Bill Kristol is Better Than You

We canceled our cable TV subscription, so I wasn’t able to see this interview where Bill Kristol has his ass handed to him by Jon Stewart until just now.

The best part is how Kristol continues to smirk and blink his beady little eyes, pretending that Stewart didn’t just fuck him sideways with his own words.

As D. Aristophones at Sadly, No! points out, the classic part is where Kristol admits that yeah, actually the government can and does provide really good health care. To the troops. But regular, non-military folk don’t deserve that sort of stellar healthcare. He doesn’t outline what mortal sin we regular folk have committed that bars us from getting kidney transplants when we need them or cancer treatment sans a set of sergeants bars, but I’d hazard a guess that it has something to do with Kristol’s long standing commitment to the GOP party and their policy of screwing the poor, nonwhites and fetishizing the military. Kristol managed to do both at the same time, which is probably why he had that smug little shit eating grin on his face. In his mind, he won the argument. To the sane people in the audience, he came off as a demented rat fucking fascist. But that’s his shtick, so it’s a win win.

Save Us, Crystal Dragon Jesus, You’re Our Only Hope!

Remember V? The miniseries form back int he fabulous 80’s, where lizard people in prosthetic masks came to Earth, imitating Nazis so they could steal our water? Seems they’ve gotten a darker and edgier reboot. You can read a summary of the first episode over at io9:

Based on an early-1980s miniseries, “V” is about what happens when dozens of gigantic alien ships arrive on Earth, hovering over major cities. A beautiful woman alien called Anna, played by Morena “Firefly” Baccarin, broadcasts the visitors’ messages from an enormous screen built into the bodies of the ships. She assures the people of Earth that the aliens want only to harvest chemicals from our waste products, which she says are valuable to them. In exchange, they’ll share technology with humans – especially medical technology, which they’ll set up in thousands of free clinics across the globe.

The only ones who doubt the good intentions of these preternaturally beautiful aliens are DHS agent Erica Evans and Catholic priest Jack Landry (played by 4400 alum Joel Gretsch). Erica and her partner Dale (the excellent Alan Tudyk) immediately start investigating them, and Jack gives a cautionary speech to his congregation about how humans should wait to judge the aliens by their acts rather than their words.

The political undertones are wingnutteriffic. Media-savvy aliens promising a strawman version of universal healthcare (no doubt a cover for how they will cull humanity to serve as food) and the only people who can save us are a Catholic Priest and an Agent of the Department of Homeland Security. Fancy that. The power of Christ + the machismo of the Fatherland, come to save us all from the liberal-fascism of being eaten by socialists form outer space.

Next we’ll get an all new Thundercats movie (I hope it’s in 3D!) as an allegory on gun control with PETA as the villain. Wake me when something new comes on.

Reason #5,203 I love the Internet

This page from the TV Tropes and Idioms Wiki, on James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, written entirely in Wakese.*

It’s brilliant, not only because it’s so fiendishly hard to write in Wakese at any great length, but because there’s absolutely no reason to do so, especially on a wiki ostensibly dedicated to cataloging tropes found in popular entertainment. It’s an obvious labor of love by a truefan who did it just for their own pleasure in doing something creative in honor of a work of art they clearly love. Which makes it all the more wonderful.

*Joycean prose made up entirely of literary and mythic allusion and portmanteau of English, Latin, Gaelic and French words.

A New Utility: The Library as Critical Infrastructure

Everyone who plays the board game Monopoly knows that the real power properties to own are the utilities. If you have Water Works, the Electric Company and all four railroads in your pile, you’ve got a solid chance of winning, because while all the other players will eventually go bankrupt on some Park Place housing scheme, you can sit back and collect rent, because everyone at some point in the game lands on one of the utilities. I haven’t played this game in years and may never again, as the thought of playing a real estate game fills me with existential dread on a level of something out of Lovecraft. But as a child, the game taught me two very important lessons: 1) that real estate is an arbitrary mess that three times out of four leads to bankruptcy, and 2) the importance of well maintained and managed public utilities.

This isn’t one of those articles where I tell you what’s wrong with the library and how to fix it. I’m sure you’ve read enough of those. Over the last ten years or so, they’ve become ubiquitous, almost a sub-genre unto themselves. They all say the same thing: that the way to win hearts and minds and bring warm bodies into the library is to run the place like a business. We have to compete with Google, after all. You would think, what with recent events in the business world, this idea would have fallen out of favor. But you’d be wrong. A number of librarians still seem to think that the way to revitalize the library industry is to be even more like a business. It worked so well for AIG and General Motors, why not the library? Maybe when we go bankrupt, the federal government will step in and bail us out too, though I doubt it, since ALA doesn’t pull nearly the weight on Capitol Hill that the banking or auto industry does. Chrysler may be too big to fail, but the Library of Congress is just right.

If you keep trying to run a library like a business, someone, usually in the institution’s administration, gets it in their head that the library should perform as a business. They of course become disappointed when the library fails to generate any revenue. The esteem of the library in the administration’s eyes goes down, which effects budgets, which effects personal and acquisitions, and after ten years or more, we end up at the bottom of this downward spiral, wondering why every librarian in the country is doing the job of two (or sometimes three) people and no one like us and we’re short, our bellybuttons stick out too far, and we’re a terrible burden on our poor mothers. Continue reading “A New Utility: The Library as Critical Infrastructure”

Harry Potter and the Executive Short Shrift

The consensus about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is that it was a pretty good movie, but would have made a better TV series. I’ve been saying the same thing since The Goblet of Fire, and really about most novels that are made in to movies. and this isn’t even fannish griping about my favorite little moment being left out for plot expediency. Most novels are twenty gallon stories wearing a ten gallon hat. HBP was more relaxed and had some of the character moments that were lacking in the last two films, but still suffered from an excess of plot. But that is part of the problem with cramming a 650 page novel into two and half hours of movie. You have to break your neck swinging form one emotional arc to the next, just to fit everything into the allotted time.

Now, as a series, you have between 13 and 20 episodes to dwell on the character moments that make the story come alive, while still handling the various plots and subplots in a way that allows for subtly, drama and levity. You can spend a whole episode dealing with the Ron-Lavender-Hermione love triangle, as a break from emo Malfoy and the cabinet of doom, the whole business with Harry and the spell book, and the larger political fight going on as the buildup to the war escalates. Alternate this with prolonged episodes of Harry and Dumbledore in the Pensieve, hunting for horacrux and playing quidditch and you’ve got a pretty full season of television, right there. Squeezing all that into a movie leaves you wandering what’s happening, unless you’ve already read the books. Which just makes the movies little more than a visual plot summary rather than a living, breathing story on film.

Happy Lunar Landing Day!

40 years ago today, humans landed on the Moon. Think about that over the next few days, while you wondering what to do with this world we inherited, that sometimes seems so broken and wrong. We can do extraordinary things if we decide we really want to. If we can put humans on the Moon, we can fix health care, and clean up the environment and maybe even set aside our superstitions and our fears and be nice to one another, just a little bit more often.

Featurs, Not Bugs

I’ve been asked when my book will be available on the Kindle and I’ve sort of hemmed and hawed a bit in answering, because, to be honest, I don’t like the Kindle. I think it’s a flawed device and would rather not support bad technology.* Besides looking like something that was a ten generation predecessor the iPod, the Kindle is broken by design, as some unfortunate Kindle owners discovered recently, when Amazon decided to delete books from users devices:

This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid for—thought they owned.

But no, apparently the publisher changed its mind about offering an electronic edition, and apparently Amazon, whose business lives and dies by publisher happiness, caved. It electronically deleted all books by this author from people’s Kindles and credited their accounts for the price.

Turns out, the publisher decided not to continue supporting their ebook version of Orwell’s 1984. And so, the electronic copies already “sold” to Kindle readers where stuffed down the memory hole. And it was perfectly legal and acceptable for Amazon to do this. They did not steal these people’s books, because these people did not own them.

Anyone who thinks they own an ebook is fooling themselves, for all the reasons Horst at the Aardvark Speaks points out:

An e-book is a virtual book over which the publisher retains full control at all times. When you licence an e-book, you do not buy a physical copy that remains in your possession, you are merely granted the temporary right to access data on a server that is beyond your sphere of influence. When the conditions that regulate the access to the data change, the publisher can easily disconnect you from the book.

Actually, the same principle also applies to printed books, it simply cannot be brought about as easily. Only the copies in the bookstores can be recalled by the publisher; the copies already sold to customers may now be illegal, but tracking them down and removing them is impossible. This is one of the most important differences between access to a data service and possessing a physical object.

To illustrate the point that the Amazon case is anything other than an exception, here are some things that happened at The Library in conjunctions with e-books and e-journals:

  • Due to an oversight, a bill for an e-book servive was paid one day after the due date. As a result, access to about 1000 titles was denied for the entire calendar month.
  • The Library subscribed to an e-journal for a few years, then cancelled the subscription. The publisher removed access to the entire journal; the Library could no longer access even the volumes that it had paid for.
  • An e-book publisher went out of business; the Library lost access to hundreds of titles at once.
  • Sometimes, technical/connection problems occur that make hundreds of titles (they are usually bought in packages) temporary unavailable.

Libraries have been dealing with problems like these for quite a while, and are as a result now taking extremely great care to check what the licence agreements and contracts say to avoid situations like these. After all, denied access can have dramatic repercussions for their users (10,000 journals gone over night — that’s about as dramatic as a library burning to the ground, and it only requires that somebody flicks a switch somewhere).

I know all about this madness first hand. My job at the library (one of them anyway) is making sure we’ve verified that we aren’t going to loose all our ebooks on a whim, or because of some paperwork snafu.

Back int he early days, librarians were skeptical about ebooks and electronic journals, for fear that their impermanence would result in loss of access to information that our patrons need. Their wasn’t much to be done about it at the time, as not many people knew enough about the technology to explain why this access issue was important or devise ways to prevent it form being a problem. Instead, publishers were busy rigging the ebook and ejournal system to benefit them. Publishers sell access rights to material that doesn’t exist anywhere but on their servers. when you buy an ebook, it’s not at all like when you buy a physical copy. No one’s going to come in and repossess your physical copy form your shelves. But if you miss a payment or the publisher goes under (a problem happening more and more often these days) or they sell their catalog to someone else, you may loose access rights to that material, sometimes permanently. And as the recent business with the Kindle illustrates, most people are completely in the dark about the ebooks they buy for their own use. The silly rabbits think they actually own something they’ve paid for!

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* There’s also the problem of the Kindle not supporting footnotes. And why would it? I mean, that typographical innovation has only been around for a few centuries, who knows if it will catch on? As a reminder, I do offer free PDF versions of my book, which you can download, share with anyone you like, print out and remix. And if you loose it or misplace it due to some computer crash or portable reading device failure, you can come back and get it for free, as long as this website is running. It’s not a perfect ebook solution but a hell of a better End User License Agreement than you’ll get from Amazon, that’s for sure.

That Squid’s Been Looking At Me Funny All Day

I’m just dumping some reference images and links here so I know where they are. I’m busy gathering info and doing research for my next book.

The above image is by Bob Eggleton.
The Crystal Palace — The first big Exposition, celebrating advances in technology, industry and all that imperialism stuff. Very retrofuturist.

The Anthropocene — this is the age we’re in now, marked by a massive human footprint on the geological scale. The age of global warming and all its unintended monsters.

Kaiju!

A place named after its function Doesn’t get any more clear than that.

The Mundaneum: a steampunk Internet.

Google Was A Racecar Driver

Douglas Rushkoff has an interesting little piece up about Google’s new Chrome Operating System:

Although Google Apps alone may not have convinced the public of the benefits of cloud computing, the introduction of $100 and $200 “netbooks” like the Asus Eee and Dell Mini 9 liberated users from the myth that owning more computer was somehow better than owning less. Miniature keyboards notwithstanding, netbooks could as easily be “net desktops,” running nimbly on bloatware-free Linux operating systems.

With Google now building a Linux-based netbook OS of its own, those last barriers to entry will be removed. People who want to spend less, work less, and get more, will have an option. Instead of figuring out how to hack their netbooks to run illegal copies of the Mac OS X, people will be clicking a button to install a free, legal, and streamlined Google OS Chrome. (Mac OS X is actually bigger than the whole hard drive on my current netbook, anyway.)

The most legitimate concern, of course, is whether a Google OS will end up centralizing control of software and data in a previously decentralized universe. I’d have to say no. Being essentially forced to use Microsoft Word by a Windows-addicted industrial complex is no better; worse, in fact, because I have to pay for the bloated program. By taking away our need to own software individually, Google is not taking away the equivalent of our right to bear arms; it is simply exposing how little agency all of our store-bought software packages afforded us in the first place.

This lack of agency has been my biggest criticism of Microsoft, that the dumb box you pull out of the carton and plug into the wall is full of software too big and bloated for you to understand completely and locked off in a way that prevents you from even taking a look at it. Imagine of you bought a car and the hood were welded shut (and under the hood was couple of hamsters on a rusty wheel). That’s the sort of car Microsoft has been peddling to us for decades. Apple is only slightly better. That their locked off engines were better tuned and higher performance was what mitigated giving up that agency but then they went with the same Intel chipset as your average PC so all we’re paying for these days is the sleek design and slightly better software. That works for some things but, speaking as someone whose Apple laptop just died and doesn’t feel like shelling out a grand for a new one, a netbook running Google’s OS is looking pretty sweet. That everything is kept online isn’t really an issue, since I do 90% of my work and extracurricular activities online anyway.

I for one am looking forward to getting ahold of Google’s OS and poking around under the hood.