Thursday, February 28, 2008

Implied Spaces

Implied Spaces should be in print any minute now.


If You're Air Force, You Can't Read This!

The U.S. Air Force's new Cyber Command has blocked servicemen from viewing this blog.
Though I can sympathize with the brass in their quest to prevent their people from viewing my morale-sapping essays, they didn't stop with just this blog. No sir. They've blocked any blog that has "blog" in its URL, which would mean any blog on Blogger or Blogspot or the Cute Puppies Blog or Continuing Education Blog or even the We Think The Air Force is Cool Blog.
Anything on LiveJournal is still getting through, I guess. Including the Subversive Commie al-Qaeda Death to the Great Satan Journal, provided it doesn't have the dreaded word "blog" anywhere in its URL.
The very word "blog" has now become subversive! Just spray-paint the word on enough signs and bridges and walls, and the government is bound to come crashing down!
In the past, the military has selectively banned sites like Facebook and YouTube, mainly for sucking up bandwidth, this is the first time they've employed such a huge filter.
"Often, we block first and then review exceptions," said Tech. Sgt. Christopher DeWitt, a Cyber Command spokesman.

As a result, airmen posting online have cited instances of seemingly innocuous sites -- such as educational databases and some work-related sites -- getting wrapped up in broad proxy filters.
This is so stupid, it makes me want to--- well, it makes me want to ridicule those fools without mercy!
Air Force so dumb, it brought a spoon to the Super Bowl! Air Force so stupid, it tripped over a wireless telephone! Air Force so dumb, when it saw a sign that said Disneyland Left, it turned around and went home! Air Force so stupid, it sat on the television and watched the couch! Air Force so dumb, it thought Meow Mix was a dance album for cats!
There. I feel a little better now.
On the plus side, Cyber Command now has a cool recruitment video. Note the airman turning the security alert status from red to green with the push of a button!
Damn, we've gotta give these guys more billions!

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Battle Company

Did anyone see Elizabeth Rubin's wonderful, heartbreaking article in this week's New York Times Magazine?

It deals with the Airborne fighting in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, trying to do a job that has already defeated the Marines and the 10th Mountain Division.

It's got every element of military tragedy you can imagine. A poorly conceived mission. A company trying to do a brigade's work. The US military being sucked into a local feud. An enemy that hides behind the civilian population. Officers in distant bunkers who have the power to veto air support called in by troops on the ground and under fire. Heavily medicated soldiers kept from total breakdown by an onslaught of pills.

An intractible enemy that hasn't lost a war in 2300 years.

Noble soldiers suffer. Noble soldiers die.

Christ, it's sad.

Eagle vs. Crane

No, this isn't a post about competing kung-fu styles.

This is about the natural world.

On Sunday morning we awoke to the sound of cranes passing overhead. Thousands of them.

It was the day they'd all picked to migrate north.

When we got outside to begin our yearly task of burning last summer's dried-out weeds, we saw sandhill cranes from horizon to horizon, one huge V after another, each V composed of many smaller Vs.

The sound was huge.

When one of the formations hit an updraft, the formations would split and they would all begin to spiral upward, coasting on the rising air. There seemed to be one of these right over our house, so there was always this huge funnel of cranes more or less directly overhead.

Many dry weeds were given another few days of existence because we kept stopping our work to stare.

At one point I noticed, in the fields to the north, a couple low-flying large birds that were not cranes. I assumed they were vultures, and then I saw the sun gleaming off white tail feathers, and recognized a bald eagle. (I never did work out what the other big bird was. Possibly another eagle, it never got close enough for me to be certain.)

It's not possible to mistake a bald eagle for anything else. Their white head and tail just blaze in the sun. It's impossible not to be thrilled by the sight.

A large percentage of cranes that die during their migration are taken by eagles or large hawks, so from this point on I watched with great interest.

The eagle flapped closer and joined the upward-spiraling group of cranes, obviously with the intent of being mistaken for a crane just long enough to grab one. This went on for some time, with no sign of alarm among the cranes, but the eagle never seemed to get close enough to strike.

Eventually the eagle gave up on that group of cranes, and moved on another group just coming up from the south. The eagle flew with surprising speed--- maybe it was also diving, I couldn't tell.

The cranes saw it coming and their formation dissolved into a scrambling cloud as they fled across the Rio to the east. Eventually they all grew to small for me to distinguish one type of bird from another.

Whether the eagle got its dinner, I cannot say. But it was certainly a feast for the eyes.

I haven't seen or heard any cranes since, so apparently they all moved on the same day. Since this was a day after a storm dropped a couple feet of snow on the Rockies, I imagine they're having a chill time wherever they are.

It always seems to me that they fly too early. But then I'm not a crane.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cloacal Obsession

My current audio book is The Religion by Tim Willocks, a big sprawling action/romance set in and around the siege of Malta in 1565. If you haven't read it, you might think of it as a sort of overlarge Bernard Cornwell book with a better vocabulary and a wider fictional range. There's a lot of larger-than-life handsome, big-shouldered swordsmen, beautiful, courageous ladies in gorgeous gowns, scheming Inquisitors, thick slabs of historical detail, epic battle scenes, and a rather astounding amount of piss and shit.

This book has a really high body count, and no one dies without voiding his bowels and/or bladder. I would have thought this a result of some kind of weird cloacal obsession on the part of the author, but I've read a lot of action fiction over the last few years that make a point of including this sort of detail, so it seems to be a feature of the genre.

And if it's not bowels voiding, it's bellies, with details descriptions of innards being pierced, spilled, toasted, fed to pigs, or whatever. A subspecies of action fiction that dotes on these sorts of descriptions has been called "war porn."

Which I avoid, by the way.

There seems to be some kind of movement toward Xtreme Action Fiction, providing the same sort of gruesome detail that you get in the more graphic video games. Or worse.

I suspect it's the sort of grim, realistic detail that authors who have never been in war themselves provide in order to show that they know their stuff.

May I just offer the suggestion that it's time to stop with all the p. & s.? I asked Sage Walker, who in civilian life is an emergency-room MD, whether bowels and bladders void on receipt of traumatic injury, and she said not. (It might be different if you're hanged, she said. She never worked on anyone who had been hanged.)

So now, if you're reading one of these novels in which your chevalier is wading ankle deep in the doo-doo in order to smite his enemies, you can just sneer and mutter, "This guy doesn't know what he's talking about."

So there.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Leningrad Cowboys

Red Army Chorus + rock band Leningrad Cowboys + folk dancers in costume + big Tom Jones hit = OMFG!!!

The Red Army Chorus has come a far distance since they mainly sang stuff like "Katyusha." (A song so great they named a rocket launcher after it.)

(courtesy of Greg Frost)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Best Crit Ever

Last night we had our monthly meeting of Critical Mass, our local workshop. Usually our critiques tend to be a bit rambling and tentative, or at least mine do, but last night's most incisive crit came from new writer (and my former Clarion student) Ian Tregillis.

I reconstruct it as best as I can:

"If I'm feeling oppressed and need to unburden myself, and my choice of audience is between a woman who loves me and the man who tortured me by running electric current through my balls, then I'll pick the woman. Even though I don't love her and she might misunderstand and cause a problem I'll have to deal with later, I'll pick the woman, because at least she's not running an electric current through my balls!"

That summed things up rather well, I thought.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ancient History

Socrates, Caesar, Milton, Washington. Hitler.

The cold war.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cyber Command Strikes Again

Now we know more about it. 5-10,000 people. $2 billion budget. California, Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, and New Mexico are competing for the headquarters.

(If New Mexico can't have it, I'm rooting for Louisiana. But New Mexico really needs to have it. We haven't won a big military budget battle since the F-117s moved into Alamogordo.)

The US military logged 79,000 attempted intrusions into military computers in 2005.
1700 were successful. More recently, a People Liberation Army cyberwar outfit successfully hacked into a Defense Department computer in the office of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The Chinese have also got into the computers of no less than 10 British ministries, and have also done some damage in Germany.
Supposedly China has something like 40,000 active hackers working under their umbrella.

Of the cyberwar specialists being trained by Cyber Command at Hurlbut and Lackland, I wonder how many speak or read Chinese? Or Russian? Or Arabic?

Looks like we've got a long way to go.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Science Fiction Timeline

From Technovelgy, we have this spiffy Science Fiction Timeline, which charts the first mention of SF ideas.

Here's the list to 1869, just to get you started.

1638 Weightlessness (Godwin) - first discovery of concept (from The Man in the Moone by Francis Godwin)
1726 Geometric Modeling - eighteenth century NURBS (from Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift)
1726 Knowledge Engine - machine-made expertise (from Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift)
1726 Bio-Energy - produce electricity from organic material (from Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift)
1867 Launching Facility - in Florida (from From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne)
1867 Water-Springs (from From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne)
1867 Light Pressure Propulsion - first use of this idea (from From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne)
'1867 Communicate with Extraterrestrials - first use of concept (from From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne)
1867 Retro-Rockets - Verne invented them! (from From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne)
1867 Weightlessness - true science fiction discovery (from From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne)
1867 Projectile-Vehicle - Verne's spacecraft (from From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne)
1867 Free Return Trajectory - first mention (from From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne)
1867 Spashdown - the original idea (from From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne)
1867 Columbiad - 900 foot cannon (from From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne)
1869 Flywheel Launcher (from The Brick Moon by Edward Everett Hale)

Sunday, February 03, 2008


So now we've got the second season of Torchwood running on BBCA. Tonight's episode was a very good one, I think possibly because the story was a very human one, about the private agony of someone who wasn't one of the series characters.

The series characters are, basically, the problem with the show. When the focus is somewhere else, the series can be pretty good.

I've been enjoying the revival of Dr. Who, which is scoring a lot more hits than misses, even in the third season, when screenwriters usually start getting desperate. (Though I have to say that the episode featuring Daleks in the Empire State Building was pretty dire.) (I should also caveat, as General Haig used to say, that I've never watched Dr. Who before the current revival.) So when Torchwood started, starring a charismatic character spun off from Dr. Who, I was pretty interested.

The baleful revues from the UK got here before the series did, so you can't say I wasn't forewarned.

I knew, for example, that the executive producer was openly gay, and that the show featured an openly gay star playing a bisexual action hero. (At last, I thought, maybe I'll find out about this "Liberal Gay Agenda" I've been hearing so much about!)

I was amused, during the opening episode, when Captain Jack's subordinates openly speculated about their leader's sexuality. (Overuse of the eyebrow pencil should have been your first clue, guys.)

But problems developed. Which didn't have to do so much with sexuality, but with sexuality as a part of character. The characters didn't make any sense to me.

Most of the characters' s sexuality was pretty protean--- they would boink men, women, or aliens depending on what the plot required. And that's the problem--- their characters shift with the demands of the plot, instead of the plot coming out of the demands of the characters.

And, with the exception of Gwen and Cap'n Jack, the characters just aren't very attractive or sympathetic or interesting, and for me to care they need to be at least one of the above.

Not only that, they're not very bright. I mean, here they are in this super-secret alien-fighting organization that stands above the law and above the government, and I seem to recollect that every single subordinate found some reason to bring an alien menace through the elaborate security straight to headquarters. In one case they did this literally over Captain Jack's dead body.

And they did this utterly without consequences. You'd think they'd at least get fired.

I mean, let's imagine a CIA agent bringing a Chinese spy into the code room at Langley and inviting the fellow to have a look around. "Or we could have sex on the deciphering computer, after you've finished photographing the code book."

Don't you think the DCI might have something to say about it afterwards? Fire the fellow? Try him? Shoot him?

Not in Torchwood. Cap'n Jack is a forgiving sort of guy.

And what's with the two-parter finale of the first season? When they were fighting Belial, or Beelzebub, or Behemoth, or whatever quasi-Biblical entity that got conjured up? When did this become The Omen: the Series?

The strange thing is, Russell T. Davies is creating a lot more interesting characters over at Dr. Who, and doing it consistently.

I'm still finding Torchwood watchable, but I hope the series finds a consistent voice before Beelzebub comes back.

Not Caring XLII

Today marks the forty-second continuous year in which I have not given a damn about the Super Bowl.

I've never watched one. I've never been to a Super Bowl party. I've never even been invited to a Super Bowl party.

At a gathering of Wild Card authors last night, I talked for two and a half hours with a group of my cool, talented friends and the words "Super Bowl" never came up.

Kathy and I used to go to the ballet on Super Bowl Sunday, as a kind of protest against the month of nonending hype. In the audience there were me and about 800 women.

Let's just say I didn't hate it.

Is the Super Bowl a part of your life, or not? And if either is the case, why?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Food Fight

Atom Films has produced a history of war from 1939 to the present.

All the actors are, well, edible.

Check it out.