Science Fiction Book Club
October 15, 2001
So I've been watching this new series on CNN, about terrorists attacking the United States, and here's my first problem-- they keep changing the name of the show. First it's "Attack on America," then it's "America's New War," and now it's "America Strikes Back" or "Return of the American Jedi" or something. How is anybody supposed to keep up with this?
Not only that, but this has got to be the most boring war drama I've ever seen. It's all talk, talk, talk. Speeches by the President. Press conferences. Expert talking heads. Infomercials haven't put me to sleep this fast.
And don't even get me started on the characters. The West Wing's Josiah Bartlet is the gold standard for TV Presidents, and this "Dubya" guy on CNN doesn't even come close. The villain, an Islamic extremist in hiding, looks like a cab driver who deals ganja on the side. We're supposed to be afraid of this clown? Please.
Maybe it'll get better. The show seems structured to allow a wide range of stories to be told, and many characters appear only once or twice-- rescue workers, government officials, law enforcement, ordinary citizens. It's unorthodox, but compelling as you get to watch one person after another, week after week, each one touching a different part of the whole situation.
It's an ambitious, epic story, and I'm not sure how they'll ever wrap it up. The United States can catch the people responsible for the Pentagon and World Trade Center attacks (as depicted in the pilot episode), but they'll never be able to eradicate terrorism. This series could run forever.
I do have a suggestion for a permanent name, though: INTER ARMA. The literal translation is "between weapons;" essentially, "during wartime." It comes from the saying INTER ARMA ENIM SILENT LEGES (Latin: "in times of war, the law falls silent"). It's descriptive, it's cautionary and thus socially responsible, it's unusual and therefore memorable. Hey, it's a heck of a lot better than "The Agency."
For a much happier reminder of the power of television, check out The Dish (2000).
I support America's current military campaign in Afghanistan.
I'm not saying that I support all of the actions the military has taken and any future actions they may take. This is not blanket approval. I still believe justice should be our ultimate goal. However, if we must exercise military force in the pursuit of that justice, then so be it.
Would I prefer a less violent, less destructive course of action? Absolutely. But if someone pulls a knife and goes West Side Story on me, I'm going to put him in the hospital, if not the morgue. And America should also fight back. The question is now how.
Please don't say "brown cow."
Last Wednesday, I attended an exemplary lecture given by Dr. Chris Chyba of the SETI Institute and Stanford University. Among other things, he described how current evidence indicates that humans-- the only known intelligent, technological species on Earth-- have evolved during the very early part of a three-billion-year period of planetary climate favorable to our form of life. This party's just getting started.
We're not as civilized as we might think. We're not even as evolved as we think. We're irrational, we make lots of bad decisions, we don't understand the universe or our place in it. We suck.
The good news is, we've got at least two billion more years to get our act together. Maybe by then we'll have gotten off this rock and found better things to do than hating each other. For now, all we can do is survive our childhood.
This will be a long, ugly war. They all are. Any duration is too long, any death is one too many. But we'll win. Civilization and science and pluralism will win over reactionaryism and dogma and bigotry. We will win, or else our entire species is fucked.
Have you noticed how nobody gives a shit about Dmitry Sklyarov anymore?
Here's an excerpt from a fun review of Alias. Highlight the blank sections to reveal spoilers:
"[Sydney] thought she was a spy working for the CIA. Then she learned she wasn't. Then she learned that her own father, a CIA agent himself (Dad, what are you doing here?), knew about her fiancé's murder before it happened. Syd coquettishly slaps her father across the face and stalks out of the room. He looks stoical [sic] but a little turned on.
"It's creepy, but this is what happens when people start getting into double-agenting. Everything gets a little twisted and confused."
-- Carina Chocano, Salon.com
Tune in to next week's HotSheet to read about my issues with Alias, the lameness of Enterprise, the genius of Buffy, and why you should watch more TV (but not the news).