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February 23, 2003


The latest fashion. No comment, really. [Link via Scripting News]

Posted 10:25 PM | Comments (2) | life generally

First Strikes

Today's Tom Toles cartoon is very smart. You might be able to see it at Ucomics, but since they've gone to this crappy subscription service, I won't bother to link to it because you'll probably have to pay to see it. Instead, I'll describe it to you: Bush is giving a speech to the UN, saying, "It is unacceptable to ignore a threat until it's too late! Or close your eyes and hope it goes away! If you wait 'til you have a smoking gun, you've waited too long..." Meanwhile, a head in the audience whispers to another: "What 'til he discovers we slipped him a copy of the Kyoto treaty." Finally, the little cartoonist that appears in the bottom right corner of every Toles' panel says: "If you wait 'til he gets the irony, you've waited too long."

Too funny. This would make a great plank in the anti-war platform. As we try to prevent a war on Iraq, we should also make the case for a war against two very real threats to national security: poverty and pollution. Those are first strikes I could support.

Posted 10:19 PM | general politics

Pattern Recognition

Speaking of paranoia and conspiracy, I just finished reading William Gibson's latest, Pattern Recognition, thanks to my Valentine, who thoughtfully gifted me a copy for that day. I'm a huge Gibson fan; Neuromancer blew the top right off my head. How could you not be a fan of the book that envisioned an Internet on steroids before the Internet even existed? Ok, so ARPANET began in 1969, but even by 1984 when Neuromancer was published the "net" was nothing like what we know today. Sure, it's the job of Sci-Fi to be ahead of its time; part of what makes sci-fi fun is its ability to play with future worlds and show us the possible places we might go and things we might do. But Gibson brought a vibrant subgenre?cyberpunk?to the wider public, and it's hard to underestimate the impact of that subgenre on the sci-fi of the last 20 years. [1] Would there have been a "Matrix" if there had not first been a Neuromancer? Hard to say. And I'll shut up about this before I get further out of my depth as a sci-fi expert. I know if I start getting into claims about who was first with what idea or who inspired what, I'll be treading on super-thin ice in about one more step.

And but so anyway, as the title suggests, Gibson's new book deals with paranoia, conspiracy, the stories behind what we think we see. The novel focuses on Cayce Pollard and her quest to find the maker and the meaning of "the footage," a mysterious series of film clips that appear randomly on the Web. At the moment Cayce finally begins to see the patterns (or some of them) converge, Gibson writes:

There must always be room for conicidence, Win [Cayce's father] had maintained. When there's not, you're probably well into apophenia, each thing then perceived as part of an overarching pattern of consipracy. And while comforting yourself with the symmetry of it all, he'd believed, you stood all too real a chance of missing the genuine threat, which was invariably less symmetrical, less perfect. But which he always, [Cayce] knew, took for granted was there (293-4).

Win's advice is perfect for this time we're living in. Is every bad thing that happens somehow connected to terrorism? Probably not?some of them may be coincidences. More specifically, does the fact that Saddam Hussien is a brutal despot mean he is also closely?or even loosely?connected with Al Queda and terrorism? Possibly, but again, these bad things may not go together. Finally, is the war on Iraq all about oil? Probably not; the reasons people claim for going to war are "invariably less symmetrical, less perfect" than that. The world is a complex place with forces and patterns and trends and histories converging and diverging all the time. How we read these convergences will make all the difference to our future.

With that in mind, I'll leave you with one of the best lines in the book. Cayce has met up with Stella, a Russian woman. While reminiscing about Russia's recent transition from the soviet to the capitalist model, Stella says:

Now we say that everything Lenin taught us of communism was false, and everything he taught us of capitalism was true (303).

We're all vaguely but often almost viscerally familiar with the patterns behind the first half of Stella's sentence (communism = evil), but why do so many of us give so little attention to the patterns that give rise to the second half?

[1] For a quick into to cyberpunk, this list contains the most notorious examples. I've read the top 10 and recommend them all. (In fact, I like Neal Stephenson better than Gibson, but I don't think I'm supposed to say that, so don't tell.)

Posted 08:51 AM | ai books general politics

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