October 27, 2010

Why can’t Chuck get his business off the ground?

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Government, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 13:13

The surplus of “steampunk” in SF

Filed under: Books, History, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:31

I have to admit that “steampunk” never really made it onto my regular reading list. I rather like some of the artwork and created artifacts, but the actual stories don’t grab me. Charles Stross isn’t a fan, either:

I am becoming annoyed by the current glut of Steampunk that is being foisted on the SF-reading public via the likes of Tor.com and io9.

It’s not that I actively dislike steampunk, and indeed I have fond memories of the likes of K. W. Jeter’s “Infernal Devices”, Tim Powers’ “The Anubis Gates”, the works of James Blaylock, and other features of the 1980s steampunk scene. I don’t have that much to say against the aesthetic and costumery other than, gosh, that must be rather hot and hard to perambulate in. (I will confess to being a big fan of Phil and Kaja Foglio’s Girl Genius.) It’s just that there’s too damn much of it about right now, and furthermore, it’s in danger of vanishing up its own arse due to second artist effect. (The first artist sees a landscape and paints what they see; the second artist sees the first artist’s work and paints that, instead of a real landscape.)

We’ve been at this point before with other sub-genres, with cyberpunk and, more recently, paranormal romance fang fuckers bodice rippers with vamp- Sparkly Vampyres in Lurve: it’s poised on the edge of over-exposure. Maybe it’s on its way to becoming a new sub-genre, or even a new shelf category in the bookstores. But in the meantime, it’s over-blown. The category is filling up with trashy, derivative junk and also with good authors who damn well ought to know better than to jump on a bandwagon. (Take it from one whose first novel got the ‘S’-word pinned on it — singularity — back when that was hot: if you’re lucky, your career will last long enough that you live to regret it.) Harumph, young folks today, get off my lawn ….

The new broom in Toronto

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:25

After a particularly hard-fought election campaign, Chris Selley looks at the opening moves Toronto mayor Rob Ford will be making:

It’s kind of funny to see people who’ve spent the past 10 months trashing Rob Ford now insist he needs to extend olive branches to the progressive community. If I were Rob Ford, and I had an olive branch, I might be tempted to extend it rather violently towards my harshest critics. (Then, in accordance with my new and improved image, I’d take two deep breaths and calm down.)

Clearly Mr. Ford is sticking with his gravy train priorities off the top: departmental efficiencies, contracting out services, cutting councillor budgets and staff. At a media scrum on Tuesday afternoon, his message hadn’t changed, that I could discern, from what it was during the campaign. Basically: Trust me. The money’s there to be saved, and it won’t hurt a bit.

Still, Mayor Ford will have a city to keep happy. And while they received very little notice during the campaign, his platform included several populist, pro-democratic and dirt-cheap measures I’d defy anyone to oppose and that could earn him some grudging praise from disaffected Pantaloons and Smithermanians.

The large turnout and the not-quite-majority of votes cast for Ford should at least quiet the claims that he “doesn’t have a mandate” for a little while. If he can actually deliver on some of his campaign promises to reduce spending and eliminate some of the least useful municipal programs/initiatives, he’ll be a vast improvement over the last mayor. Even if he doesn’t — he only has a single vote on council, so it’s not automatic that he’ll be able to implement his agenda — it should be an interesting term in office.

Kathy Shaidle shows why Rob Ford had “hidden” strength in the campaign that the media couldn’t account for:

What is Rob Ford most famous for?

No, not that he looks exactly like everybody’s drunk, abusive stepfather. No, not the “gravy train” line.

Rob Ford is “the guy who returns every call.”

That was always Ford’s claim to fame: that even if you didn’t [live] in his ward, he returned your call. If you were wrapped up in red tape and called Rob Ford, an hour or maybe a day later, the tape got snipped. The Wheeltrans showed up at your elderly mother’s door. That stupid problem you’d been screaming at bureaucrats about got taken care of.

Everyone in Toronto knows a Rob Ford story like that.

Are you ready for the scariest day of the year?

Filed under: Media, Randomness — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:20

Yep, I’m talking about Halloween, but not because it’s scary for the kids, it’s because it’s too scary for the parents:

Halloween is the day when America market-tests parental paranoia. If a new fear flies on Halloween, it’s probably going to catch on the rest of the year, too.

Take “stranger danger,” the classic Halloween horror. Even when I was a kid, back in the “Bewitched” and “Brady Bunch” costume era, parents were already worried about neighbors poisoning candy. Sure, the folks down the street might smile and wave the rest of the year, but apparently they were just biding their time before stuffing us silly with strychnine-laced Smarties.

That was a wacky idea, but we bought it. We still buy it, even though Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, has researched the topic and spends every October telling the press that there has never been a single case of any child being killed by a stranger’s Halloween candy. (Oh, yes, he concedes, there was once a Texas boy poisoned by a Pixie Stix. But his dad did it for the insurance money. He was executed.)

Jeff Lewis – “Date”

Filed under: Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:18

The AK-47, the Soviet Union’s most successful export

Filed under: History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:56

Jon, my former virtual landlord, sent me a link to this article about the Avtomat Kalashnikov 47:

In his new book, The Gun: The AK-47 and the Evolution of War, out Oct. 12, New York Times reporter C.J. Chivers traces the origins of modern assault rifles — particularly Avtomat Kalashnikov 47, or the AK-47 — and analyzes how they’ve changed warfare. Popular Mechanics spoke to the author about how and why the AK-47 was developed and why it has had even more of an impact than nuclear weapons.

[. . .]

Q During the course of your research, did you get to meet or talk to Mikhail Kalashnikov?

A I met General Kalashnikov several times. He was a fascinating man and a very complicated figure — a master of navigating the Soviet system and its aftermath. He is often portrayed as a poor and simple peasant who, through sheer inventive genius, designed the world’s most successful automatic arm. But this is an almost absurd distillation, the carefully spun fable of Soviet propaganda mills. He’s actually something much richer: a small part of an enormous machine and a most useful and interesting lens with which to look at decades of often dreary and sometimes terrifying Soviet life. He’s also charming, beguiling, clever, funny and both intensely proud and publicly humble at the same time. The legends around him are insufficient at best and grossly inaccurate at worst. He’s quite a man and a challenging character to render.

Q Why is so much about the development of the AK-47 still shrouded in secrecy?

A After the weapon was fielded, the Soviet Union invested heavily in an official version of its creation. This was not long after the purges, when many prominent Soviet citizens and public figures had been liquidated. A new crop of heroes was being put forward by the Kremlin and the Communist Party. Mikhail Kalashnikov fit this movement perfectly — he was, by the official telling, the quintessential proletariat success story, a wounded vet with limited education and almost no training who conceived of this weapon and relentlessly conjured it into existence. The truth was more complicated. But this party-approved version was endlessly repeated in official channels, and one result of the propaganda was that many other participants in the weapon’s design were sidelined and kept silent. One important figure was even arrested, charged with anti-revolutionary activity and sentenced to hard labor. After the Soviet Union collapsed, some of these other men and their accounts began to circulate. But the archives have never fully been opened, and the myths have hardened into something that can feel like fact. We do know much more than we used to, but the full story, in crisp detail, remains elusive, and the Communist version still stands in many circles. Propaganda is a pernicious thing, and the Kalashnikov tale is an example of just how effective it can be.

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