Our Comic Book World

No, see, this isn’t right. In the movie, the main characters such as Roger Rabbit were animated fictions, and the rest of the world was real. Now it’s the other way around. (Photo by jbhthescots/Flickr)

A generation ago, a film titled Who Framed Roger Rabbit attracted a lot of attention for portraying cartoon characters playing out their roles in the real world. Now, something more sinister has happened; more and more of us are feeling like human beings living out our lives trapped in a cartoon. Reality seems to have been drained from the world around us, leaving us the only creatures left who are three-dimensional, and bleed.

Everywhere we look, imaginary animation is replacing reality. On our screens, people demonstrate their prevailing mood by leaping and dancing and shrieking with laughter and grinning idiotically — and this is because they got new dishes. Why do you and I never feel or act like that? Because we are real, not the product of sophomoric animators. Continue reading

“To Boldly Go Where Liver Never Went Before.” A Fable

Liver cells have aspirations too, you know.

Once upon a time, two liver cells suddenly became self-aware. They soon found they had a lot in common — boredom with their dead-end jobs (making bile and filtering blood), contempt for liver cells from the other lobe, and a burning desire to better themselves. Their ardent conversations about how they saw the world, now that they were self-aware, awoke nearby cells, and soon they were a colony.

With breathtaking speed, they developed a culture. They posited evolution as a way of explaining how nature, over millennia of selecting the fittest, came up with, well, them — and then stopped selecting, its job complete. They invented a religion to explain why God, having all the options that He had, decided to establish communications with, well, them. And they never missed an opportunity to praise God for His good judgement. Continue reading

Technology Oncology Now At Stage Four

Like all the new updates offered constantly for all the machinery of life, it seemed at first like such a good idea: using the technology of “smart” phones to provide an instant, universal warning of impending nuclear attack. What a great idea! A lifesaver, as long as you make several unwarranted assumptions about the size and target of the nuclear strike, and ignore all the questions that arise, such as what do people actually do when they’re been warned, and if you save their lives just so they can crawl out of a shelter onto a radioactive rubble heap, what have you accomplished? Never mind. Great idea. Continue reading

Here Be Dragons: Succumbing to Magical Thinking

A dragon used to be the worst thing we could imagine. It often still is.

Medieval maps of the world showed what was where to the limits of what was known, and having a good deal of space left on the page filled it in with drawings of great beasts. “Here be dragons,” some of them said, implying that if you went there you would be eaten. From the dragons at the edge of the world to the monsters under the bed, magical thinking has always had a strong grip on humans desperate to understand what is happening in the world and predict what will happen next.

Spoiler alert: magical thinking doesn’t help. Continue reading

Driverless in Manhattan: A Comedy

Drat. It seemed I had been proven wrong yet again. Just two months after having written that “The Self-Driving Car is Only an Oxymoron” and would never be a reality, I was confronted last week by headlines screaming a variant of : “Self-Driving Cars Will Roam New York City Streets Next Year.” The headlines were everywhere, from the New York Times to NPR, and the import was clear — driverless (or autonomous, or self-driving) cars are here, and ready to go on the streets of New York. (And if they can make it there….)

So I was on my way back to my hut in the Slough of Despond, there to lick my wounds a while, when I said to myself, “Wait a minute, perhaps we should read a bit beyond the headline and the first paragraph.” And what I found there made me smile again, briefly. Continue reading

Irma Coverage: Slinging in the Rain

Breaking news: it’s raining here, too. (Wikimedia photo)

The history of humanity is a succession of stories of triumphs over disaster. That’s why they call us homo sapiens sapiens, which translates as “really, really smart dudes.” (Oh, wait. That’s not what they call us, it’s what we call ourselves. Still.) This past weekend, yet another triumph over yet another disaster. And I’m not talking about the resilience of the people of Florida, or the bravery of first responders or the fiendish cleverness of global-warming hoaxers; I’m talking about modern TV journalism as applied to disasters.

For days now, the best available satellite technology, fiber-optic communications, digital electronics and state of the art rain hoods have been deployed to provide us, the viewers, with unparalleled views of people who are too dumb to come in out of the rain. There are, apparently, hundreds of these people working in television. They are marvelously diverse, they come in all colors, genders, races and religions — although there are probably no conservatives, because they don’t believe in hurricanes. Continue reading

A Gift from the Great Predator

The Great Predator makes a selection. Does he also bring a gift? (Photo by featherlightphoto.com)

I have not lately spent as much time afield in search of nature’s lessons as I once did. Nature has responded by striding up to my recliner and dumping lessons in my lap. She’s like that: maddeningly impervious to urgent investigation, then suddenly extroverted when your attention wanders.

The other day I was observing the one ritual that remains inviolable in our household — happy hour — from my perch on the second-floor deck that overlooks the east pasture. It has been a remarkable summer here, with no heat waves (half the days in August we did not even turn on the air conditioner), and rains frequent enough that the grass is lush and the roads are not dusty. This long spell of perfect weather, I have decided, has been given to me by the universe so that I can think and write more objectively about global warming. Continue reading

The Global War on Tourism Intensifies

This is the enemy army, just disembarked from its troopship in the background. We must stop them on the beach. (Wikimedia Commons photo.)

“Tourism kills what tourism touches,” Buckminster Fuller is supposed to have said. He said it a long time before Airbnb, Uber, cheap cattle-class airfares and $100 cruises, the advent of which has made what he said even more valid. Now, across the world, a backlash is rising against militant tourism and the suffering it inflicts on the innocent. Some disgusted locals in Barcelona inscribed on a wall this summer, “Why call it tourist season if we can’t shoot them?” Other Catalans vented by temporarily hijacking tour busses and slashing their tires.

Similar outbursts have occurred across Europe this summer as besieged residents of quaint destinations reacted to the overcrowding, pollution, inflated prices and hideous clothing of foreigners wandering around their streets at leisure. In addition to Barcelona, Mallorca, San Sebastián, Dubrovnik and Venice saw anti-tourist demonstrations this summer. Continue reading

Digital Advertising: The Rise and Fall of Crappy Crap

Loud, obtrusive, surgically targeted, and, apparently, utterly worthless: digital ads.

A funny thing happened at Procter and Gamble in the last quarter of 2016. P&G manufactures hundreds and hundreds of consumer products, and with annual revenues of over $65 billion a year is one of the largest advertisers in the world — it spends something like $8 billion a year — and in the final quarter of last year it made a significant change. It cut $140 million from its budget for digital advertising, just in that quarter. That amounts to a reduction of $1.5 million per day. And nothing happened.

Let’s be clear about what digital advertising is. It’s the ad that pops into view in the middle of your Facebook page, or your Google search, or that suddenly obscures an article you’re reading until you can figure out how to get rid of it. Or, and this is my personal favorite, it’s the video that starts playing loudly despite the fact that you have your computer sound muted; and after you mute your sound again, the ad simply unmutes it and carries on. It’s the ad for a new refrigerator that appears on just about every page you look at, right after you send an email to a friend about looking for refrigerators. Continue reading

The “Self-Driving Car” is Only an Oxymoron

Note that this “driverless car,” like all “driverless cars” now on the road, has a driver. Not that there’s anything wrong with that….(Wikimedia Photo)

Over at Tesla, Google, and Uber — and now the contagion has reached Ford, General Motors, Chrysler and beyond — the smartest guys in the room are talking autonomous vehicles. Over at every hedge fund, venture-capital and wealth-management shop in the universe, the smartest guys in the room are throwing money at the concept. Why? Because it’s the Next Big Thing, that’s why. Billions of dollars are in play.

Which is why we are seeing an avalanche of faux-news stories about the coming era of driverless cars, how they’re on the streets now, how well they are doing in testing, how soon there will be nothing but driverless cars on all our roads. And all this chum in the financial water has served its purposes: the hedge fund sharks, and the Masters of the Universe they serve, are in a feeding frenzy; and the gullible public is giddy with anticipation.

Meanwhile people with a lick of common sense are saying, wait a minute, doesn’t this sound oxymoronic, like clean coal, or safe sex? In today’s world, people with licks of common sense do not get funding to answer their questions, and therefor the skeptical questions you might have about “driverless cars” are almost unanswerable. Until right now, right here: Continue reading