Black History Month: Being a Black Man in SciFi

This month is Black History Month and there is no better way of looking at the past than to view visions of future. That, and we cannot figure out if Will Smith is still black…

HiSciFi: Black History Month Special LISTEN HERE

Wonder Woman Refuses To Die Gracefully, Picked Up By CW

Wonder Woman artist interpretation by Jeffach

I never had a thing for Wonder Woman and that can be easily understood. Even in the heyday of the Lynda Carter fame, which would be the peak popularity for the character, our Wonder Woman had little to offer. Despite this, attempts at resuscitation of the character for the TV or film version of the superheroine have been pursued relentlessly.

One of the problems is the fact that Wonder Woman is supposed to be a lot of things to a lot of people. To borrow a phrase from Parks and Recreation, she is supposed to be “as respected as Mother Theresa, as powerful as Joseph Stalin and as beautiful as Margaret Thatcher.” Comments aside on Thatcher’s beauty, Wonder Woman has been continuously plagued by various psychoses that many comic heroes suffered from: namely that their lame interpretations remained a steadfast in popular culture, while the comic book versions of the characters experienced vast changes.

The TV version of Wonder Woman has always been just terrible, but the recent 2011 pilot really took the cake. Adrianne Palicki in title role as the heroine that dresses in cheap vinyl chasing the “bad guys,” but is also a head of a successful empire that funds its operations by selling Wonder Woman dolls (yeah, you heard that right, merchandising!), only to go home to be single, sad, watching romantic movies and petting her cat…well, that is a marketing package worthy of Mattel and Mars Bar Quick Energy Chocobot Hour!

On this version of the “feminist icon,” engineered by David E. Kelley, you could probably build an entire academic career, peeling away at this melange of “savvy” marketing mixed in with a lot of bad choices and cliches.

Despite the failure to capture an audience with the pilot, David E. Kelley persisted in pitching the show, while admitting that it may have been “flawed.” In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Kelly says ” I still believe it’s viable for a television series. I think it’s ripe to do it. We made mistakes with ours. My only regret is we were never given a chance to correct them. We had a lot that was right about it and a great cast.

In time, we could have fixed what we had done wrong, we just didn’t get that chance. All my series have been a work in progress to a certain extent where you figure them out by episodes three, four or five.
We produced it at warp speed and it’s a special effects show and it took more time than we were able to give it. The genre was very different for me and I had a lot to learn; my learning curve probably would have gotten better. I’m sad we didn’t get to do it but I do believe it can work for the CW. They’re smart to try it.
I do believe in the potential of the series and I wish them well with it. I think it could be a great success.

Yes, you heard it right here. CW is picking up this disaster, but unlike the other networks, there might be something to this idea.

The CW successfully dragged the Superman origin stories through teen-land for a long enough time to not only grow a different type of Superman, but to garner a huge following among the target audience, as well as among the more discriminating comic book fans.

The Smallville success though, may not be applicable to Wonder Woman, as the character will need to be paired down, more nuanced, and revised to such an extent that it will scarcely resemble its origin. And that may be a good thing after all.

After all, who needs a magic lasso, a pair of “invincible” bracelets, a projectile tiara and an invisible plane, and what do those items have in common anyways?

Future 2080: Strawberries that make lace, spray-on runners

From strawberries that are both edible and spin their root yarn into fine lace, to spray-on shoes, the future, according to tech forecasters from the Textile Futures Research Centre looks mildly encouraging. Even futurologists and forecasters though are developing concepts and technologies hinging on premises of scarcity of resources, and severe climate change, so beware…

Cable Industry Tells Data Caps Have Naught To Do With Internets

Despite experts pointing to fallacy that data caps have anything to do with so-called “congestion curbing tools,” such as data caps, ISPs continued with the myths that data caps are there for our own good and that paying more for broadband is how god intended it to be.

Well, the cat is out of the closet now, as former FCC boss Michael Powell, who is now president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA,) in other words, a chief lobbyist for ISPs, admitted to the fact that data caps are more about enormous, shameless, outrageous profit-chasing because they are – wait for it – in the business of making money:

“Michael Powell told a Minority Media and Telecommunications Association audience that cable’s interest in usage-based pricing was not principally about network congestion, but instead about pricing fairness…Asked by MMTC president David Honig to weigh in on data caps, Powell said that while a lot of people had tried to label the cable industry’s interest in the issue as about congestion management. “That’s wrong,” he said. “Our principal purpose is how to fairly monetize a high fixed cost.” (via TechDirt)

This Gordon Gecko-inspired explanation is a simple and effective one, confirming what we all knew, and what technology experts long-ago stated – the broadband caps have naught to do with p2p traffic or limitations of technology. For one, AT&T’s exemption of its own video content from otherwise limited, capped access is a tell that ISPs are not only in the business of making money, but that they are also in pursuit of creating new “walled garden” approaches to media in order to monetize on content distribution. All this, however, has very little to do with congestion.

DNA Databases Contain Privacy Loopholes That Could Change Everything

Nature.com reported today that there is a loophole in privacy policies of DNA databases used for research. In other words, the databases, used for public and private research, though supposed to contain anonymous members, can in actuality be used to reveal identities of individual participants.

As a response to the findings, parts of the data associated with individuals has been removed, but many say that removal of information is only a tip of a much greater, legislative issue that will require addressing, and that may have long-term repercussions not only for research, but DNA databases and privacy in general. “I don’t think removing data from the public domain is any kind of answer,” says computational biologist Eric Schadt at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, “we should be up front with participants that we can’t protect their privacy completely, and we should ensure that the most appropriate legislation is in place to protect participants from being exploited in any way.”

Research at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have proven that one can deduce and confirm the identity of individuals, based on cross-referencing available DNA data and publicly available data, making the essential anonymity elusive for the participants.

Read more here.

Isaac Asimov’s “Visions Of The Future” Available, Free

“The line between science fiction and true science is often thin and sometimes difficult to define… [that boundary] is constantly moving as science redefines science fiction. The dreams of just a few years ago are today’s commonplace events.It is this boundary that was the lifelong fascination of Isaac Asimov. The mission of this series is to examine that boundary — that moving target.

Isaac Asimov launched this video project two years before his death. It synthesizes his visionary concepts with his scientific roots. This first volume contains the highlights of his last major interview, and serves as both a mission statement and a tribute to one of the greatest science and science fiction writers ever known.”

Watch it now, free:

The Problem With Argo


This year in cinematography produced some really interesting examples of storytelling. Of these, Argo, a Ben Affleck-directed feature film, received critical acclaim. While I enjoyed the film, I was also angered and disturbed by it, which presented me with a delicate problem – one that may shed some light onto just how polarized media has become.

To be fair, Argo is by no means a bad film, but it prompted me to think back to recent years, comparing it to films that indeed received a great deal of critical attention and recognition, yet ultimately exhibit what I consider, a relatively shallow perspective.

I am not sure where to start, but I do believe that it may have begun with M. Night Shyamalan.

Shyamalan’s shining debut in 1999 was The Sixth Sense, and while the filmmaker had his ups and downs since, he exhibited a rare and novel quality: he could produce a full length feature film based on a short story.

These were not epic stories with complex structures. Instead, they were 90 minute films that stripped the narrative to a new level of minimalism, often bearing a signature twist at the end, turning resolution into an a-ha moment, akin to that of television scripts, traditional mystery novels…or really, really short stories.

The art of turning a short story into a feature film is an enormously difficult task. Yet in recent years, we have seen a boom of these elegant silver screen vignettes.

What started with The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan continued on with features such as The Village. Then in the recent years there came The King’s Speech, The Young Victoria, and now, there is Argo, as other filmmakers picked up on the fact that narratives can be minimized, focused on a relatively brief event without having to burrow into our protagonist’s life.

I tried to like Argo. After all, it is based on a true story that involved a covert CIA operation kept out of headlines for decades to come. This story was the kind that you would read as an amusing paragraph crammed in a side-column of a weekend newspaper.

Argo is about a crisis – a group of stranded US diplomats in a midst of Iranian revolution – and to get them out of Iran, they must pretend to be members of a sci-fi film crew.

I tried to convey what happens in the film to people.

“They are pretending to be members of the crew, and then they are really stressed at the airport. The aiport scene, it is very stressful, full of tension.”

“And?”

“And then they get on the plane, and become instant celebrities at home. There is a note, you see, about how they even return to working for the foreign affairs department after the ordeal.”

Argo is undoubtedly shot, directed and cut beautifully.

Its’ cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto, known for his work on Brokeback Mountain, has these marvelous angles and remarkable, luxurious, saturated colours, making this period piece a flawless one, reminiscent of Spielberg’s, or more accurately, Janusz Kaminski’s work on Munich.

The sets are marvelous. The costume design is great. The actors do a great job, and the increasing tension of this simplistic narrative is built masterfully.

But it is in the story that lies my discontent.

The characters are seen escaping the embassy out the back doors, while their colleagues are held at gun point.

Hiding out in the house of the Canadian ambassador, his wife, and a loyal housekeeper, they sit meekly around the table, surrounded by food and wine.

They are a little scared and a little stir-crazy, arguing amongst each other to keep their visibility to a minimum, even having to jump into an underground hiding room on at least one
occasion.

They are not captive for a period of months, you see. Their experience surely does not compare to that of Anne Frank either. Just a few tense days that anyone that lived through a war, or had been close to a conflict zone, would have had personally experienced.

In fact, even if you were ever in a midst of a good storm, you would have had to sit it out, enduring a similar case of confinement, but possibly a less luxurious one, sans catering, good company and beverages.

They are also not alone. Most of the embassy workers evading capture by authorities happened to be couples.

Some married, some just involved with one another, their agony may seem intense at first, but quickly you pick up on the fact that these individuals had mutual support, love and encouragement.

Their colleagues on the other hand, are a shadowy, parallel presence in the narrative that receives little illumination throughout. They are held in captivity, and we occasionally catch glimpses of their torturous ordeal in prison, as they are led to their faux executions, bags over their heads, no shoes, dragged through moist, dark and cold chambers, their bodies contorted in anticipation of a gruesome death.

They, we learn, would endure such torture in sub-human conditions for over 300 days.

In contrast, the protagonists are merely very stressed, and provide for this relatively entertaining anecdote that represents the movie.

And that goes to the crux of my discontent.

The protagonists are essentially a representation of the potential audience members, composed of either those who still remember watching the reports on the Iranian revolution, or better yet, those who believe that a stressful airport experience amounts to a worthwhile story that should be turned into an Oscar-nominated film.

Every day we read about world events that resonate because of their immense impact on human lives. Every moment, across the world, there are individuals who suffer enormous losses, of their own lives, or that of their loved ones.

These stories of survival against all odds are genuine, hard, real.

Today I glance across the news page and I see Indian women beaten on the streets, after protesting against a system that fails to protect and prosecute rape. I see in Ireland anti-abortion laws struck after a death of a woman who miscarried. In Syria today, there was an airstrike that killed dozens of people standing in a bread line, one reminiscent of a similar event during the Balkan wars in 1990s. At the same time, the famed Pope’s butler may or may not face a life in prison for releasing secrets and documents, while the reports reveal a skyrocketing number of Americans who face unemployment, hunger, homelessness… Wherever I look, I see real stories of people who survive more than that of a stressful airport experience.

One has to ask then: why? Why choose to depict this group of relatively empowered elites in a cushy, catered setting, who may have faced a potential danger, one ultimately narrowly avoided?
Why focus on their story instead of millions of other stories I consider far more worthy of telling?

After all, Argo was ultimately not a comedy. As for drama, this competent movie feels like a stinging disregard for issues that plague us, an irrelevant moment in time easily forgotten, undermining other, more important stories.

It exemplifies a failure, not necessarily of the filmmakers, but a larger, systemic one, that embraces these stories, while undermining far more touching, epic, humane ones that majority of humanity is wrestling with.

Argo essentially exemplifies an acceptable social narrative, one bereft of examination in terms of its’ socio-political or historical context. We never really learn the facts surrounding the revolution, or the political polarities that it surrounds. Instead we focus on an comforting, apolitical, ahistorical version of events, which allows us to simply ignore the rest.

And that is the problem with Argo.

News in Space: Life on Mars, Maybe, And First Space Colony

This week is all about space, and Internet rights… but getting back to space, NASA, yes, that crippled, public, know-nothing organisation that has recently been begging for funding, is preparing a massive press conference.

Waiting to dot all the i’s and cross the t’s the scientists hope to release an announcement related to recent soil sample analysis by Curiosity on Mars that will “change history.”

Obviously, there are one of two things that would excite the public: life on Mars, or water on Mars. Either would excite, possibly start a new chapter in history, and open doors to a new space race.

The second one is all about SpaceX. The company’s billionaire head honcho, Elon Musk, is contemplating spending his billions on a new venture that involves a space colony of about 80,000 individuals.

Location for the real estate? Mars of course.

This insane plan would involve people paying $500,000 for their one-way ticket to Mars colony. According to his interview with Space.com, Musk would initiate a base colony of about 10 people, after which construction would take place to accommodate the other billionaires.

Musk may be having ambitious goals but not ones that he would fund on his own: “Musk figures the colony program — which he wants to be a collaboration between government and private enterprise — would end up costing about $36 billion.”

HiSciFi: Total Recall Comparative Study

 

We tackled the difference between the 2012 remake and that of the 1990 Paul Verhoeven-directed Total Recall.

TOTAL RECALL COMPARATIVE STUDY

Copyright: Flip-Flopping Republicans

The loss of the latest Presidential election in US has been sobering for Republicans, who were certain that if you throw enough money, you could ensure the election success. We’ve been watching the progress of SuperPACs and ramblings from Rupert Murdoch’s Fox network, and it seems that since the Republican Party relied on “old white man” audience, a strategy that ultimately failed, the post-election sobering signaled a time to get back to basics.

What we expect to see in the next four years is a kind of new Republican Party. One that is smarter, faster and more attune to their desired electoral base, which has to incorporate some contemporary issues that go beyond the dusty abortions and guns rhetoric.

Enter copyright issues. Recent study released by the Republican Study Committee, states that Copyright Reform is in actuality a form of corporate welfare, and tackles the three myths associated with copyright.

The first is, of course, that the copyright benefits the “creator” of the product, a statement that does not correspond to realities of copyright ownership by non-creators, as well as the fact that copyright laws are also meant to protect interests of the public.

Second myth the policy study addresses is the mistaken attitude that copyright is somehow tied to free market interests, or more specifically, that “copyright is a representation of free market capitalization.”

This notion has little to do with copyright, and according to the paper: “Copyright violates nearly every tenet of laissez faire capitalism. Under the current system of copyright, producers of content are entitled to a guaranteed, government instituted, government subsidized content-monopoly.” That doesn’t even begin to cover the insurmountable costs of security instruments created to maintain and institute criminal charges associated with infringement.

But the most important myth tackled is the one commonly promoted and touted as a fact by industry promoters. Namely that copyright is correlated with an automatic increase in innovation and/or productivity. On this myth, the study says: “Today’s legal regime of copyright law is seen by many as a form of corporate welfare that hurts innovation and hurts the consumer. It is a system that picks winners and losers, and the losers are new industries that could generate new wealth and added value. We frankly may have no idea how it actually hurts innovation, because we don’t know what isn’t able to be produced as a result of our current system.”

The paper also suggests some very straightforward reforms, including limiting the fines instituted on copyright infringers, calls for an expansion of fair use, make false copright claims, commonly harming content creators, punishable and subject to fines, as well as limit the lifespan of copyright.

The sad thing is that the Republican Party is still very much a corporate party, one that will be paying dues to those who wield the financial power, for a very, very long time.

Upon release of the paper by the Republican Study Committee, Hollywood reacted and the paper was pulled within 24h. The committee “retracted the paper” stating that the brief was not “properly vetted.

Get your copy of the policy brief here (download link available only.)

Read more details on TechDirt.