It started badly, with the loner as unhealthy future villain. Watch out for the loners everybody - they're scary.
It briefly picked up with a rather good new title sequence.
Then we got into the mystery section, which was okay. I have serious issues with the idea that the Doctor is now mates with a Silurian and a Sontaran. Both races should hate his guts, the Silurians with good reason. He's repeatedly failed to do anything but posture some platitudes for these Palestinians of the Who-world. And then either sit by while his mates kill them, or kill them himself. And the Sontarans don't work as comedy pratts. I remember when they were satirical deconstructions of literal-mindedness and militarism, compared archly to medieval chivalric hypocrisy. Now they're straight men.
But some of the jokes were funnyish, even if they did rely on the idea that it's okay to mock people for being short, looking odd, etc.
The spiral staircase was nice.
But then... Look, it's now clear that this show has no ambition to be anything more than put-down comedy and sentimentality, interspersed with stuff about how awesomely wonderful the Doctor is... despite the fact that he's now a prattling, petulant, sulky, self-pitying idiot.
Fatuous tear-jerkery. Manipulative, hollow gunk which instructs the viewer to feel certain things on command. No sense of history or politics at all, beyond some nonsequiturs about "Victorian values" which connected to nothing. And we have to get preached at about how wonderful it is to love your kids and cry. The most banal and bland moralising posing as inspirational and uplifting profundity. The most cynical arm-twisting of the feelings, posing as moving drama.
And then... "the only force in the world capable of conquering evil... the tears of a whole family on Christmas Eve". I just don't know where to start. I literally felt sick. It's like inhaling Steven Moffat's farts after he's spent 48 hours doing nothing but reading the insides of greetings cards and masturbating in front of a mirror.
And am I to understand that the Great Intelligence began as a lonely child's imaginary friend? You know, I have no problem with continuity being rewritten... but rewritten as explanations, couched in terms of cloying sentimentality, when there was no need for explanations in the first place?
Also, on the subject of the Clara mystery... who cares? I mean, how can one get interested in the solution to a riddle when you know that the solution will be 'some bit of sci-fi handwaving'. The interest in the best Doctor Who always used to be 'what does this mean?'. 'The Snowmen' tells you what it means (ie 'be nice to your kids, being a loner is bad for you, Victorian Values are BAD... whatever they are, and the Doctor is amazing'. Profound stuff like that.) The interest supposedly now lies in what everyone is feeling (which usually turns out to be something like 'Sad' or 'Happy' about completely inhuman and unrelateable experiences) and 'how will Moffat cleverly resolve this bit of apparently inescapable plot trickery?'.
Well frankly, fuck right off.
I like DW when it's 'just' well-made and unpretentious escapism (ie 'Terror of the Zygons') but this cack isn't escapism. Escapism would be something that took my mind off the fact that the world is turning to shit. 'The Snowmen' - being about the most perfect expression of Moffat's neoliberal Who - just rubs the shit in my face while screaming "cry, you proletarian meat-puppet! CRY!!!!"
This is now not just a show I don't like. This is now something I actively hate.
Merry Fucking Christmas.
Andy Summers from The Police will be 71 on New Year's Eve. That may sound strange, but he had a long career before he met Sting, and this is one of the highlights from it.
Summers (or Somers as he spelt it for a while) formed Dantalian's Chariot with his friend Zoot Money, and this song of their is now regarded as one of the key songs of Britsh psychedelia in the 1960s.
After Dantalian's Chariot Summers and Money joined Eric Burdon in a later incarnation of The Animals. They have already featured here on Colored Rain.
MRS WIBBSEY'S FESTIVE DIARY
This time... I don't know. Maybe now that I've articulated how I feel about both the sentimentality and the various -isms embedded into or even celebrated by the story, it's easier for me to separate those out, treat the film like the curate's egg it is and enjoy those parts of it that are excellent? Or maybe it was just the large audience in a festive mood, who laughed along appreciatively to what are actually a lot of very funny lines - not to mention the mince pie and mulled wine which I bought during the intermission. It being my third time round I also spotted various small things which I don't think I've noticed before, like the large bust of Napoleon on the windowsill in Mr. Potter's office, which nicely symbolises his aggressively imperialising approach to business. That kind of attention to detail always helps me to warm towards a film.
I also thought properly for the first time about why The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is so important to the story that the angel, Clarence Odbody, goes round clutching it throughout the entire film, and then gives it to George as a Christmas gift at the end. In part it must be because the book puts such emphasis on the friendship between Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, which fits nicely with Clarence's inscription on the front page at the end of the film: "no man is a failure who has friends." But (having just re-checked the plot on Wikipedia), I can see now that more important is probably the episode in which Tom, Huck and their friend Joe run away for a while to an island in the Mississippi, and have a wonderful time until they realise that their families back home think they have all drowned in the river. That resonates with two key notes in It's a Wonderful Life - not prioritising your own desire for adventure over other people's happiness, and (because Tom secretly observes how his family are responding to his absence) getting to see what the world would be like if you weren't in it. So, yes, I see how that's an important inter-text.
One more thing - it occurred to me this time that since the angel Clarence watches the first two-thirds of the film from heaven as though on a film-reel before he goes down to Earth and meets George Bailey, he should have seen exactly what happened to the $8000 dollars which Uncle Billy misplaced, and have been able to tell George where it was and who had it. Obviously, that would have scotched the sentimental ending in which everyone chips in to help George cover the loss, and as it has taken me three viewings to even notice it, I guess it isn't really a problem, plot-wise. Plus Clarence is characterised early on as a bit dim, so maybe he just didn't even realise himself that it might be helpful to explain to George what had happened. But still, it would have been nice at least to know whether Mr. Potter ever got his comeuppance for keeping it.
I probably wouldn't ever bother to watch this film again in my life if it weren't a regular fixture on the Cottage Road cinema's Christmas programme. Indeed, that was already true after only one viewing of it. But since it's there, and since after three viewings now it has effectively become a Christmas tradition for me, and since James Stewart... I guess I won't go out of my way to avoid future viewings in the same setting.
Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.
“Merry Christmas, mom!”
“Robert! Oh, thank you, son! I didn’t think you’d have time to call me today.”
“No, it’s cool. I’m on my break. Even up here, we get OSHA.”
“So you’re still working for that man.”
“You haven’t thought about going back to school.”
“To get my Asian Studies degree? Have you got any idea what the job market is like?”
“You’re such a smart boy, Robert. I know you can do better than manual labor.”
“Mom, this is a good job. It’s a union salary. I’m a craftsman, not a ditch digger. And besides, we only work, like, three days out of the year, and we get free housing. I’m saving a ton of money because there’s no place to spend it up here.”
“It’s not proper work. What am I supposed to tell my friends you do for a living?”
“There’s really not a lot of job opportunities for elves, mom.”
“You’re only half-elf.”
“Whatever. It’s this, cartoons, or posing for the covers of fantasy novels. And you don’t want to know what that’s usually a front for.”
“What about your freind Hermey? He went to dental school.”
“Yeah, I want to leave this sure thing to hope I can get a job doing denture scrubs for retirees in Boca. No thanks.”
“I think you’re just not applying yourself. You shouldn’t let the elf thing stand in your way. You could be like…like the Martin Luther King of elves.”
“Mom. I like this job. If you didn’t want a life like this for me, you should never have hooked up with an elf in the first place.”
“I was young! I think there was vodka in the hospitality room punch at that con, anyway.”
“We’ve been over this. Let’s just let it go, okay?”
“Has that man made a pass at you?”
“Your boss. I don’t trust him. He’s one of those people. A gay.”
“Are you serious?”
“Well, just look at his outfits, Robert. Don’t be naive.”
“Mom, he’s married.”
“A beard, they call that. And I don’t mean the one on his face.”
“He’s been married longer than you’ve been alive.”
“Mmm hmm. But not children, I see. Not unlike certain other people I could mention.”
“Mom, I told you, it’s hard to meet girls up here. I live at the North Pole, you know. It’s not like there’s a lot of singles bars.”
“What happened to that one nice girl you were dating, that Rebecca?”
“Well, we’re still sort of seeing each other, but she’s only up here part of the year, for her work. It’s tough maintaining a long distance relationship.”
“Oh, that’s right. What was she again? A Greenpeace activist?”
“She’s an atmospheric scientist.”
“She doesn’t make more money than you, does she?”
“I gotta go. Merry Christmas. I’ll see you over the summer break.”
“Let me just ask you one question.”
“Does he make you wear those shoes? Because they’re not flattering, I can tell you that. And they can’t be giving you much arch support.”
“I love you, mom. Goodbye.”
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I realized the Chipmunks (which I had always known as cartoon characters from my childhood) were actually, as pop-cultural entities, much older — dating back to their eponymous novelty Christmas record in 1958 or, arguably, the “Witch Doctor” song all the way back in 1952. There was a short-lived cartoon in 1961, but the Saturday-morning cartoon that I and people of my generation are most familiar with didn’t come around until more than 20 years later (1982-1990).
The audio trick that creator Ross Bagdasarian used to create the sound of the Chipmunks’ voices was so simple, and the resulting songs so popular in the late 50s and early 60s, that I figured they must have spawned some knockoffs. Sure enough — enjoy the squeaky sounds of:
The Nutty Squirrels (singing “Uh Oh”)
The Grasshoppers (singing “Shortnin’ Bread”) (More info)
The Three Happy Crickets (“We Wish You a Merry Christmas”)
Woody Woodchuck’s Christmas Sing Song (info only)
Sing Along with the Busy Beavers (album download)
BONUS LINK: The Happy Hamsters sing “Ghostbustin’”, a few decades later. Full album here.
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|merry christmas! dinosaur comics returns tomorrow :o
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December 24th, 2013: I looked up "tomorrow" to see if I had a comic about the word "tomorrow" to match the "overmorrow" comic I linked to yesterday, but all I could come up with is this, and you know what? I'M TOTALLY OKAY WITH THAT.
One year ago today: i hope you like jokes.tmp~
Interestingly enough, 2013 was the second seemingly stable year in the new normal we are all living in the publishing industry.
Does that mean that nothing changed? Of course not. Some things changed, but not like 2009-2011.
And some things will continue to change. But when you step back and look at the business in general, the changes in 2013 were pretty minor and predictable and normal.
So I figured, as I did last year, to try to give a little perspective on the past year from the advantage of watching and living inside of publishing for thirty-five years now.
In 2013, traditional publishers were in a normal state of flux. They cut warehouses and printing costs as a reaction to reduction of print sales as they did the year before. That move has been expected for decades. They are adding in more ways to get books into electronic editions where more profit-per-unit-sale lives. Just normal “run to the money” thinking of all publishers.
Of course, the problem with this is that in 2013, electronic book sales were flat and actually declined over all trade publishing. So traditional publishers must now search for other ways to replace the shrinking money from paper sales or find themselves in big trouble. This has been a major topic in the last few months of 2013.
A number of the big traditional publishers settled lawsuits with the DOJ over agency pricing, but all the short-term repercussions of that suit were already worked into the systems. So nothing new. We eventually will completely return to the old system that worked just fine for many, many decades.
Traditional publishers have already started the expected cutting of book lines and mergers. They are also starting new book lines, many are electronic only. This will happen at both large and small scales.
Smaller publishers will continue to grow into the areas left behind and become big publishers over the years. This has been the nature of publishing for longer than any of us have been alive, so nothing new there at all.
And following the trend that started three or four years ago, the big traditional publishers are working to tie down as many writers’ books as possible, and control as many rights. So their contracts in 2013 managed to get even worse and have become completely anti-writer.
So for the most part, traditional publishers are just on cruise control, but are facing major challenges that high income from electronic sales won’t save them from.
Traditional publishing “impact events” that might happen in the near future…
— The US or European courts are still messing with the “First Sale” doctrine of copyright law. There are a bunch of cases in courts right now around the world that could cause all sorts of issues with big publishers and small and indie publishers as well, depending on the rulings. Right now, electronic books are not sold, they are licensed. (The person buying the book license has no rights to do anything with the book except read it.) But if the courts rule that an electronic book sale is an actual “sale” and “First Sale” applies, then things will shift dramatically in many, many areas. (The very least of which is “used electronic books.”) There are other aspects of “first sale” rulings coming as well that could affect international sales. This all has been in the works now for two years and we might see some cases come down in 2014 finally.
— Traditional publishers catch a clue and go vertical, meaning opening stores and selling direct to customers instead of direct to the distribution chain only. That will shift everything, but so far I see no major publisher doing that at all, or even talking seriously about it, even with the distribution chain shrinking and moving to a more direct-to-customer approach in many other areas. They will be forced to face this new sales world at some point, but it might be years. I said the same thing last year and have zero movement on this at all.
— Amazon actually opening the rumored public stores. That should change a lot of things for books and act in many interesting ways like a new bookstore chain. Should be interesting if nothing else. But the Amazon Derangement Syndrome (as Passive Guy calls it) will continue.
— B&N will NOT go down. But they might drop different aspects of the Nook manufacturing and sales. That should affect very little.
More and more writers, both new and established, moved to indie publishing in 2013.
The indie publishing movement near the end of 2013 is still in some flux, as it should be after only four or so years in this new electronic-added world. Many writers are doing books or backlist titles themselves, but at the same time indie publishing is seeing the early adaptors starting to get discouraged and dropping out.
Again, this is nothing new in publishing. To make a career in publishing, you have to be ready for a long haul, often over decades.
Most beginning writers who went indie two years ago didn’t want to do that, didn’t find the “gold” they were promised after a ton of wasted promotion efforts, and have stopped. Nothing unusual at all. Writers starting off and then quitting was always the way it was even when I came into publishing back in the dark ages. Nothing different. But now it’s not quitting after fifty rejections, it’s quitting after three books up and very few sales.
At the end of 2013 we are also seeing a rise in larger indie presses and indie distributors. Presses such as WMG Publishing with over four hundred titles. And Wordfire Press with a growing list. No surprise there. There is a need and gaps to fill as traditional and mid-range publishers shift around. Again, this movement to fill a void has been standard in publishing over the decades.
The biggest event for indie publishers in 2013 was the silent removal of all labels about POD printed books from the Baker and Taylor and Ingrams catalogs. This allowed bookstores, depending on their credit, to get indie published paper books at varying discounts from 25% to 42%. So indie books starting in the summer of 2013 started slowly making their way through normal channels into bookstores. And many indie published books found their way into the ABA Indie Bound book program this last fall, mostly without the indie publisher even knowing it was happening.
This one change last summer will turn out to have a large impact for many indie publishers in 2014 and beyond.
In 2013, indie publishers finally caught a clue and the entire Kindle Select became mostly a thing of the past. Going exclusive in this new world is just flat stupid. There are no exceptions that I can see.
Smashwords, the largest distributor of indie work to stores (Amazon is a store), got faster and cleared out a bunch of bugs in 2013 and actually started a revamp of their site. But they still have a horrid accounting system that will eventually drive all but the erotica authors away. But it seems from the outside that Smashwords clearly had a good year. Right near the end of the year they partnered with Scribd, which may or may not turn out to be a disaster. Scribd is known for being a pirate site. Should be interesting over 2014 to see how that goes.
During 2013, indie publishing also got to experience the normal fluctuations of publishing seasons, since the explosion of electronic sales no longer masked the standard ups and downs of the publishing sales cycles. This, of course, drove a ton of beginning indie writers (who watch every sale) completely nuts and sent off waves of conspiracy theories, just as what happened in 2012. You would think the writers doing this would get tired of conspiracy theories after a time.
Also in 2013, the early adaptor price of 99 cent ebooks was even more of a no-mans’ land for most regular book buyers than it had become in 2012. That helped indie writers make more money by getting their prices up just under traditional publishers electronic prices. Now the 99 cent price is being used in a smart way by many as a short term sale price, which often has worked.
During 2013, indie publishing in many, many ways, both paper and electronic, spread out over the world. Now your indie books get a much wider reach than any traditional publisher can manage, which not too many people have talked about yet, but will in 2014.
Yes, I said that. Your books go to a wider worldwide audience when you indie publish them than if you sold them to a traditional publisher. Something most beginning writers never think about as they search for the worthless agent.
Also, the Kobo move into brick and mortar stores is having an impact, with Amazon also trying to follow in the last few months of 2013. Next year should be an interesting year as the big electronic stores battle for the growing number of brick and mortar bookstores. (Yes, again in 2013 there were more indie bookstores than the year before.)
And, of course, the news that everyone knows. Electronic book sales flatlined for 2013. I had figured that overall trade sales of electronic would hit 30% eventually and everyone thought I was too low. I doubt the sales will get to 30% now. I think the number will continue to hover around 20% of all trade for years to come. Of course, that varies by genre.
Also, the world is one more year farther away from the stigma that used to be attached to self-publishing your own work. There are still idiots out there holding on to that old belief, but they are few and far between and have no power to influence anything. However, you should never call yourself a self-published author, because bookstores will avoid you. Have your own publishing company and treat that business like your publisher, same as you would treat Simon and Schuster. In other words, act like a business person.
Indie publishing “impact events” that might happen in the near future…
— See the comment above about “First Sale” court cases. Major impact if that goes in a number of different directions for indie publishing. We can only wait and see. Again might not happen in 2014.
— I worry about Smashwords. Their accounting is so bad and so questionable, it has to bite them at some point if they don’t fix it. And partnering with the great pirate site of Scribd is yet another question mark. I think another area to keep an eye on is the Kobo/Amazon push into indie bookstores. That should really be interesting to watch.
Agents had a horrid year in 2013, just as they did in 2012, and the future does not look bright for an area of publishing that, for the most part, seems to have outlived its value. Many agents, ignoring any hope of pretending to be an actual “agent” under agency law, opened up their own publishing arms to take care of writers too lazy or afraid to do electronic backlist publishing themselves. Many other agents just turned themselves into scams to make a living off of taking writers’ money. But in 2013, many of them learned it wasn’t going to help them.
And with advances and paper sales falling like a stone for even the top bestselling writers, agents entire business model is falling apart around them. We should see some pretty major collapses of agencies in 2014.
There are still a ton of great agents out there, but often they work for agencies that have sticky-finger issues with client’s money. Watch for some more lawsuits to hit the news as well, just as some hit in 2012. That will happen since writers give agents all their money and all the paperwork and then wonder why they get ripped off with money gets tight for the agent. Duh.
Agents started spreading the myth in 2011 (and increased the push through 2013) that writers needed agents to sell movie deals and overseas deals. A total myth, of course, in this new world of world-wide email. But it helped agents feel relevant to focus on an area that before was only a sidelight for them. It is not helping their bottom lines at all, since overseas agents hold most of the money from them. It is a standard area for sticky fingers.
And the traditional publishers still have on their guidelines that you need an agent to sell a book, even though most smart writers have figured out that guideline is just a tissue paper roadblock to ignore. Just like the old “no unsolicited manuscripts” was when I came in.
Also, with traditional publishing contracts getting so nasty over the last four years as publishers made rights grabs, agents can’t negotiate a contract anymore. Agents are not lawyers. These days you need an IP attorney familiar with publishing contracts to even get close to a decent contract. And unless your advance is north of six figures, you won’t get it even with a lawyer.
So agents are the buggy whip area of publishing, and I sure can’t see much that will save most agents over the next decade or so.
Agent “impact events” that might happen in the near future…
— Many large traditional publishers are in the process of setting up direct submission systems. This forward process slowed in 2013 some. Because of the draconian contracts that take all rights from writers, it is in traditional publishers’ best interests to get as many books headed their way as possible and not stopped by agents. Electronic submissions systems direct to traditional publishers (already going in a number of smaller genre lines) will put the final coffin nail in the agent world. This will start up again in many major companies and you will start seeing these new systems appear in late 2014 and the year beyond. And that will start killing the “you need an agent to be published” myth.
For writers, 2013 has just been another great year in the second golden age of fiction. Writers, both new and old-timers like me, have discovered indie publishing. Many writers are working both sides of the fence just fine. But now with indie publishing we don’t have to wait on late contracts, late payments, and agents who only block what we do.
And the strange or cross-genre work we produce now can get to readers.
2013 was a year that started to prove that being able to sit in a chair and produce is a valuable skill in writing once again, just as it was in the first golden age of fiction in the 1930s and 1940s. Readers want more books and stories from favorite authors and don’t understand the “only one book per year” thinking of traditional publishers.
Writers can now get direct feedback at times from readers, something that was almost impossible under the old system.
But in 2013, there was also a split between writers, people who write, and authors, people who have written and like to promote. A ton of myths have sprung up around promotion and what works and what doesn’t. We’ve had some of those discussions here as well. This silliness will continue.
The main word I heard the last few years from writers was “freedom.” It seems that suddenly we all feel free to write what we want, not what we think some editor and sales force might like. That’s great fun and really became a clear force in 2013.
We also have the freedom to not take bad contracts from traditional publishers if we don’t want. That’s a fantastic bargaining chip in a negotiation, so smart writers gained power over the last year. And now writers who care about their work have an option. And smart writers go to lawyers now, not agents, for help on contracts of all sorts.
“Control” was a word I also heard a great deal from writers in 2012 and in 2013. Control of covers, control of the proofing, control of the quality, control of the rights. All that control became very important and part of many conversations for writers this last year. And that is, let me simply say, fantastic!! I expect those conversations to continue and increase in the coming years.
So writers (with all the changes becoming normal) gained control and freedom. 2013 was a year for writers to try to figure out what each of us wanted to do with that new control and that new freedom. Every writer is different and every writer this last year seemed to react in a very different way. It’s going to be great fun to see how those two words keep pushing the conversations over 2014.
Control and freedom. A real golden age in writing for writers.
Writer “impact events” that might happen in the near future.
– See the discussion about the “first sale” under traditional publishing above. I have no idea how that’s going to be ruled on in all the different cases, but it’s important to writers. Watch the cases, folks. I will try to report on the important ones here.
– Scams in 2013 took out more and more writers and will continue to do so in the coming years. The scams that take writers’ money are becoming so thick it’s hard to tell the good players from the scammers. From “publishers” willing for a percentage fee to put your book up to “editors” willing for a fee to read a writer’s work to “agents” willing for a percentage fee to help you try to sell your book. And so much more.
Sadly, by being lazy and afraid to learn how to do things on their own, a lot of writers will lose their dreams or a number of books or at least a lot of money before this trend calms down again. It has gotten beyond ugly and I see it only getting worse before it gets better. Caution on hiring out work in 2014. Make sure you know who you are dealing with.
– Writers are going to lose all rights to millions of books (traditional publisher’s rights grabs and writers signing something because they feel desperate). Many writers will be sued by publishers and publishers will be sued by writers as more and more writers try to break out of horrid contracts they signed. The writers will lose most of the cases because they signed the contracts. Over the next five years a lot of case law will be built on all this. And most of it won’t favor the writers I’m afraid.
Know what you are signing, folks. And know that if your advance is under six figures, you will never see the rights to those books again.
2013 was the second “new normal” year we have been through. Publishing sales trends have now applied to indie press work, and a vast majority of established writers are moving some backlist or all of their work to their own publishing press.
Traditional publishing is going along just fine, taking and controlling more and more book rights from poorly represented writers who don’t know what they are signing. Traditional publishers face some major changes, but in 2014 we will only see rumblings of that. Profits right now are solid in almost all the major corporations’ quarterly reports. But they will be faced with more and more writers turning away from bad contracts. A few of the smaller imprints and publishers and a few editors might start the process of pulling that trend back. But it will take years.
And with the flatlining of electronic book sales, traditional publishers will have money troubles by the end of 2014 that will cause more cutbacks and mergers.
Writers are not used to the “control” and “freedom” concepts just yet. Old myths die very, very hard. So agents will keep taking advantage of new writers, and new writers will continue to sell all rights to their novels for next to nothing.
When boiled down, it is a game of control here at the end of 2013, just as it was at the end of 2012.
— Traditional publishers want to control all rights and control the writers that work for them.
— Agents feel their control and place in the industry slipping away, so are turning more and more to scamming writers.
— And writers are learning how to use the control and freedom they have gained over the last few years.
But even with all that, 2013 has been a pretty stable year with most developments favoring indie writers. I have a hunch that unless one of the major impact events actually happen, 2014 will be about the same.
And that’s great fun.
Copyright © 2013 Dean Wesley Smith
Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime
This chapter is now part of my inventory in my Magic Bakery.
I’m now writing fiction like crazy, so every word I write here takes time from that. And I have to justify this somehow in how I make a living.
So, if you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.
If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.
And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. I don’t always get a chance to respond, but the donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!
Yes, the holidays are approaching, the time when we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We wish you all the best of seasons, and hope you will celebrate in a devout and solemn manner, as opposed to the drunken revels of the hated Saxon. Just as a reminder, anyone found drinking spirits or engaging in lewdness during the high holy days will be boiled alive. Thanks!
Also, many of you have inquired as to the holiday work schedule. You may, of course, take Christmas Day off, and you may also take Christmas Eve or the day after Christmas off, providing you do not object to being boiled alive.
Lately there has been some talk of labor unrest. We are not sure what this means. However, we have always prided ourselves on being an organization that advocates for the rights of the peasant. Therefore, anyone attending one of these trade-union meetings will be scalped and skinned for their failure to recognize our benevolence.
There have been questions about the fate of Antioch Bebescu and Sergiu Medrea, who organized just such a trade-union and have not been seen for several months. All those who posed such questions have been scalped and skinned.
All in all, December has been a banner month for workplace safety at Castle Bran. Cold weather conditions notwithstanding, we have seen an overall decrease in injuries, and the new labor crews working on the expansion of the windows on the west wall have reported dramatically fewer unsafe conditions. We attribute this to the former west wall labor crew’s actions: they reported extremely hazardous conditions, and were subsequently locked in a shed which was then set on fire. Let’s all learn from the good example of the new west wall labor crew!
We’d also like to report a new change in our medical policy. Starting January 1st (a new year, already! 1472 will be the best yet, Wallachia!), employees who are injured on the job will not be immediately put to death. They will be sent instead to the new “infirmary”, where we will wait for them to die of their injuries. If they show signs of recovery, the infirmary will be locked and set on fire.
It wouldn’t be a company newsletter without a mention of those darn Turks! Here’s a rich one Lord Tepes heard at a local tavern: It seems a pair of the vile Mohametan heathen were fishing on Lake Van in a boat they stole from a devout Christian lady who was later raped and killed to feed their filthy appetites. They caught so many fish that the first Ottoman says, “We must come back here tomorrow!” The second Ottoman asks, “How will we remember the spot?” The first unleashes his scimitar, which was no doubt used to butcher an infant in the sacking of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and carves a big ‘X’ in the bottom of the boat. “There!” he says. “Now we’ll just look for the ‘X’!” The second Ottoman is furious. “You idiot!”, he shouts, “How do you know we’ll get the same boat?”
Lord Tepes was so delighted by this witty tale that he commanded we tell it here. He also had the owners of the tavern decapitated for selling intoxicating spirits on Sundays.
As the most holy time of the year draws near, we realize that there are many issues weighing heavily on the minds of our employees. Some of you have sinned; some know of others who have sinned; and a select few foolishly constructed the arrow slits in the north tower several inches under specification, and attempted to blame their incompetence at following blueprints on being unable to read. Thankfully, these illiterate ne’er-do-wells were castrated and impaled, and their widows fed to the wolves, but it doesn’t have to happen to you! Spiritual guidance is available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week at the local parish. We urge you to confess your sins, the sins of others, and the possibility of future sins and those likely to commit them, to one of the priests in great detail. We especially recommend Father Goga, who is a very good listener.
Merry Christmas to all the Dracula “family”! (Please note: non-relatives who represent themselves as actual members of the Dracula family will be castrated and impaled, and their widows fed to the wolves.)
Recently, our friend Neil Gaiman appeared at the New York Public Library and performed a public reading. It was of an odd version of A Christmas Carol written by someone named Charles Dickens, who for some reason completely cut Mr. Magoo out of it. Why someone would want to do that, I don't know…but it actually works surprisingly well sans Magoo, and Neil gave it a colorful performance. The woman you'll hear in this recording before Neil is Molly Oldfield, a writer and researcher for the BBC…
MRS WIBBSEY'S FESTIVE DIARY
MRS WIBBSEY'S FESTIVE DIARY
MRS WIBBSEY'S FESTIVE DIARY
MRS WIBBSEY'S FESTIVE DIARY
Calls have been made for the [supporter/member/if you're lucky MP or Peer] to apologise for the [comment/speech/if you're lucky bad taste joke] that was made on [Tuesday/Question Time/if you're lucky Twitter].
The gaffe comes just [months/weeks/if you're lucky days] after [supporter/member/if you're doubly lucky MP or Peer] of [political party you don't like] also caused controversy with a [comment/speech/if you're on a real outrage winning streak bad taste joke] that also offended lots of people. [supporter/member/if you're doubly lucky MP or Peer] apologised for this at the time but these latest scandalous remarks show that they simply have not learned their lesson.
"They just don't get it" said a spokesperson for [pressure group/political party you do like/political party you dislike less than the political party you don't like]. "It's absolutely typical of people associated with that party and demonstrates why you should never vote for them."
Children learn subtext even as they read
those first few sentences of family.
They're angry, there is something wrong with me.
Shoelace I can't quite tie; door-knobs that need
grasping in some way I don't know. I talk
too soft, too loud, too musical. My chair
rocks when I giggle. Hold my teddy bear
as if it were a doll. Learn to stick a cork
in everything I like. And when they burn
a book for telling lies that were half-true,
I watch the flames too hard. The things that grew
in me were all a subtext in their turn
I learned to hide, lie better. Found in shame
home more myself than face or given name.
As you may know, I’m kind of against internet filtering anyway. Like many others, I share concerns about blocking important resources about sexuality and sex, and think it’s vital that children are able to access information about what options are available to them, and what is and isn’t OK. It’s vital that this information is available.
We’ve all heard horror stories about sex education sites being inadvertently blocked as porn, due to false positives on filtering. This is, of course, terrible. What’s worse, though, is that you’ve actively set up Sex Education as a category in your parental controls. That’s pretty iffy in and of itself, and gets much grosser when we look at exactly what you’ve explicitly decided to give parents the option to block:
Sex Education will block sites where the main purpose is to provide information on subjects such as respect for a partner, abortion, gay and lesbian lifestyle, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.
I’ve got some news for you, BT. This is really, really important information that young people need to access. This is information that keeps them safe from abuse–information about what is and isn’t OK. Respect for a partner is something vital that young people need to know about.
About the only way what you’re doing is OK is if you’re using your filters as a red flag list for spotting potentially abusive families. Are you trying to find out what sort of parent would block their children from knowing about respect, so you can help get their kids out of that situation?
I thought not.
Basically, BT, I didn’t think much of you to begin with, and I certainly don’t think much of you now. Your priorities in what information you want to help block are really, really fucking skewed.
P.S. Terms like “gay and lesbian lifestyle” are homophobic dogwhistles, you pile of skidmarked Y-fronts.
Edit 22/12/13: I note you’ve now reworded, BT. But are you still blocking all of this vital information? If so, all of this still stands.
I know that you said you didn’t want to see me, or hear from me. But I think this card complies fully with the court’s order of protection, provided I do not hand-deliver it to you. I know it just looks like a cheap 89-cent greeting card manufactured in 1986 and purchased from a dusty, underused spin-rack at a truck service center in rural Nebraska, but to me, it expresses perfectly my feelings at this, the time of year we are so far apart and should be so close together.
See the comical drunk on the cover, leaning woozily around a lamp-post and sporting dishevelled pajamas and an ice-bag on his head? That lovable scamp is me, on Thanksgiving night, and on the seven previous holidays we’ve spent together going all the way back to last Halloween, and also every weekend and Thursday and Monday night for the last two years. See the nagging wife with her hair up in curlers, stuffed into a shabby floral-print dress, wielding a rolling pin like some frightful poleax? That’s you, only you’re much prettier, sweetheart. And see the punchline inside, about how I don’t have a drinking problem — I just drink, get drunk, fall down, and no problem? That’s like our relationship. No problem! Only now I realize, there is a problem. A big problem. A problem so important and unique that not even the spin-rack at the Torrington Travel Terminal could help me. A problem called me.
Now, it would be easy to place blame. I could, for instance, if I wanted to, blame you, for being less attractive than you ideally could have been (not that you aren’t beautiful!), thus driving me into the arms of women who care a little more about taking care of themselves. Or I could mention how, since you’re a teetotaler (some would say “killjoy”, but not me, darling, because I love you), you miss out on all the hilarious comments I make when I’m drunk. But I’m not writing you this card with a golf pencil I found in a guy’s shoe who hung himself in our cell to play the blame game. I’m writing you to say: I’m sorry.
I’m sorry I’m so mean to your children. And my children. And our children. And the children that are probably ours but we’ve given up trying to find out whose exactly is whose and besides, a check is a check. Just children in general, I guess. Kids really get on my nerves, but that’s no excuse for my behavior. Although you’d think they’d learn to stay away from me by now, especially when I’m drunk.
I’m sorry for being so drunk all the time. I can’t take all the blame for this one, since it’s my body that’s betrayed me by letting itself get totally polluted off of a six-pack when it used to take as many as nine beers just to get a light buzz on. Is it my fault that this has happened? Am I to be punished by your forbidding me to drink at all just because of one little armed robbery? But the fact is, even though I intend to keep drinking a fifth of rye every twelve hours, that doesn’t mean you should have to suffer for it. I’m sorry for stealing the diaper money to keep myself in booze; a person who really cared would steal from strangers, not from his loved ones. Tell the kids I’m sorry about their lunch money, too. Maybe soften the blow by mentioning it was really top-shelf rye.
I’m sorry for burning your house down. I know what you’re saying: there’s no need to apologize for that, it was my house too. But the fact is, I was deliberately trying to burn down just your parts of it, because they irritate me so much. It turns out that you can’t really selectively burn a house down, and that the flames really took to the collection of old tit magazines soaked in rubbing alcohol that I kept in the tool room, but even if that wasn’t the case, it was wrong to burn down your parts of the house, especially after you warned me the last six times.
Darling, I’m saying all this because I ran into one of the kids — Mike? Danny? You know, the one with the red hair and the gap teeth — when he was being taken to juvie this morning, and he said that he got busted for trying to hock some of the Christmas presents. So, sweetheart, love of my life, if there is even a light chance there are still presents, and an even slighter chance that some of them are mine, please believe me: I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I love you, and if you can throw my bail long enough for me to come home and open my presents, I promise you I will be a changed man.
Merry Christmas, baby. Please come home. “Home” being, at the moment, cell 14 of the municipal lockup. Ask for Randy; they think my name is Randy at the moment.
“Randy” (remember that)
The knowledge that attempting to block porn on the internet is bound to backfire has now gone mainstream. (BBC News, Telegraph) Well, there’s a temptation to say “we told you so”, because we did. Repeatedly.
So far, sites we know that are subject to overblocking on either TalkTalk and BT include BishUK (a sexual education site for teenagers), LGBTfriend, Edinburgh Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, Sexual Abuse Scotland, Doncaster Domestic Abuse Helpline and Reducing The Risk (Another domestic abuse help site).
At the same time, the filters failed to do what they were supposed to – when BBC Newsnight tested on TalkTalk, 7% of porn sites were still accessible.
The trouble is one of resource – the same problem that makes “Report Abuse” buttons problematic. As of the end of 2012, there were over 600 million web sites on the internet. We’re probably over a billion by now.
If all 2,500 TalkTalk employees spent their entire time checking web sites, averaging one minute per site to classify it, it would still take over three years to check a billion web pages – by which time there would be another billion sites to check. You can filter this some as only around a third to a quarter of sites have unique content, but even with 2,500 staff you’ll never be able to keep up with new content.
The solution will inevitably involve technology, perhaps with some human input for the top 0.01% of sites. (One person can probably get through that much in about a year) But it’s only in the last three or four years that the so-called Scunthorpe Problem has been mostly solved, with notable recent relapses including Virgin Media censoring TV programme descriptions in 2011 if they included “anal” (As in “Arsenal”) and “dick”. (As in Dickens)
Given these problems, is it any wonder that automated filters are going to get it wrong spectacularly often? It doesn’t help that the whole system is shrouded in secrecy, with no notification of blocking, no way of checking what sites are being blocked and no clear appeals process.
The problems with such systems have been well known within the industry for years, which will have been a large reason why ISPs resisted implementing these filters and only did so under pressure from government ministers.
Oh, and as to the most serious problems facing children on the internet – Grooming, Cyberbullying, etc? Filters don’t help there at all.
Obamacare's death panels are alive and well -- at least among the imaginations of America's head and neck surgeons.
The journal Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery recently sent a questionnaire to to 9,972 head and neck surgeons that had 10 basic questions about the health-care law. It's one that Kasier Family Foundation created in 2010, which you can take yourself here.
The 647 responses that came back were ... depressing. Twenty-seven percent of respondents thought that the health-care law includes a "government panel [that] makes end-of-life care decisions for Medicare." This would be the so-called death panel rumor that ran rampant during the congressional debate over health care.
The Affordable Care Act did initially include a provision that would reimburse Medicare doctors for having discussions about, but not necessarily recommending, end-of-life options. But that was taken out in early 2011 after a front page article in the New York Times highlighted the issue.
The researchers also sorted the responses by doctors' opinions on the Affordable Care Act. They found that those who oppose the health-care law were more likely to believe that these panels exist. Forty-one percent of those who "strongly oppose the law" thought the panels existed, compared to 13 percent of those who are strong supporters.
The head and neck surgeons did better on the end of pre-existing conditions (93 percent knew about that provision but worse on coverage for undocumented immigrants (30 percent thought they would receive financial assistance, which they will not). The article is gated but available here.
The latest figures show that unemployment has fallen to 7.4%, the lowest since 2009 (i.e. now lower than Labour left behind), and an email from Mr Danny Alexander arrives to celebrate that there are now thirty million people in work.
Inflation, down to 2.1% is also at a four year low.
But there’s also been a huge rise in people getting emergency food from food banks – as highlighted in today’s Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons.
We need to cast some light on this debate; we need some understanding of what’s driving this increase.
At the moment it’s all too easy for the Left to cry “Evil Tory Government” as though that was all the explanation necessary (and for some of them, all too often, it is); while the Right respond with “poor people have made poor decisions”.
(In fairness to Gove, he actually said “…so we need to help them”; that is, he meant to be patronising, not dismissive.)
The Tory responses in the debate – essentially to blame it all on Labour – won’t wash. Worse, they’re a cowardly approach, denying that the Coalition has changed anything.
The actual cold, hard, statistics – employment, inflation, interest rates, or my personal favourite the gini coefficient that shows that for the first time in thirty years, and uniquely among Western nations, inequality in the UK has actually fallen (as a result of the Coalition’s changes to taxes and benefits pushing the tax burden up the income scale) – all point to the UK having worked well together to mitigate the harm of the recession and to be moving into recovery.
But people don’t believe statistics.
Or rather, they’ll believe a statistic that says the use of food banks has trebled, but not ones that say the economy is growing.
And with inflation still running ahead of wages it’s easy to see why: a lot of people still have to live with their pay frozen – yes, including MPs’, despite what you’ve heard; IPSA’s recommendation still only being a recommendation so far, but massively unhelpfully adding to the prevalent (and probably untrue) “them and us” narrative. By spreading the pain so broadly we’ve avoided the horror of huge spikes of unemployment that the recessions of the Eighties saw – unlike the Thatcher governments, the Coalition hasn’t “written anyone off” – but at the expense of a whole lot more people feeling the impact of 2008’s economic disaster.
This is why Labour get traction from their “cost of living crisis” rhetoric. It’s a cunning way of turning the Coalition’s “we’re all in it together” into “we’re all hurting” (particularly when tossing in the odd sly reference to the “1%” who somehow aren’t in it together), while stealthily dropping that “Plan B” that they’ve been banging on about since 2010. (And how has borrowing more and super-taxing the rich worked out for France, by the way, Mr Balls?) What it doesn’t disguise is that Labour still only have one policy and that it won’t work. (Hence Ed’s… er… difficult time responding to the Autumn Statement.)
Hysterical commentary from Labour supporters, cherry-picking this food bank statistic and saying “we haven’t had food parcels since the Second World War so things are worse than they have been since the Second World War” simply is not credible in light of the overall picture. We can’t compare the use of food banks now to how they were used in the recessions of the Eighties (or Seventies) because they simply didn’t exist then. In fact, as an extra-governmental route for the “haves” to help the “have-nots” they’re a perfect example of Mr Balloon’s “Big Society” (though the Conservatories have dropped that as quietly as Labour dropped Plan B).
But we cannot in conscience ignore this evidence either.
It’s no good denying that some of the decisions of the Coalition government have caused genuine hardship, either directly by cutting people’s benefits (through the benefit cap, through the second room bedroom tax, through continuing to employ the evil of ATOS) or indirectly by the increase in decisions to freeze or stop payments (decisions often later overturned).
Actually, Mr Iain Drunken-Swerve’s DWP (the Department of Workhouses and Prayer, a ministry well known for their accurate use of statistics) does deny that decisions to freeze or stop payments have led to more people using food banks. Which comes back to begging the question: what does?
The most urgent question has to be are more people in poverty?
(Let’s not mess about with terms like Food Poverty and Fuel Poverty as though people have a meaningful choice between the two; if you’ve not got enough to meet your basic needs you’re screwed one way or the other so what’s the difference.)
There are a number of fairly hefty policies in place that are supposed to stop this: Labour’s minimum wage and tax credits; the Coalition’s triple lock on pensions; Liberal Democrats also managed to strong-arm the Chancellor into indexing benefits in line with inflation through the difficult years when it was highest.
So are these failing? If so which, and how, and how do we stop them failing?
How much of this increase in food bank use genuinely reflects an increase in poverty? Is it possible that there are other factors? I can think of a couple of alternative, not to “explain away” the rise, but to try to think about there being more to the picture.
The most obvious would be people who were previously choosing “eat” over “heat” now have another option: instead of deciding that they must have food and then shivering under a duvet, they can now pay for the heating bill and go to the food bank and get some emergency supplies. What has happened is that an “invisible” poverty has become a visible one.
Another is what you might call the “NHS” effect. If help wasn’t there, people wouldn’t use it. Since its inception, NHS use has grown almost exponentially even as the nation has become fitter and healthier. Similarly, as more food banks are introduced, and more people become aware of food banks, so more food banks are used by more people.
It’s possible that that interpretation is even supported by the authors of that “use of food banks has trebled” statistic: the Trussell Trust, a food bank provider – in fact they describe themselves as “a Christian charity that partners with local communities to provide practical, non-judgemental help to people in crisis”. (Although that’s not an interpretation they would put on it as they’re not as non-judgemental about the Government, whom they blame for the “scandal” of their own success.)
Their accounts (available on the Charity Commission website) say that they’ve demonstrated that their franchise model is “scalable and sustainable”, which suggests that they’re not so much answering an acute need as having found a necessary niche.
(Incidentally, almost all the stories of food banks seem to stem from an October press release of theirs. Though oddly, in researching this, I came across virtually the same story – same source, the Trussell Trust, same number, 350,000 people needing food parcels – but from May relating to 2012.
I’m not saying it’s wrong; it looks a bit weird but it’s probably just a coincidence when the October story compares April to September 2013 with April to September 2012, while the May story is comparing April to March 2012 with April to March 2011. As they say: they helped as many people in six months this year as they did in their whole 2012/13 year. I’m not surprised they have to help more people in Winter when the choice between heat and eat becomes acute.)
Stories about the increase in the use of food banks serve as publicity for food banks; so the Trussell Trust’s press release is not just impartially informing us of the situation, it’s also advertising their product. (Indeed, Tesco, for example, are now encouraging people to donate a shop – at Tesco of course – to the food bank, so turning them into advertising for Tesco!)
You could also say that if people in need are discouraged by shame from looking for “hand outs”, hearing that many more people are using the food bank reduces that disincentive, in a way “permitting” the people who need the food to go and claim it.
Let me emphasise though that just because I can hypothesise alternate explanations for some of the rise in food bank take-up, that doesn’t mean that they’re right. That’s why we need to be asking questions.
I don’t want to rain on the economic parade, but Labour and Labour supporters have latched onto this as “A Big Thing”, and I can’t say that they’re wrong to do so. I know that it’s a big cause for concern, for me and many other Liberal Democrats. We’re concerned for the human tragedy, obviously, but also because it seems to fly in the face of statistics that say the economy is getting both stronger and fairer.
Policy ought to be evidence-based (and unlike Labour I won’t just grab a statistic and say “so there!”), and we need to understand what this piece of evidence is telling us, so these are questions for which we need an answer.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a discussion about the economics of the Star Trek universe, would it?
The crux of the issue is that Gillian and Kirk have this exchange in Star Trek IV:
Gillian – Don’t tell me: they don’t use money in the 23rd century?
Kirk – Well, we don’t.
I’ve always been a little suspicious that he’s saying it just to get out of paying for dinner, but it’s a remark that’s come to dominate discussion, and while Scotty can say ‘I just bought a boat’ or Kirk can talk about ‘selling a house’, and while private property clearly still exists, later entries in the series have made it clear: in the Federation, they’ve abolished money. Whether Kirk was joking or not, Picard’s statement ‘A lot has changed in three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of “things”. We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions’ leaves little room for another reading and Tom Paris’ ‘When the New World Economy took shape in the late 22nd century and money went the way of the dinosaur, Fort Knox was turned into a museum’ eliminates any last vestige of doubt.
Obviously, this is one of those things that a running series came up with on the fly, rather than something they thought through and intended as a great political statement. And, naturally, the implication of the line is that, taken at face value, it is the most important single fact we know about the Star Trek universe and has to underpin everything else we see.
The Federation has been able to abandon money because, basically, machines do all the work – there’s a real world economic model for this, ‘cybernetic communism’, which envisioned great robot factories replacing all human labour. In Star Trek, the solution is even more direct than that, they have the ‘replicator’, basically a cornucopia that can produce a replica of any item, including food and clothing (it uses technology similar to the transporter to assemble them at the molecular level). We also hear about ‘industrial replicators’, which produce bigger items.
The Federation is a land of abundance – as well as replicators, there are anti-matter engines that produce practically infinite levels of clean energy, there are thousands of habitable planets, so there’s enough land for everyone. It’s what’s known as a ‘post scarcity’ economy. People in Star Trek’s Federation simply don’t need to accumulate money because everything we buy with money now is freely available. Money can’t possibly be for anything. Saving, loaning or investing money would be utterly pointless. Human labour exists – there are doctors, freighter pilots and so on – but whatever motivates them, it’s not a paycheque.
The proponents of cybernetic communism dreamed of a world where everything was leisure. As in this picture, Paul Signac’s In the Time of Harmony:
Note the steam engine at the back. And this is broadly the model Star Trek pushes. The Federation is a work in progress. Its endgame must be something like Iain M Banks’ Culture, an almost unimaginable diverse and abundant galactic utopia, where trillions of citizens can live utterly self-determined lives, and (just as importantly) most are psychologically equipped to cope with such abundance. Banks’ books tended to deal with the very few who don’t quite fit even the most accommodating of all possible societies.
But this is by no means the only possible result of a work-free society. In the Judge Dredd series, machines do all the work – with the result being pandemic unemployment among the human population, leading to deprivation, desperation and all the social ills we know that can lead to. Mega City One is essentially a sink estate with a population of 800 million people. Some people there dress up as robots and try to sneak into building sites and factories to work.
I think the most interesting Star Trek story is one that’s never been told: what happened the day they invented replicators. It would be an astonishingly disruptive period of history. We saw the fuss this year when someone invented a printable gun. Now imagine that everyone in the world suddenly has access to a device that could produce weapons grade plutonium and an infinite number of dollar bills. It’s hard to imagine an area of life that wouldn’t be affected. The first few years must have seen orgies of excess. The first generation of replicator users in Star Trek must have filled their houses with stuff. Everyone must have sat around in (fake) furs, dripping with diamonds on platinum thrones.
Vance Packard’s book The Hidden Persuaders says that when freezers became widely available in America, people used to keep them stuffed to the brim. It was a new technology, much of this food was quickly ruined – the temperature control wasn’t very precise, and people simply didn’t know how to store things or understand freezer burn. Freezers were hugely successful anyway, because the appeal was psychological, not practical – for a generation that grew up during the Depression, the idea of having enormous amounts of food in the house was astonishingly powerful, even if the food was actually inedible. It was about having, not using.
The first people with replicators would, surely, do the same thing: surround themselves with luxury. The fact that in this brave new world gold and diamonds just pour out a slot in the wall wouldn’t matter for a while: people would cling to the idea gold had an intrinsic value.
In one of his futurist discussion documents, Gene Roddenberry stated that historians had concluded that the average person at any given time had the quality of life of the richest people two hundred years before. It sounds a little too hard-and-fast to hold true to me, but you can see the general principle. The average American now has a lifestyle beyond the dreams of even the elite in Washington’s time – a more varied diet, the ability to travel further and faster, healthier lives, access to (ownership of, in many cases) libraries that dwarf Jefferson’s, less physically demanding jobs, an almost limitless range of entertainments and other leisure activities. Those harking back to the golden age of the framers of the Constitution might be right that their rivers were cleaner, but their drinking water wasn’t.
Looking ahead, Roddenberry’s vision is that in the Star Trek universe, the average citizen lives like one of the super-rich does now.
There’s a problem. As Ben Elton pointed out in Stark, there comes a point where you just hit an absolute limit of needs being met. Your problem becomes that your house is too big and people are living too long. The rich can eat the very best food in the world, all the time. The Tasting Menu at the Fat Duck costs ₤195. If you ate there every night, that would cost you ₤73,000 a year. A vast, obscene and ridiculous amount of money … and about what Mitt Romney makes every weekday. In a world of replicators, the only real obscenity – the price – goes away, as do some of the other problems (getting a reservation, for example) and a citizen of the Federation could just eat that Tasting Menu every night, and with less effort than it takes us to heat a can of soup.
OK, so in two hundred years time, the very best cuisine may be even more exquisite and rare – can you imagine what Heston Blumenthal could serve up if he had a replicator? – but how delicious and novel is it actually possible for food to get? One of the least convincing things for me about Star Trek is that they seem surprised by alien cuisines. Surely, surely, surely they have not lost the impulse many of us have now to seek out new restaurants, to boldly eat what none of our friends have eaten before?
And if the Fat Duck sold press-of-a-button meals, would it still be the Fat Duck? Isn’t the appeal that the meal was prepared, or at least directly overseen, by a top chef? That the location itself is important? Isn’t the point of the Fat Duck that it’s a once in a lifetime experience, not something easy? After a while, I think, the appeal of easy indulgence would dwindle. You can imagine the second generation of replicator users shunning conspicious displays of material wealth, preferring a more austere life. And this is what we see in Star Trek. They eat really boring food.
Faced with technology and leisure time – not to mention a tolerant society – that meant everyone could dress like Lady Gaga if they desired, civilian clothing in Star Trek is astonishingly drab and boring:
People all seem to live in fairly austere, even spartan rooms.
Decoration is confined to a few personal mementoes and perhaps an antique or two. There’s clearly at least a subculture with the urge to live pastorally – colonist farmers, space hippies, even Captain Kirk lives in a log cabin for a while and takes Bones and Spock camping. Modest lifestyles are clearly trendy. People have clearly decided, as individuals and as a society, to life lives of self control. There are no drug addicts (or even smokers), no one is obese. Some kind of Amish-like instinct to value ‘honest work’ exists. Geordi painstakingly builds a model of a sailing ship, and when Data points out he could have just replicated it, we’re supposed to agree with Geordi that Data’s missed the point.
There’s one interesting bottleneck in this abundant society that’s a very visible presence in the Star Trek shows: it’s difficult and desirable to get into Starfleet Academy. This fact alone demonstrates that there’s more in play at the Federation than ‘freedom of choice and self determination’. Yes, you get in on merit … but someone at Starfleet is assessing those merits. Like the ‘good universities’ and financial firms of our era, if you’re trying to get in, it doesn’t seem to hurt if your parents were there. Wesley Crusher is a smart kid, but he fails to get in on merit the one time he tries, and eventually gets into the Academy because Picard has a word and a rule bends. Is that corruption? Perhaps not, but how many other people got in because of a quiet word? Wesley has a huge advantage because he’s surrounded by people in the know who can offer advice. What about some smart, motivated kid who doesn’t know the right people?
Starfleet Academy has a limited – it’s implied that’s it’s a strictly fixed – class size. Exclusion exists, then, in the Federation. You can’t always get what you want.
Star Trek, bless it, does tend to play the same story over and over. The regular characters almost all fall into two categories – people whose parents were in Starfleet and people whose families disapproved so much of them signing up for Starfleet that it led to a family rift. The unplanned corollary of this is that it paints a picture of an Earth were a chunk of the population vocally dislike Starfleet and what it stands for. The reason why is often stated in terms of Starfleet (and those who wish to join) being ‘above itself’. Perhaps, in this post-scarcity economy, the mere fact Starfleet is an exclusive institution is offensive to many people.
But there must be other places where decisions are being made about the allocation of unique resources. While a replicator could be used to make an exact copy of, say, the Mona Lisa, it wouldn’t be the Mona Lisa. So, who gets the one Leonardo painted? There are private art collections in the Federation. In two we see, Requiem for Methuselah and The Most Toys, we even see original Leonardo Da Vinci paintings. Spock can use his tricorder to check they’re not fakes, and presumably *Fajo didn’t acquire his Mona Lisa before knowing for a fact it was the real deal. But how did he acquire it in the first place? He makes a point of saying that he collects things for the bragging rights when he meets other collectors. Other people want it, so why did he get it, not them?
Presumably there’s some law or institution that allocates these things based on … well, we don’t know. It needn’t be nefarious – if Fajo had supplied medicine that saved a million French space colonists, perhaps a grateful French nation granted him the painting. He might be seen as more ‘deserving’ than some art museum that already had ostentatious amounts of fine art.
The Federation, though, is clearly not quite a post-scarcity society. There are limits. There are some materials which can’t be replicated. Starfleet can’t just whisk up a thousand new starships overnight (and, perhaps as pertinently, couldn’t crew them if it did).
Here’s something I noticed:looking closely, most Star Trek episodes are about a planet that lacks something which the Enterprise can supply. Missions typically involve delivering rare medicine to a planet suffering from a plague, key personnel like ambassadors and top scientists to planets where they are needed. Even the more overtly military missions – racing to the aid of a planet under attack – implies that the planets themselves can’t just whisk up a starship to fight or flee. At a more abstract level, the insight Kirk or Picard can bring to a situation clearly makes them rare assets themselves.
The conclusion has to be that this is a function of the Federation being not quite a post-scarcity civilisation. Starfleet has a mission of exploration and scientific discovery, but it – and virtually all the non-Starfleet space travel we see – is actually about redistributing the last few scarce items.
There’s another wrinkle to this, though. As we run down a list of things that can’t be replicated, we hit a really interesting one.
Some of the advocates of cybernetic communism (and plenty of science fiction writers) envisaged a world of male births and artificial wombs. Some feminist writers saw the liberating potential of this. It’s fair to say that most see it as a sign of inhumanity. In the post-Byrne Superman stories (including the movie named after his relaunch, The Man of Steel), Krypton is a world of marvels but the ‘gestation matrix’ represents something of a loss. The loomed Time Lords of the Doctor Who novels are sterile and unimaginative, not vital. The ur-text, of course, is Brave New World, where bottled clones serve the worldstate.
The Federation looks in places like Brave New World on a good day, but it abhors artificial enhancement of human beings. Sure, Geordi has his VISOR, Picard has an artificial heart, but these just restore them to a baseline. Humans have an almost weird phobia about androids that look human. They’ve banned cloning, genetic engineering and all sorts of related technology. The Eugenics Wars seem to have left the human race with a deep distaste for developing posthumans. People train themselves to improve, any machine help is seen as cheating and even unnatural.
If you want a baby in the Federation, it’s going to gestate in a woman’s womb. And there’s a (large, but) limited number of wombs available. Therefore, wombs in the Federation are a valuable, scarce commodity.
Perhaps we could go as far as to infer that it’s this, the scarcity of wombs, that’s led to the sexist attitudes we see in the show in all its incarnations, the marginalisation of women, the society-wide heteronormativity, the short skirts, dancing girls and sanctioned sexual harrassment, the light treatment of rape and attempted rape. If so, the Federation is a society that’s eliminated virtually all the old inequalities, but had an economic system that’s enshrined one of the oldest and most fundamental.
You know all those right-wing bloggers and columnists who like to attack the left for being too politically correct to celebrate Christmas properly?
I wonder if any of them will have the courage to condemn the Conservative-run Hammersmith & Fulham Council for sending this appalling card to their tenants.
Bitcoin just crashed 50% today, on news that the Chinese government has banned local exchanges from accepting deposits in Yuan. BtC was trading over $1000 yesterday; now it's down to $500 and still falling.
I want Bitcoin to die in a fire: this is a start, but it's not sufficient. Let me give you a round-up below the cut.
Like all currency systems, Bitcoin comes with an implicit political agenda attached. Decisions we take about how to manage money, taxation, and the economy have consequences: by its consequences you may judge a finance system. Our current global system is pretty crap, but I submit that Bitcoin is worst.
For starters, BtC is inherently deflationary. There is an upper limit on the number of bitcoins that can ever be created ('mined', in the jargon: new bitcoins are created by carrying out mathematical operations which become progressively harder as the bitcoin space is explored—like calculating ever-larger prime numbers, they get further apart). This means the the cost of generating new Bitcoins rises over time, so that the value of Bitcoins rise relative to the available goods and services in the market. Less money chasing stuff; less cash for everybody to spend (as the supply of stuff out-grows the supply of money). Hint: Deflation and Inflation are two very different things; in particular, deflation is not the opposite of inflation (although you can't have both deflation and inflation simultaneously—you get one disease or the other).
Bitcoin is designed to be verifiable (forgery-resistant) but pretty much untraceable, and very easy to hide. Easier than a bunch of gold coins, anyway. And easier to ship to the opposite side of the planet at the push of a button.
Libertarians love it because it pushes the same buttons as their gold fetish and it doesn't look like a "Fiat currency". You can visualize it as some kind of scarce precious data resource, sort of a digital equivalent of gold. Nation-states don't control the supply of it, so it promises to bypass central banks.
But there are a number of huge down-sides. Here's a link-farm to the high points:
Mining BtC has a carbon footprint from hell (as they get more computationally expensive to generate, electricity consumption soars). This essay has some questionable numbers, but the underlying principle is sound.
Bitcoin mining software is now being distributed as malware because using someone else's computer to mine BitCoins is easier than buying a farm of your own mining hardware.
Bitcoin violates Gresham's law: Stolen electricity will drive out honest mining. (So the greatest benefits accrue to the most ruthless criminals.)
Bitcoin's utter lack of regulation permits really hideous markets to emerge, in commodities like assassination (and drugs and child pornography).
It's also inherently damaging to the fabric of civil society. You think our wonderful investment bankers aren't paying their fair share of taxes? Bitcoin is pretty much designed for tax evasion. Moreover, The Gini coefficient of the Bitcoin economy is ghastly, and getting worse, to an extent that makes a sub-Saharan African kleptocracy look like a socialist utopia, and the "if this goes on" linear extrapolations imply that BtC will badly damage stable governance, not to mention redistributive taxation systems and social security/pension nets if its value continues to soar (as it seems designed to do due to its deflationary properties).
To editorialize briefly, BitCoin looks like it was designed as a weapon intended to damage central banking and money issuing banks, with a Libertarian political agenda in mind—to damage states ability to collect tax and monitor their citizens financial transactions. Which is fine if you're a Libertarian, but I tend to take the stance that Libertarianism is like Leninism: a fascinating, internally consistent political theory with some good underlying points that, regrettably, makes prescriptions about how to run human society that can only work if we replace real messy human beings with frictionless spherical humanoids of uniform density (because it relies on simplifying assumptions about human behaviour which are unfortunately wrong).
TL:DR; the current banking industry and late-period capitalism may suck, but replacing it with Bitcoin would be like swapping out a hangnail for Fournier's gangrene. (NSFL danger: do not click that link)
I just read this online…
Harold Camping, the California preacher who used his evangelical radio ministry and thousands of billboards to broadcast the end of the world and then gave up public prophecy when his date-specific doomsdays did not come to pass, has died at age 92.
Camping's most widely spread prediction was that the Rapture would happen on May 21, 2011. His independent Christian media empire spent millions of dollars — some of it from donations made by followers who quit their jobs and sold all their possessions — to spread the word on more than 5,000 billboards and 20 RVs plastered with the Judgment Day message.
When the Judgment Day he foresaw did not materialize, the preacher revised his prophecy, saying he had been off by five months. The preacher, who suffered a stroke three weeks after the May prediction failed, said the light dawned on him that instead of the biblical Rapture in which the faithful would be swept up to the heavens, the date had instead been a "spiritual" Judgment Day, which placed the entire world under Christ's judgment.
But after the cataclysmic event did not occur in October either, Camping acknowledged his apocalyptic prophecy had been wrong and posted a letter on his ministry's site telling his followers he had no evidence the world would end anytime soon, and wasn't interested in considering future dates.
"We realize that many people are hoping they will know the date of Christ's return," Camping wrote in March 2012. "We humbly acknowledge we were wrong about the timing."
You know, I'm sure Mr. Camping did a lot of good for people during his life. I'm sure he also lived very well off donations. And I'm sure that selling people on this end-of-the-world nonsense did more damage than an awful lot of the evils he preached against.
I'm well aware of the values of most religious teachings but when you're trying to convince people that you have a direct pipeline to God, you're not much different from Sylvia Browne, telling people that she can put them in touch with dead relatives…and all it will cost is your common sense and most of your money. Atheism is on the rise in this country and I don't think it's because of people like Harold Camping. The people who followed him will always follow someone like that.
But religious folks who have a little healthy skepticism left look at a man like Camping…and then they look at their own religious leaders. A friend of mine named Cindy left her church because the officials there took a kind of "no comment" approach to Camping's tales of the impending Rapture. They didn't want to criticize him…and to Cindy, it looked a lot like a matter of professional courtesy. She didn't see enough difference between them and him to have any faith in that church.