g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
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Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, February 22, 2009
18:29 - Because I'm the last person in the universe to pick up on some things

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No, it's not just that I've been insanely busy and stressed and all the other things people say when they have prolonged bouts of blog-silence that may or may not have anything to do with busyness or stress. Though in my case I would argue that those things are playing a significant role.

I'd say that in addition to all that, I've been having an odd argument with myself over just how to approach being the last human being to join the Battlestar Galactica table.

I had seen the Miniseries, back when it first aired on the SciFi Channel in 2005, and I recognized that it was a fine piece of writing and some genuinely engrossing and refreshing sci-fi: bullets and phones and DRADIS instead of laser beams and wall-sized viewscreens and antiseptic digital transporters that don't understand how to copy rather than move. Not that I have anything inherently against Trek tech, mind you; it's just that once you see something like BSG, you realize just how much potential storytelling has been eliminated out of an honest-hearted but perhaps ill-advised attempt to simplify the universe for the sake of, well, better storytelling.

And yet I never bothered watching any of the show past the Miniseries. Why not? I'm not sure. I think something turned me off about the Miniseries, and I think it was silly of me to have been put off by it: the idea of recasting the Cylons as human lookalikes, and therefore turning the story from a straightforward shoot-em-up to a modern parable of sleeper agents and trust and honesty and subterfuge and collaboration and torture and the nature of the military in a complicated world where all the players are ultimately, to one degree or another, really just humans after all—it felt to me, somehow, as though the writers had chickened out of something in the interest of budgetary constraints or something. Like they could get away with putting fewer robots and spaceships on-screen if the bad guys could be played by just a few human actors without even any special makeup. Never mind shiny robot suits worn by actors of comically different heights, as in the original BSG.

I'm not at all sure why I thought that, now that I've given it another look and—thanks to Netflix—feverishly brought myself up to speed and the beginning of Season Four over the span of about two weeks. Clearly budget has not been among the show's problems, nor have production values or the number of on-screen clanking robots or exploding spaceships. Those things are beyond the reproach of even the most demanding geek. And really, those things were apparent to me even back in the Miniseries timeframe. I think there was more at play than just that.

I believe, in fact, it was what I'd so facilely thought at the time: that the focus of the show seemed to be so determinedly upon Gaius Baltar and his narcissistic obsessions. The fact that—especially as it appeared at the time of the end of the Miniseries—it appeared that he was meant to be a sympathetic figure, even having been indirectly responsible (because of his insatiable blonde-in-a-red-dress lust and the blind spot to flagrant breaches of security that it instilled in him) for the destruction of nearly all of humanity. I was miffed that the show seemed to be trying to get me to feel sorry for this guy, who even after being cast adrift in space with a paltry few thousand harried survivors and witnessing with his own eyes the devastation his own willful blindness had caused, and indeed having survived only through exploiting his dubious fame in order to get on board Helo's Raptor off of Caprica, was still obsessed with the Cylon who had brought it all about simply by being sexy enough to keep him from thinking clearly. I had no sympathy whatsoever for the guy, and I resented the show for seemingly trying to eke some out of me.

Of course, that was a long time ago, and many episodes, and a dozen reinventions of the character. By now (from my perspective), he's been Vice President, President, Vichy President, Prisoner In Sexy Exile, the World's Most Hated Man, Pariah-In-Chief, Revolutionary Rabble-Rouser, and now—all over again—Sympathetic Tragic Hero. It still grates on me to see him arrive there again, and I want nothing more (when caught up in the continuity of the show) than to smack him around; and yet somehow it doesn't feel as wrong as it did originally, because now I know everyone else in the Colonial Fleet feels the same way I do, even if they'll resentfully admit he deserves his freedom rather than to be thrown out an airlock if only because that's what principled justice demands. It's been a hard-won perspective, and I don't begrudge it now.

But that's only a small part of the story, isn't it? There's so much more out there to enjoy—even if it's just little things like how they were even able to find someone who could plausibly play a young Edward James Olmos, replete with a face that (to paraphrase Douglas Adams) has the color of an apple and the texture of an orange, though there the resemblance to anything sweet ends. And the far-too-well-thought-out design of the battlestars and the fighter squadrons and how the battle tactics play out. And the fact that the interior of Colonial One looks about precisely as spacious and luxurious as an A320. And the fact that the fleet runs not on some magic inexhaustible crystal fuel, but on an ore that has to be mined and processed on a dangerous refinery ship. And the interplay of the deckhands and the Vipers under their care, with coolant hoses and thermal expansion and cracking glass to contend with, just as though the technology these people had to work with was our own, just transposed ready-or-not into space. There's no sci-fi magic at work; when a whole subplot centers around a guy with a TIG welder building a fighter out of spare parts, what's not to like? And perhaps that's what's so inspiring about the show: the idea that there's so little standing between us with the tech we have today, and the vision of spacefaring civilization it presents. We don't have to have transporters and phasers, do we? It's a nice plus, but then so is a space fighter with bullet-throwing guns slung under its wings that's designed to flip end-over-end in a zero-G dogfight and take advantage of momentum and silence to get its target in sight. It's a feeling I haven't had since playing the original Wing Commander.

And that's saying nothing as yet of the character interplay, which—of course—is really what's at the heart of the show, without which it would have lasted maybe a season if it'd been lucky. This is some sharply written stuff right here. I think another thing that irked me about the Miniseries originally—for some reason—was that it looked for all the world like the writers were on some grand crusade to make the Ultimate Sassy Edgy Yet Oddly Approachable Female show—where no less than two thirds of the recurring cast were women who in an earlier age would have had male roles. Where coed bathrooms and bunks are tossed about like artifacts of an inevitable future. Where Cylon women turn humans' heads and exploit their lamentable weaknesses even when they've got the firepower to resist. Even the old-series' canon character Starbuck is a woman now, huh? And so's Boomer? We-hell, so much for the idea that endurance and strength borne of natural sexual dimorphism ought by rights to manifest itself in certain physically demanding occupations like, oh, say, I don't know, the military. Throw in a female President and it looks for all the world like this is one of those shows that has decided to Question Our Preconceptions and Make Us Think, and boy do I hate it when that happens!

—And then, of course, you watch a few episodes and you realize just how deep the complexity of these characters runs. This is anything but a world where female fighter pilots (like the original's Athena) strut around in high heels and bat long eyelashes and stuff bouffant 80s hair into their helmets. Hardly: gender is simply another aspect of societal complexity to deal with in this universe, one that just makes things all the more interesting. Roslin is no kindly-schoolmarm-turned-warm-understanding-motherly-President. She's a conniving and ruthless—yet hugely sympathetic—leader, which is a neat trick to pull off. Boomer is no woman after all, but a Cylon whose too-lifelike programming as a human female ends up taking a backseat to the tendencies she naturally develops through cultural immersion—not least of which is genuine loyalty and military discipline, easily simulated, and hard-won for real. And Starbuck... well, I can't exactly even picture that character being male, as in the original series, anymore. Katee Sackhoff's performance is one of the most believable, natural spectacles I've seen on screen: a fists-flying version of Cameron Diaz, a sarcastic, quip-filled, wry-witted One of the Guys. Someone you've known for years. Someone you'd give your left arm to know better. Someone you occasionally feel you've come to know too well. The living embodiment of the upsides and downsides of the sexually integrated alternate-universe of BSG. In short, these writers have taken the concept and run with it. And more power to 'em. Star Trek may have made its game attempts at legitimizing a self-consciously sexually egalitarian sci-fi universe, with a never-plausible Tasha Yar complementing Worf on the security squad; but Kara Thrace actually kicks ass, and you honestly care about what happens to her when she dives into a swirling storm above a gas giant and explodes. And the heartache you feel as Adama looks through her stuff is broken by such genuine, heartfelt helpless laughter as can never have come from mere acting alone when he comes upon the birthday card she'd given him, and the moustache she'd put on her photo inside.

There's way too much to get into with this show, and billions of others have done so to death already; hell, it's one of the best documented pieces of pop culture since Homestar Runner, and it's not even done yet. There's not a nook nor cranny of this lavishly envisioned creative escapade left unexplored, from Lee Adama's stint at 40 pounds overweight (during which he also manages—quite in-character—to look about 20 years older too) to the titles of in-universe girlie magazines and the names of in-universe sports teams and table salt brands. I'm still stunned by the elegant simplicity of the key plot element formed by the zodiac names of the colonies and the role that the seemingly tawdry intrusion of astrology into the mythos actually ends up playing in a genuine, scientifically sound sense. I'm miles past being miffed at the Cylons for being indistinguishable from humans, as though that could possibly be tarred as a production cheap-out after all that's transpired; instead, I'm relieved as hell that we don't have to go through another interminable set of robotic lamentations over the elusive nature of love or humor or what constitutes "babbling". It's odd how novel it seems to have android characters who don't even edge near the Uncanny Valley—and to have the fascinating intricacies of their personalities stem from how similar they are to humans, not where they differ. What I can't wait to see is how the Cylons' quite earnestly professed monotheism gets reconciled with the humans' devotion to their proto-Greek deities, which I am confident—along with a ton else—will be resolved in the few episodes that remain before the end.

My goal, ever since seeing reactions like this one (which I still haven't read, so keep those spoilers away from me, please), is to get caught up on the DVDs and the episodes aired thus far this season in short enough order that I can watch the finale along with everyone else. I'm on track thus far; just one more half-season to go. Plenty of surprises left in store, I'm quite sure. Plenty yet that are surprises only to me. And a few that everybody else is dying to experience too.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009
19:00 - It's a great big universe

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It's about time someone put together a catalog of all the best attractions to be seen in Google Street Views.

This took some doing. Forever immortalized.

And this is a legend unto itself. Head east toward the gas station (look left as you go).

I'll bet there's a ton more just waiting to suck away my time.

Via Mark.


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© Brian Tiemann