The Dull Art of Problematizing Everything

Here’s an essay for Areo Magazine, a very fine place to go if you like to read interesting things:

Few things in life are certain. Some will populate a short list of inevitabilities with death and taxes, but really, only the former is guaranteed—just ask the sitting president of the United States. If you have spent any amount of time on the internet, however, I’d wager a lofty sum that you’ve seen plenty of headlines of the “Why Blank Is Problematic” variety. More often than not, these aren’t essays that offer insight or clarity. Instead, they simultaneously monetize a boring fact about the world—that everyone’s conception of it is necessarily incomplete—while snidely sidestepping all efforts to understand the intent behind a given act of communication or creation and empathize with its originator.

Read more here.

Old Hobbies, Reinvigorated: Building Models

Back in the days of my youth–roughly between the middle 80s and middle 90s–I would sometimes build model airplanes or spaceships. B2 bombers and Miranda Class starships fell together in sloppy assemblages of glue and shoddily applied decals. It was truly atrocious work, owing largely to the fact that I didn’t have the attention span to build things with greater care.

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Star Trek: Discovery—A Case Study in Shoddy Writing

Star Trek: Discovery is an odd show. A common refrain is that it’s good—it’s just not Star Trek. There’s an interesting debate to be had there. One could mount a compelling case that the show both fails to honor the thematic legacy of Trek and honors the thematic legacy of Trek in new and interesting ways. Discovery’s real problem is not how well it fits into established canon. It is how indifferent—if not openly disdainful—its writers are toward their audience.

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Avengers – Infinity War: Adventures in Innumeracy

Thanos’ motivations in Avengers: Infinity War make absolutely no fucking sense. Cast as something of benevolent maniac, Thanos wants to kill half the life in the universe to restore “balance”. Putting aside the question of whatever the fuck balance might mean, Thanos seems to be driven by the belief that overpopulation will cause more suffering for life in the cosmos than simply turning half the universe to ash with the snap of a finger. It’s a simple equation: suffering from sudden death < suffering from overpopulation.

But there are a couple of problems with this. While it is true that overpopulation can cause all sorts of problems, it rarely (if ever) directly causes extinction. In natural systems, consumer populations and resource bases fluctuate in cycles of delayed feedbacks. Continue reading

The Martian Trailer Looks Absolutely Phenomenal

My previous reservations regarding Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s The Martian are quickly beginning to evaporate. The most recent trailer looks incredible. If this is any indication, the film will be visually stunning and hue remarkably close to Weir’s book. In which case it ought to be a thrilling, emotional piece of cinema, and a strong contender for one of the best science fiction films of the past twenty or so years.

A Snapshot of What it Was Like When Hunter S. Thompson Was Still A Writer

I encountered Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas at around the same time most people do – in the turbulent and confused years of self-discovery more or less directly after exiting the nest. It is, I think, a widely misunderstood book. Taken purely as a celebration of unhinged debauchery, readers sometimes miss the strong undercurrents of anger and despair that underscore the rampant barbarism of the central characters. The book is a funeral dirge, cataloging the gradual descent of the rosier ideals of 1960s into the gaping and icy maw of practical self-interest. As Thompson saw it, only the bones of mindless self-indulgence were spit out as a patrimony of future generations.

Upon reading Fear and Loathing, I was immediately struck by Thompson’s prose and have been a fan ever since. Over time, I’ve come to see Thompson as something of a tragic figure, a man swallowed by his own compulsion toward self-destruction. Even so, he was a remarkable prose stylist, and I think it a shame that he gave so much of his energy over to other pursuits. As a social and political commentator, he had the stomach to look deeply into the darker side of things and was, in that regard, capable of deploying incomparably well-honed insights. Even as he descended into drug and alcohol induced dissipation, his rare wit and wisdom would sometimes surface, as it did in the hours after the September 11th Terror Attacks.

Anyway, the somewhat belabored point I’m driving at is an introduction to a video from PBS’ Blank on Blank series, featuring an animated accompaniment to a 1967 interview with Hunter S. Thompson concerning his experience with the Hell’s Angels. The Thompson in this interview is refreshingly cogent and introspective, delivering thoughtful commentary on the sociology and psychology of the chronically disenfranchised. Thompson recognized that violent misanthropes and criminals aren’t necessarily pathological individuals, but regular people who have lost all hope for success in the civilized world and have little choice but to eke out a living on the margins of society.

Without further ado, here it is: