Thursday, March 28, 2013

I Can't Watch Anything Without Developing a Crazy Fan Theory

As previously noted on this blog, I'm watching my way through 'Babylon 5', and last night I got to 'Interludes and Examinations'. For those of you who don't want to know what happens in a twenty-year-old TV series, you should probably navigate to a different page, because the spoilers are going to hit hard and fast here, but for those of you who either do want to know or have already seen the series and just don't remember specific episode titles that well, this is the episode that features the death of Kosh.

Or does it?

Because let's face it, the whole episode hinges on the idea that Kosh finally breaks the millennia-old pattern of being a lying, scheming, untrustworthy manipulative bastard who somehow still thinks of himself as holding the moral high ground, and does the right thing for once in his life even though it kills him...and then is promptly replaced a few episodes later by a Vorlon who's a lying, scheming, untrustworthy manipulative bastard who somehow thinks of himself as holding the moral high ground. And he's totally not the same Vorlon, and we know this because he wears a different outfit. And because, well, Kosh just wouldn't play emotionally manipulative games like that with Sheridan's head, not this time. That's why he appeared to Sheridan as his father and forced Sheridan to see a vision of his beloved parent dying before his eyes, to show how he was done being emotionally manipulative!

My theory is this. When Sheridan confronted Kosh in the hallway, Kosh rapidly realized that this was one time when his usual "cryptic jackass" schtick wasn't going to work. Sheridan wasn't about to back down, and no longer respected Kosh's moral authority to conduct the war in his own fashion. The thought of actually respecting Sheridan's autonomy and treating him as an equal partner clearly never even occurred to Kosh; if it did, he'd have said to Sheridan, "If the Vorlons enter the war, the Shadows will kill me in reprisal," instead of saying, "If you do this, there will be a price. I will not be with you when you go to Z'ha'dum." The former allows Sheridan to make an informed, rational decision over the value of risking the life of a friend and ally in order to make a decisive strike against the Shadow forces (as well as allowing him to prepare for the counter-strike when it does occur, and possibly saving Kosh's life)...the latter is a thinly-veiled threat, the kind a parent makes against a petulant child. (While simultaneously being the act of a petulant child: "Well, fine! If you're going to tell me what to do, maybe I'll just die, huh? I bet you'd be really sorry if I died and you had to fight the Shadows all by yourself!")

At this point, Kosh goes off, rallies the Vorlons, and they have their decisive battle...and then he walks right back to his quarters at Babylon 5. This is an action that really only makes sense if he's either a) going to fake his own death, or b) if the "petulant child" theory is correct, and he's really so into his Vorlon Pity Party that he's going to let the Shadows kill him just to make a point to Sheridan that acting like you know better than a Vorlon has serious negative consequences. (In fairness, JMS says that he goes to his death willingly because he doesn't want to risk anyone else dying to defend him, but that's really a slightly nicer way of saying, "Vorlon Pity Party" all over again. "No, I don't trust you to make a rational, informed decision that might cost someone their life. I'll just sit here and die so that you don't get hurt. Don't feel bad for me or anything. It's not your fault that I died saving your species, just because you wouldn't listen to me when I told you I knew best.")

Which is pretty much what Kosh says, at the end. And just to really twist the emotional knife in good and hard, he says it wearing Sheridan's father's face. Sheridan is forced to watch his father die, which is emotional sadism of the highest order even if he does know it's Kosh behind it. Given that, and given Kosh's history of manipulating people towards what he sees as benevolent ends without any real regard for them as people--let's face it, Kosh only acts even remotely nice in order to reward people for doing what he wants them to--I don't see any reason why we can't assume he escapes the Shadows (he's already duked it out with them once and only received minor damage to his encounter suit) and then comes back as Ulkesh in order to punish Sheridan for disobeying. (Yes, I'm aware that this will require a little work to make fit into the events of "Falling Towards Apotheosis". More on this later.)

I think that the only reason people ever believed Kosh would die for someone else like that is because he slots into the Wise Mentor role for Sheridan in the Campbellian ur-myth, and Wise Mentors always die mid-way through the story so that the hero can find his own way in the world. But if you instead assume that the younger races are not so much being taught by the Vorlons as relentlessly patronized and used as catspaws in an ancient, petty feud, it becomes pretty clear that there's no way Kosh is going to sacrifice himself for anyone. It's completely out of character for him. Whereas lying, shamelessly using guilt as a tool to make people do what he wants, and using his chameleonic abilities to appear to someone in a form that they will listen to, well...that fits right in.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Quiz: Babylon 5 Episode Title Or Prog-Rock Song Title?

Five of the titles below are Babylon 5 episode titles. Five are prog-rock songs. Without resorting to Google, which is which?

1. "Dharma for One"

2. "Midnight on the Firing Line"

3. "The Geometry of Shadows"

4. "In the Court of the Crimson King"

5. "On the Silent Wings of Freedom"

6. "Requiem for Methuselah"

7. "The Enemy God Dances With the Black Spirits"

8. "Passing Through Gethsemane"

9. "Intersections In Real Time"

10. "Stormbringer"

(The astute among you will notice at least one trick question.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"What Do You Want, Doctor?"

I absolutely cannot get this scene out of my head, so...

Anyone walking through the Zocalo would have noticed nothing more than two nice young men. They might even have spared a passing thought to just how nice they seemed; both of them were well-kept and smartly-dressed, a far cry from the usual riff-raff and shady sorts that were attracted to Babylon 5. Admittedly, the bow tie made one of them look a little old-fashioned, but there was nothing wrong with that. Two nice young men, smiling pleasantly and having a friendly chat. Nothing to draw much attention. Nothing worth talking about. Nothing worth a second glance. That's what anyone walking through the Zocalo would have thought...because they weren't looking at either man's eyes.

"So tell me, Doctor," Morden said, "what brings you to Babylon 5? What do you want?"

The Doctor smiled. It didn't make him look younger; far from it. The smile was the weary, cynical grin of a thousand years, entirely out of place on such a young face. "'What do you want?' That's a dangerous question. Possibly the most dangerous question in existence. Well, apart from 'What does this button do?' and 'Do you think I should cut the red wire first?' Both of which tend to get some remarkably shirty and unhelpful reactions--"

"How can it be dangerous, Doctor?" Morden smiled disarmingly. It didn't make him look younger, either. Morden smiled the same way that burglars jimmied open windows. "It's just a simple question. I'm trying to help you. And I can't help you unless you tell me what you want."

"But that's exactly why it's dangerous. When I answer that question, I give you information about what it is that I value. If I answer, 'Jammie Dodgers'--" the Doctor held up a hand quickly-- "just as a hypothetical example, mind you, I have some in my pocket already, they're a bit fluffy but still perfectly good--but if I do answer 'Jammie Dodgers', then you have a hold on me. If I have something you want, or something you need, you can get it from me by promising me Jammie Dodgers." The Doctor's tone was light, his voice rattling through the words as though they were in a hurry to leave, but his eyes were as cold and dark as galaxies.

"And since you know what I value, but I don't know what you want, you can make it seem as though your offer is highly prized...and mine almost worthless. Why wouldn't I trade whatever little trifle you ask for in return for my heart's desire? And before you know it, you're asking for a little more each time and giving away a little less, and I don't even realize the value of what I've lost and what you've gained, and I don't notice how much power you have over me until I've given away an entire universe...for a single stale biscuit." The Doctor leaned forward in his seat. His smile had vanished entirely. "A person who knows exactly what people want is the second most dangerous man in the universe, Mister Morden."

Morden stared back, his own smile still present but looking decidedly strained. "It sounds like you've already made up your mind, then," he said. "That's a shame, Doctor. I think my associates would have been very interested in you."

The Doctor looked to Morden's immediate left. Then his immediate right. "Oh, I suspect they will be anyway. People like them usually are. Assuming you have a very broad definition of the word 'people', which I generally do. I'm sure I'll be seeing you again, Mister Morden. Just like I'm sure you'll be seeing me." He rose to leave.

Morden let him get almost out of earshot before his curiosity got the better of him. "Doctor?" he called out.

The Doctor turned, looking as though he wasn't obeying quite the same laws of physics as everyone else did when he did so. "Yes?"

"You said the second." Morden's voice was very steady when he asked. It was the sound of someone trying very hard not to sound nervous. "What would the most dangerous man be?"

The Doctor smiled sadly, the sort of smile given by a teacher when a prize pupil made an expected mistake. "I should have thought that was obvious," he said softly. "The most dangerous man in the universe is a man who doesn't want anything you can provide." He turned away again, and his casual, "Goodbye, Mister Morden," was lost in the crowd.

Morden looked to his left. Then to his right. If he spoke, it was nothing anyone in the Zocalo heard.

Friday, March 15, 2013

My Family, It Brings the Crazy

Tonight my daughter, who is now seven and in first grade, went to the school carnival with her biological dad. He bought her cotton candy, which he jokingly told her was a new pet named 'Fluffy'.

"And now I'm devouring his flesh," she said.

I don't think I really need to add anything to that, other than to say, that's my little girl.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Why It Sucks Sometimes Being a Doctor Who Fan

BBC: I'm sorry, I'm afraid that we're going to have to postpone the start of your season again. Budget concerns, you know. You'll just have do make do with the back half of Season Seven and a couple of specials for your 50th anniversary.

Doctor Who Producer: But our series is a phenomenal success! It's getting astounding ratings and great audience appreciation numbers every year, year in and year out!

BBC: Well, yes, but you see it's a question of money. Doctor Who is quite expensive to make, you see, and we've got a limited budget.

Doctor Who: But when you factor in overseas sales, merchandising, spin-offs, tie-ins, and the DVD market, the show is actually the most profitable thing the BBC makes!

BBC: AHEM. We do not sully our hands with mere commerce. We are the BBC, proud guardians of the glorious cultural heritage of Great Britain! It doesn't matter how much grubby, filthy lucre your series makes--we don't even keep track of such things!* What's important is the artistic merit of what you create, dear boy.

Doctor Who: Well, our AI numbers haven't dipped below the mid-80s since the series started. By the BBC's own standards, we're making a series that everyone who watches considers to be some of the finest material on television.

BBC: Yes, and that's wonderful. But you see, it's very expensive...

(wash, rinse, repeat...)

*Not literally true, but more or less accurate; money that 'Doctor Who' merchandising doesn't go back to making more 'Doctor Who', it goes back to the BBC's general Dramatic Series pool. They might keep track of it, but it doesn't count in the series' favor, because the BBC is not supposed to be concerned with turning a profit.

Friday, March 08, 2013

City of Heroes Update: Next Year in Jerusalem!

If you're reading this, you might very well share my interest in 'City of Heroes', and my frustration with the shutdown of the game last November. (If you're not reading this, then you have no taste in literature and you probably hunt puppies for sport. So nyeah.) I've been following the efforts of various fans to restore the game in some form or other, and thought that those of you not in the loop might appreciate an update on the matter. Because, of course, I totally have a bigger audience than the Titan forums and it entirely consists of people who don't know how to use Google.

There are three basic plans being advanced at this point. The first, which is probably the most desired outcome, is a plan to purchase the property from NCSoft, rehire the most essential Paragon Studios staff, and restart the game. This is probably the plan with the lowest chance of success, as everyone involved is aware, but it's not hopeless by any means. Acclaimed fantasy author Mercedes Lackey, who was a long-time member of the community almost since its inception (she even wrote a short story set in the CoH universe) is using her contacts in the science-fiction and fantasy industry (and within the former Paragon Studios) to craft business proposals that actually stand a chance of being listened to. The current target is Google Play, who have already expressed some tentative interest in the idea. We should know more on this in a month or so.

The second plan, which is probably the most likely to see results first, is a plan to "reverse engineer" the servers using the data from eight years' of gameplay and the client saved to the hard drive of each player. The idea behind this is that while NCSoft owns the intellectual property, and they own the code on the servers, each player owns the software that they bought and paid for and still have on their hard drive. So if you can make a server that uses none of NCSoft's code or IP, and people interact with it using a legally-purchased copy of 'City of Heroes', then you can make a CoH clone and NCSoft can't do squat about it. (Of course, some people have pointed out that frivolous C&D letters are a common tool of big companies, but it's at least worth trying to follow the copyright laws in a situation like this.) The coders involved have already made big progress; you can apparently log into their server and move around the first city zone, albeit as a translucent ghost-person who skids around through the air like you're sliding on invisible ice. But for three months of work, that's hellishly impressive progress.

The third plan, which is in some ways the most interesting, is what started as "Plan Z". It's an attempt to create an entirely new game from scratch, one that retains no aspects of CoH's code, mechanics or IP, but retains a similar "feel" in its gameplay and theme. There are currently two projects going on under this banner, "Project: Phoenix" and "Heroes and Villains", and while both of them are still in very early development and unlikely to be playable even in an alpha state anytime soon, they are both moving and could result in an embarrassment of riches if they turn out to be as good as the game that inspired them. In short, while this is a frustrating time to be a fan of the best superhero MMO ever, the future does have a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel!

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Evolutionary Biology for Jackasses

The other day, I was reading an article on the Gawker network about American culture and obesity. The article didn't really stick in my head (which is why I didn't link to it) but one of the comments did. It was someone insisting that all of the medical information indicating that there is a heritable component to obesity, and that it's easier for some people to lose weight than others, is all being completely overstated and overblown by fat people who don't want to admit that they're too lazy to lose weight. His argument was that there couldn't be a genetic element to obesity, because there's no way evolution would select for a trait that made you overweight, because you'd have a hard time escaping predators.

Now, I know that you, my regular audience, is far too intelligent to fall for that line. But on the off-chance that someone is wandering into my blog for the first time and actually believes this, I will explain it to you in simple terms.

For approximately 99.999995% of the 3.5 billion years life has existed on this planet, for approximately 99.999995% of the living beings on this planet, food has been scarce. Starvation has been a real and omnipresent risk for every single living thing for longer than human beings can actually comprehend, and even today, a relatively tiny percentage of a relatively tiny number of species can actually avoid this food scarcity. As a result, life on Earth has spent 3.5 billion years adapting to become the most efficient energy storage machines it is possible to be. Your mind may know that there is food in the store on the corner, but your body is the inheritor of a vast and complex legacy that knows, on a genetic level, that the next meal may not come for days.

Human beings have not adapted to deal well with a super-abundance of food for the same reason that we have not adapted to deal well with leprechaun attacks, or rampaging unicorns. It's just fundamentally something we have never encountered in any meaningful sense. To suggest that somehow primitive Twinkies tempted our proto-hominid ancestors, and that evolution favored the lean and the mean over the mastodon-hide couch potatoes until the modern generation started going to hell in a handbasket, is to be fundamentally ignorant of the basic facts of biology. You know how you can tell this? Because actual evolutionary biologists are telling you.

So let's face that basic fact. Losing weight is something that basic biology makes it hard for many people to do. If you are one of the people for whom it is easy, congratulations. I'm very happy for you. But please don't imagine that this is somehow due to your superior moral fiber, OK? Thanks.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Relationship Advice for Max and Katie of Amazing Race 22

For those of you who don't watch 'The Amazing Race', one of the teams is actually a pair of newlyweds named Max and Katie. The Race is serving as their honeymoon as well as a chance at a million bucks, which would be kind of sweet except for the fact that they're this season's token "I'm Not Here To Make Friends" team. (For those of you who don't watch 'The Amazing Race', this is a phrase that at least one team breaks out in their introductory video every season. It is code for, "The guy on this team is a hyper-competitive douchebag with anger management issues, who will take it out on his partner. The woman is passive-aggressive and prone to emotional collapse at the slightest difficulty. Both of them will take every opportunity to snipe at other teams, claiming it's because the other teams are their opponents when in fact you begin to suspect pretty quickly that they're like this to everybody.")

Obviously, I am no expert on the Race. I've never run, and it would be foolish to give them racing advice...especially because the episodes don't air live and the outcome is predetermined, even if not known. But I have been in a successful relationship for a long time, so I figure that even if I can't give racing tips, I can give marriage tips.

1. The phrase "You're the albatross around our neck here", while entertaining, does not foster a sense of partnership and trust that is so necessary to a good relationship. Alternatives might include, "Good job, honey, I think you'll get it next time," or "Try a little bit of acceleration into the turn next time." Alternatives probably should not include, "You're killing us," or "Who'd have thought it, I'm better at this than you are."

2. Long drives in unfamiliar territory can be stressful on any couple. Try to avoid blaming each other for wrong turns. Try especially hard to avoid blaming the driver when he asks you point-blank, "Do you want me to turn around?" and you respond with, "No, I just have a feeling that we're going the wrong way."

3. An important part of any relationship is knowing your partner's strengths and weaknesses. It is not, however, wise to announce your partner's weaknesses directly to the camera on national television. (Especially when it's not exactly like you're strong in that area yourself, Max. I don't know that either one of you is going to be winning any likability contests, frankly.)

Those are just a few tips--I look forward to giving more as the Race goes on!

...well, strictly speaking I look forward to giving one more and then watching these two bickering twits get Philiminated, but if not I'm sure they'll at least provide me with a few more cheap jokes.