Friday, May 23, 2014

The Seeds of Death - "I never thought I'd see that again. A rocket rising in flight."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Seeds of Death - Details

Season 6, Episode 5 (Overall Series Story #48) | Previous - Next | Index

Pulling gs the old-fashioned way.
The Troughton era is winding down at this point. Doctor Who is teetering on the brink of cancellation. Despite the fine cast and their chemistry, there's something not quite right about the whole enterprise. Change is coming. Pertwee and the new format are a few stories off yet, but there's still more than enough here to enjoy of the old regime. If nothing else, it's at least a complete story with no missing episodes. The Ice Warriors are back in all their scaly, whispery menace and the Earth is in grave peril from the fungus among us.

In 1969 the space race was at its zenith, so the neat twist pulled here is this story features a rocket scientist and all that current tech, but the story is set in the future so all that exciting Rocket Ship to the Moon Future is Now! stuff is passé. T-Mat is all the rage here. The future turned out a little differently then optimists back then might have expected. The US, at least, is largely out of the space shuttle to orbit business and uncomfortably hitching rides with Putin's cosmonauts aboard Soyuz rockets for the time being. We didn't advance beyond rockets, we just decided it was more important to focus our efforts on concentrating wealth in the hands of oligarchs while dismantling the Great Society than to be bold explorers and committed scientists.

If we let Doctor Who down by putting our energy into more mundane matters, then Doctor Who is letting us down a bit here as well in a couple of ways. It's a bit stodgy to make the rocket scientist the saving grace of humanity after he's been superseded. After the neat twist, the show comes back to a conservative position on technology, not just arguing for not putting all your eggs in one basket and not having a back-up plan, but -- in my opinion -- taking a chastising tone against the proponents of the new technology. Sandifer, as usual, does a brilliant job peeling back the layers and revealing the source of the tension we feel while watching this:
And so it comes to this, in which the Doctor praises neo-Victorian adventuring imperialism with one hand while gunning down imperialists with the other, the only difference seeming to be that one set of imperialists is human and British and the other is green. The Troughton era’s one catastrophic blind spot stands revealed – for all of its anarchic and psychedelic charm, it could never bring itself to hurl the brick through its own window. And as the psychedelic spaceship crashes back to Earth, this contradiction becomes fatal. There is no way past it without completely altering the entire structure of the show.
So, even though it's great fun to watch Troughton's Doctor wade through the foamy fungus the Ice Warriors have started to cover the Earth with as stage one of the terraforming -- well, 'mars'forming might be closer to appropriate -- plan, the fun can't raise the story too far above its underlying dissonance. We chuckle when Troughton slips and falls due to the foam all over the set, leaving Wendy Padbury unable to keep a straight face, before she slips on the foam herself. But it's a short-lived chuckle.

This story is definitely worth a watch due to the classic monster, it's rare-for-the-era completeness, and some strong supporting performances along with top rate main cast -- Two, Zoe, and Jamie is a one of the all-time best TARDIS crews.

It's not enough ...

I tend to get a little contrarian around the holidays that bring out the displays of patriotism. Yes, we should honor those who fought and died to protect freedom. In so doing, we should also specifically honor the memory of those who were conscripted to fight in wars they didn't necessarily want to fight in and paid the ultimate price for doing what they believed was their civic duty.

But it's not enough.

Soft-focus images of military cemeteries, instagrammed photos of flags, and pious displays of patriotism do not honor those who gave their lives in bullshit wars of aggression when our freedom was not in peril. When not balanced by clear-eyed criticism of the decision to waste American lives for dubious ends, they are downright disrespectful. Not only to our fallen, but to the civilians of those far away lands who are often dismissed as collateral damage in our so-called War on Terrorism.

Top image results for Memorial Day

I'm not saying don't remember those who gave all. I'm saying, don't forget how often they gave all for no good reason. When you don't hold chicken-hawk politicians accountable for their policy failures and criminal acts, you dishonor the dead. And you guarantee there will be more Iraqs, more Afghanistans, more Vietnams ...

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Memorial Day encourages us to focus exclusively on soldiers who died fighting for freedom. As I like to point out around Labor Day, it wouldn't hurt to get a patriotic feeling and honor the memory of those who died for the real and tangible freedoms we enjoy today, until the Koch Bros. and their ilk figure out how to undermine the American Experiment completely.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Kicking it old school and a little bit outlaw tonight ...

Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas - May 19 at Koka Booth Amphitheatre

Devil Makes Three open, haven't heard them before but the description of their style is encouraging. Looks like we've got beautiful weather outside. Should be a great night ...

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Who's going to code autonomous vehicles to deal with the Trolley Car Driver Dilemma?

The Robot Car of Tomorrow May Just Be Programmed to Hit You | Autopia | WIRED

While human drivers can only react instinctively in a sudden emergency, a robot car is driven by software, constantly scanning its environment with unblinking sensors and able to perform many calculations before we’re even aware of danger. They can make split-second choices to optimize crashes–that is, to minimize harm. But software needs to be programmed, and it is unclear how to do that for the hard cases.
Ugh, I can't believe I didn't consider this challenge for google's autonomous car programmers back when I was posting stuff like this dial-twisted version of the dilemma.

A small child darts into the highway, there's no way to stop in time. Should the autonomous car carrying a family of four with two small children veer left into oncoming traffic? Veer right where a police car has pulled over a van the child just escaped from? The driver of the van is a known serial killer and the vehicle's facial recognition program has matched him with 92% certainty to Most Wanted list, but veering right would also mean killing the decorated police officer and the infant she is holding ... but there's no way to know if the infant is actually a Hitler clone baby ...

Link via Gerry Canavan

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Terror of the Zygons - "You admire our technology, human?" "Well, I'm not human, and I've seen better."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Terror of the Zygons - Details

Season 13, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #80) | Previous - Next | Index

Four in his bonnie bonnet.
via Blogtor Who
Over at Squabbling Rubber, Gary Gillatt makes the case for E1 of "Terror of the Zygons" being the perfect episode of DW, and it not dropping off much from there. He may not be wrong. It's a must-read review. Sandifer has a different spin on it, but he also lands squarely on this story being a classic. We could continue the survey of critical opinion and find much the same wherever we look. This is a well-loved story and it lives up to the praise heaped upon it. Myself, I stop short of rating "Zygons" as highly as the ones that are ecstatic viewing experiences, for me at least -- "Brain of Morbius," "Talons," "Pyramids," are examples -- but I've not got a bad thing to say about it. Well, I take that back, there's one thing. Excepting -- which I'd very much like to do -- "The Android Invasion," this is the last we see of the late Ian Marter's Harry Sullivan. Ian's chemistry was so great with both Lis and Tom, for his character to be sloughed off with a throwaway line in the final minute of the story is downright cold-hearted.

This story comes out of the gate strong with a lovely model shot of North Sea oil rig. The doomed, haggis-loving rig operator is named Munro. I'm wracking my brains here trying to remember if there have been any other Munros apart from a UNIT chap back in "Spearhead," but none are coming to mind. This, then, I believe is the last of my people to appear on Doctor Who. Let's hope the new series addresses the lamentable lack of Munros lo these many years and finds occasion to bring in another ...

While it wasn't actually filmed in Scotland, they play it to the hilt as if it were. We get a kilted Brigadier, a bonnie bonnet and a new tartan scarf for the Doctor (Harry gets to wear the long scarf), the accents, the mention of haggis and the playing of the pipes, it's all so tongue-in-cheek charming without being condescending. At least not until we get that crack at the end about Scotsmen being cheap. The episode was written by a Scot, so I think what we're doing is winking at the stereotype, and it's played so broad I can't imagine genuine Scots would be offended by it. The classic series was a bit less kind in it's stereotyping of the Welsh, so any Scots bent out of shape over the portrayals here could take some comfort from that, I suppose.

The horror aspects of this story a strong suit. Zygon Harry and his pitchfork, that murderous Zygon nurse with her bloody arm ... even the empty eye-hole in the stag's head where the bug was lends a creepy air to the whole affair.

The Zygons and their organic ship call back to something like the Axons, but so much more ... naughty. All that fiddling with organic protuberances. John Levene, in the DVD extras, confirmed what one couldn't help but suspect while watching: that the the crew and anyone watching the filming must've been barely able to contain themselves. You know how ridiculous Tom Baker thought it was by how earnestly he twiddles with the controls of the chambers the Zygons use to capture the body template of the humans they impersonate.

The Skarasen is uncomfortably similar to the dinos from "Invasion of the Dinosaurs." Giant monsters are not something easily pulled off on a shoestring budget. The less shown and more left to the imagination in these cases, the better. It may not look like much, but you have to love the idea of the thing. A lactating cyborg serving as the main food supply of the Zygons and their ultimate weapon is a daft touch that fits so wonderfully here.

This is the last UNIT story to feature the Brigadier and Benton. Levene also appears again in the unfortunate "The Android Invasion," as a faux Benton, so it's better to remember him here. While Nicholas Courtney wasn't able to make it back for that one, the Brigadier's got a lot of story left in him, so we don't feel too bad about there not being any sort of farewell for him here.

While we're talking about Sgt. Benton, I'll take this opportunity to point out you can hear John Levene sing "The Ballads of Sergeant Benton" on his official site. He's right there with Shatner and Nimoy on the musical front.

Sarah Jane Smith isn't impressed with Caber's attitude.
via ThroughWho

Nothing says, "Here's a coward," like a dude packing heat.

What Do Guns Say? -

Image via Daily Kos
But what does it mean, in a democracy that enshrines freedom of speech, to publicly carry a gun as an expression of political dissent? Toting a weapon in a demonstration changes the stakes, transforming a protest from just another heated transaction in the marketplace of ideas into something else entirely. It’s bringing a gun to an idea-fight, gesturing as close as possible to outright violence while still technically remaining within the domain of speech. Like a military “show of force,” this gesture stays on the near side of an actual declaration of war while remaining indisputably hostile. The commitment to civil disagreement is merely provisional: I feel so strongly about this issue, the gun says, that if I don’t get my way, I am willing to kill for it. As Mao understood, the formal niceties of political persuasion are underwritten by the very real threat of harm. “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
Look, the sort of person who feels the need to carry a gun to make a point about carrying guns, is exactly the sort of person reasonable people look at and think, "This asshole is a case study in why firearms should be heavily regulated."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The SCOTUS is Harshing My FFRF Convention Buzz

I'm still trying to make time to put together my thoughts and reactions to the many intriguing speakers I heard over the weekend at the FFRF Convention in Raleigh, but I didn't want to wait too long either to mark the Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

FFRF Convention Win

The last ticket draw in the FFRF fundraiser to raffle off "clean" (pre-"In God We Trust") bills was one purchased by yours truly. I'm going to admire it for a few days and donate it back so they can raffle it off again, but here's a look at it while it's mine:

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