate brand bashers

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I hate brand bashers.

Anyone who spent some time on technical internet forums or review websites met them.

Many people buy the proverbial lemon: a machine or piece of hardware that is faulty from the factory. Many people have a bad experience with support. Hell, anyone who regularly buys electronics (and that’s nearly everybody these days) went through this at least once. But brand bashers are special. They cannot get over the single bad experience that they had. They start shouting in everybody’s faces that “hardware X sucks”, and “brand Y sucks”, and “noone should ever buy from them”. They start on some kind of personal crusade against hardware X or company Y, without trying to keep the least bit of common sense or the vaguest perspective on the problem. It doesn’t matter that the machine they got is one of the best in its category. It doesn’t matter that a large majority of the users is highly recommending it. They are the most important sample, and if their unit was bad, then all units have to be bad, the company has to pay, and everybody recommending it must be a company-ass-kissing, dumb, shortsighted asshole inconsiderate of the phenomenal ordeal that the brand basher went through. Unfortunately, it’s not the company that pays… it’s us, the readers on the forums or the review comments, that pay for it, by having to stand for these imbeciles’ biased and single-minded ramblings.

Brand bashers imagine that a good company builds the products with the user foremost in their minds. That support should be considerate with clients, think carefully about their problems. Well, I can’t argue with that ideal. But the truth is, it ain’t so. All the company cares about is the bottom line. Getting money from us, the customers. Especially consumer electronics companies don’t give a shit about a single customer, because of the enormous volume of sales that they have. Support and warranty are incentives, only added so that we pay money to the company, not because they care about us, the “valued customer”. Support persons are poorly paid, frustrated people, whose only goal is to get rid of these (from their perspective) stupid, pesky, annoying customers and get through another day, so they can go back home and watch TV, read technical forums of their own, or do whatever it is they do. Anyone who doesn’t realize these things doesn’t deserve to survive in a consumerist economy such as our own.

But the brand basher doesn’t know this, or chooses to ignore it. Another thing the brand basher doesn’t understand is statistics. That a certain, small percentage of the units sold will always be bad. That when such sheer amounts of product volume are sold, that percentage translates into a large number of machines that are bad. The lemons. That reducing the percentage of bad units that pass quality control is a difficult tradeoff that requires costly investment from the company, and that beyond a certain threshold that investment no longer makes sense: it shrinks the bottom line, the profit.

Brand bashers are at their best when they are in a group. Oh, then you see them in all their glory. There is a certain sugary-sweaty, sickening aroma of group fellatio emanating from their inter-reinforcing discussions. “Oh man, the unit broke the second day after I received it” “Yeah, mine too” (Mmmm, harder…) “And support treated me like crap” (Yeah, there, just like that, MMmhhh!) “Noone should buy from these guys, ever!” “No indeed!!!” (Oh, yeah, YEAH! (get the towel, honey)) Don’t even try to insert a remark to pull their feet back on the Earth. It’s pointless.

Well, yeah, that’s it. Brand bashers, get a grip!

Written by tma2

9 August 2008 at 8:57 pm

There is no God

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People educated in science can have no God besides science itself.

By that, I mean that I do not see a valid reason for people educated in science to be religious. No reason to believe that some supernatural forces are at work, dictating how the Universe works or how it was created.

Current science is far from knowing in detail how every bit of the Universe, or even of our own body, works. Whoever doesn’t realize that, certainly has a very shaky understanding of science. However, we’ve come a long way, and we’ve understood a lot of things, in the last few centuries (and we started long before that). We have a pretty good idea of how things are moving around in galaxies, and solar systems, and planets with their satellites. Oh, there are definitely weird, strange things out there that we have never even imagined, I’m sure of that. But still, we have a rough understanding of how stars work. We have a pretty good idea of how things work at small sizes, also. Quantum mechanics is a mature field. What we haven’t quite figured out yet, is what happens when very large masses are compressed into very small volumes — how quantum mechanics interact with gravity. We’re pretty sure how the Universe began, although we have some problems finding out what happenned in the first small fractions of the first second. We are much worse at understanding how the human brain is organized, but we do know that if certain parts are damaged, then bits of what we are, of our personality and consciousness, disappear. We are also quite positive that humans evolved from bacteria, over the space of a few billion years.

My point is, we don’t know everything, but what we did find out, it was found out using the scientific method. People wrote down theories, tested them using experiments, fixed the theories when they were wrong, and tested again. Nowhere did they find any trace of God. Everything that they found out follows a set of clear laws, with no arbitrary supernatural intervention required. Maybe God hides in His Own Particle, in the strange area where quantum mechanics and gravity collide. Maybe he put forth His Will in the first femtoseconds after the Big Bang. But why should we believe that, any more than we believed that God resided in the skies and his angels sat on clouds singing on golden trumpets? Why believe that, rather than believing that one out of the many theories proposed to explain such things will be experimentally proven, if and when we develop the technology to run that experiment? No. There is no valid reason.

And if you come to me and say, this is irrelevant, God does not have to do anything to physics to exist, he can be there there, outside the Universe, hidden, not manifesting himself until the Judgement Day — well then, I’ll smack you with Occam’s Razor right in the face. What’s the point of assuming a God that doesn’t influence me in any way? It makes no sense saying that something is “outside the Universe”. I’ll just scratch that God off and go on with my life, and so should you.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against all aspects of religion. I certainly understand it was necessary to make sense out of the world, in the old times when science was not there to do it. I understand its normative benefits, and they are still here today. I understand and maybe even respect its traditions. But I don’t accept its core message — that a supernatural God exists who created and runs things.

(And don’t even get me started about the Church. The Church was a whore of politics, and the other way around — one of them was top and then the other. They both served a single purpose: making big money for a few people, on the sweat and blood of the rest. Church was about controlling people by fear. It’s no longer working — so politicians had to come up with something new, and quickly too. So, the big new thing is: terrorism.)

So, if you’re ignorant about science, fine, be religious. But if you know science, then you’re not entitled to be.

Some people may choose to be religious out of comfort. They feel better believing that they will exist somehow, somewhere, after death. That all the horrible things happening in the world make sense, at some higher level. I understand that, but I treat it as a weakness. Those people are too weak to accept how things really are, and are deluding themselves with false hopes. They are living their life under the wrong assumptions. And living under the wrong assumptions is very, very dangerous. As the immortal Steven Seagal said, “Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups”. Under the assumption that God exists, you could choose for instance to become a monk, and “build your house in the Heavens”. Which, if your assumption about God is incorrect, means that you’re largely wasting your life.

There are, of course, some caveats. For instance, I know religious people who are brilliant scientists. For me, those people are a paradox. I can only imagine they didn’t really sit down and think about it long enough, and hard enough. They are dominated by the inertia of their education as a child, and by tradition. Eiher that, or there’s really something about them that I’m missing.

All this doesn’t mean that Everything is Just Ashes, because God doesn’t exist. On the contrary, there are wonderful things happening in our times (together with horrible ones, as always). And you can contribute. You can contribute to science, and understanding. You can create beautiful art, and move people. You can help others out of famine and poverty. You can make a family, have children, educate them. But you should do all this while understanding how the world works, not deluding yourself about false Gods.

You’re on your own, so stand on your own two feet.

Live your life well, here, now.

Written by tma2

7 August 2008 at 11:36 pm

Posted in Texts

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The trouble with humans

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Sometimes, I’m proud to be a human. But I get over it quickly enough.

Humans perform such incredible feats of science and engineering as putting a robotic lander on Mars, sending probes on precise trajectories around the solar system, and recreating conditions close to the Big Bang. And yet, NASA has to survive on a meager budget of a few billion dollars, when the Iraq war gets hundreds of billions. That’s how humans sort their priorities. What’s worse, the main catalyst of what space technology we do have, was the Cold War. Humans got into space, and landed on the Moon, only because the US and Russia were each afraid that the other would put the nukes in orbit faster. Since the Cold War ended, space exploration got sluggish. Only now we are thinking that maybe, in 10 years or so, we might land again on the Moon. And perhaps in 20, on Mars. Right now, we barely have an idea what the soil on Mars feels like. And we only casted furtive looks on planets further away, and their satellites.

Humans developed technology down here, on the Earth, that radically improved their lives, over the space of a few short decades. But to run all this technology, they rely on burning fossil fuels. Which may, or may not, run out. We don’t know. But we plan our business like they’ll last forever. Burning fossil fuels may, or may not, lead to catastrophic climate change. But it’s becoming quite likely that they will. There might be technology that gets us out of this trouble — but why invest in it, when the real money is somewhere else; it’s in the oil. Who cares that our grandchildren may live on a planet that is half deserted.

Humans invented the Internet, which has completely changed the way we think. Nearly every bit of information that we need is at our fingertips. And yet, what are people doing with the Internet? Sending spam. Stealing credit card numbers. Installing malware and botnets. Sending your bank transactions to Big Brother behind your back. All these things wouldn’t really be so bad. Not compared with what’s starting to happen now, anyway. Governments have started realizing that having all this big, wild, untamed internet where people can meet, and talk, and speak their mind — oh My God, what a horrible thing for them! They can’t keep doing the things they’re good at, which is pull strings so their friends, who put them there, get the big money. They can’t, because people tell each other about these things, on the Internet. No, the Internet has to be closely watched, archived, sifted through, and controlled.

Behind all these weird, self-destructive priorities of humans, there are really just two things. The big M, and the big N. Money, Now. It wouldn’t be so bad if there were just money. You don’t get much money in 50 years, if you ruin your economy in 10 by waging senseless wars. But the people that make the weapons get a lot of money, now. Hundreds of billions of money. You don’t get much money in 50 years, if half of your people die of famine in 25, and half of the rest in the ensuing war, because most of the farmland gets too dry to grow anything on. But you get a lot of money in two years, if you arrange so that people burn more fuel, more of your fuel, and as expensively as possible. The humans on top of the big corporations, they only care about Money, Now. They don’t care what kind of world their children and grandchildren will live in. Or maybe in some twisted, schizoid way, they lie to themselves that having all those piles of money in the safe will somehow protect their offspring. Like maybe those money can be magically turned into bags of grain and clean water, when there is none around to buy, or noone is willing to sell it to you because they don’t have enough for themselves.

I suppose it’s all natural. Humans have evolved in a very aggressive environment: survival of the fittest was all that mattered. Domination was important. It is normal that many humans will do everything they can to get in a position of power. It is also normal that when they get in that position, their natural tendency will be to gather as much wealth as possible. It seems entirely possible that this tendency can get out of control, destroying any semblance of common sense.

But that doesn’t change the consequences.

If the climate is really warming up, a lot of people will die of famine, and there will be a lot of wars in many places, due to people who flee from the famine, and other people who don’t want to give what little they have left. In the worst case, the changes will be drastic enough to trigger a mass extinction event, where most of the human race will disappear. (A mass extinction event for the other species is already happening, and it’s induced by the humans). In such a case, human civilization as we know it will be destroyed. Technology won’t survive. The few people that remain will be back in the Middle Ages, or worse. We don’t really know what’s going to happen, because our models of the climate system are crude. But we start to see more and more clearly that bad things are very likely to happen. And acting under the assumption that they won’t is a very, very bad idea.

If the fossil fuels will run out unexpectedly, the economy, which is entirely and hopelessly dependent on cheap fuel, will collapse. That part of civilization that we now call “developed” will not survive.

If the people who dream about wars in their wet dreams have their way, our world may go up in a big, nuclear mushroom cloud. But no matter, life itself will survive and be reborn from the ashes, as it always was.

If the governments have their way, we’ll have a Soviet Internet soon enough. Nobody will be allowed to disagree with the way things are run. We’ll just have to sit and take it — or maybe we’d like to pay a visit to the nearest police station.

There are people that are trying to stop these things from happening, or at least the parts that are not yet unavoidable. But they are not the ones who make things happen. Those are the guys with the big Money, Now. And their whores, the politicians. So I don’t know whether to hold out much hope.

Written by tma2

6 August 2008 at 8:38 pm