Beauty is truth, truth beauty

Just here to post an interesting little interview I found with Kim Stanley Robinson (author of one of my favourite science fiction books, The Years of Rice and Salt. I especially liked his observation on the cultural construction of beauty:

SP: I wonder if we would develop a different sense of beauty if we went out into the Solar System. When we think of natural beauty, we tend to think of gorgeous landscapes like mountains or deserts. But out in the Solar System, on another planet or a moon, would our experience of awe and wonder be different?

KSR: You can go back to the 18th century when mountains were not regarded as beautiful. Edmund Burke and the other philosophers talked about the sublime. So the beautiful has to do with shapeliness and symmetry and with the human face and figure. Through the Middle Ages, mountains were seen as horrible wastelands where God had forgotten what to do. Then in the Romantic period, they became sublime, where you have not quite beauty but a combination of beauty and terror. Your senses are telling you, “This is dangerous,” and your rational mind is saying, “No, I’m on a ledge, but I’ve got a railing. It looks dangerous, but it’s not.” You get this thrilling sensation that is not beauty but is the sublime. The Solar System is a very sublime place.

It’s December again

The holidays are upon us, which means it’s time once again to shit on Love Actually. Here is an interesting essay about hating the movie for its arrogant Englishness which links Love Actually to Brexit and manages not to break the shoehorn it was using:

Love Actually is objectively a very bad movie, but that explains nothing. The world is full of bad movies. Besides, I don’t believe in hating movies, no matter how bad. Honest critics can find a movie stupid or dishonest or boring or shoddily made or politically dubious. But hatred? That’s just a sign of something missing in yourself. If you hate Marvel movies, you’re probably just not in the target demographic. If you mock Tyler Perry movies, you’re really just mocking the people those movies are made for . . .

My revulsion for Love Actually nonetheless comes principally from its Englishness. I don’t believe in hating movies and I don’t believe in hating peoples either, but Love Actually forces the question. “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think of the arrivals gate at Heathrow airport.” The opening line tells you everything you need to know about the real subject of this film. Love Actually takes two of the most beautiful phenomena on Earth — love and Christmas — and replaces them with Englishness. Love Actually predicted the Brexit era, in a way, since both are the result of the ingrained English sense of their superiority and the final proof that their sense of superiority is an antiquated fantasy. George Orwell identified the basic assumption of English conservatism back in 1939: “Nothing ever changes and foreigners are funny.” That’s the operating principle of both Brexit and Love Actually. The dominant aesthetic is entitled insularity.

Basically it argues that Love Actually is English provincialism at its worst and that watching the movie is essentially like watching England savagely wanking over a photo of itself.

Sonic the, uh, fighter of Communism?

I’ve mentioned @fanfiction_txt before, which is a Twitter account that tweets quotes from actual fanfictions and reviews. I always look forward to a new tweet and most of the time it’s something hilarious. It’s great to see what fresh lunacy is out there after a long day at work.

This tweet is only okay for me, mostly because I’m not super into Sonic the Hedgehog and don’t really care about the characters from the games. But the fic the quote came from, on the other hand . . .

Sonic the Hedgehog: Make America Great Again

By: AmericaverseWarlord

Actions speak louder than words… and the barrel of a gun speaks loudest of all! Sonic the Hedgehog, a fearsome warrior who trusts only his instincts and his shotgun, fights alone after Americageddon to protect his star-spangled country. Will he be able to save America from the diabolical clutches of Communism, or will his quest for revenge ultimately destroy him?

Rated: Fiction T – English – Poetry/Angst – [Shadow, Sonic] [Bride of the Conquering Storm, Metal Madness/Metal Overlord] – Chapters: 42 – Words: 125,183 – Reviews: 47 – Favs: 40 – Follows: 32 – Updated: Nov 23 – Published: Aug 29, 2016 – id: 12125232

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG: MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN FINALE – THE SIEGE OF STALINGRAD III
Part 2 – God Is Calling Me Back Home

After a long, grueling battle with his greatest enemy, Sonic has finally succumbed to the might of Communism. However, he was able to deal them a crushing blow before his death. Will Donald Trump’s Space Force be able to finish what he started?

42 chapters of this horseshit? C’est magnifique!

SimCity loves Robert Moses

Professional city planners nitpick SimCity‘s realism:

Sim City: An Interview with Stone Librande Read the comments and you’ll see a bunch of urban planning nerds bitching about the game’s unrealistic simulation of traffic and parking.

how sim city greenwashes parking For more on the parking lot apocalypse that Sim City hides from its players.

Did Sim City Make Us Stupid? And some complaining about the zoning laws of the game (no mixed residential and commercial?).

I’ve gotten interested in urban planning lately so I recognize all of the criticisms, especially with how Sim City and The Sims considers the American model of suburbs and the car-centric commute to be the standard form of the city.  I suppose I won’t be able to build my dream city of walkable streets, cars banned from downtown, bike lanes everywhere, commercial and residential areas mixed together to allow people to work close to home, residential buildings being mostly mid-rise apartments and interspersed with parks and cultural attractions like museums, and public transit out the wazoo with buses and streetcars and commuter rail and subways all over the place.

As you may have guessed, I voted for Jennifer Keesmat as Toronto mayor.

I dunno, maybe Cities: Skylines is where it’s at.

PS

Check out this competitive SimCity 6 game where urban planners tried to fuck over each other’s neighbouring cities.

Russian spies also suck

The news lately has been about the terrifying power of Russian intelligence agencies, who are accused of things such as destroying American democracy and assassinating dissidents in the heart of British power, so here is a reminder that Russian spies are just like Western spies, which is to say that they’re also stupid fucks:

Basically journalists were looking for info on a couple of Russian spies identified by the Dutch. Seeing as Russia is corrupt as shit, the traffic police’s car registration database had been sold on the black market years previously. The journos found the people in the database and saw that the address registered was for the GRU’s cyber warfare branch (the GRU is the Russian agency responsible for military intelligence). The spies registered because GRU officers are exempt from drunk driving charges, traffic stops, etc.  So the journos looked in the database for other people registered under the same address as the GRU building. The end result was that they found the names, dates of birth, cellphone numbers, government ID numbers, and whatnot for 305 Russian spies. And all because the spies wanted to avoid traffic tickets.

Monsters and mazes and dungeons and dragons

Two kids’ cartoons I’ve seen and recommend on Netflix: The Dragon Prince and The Hollow:

The first feels very Avatar: The Last Airbender because it was created by two veterans of that show (writers or producers or some shit, I don’t really care about behind the scenes stuff for animated shows). The relationships between the three protagonists, the way the characters talk, and how they relate to their circumstances is just like Avatar – i.e., the characters banter zippily in teen American slang in counterpoint to the seriousness of their quest and in contravention of the accepted cod medieval language of fantasy epics.

Unlike Avatar, the story takes place in a more traditional Western fantasy setting of elves and knights and dragons. Humans and elves are at war, three kids go on a journey to bring peace, they overcome various dangers in each episode, there are exciting an action scenes, etc.

I found it a rather pleasant show to binge, especially since each episode is less than half an hour.

The Hollow is also structured around a journey, but “Lost for kids” would be the better reference point. Three teenagers with amnesia wake up imprisoned in an underground bunker, they make their way through a strange land of monsters and mysteries, weird shit flies at the viewer so fast you forget that a lot of it doesn’t make sense, and there’s a plot twist in the end that may or may not land well for you. There are bunches of jokes but most of them are dumb so I think this is being aimed at a younger audience than the first show.

For some reason it’s made to look like it was made in Flash, but the action scenes are too complex for Flash so I guess the creators just like that style. Maybe they were working within certain budget limits, or maybe they think modern kids have been trained to expect simplistic animation. The episodes are also less than half an hour so I got through the whole thing fast.

The second season for The Dragon Prince has just been announced, but hopefully there will also be one for The Hollow since I could do with more uncomplicated series with short episodes to binge on.

Anyway, this has been a review of Netflix kids’ cartoons shows as evaluated by a thirtysomething Canadian man.

What the hell is a xenonaut?

Damn Xenonauts. I was going to spend the weekend playing Skyrim but ended up playing this game instead. It’s just as compulsively addictive as the original X-COM from the 90’s, except with a little bit nicer graphics. According to the manual, the biggest difference I can see is that your soldiers will not get psychic powers. I wish they’d played up the Cold War 70’s aesthetic more, since it’s kind of neat that your alien-fighting organization is a joint Soviet/NATO operation.

Just like with X-COM, I’m mentally revising the dollar figures to add three extra zeroes at the end. A budget of $1.5 million makes no sense for running military bases on 3 different continents with fighter jets and helicopters and dozens of soldiers and scientists and engineers, but $1.5 billion is real money. Body armour at $28,000 apiece is peanuts to a bloated military budget, but $28 million per soldier for armour that can stand up to plasma rifles sounds plausible.

One criticism I have is for something that also happened to me with the original X-COM – occasionally there’s some weird glitch that lets enemies shoot through walls. It only happened the one time, and normally I just play on with troop losses since I like the feel of a desperate fight against an alien invasion, but that was just unfair so I reloaded the autosave.

I was originally going to recommend this game, but I’ve now reached the grindy part of Xenonauts where I’m scrambling jets and troopers every couple of days to repel alien incursions. All the missions are starting to look alike and I can’t tell if the latest city being terrorized by aliens is one I’ve been to before. Was 90s X-COM this grindy? My budget is perched on a razor’s edge and one KIA will put me in a downward spiral of fiscal and planetary doom. These spreadsheets will be my death.

Facebook surveillance PS (Post-Snowden)

Anyone ever downloaded their Facebook data? I did that a couple of days ago and the zip file was around 100 Megabytes.

I’ve skimmed through the data dump and there’s nothing surprising in my posts and whatnot. When I signed up for Facebook I was a grad student researching online communities so I was always reading about how Internet messages can come back to bite their users in the ass. One must always be careful what one puts out there for public consumption. There are entire folders in my data download that are empty thanks to me having gone data paranoid a full decade before most people did. I think I set Facebook to maximum privacy settings in 2007 and have kept it there ever since, plus I use ad blockers like crazy.

I was, however, reminded that Facebook was a lot bitchier about hiding messages and that there were a few from people that I didn’t see until years later (mostly people I met overseas while backpacking so I guess they thought I was being the bitchy one and ignoring them).

The part that had the most surprises was the section outlining which advertisers know about me (around 50 groups). Some of them I can figure out – the California Republican Party, for example, probably got my email from my conservative relatives in the US – but there are others that are just mysterious.

Why, for example, are there like 10 different Turkish musicians that have my info? It’s possible they learned about me through Spotify, but I don’t think I’ve ever listened to Turkish music on there, or ever. I guess I could email those people but I’m almost positive the individual musicians themselves don’t know what’s going on and it’s their marketing company that’s responsible. Plus I don’t really want to read machine translated PR speak. Anyway they’re wasting their time since my ad blocker means I get zero ads online.

I also requested a download of all my Google data, which comes to 9 Gigabytes. This is unsurprising considering how tightly I’m enmeshes in the Google data ecosystem. I think skimming through this will be a project of several evenings and weekends.