Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Good, the Bad, and the Pretty Danged reference to the Little Guy

Here’s another paean to Robert Heinlein, this time in the WSJ

Science fiction at one time was despised as vulgar and "populist" by university English departments. Today, it is just another cultural artifact to be deconstructed, along with cartoons and People magazine articles. Yet one could argue that science fiction has had a greater impact on the way we all live than any other literary genre of the 20th century.

When one looks at the great technological revolutions that have shaped our lives over the past 50 years, more often than not one finds that the men and women behind them were avid consumers of what used to be considered no more than adolescent trash. As Arthur C. Clarke put it: "Almost every good scientist I know has read science fiction." And the greatest writer who produced them was Robert Anson Heinlein, born in Butler, Mo., 100 years ago this month.

The list of technologies, concepts and events that he anticipated in his fiction is long and varied. In his 1951 juvenile novel, "Between Planets," he described cellphones. In 1940, even before the Manhattan Project had begun, he chronicled, in the short story "Blowups Happen," the destruction of a graphite-regulated nuclear reactor similar to the one at Chernobyl. And in his 1961 masterpiece, "Stranger in a Strange Land," Heinlein--decades before Ronald and Nancy Reagan moved to the White House--introduced the idea that a president's wife might try to guide his actions based on the advice of her astrologer. One of Heinlein's best known "inventions" is the water bed, though he never took out a patent.

I learned something new from reading this— as is the case with nearly all the reading I do —and now have a new favorite quote (Heinlein, of course):

"Some people disparage the female form divine, sex is too good for them; they should have been oysters."

Ah. Good, innit?

A Bad Idea… US Senators call for universal Internet filtering.” I’m aligned with these guys (a case of strange bedfellows, if there ever was one), rather than the geriatric yet illustrious Senators Inouye and (most specifically) Ted Stevens, he of inter-tubes fame. The whole thing about Stevens was beat to death last year, but just in case you’ve forgotten…here’s a partial quote:

Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet? I just the other day got... an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday, I got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially.

[...] They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.

In a monumental first for EIP, I’m gonna quote Jon Stewart (from the wiki article on Stevens):

Stewart compared him to "a crazy old man in an airport bar at 3:00 am", then going on to answer his question, "Why?" with, "Maybe it's because you don't seem to know jack shit about computers or the Internet — but that's okay — you're just the guy in charge of regulating it."

(Stewart’s a funny guy, I don’t deny that. But his “usual targets” are people and things I hold dear and thus I don’t find him all that funny. Most of the time. But he’s spot-on, here.)

The good senators claim government regulation filtering blocking censorship is needed to “protect the children” from child pr0n and predators. Just how blocking and filtering technology is going to affect the process and mechanics of on-line child predation escapes me completely, but…whatever. In Stevens’ defense, he’s asking the FTC to “form a working group to identify blocking and filtering technologies in use and identify, what, if anything could be done to improve the process and better enable parents to proactively protect their children online…” At this point, that is. Gub’mint being gub’mint, there will be studies, proposals, laws and finally funding for the FTC, the FCC, yadda, yadda, yadda. And it’s hard to argue against the effort, because it’s “for the children.” I’ve seen this movie before.

But the basic answer to Inouye and Stevens’ proposals is “No!” PARENTS are the responsible parties, not the government, thank you very much. Slippery slope, First Amendment, and all that minor stuff.

Captain Ed is on the same page as I.

Today’s Pic: For the Children! This is perhaps my absolute favorite pic of SN3 and I. I may have posted this before, but whatever…everyone goes into re-runs occasionally.

Key West, FL. March, 1998. And my our (? - TSMP took the pic) 52nd digital photo…ever.


  1. Big stink here about there being no internet filters at the public library. A local news station did a story about how people viewing porn on the computers there was visible to anyone visiting the library, including children. The county executive was horrified and threatened to pull funding for the library unless they instituted a filtering policy. In line with the usual politics I suppose the current proposed ban is only going to regulate what kind of internet content is available in private homes while completely ignoring the fact that many public venues which also receive federal funding are still going to offer internet content unfiltered.

  2. Stewart is long overdue for a huge knockdown. I agree with him sometimes and disagree with him other times, and when he picks out these usual targets that have earned my sympathies I'm usually of the opinion that the target still has it a-comin' and should have been better prepared. I'm talking about a certain individual there and you can probably figure out who.

    But Stewart is doing enormous damage. HUGE damage. Even when I agree with what he has to say. Why? Because the guy very seldom actually says anything. If you can glean some serious political commentary out of his schtick and simply repeat it back, and Stewart himself catches wind of it, he will tell you you're being silly for taking his comedy show so seriously, it's just entertainment, you can't pin anything on him, lighten up. So he won't stand behind it. But meanwhile, if there are no serious consequences to be had from saying it, it's just a moon patty that continues to float on down the river, it stands just like any other serious political commentary.

    I don't mind that people infer these opinions really are those of John Stewart, and of the producers of his show. I couldn't possibly care less about that. But millions among his faithful are left to assume the comments have weight, and bear some resemblance to the truth. Or at least, greater resemblance to the truth than Stewart himself, in his serious-man-mode, would endorse them to have.

    I have this dream that the next big chapter in American intellectual history is going to be a golden age, a re-awakening of the notion that "Goddamn it, either you've got the balls to stand behind something or you don't, and if you don't then I don't want to hear a syllable out of you." If that really is the next episode, Stewart is bound to be the sacrificial lamb whose demise will usher it in. And I won't shed a single tear.

  3. But the basic answer to Inouye and Stevens’ proposals is “No!” PARENTS are the responsible parties, not the government, thank you very much.

    And I couldn't agree more. I think too many parents have abdicated their responsibilities toward their children to the government.

    Yeah, you've posted that pic before, but it's great to see it again. SN3 is too cute!

  4. Laurie: I support using filtering technology in libraries, schools, and other places where children have unfettered access to the 'net. Businesses, too, if that's what they wanna do, and most DO. But the whole frickin' 'net? NO! On top of's not very danged feasible, to begin with. Unless our Good Senators want to be like the Chinese and employ thousands of censors to monitor our surfing habits...

    Morgan: Agreed on Mr. Stewart, re: damage. I was shocked a couple of years back when I read that infamous "study" (poll?) that said The Daily Show was the sole source of news for xx (IIRC: the high 70s?)% of younger folks. I found that to be particularly scary.

    Good luck with your dream... ;-)

  5. "But the whole frickin' 'net? NO!"

    Agreed. I guess my point was.... they can't even institute filtering in public places, but they are going to try to restrict it entirely? Good luck with that.

  6. I don't normally watch Stewart, but he reminds me of Oprah - if things turn out well, then they take the credit, but if things go to hell in a handbasket, it was only a TV show. I liked Morgan's thoughts on standing behind what you say or shutting up.

    Even with my latests problems with public computer, I have to agree with you Buck. Places where children have access to computers need to be flitered, but not in the home - that is the parents responsibility.

    I love that picture of you and SN3.

  7. Oh, the Daily Show where Stewart ripped Stevens apart was a good one...I laughed the hardest I'd laughed at that show in a long time when they played Stevens quote about the series of tubes, then Stewart says, "An artist's conception looked something like this." Then they showed a screenshot of the old Win95 pipes screensaver.

    Speaking of internet stupidity, there's a classic news story that I'm putting up at my place either tonight or tomorrow that's beyond parody...vans blowing up and anonymous hackers "terrorizing the internet for lulz."

    You can't make this stuff up.


Just be polite... that's all I ask.