Ethanol is Not the Answer!

I listen to a lot of NPR, so, needless to say, I’ve been deluged lately with debates about energy prices, energy crises, and possible solutions to both. I also keep hearing a lot about ethanol, and that drives me crazy.

A lot of people are worried because the corn being consumed to produce ethanol is putting a strain on the supply, and driving up the price of corn-based foods (which, in America, seems to be nearly everything). As a result, there are scientists and politicians talking about alternative sources of ethanol.

To me, this is like talking about finding alternate sources of crude oil: it’s a stupid and short-sighted thought. What we need is to phase out fossil fuels altogether, not dig up Alaska or Russia or China or wherever to find more of them; and, in the same vein, what we need is to stop thinking about ethanol altogether, not try to find better ways to produce it!

I’ve got two major problems with ethanol. First, since it’s based on corn, it is inevitably a carbon-based fuel. And since it’s carbon based, basic chemistry will tell you that any products of its combustion will contain carbon dioxide. Seeing as the human race may have already signed its own death warrant, even if we stop pumpin greenhouse gases into the atmosphere today, I think it’s missing the point somewhat to talk about another carbon-based combustion fuel.

Secondly, with the world and the world economy in the state that they’re in, is it really wise to put any more strain on the food supply? With the economy in the toilet and food prices already in the stratosphere, it seems idiotic to me to make it any harder for the poor — in this country and abroad — to afford food.

I also have a third problem with ethanol, and this is the one that irritates me the most: it’s a pretend solution. People who buy ethanol, and politicians who support ethanol, do so primarily to feel like they’re doing something about global warming. But they’re not really doing anything to make the energy economy more carbon-indepenent. To me, ethanol is a solution (a crappy one at best, and at worst, not a solution at all) chosen by rich white people who aren’t willing to take the drastic mesaures needed to keep Homo sapiens sapiens off the endangered species list.

Those are my thoughts.

Feeling Aged at Twenty

For a while now, I’ve been noticing a disturbing innner trend: I feel old. Very old. On some occasions, I’ve unironically mumbled “damn kids.” No doubt, this is a product of the rapidly-accelerating advance of technology (Singularity, anyone?), but to me, it doesn’t bode well.

You see, I was an early member of the Internet generation, and when the much-touted “Web 2.0”, user-created internet arrived sometime this decade, it only made sense to me. I’ve always been one to try to keep up or at least keep informed of the latest technical innovations. Now, though, I’m finding that I don’t have the energy to run in the twenty or thirty different directions that my brain is pulling me. There’s too much to read, too much to write, too much to digest, too many Wikipedia queries to make. It’s all just too much, too fast.

To me, this is foreshadowing what is to come. Before long, it will be impossible for the standard human being (I like to call them MOSHes (Mostly Original Substrate Humans), after Kurzweil) to keep up, even if they’ve been — as future children will no doubt be — steeped in the nöosphere since birth. Not only is this trend going to push us towards mind augmentation and transhumanism sooner rather than later, but it hints at things to come. Maybe all this Singularity stuff is crap, a “rapture for nerds” as some of the characters in Charles Stross’s Accelerando sometimes call it, but we’re certainly steaming towards some kind of technosocial discontinuity, if a fairly hip (and wipe that grin off your face!) technophile like myself is already feeling dated and obsolete at twenty!

Yahoo and Google: Uh-Oh…

I’m sure there aren’t many nerds out there who haven’t heard about Microsoft’s many attempts to buy Google in a bid to break into the search-engine market. Fortunately, up until now, Yahoo has refused, but this time, they’ve only gone as far as saying the business equivalent of “no comment.”

I’ve lamented these kinds of unholy unions before (for example, when Google bought Youtube), and in my (somewhat limited) experience, they never turn out well. When one company buys another, it usually has something very sinister in mind, and I’ve learned that that goes doubly so for Microsoft.

Not that I give a damn about Yahoo. I’ve been a member of the “cult of Google” for some years now. But, still, if Microsoft and Yahoo get together, who knows what kind of market-gobbling, grotesquely-deformed progeny might result? What next, will Microsoft be working busily to make Yahoo Search harder and harder to use, all the while being secretive and difficult and overcharging for everything? Will they try to get their hands on Google, too?

I’m aware that this is rather paranoid, but I assure you, that I am not (literally or metaphorically) wearing a foil helmet as I type this. I believe that there is a legitimate concern to be had in the monopolization of such a large horizontal slice of the information-technology market by one juggernaut corporation. If they get their fingers in too many pies (that’s a very odd expression, if you think about it), it seems that Microsoft wouldn’t have too much trouble subduing or at least delaying the open-source revolution so many of us tech-nerds have been dreaming of for so long. And what’s more, in a monopolized market, there is the obvious fact that the monopolist can charge exorbitant prices for crappy products.

Those are my thoughts. Take from them what you will. (That was my melodrama; do with it what you like).

Advertising Schizophrenia

Another odd title, I know, but it suits my subject.

You see, over the past year or so, I’ve noticed a very worrying trend in advertising. It isn’t as insidious as the ultrasonic “sound spotlights” (which can beam adverts at you that only you can hear (!)), or as dangerous as all the political advertising that’s going to be plaguing us in a few months, but it is still worrying: all the advertisers have gone insane.

I first began to notice this in car commercials. Then, it was restaurant ads. Now, it’s spread through most of the advertising community. It seems that the advertisers have gotten so good at manipulating us that they think they no longer need to design ads that actually make sense. Perhaps it’s some sort of attempt to bypass our reality filters and inject the “Buy our crap” message directly into our cerebral corticies, but either way, it’s damned annoying.

An example: the other day, I was sitting down with my parents to watch some television, when an advertisement for Kentucky Fried Chicken came on. It showed a bunch of jovial, racially-diverse young people sitting down and biting into Photoshop-enhanced chicken wings (that would probably rate as beauty queens, as far as fried poultry goes, and that, incidentally, look nothing like the real thing; but I guess I should be used to that by now), then, they acted surprised (incidentally, where do they get these commercial actors these days? It must be the suburbs, because only a white suburbanite is so good at dripping with insincerity), and said something like “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!” Apparently, it was an advert for KFC’s new “Sauceless Hot Wing.” I wasn’t sure I’d heard that right, but I’ve seen the ad a few times since then, and that was, indeed, what I was seeing. What the hell!? Is this what the advertisers expect us to see as “innovation”? “Hey, look, we’ve got a hot wing without any sauce! Buy our crap!” And before someone counters, “Well, it’ll be nice not to get all that sauce on your hands,” allow me to provide a blistering rebuttal: No it won’t. The messiness of hot wings is part of their charm! It’s part of the experience! And people who really like hot wings don’t mind the sauce, anyway.

But this rant isn’t just about fat-fried poultry. Car ads, too, are getting worse and worse. None of them make any sense, or if they do, their messages are painfully obvious. So, apparently they think we’ve become so simpleminded that all it’ll take for us to buy a new car is a bunch of loud music, pretty people, and nice graphics. Well, actually, now that I think about it…that probably is all it’ll take to get most people to buy a car. Sorry, I forgot I was dealing with Americans here.

Well, since I’m already railing against advertising, I thought I might as well rail against something more serious: pre-movie advertising. A week or two ago, I went to see Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (the disastrous result of which can be found here). Before the movie, there was the standard parade of random advertising. This parade has been getting longer and longer, to the point where it has approximately the same length as an actual parade, and is just about as boring. Then, an ad that was recognizably one of the new (schizophrenic) ads came on. It was loud, it was fast, and it was terrifying. The noise and the flashing lights drowned out my thoughts, and I got the extraordinarily unsettling feeling that somebody was trying to crowbar their way into my brain. So, since they haven’t figured out how to actually manipulate our minds (yet), they’ve done the next best thing and figured out how to make it impossible to think. Wonderful. Before long, I’m sure we’ll be seeing ads promoting Ingsoc and reminding us that Big Brother is watching.

Those are my (disjointed) thoughts.

Merry Something, Happy Something Else, etc.

Around this time of year, my cynicism tends to get a big boost. After all, what feeds cynicism better than the commercialization of a holiday that was originally — I think — supposed to be about goodwill towards your fellow humans and stopping your gluttonous hoarding for a moment to help your neighbors. Exacerbating this flaw is the endless stream of political correctness that makes any mention of the holidays that fall around December 25th about as clumsy as me on a unicycle. Add to this the endlessly repetitive Christmas soundtrack, and not only am I cynical, but I also have the urge to stick a long needle in both of my eardrums.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m gearing up for a rather serious rant, so if you’re not in the mood — and you’re probably not, given the fact that every other cynic on the planet is ranting right about now — then you’d best get out while you still can.

If you’re reading this, then you’re still here. I can’t understand why, but then again, I also can’t understand what’s so attractive about watching golf on television, so I won’t criticize. Anyway, the big rant:

  • As I get very tired of being a typical sarcastic cynic sometimes, I thought I’d put this rant at the very top of the list: I’m absolutely exhausted with all of the cynical people ranting about the holidays (holidays with a lowercase H). I mean, a time of year with so much money and corporate power behind it is not likely to go away soon, and history has proven that we cynics have little power to change the status quo. There are probably more productive and less hypertension-promoting uses of your time. After all, the only thing worse than actually having to listen to “White Christmas” is hearing somebody bitch about it for an hour and a half. That said, I’m going to be a good little cynic and contradict myself in the next bullet point, so that I can get some good ranting done.
  • It is obligatory for any cynic to complain about the music around this time of year. Supposedly, “White Christmas” was the song that made Irving Berlin great. To me, it’s the song that makes him an evil bastard with an aversion to other peoples’ continuing sanity. It’s gotten to the point where I’m no longer dreaming of a white Christmas, I’m having sweat-soaked incontinent Christmas nightmares. I know that’s a bit extreme, but anybody who’s heard “White Christmas” for the thirtieth time knows exactly what I mean.
  • The aforementioned political correctness is the next item on my ideological hit list. I’m so tired of hearing and reading the word “Holiday” and the phrase “Happy Holidays” that I would actually prefer someone to come up to me and say “Have a very crappy winter. I hope you die of exposure on a street corner.” While I think equality should be one of humanity’s foremost goals, I think that whoever is responsible for promoting equality really needs to learn to pick their battles. After all, as a quasi-Buddhist semi-atheist former Christian, I don’t think I’d honestly be offended if a Jewish person came up to me and wished me a happy Chaunukkah (forgive me if I misspelled that), or if someone wished me a happy Kwanzaa. I think that any excuse that we can find to wish each other a happy anything should be seen as valuable, and not nullified by trying to wish people a happy everything. And what’s worse, wishing someone “Happy Holidays” bears the stink of an attempt to broaden one’s holiday marketing demographic.
  • If I see one more suburban white family with a Doppelg­änger family of decorations on their front lawn, I may not be able to override my instinct towards destruction of property. Now, I should point out that I’m not (yet) so cynical as to be opposed to any Christmas (“Holiday”) decorations. I’m really very fond of a tasteful string of multicolored lights. It’s nice to occasionally mark a special day by doing something really peculiar like draping a bunch of tiny lightbulbs on your house. However, it seems that people (especially the aforementioned white suburbanites) are incapable of stopping there. Therefore, we end up with nativity scenes complete with full-size wise men, Santa Claus and reindeer, inflatable snowmen, little spinning things, animatronic wireframe reindeer, and whatever other random shiny blinky things the family can come up with. I — and I get the feeling I’m not alone in this regard — immediately begin wondering how much napalm I could make without attracting attention the moment I see a lawn so hideously decorated.

Environmental “Protection” Agency

Since I was young, I’ve always been something of an environmentalist. I haven’t been a passionate environmentalist for years, and here’s why: I gave up. I eventually realized that a government will enact environmental legislation only when it serves them to do so, and that they’ll ignore it when whatever crisis they were protecting themselves against has passed.

It’s a lucky thing I’m not passionate anymore, because if I were, then I would be up in arms right now, yelling in the streets. And nobody wants that.

Here’s what’s gotten under my skin lately: very recently, California attempted to pass environmental regulations much tougher than those mandated nationwide. As California is one of the most polluted states and, paradoxically, one of the most environmentally-conscious — they were the ones, after all, who mandated a quota of zero-emissions (electric) vehicles, before the industry shut them down — this would seem rather logical. And, of course, logic and government don’t mix well, so something went wrong.

I suppose I should learn to expect such things, in this age of do-nothing, get-out-before-the-ship-sinks government, but what happened surprised even cynical old me: the EPA overruled California. Yes, that’s right, I said the EPA. Those letters used to stand for “Environmental Protection Agency.” Given their recent actions, I would recommend we change their meaning to something more appropriate, preferably with a couple of expletives in there. My suggestion is “Excessively Petty Assholes.”

Many will no doubt think this judgment too harsh, but my sordid tale is not finished. California’s regulations were put in place because Californians complain that global warming threatens their water supplies, their agricultures, and — given the increased incidence of forest fires that warming brings — their population. The EPA’s response? “Not on your life!” The EPA actually attempted to claim that there was not a credible threat to justify such harsh local environmental regulations. What!?!? California, as a coastal state, will probably be one of the first states to face a credible threat from global warming. Hell, they’ve already faced a credible threat from global warming! Didn’t they have a terrible fire a few weeks ago?!

It gets worse. The EPA also said that global warming regulations should be nationwide, not local. Right. Because those nationwide regulations were getting passed in a real damned hurry. To me, this looks suspiciously like the current do-nothing administration just buying time until they can inflate their golden parachutes. I just hope that when the forests star to slowly burn away, the coastlines flood and erode as the icecaps melt, the North Atlantic current breaks down, freezing Britain under an ice-age glacier, and the water-shortage wars in Africa and the Middle East spread worldwide, that the fifty years of environmentally-ignorant politicians we’ve suffered through are mostly still alive, so that with whatever breath the toxic atmosphere will allow us, we can all point and laugh at them.

Hm…that was a bit cynical even for me. Note to self: don’t write any more posts early in the morning.

“Look at That!” Part 1

This begins a multipart series about facts and images that really grab my attention (thus the title). These happen to be scattered far and wide across the vast jungle of the Internet, so I thought I’d collect some of them into one place. Here goes!

I love this picture (and no, not because my mind is in the gutter). It so grabs the attention that it’s practically impossible to simply pass it by. And once it’s grabbed your attention, you have no choice but to consider its message: the fundamental entanglement of liberty and justice. (Credit:

Mother nature takes revenge.

I’m willing to have a drink with whoever did this.

I generally hate advertising, but I have to admit, this is really creative.

I’ll post Part 2 as soon as I can collect enough images. Any uncredited images were found through

The Generation Incapable of Seriuosness

For years, there have been warning signs that the younger generations are slowly losing their capacity for taking the world seriously. As time marches on, the media decays, and social discourse degenerates into a discussion of which cell phone is the best, which pop star is the most attractive, and which television show is more entertaining, the young are losing their ability to connect with or take seriously anything in their world.

I began to notice this a few years back, when I was in high school. As I rose through the ranks, from freshman, to sophomore, to junior, to senior, I gained the ability to “look back” as it were, at the younger students, to see just what the new generation of freshmen were like. I was appalled.

Something went wrong somewhere between my generation and the one three or four years younger. While I don’t claim that my generation had many noble qualities, it certainly seems that, on average, the younger one is much worse. For one thing, they all think so highly of themselves. Their egos are more inflated even than some of the athletes and pop artists that they idolize. They stride around in faddish, popular, and ludicrously expensive clothes, as if somehow their participation in mainstream consumer culture has given them the right to whatever they ask for.

The second thing I noticed about these young whippersnappers was the increasing proportion of “class clown” types among them. These are young people who not only can take a joke, but can take it so well that they don’t seem to be capable of anything else. Nothing they say can be taken seriously, and they walk around talking jokingly about everything, in their annoyingly sarcastic and matter-of-fact tones of voice.

Now, normally, I’d welcome such levity; I think that my generation and the older ones are, on the whole, in serious need of such levity. I’d welcome the refreshing lack of gravity in everything they talk about, if it did not betray such a rapidly degrading society. These youngsters don’t take anything seriously because everything is a fantasy to them. They’ve bought into, in a big way, the delusion that if they fix their hair properly, buy the perfect clothes, drive the best car, and date the most popular person, that their life will gain meaning and purpose immediately, and that everything will work out. While many in my generation have been permeated for much of their lives by the lies and false promises of the media, these younger folks have been basted in it for their entire lives. Not one waking moment has been spent without a talking box in the room challenging independent thought. Not one waking moment has been spent asking the question “Does the media really portray the world as it is?” Not one moment. This is not innocent capitalism. This is indoctrination.

Take a look at your average television commercial. Look at its gauzy, glossy, rococco illusions. Watch unrealistically proportioned, silicone-fortified, cosmetically-enhanced, over-dressed, superficial drones milling around, promoting low-quality, overpriced garbage that nobody would buy if the artificial need were not created. Look at how many of them are trying to create a need for products that nobody wants, nobody needs, and that are actually often dangerous. With all this in mind, consider this horrifying idea: the young people just a generation behind me see these commercials, and believe in them. They believe that the world should actually be like this: superficial and meaningless, based on transient consumer commodities with no real value. It’s no wonder they don’t take anything seriously.

TV Land

I’m sure somebody, probably more than one person, has done this before, but I felt it was my duty to contribute my sarcastic observations about the world constructed by television producers. What would this world be like? Well, here are some things I’ve observed:

In TV Land…

  • …a car bomb never, never renders the car unrecognizable.
  • …a gunshot wound to the head is always fatal.
  • …pretty much everybody is dating all the time.
  • …all teenagers are either disturbed and angsty or completely well-adjusted.
  • …the crime scene investigators always figure out exactly what happened in some crime.
  • …any illness can be treated, as long as you figure out what it is before the patient dies.
  • …a dead body is always a crime victim; nobody ever just dies of natural causes in the street.
  • …somebody enjoying a relaxing day of recreation is guaranteed to either be killed, fall ill, witness a crime, or get some really bad news.
  • …if someone appears to be ill, it’s the person sitting next to them who actually is.
  • …there’s always a miracle drug that just came onto the market for any illness.
  • …all awkward, intelligent people have great looks.
  • …explosions do very little damage to their surroundings.
  • …if someone has an accent, they’re probably the villain.
  • …the homeless can always be bribed.
  • …the mentally ill are always very mentally ill.
  • …large sums of money are always transferred in impressive silver suitcases.
  • …nuclear weapons will always be disarmed.
  • …if a disaster is about to take place, then some heroic soul will attempt to stop it, even if it’s a volcano or an earthquake.
  • …the criminal is never slick enough not to run the second somebody gets suspicious of them.
  • …if it’s a crime show, the person first interviewed usually ends up being the villain.
  • …the human body contains about ten gallons of blood.
  • …dying people always have some very poignant last words.
  • …dying people always close their eyes slowly just before they die.
  • …there will be somebody in the cast, guaranteed, with hand-to-hand combat skills.
  • …the above person will usually be a nerdy sort.
  • …the news is accurate and unbiased.

I’ll add to this as soon as I can think of some others. Also, look forward to “In Movie Land”…

The Downfall of Great Cinema

I’ve noticed a very disturbing trend: movies are getting more and more cliché, with less and less substance, all the time. I know that this isn’t a particularly original observation, and that people have probably been saying the same thing since the 1940’s. But unlike many of the aforementioned whiners, I am prepared to do something about it. So, I present to the world my Big List of Suggestions:

  1. People usually die with their eyes open, and are usually too busy dying to deliver some heartbreaking final line, or some witty quip.
  2. If your movie contains something that is so overused that even the parodies of it are cliché, you need to rethink it (I’m talking especially to those movies that emulated The Matrix‘s slow-motion effects. That was only good once.)
  3. The rugged, downtrodden, emotionless female character who doesn’t care about anybody became a stupid idea the second time it was done (such a character who’s heart immediately melts when she meets the right guy was never a good idea).
  4. The rugged downtrodden emotionless hero has the same problem.
  5. If you have two characters start making out suddenly in the middle of, say, a battlefield, tear up your screenplay and set the bits on fire.
  6. Extraterrestrials are not likely to be shaped like us, and I very much doubt that they’d have the equipment to learn or understand our language.
  7. Sometimes, despite their best efforts, the hero gets killed anyway.
  8. A muscle-bound, oily man in nothing but a loincloth does not mix with large swords or heavy weaponry.
  9. If a villain manages to lose grip on the hero because he was busy delivering some pithy, “I’m-about-to-kill-you” remark, throw your screenplay in the garbage.
  10. Unless sex is some part of the plot, there’s no need for a sex scene.
  11. If you have more than one needless sex scene, you are a pornographer.
  12. To the directors who think they can get away with gratuitous sexualization: just because a woman character is supposedly intelligent doesn’t mean she can still wear an “almost-nude” tanktop, and nobody will think it’s cheap. This tactic is not fooling the feminists (who probably have a right to be pissed in this case), it’s only fooling you.
  13. In reference to #12: if you actually knew any scientific types, you’d know that few of them are willing to jump into bed with the hunky hero at the slightest provocation.
  14. If two people are having sex and they knock all the junk off a table, crumple up your screenplay and eat it.
  15. Very few people can actually walk after being shot in the leg/chest/stomach/neck.
  16. This is a long one: If you have a character who was wronged by some villain, who delivered a “witty” line as they wronged the character, it is not cool to have that character say the exact same line as they wrong the villain back. Even if people existed that could remember such things with such great ease, they aren’t usually in a position to get wronged by villains very often.
  17. If you throw in a lot of science jargon, you must remember: some in the audience (I humbly point to myself as an example) actually know a bit about science, and will realize that the “science” in your movie is a load of crap. From my own experience, I can tell you that this will dramatically lower their opinion of the film (I’m talking especially to the makers of 28 Days Later: great plot and great characters, but there is no infectious agent that starts causing symptoms after thirty seconds of exposure).
  18. Most explosions are more dirt than fire. Those rare ones that are as fiery as the movie blasts generally don’t allow people to walk away after being caught in them (which invariably happens in movies).
  19. Getting shot in the head is not always fatal. Just because you don’t know how to deal with a subject as deep as a mentally disabled character doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
  20. The time of superhero movies has gone. Please try to live with this.
  21. The villain who is “pure evil” was a cliché even back in the fifties, when it became popular.
  22. It is possible for Artificial Intelligences to experience emotions. Their brains are designed after ours, and the goal of most AI research is to make them as human as possible. H.A.L. (2001) was as good as I’ve seen thus far.
  23. Since I mentioned HAL: it is not, I repeat with great vehemence NOT necessary for every single acronym in your movie to spell something. Look at DARPA, AWACS, and HTML.
  24. And while I’m still going on about robots: if you’re going to have human-level intelligence robots, then why not make one of them a character (and I’m not talking in the butler-like, vaguely amusing manner of C-3PO here)? To my knowledge, that’s still a fairly fresh idea. After all, an entity with human intelligence would probably damn sure want to be treated like a human being.
  25. When something gets cut, it falls apart immediately. Whoever imported the concept of the “ooh-cool-delayed-slash-effect” thing from Japanese anime was a fool, and should stop doing that. (and by the way, if I were going to rant about anime, I think I’d need to split it into two posts; talk about cliché (well, most of it that I’ve seen)).
  26. A plot twist doesn’t work it it is any of these things: stupid/unbelievable/unrealistic/crappy/pithy/saccharine/clichéd/impossible/done for the sake of doing it.
  27. Some plot elements do not need to be explained; I’m talking especially to the directors of the Saw series here: the one thing that made John really creepy is that he didn’t move until the end of the first movie. You didn’t actually need to tell us how he did it.
  28. If you make a sequel just for the hell of it, we will know. Some movies are standalones. (I’m talking to the Saw guys again).
  29. Human bodies generally only contain about six liters of blood. Use a damned measuring cup next time!
  30. In reference to the above: most people die after losing the first four or so of those liters.
  31. Gratuitous gore was only the “edgy” thing to do the first couple of times it was done. Now it just looks stupid and unnecessary.
  33. Gasoline tankers only rarely explode.
  34. Gasoline pumps only rarely explode.
  35. Cars almost never explode. If your screenplay contains an exploding car, tear it up and flush it down the toilet.
  36. Unless they have some sort of congenital insensitivity to pain, very few people could actually make their own tourniquet and tie it up after losing their leg.
  37. Limbs do not slice off nearly as neatly as you seem to think.
  38. I don’t know what kind of fire you’re experienced with, but very few fires spread as fast as you seem to think.

All right, I seem to have reached the legal maximum number of rants in one post. To any film directors who read this: think about these things, they might do you good. And if you want an example of a really good, emotional, goosebump-making movie, look at Children of Men. Or go to Mexico. Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro know what they’re doing.