Monday, January 28, 2013

The Hobbit: Part 2: Riddles in the Dark

Last week we began a look at the precursor to Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. We met Bilbo Baggins, a solid, well-to-do hobbit who is quite comfortable in his quiet, adventure-free life until the wizard Gandalf dragoons him into accompanying a group of dwarves on a quest to recover their ancestral gold. While escaping from goblins in the Misty Mountains, Bilbo has become separated from the rest of his party. He is now lost in a tunnel deep under the mountains, abandoned and alone. Well, not quite alone...

In a hole in the mountain there lived a Gollum.

Not a warm, comfortable, well-furnished hole such as Bilbo was accustomed to, but a dark, damp, forsaken hole which even the goblins avoided if at all possible. But is suited Gollum.

The chapter in which Bilbo encounters Gollum is an important turning point in the story. Up to now, Bilbo has felt like -- and has been -- a piece of useless luggage in the dwarves' expedition. His single attempt at burglary at the Troll's camp went horribly wrong and nearly ended in disaster. But here he has the opportunity to be bold and to escape from a difficult and dangerous situation by using his wits and a fair amount of luck.

His first bit of luck, and perhaps the most important bit of all, comes when he reaches out in the darkness and puts his hand on something round and metal which he absently puts into his pocket without thinking. Then he meets Gollum.

We aren't told Gollum's real name in The Hobbit; he is identified by the "gollum" noise he makes in the back of his throat. All we are told is that he has lived many, many years in the dark bowels of the mountain, subsisting on the blind fish from his subterranean lake and the occasional small goblin he was able to catch unawares. Bilbo is probably the most succulant thing he has seen in ages. But Bilbo is also armed with an elvish dagger, a souvenir of the Troll's hoard, and this gives Gollum some pause.
Apprehensive of Bilbo's blade, Gollum tries to break the ice by suggesting a riddle contest. If Gollum wins, he gets to eat Bilbo; and if Bilbo wins... ah, but we'll get to that.

Riddle games, such as the one Gollum and Bilbo plan, were a common feature of the old Sagas that Tolkien used as inspiration. Tolkien devotes as much attentiond to this duel of wits as some writers give to a sword fight; he gives us not only the riddles, but play-by-play commentary on the strategy of each player; why he chose a specific riddle and how his opponent tried to work out the answer. In doing so, he encourages the reader to play along and match his own wits against Bilbo's and Gollum's.

In the end, Bilbo wins through another bit of luck. As he's wracking his brains trying to think of his next riddle, he puts his hand in his pocket and finds the ring he had picked up before and forgotten about. He mutters, "What have I got in my pocket?" Technically, this is not a riddle, as Tolkien admits; but Gollum accepts it, and failing to answer the question, is bound to his agreement.

And here we come to a point of divergence. As originally written, Gollum agreed to give Bilbo a present, which happened to be this magic ring he owned. But when Gollum couldn't find the ring, Bilbo has him show the way out of the mountain instead.

Later on, when Tolkien began writing his sequel to The Hobbit, and decided to upgrade Gollum's magic ring from a Convenient Plot Device to a Full Throttle MacGuffin of Power, he realized that the story of Bilbo's encounter with Gollum did not really fit this new theme. He made the retcon work to his advantage, though, by saying that the version told in The Hobbit was actually the story Bilbo told the dwarves and that the truth was slightly different. And he cited this untruthfulness on the part of the otherwise honest hobbit as a symptom of the Ring's malign influence.

While working on Lord of the Rings, Tolkien did a re-write for his own amusement of the "Riddles in the Dark" chapter to make it consistent with LOTR. He showed it to his publisher, who revised the next edition to reflect these changes. Then a few years later he was asked to make more revisions to create "Authorized Editions" of Hobbit and LOTR to compete with the pirated version published in the United States.

In both editions, Gollum is pitiable creature, for all his cannibalistic habits, but his character is developed a bit more. In the earlier version, when Gollum says "my precious," he is clearly speaking to himself. In the revision, it's a bit more ambiguous as to whether he's referring to himself, or to his Ring.

Another aspect of Gollum's transformation is that he goes beyond just being a hobbit-sized menace for Bilbo to best. He becomes a twisted reflection of Bilbo. Both are small, hole-dwelling creatures, comfortable in their ordered existence until strangers come to upset things. Both come to possess the Magic Ring. But where Bilbo is friendly and open and even generous to strangers within limits, Gollum is secretive and suspicious. Bilbo, at least at the beginning of his adventure, is plump and complacent; Gollum is thin and driven by hunger. Bilbo uses the Ring to help his friends and to avoid trouble; Gollum uses it for nastier ends.

In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf confirms that Gollum actually is a descendant of one of the early tribes of hobbits, something Bilbo's nephew Frodo finds abhorrent. But in the end, Frodo finds that he and Gollum have more in common than he ever imagined. But that comes much, much later.

Instead of forcing Gollum to led him out of the caverns, in the revision Bilbo follows Gollum, using the magic ring to make himself invisible. As Gollum pauses at the opening to the main passage, Bilbo has the chance to kill him and the simple children's story suddenly gets serious.
Bilbo almost stopped breathing, and went stiff himself. He was desperate. He must get away, out of this horrible darkness, while he had any strength left. He must fight. He must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it. It meant to kill him. No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tired to yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding  a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo's heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering. All these thoughts passed in a flash of a second. He trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped.
Bilbo spares Gollum, and later on in LOTR Gandalf regards this act of Bilbo's as the most important thing Bilbo did.
"It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy not to strike without need... Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.
For the moment, however, Gollum, does not feel any gratitude for this merciful impulse of Bilbo's; he knows only rage as he realize he has been tricked and that hobbit has made off with his Precious. As Bilbo runs down the passageway he hears Gollum furious cry:
"Thief, thief, thief! Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it for ever!"
NEXT:  Reunion with the Dwarves; Party with the Wargs; Dinner with Livestock and the perils of Mirkwood

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Hobbit, Part 1: Unexpected Journey

(No, I still haven't seen the Peter Jackson movie yet, and this is not a review of it; this a series I wrote on Tolkien's novel last month for another site.)

As Tolkien later told it, the story began with a blank page he found in a student's term paper he was grading when he was a professor at Oxford. Never one to let a blank piece of paper go to waste, he jotted down a random sentence which came to mind: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." At the time he had no idea what a hobbit might be, but the line sounded like a good start for something. He was right about that. The first sentence of The Hobbit is one of the best-known opening lines in 20th Century literature.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a philologist. Not just your typical scholar of languages who studies vowel shifts and tries to trace the development of the Indo-European tongue. No, he was a full-bore language geek: the kind of guy who starts a club to read Finnish epics to each other in the original Finnish -- and gets people to join who don't even speak it; the kind of guy who invents his own languages for fun. It's been said that his life's work, The Silmarillion, started because he had devised an Elvish language and then had to build a world for the language to fit in.

This is not entirely true. Tolkien's early ambition was to write a national epic for England, the way the Kalevala was the national epic of Finland or the Aeneid of Virgil was the national epic of Rome. He didn't quite succeed. His national epic sort of morphed into a sprawling history of the elves which he never in his lifetime was able to organize to his satisfaction into a consistent narrative. It fell to his son, Christopher, to complete The Silmarillion after his death. At the time , though, Tolkien couldn't find a publisher interested in his elvish saga. And, of course, he got distracted by Hobbits.

He began The Hobbit as a children's story, and the narrative voice of the book is that of a father reading aloud to his children. Some readers find this tone annoying, and those who try reading Tolkien chronologically and go from the sonorous tragedy of The Simarillion to the whimsical once-upon-a-timeness of The Hobbit can suffer narrative whiplash. But although Tolkien conceived The Hobbit as a children's story, he did not forget his elvish history. As he told his fireside tale about the befuddled hobbit and the thirteen dwarves, he filled in the background with hints of the greater deeds of the Elder Days. Perhaps it was inevitable that such a story fertilized by such a background rich in legend would grow into something grander; and the sequel Tolkien wound up writing grew into an epic of its own -- if not a national epic, then certainly an English one.

The story begins with Bilbo Baggins, a solid, well-to-do middle-class hobbit. It's been said that England is a nation of shopkeepers, but also that it is a nation of poets. Bilbo Baggins has a little of both in his make-up. Although he looks and acts much like a second edition of his conservative, respectable father, he also has a liking for beautiful things like flowers and fireworks, and probably more imagination than his father would have thought proper. The narrator ascribes these un-Baggins-like tendencies to his mother, who came from the more adventurous Took family.

This comfortable, complacent Baggins is sitting outside his home one day, when the wizard Gandalf comes by.
Gandalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I have only heard very little of all there is to hear, you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable tale. Tales and adventures sprouted up all over the place wherever he went, in the most extraordinary fashion.
Gandalf is looking for a volunteer to join an adventure he is arranging, but Bilbo will have none of it. "We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!" But not wanting to offend the wizard, Bilbo invites him to tea the following afternoon.

What Bilbo gets is a string of dwarves who show upon his doorstep the next day, one after the other. Note the spelling please. Tolkien was particular about this. The correct plural of "dwarf" is "dwarfs", but Tolkien preferred to spell it "dwarves" to give it a more archaic flavor and to differentiate his version from the cutesy Disneyfied versions which Victorian storytellers had left. Tolkien had no end of trouble with the proofreaders over his spelling, but in the end he scored a small victory: today "dwarves" is accepted as an alternate plural of "dwarf"

These dwarves are led by a chieftain named Thorin Oakenshield, the grandson of a great dwarvish king; and he intends to lead his companions on an expedition to the Lonely Mountain, where his people once lived until they were driven out by the Dragon Smaug. Gandalf has offered to help them, and has selected Biblo to accompany them in the capacity as a burglar, to help them break into the dragon's mountain fastness.

The dwarves are initially skeptical. "He looks more like a grocer than a burglar," one of them comments. Bilbo is not keen on the adventure either, and greatly resents being the butt of Gandalf's practical joke. But he finds his imagination stirred by the dwarves and their quest, and against his better judgement finds himself agreeing to join them before he even realizes what he's doing.

The story skims over the early parts of the journey, through lands described in better detail in Lord of the Rings. The first incident of note occurs one night when the party is far from settled areas and caught in a drenching rainstorm. Gandalf is missing; he tends to come and go depending on the needs of the plot; (something the dwarves find highly annoying: "Just when a wizard would be most useful," one of them complains); so they send Bilbo off to investigate a campfire they spot in the distant trees.
The campfire belongs to three cockney trolls, (Yes, I'm afraid trolls do behave like that, even those with only one head each), and Bilbo's encounter with them plays out very much like an old folktale, with Gandalf saving the day by tricking the trolls into arguing with each other until the rising sun turns them to stone.

Continuing onward, the party gets to pause in Rivendell, the elvish haven ruled by Elrond the Half-Elven, a figure from Tolkien's elvish history. Elrond is a descendant of Beren and Luthien and was present at Sauron's defeat during the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. But none of that comes up in this story. In the Hobbit he is a wise lore-master and a friend of Gandalf's who gives the party advice; little more.

Beyond Rivendell lie the Misty Mountains, a high mountain chain stretching across the continent; home of goblins and all manner of nasty creatures. Gandalf guides them up the mountain passes, but a violent storm forces the party to take refuge in a suspiciously convenient cave. During the night, the dwarves and Bilbo are attacked by goblins and dragged off into the mountain depths. Gandalf once again comes to the rescue, but as they are all fleeing the goblins, Bilbo becomes separated from the party.

NEXT:  Riddles in the Dark; or: It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Ring!

Monday, January 21, 2013

New isn't always better, not even more accessible

Hollywood and other centers of entertainment remake films and television series and games hoping to either restore a flagging franchise, to reintroduce the franchise or story to new audiences, or best yet, to harvest money that might have gone elsewhere.

Sometimes it is successful.  Most times it is not.  The reasons for success can be seen when an idea is brought to fuller fruition due to modern technology.   Reasons for failure can be seen when the story is poorly understood as a vehicle to bring flash and effects instead of actual drama and emotionally visceral responses.  

Sometimes the issue isn't remaking a story, but rather, continuing a story long after it has had power within it.  

But while there are many reasons to point this out, Godzilla, Star Trek, Dallas and more, my son received NHL 11 for Xbox as a Christmas gift.   I had played NHL 94 for SNES in the past and loved it.  Would this be an improvement?  Had technological improvements made the greatest hockey game I had ever played obsolete?  

Well yes and no.  

NHL 94 was better in ease of play, accuracy of some play action, and my knowledge of the players.   I've been out of watching hockey so long I barely know any current players.  So I might be biased.   But NHL 11 looks beautiful, and the on ice AI players know how to play hockey.   There are moments of bullshit, there are plays that would never happen, but mostly it looks as well as feels more real than NHL 94.

But do I want more real?   That is really the issue.  You see, I think you can't replicate a hockey game, which is a team sport on a video game well.  I liked NHL 94 because for what it was you, the player felt like you were in control.  

So as games go, sadly, I prefer NHL 94.  The controls on NHL 11 are far too complicated and do not work without excess attention to the motions you go through, at the same time, you lose that feeling of being in control if you can't do what the great players can do.  

Yes I am an old fart, and yes I preferred the original Godzilla over the Tristar Godzilla.   Modernization does not mean better.  Not even when the effects can make you feel closer to being in the event  you are playing.

But I do like NHL 11.   Since I don't have an SNES any longer having something is way better than nothing.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

I don't get Hex

So DC Comics has a character that was brought to screen, rather horribly.   They turned Jonah Hex who is pregnant with storytelling possibilities into an steampunk hero who is nearly divorced from everything the comic character was, except for the scars on the face.   I get that, actually.  Movies are made all the time and molest the source materials indecently to make a movie story instead of a comic book story consistent with its origins.

DC Comics wouldn't likely have had the character at all in public eye without the really fine run of stories with him, by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray and various artists.   The run of work is really fine, and I am not complaining, even a little bit that the comics have been collected, mostly, in tradepaperback format for the book trade and for the casual reader who doesn't pick up the serialized monthly single editions.

But I do have a problem.

The character was a meaningless spaghetti western hero/anti-hero for years and while there were moments of greatness, mostly, it was an unsuccessful comic character with a range of stories from ok to pretty good.  Until Tim Truman and Joe R. Lansdale took the character on three very memorable adventures.   The stories were labeled, appropriately, for mature audiences, but weren't altogether nasty or wrong, but showed the level of violence and depravity his character required to tell the story properly.

The art by Timothy Truman, long an artist with an affection for western and frontier characters, was mindblowingly good.  The stories, though dark and hard edged, were crisply written, and explored the world of a man like Hex, without the limits of the comics code.

And despite a print or two of Two Gun Mojo, the first of the adventures, it is miraculously hard to find, and the second and third series have never been collected.   DC was sued over creative issues by two musicians for various reasons, but the work was fiction, labeled as such, and DC mostly won the court cases.   But seemingly to placate the people suing, the second and third volumes of Hex by Truman and Lansdale have never come out.  I don't remember Truman doing much at DC since then, nor Lansdale, so it is an incredibly hairy deal to suggest that with the excellent work done, that DC is not reprinting these works.  

Is DC suggesting that the other more recent works are MORE worthy of being collected?   Well despite having some affection for the more recent run, there is no comparison, Truman and Lansdale have thus far done the best of all the work on the character.   There is absolutely no reason for not reprinting the stories in TPB format other than what I suspect are petty worries about things that were settled.  

Hey DC if you print these people will buy them, and maybe then you'll find a film maker who can understand what makes the character great, instead of the people who made the piece of shit movie that you were left with.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


There is a belief in the mythology of American culture that Americans love peace.   And yet, if you look closely in most of the American popular culture media there is reflected there the engines of war.   Whether the stories of conflict are with Americans as heroes or villains, whether the stories are told with a partisan bent, the availability of product to fulfill the interest for action, adventure, war or, frankly, revenge, is immense.  The quality of such offerings differs, of course, but there is a growing sophistication in the telling of stories, even as Americans have been in wars of different sorts for nearly the last 20 years.

I believe it could be argued that America has created an industry of war.   Oh hell, that has been argued.  Do I think it is wrong?  Am I a pussy saying, oh war is so terrible, boo hoo...? What I am saying is, Americans like to believe that they do not love war, but the availability of media with war as the subject is vast and unapologetically so.    That to me seems to be a disconnect.   And I think we should be aware of how much war and violence pervades our culture.  I am not saying Americans are not moral.   There is a connection between war and morality though, and you have to ask yourself how much war is necessary, and how much could be avoided by diplomacy.





Saturday, January 12, 2013

Comic Book Message Boards

SO you say you love comics, love discussing them but you hate the trolls on message boards?

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Read This First
At this time there is a considerable debate over a coach allowing a player to play, despite the possibility of injury.   The player played, further injured himself, and might be lost to the injury for a long time, if not the rest of his career.    People have said, in print, on television, online, that the coach should be fired for allowing the player to play, or, in a view more darkly of the coach's actions and motives, for FORCING his player to play.

 Painting by Jean-Leon Gerome

 Peter McDermott Getty Images

                                             Aztec/Mayan ball court

But, if you ask me, we are not dealing with a player injury and a coach's negligence or plausibility in the player's injury.    We are dealing with a change in culture.  In the past, considerations for injury, for increased payment, for taking a game off for the delivery of a baby of a player's spouse or partner, would never have happened.   The players were part of a legacy of sport where individuals did not matter, only the team mattered.   And for better or worse, violent sport as part of culture has existed for as long as humans had cities and societies.   The viewing of a player injury is difficult, but it is only so since we, in the present era, view individuals as having worth, beyond the field.  In the past a loss might mean a loss of life, or being sent to work as a slave in a less opportune setting.   In the present it means a player might lose an chance to make more money, or the owner has to spend money to change his product on the field.  

This isn't to say I approve of injuries, players should play whatever the risks, or that I don't care about the consequences of sports, as entertainment.   I do care, and think RG3 made a fateful choice and the coach made a fateful choice that have consequences.   But it is a true arrival of a culture that the player health is more important than his team's chances for victory.   Professional sport IS entertainment for the masses, in some ways its own form of reality television, and as such I wonder if you can perceive what I do, as a historian, that society has truly changed, and the gladiatorial arena has now been closed for business.

What will replace it I have no clue.   Perhaps I am wrong seeing this shift as being new or different.   But there are ways to measure change, and the outcry for a player's safety is one measure that shows something:  player's are no longer cogs in the machine.  And perhaps we all can take solace in this, that our grinding gear society of silent apathy has a heart.  


To begin the discussion, go read this article: OVER POPULATION!?

The fear in the past was that humans would grow in population numbers faster than they'd be able to create more food from the land and resources available.   Eventually a catastrophic collapse would occur and humans would suffer and perhaps be unable to attain higher goals like civilization or high technology.

"Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio, Subsistence, increases only in an arithmetical ratio." (Thomas Malthus)

Thomas Malthus was the first important thinker regarding population, and his views have filtered through many generations to the present.

"Must it not then be acknowledged by an attentive examiner of the histories of mankind, that in every age and in every State in which man has existed, or does now exist.  That the increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence,
That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase, and, that the superior power of population is repressed, and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence, by misery and vice." (Thomas Malthus)

And to take Malthus whole, we truly do have to realize that he was writing from a place where the information seemed accurate because the ability to project what humans were able to do, with the green revolution, birth control, and more, was not clear.

Malthus was not a failed thinker however.   While he couldn't, and, importantly DIDN'T, accurately perceive the advancements of the future, his concept of an economic terminal point to human population does exist.   Perhaps we don't know the ultimate carrying capacity of earth regarding populace and the resources found upon earth, but it is reasonable to argue that there is a terminal point, and that both population and resources are not magical, being able to be manipulated to meet our needs out of thin air.  If the earth is a lifeboat, only so many can be afloat before the weight of the masses would sink it.

It is therefore understandable that writers of the arts, writers of science and social scientists would find reasons to fear the growing population of humanity, and the seemingly obvious scarcity of resources.  The world population numbers grew but slowly, due to plagues, disasters, wars, and the many things that made human life expectancies low.   The advancement of science limited disease, the opening of farming techniques and farms that were aimed not at self sufficiency but mass markets, and the recognition of causes of disaster, and limiting of wars, all served to limit the factors keeping human population low, and raise the ability to survive long enough for people to invest in their children.   Prior to  modernity, children were not brought into the world solely out of love, or legacy, but as a means of support for old age.   Perhaps, though, not in a direct way, but it was a major reason.

By seeing the world following the catastrophes of the World Wars and the Cold war, the potential for collapse was now visible. To see how human growth, in potential numbers and achievement and life expectancy could finally begin threatening to over populate the world and strip it of resources to a point of collapse, writers of fiction, John Brunner, Robert Bloch, Anthony Burgess, Harry Harrison, and many more set dystopic futures on Earth, overpopulated.

Soylent Green was a movie that was based upon similar fears, but came about due to more than Thomas Malthus arguments placed against the back drop of growing human population.

Paul Ehrlich wrote the book The Population Bomb where he foresaw a world crowded like the most thickly crowded city, filled with hungry, sweaty people, each knowing that they had no reason to survive but for survival itself.   This book was able to stoke fears due to the social awareness that grew in the 1960s as a result of radical movements on the left, to change the way we perceived normal.

The movement to recognize all people as valuable, not simply those of the West, caused a new awareness of how the numbers of population were growing, and resources were about to stagnate.   Right or wrong, The Population Bomb put a scare in all thinkers of social policy, and movies like Soylent Green put those paradigms to visual use.

But, as with any idea, others came to question the seemingly alarmist ideas of the Population Bomb.  Julian Simon was an economist who used pure number theory and prices to judge whether resources were scarce.   His numbers showed lowering of costs, and prices, and a lack of scarcity despite growing need.  And he argued, that more minds meant more potential human agency towards their own solutions and development.

This of course is a subject that is likely to anger some people, as the sides are rather polarized.  Poplitiko's goal of bringing the ideas that are alive in society to view through popular culture media won't solve any of the questions.   But this should, if you are interested, allow you to begin your own research into the matter, first through popular culture media, and then, perhaps, through academia.   As with my previous article regarding Global Warming, I am aware that people will try to see my own political bent through this.  However, unlike my Global Warming article, and views there, I am not of a solid opinion regarding this issue.   I surely agree with Julian Simon that human potential is the greatest resource, but I can see that the world has issues of scarcity and abundance.   And if his views were absolutely correct, such issues would fade, and they are not fading.  We are told the future is bright, but it isn't for everyone.  To quote the linked article "About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. This is one person every three and a half seconds ... Unfortunately, it is children who die most often."

To take the simple and straight forward argument that the economics of the free market and mass exchange of resources will distribute fairly, is false.   And until that changes, the world, even if it isn't overly populated with still see suffering and inequitable returns upon the world's resources.  I don't have an answer.   If overpopulation exists, or will exist, I have hope, but as long as 3 of every 4 people who die from hunger are children, I can only say I hope things improve soon.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Fact or fiction: Global Warming

Despite the view found in the US mainstream media, and average person, that there is a debate that Global warming exists or not, that is really not the debate.  The debate, with parties on both right and left of the political aisle  is over what caused it, how accurate are the numbers and data, how can it be fought, should it be fought, and why should it make a difference? As the goal of Poplitiko is to make connections between the real world issues and those found in popular culture, offered herein are five books that address global warming, but in fashions that are different, and not slave to the global warming theorists, either to the right or left of the political center.

I remember when Crichton's work caused enormous waves of discontent in the review world, not about quality but for the fact that this work suggests that there is an industry of misrepresenting facts in order to create reasons to force policy.

I am not of the opinion that Crichton was saying there is no global warming, I believe he was questioning those who control the data, and the uses they might have for forming opinion.

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's Fallen Angels

The future sees earth, and the US in particular in the throes of a new ice age.   Those in governmental control make policies regarding the environment at the cost of those who live off planet, and those who disagree with the policies.

This work is more adventure than the others offered here, but the consequence of human action or inaction is addressed fully.
George Turner's Drowning Towers

From the breakdown of the environment comes the loss of control, and the apathy of those who are safe from the disasters causes human suffering.    The dystopic world is one where government cannot deal with the consequences of the disasters, but more than that inefficiency, human desire to ignore the impending collapse makes dealing with the collapse impossible.

This book is not a mystery.  This work is one where the reader knows very well that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, but getting there, and seeing what this author suggests is the result, is worth the journey.


What if you foresaw a disaster, and tried to stop it, but in the end, your actions made things worse?   What if earth is a system and self regulates and any human interaction only screws with that?

This book is good, and I enjoyed it very much, but the causes of the global collapse comes from a much different reason than those of the previous books.   However, as books go, it is quite good, and I highly recommend it.


So if I am finishing this piece without giving my own view I'll be leaving myself open to interpretation for my choices and commentary... I have studied this issue.   Alongside of over-population arguments between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon, I've scoured the literature available that a person who is not a scientist but is educated could understand.

I believe that humans stand upon a precipice, one that will doom future generations to having to deal with our inaction if we do not try something.      My son is 14 years old, and I worry for his future.   The loss of unique organisms and species from the consequences of global warming alone should call our attention, but the increase of temperatures by up to 4 degrees would, in my opinion, likely permanently change human existence.

I am not of the opinion that all of it, even necessarily most of it, comes from human hands.   However, if there is a cycle of warming, and we make it worse, even that little amount we are responsible could be the reason we face collapse.

I won't bother you further with my political views on this, I do find it fascinating, and do find the literature to be surprisingly on each side of the debate, so I thought that I would share.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Taste and Quality

I like King Kong versus Godzilla, but I do not mistake it for Amadeus or Gone with the Wind.   I like it because it entertains me.

But I recently read a review that, if you really boiled it down, said "This _____ sucked."   And when you read further into the review, it was quite clear that the review didn't LIKE the genre the work was made to exist in.   Therefore, the reviewer, though they wouldn't admit so I expect, was essentially saying this particular thing was devoid of quality due to it being _______ * * being horror, comedy, war, western, romance, action...

I am really content that people don't like the same things.  It is who we are.   My good friend Michael May often likes things that drive me crazy.   But I don't think he has bad taste.   I think he has different taste than my own.

I am writing this not to say you should like King Kong versus Godzilla.   I am saying that saying you like it is neither a comment about its quality, nor does it impart quality by liking it. Like what you like.   It neither proves the item good that you like it, nor says anything about quality to like it.

There are standards of quality within every genre, within all media.   I am reluctant to use porn as an example, but, there is good and bad porn.   The good porn works, the bad porn might still work, but one works better.  (I hope that was vague enough but still expressed what I mean.)

Beyond taste there is quality.   But arguing something that comes in a genre you hate is bad, because you hate the genre doesn't mean the thing in question is bad.   It simply means you can't appreciate it for what it might be because of what it is.

Louis CK, who doesn't actually make me laugh a lot, does make a good point in his routine about "sucking a bag of dicks".   It isn't that he opposes the act of his sucking a dick, he just has never seen a dick he wants to suck.   A person who hate horror and is reviewing it has not yet found a dick he wants to suck.   So why does he keep trying?

Good point to ponder.

Reviewers who review what they hate?