Stop the World!

Blog entries describing the adventures of B’rar Radical.

Stop the World, I Don’t Think He Knows How It Works

Big Brother
What’s your destination, package?

Psssst. Hey! Governor Christie. Just thought you might like to stop and think for a minute. You know, it’s not that we don’t have the technology, or that it would be impossible to make the technology work. It’s that you obviously didn’t think about the consequences of making the immigration system work like FedEx.

A package, entering the FedEx system is tagged with a barcode before entering a processing center. At every stage of its journey through the processing center, its progress is logged. This is possible because the package is inanimate. It does not sprout legs and move itself around the processing center or warehouse, frequently sending out updates about its progress like some teenager on Twitter. The package doesn’t move anywhere unless someone or something moves it. The package’s progress is trackable because every time a warehouse worker touches the package, he or she logs that action. When the worker puts the package in an automated process, like a sorter, the automated process logs the package’s process as the package moves through sensors. When the package finally makes it to a truck, or an airplane, another log entry is made by whomever puts the package on the vehicle. In short, both the sender and receiver of a package can find out the exact location of a package any time they want because the package doesn’t move unless some external force is exerted on it, and the FedEx system is designed to update the status any time that happens.

Stop and imagine what would happen if a package could just get up and walk around. What if it could make its own way through the processing center, sorted itself, and left the processing center with only a promise to deliver itself to the right place at the right time? What would happen to the tracking system then?

Well, since FedEx is a corporation and wants to make money, and since they can only make money by making sure packages are delivered to the right place at the right time, FedEx would have to change their tracking system. They would have to fill the processing center with checkpoints or sensors capable of logging any packages that happen to wander by. They would have to station workers throughout the warehouse and all their other facilities, whose job would be to watch every package and make note of any package that takes a wrong turn or wanders off in the wrong direction. FedEx would have to hire thousands of special package police who would have to go around to all the places the packages were likely to congregate and check every suspicious looking package to see if it was past its delivery date. They would have to hire and train a bunch of special administrators to listen to or investigate the circumstances behind any undelivered package so see if the package deserved a delivery extension, or should be sent back to its sender.

Naturally, the cost to FedEx for this new system would be enormous, and FedEx would have no choice but to pass the cost on to those who want packages sent. That could drive the cost of sending packages to astronomical heights, creating an incentive for senders to use “undocumented” methods of sending packages. The packages themselves, feeling crowded and paranoid, would “go underground” to avoid being harassed by the package police. And very shortly the FedEx package tracking system would be as bloated, useless and unworkable as, say, the current US immigration system.

You see, sir, there are two things that make immigration in the United States exactly nothing like a FedEx package delivery system. The first thing is, immigrants aren’t packages. They are real, live, living, breathing, thinking, individual people who come to the United States to get a bit of freedom, and maybe make a better life for themselves. The second thing is, this is the United States. We don’t treat people like cattle, or packages, putting them under constant surveillance, and requiring that they report to a government official every time they want to go for a walk. Those are the sorts of things immigrants come to the United States to get away from.

Stop the World, No, I Mean Really Stop It!

The following is actually from 2009, written several months after finally watching the movie in question.

Gort, Intergalactic Anti-Aggression Cop

In the original 1951 The Day The Earth Stood Still, Klaatu claims to come to Earth in peace, bearing a message that must be delivered to all of the people of Earth at once. The message is: “give up your violent ways and machines of war, or the Earth will be eliminated.” As a demonstration of his power, Klaatu neutralizes electricity everywhere except where safety would be compromised. The Earth effectively stands still. Prior to this demonstration, Klaatu’s companion—the robot Gort—demonstrates some power of his own by using an energy ray to vaporize offensive weapons without harming the men wielding them.

Okay, so, the people of many other planets are so worried about Earth’s propensity toward violence and discovery of atomic weapons, that they send someone down to warn Earth to cut it out or be destroyed. These people of many other planets are so technologically advanced they can neutralize the fundamental forces, and turn matter into harmless energy. And yet they are worried about Earth and its primitive atomic weapons and pea-shooters? They are worried about a people who haven’t figured out how to travel faster than the speed of sound yet?

Yes, it’s a stretch, and it doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny, but it’s still classic science fiction, and still one of my favorite movies of all time. I’m pretty certain I first saw it on a Saturday afternoon in 1974 on television.

Thirty-four years later, they made a re-make. This re-make follows, with the same level of quality, re-makes of other movies listed among my favorites. I am speaking of 2001’s re-make of Planet of the Apes, and 2002’s re-make of Rollerball, 2005’s War of the Worlds specifically.

In the updated version of the story, Klaatu comes to Earth on a mission to speak to the United Nations. We don’t know, really, what his message is until after he meets with a Mr. Wu, who tells him the human race is destructive and unwilling to change. It is then that Klaatu decides that the planet must be cleansed of humans. Klaatu then sends some machines to collect DNA samples of everything living that isn’t human. The plan is to wipe out every living thing on the planet, then recreate everything not human from the DNA samples.

The re-make was highly anticipated, but ultimately disappoints on so many levels. Technically, the re-make is okay, but it simply does not work logically or philosphically. It is, in fact, boring and mundane, and not just because of Keanu Reeves’ acting.

The original movie has a sort of juvenile logic and a positive philosophy. The space union Klaatu represents is a peaceful entity that so abhors aggression that they’ve created a robotic police force to “eliminate” aggression. Klaatu comes to Earth with a simple message: “you can do what you want on your planet, but if you bring your aggression into space, we’ll wipe you out.” It is explicit that we have a choice, and that’s positive enough to overcome the existence of an all-powerful, emotionless, police force with the unalterable authority to summarily execute criminals. We can rest easy because Klaatu has some limited control over Gort, and exhibits a level of compassion toward humanity.

The remake exhibits a sort of schizophrenic logic and a thoroughly depressing philosophy. Here, we know very little about the space union Klaatu represents, except that they are utterly ignorant of humanity and have no regard even for innocent life. Klaatu really isn’t sent to deliver a message. He is sent to make a final determination in Earth’s case. It is quite clear from the beginning that Klaatu’s people consider humanity to be a disease infecting the Earth, and Klaatu is the cure. Klaatu’s cure, however, requires the destruction of every molecule of life on Earth, so it can be repopulated by clones of the life forms deemed worthy of survival. It is left to a single human being and her step-son to defend humanity and convince Klaatu to change his mind. Unfortunately, just as Klaatu is deciding to spare humanity, certain greedy humans trigger Gort’s enforcement mechanism, and it’s left to Klaatu to actually save humanity.

The problem is, people are far more likely to listen to a lecture in a movie when they are left with a positive feeling as the credits roll. The original movie delivers just such a lecture about war and nuclear arms, but leaves the audience with the positive idea that they can choose their future. The re-make delivers an indictment against humanity, then proclaims humanity defenseless in the face of the charges. Whereas the original Klaatu, from the start, wants humanity to make the right choices and survive, the re-make Klaatu, from the start, wants to wipe humanity out and only reluctantly changes his mind.

By the end of the remake, Gort has caused more damage to life on Earth than humans could ever cause. Despite finally being convinced to save humanity, however, Klaatu won’t fix the damage Gort did. That’s the price humanity must pay for being saved. Get it? Humanity is worthy of being saved, but it will cost us—which is the same as saying humanity really isn’t worthy of being saved.

Stop the World, ’Round and ’Round He Goes!

Or: B’rar Radical Meets the Rotary Oscillator

rotary dial
A Rotary Oscillator Dial

You know that book “Everything I Needed To Know I Learned in Kindergarten”? It’s a big, fat lie! Everything I learned in Kindergarten was important, I’ll grant you, but most of the really important things I’ve learned I learned much later. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the lesson wasn’t there all along waiting for me to learn it. It just means that, in the grand scheme of things, learning not to eat the paste really doesn’t rank that high.

Now, just because I didn’t learn important lessons in Kindergarten doesn’t mean you can’t learn important leassons from my time in Kindergarten. Plenty of people have. Take Mrs. Kingenhoffer, for example…

Mrs. Klingenhoffer was a teacher’s aide who worked with my Kindergarten teacher, and to her fell the rather important task of teaching us how to dial our telephone numbers. Oh, yes kiddies, back then telephones had rotary dials exactly like the one on the right. They also had to have a cord connecting them to a special wall socket. Which connected to a special wire connected to the house. Which connected to a special wire connected to a telephone pole near the steet. Which held up a special wire that connected every telephone in the whole wide world. Even the part you talked and listened through had a special wire connecting it to the part you dialed. In fact, the only wireless phones were the Fisher-Price ones. Oh, and the only sort of phone a kid under the age of 21 could hope to have was one of those Fisher-Price ones.

My school was, apparently, one of those state-of-the-art, high-tech schools. What this means is that we all had to go with Mrs. Kingenhoffer to a “special” room to learn how to dial the phone. It was a “special” room because it had a lot of stuff in it. Most importantly it was where the Twenty-Seven-Foot Cardboard Telephone was stored. I realize now that the Twenty-Seven-Foot Cardboard Telephone was actually only a Four-Foot Cardboard Telephone, which curiously enough is a bit more than 27-times bigger than a real telephone, but when you’re only three and a half feet tall a four foot telephone can be a little intimidating.

Typically, the lesson began with Mrs. Klingenhoffer explaining the process of dialing the phone, and then demonstrating the act with the Twenty-Seven Foot Cardboard Telephone. When she was done only a complete idiot would not understand how to dial a phone. Then, it was our turn. That is, it would be our turn as soon as Mrs. Klingenhoffer got us organized—to avoid any chaos you see.

Organizing a Kindergarten classroom usually involves making the kids line up according to some arbitrary measure—such as height, or alphabetically, or reverse alphabetically, or by shoe size. Being slightly less than average by amost every measure, I was usually in the middle of the line. This could have been God’s way of saying, “Pay attention now, so you don’t look like a complete idiot when it’s your turn!” I never paid attention.

The process was quite simple. A child would step toward the Twenty-Seven Foot Cardboard Telephone and Mrs. Klingenhoffer would ask them their telephone number. After reciting the number the child was directed to dial the number using the cardboard dial tacked to the Twenty-Seven Foot Cardboard Telephone. And that was it. Walking and chewing gum at the same time took more practice.

When my turn came I nervously approached Mrs. Klingenhoffer—my eyes were locked on her because that giant cardboard telephone thing was freaking me out. She asked me to recite my telephone number. “Five—Five—Five,” I said. “Oh—Three—Three—Two—One.”

“That’s too many numbers,” Mrs. Klingenhoffer said calmly. “Try again.”

“Five—Five—Five—Oh—Three—Three—Two,” I said, suddenly encouraged by the encouraging expression on Mrs. Klingenhoffer’s face. “—One.”

“That’s too many numbers Anthony”—she always called me ‘Anthony’—“try again,” she said, gray hairs appearing on the fringes. This fragment of the scene repeated itself several times. Each time Mrs. Klingenhoffer became more frustrated and her hair grew slightly grayer. Each time I became more firmly convinced that Mrs. Klingenhoffer was a complete idiot. Each time, Mrs. Klingenhoffer asked me to try again.

“Five–Five–Five–Oh–Three–Three–Two,” I said finally, pausing at this point because I was really encouraged by that encouraging expression she kept getting at that point. After what seemed like an hour of Mrs. Klingenhoffer looking at me as if a giant shoe was about to drop on her head, she looked at the Twenty-Seven Foot Cardboard Telephone nervously. “—One!” I finished.

The exact details of what happened next are a bit blurry; mostly because they happened so fast. I was carted off to the principal’s office so I’m not sure what happened to Mrs. Klingenhoffer or the Twenty-Seven Foot Cardboard Telephone.

The moral of my story is, of course: Never argue with an idiot!