12/26/2014

8/18/2013

Star Trek Commentary about the 21st Century (from the DS9 ep. 3.11 “Past Tense” aired 1995)

Sisko and Bashir (Avery Brooks and Alexander Siddig)
Sisko and Bashir in 2024 San Francisco.


In the Star Trek Deep Space 9 episode "Past Tense" (3.11 and 3.12, aired 1995) some of the characters are stranded in 2024 in a state-run overpopulated ghetto for keeping the poor, unemployed and mentally ill "out of sight." In the first part, after minute 22, Sisko and Bashir walk its streets and talk about the 21st as one of the "most depressing" centuries in human history.
Bashir: Look at this man. There's no need for him to live like that. With the right medication he could lead a full and normal life.

Sisko: Maybe in our time...

Bashir: Not just in our time! There are any number of effective treatments for schizophrenia, even in this day and age. They could cure that man now, today... If they gave a damn.

Sisko: It's not that they don't give a damn. They've just given up... The social problems they face seem too enormous to deal…

Bashir: That only makes things worse. Causing people to suffer because you hate them is terrible, but causing people to suffer because you have forgotten how to care... that's really hard to understand.

Sisko: They’ll remember. It’ll take some time and it won’t be easy, but eventually people in this century will remember how to care.

Bashir: Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Are Humans really any different than Cardassians or Romulans. If push comes to shove, if something disastrous happens to the Federation... if we are frightened enough, or desperate enough... How would we react? Do we stay true to our ideals or we just… stay here – right back where we started.

The story of Past Tense (I and II) is by Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe.

2/13/2013

Pope Benedict XVI and Papal Resignation in Science Fiction

This article is also available in Macedonian
- на македонски на Блогерај: Папата Бенедикт XVI и папската оставка во научната фантастика
- на македонски на Блогспот: Папата Бенедикт XVI и папската оставка во научната фантастика     

A science fiction novel written during the lifetime of the previous Pope designated Benedict XVI as his successor in 2009.

The book Flashforward by Canadian writer Robert J. Sawyer was written in 1995, and published in 1999. Part of the action takes place in 2009, and Pope Benedict XVI is listed as part of a fictional news digest (pg. 93 of the paperback linked via the picture). Benedict XVI began his papacy in 2005. 

Sawyer made the second "prediction" in the short story "The Abdication of Pope Mary III," available on his blog.

Wikipedia lists several other sci-fi works dealing with papacy as such:
  • In "In partibus infidelium" ("In the Land of the Unbelievers") by Polish writer Jacek Dukaj, humanity makes contact with other space-faring civilizations, and Christianity - specifically, the Catholic Church - spreads far and wide. Humans become a minority among believers and an alien is elected as the Pope.
  • In Project Pope (1981) by Clifford Simak, robots on the planet End of Nowhere have labored a thousand years to build a computerized, infallible pope to eke out the ultimate truth. Their work is preempted when a human Listener discovers what might be the planet Heaven.

Another recent work of fiction (but not science fiction) dealing with Papal resignation is the Italian comedy from 2011 Habemus Papam, (We Have a Pope in English) in which the chosen cardinal gets a bit of cold feet and [spoiler alert!] declines the offer during the ritual of annunciation.


12/21/2012

Censorship Lift for “V for Vendetta” Shocks China

TranslationsThis post was written by Oiwan Lam and originaly published on Global Voices, it is available in:

English· Censorship Lift for “V for Vendetta” Shocks China
Español· La eliminación de la censura a «V for Vendetta» asombra a China
Italiano· Cina: Censura rimossa per film "V come Vendetta"


V for Vendetta, a thriller film produced in 2005 about a near-future dystopian society, previously censored in China, was aired on China Central Television Station (CCTV) Channel Six on December 14, 2012. Many people are surprised by the screening, in particular the mask of V, which has been used by activists all over the world as a symbol of resistance against government oppression.

Screening of a politically charged film

This video uploaded by youtube user loveforchina is an example showing how activists have made use of the film to protest against the human rights situation in China:



That's why CCTV's gesture soon became a hot topic online on Chinese micro-blogging platform Sina Weibo. A huati [zh], topical discussion, was even set up on the platform, which soon had more than 3469 conversation threads.
Trumpet Micro News (喇叭微新聞's highlights [zh] this popular discussion thread:

V occupied the China Central Television Station. A photoshopped image by Twitter user Kunshou.
Now! CCTV6 is showing V for Vendetta. This should be the first time the film is on show in mainland China.
The news highlight attracted many to join the conversation:
橐橐:Censorship means that there is a ghost in [the authorities] heart. Once the censorship is lifted, everything is normal. Maybe China does not really need the Chinese Communist Party for leadership, of course this is speculation.
叶孤城蝶恋花:I am so excited about CCTV 6's screening of V and feel that there is hope for the Empire after all. But I don't understand why they changed the film title (from V Revenge Killing Squad” V字仇殺隊)to “V Don't Move Team” (V字別動隊 - or V Commando Team) . Can someone explain?
Less censorship in the future?
Apart from the film title, its content had not been edited, as pointed out by the China Digital Times. LosAngels Angel pointed out [zh] that the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARF) is directly responsible for the management of CCTV 6's program, that's why the gesture has political implications:
On the evening of December 14, CCTV aired the censored movie, V for Vendetta for the first time. The move has triggered hot discussion among netizens and some found it unbelievable or said that the channel operators had fallen asleep [at the controls]. However, according to the TV circle, the production and management of CCTV's film channel are separate, the SARF is directly responsible for its administration.
Even Global Times, the state controlled media outlet, highlighted netizens' reactions on their microblog and attracted some critical comments:
南扉:Whether the movie can be aired or not is not decided by the people. If there is no reform within the system, people can only comment on whether the king is good or bad.
我愛壹玖捌柒:Those who decided to leave have already gone and no one cares what films are put on air. Why not show the three-hour long movie: Tiananmen?
Cupid_Yes:Why don't you open up the Great Fire Wall (internet filter)?
静静的粉玫瑰:Really hope that this is a good signal. China is a nation with rich culture. I miss the the Spring and Autumn warring states period where there were so many schools of thought competing with each other. A country has hope when it has liberated thought and diverse culture. Only till then people can look at the starry sky peacefully, while staying on solid ground.
Bridge bloggers were quick to pick up the news. Brendon Connelly also found the screening surprising:
I have no idea how many millions may have seen this story of a masked insurgent leading a revolution against a corrupt regime, and we can only guess what cultural impact it may – or may not – have had. Pretty soon, maybe, all of the cheap V masks won’t be just made in China.
So have things started to change in Chinese broadcasting? Xi Jinping assumed office as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China on November 15th and he may have brought a more liberal attitude with him…
…or perhaps V was a one-off. Time will tell.

11/19/2012

Russia: Boris Strugatsky Dies

This article is also available in Macedonian
- на македонски на Блогерај: Русија: Умрел Борис Стругацки
- на македонски на Блогспот: Русија: Умрел Борис Стругацки     

Arkady Strugatsky
en.wikipedia.org
Science-fiction writer Boris Strugatsky (79) died today, in a Moscow hospital.

Bulgarian portal OFFNews [bg] quoted Russian agency RIA Novosti that his health deteriorated rapidly during the last few days, and that he suffered from heart problems. RIA article in fact says:
Strugatsky died due to heart problems, a friend of the novelist who asked not to be identified told RIA Novosti. But novelist Nina Katerli said he died of blood cancer. The reports could not be immediately reconciled.
Boris (born in 1933) and his brother Arkady (1925-1991) were known as the Strugatsky brothers (shortened ABS) and, to quote Wikipedia:
"...are perhaps the best-known Soviet science fiction writers with a well-developed fan base. Their early work was influenced by Ivan Yefremov. Their famous novel Piknik na obochine has been translated into English as Roadside Picnic in 1977 and was filmed by Andrei Tarkovsky under the title Stalker.
Several other of their works were translated into German, French, English, and Italian but did not receive the same magnitude of the critical acclaim granted them by their Russian audiences. The Strugatsky brothers, however, were and still are popular in many countries, including Poland, Hungary, former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Germany..."
Another their notable novel is Hard to Be a God (1964), which masterfully combines high space adventure with Renaissance intrigue with prime directive dilemmas and post-World War II sentiments. .

Front page of an ex-Yugoslav edition of
Hard to Be a God
, translated into Serbian.
OFFNews quoted a segment of Boris Strugatsky's recent interview [ru], given for a monthly magazine "Top Secret" (“Совершенно секретно”):
"Against all obstacles humanity continues to live, to perfect itself, to win over itself - isn't that a cause for optimism?
I remained an atheist or, as it is currently suitable to declare, an agnostic.  For better or for worse, I could not force myself to believe in the existence of a self-aware Omnipotence that rules over my life and the life of humanity. Faith helps those who feel weak."

9/24/2012

Marvel's Thor in Arabic - Not a God

This post is also available in Macedonian
- на македонски на Блогспот: Марвеловиот Тор на арапски - не е бог
- на македонски на Блогерај: Марвеловиот Тор на арапски - не е бог 
 
Egyptian journalist and blogger Azza Moghazy related an interesting inter-cultural fact regarding the Arabic translation of Marvel Comics about Thor, which was subject to religious censorship:
When translated into Arabic we never learned that he was an old Nordic god. The Arabic translation introduced Thor as a fighter not a god...
By the way here is a discussion in an Arabic forum for comics about Thor. most of the participants agreed that Thor comics mustn't be translated or published in Arabic because it recognizes a pagan god.
The following scan of an Arabic Thor comics is from the that site, Arabcomics.net. According to Azza, the translation is:  "Thor .. the (master) of thunder. The legend becomes true." The comics was translated and published in Lebanon and distributed all over the Arab world (22 countries with Arabic as a native language).

Arabic version of Marvel's Thor
Monotheism--denial of existence of all other gods but one--is one of the fundamental common tenant of Judaism, Christianity (Old Testament, the First Commandment, Exodus 12: 1-17 & Deuteronomy 5: 6-21) and Islam (Qur'an chapter 47:19, 28:70). People living in secular societies might find it hard to imagine how such doctrines might be applied literally to the extent of controlling or modifying access to artworks or other products. There's no evidence that uncensored comics using stories about ancient gods as templates for superheroes lead to revival of the polytheistic religions of old, either Norse or Mediterranean (as in DC's Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, etc.).

My own experience as a kid who grew up under what we called socialism and what westerners call communism or totalitarianism in 1980s Yugoslavia is also censorship-free, at least concerning superhero comics. Even though the system was officially promoting atheism, there was no widespread persecution of religious people - in fact, "national" religious institutions such as the Macedonian Orthodox Church and Islamic Community were part of the system. Neither did this official atheism (denial of all gods) require censorship or altering of stories about religious figures, pagan or monotheistic. Especially in comics. World heritage and local ancient mythologies and the pagan past were also freely re-used by domestic authors, both state-supported and alternative. (Note: Experience of Yugoslav Communism was much different in degree of repression and censorship from the countries of the Warsaw Pact.)

--- Elsewhere in Sci-fi ---

Norse, Germanic, Anglo-Saxon mythology is often used by American science fiction writers, due to the obvious links of that culture to England. Two of the most interesting works based on exploring the links between the Norse ("Viking") and Arab/Middle East cultures and mythologies also use the same word in the title:
  • Eaters of the Dead by Michael Chrichton, the basis for the film The 13th Warrior, depicting contact and cooperation between Vikings and a man coming from the Caliphate of Baghdad. The film has its moments, but the book is much richer in (pseudo-historic and historic) details which make it somewhat juicier.
  • The Life Eaters - graphic novel written by David Brin with art by Scott Hampton, based on and expanding the storyline of Brin's amazing novella Thor Meets Captain America (Hugo winner).

5/26/2012

Conan Marvel Comics Documentary

Roy Thomas and Gerry Conwey, writers of 1970s Marvel Conan comics, speak about their work which lead to expansion of the brand into Schwarzenegger films.


Bonus: another documentary from the complementary perspective - Conan unchained, the making of "Conan" film.

3/26/2012

Mali Tuareg Rebelion and Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling

This post is also available in Macedonian | Овој пост е достапен и на македонски
- преку Блогерај: Бунтот на Туарезите во Мали 


Bruce Sterlings's "Islands in the Net" (1988) remains a time-resistant science-fiction book worth re-reading. Published over a quarter of century ago, it remains extremely current, in its anticipation of the influence of the Internet on the global scale. Part of the action takes place in Mali and is about the guerrilla fight of the Tuaregs/Kel Tamasheq, which recently gained prominence worldwide.



Tuareg fighter and Mali soldier.

Some time ago I noticed new Mali Tuareg-related article on Global Voices, which expanded into a continuous story after the military coup which attracted the attention of mainstream media. I decided to translate into Macedonian one of the articles, but ended up translating the sequel too, and supplemented that by translating part of the Wikipedia article on these people (as I presume most people at first glance would assume that Tuareg is just a vehicle brand).

Here are links to the original articles and their Macedonian counterparts.

7/18/2011

Dune with no dialog via Boing Boing

This post is also available in Macedonian | Овој пост е достапен и на македонски
- преку Блогспот: Дина без дијалог на Боинг Боинг
- преку Блогерај: Дина без дијалог на Боинг Боинг


Boing Boing's Rob Beschizza wonders whether if you remove all the scenes with dialog, one can get a better version of the film Dune by David Lynch than the producers' cut. As an experiment, he used this notion to assemble a short clip of the intro scenes, available on YouTube and Vimeo.


Дина без дијалог
Dune with no dialog

According to Beschizza, the complicated dialogs confuse the public which mainly consists of people who haven't read the original book and do not necessarily remember all the relations from it well enough to make out what's going on at a certain moment. In addition, the director's cut versions usually turn out much longer, which additionally exasperates the audience.

Can this approach be taken as an instance of the recommendation from another book about human relations, The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, who says: "Always say less than necessary."

7/05/2011

Military Robots to Become More Humanoid

In a recent Wired article (April 2011) "The Trouble With Humanoid Droids," Brendan I. Koemer advocates the need to make military robots look less human, in order to facilitate the feeling of responsibility by their remote-control operators. Namely, the robot operators tend to dissociate themselves more from the task performed by a robot if the robot looks more like a human, while "utalitarian" robots make operators more responsible because they make them feel they use just sophisticated tools, not partners.

“The humanoid form is such a powerful social cue,” Groom says. “If you see this humanoid shape, you’re going to respond to it like it’s a person.”
That response is precisely what the military must discourage among the humans who will be directing tomorrow’s robot army. Those weapons operators will need to understand that they, not their robots, bear the ultimate responsibility for what goes down on the battlefield. Robot designers can help foster that mindset by resisting the urge to anthropomorphize droids destined for service in combat zones. Make them look like killing machines, not friends.

Respect for this moralistic effort, but it sounds quite naive and hollow. The history of military technology development consists of creating weapons which increasingly "liberate" those who wield them from precisely this kind of responsibility. The effect of killing another human being with one's hands or a pistol are the same - a dead body. However, physical and psychological effort invested by the killer in each of these cases significantly differ.

According to Macedonian folk tale, when mace and sword specialist King Marko was shown a firearm, he  said sorrowfully "Now the smallest child can kill the greatest hero."  And pushing a(n infamous red) button requires much less prowess than pulling the trigger.

Nazis used the gas chambers to lower the level of stress of their soldiers who previously used to kill the "undesirables" by machine guns. In the wars U.S.A./NATO have waged since the 1990s, use of video-game-like interface for bombers greatly facilitated the feeling that the "collateral" damage done in target countries is not so real (combined with counting only "our" casualties).

All in all, if making more humanoid robots would lead to increasing effectiveness through lowering levels of stress, post-traumatic disorder or pangs of conscience for the soldiers, the military would make it so. In retrospect, all bloodshed is needless. If the armies were more interested in the moral aspects than meeting the (unquestioned) goals set by their political masters, no war would start in the first place. Therefore, expect not only anthropomorphic military robots soon - expect gorgeous humanoid droids. On killing sprees.