Sunday, April 10, 2016

Panama Papers Thought of the Day

Today's (retrospectively obvious) thought regarding The Panama Papers:

Rich people are overwhelmingly against a world government[1] because an effective world government would wipe out tax havens.




[1] As opposed to the weird hybrid thing we have now with the WTO, WIPO, and so on.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Ranting Nerd Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Warning: this review will spoil huge chunks of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.


I really liked Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I thought Rey kicked ass, Finn was awesome, and Kylo Ren was whiny. It was great to see the old characters. I even saw it in the theater twice. (I don't remember the last movie I did that for.)


That being said....


I could rant about lots of things about Star Wars: The Force Awakens (like how the Millennium Falcon was just sitting there on Jakku, door open, not locked, and apparently fully fueled), but the almost all of my quibbles, snark, and annoyance comes down to one thing: JJ Abrams does not understand how big space is.


Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space.

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

(This is actually the same problem I had with Abrams' Star Trek reboot. The Federation ships could get from Earth to Vulcan in a few minutes, but when they left again after stranding Kirk on Vulcan's ice moon, they took a long time — long enough to leave the system that Scotty could transport them onto the Enterprise. [Let's ignore for now the total insanity of changing the rules of the fictional universe enough that they could transport across the system, or between star systems like in The Wrath of Khan Strikes BackInto Darkness.])


Let's do the rundown, shall we?


  • The Millennium Falcon just happens to end up on Jakku, where Rey is living. (I am favoring the theory that she was a Jedi youngling, sent there — under the watch of Max von Sydow — by Luke and/or Leia to protect her from Kylo Ren.) Maybe this is actually a plot point, but I doubt it.
  • Rey and Finn get off of Jakku in the Millennium Falcon, but do not go to hyperdrive. So they are in the same star system as Jakku. And Han Solo and Chewbacca are right there to pick it up. And then Han says something like "Jakku! I knew we should have looked further out on the rim". This is idiotic. And so easy to fix! Just have Han say "I am so glad I rigged the flight beacon so we could find the Falcon when it next went into space.". Again, maybe this is actually a plot point (maybe they were watching over Rey?), but I doubt it.
  • They travel to wherever Maz Kanata is ("Takodana", apparently), and they do it very quickly. In the original, it took at least hours (if not days) to travel from Tatooine to Alderaan. This is relatively minor.
  • Starkiller Base:
    • When they fire the Starkiller Base weapon against the Republic, the beams/whatever are visibly moving across the sky, visible from Takodana, as are the planets that they hit and destroy. This means that Takodana would have to be in the same starsystem as all those planets (because otherwise they wouldn't see the destruction for years). This doesn't really make a lot of sense. And even if those several planets were all within a single star system, the speed of light is still a thing. (Even if Earth had a sister planet in a similar orbit, light would take multiple minutes to get here.) I'm also pretty sure the beams move across the sky faster than the speed of light, too.
    • Starkiller Base clearly has to be movable from system to system, because it eats a sun every time it fires. Who the heck would want to do that for a full planet(oid), made mostly of rock? That was crazy enough for the Death Star, which at least was mostly empty space.
    • What sun was Starkiller Base eating for the first firing?
    • Starkiller Base has a huge trench around its equator, which is at least 10% of its radius deep. The planet(oid) appears to have reasonable gravity, so it's fairly large -- and 10% of its radius would mean (a) a huge amount of digging; and (b) that it would change the weather on the planet by sucking most of the air down into it. (By comparison, the Challenger Deep on Earth is 11km deep, which is 0.17% of the Earth's radius.)
    • When Starkiller Base is eating the star in the climactic battle, the star looks to be about as far as the Sun is from Earth, if not farther. The Earth is far enough from the Sun that light takes 8 minutes to get here. But when Starkiller Base starts pulling whatever-it-is they're pulling from the sun, it does it in seconds.
  • I don't know how long it takes the Millennium Falcon to get to wherever Luke is, but it sure seemed quick. That could have been easily addressed (just show some shots of them doing various things on ship, in different clothes). But maybe they travelled all the way around the Galaxy in ten minutes.

The thing that bugs me most about this is that it seems so easy to have fixed most of this.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Andrew O'Hehir on the NYPD and its Broader Implications

Andrew O'Hehir is becoming one of my favorite political commentators (he started out as a movie reviewer). This essay about the NYPD mini-"rebellion" is a great example of why. It includes one of the best distillations of American Exceptionalism that I've yet seen:

Rather, these worldviews rest on the idea that America is not defined by its democratic institutions, but by a mystical or spiritual essence that cannot be precisely described — but is understood far better by some of its citizens than by others. If those attuned to this patriotic frequency overwhelmingly tend to be white males, that is not evidence of racism (they might say) but of the clarity and selflessness of their political vision.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Politician Who Isn't Bragging? Is That Even Allowed?

Via Charlie Pierce, I found the story of Seth Moulton, running for the Massachusetts 6th District seat in the US House of Representatives. Apparently, instead of exaggerating his record, he declined to mention his Bronze Star and other decorations. (Here's another story.)

Is that even allowed?

UPDATE: It does occur to me that the last major politician I know of who did this sort of thing was George McGovern, who flew 35 missions over Nazi-occupied Europe and won the Distinguished Flying Cross. Make of that what you will.

Friday, October 03, 2014

The Worst Muse

The Twitter feed of the Worst Muse.

UPDATE: if you liked that, you may also like Guy In Your MFA.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Peter Watts on the "Scorched Earth Society"

Via Boingboing, we have Peter Watts' talk to the Symposium of the International Association of Privacy Professionals: The Scorched Earth Society: A Suicide Bomber's Guide to Online Privacy (PDF). The title is deliberately over-the-top. It's a great essay, covering many topics, among them why "privacy" matters far less than "surveillance".