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Archive for May, 2008

Huma Abedin = Tory Foster

Posted by samgr on May 29, 2008

I’m sure someone has pointed this out, but aside from the well-established “John McCain looks like Saul Tigh” link, Hillary Clinton’s chief aide Huma Abedin looks a heck of a lot like Laura Roslin’s chief aide Tory Foster. Do the research yourself; it’s all there. SPOILER: Huma Abedin is a cylon.

Posted in Battlestar Galactica, Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, politics, space, television, Tory Foster | 2 Comments »

Sound! Fury! Blaah! Argh!

Posted by samgr on May 26, 2008

Continuing my quest to plug embarrassing holes in my reading history, I’m trying to address the fact that I’d never read ANY Faulkner. So, the Sound and the Fury away!

First thought: depressing. And sort of hard to connect with for me. The decline of an aristocratic Southern family is very alien to my experiences. Of course, so are, say, orcs, but I felt more of a disconnect with Fury than I have with other novels I’ve read.

Second thought: I actually liked the book, but I didn’t really wake up until the third section. See section-by-section analysis:

Benjamin Compson, idiot brother— meh. (Reading Augie March now, whats the deal with idiot brothers?)

Quentin Compson, depressed emo Harvard kid— meh times a hundred. I don’t have to READ about that.

Jason Compson, angry son-of-a bitch shopkeeper with twin devil-horn spit-curls— BING! I’m paying attention now; we’re back in Plainview-Hearst-land. Tell me what happens! (Spoiler: he comes back to Jefferson and makes a carriage go the other way around a statue. Um… okay. No milkshake?)

Caddy Compson, promiscuous… whoops, not gonna hear from her. “Psych!” says Faulkner, “No female narrator for you!” Instead, we get William Faulkner, omniscient narrator and— Dialect. Lots and lots of dialect. Why do black people talk in dialect and white people don’t, even when we’re no longer inhabiting a white narrator?

This all is kind of hyper-kinetic, and seems like I didn’t like the book, but I think I did. I’m just still digesting it and working out my reactions.

Posted in books, reviews, William Faulkner | 4 Comments »

The ‘Great Filter’: I Wish Stephen Jay Gould Were Still Alive

Posted by samgr on May 15, 2008

So there’s a really interesting article in the MIT Technology Review by Nick Bostrom which basically argues that finding evidence of extraterrestrial life in our own solar system would be the worst thing that could ever happen to humanity.

Loosely the argument is this: we now know the galaxy is full of planets, so the fact that we’ve seen no evidence of extraterrestrial INTELLIGENT life means that there is likely some kind of “great filter” that precludes the advancement of civilization to the point when it can colonize or otherwise broadcast its existence to the rest of the galaxy. If the great filter is in the past from a human standpoint—i.e. if it’s very hard for life to evolve complexity or intelligence, or even for life to arise in the first place— that’s good news for us. We’ve already passed through the filter because we’re lucky and awesome. If it’s in our future—i.e. if there’s some technological discovery that tends to wipe out civilizations (don’t switch on the LHC!!!)— then we’re in deep trouble. We’re unlikely to be the first civilization to make it through the great filter.

So, says Bostrom, if we find life on Mars or Europa, that’s bad news. The more advanced the life is, the worse news it is. If life evolved independently somewhere else, it’s statistically much less likely that the filter is in the past. So the expected lifespan of human civilization gets a lot shorter.

Now some thoughts from me. This all ties in with a lot of what Stephen Jay Gould writes about in Wonderful Life. He doesn’t use the “great filter” terminology, but he argues pretty forcefully that evolution of life on Earth is wildly improbable. He doesn’t seem to think that the ORIGIN of life is that wacky though; it’s more that the transition from unicellular to multicellular organisms is very hard to achieve, and that the evolution of intelligence is in fact very unlikely.

So from Gould’s point of view (I would think), if we were to find some slime on Mars or even some jellyfish on Europa, that’s not quite as much of a disaster as Bostrom thinks it would be. Bostrom leans toward the great filter being the initial origin of life, where what Gould writes suggests that the filter is more likely one of the transitions along the very unlikely path from slime to us.

Another thing that interested me in Bostrom’s article was this passage:

“Now, it is possible to concoct scenarios in which the universe is swarming with advanced civilizations every one of which chooses to keep itself well hidden from our view. Maybe there is a secret society of advanced civilizations that know about us but have decided not to contact us until we’re mature enough to be admitted into their club. Perhaps they’re observing us as if we were animals in a zoo. I don’t see how we can conclusively rule out this possibility.”

This has always been something I’ve wondered about. To me, this seems almost as likely a solution to the Fermi paradox as the great filter dealy, but it’s true that there’s no real way to prove or disprove it for now. Something’s going on, in any case.

Posted in aliens, evolution, science, space | 1 Comment »

Blindness

Posted by samgr on May 9, 2008

Hey, I’m still alive. So, I see on Apple Trailers that they’re making a movie out of Blindness, the novel by Jose Saramago. I read the book when I was down in Costa Rica, pretty much purely by chance. I found it in a hostel’s book-swap shelf. But I thought it was incredible. Also very cinematic: I was picturing it as a movie as I was reading it.

The short version is that there’s a mysterious epidemic of blindness in a city. (Unclear exactly where it takes place, whether it’s Europe or Latin America or whatever.) The affected end up getting herded into a containment facility in an ex-psychiatric ward, where they are more or less abandoned by the authorities and terrible, terrible things happen.

For the character of the doctor’s wife—who pretends to be blind but can actually see—I had dream-cast Mary McDonnell (President Roslin) in my head. Looks like in this version it’s going to be Julianne Moore. Okay, but I like my idea better.

Also, I imagine that the movie is not going to be able to be quite as horrific and gruesome as the book is in parts, or it would end up rated NC-17. I don’t know what I think about this. The novel plays a neat narrative trick where the most horrible things that happen near the end you don’t actually see, the author only describes the sounds. So the reader becomes blind, too, for a while. I kind of hope the movie does this too; it’s very doable. Just fade to white and hear what happens.

In any case, this reminds me to go to the library and check out some more of Saramago’s books, which I had planned to do but forgotten about.

Posted in books, Jose Saramago, movies | Leave a Comment »