The Unread Blog

12 Dec 2014

06 Dec 2014

04 Dec 2014

01 Dec 2014

10 Nov 2014

My entries for the "secular alternatives to the ten commandments":

See things as they are. Try to set aside bias, prejudice, and unnecessary assumptions. The universe is full of surprises—unless you've already decided that it isn't.

Know yourself. You are a remarkable creature. Never cease to be amazed by all the things you are and that you can do. On the other hand, remember that the rest of the universe is also amazing.

Explore. Every person, every creature, every place and time have a story to tell. Ask questions, look it up, or find the answers first-hand and tell others. Learning never gets old.

Don't cling to possessions. People are more important than things.

Be free of tradition. Listen to the advice and traditions you come across, but decide for yourself what makes sense. Never follow a belief or a person blindly.

Don't worry. Do what you can to overcome the challenges you face, but don't dwell on them or fret over things you can't change. Especially, don't worry about what people think of you. Do what's right and accept that some just won't understand.

Love everyone. Don't try to limit the best feeling of all. Love as much as you can stand to. Everyone is worthwhile.

Don't carry a weapon unless absolutely necessary. When you expect a fight, you're apt to find one. When you're unarmed, you're less likely to take foolish chances. Use your head, either way.

07 Nov 2014

Having finished the first short season of Attack on Titan, I have to say that I'm underwhelmed. The show requires a boat-load of suspension of disbelief to begin with. Giants appear out of nowhere with absurdly broad defenses and specific weaknesses. They can regenerate any injury, including complete decapitation, in minutes, unless they're hit in the back of the neck. (To make it clear, severing a titan's head from the front does nothing but knock them down for a few minutes. From the back, it kills them.)

Although the titans eat humans (and only humans) they easily survive for most of a century with almost no human prey available. At least one character can summon a titan body at will, and the most powerful titans appear for only a few minutes whenever the plot requires a wall breach. (They're probably also humans turning into titans, but frankly I'm not interested enough to find out more.)

Speaking of walls, somehow the ancestors of the characters managed to construct not one, but three, stone walls, 50 meters high, around their entire country while the titans were appearing. That's a hell of a lot of stone. Did they summon it magically? How'd they keep the titans off their workers? How'd they manage the whole project in less than a century using pre-industrial technology? I have the ugly feeling that the answer will involve wide-spread use of titan bodies that somehow modern humans have completely forgotten about.

Then, again, the weapons the characters use are ludicrous. Instead of the many gunpowder weapons they have available (which if nothing else give you range on the enemy), they use big paper knives and pneumatic cable-throwers that let them fly around like spider-man. The only time anyone thinks to blind a titan with muskets is in a confined area when no one has any air-pressure left in their tanks. You'd think that blinding would make any tactic easier.

All right. I resolved to accept all that and enjoy the show anyway, but it's just impossible. The main characters all spend several episodes, spanning two years, in training to kill titans. Two years of training. What happens when they encounter the enemy? Literally 90% of them lose their heads on first contact with a titan. I know that people lose it in combat, but that many? Seriously? What the hell kind of military training is that? And at least a third of the show is spent, not in combat, but on the characters agonizing over their horrible experiences and dead comrades. This is the whiniest bunch of soldiers I've ever seen in any drama, anywhere. They make the extras in The Mole People look like Spartan elites.

In the first attack, the only cannons used were set up... wait for it... in the street in front of one of two exits from the sector. Apparently no one thought to use the cannons conspicuously available on top of the walls. However it's not as bad as you might think, because none of the populous attempted to use that gate. They all tried to pack into the two small ferries that comprised the other exit. Not surprisingly, it didn't turn out well.

The internal logic of this show is non-existent, and there's more melodramatic screaming than any actor has a right to. I can only assume it did well in Japan because of the Japanese penchant for giant robots. I've no idea why anyone in America liked it.

22 Oct 2014

08 Oct 2014

I watched Inglourious Basterds recently, and somewhat unwillingly. Being one of Tarantino's works, it didn't have much to do with reality, but the frightening thing about the movie was that someone might take it at face value as an example of heroism in combat. I'd like to think that it was intended as parody, but that doesn't seem likely.

The movie was rife with gratuitous violence, of course, but that's par for the course these days. What struck me was that there wasn't a single major character with any moral character in the film. I found myself rooting for the fire at the end, hoping no one would make it out alive.

I suspect that the little girl at the beginning of the show, orphaned by nazis, was meant to be sympathetic, but when she grew into a hateful young woman, consumed with revenge, I lost all interest. What she did might have ended Tarantino's fictional WWII, but that's not what she had in mind. She tortured and brutalized her own countrymen and sacrificed her best friend's life for vengeance, with any good that might come from it a distant second.

As for the "basterds" themselves, I doubt that many people consider that they were terrorists, in every sense of the word. In fact, they had so much in common with the ISIL asshats we're fighting now, it's scary. Both used the same level of violence and horror to achieve their ends. Tarantino's "heroes" had all been savaged by the nazis, but then again, our wars in the middle-east have left a generation of Iraqi orphans with legitimate reasons to hate us as well. Really, the only difference between the two groups beyond their size and technology is that America won WWII and the middle-east never wins against the overwhelming advantage enjoyed by the west.

Someone will probably point out that the "basterds" never raped anyone (onscreen, at least). However they did torture a wounded female resistance fighter. Subtle distinction. Let's face it, the movie had more psychopaths than the average serial killer convention (kudos if you got the Sandman reference).

Apparently (I can't find the actual article), Christopher Hitchens described the movie as "sitting in the dark having a great pot of warm piss emptied very slowly over your head." That sounds about right.