Saturday, January 30, 2010

Star Trek: Rest in Peace, Old Friend

Personally I thought Star Trek The Motion Picture was the best of the TOS movies. I realize that's not a terribly popular opinion, but the whole franchise went downhill from there. What made Trek unique was that it was thoughtful and intelligent. Trek was "smart" science fiction (although Gene Roddenberry, Trek's creator, preferred the term "Space Opera" since there wasn't a lot of scientific basis for Treknology).

I'm the first to admit that thoughtful and intelligent doesn't sell. Roddenberry wasn't an idiot. He knew that, too, but that didn't stop him from fighting tooth and nail to make Trek what it was... Smart.

Hell, NBC threatened to kill the project entirely if Rodenberry didn't make the First Officer a man! Truth be told they wanted him to get all the women off the ship.

Unfortunately Gene's dead now, and the franchise is now corporately controlled.

There are a lot more stupid people than smart ones, so if you want to sell something you market to stupid. Paramount doesn't care about Star Trek. Paramount is a corporation. It's their job to make as much money as they can for their stockholders, so that's what they're doing. There's no money in asking people to think. "Whiz-bang" sells movies; gun fights and gasoline explosions; and that's pretty much what Star Trek delivers now.

Star trek is no longer smart Sci-Fi. Smart Sci-Fi is pretty much dead in mass media now. I think Firefly was pretty much it's last gasp. Thank God for SyFy. Without it we would never have seen the Battlestar Galactica redux, Dr. Who, Caprica...

So how do I respond to NuTrek?

Easy. I don't.

A lot of younger trekkies tell me that I'm just old and afraid of change. Maybe, but it seems to me they're the ones that are afraid of change.

The ultimate change awaiting all of us is the passage from life to death. All things die. The people who rail on about my fear of change seem to be the ones least likely to accept this.

Star Trek is no longer Star Trek.

The reaper has come and Star trek is dead. The franchise died with The Great Bird of the Galaxy. The franchise is now completely controlled by the same people that told Gene Roddenberry to "Get rid of the guy with the ears" after screening the pilot.

What Paramount's trotting out now and calling "Star Trek" is a painted lady. She's hot, sure, but Star Trek is just her street name. She's really just a sad little whore being pimped out by her corporate daddies.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

South Park's Take on Obama Fever

I didn't really become a South Park fan until I saw "Bigger, Longer Uncut". I thought it was one of the most brilliant examinations of profanity in America I've ever seen. My wife hates it, so I don't often get to see new episodes, but I continue to watch it eagerly every chance I get. I've been grossly offended by the show on many occasions, but loving South Park is a lot like loving Monty Python, if you watch it long enough it will eventually seriously offend just about anyone with an IQ over 65.

This episode, "About Last Night", first aired right after the last election.

I know, I've been away for a while.

Take a half hour and behold one of South Park's most inspired moments of genius.

Where I Stand on Pot: Legalize it

I openly grew and smoked marijuana for many years. I even announced this on Vermont Public Radio while debating this issue with the state police Public Information Officer. I invited arrest and made it clear that it was my intention to challenge the constitutionality of the law.

The officer I was debating was demoted, the radio host was fired, and both the state and Burlington municipal police passed down orders that under no circumstances was any law enforcement officer to ever enter my home. I can only assume that the feds received similar orders as the federal building was less than two blocks from my home at the time. The only possible reason that I was never arrested is that the cops knew that I was serious, and they knew that if some nut case was willing to spend enough time in jail there's a very good chance he... I... would win a constitutional challenge.

To suggest that alcohol prohibition required a constitutional amendment while drug prohibition does not is to perpetuate the myth that alcohol is somehow not a drug. I'm sorry, but there's no nice word for "stupid". This is a stupid assertion.

Well I'm married now, and I'm no longer in a position to play fast and loose with my life, I no longer smoke or grow, but I still care deeply about this issue.

Now, a quick history lesson:

The English word for marijuana is "hemp". Until the 1930's the word marijuana didn't exist in the English vernacular. Hemp smoking was never adopted by european culture, and most European strains of the plant are completely devoid of THC. Psychotropic strains of hemp were used medicinally, but not recreationally (except by slaves for whom a glass of beer might as well cost as much as a house, hemp leaves were considered garbage and traditionally were left in the fields to fertilize the next seasons crop).

The vast majority of European hemp crops were tall, straight, fast growing strains of cannabis that had no intoxicating value. It was used as a raw material. Hemp fibers could be used to make all manner of textiles and it was hemp, not parchment or vellum, that produced the vast majority of western and middle eastern civilization's paper. Until modern chemistry came along paper could not be made from wood at all.

Hemp was also a food source. Modern mythology would have you believe that "gruel" was some sort of oatmeal. It was not. Gruel was boiled crushed hemp seeds. Hemp was the food of the poor for thousands of years, and saw millions through times of hardship and famine who otherwise would have starved. It's a good thing that the problem of global starvation has been solved or legalization would be a no-brainer.

While all references to hemp were removed from the Smithsonian Textile Museum under the administration of Bush I it was also, in fact the most important textile in history. It clothed the poor, sure (wool and cotton were reserved for the wealthy), but it was the strength of the textile that made it such an indispensable part of our history. No other fiber could even come close to it's strength and durability. Navies in the age of sail were completely dependant on hemp. All the ropes, sails, and even charts had to be made of hemp. No other material could withstand the rigors of the sea. The salt air would turn other materials to rags in a single voyage. Cotton sails are a myth. In reality anyone desperate enough to use a cotton sail would soon regret it. It would absorb water in the rain and rot. And when it tore, it tore like a modern nylon sail. It would suddenly split from end to end like a zipper opening. Hemp, on the other hand, would last voyage after voyage and when it started to wear out it would do so slowly. The individual fibres were so strong that tears could actually patched!

The hemp plant is deeply ingrained in western culture and to this day the term "hemp" is still used to describe all kinds of course fibres. But the jute that we now call hemp is a pale shadow of the real thing. The word "canvas" is a direct derivation of the dutch word for "cannabis". So vital was Hemp that one of the first laws in colonial Virgina required all landowners to grow it. Even through the industrial revolution hemp remained an important crop. Even after it had been prohibited in 1937 hemp prohibition was suspended and farmers were encouraged to grow it during WWII with posters like this one. The navy still relied on hemp for cordage, and it was vital for making combat and parachute webbing.

The downfall of hemp was its use as paper. Hemp was historically a very labor intensive crop. The process of growing it is easy enough, but harvesting it is a back breaking job. First the hemp is cut and left to rett in the field for 3 or 4 weeks. Then it needed to be broken. Hemp breaking was a ridiculously hard job, but this was the process that separated the fibers from the hurds in the stalk.

In 1838 a chemical process was uncovered to allow wood to be used to make paper. As the process was improved it pretty much replaced hemp. The product was inferior, but it was so much easier to make, and therefore cheaper, that it's tendency to tear easily, rot quickly (eaten from within by the acids used to make it), and dump toxins into the air and water was readily forgiven (ever driven past a paper mill?).

Over the next century wood completely replaced hemp in the paper industry. Then, in 1936 a machine was invented called the decorticator that would break the hemp automatically. What would take a man hours to do a decorticator could do in a minute. The pendulum was ready to swing back to hemp. With the decorticator taking over the labor of breaking the fibers hemp paper would not only be stronger, longer lasting, and cleaner, it would soon be cheaper as well.

Enter William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was a newspaper baron. He's still very famous. In modern journalism circles he's frequently refferred to as "the father of yellow journalism". He had papers all over the country in every major city.

Now one would normally expect a newspaper man would welcome lower paper prices, but Hearst didn't just own newspapers. He owned the logging companies that provided the pulp, he owned the mills that made the paper, and he owned the railroads that moved the product all the way from the deforested woods to the printing presses.

Before you read on I need to point out that Hearst wasn't just doing all this for the money, although he certainly had a vested interest. Hearst sincerely believed he was doing the right thing. After all, he was a white supremisist. He hated non whites with a passion, and above all else he hated Mexicans after having lost hundreds of thousands of Mexican timber acres to Pancho Villa.

Every Hearst paper in the country was touting the evils of a new drug called "marijuana".

It was a brilliant act of journalistic manipulation. Nobody had any idea that the "evil weed" he was lobbying against was really hemp. The campaign was one of pure unabashed racism. I'm reluctant to repeat the specific allegations in this venue. The gist of it is that it made non-whites insolent. Stories concentrated heavily on non-whites raping white women, or seducing white women who were themselves under the influence of the drug. In a modern context the headlines are just funny, but keep it in context people... blacks were being lynched back then. It was not uncommon for a black man in the deep south to be lynched for acts of insolence as minor as stepping on a white man's shadow. There's nothing funny about it.

Hearst found powerful allies. Henry ford was pioneering new ways to polymerize hemp hurds, and a wealthy family named the DuPonts wanted to shut his experiments down. After WWI they had been given German patents in an act of shameless nepotism that would eventually allow them polymerize petroleum by-products and they didn't want to compete with clean plastics made from a renewable resource like hemp. He also teamed up with Harry Anslinger, a former prohibition agent. Ansliger was appointed by his father-in-law, Andrew Mellon, a Dupont Financier and at the time Hoover's secretary of the treasury, director of a newly created agency called the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The primary function of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was to give the Secretary of the Treasury's son-in-law (and select other prohibition agents) a job after alcohol prohibition collapsed, but the public justification was to assist in enforcing existing laws against opium which had been enacted to keep chinese railway workers from trying to unionize.

I'm proud to say I pissed on Anslinger's grave once when I happened to be in the neighborhood.

Their campaign was an outrageous success. They drove hemp prohibition through before anyone even realized what was going on. It's late.

There's a lot more but I'm tired. We all know what happened then.

It sickens me that these laws passed. It sickens me that they still exist. And it sickens me that the veneer of legitimacy bought and paid for so many years ago by a wealthy, racist elite still lingers. It is a shameful legacy and I have very little tolerance for the ignorance and self-righteousness that allows it to flourish.

BigPoint's "Dark Orbit" Review: My first try at one of the new "free" MMOs

If you don't want to pay, dont play.

Me and My Peanut

I really wanted to like this game. It's a good try. It even held my attention for about a week, but in the end it's just badly designed.

I'm not going to get into the difficulties I had signing up and the poorly designed and programmed home site beyond saying, "don't bother trying". Just log in through's gaming center.

I will take a moment to say that they've recently "upgraded" the client. The game graphics are MUCH slicker and the client itself is much less prone to lag, but the "HUD" was designed by a baboon. It's not even a HUD. A hud is supposed to be transparent so I can see the information without obscuring my view of the road, right? I mean look at that mess! It's almost impossible to click on the screen without accidentally hitting a control.

Why do so many idiots get jobs redesigning perfectly good GUIs?

Anyway... Let's talk about game play.

Free players are not going to enjoy the game. If you want to have any fun at all you'll need to drop some bucks. You need to use real money to buy "Uridium" for good equipment or you're just cannon fodder for the PKers. All told for enough equipment for a good, survivable ship you'll need at least 150,000 uridium. In real money that's about $60.00 US.

It's theoretically possible to grind up enough uridium in-game to compete, but not practically (unless you have no life at all and are willing to be bored out of your wits for several months).

The game isn't really that interesting. You gather resources. Some appear as random pickups, but mostly you accumulate them by killing aliens and salvaging the materials from the wreckage. After 20 or so hours this gets a little dry.

The big problem you're going to run into are the PKers (Pkers, or Player Killers, are players who play the game mainly to kill other players). In most MMOs there are safe areas. Nearly all games allow newbies "haven" zones where they can learn the game basics and "grind" a few levels, and most allow for the simple reality that not everyone likes PVP (Player vs. Player). This game has no safe areas at all. It's very frustrating getting killed over and over and over. Be prepared to be PK'd 2 or 3 times a day. If that doesn't sound like fun... well... it's not. In all fairness the point of the game is to make money. Getting PK'd 2 or 3 times a day will either drive you away or get you to dig into your wallet. Frankly, the folks at BigPoint don't care which. The whole point of allowing free players into the game is to give easy kills to the premium players.

Cough up a hundred bucks, buy a goliath, fill it with the best drives, weapons, shields, and "boosters" and you may have some fun. Spend another hundred bucks and add a squadron or two of battle drones and you can run with the big dawgs. Lastly, be prepared to cough up 5 bucks every now and then when you run out of money. The problem, of course, is that the game isn't worth that much money.