Against Resolutions

It’s the end of 2014 and everyone is lining up their new year’s resolutions. Everyone but me.

It’s not that I have anything against the idea of improvement, it’s just that time and experience has shown me that on the road to doing better, we look for shortcuts and have a tendency to get lost along the way. You meet that convincing fellow with the nice smile and a best selling book about how to get It Done and before you know it, your bank account is empty, you own more than one velour robe, and someone just handed you a cup of juice that smells like bitter almonds.

Formulaic self-help recipes and nefarious improving gurus aside, wanting to do better next time is an admirable trait. It’s just the continuing cycle of years isn’t really next time, is it?  There’s no discernible difference between this Thursday and the Friday that follows it, other than the fact we’ve decided to measure the circle of our lives beginning somewhere in between. When the clock chimes twelve, you won’t be happier, smarter, thinner, or richer. you will simply continue to be. And then what happens?

That’s the only important question we really need to ask ourselves. Resolutions are like to-do lists: you make them then ignore them. And if your answer is to make a list, you’re missing the point.

Resolutions are the list of things you’d like to do, but know you’ll never get around to. Or worse, will get around to, but in the most haphazard, unintentional way that causes the complete opposite outcome intended. That’s called serendipity, and that’s as it should be.

Serendipity is when you go looking for a particular book on the shelf and find an even better one right next to it. It’s when you go out for a walk and decide to let your feet move you down a path you usually don’t take, just to see what’s at the end. It may be nothing, but it may be your old friend that you haven’t seen in a while.

Serendipity is not possible when following a to-do list full of resolutions you made months ago, half of which no longer make any sense (what does “eat more peanuts” even mean?).

If resolutions serve any purpose, it’s the same purpose disaster movies serve: they get you to think about all the ways the world won’t really end. That way, you can get on with living your life, taking things as they come, and moving forward in ways you never would have thought to put down on your list, but are better for you, and more fulfilling.

Case in point: I resolved years ago never to get married or have kids. I didn’t believe in marriage, didn’t want the burden of feeding, clothing, raising another human being in this crazy old word. See how well that resolution worked out for me?


Who Made This?

At the end of every episode of the X-Files, there was the production card that identified the show as being created by a particular production company, in this case, Chris Carter’s Ten thirteen productions. I bring this up because the tag line of that production card always stayed with me. A simple statement, spoken by a child: “I made this.” It wasn’t just a boast, but a reminder. Someone made the preceding show. It didn’t just appear on your screen, beamed in from outer space. It was consciously made to sell you an idea.

I started thinking about this when the controversy over The Interview erupted last week. What struck me most was how muddled everything became over something as simple as a movie. Though perhaps simple is the wrong word. Movies are complex, deceptively so. We forget how much time and attention goes into editing them into a coherent narrative, that we overlook the gaps in that editing, and pretend that the real people saying fake things up there on the screen are still conveying some sort of truth, even if that truth is that Seth Rogen and James Franco have clearly smoked more weed than is advisable.

Facts are funny things. They’ll serve liars just as well as they will crusaders for truth and justice. Sure, Sony spiking the film is a horrible no good very bad thing to do, as is the DPRK (or whomever) hacking Sony and issuing threats of terrorism over a movie. But you know what else is a bad idea? Making a comedy about assassinating a sitting head of state. Even and especially if he is an egomaniacal troll with delusions of grandeur. This is a man who had his ex girlfriend executed by firing squad. What did you think was going to happen when he saw a simulacrum of his own face, with his own name, melting on screen? He’d laugh?


But what gets left out of the story is how the moviemakers are trying to pull a fast one. The Interview doesn’t get transmuted into gold because it’s become controversial. But by doubling down on the claim their freedom of speech is being trampled, they elevate the status of their stoner comedy, demanding it be respected as an artful political statement, while still claiming it’s just a movie and the dude whose avatar they immolate on film should just chill out.

The Interview is suddenly Schrodinger’s movie, both political art and crass commercial product, all depending upon which side of the dependent clause you’re reading.  And all because James Franco and Seth Rogen deserve… something. Attention? I know we white guys have been feeling the sting of the social justice warrior lash of late, but prolonging an international incident because of misplaced privilege is a new low, even for movie stars.

And let’s not kid ourselves, The Interview is a lead-jacketed stone, designed to sink. How could it be anything else given its stars, subject matter, and the tendencies of Hollywood comedies? The famous duo who brought us Pineapple Express were never going to produce a thoughtful, nuanced rendering of a tragic and strange land run by a third generation ninny raised to believe he is a god king. That movie would be glorious, probably French, and definitely made thirty years ago but it was never going to be extruded through the marketing-constricted orifice that is Sony Pictures in 2014.

Sony, for their part, were justified in canceling it. Sony is a Japanese based multinational corporation, concerned not with upholding the dubious free speech claims of two wealthy white actors in another country, but with making a profit. And the potential risk presented with releasing a fucking stoner comedy was not great enough to throw against the unknown variable that is North Korea. Still, they handled the situation like utter tools.

And I’m not even sure why the matter required a response from President Obama. A multinational corporation based in Japan gets a bloody nose and the person who holds a press conference isn’t the VP in charge of InfoSec or even the CEO, but the President of the US. If even Obama can no longer tell where a multinational corporation ends and the United States begins, we’re all screwed.

As for North Korea, there’s debate if the DPRK could even pull off such a sophisticated hack. The FBI claims they did it, NK says they were framed. I’ll leave that one to the InfoSec experts:

2014-12-22 12.27.38

The people of North Korea deserve our sympathy, and some of our pity, in everything, but especially this. Before this is all over, someone is going to loose their life in that country, all because Dear Leader looked like a fool in front of the world. That he could look like nothing else is not this dead soul’s fault, and we will probably never even know their name. But sure, let’s pretend, because we’re Americans and have the privilege afforded by distance and willful ignorance, that the real victims are James Franco and Seth Rogan. They’ll have to suffice with crying themselves to sleep on their giant pillows in their shiny mansions, before someone hands them the equivalent of North Korea’s GDP to make another shitty movie.

We’re left with three simple facts: 1. North Korea is run by a dick. 2. Sony execs have their heads up their asses. 3. The Interview is a terrible movie. But none of these facts add up to a greater sum worth anything this overblown. It’s a just a movie, after all.

The problem is, we’ve let movies dictate our perceptions for so long that we have forgotten that someone else’s vision defines what we see or don’t see. And that makes us responsible, as an audience, to stay informed. It’s long past the hour of when you could simply be a passive consumer of moving pictures. It can be argued that this never was a luxury we had, only another idea sold to us, probably in some movie.

By focusing the lens of the story on the famous people who have been temporarily inconvenienced, we’re ignoring the real story: someone exploited Sony’s laughable IT security and made off with a metric shit ton of sensitive data. The powers that be are blaming North Korea, because it’s the sort of story that flatters us and fits a widely accepted geopolitical narrative: a jilted, image-conscious dictatorship spitting in the eye of the noble empire and bastion of civilization over a petty slight, with a pair of hapless but freedom-loving artists caught in the middle. Just ignore the projectionist in the booth, his curtain or the real reasons this particular story is being told at this particular time.

One theory I’ve seen floated is that this is being blown out of proportion by the US Government specifically to give weight to its claims of dire cyber warfare on the horizon, and thus grab back the relative freedoms created by the Internet. I don’t know about you, but if Seth Rogen becomes a dupe for ending net neutrality, I’m going to be pissed.

For all I know, North Korea did the deed, Sony did the best they could under the circumstances, and The Interview is a lost classic of political satire. But I’ve seen that movie and it feels like it needed another rewrite.

All politics is personal. And it doesn’t get any more personal than the images you let people put in your head. This goes double for viral videos, propaganda, or anything that has controversial buzz. Anything that wants your money as much as it wants your attention should be suspect. Never stop asking, “who made this?” because if the answer isn’t, “I made this,” than someone is selling you something and it may not be something you want to buy.

Update 12/23: In the last 24 hours, North Korea was kicked off the Internet by hackers. They’re back, but the hackers showed what some have suspected all along: the DPRK doesn’t have a robust enough Internet infrastructure to perform the sort of sophisticated hack that Sony experienced. Meanwhile, Sony announced they had decided to release The Interview anyway. Guess they decided there was now enough buzz for it to be profitable.

Still no word yet as to why the US is defending the honor of a  corporation against the sickly kid on the international playground.

Gambling With The Future

A few days ago I was on Twitter discussing this terrible headline about AI and libertarianism (it’s from John Stossel so yeah, don’t even bother). This apparently attracted the attention of Zoltan Istvan, Transhumanist author and philosopher, who started following me on Twitter. I followed back and he sent me a link to a free download of his book, The Transhumanist Wager. So I read it. Or tried to anyway.

The problems with The Transhumanist Wager begin with its turgid prose but they don’t end there.[1] For the unenlightened, Transhumanism is the school of thought that at some near future date, technology will enable humans to achieve a kind of immortality, either by cloning, uploading our minds onto the Internet or just putting our heads in jars. What sets Transhumanists apart from the science fiction writers who invented these tropes, is that Transhumanists think this is a dandy proposition and we should do everything within our power to make sure that this happens, up to and including bending or breaking a few inconvenient laws.[2] Istvan is a merry proponent of the bending of these laws and moral codes associated with them, on the grounds that well heck, someone is going to do it anyway and the benefits will be pretty cool, so why not?

Because as history has demonstrated time and agin, the primary beneficiaries of technological advances are the 1%. The wealthy elites would get the mind loading tech and the customized meat avatars. The rest of us would be left to rot in squaller, if we’re lucky. The unlucky ones would or be press-ganged into becoming indentured code servants for the wealthy. Yes, we’d all get to go live in the Matrix! As some douchebags slave, or part of the infrastructure. Instead of being a taxi driver, you’d get to be their car. Or their customized centaur steed. Forever.

Of course Transhumansits claim it will not be so. That ethical progress and libertarian values will prevent this sort of exploitive power play, which as usual, ignores all of human history and seems to apply only to the sort of perfectly spherical humans that exist in these thought exercises. The problem is that true libertarianism can only be attained by a better, more perfect form of human. And they don’t exist. They are is imaginary as the perfected, incorruptible, immortal souls of medieval catholic theology.

Which is what all this striving for immaculate digital perfection really is, warmed over Christian escapism.[3] Why worry about fixing the world’s problems when we can go hide in the Matrix?

So now my Twitter feed is full of libertarian futurists and their blinkered self-promotion and congratulatory ramblings, all in service of feeding me to the Machine so that the Koch Brothers and Rand Paul can can become immortals. Thanks but no thanks.


1. All self-described philosophers have a tragic prose style, as if they are trying to sound as “smart” as their ideas and instead, end up sounding like Wittgenstein with a mouthful of marbles.

2. Human cloning has been outlawed in most countries, and by the UN. The sort of experimentation that would be required to create the mind-machine interface technology to allow for mind uploading isn’t illegal because it doesn’t exist, but if it did, would be illegal as it would violate all known guidelines for ethical practices in research.

3. That, mixed with the standard libertarian dream of having middle class vices legalized in order to enjoy them without the guilt of moral transgression.

Today’s Paranoia is Tomorrow’s Future

Eight months ago when I started on the current novel-in-progress,[1] I thought I was going to have to do some heavy lifting to explain how an AI could be birthed from Google Labs, and how a secretive government agency could get away with having a massive panopticon that allowed them backdoor access to mobile phones and CCTV.

Now? Not so much.

In between the time it took me to imagine those scenes and actually write them, they have gone from science fiction to mundane fact. I no longer have to explain how the Spook Show can track our heroes, because it’s a punch line on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. This is kinda weird, to say the least.

We’re used to the idea of science fiction having some sort of prognostication value, however inaccurate[2] but this is just silly. Good thing my novel still has parallel universes, ray guns and biomechanical plant people from the distant future to keep things good and weird, else I’d end up writing literary romance novels.

1. This iteration of the novel anyway. 8 months ago I tossed out two thirds of the novel, replotted and basically started over, salvaging a handful of key scenes. Essentially, it’s a new novel with some of the same characters and ideas, just completely redone and with a different tone and ending. Shit happens.

2. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea  famously predicted nuclear submarines a century before they were a reality, while Nuromancer is widely considered to have predicted the Internet, it missed out on the omnipresence of mobile phones, though Albert Robida actually got that one right, in aweird way.

Everything is Connected

In between feeding and changing a 2 month old’s diapers, here’s a couple of things that have caught my eye around the old Interweb thingy:

The World In Deeper Inspection is a n intriguing web comic by Ashel, which is amazing and beautiful and strange in all the right ways.


Scarfolk is a town in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever. ‘Visit Scarfolk today. Our number one priority is keeping rabies at bay.’ ”


And another webcomic, this one John Rogers’ Arcanum, from Thrillbent. I like this one not just because Rogers is a fantastic story teller, but because it overlaps a bit in a thematic oblique way, with my own interests  especially the current novel in progress (and even more with the next one I plan to start this Fall). More on both of those projects later but for now, check out all th elinks above. Fun stuff.

I’ve Clearly Been Watching Too much TV Before Bed

I had a dream that they found forgotten in some vault on the Paramount lot an entire 4th season of Star Trek (TOS) that never aired. Episodes included a 2 parter where Khan and 2 of his rivals escaped from their banishment on Ceti Alpha VI and each took over a planet’s civilization, waging a massive interstellar war with Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise caught between them. There was also a 3 part story arc that was basically a retelling of Macbeth with Klingons (only they were the wrinkly forehead Klingons from the movies and TNG era, not the guys in bronzer from TOS era). There was also an episode where they found floating in space a disembodied head that came to life when they beamed it aboard. The head had Q-like powers and made the crew’s life hell until Kirk agreed to help it find all it’s missing body parts and reassemble it.

Last night I dreamed

The city of Portland built a  subway system and I took it all the way to the end, through the mountains, to the coast. The last stop was a platform on a sheer rock cliff overlooking the Haystacks. I walked down a set of steps carved into the side of the cliff and stood in the surf. Then I woke up.