February 27, 2009

Why Does The Villian Do It?

Category: Entertainment — Cranky @

There’s a cinematic cliché that we’ve seen countless times. The evil mastermind has the hero trapped, but before killing him he tells the hero all about his schemes, revealing the full plan. Of course since Hollywood is not particularly enamored with actual tragedy, the hero generally escapes and races off to thwart the nefarious plot. Many people have asked why the villian feels the need to detail his dastardly intentions. Obviously it’s a device used for exposition. Often the audience learns plot details important to understanding the finale. In real life, though, would he spill everything?

Damn straight. I would.

I mean, let’s be reasonable. You, the evildoer, have created this grandiose, intricate plan. It’s flawless, in design and execution, and it’s moving along without a hitch. You’ve even captured the potential fly in your ointment – that damned do-gooder. Being evil, though, there’s a very limited number of people with whom you can share your success. There’s even a smaller number who would really, truly appreciate it. Most people who find themselves in the role of evil minion will generally not be the brightest of bulbs, but the hero, on the other hand, is uniquely qualified to understand and appreciate your brilliance.

That look of understanding, as hope dims and vanishes, must be the most emotionally satisfying one in the life of the criminal mastermind. You know you’ve triumphed when the shoulders slump, the head hangs, and he resigns himself. How could you not take the opportunity to fill your captor in?

It’s like having a secret that you can’t reveal, but you’re just dying to let out. It’s worse than that, really, because it’s not just a secret. It’s your glorious accomplishment. I totally understand the villian in this case. I would be that villain.

Of course I wouldn’t leave him alive much longer.


February 26, 2009

Balanced Like An Acrobat With An Inner Ear Infection

Category: Science And Technology — Cranky @

My whole life I’ve heard people talk about the “balance of nature”. People speak of it in reverence, giving it an air of mysticism and vulnerability. Mankind always seems to be described as something that exists outside of that balance, and usually we’re portrayed as collectively screwing it up.

I don’t buy it. The balance of nature is not some religious ideal, arrived at by the guiding hand of God. If anything, that balance is one of the most dispassionate, unforgiving aspects of our universe.

Let’s say dry summers and extended winters have drastically reduced the food available for rabbits. What happens? Some starve to death. Further up the chain, the fox population may decline through starvation, unless alternatives to rabbits are available. Conversely, wet and warm summers and shorter winters might cause a boom in the population of rabbits. Thankfully, foxes will gobble up all those extra bunnies, and the fox population will grow as more pups survive. Of course, the next time food supplies drop, some more foxes will die. If a volcano erupts and buries the forest in teen feet of ash, pretty much everything dies.

Nature doesn’t care about emaciated bunnies, or orphaned fox pups. It’s completely heartless and mathematical, discarding excess population and reducing distressing factors on declining ones. Whole species will fail when they no longer work in the framework of “nature”.

There are lots of wondrous things in the world. The balance of nature is not one of them. There’s no mystical guiding force. The quantity of available food energy divided by the number of individuals competing for it equals the energy available to each unit. If that per capita energy is not sufficient to sustain an individual, some individuals will die.

Just because we can see the that process at work doesn’t mean we aren’t fully participating in it. That balance is continually changing, and it will continue to change forever. We’re part of the computation. There is no perfect equilibrium for us to upset.

Before mankind came along there were at least 5 major extinction events that wiped out life on a grand scale. If we create an event of our own, it would seem we’re in well-established natural company.


February 20, 2009

Can It Really Be This Bad?

Category: Current Events — Cranky @

Anybody who watches the news has heard about the woman who was mauled by her friend’s pet chimpanzee. It’s a dreadful incident. If I understand the story correctly, the chimp escaped its cage, and the owner called her friend to help round him up. The scene ends with a vicious attack, a call to 911, and the booking of a serious team of reconstructive surgeons. Last night I turned on CNN, and heard a reporter talk up an upcoming segment. “Could this attack have been prevented?”

What kind of a question is that? Of course it could have been prevented. Here’s the magic rule: Don’t keep 200 pound wild chimpanzees as pets, and they won’t tear the faces off of your friends.

I watch economists on TV giving horrendous advice, and making unreasonably optimistic predictions. I listen to talk radio and hear people singing the praises of Obama, a man who most people still know almost nothing about. I watch Canadians treating the new President as a living saint. How did that happen? How did he earn this trust? To be sure, he’s an eloquent and capable speaker, but he does not have the power people ascribe to him. The office is simply not that strong.

I read stories about people who signed adjustable rate mortgages knowing full well they couldn’t possibly meet the obligations when they reset. I study cases where Wall Street financiers took one kind of debt-based wealth, sliced it up, wrapped it up into other packages, and somehow turned it into more wealth. That can’t possibly work, and now it’s clear that it didn’t. I’ve read about countless cases of mismanagement and fraud.

The problem, lately, is that I don’t know if people really are this stupid, or if they’re putting me on. If the joke isn’t actually on me, then there are far too many idiots with real power.