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Here, Have A Lot More Star Wars Crap: Your Saturday Nerdout
That is why you fail
Happy Long Weekend Saturday, Nerdlings, and here is a whole bunch of Nerdstuff that we meant to bring you last weekend, except some rogue Bernie Sanders droids had to go and steal the blueprints for Hillary Clinton's electoral battle station. Happily, Darth Wasserman Schultz decided to let Bernie back into the network and everyone made nice at the debate, except Martin O'Malley griped that he didn't get to sing "Yub Nub" enough. Yr Dok Zoom has been so darn busy that he's only getting around to seeing the new sequel this weekend, so you people keep your filthy spoilers to yourselves. Don't be a Ted Cruz, man. And even if you're not into Star Wars (what is wrong with you?), we've got other stuff too! Let's get right into the nerding, without wasting another parsec.
Samuel Delaney Reviews Star Wars in 1977
We found a nice treat on the Tumblr machine last week: this 1977 review of Star Wars (before any of that "Episode IV" nonsense) by SF legend Samuel R. Delany, who knows from science fiction. Originally published in Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy, it's still an outstanding assessment of the original movie, even if you find yourself wanting to yell "Long time ago in a galaxy far, far away!" at Delaney every time he says the movie is set in the human "future" (he saw it at a preview screening; maybe that tag line wasn't in the print?). Delaney rightly predicts that the film would "do very well, if not phenomenally so," but also happily acknowledges "there are so many holes in [the story] you could explode a planet in some of them (about a third of the way through, one does); but it all goes so quickly that the rents and tears and creaking places in it blur out."
Delaney nails what made Star Wars so new and exciting in 1977: it broke with the overwhelming trend of SF films at the time to build worlds where the future is a bleak oppressive place. Star Wars was fun and adventurous, no grey dystopias here, thank you. Which brings us to the film's biggest flaw: with all that childlike SensaWonder, it's also pretty child ish, and Delaney predicts that one of these days, someone's going to write a review complaining, with good reason,
"In Lucas's future, the black races and yellow races have apparently died out and a sort of mi-Western American (with a few South Westerners who seem to specialize in being war ship pilots) have taken over the universe. By and large, women have also been bred out of the human race and, save for the odd gutsy princess or the isolated and cowed aunt, humanity seems to be breeding quite nicely without them..."
[contextly_sidebar id="t6wwi6YrqZA1pccfV8Ga69pEcCrLTy3i"]And when those reviews appear, Delaney predicts, some will undoubtedly "object...with a shout, 'But that's not the point! This is entertainment!'" Son of a gun: Delaney predicted the content of just about every internet fight over politics in pop culture, while the internet was still just the Arpanet and you had to dial into a university account to connect to it. Here's hoping those idiots "boycotting" the newStar Wars because it's got too many blacks and ladies in it won't seize on Delany's critique as "proof" that Star Wars was supposed to be an all-white, mostly American ancient distan t past.
Last week, the Washington Post announced that it was ending its weekly "What was fake on the Internet this week" column after roughly a year and a half, explaining that the "pace and tenor of fake news has changed." Where a lot of the misinformation on the interwebs consisted of urban legend, half-baked bad science, and clever hoaxes, Caitlin Dewey explained, there's now a lot more money to be made from sites that deliberately serve up fake news:
Since early 2014, a series of Internet entrepreneurs have realized that not much drives traffic as effectively as stories that vindicate and/or inflame the biases of their readers. Where many once wrote celebrity death hoaxes or “satires,” they now run entire, successful websites that do nothing but troll convenient minorities or exploit gross stereotypes. Paul Horner, the proprietor of Nbc.com.co and a string of other very profitable fake-news sites, once told me he specifically tries to invent stories that will provoke strong reactions in middle-aged conservatives. They share a lot on Facebook, he explained; they’re the ideal audience.
Worse, a lot of fake stories originate with partisan bloggers who find it convenient to spark outrage by bending a few facts, as in the case of an anti-ISIS rally by American Muslims which got re-framed as a pro -ISIS rally. Comes right down to it, says Dewey, there's a huge market for outrageous stuff, and it's resistant to fact-checking. According to Walter Quattrociocchi, who studies the spread of conspiracy theories, fact-checking may only make matters worse:
Essentially, he explained, institutional distrust is so high right now, and cognitive bias so strong always, that the people who fall for hoax news stories are frequently only interested in consuming information that conforms with their views — even when it’s demonstrably fake.
Worse, the sort of readers who gravitate to the most far-fetched stories "are exactly the readers who will not be convinced by The Washington Post’s debunking." For that matter, they may see it as granting additional credibility: If the liberal media says it's fake, it HAS to be true.
On a related note, WaPo also featured a pretty nifty interview with David Mikkelson, the owner of Snopes.com, about the business of fact-checking and how it's changing. Snopes isn't going away, you'll be glad to know. Probably because it's all a front for George Soros.
Here Is Your Beautiful 8-Bit Star Wars
It's the original Star Wars trilogy, reimagined as old video games by CineFix. As Casey Chan says at Gizmodo, part of what makes it work so well is that "for each movie, the graphics get a little bit better as if they were progressing from like the original Nintendo to Super Nintendo." Also, the "Congratulations! You have unlocked the prequels!" game option at the end is LOLZ.
Real Space Rocket Lands On Earth Like A Nice '50s SciFi Rocket
As everyone who's seen an old science fiction movie knows, space rockets are sleek finned things that look like the hood ornament of a mid-1950s sedan (or, if you prefer, the Hugo Award. ) They take off with a whoosh and land tail-first on their fins, and then out comes a ladder and you go to be taken to the alien planet's leader. Real life got a little closer to that last week with the successful launch by SpaceX of a Falcon 9 rocket which delivered several small communications satellites to orbit, and then the first stage of the rocket turned around, restarted its engines to slow its descent, and landed on Earth tail first like a boss. The exciting landing part comes at about 9: 45 in the above video. This is a hella cool technical achievement, and may make spaceflight significantly cheaper if boost stages of rockets can be affordably refurbished and reused. Go read the article for the pros-n-cons stuff, and look at another even more impressive view of that landing, taken from a helicopter:
This is the first successful landing of a booster rocket from near-orbit; SpaceX tried it first back in April on a barge named Just Read the Instructions (one of two autonomous spaceport barges named after ships from Iain Banks's "Culture" novels; the other is Of Course I Still Love You ). It didn't go so well:
After The Second Death Star Exploded, The Galaxy's Economy Crashed, Maybe
As if you needed proof that nerds are everywhere, consider this: Zachary Feinstein, an economics professor at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote up a Serious Economics Case Study explaining the near inevitable economic crash that would accompany the fall of the Galactic Empire at the end of Return of the Jedi. Just feast your geeky eyes upon this abstract for his paper, "It's a Trap: Emperor Palpatine's Poison Pill":
In this paper we study the financial repercussions of the destruction of two fully armed and operational moon-sized battle stations ("Death Stars") in a 4-year period and the dissolution of the galactic government in Star Wars. The emphasis of this work is to calibrate and simulate a model of the banking and financial systems within the galaxy. Along these lines, we measure the level of systemic risk that may have been generated by the death of Emperor Palpatine and the destruction of the second Death Star. We conclude by finding the economic resources the Rebel Alliance would need to have in reserve in order to prevent a financial crisis from gripping the galaxy through an optimally allocated banking bailout.
Feinstein explained his use of a fictional universe to illustrate real-world economics in this interview with public radio's Here And Now:
</p><p>It's actually a pretty good discussion of Feinstein's focus of study, systemic risk, addressing what happens when there's a radical shift in the economic/political status quo. Here's hoping the Rebel Alliance has a bunch of Keynesians on hand to bail out the banks, and that there's no bunch of Huttese teabaggers slithering around and painting little Hitler mustaches on pictures of Alliance Economics Minister Lando Calrissian. </p><p/><h2>Oh Look It's Another Damn Superhero Movie</h2> <p/><p style="text-align: center;"><span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4b9ed80b669c69d22cc0c311f56068c7"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/m3PK5Cd4oeA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;">
Check out this trailer for Deadpool, the fourth-wall-breaking Marvel comic about a wiseacre super-anti-hero who has no more respect for comic book conventions than he does for the laws of physics. We'll confess that we haven't read any of the comical books, but we hear they're pretty good, and that the character became a lot more fun than you'd expect for a guy created by the awful Rob Liefield. Oh, look, there's also some casual misogyny/transphobia at the end of the trailer, because that's original. You know, guys, The Tick managed to lampoon costumed crimefighters without any of that.
The Incredible True Story Of The 1914 Christmas Truce
British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches,' taken from from the Illustrated London News of January 9, 1915 (A. C. Michael - The Guardian/CC)
If you're in the mood for some Boxing Day Peace On Earth, go check out this excellent piece on the spontaneous truce that broke out between the trenches of World War I for Christmas 1914. It's a beautiful, surreal, heartbreaking story of soldiers deciding to say the hell with orders and to stop fighting for a little while, at least until GHQ found out and reminded them that their duty was to blow the hell out of each other, not recognize the enemy's common humanity. This is one of the best examinations of the episode that we've seen. The moral of the story is depressing enough: People need to be made to fight, and given an excuse to not murder each other, sometimes they'll stop. But since that's no way to run a war, the Powers That Be have to ramp up the machinery of dehumanizing the enemy all over again, and make damn sure the training sticks. So far, it's worked: 1914's spontaneous experiment in human solidarity has yet to be replicated on any battlefield since.
The Star Wars Cast Sings The Star Wars Theme
Here is a fun thing from the Tonight Show, with a bunch of old and new Star Wars actors plus Jimmy Fallon and the Roots going all Pentatonix/Brady Bunch on the John Williams score. It's silly and fun, and Harrison Ford grumps out a nice closing "Bum-bum-ba-bum" at the end.