The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Archive for March, 2011

Posted by Matt on March 20, 2011

Somewhat related to my previous post…

This brings up some salient points about, well, people. To reiterate for the lazy: SETI, that big satellite thing in the desert that’s looking for alien radio signals, is based upon a single, very large assumption that many people seem to take for granted: the idea that alien life is not only out there, but that it has evolved in such a way that they have learned how to manipulate radio waves and are sending out signals to be received by other such beings. As said there, the problem arises that the only example of a species learning how to manipulate radio waves we have us is…well, us. So basically, we are assuming that there has to be an alien species that is, more or less, exactly like us.

Years of science fiction has dulled us to the incredible nature of such an idea. Just think: over the course of millions and millions of years, the earth has seen countless species come and go. A vast, vast, selection of organisms, each with a different set of traits unique to them. How many of them have been like us? Uh…other than us, none, although Neanderthals were there during our rise, so I guess that makes two, albeit two offshoots of the same line. So really, if one or two out of who-knows-how-many organisms on earth ended up being what we would define as sapient, how likely do you think it would be that one would just so happen to evolve on a completely different planet with a different ecosystem, different history, etc.? It would be like expecting to find basking sharks and red squirrels on alien planets. Even with some slight differences in terms, and in evolutionary terms a lot of the proposed ‘differences’ between possible aliens and homo sapien sapien are minuscule, it would still be a huge leap to expect such a thing to occur. We just possess such a specific set of traits, that the odds of something else in a completely different environment coming along and just so happening to have even a few of the same traits are astronomically low.

This seems to have come about as part of a natural human mindset that even the most rational people fall prey to it: the idea that we are not simply another organism, that we are special, that we are some evolutionary apex. But we aren’t. Our combination of traits are no different special than any other living thing’s; we have the ability to even have the concept of evolution, yes, but even that is just another adaptation that seemed like a good idea at the time. There is no evolutionary high point; it is simply a process that goes on forever, or at least until everything explodes. So expecting that all other world’s biological development will happen just like ours? Mmmm, not very well-thought out.

Sorry to be a Debbie Downer to some of you people looking to the stars every night, waiting, hoping. If it makes you feel any better, we don’t have all that much data on the subject, so there’s always a chance some things will change. Thus is the ways of science.

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Posted by Matt on March 17, 2011

One of the many things I have to come to realize as a recovering follower of Cryptozoology is just how backwards most of these paranormal research people are, in scientific terms. Most of the hobby Cryptozoologists, UFOlogists, ghost hunters, and yes, even the religious, come into their respective fields with a predetermined idea of what they are looking for. And that doesn’t work.

I mean, every Bigfoot searcher knows it’s an 8-foot tall bipedal primate with brown hair and a combination of features from both humans and non-human apes, right? And the Loch Ness Monster is obviously a surviving Plesiosaur, right? These are the preconceptions I’m talking about. The fact is, there’s no way of knowing that much about either of these things with whatever little evidence the enthusiasts scrounge up, minus eye witness testimony, which is never reliable.

These assumptions are sometimes referred to as phylogenetic roulette. It’s a fairly rampant thing, and it’s simply a case of the conclusion being made before proper evidence is discovered. As the post explained, you can’t just look at a photo of a supposed sea monster skeleton and say “Hey look…it’s a living marine reptile!” and then include all these traits that one simply cannot know given the evidence they provide.

This can, of course, be attributed to the fact that most of the people involved in these are of the ‘hobby’ set, and don’t know how to properly classify a damn thing. And this in turn leads to even more ‘hobbyists’ going out and looking for the same thing the previously people described, leading either to disappointment or, in a desperate attempt to avoid disappointment, the ‘hunters’ being tricked by their own preconceptions and ‘finding’ whatever it is they were looking for, whether or not they actually found it. So there’s where the mass delusion comes from.

You could probably approach some of these things from a scientific angle without it being a complete waste of time, although I suspect that would probably suck the fun out of it for most people. I mean, who wants to “investigate some unknown phenomenon that may or may nor be real, but even if it is real we don’t know what it is and need to steadily gather data and then test our hypothesis to see if it holds water”? Nope, you want to know what you’re after, even if what you’re after is just some bullshit someone made up on the spot, or stole from a movie.

Biology isn’t opposed to finding new species, which a lot of hobbyists seem to be convinced they are, and actually find new species all the time. It’s just not the ones they want them to find; they want prehistoric monsters that still exist even though that wouldn’t make sense. But that seems stupid to me, too. If we want to believe in the Loch Ness Monster, why not believe that the Loch Ness Monster is a completely new species? That, I think, should be the base assumption for this kind of thing. Then you don’t know what to look for, and you’re more likely to find actual evidence, instead of just ignoring stuff that doesn’t match a preconceived notion.

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Posted by Matt on March 14, 2011

Okay, first thing’s first: I’ve been watching a lot of Teletoon Retro lately (for any American readers who may or may not exist, that would be the rough Canadian equivalent to Cartoon Network’s Boomerang. It started up a year or so ago, and has thus become the object of affection for ironic twentysomethings who don’t want to evolve their entertainment palates past third grade) and have to ask, what’s with my obsession with shitty cartoons? I watch the shit on this channel, and removing the old Looney Tunes shorts and the odd episode of The Real Ghostbusters it really is just a sea of shit, why? And it’s not just this, either. I braved the grating, unfunny Nostalgia Critic just because I kind of enjoy hearing someone talking about these shitty cartoons that I often remember as well. (And before you question why I waste so much of my time, remember that this is the age of multitasking. I am usually coupling these pointless adventures with something far more important, like…I don’t, sorting some files I have alphabetically. Something like that.)

They’re not interesting to think about, other than in a “I can’t believe real, adult people spent hours of their lives producing this, what the fuck”; the vast majority are the definition of pure mediocrity, a wisp of a thing (for whatever reason, animation does not seem to have a large number of fascinatingly/entertainingly-bad oeuvre like live action does; the bad stuff is by and large painfully boring), obviously developed for sugar-addled 7-year-olds who have time to be subliminally advertised to. Or maybe that’s not true….well, not for me. The fact that animation is not limited in its imagery, capable of so many thing, that sort of draws me to it. So…I guess it’s the fantastic stuff that endears to me? Or maybe part of me is secretly one of those dreaded nostalgia-driven nerds, and the dominant rational nerd part just keeps it under wraps most of the time? Who knows.

But yeah, I keep watching this shit. Here’s a list of observations that have developed over this time:

He-Man is really, really, really bad. Like, I think calling it animation might be giving it too much credit. It’s only a few steps above Clutch Cargo. I’m sure the people at Filmation did the best they could with the zero budget they had, but still. We really have had an television animation renaissance once the 80s ended; sure, some stuff is still stiff and ugly, but at least they seem to have enough money/skill to animate scenes where the characters actually interact with each other. (And yet Paul Dini and Bruce Timm would move on from this crap to much better things.)

The Real Ghostbusters is much better than pretty much everything else on the channel in terms of both animation and writing (which isn’t saying much, really); some of the stuff still plays up my folklore/weird monster love. However, it has that weird “Obviously outsourced to Japan” aesthetic that I often find pretty jarring. (And yet J. Michael Straczynski would move on from this okay stuff to become a rather mediocre comic book writer)

-The main difference between the G.I. Joe and Transformers animated spin-off movies? The Joe one is one of the few exceptions to my “animation doesn’t do interestingly-bad” observation from above. Even with just some cursory knowledge of that property, you are led to question every single story decision on display. It’s amazing in its ability to make both fans and people who have never heard of G.I. Joe have no idea what is going on. I still don’t recommend ever watching it, though.
The Transformers movie, on the other hand, is just a slog, with the only point of interest being the way it attracted a bunch of C-Level ‘name’ actors and Orson Welles in his dying days. It’s written almost as if they expect us to actually care about a story with characters named Hot Rod and Ultra Magnus, Weird Al Song Out Of Nowhere or no.

The Raccoons is quintessentially Canadian; who the hell else would think that kids would be interested in watching what is essentially a bog-standard family drama with cartoon animals? Heavy moralizing, a complete lack of excitement…yet this show was on television for 8 fucking years. It looks alright, but man, what the fuck?
Of course the breakout star of the show was the primary antagonist (most of those ironic twentysomethings I mentioned before all know the name Cyril Sneer), and this is of course because the protagonists were so boring that we really do cheer for the unrepentant cartoon capitalist to just bulldoze them all into oblivion. Yes, it’s one of those things.

I swear, one of these days I’ll actually have something worthwhile to write about.

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A different kind of list

Posted by Matt on March 13, 2011

It’s another tier list. Because these are easy to do, but also interesting.

So may I present The Unarguable Tier Rankings of Major Simpsons Supporting Characters*

Top Tier
(These are the best of the best. These characters have developed the knack to not only be great gag characters, but can easily carry their own storylines, often contributing to some of the series’ best episodes

Mr. Burns
Grampa Simpson
Ned Flanders
Principal Skinner
Apu
Krusty

Mid Tier
(These characters carry many of the same strengths of the Top Tier class, being funny for one-off gags as well as having enough character to support a story, but they lack the sheer versatility of the Top Tiers)

Chief Wiggum
Milhouse
Mrs. Krabappel
Patty & Selma
Smithers
Moe
Barney
Reverend Lovejoy
Nelson
Mayor Quimby

Mid Tier
(These are fun characters to have around, but generally are not strong enough to really carry a strong storyline)

Groundskeeper Willie
Maude, Rod & Todd Flanders
Superintendant Chalmers
Kent Brockman
Martin
Lenny & Carl
Ralph
Dr. Hibbert
Mr. & Mrs. Van Houten
Otto
Dr. Nick
Comic Book Guy
Jimbo, Kearney, & Dolph

Low Tier
(One-note joke characters. Often times funny, but all-in-all flat.)

Professor Frink
Jasper
Hans Moleman
Cletus

(*Discounting guest star characters like Sideshow Bob, Fat Tony, etc., who are made to be able to carry a story on account of being guest star characters. I didn’t include the Hartman duo of Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure because they’re sort of in a class of their own).

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A List

Posted by Matt on March 1, 2011

Well, now that that’s over with, back to fun.

You know what’s coming out Sunday? I’ll give you a hint (by which I mean I’ll link to the answer).

To celebrate the incoming POKEYMAN games, Ill do something special. As the games introduce 156 new monsters, I decided that I’ll go through them all and pick the 25 (plus a few extras, as you’ll see) that really stand out. Yep, here are the coolest things to come out a game for 10-year-olds that I will also be buying:

Read the rest of this entry »

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