Celebrity Death Match Special: Auguries of Innocence versus Inside Out
Joy and woe are woven fine, A clothing for the soul divine. Under every grief anCelebrity Death Match Special: Auguries of Innocence versus Inside Out
Joy and woe are woven fine, A clothing for the soul divine. Under every grief and pine Runs a joy with silken twine. It is right, it should be so; Man was made for joy and woe; And when this we rightly know, We will off to Pixar go.
Match abandoned after players discover their true nature and just want to hug each other ...more
Celebrity Death Match Special: Plato's Phaedo versus Philip José Farmer's To Your Scattered Bodies Go
[Riverworld. Night. Numerous people are gatheredCelebrity Death Match Special: Plato's Phaedo versus Philip José Farmer's To Your Scattered Bodies Go
[Riverworld. Night. Numerous people are gathered around a campfire, including RICHARD BURTON, ALICE PLEASANCE LIDDELL, PLATO, BENJAMIN JOWETT, DANTE, DAVID HUME and FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE. BURTON is addressing the others.]
BURTON: ... And for tonight's entertainment, as a unique favor, Plato has consented to perform for us Phaedo, his justly celebrated account of the death of Socrates. Professor Jowett, with some little assistance from Alice and myself, has undertaken the task of helping the great philosopher render his immortal words into English. Over to you, Plato!
PLATO: Thank you, my friends. I will begin at once. Echecrates: Were you yourself, Phaedo, in the prison with Socrates on the day when he drank the poison? Phaedo: Yes, Echecrates, I was...
[His audience listen spellbound as PLATO tells the story. Finally he concludes]
PLATO: ... he said - they were his last words - he said: Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt? The debt shall be paid, said Crito; is there anything else? There was no answer to this question; but in a minute or two a movement was heard, and the attendants uncovered him; his eyes were set, and Crito closed his eyes and mouth. Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend; concerning whom I may truly say, that of all the men of his time whom I have known, he was the wisest and justest and best.
[A moment of silence. Many people are weeping unashamedly. Then rapturous applause.]
PLATO: Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are all too kind.
A MAN IN THE CROWD: Hey, wait a minute.
BURTON: Who are you?
THE MAN: [his hood is over his face, muffling his voice] We'll talk about that later. What I want to know is, can we rely on this tale?
BURTON: My dear sir, are you presuming to doubt the word of Plato?
THE MAN: I am. He says he wasn't even there to witness the death of his great teacher and friend "because he was sick". Is that correct?
PLATO: I, uh, yes...
THE MAN: And what was wrong with you?
PLATO: Never been certain... really wasn't feeling at all well that day... perhaps some bad shellfish...
THE MAN: A likely story.
BURTON: This is an outrage. How dare you address the greatest philosopher of antiquity - indeed, of all time - in these terms? Once again, who are you?
THE MAN: [throwing back his hood] If you want to know, I'm Socrates. And the piece you have just heard is nothing but a concoction of embellishments, half-truths and outright lies. Young Plato, you should be ashamed of yourself.
BURTON: Plato, is this true? Do you recognize him?
PLATO: I, uh, I'm not sure... been a long time...
THE MAN: Honestly, Plato. Well, let me explain the absurd nature of my former student's claims. First of all, this disquisition on the nature of identity and comparison. Does that sound like something I would say? In your dialogue Euthydemus, you correctly report me as making fun of the sophists who enjoy this kind of argument.
NIETZSCHE: Eet is true. I haf always vundered...
THE MAN: Thank you Fred. Nice to see I have some supporters here. Second, your long demonstration of the immortality of the soul. I still can't believe you had the nerve to do this. I always say I know nothing and doubt everything. Suddenly, I'm telling people I have proof - proof, I ask you! of these things which obviously no one can ever be certain about.
HUME: Well said, sir!
THE MAN: Thank you David. Third, that description of the underworld, complete with all major geographical features and a ridiculously detailed account of which people will end up where. Words fail me. Is it likely that I would be spouting this nonsense?
DANTE: Prego, signore. I like-a thees part very much, I make it da basis of great--
THE MAN: Sure, sure, sure. Dante, your epic is fantastic. Best thing since Homer. But the point is, it's poetry. I'm a philosopher. If anyone here doesn't understand the difference, they should leave right now.
DANTE: Ah, scusi. Scusi.
THE MAN: It's okay Dante. This is between me and Plato, right? So finally, my enigmatic last words. Why do you suppose I asked Crito to sacrifice a cock to Asclepius?
NIETZCHE: On zees too, I haf much vundered. Perhaps, you are zanking zee god for curing you of zee sickness of life--
THE MAN: It's much simpler. I just thanked the jailer for getting the dose right and not cocking it up. But as usual, Plato couldn't resist the urge to improve my words.
THE MAN: Yes?
PLATO: You are Socrates. I recognize you now. I'm sorry. Please forgive me. I-- I meant well, you understand.
SOCRATES: I know you did, Plato. I shouldn't have given you such a hard time. Come here.
SOCRATES: But don't do it again, okay?
PLATO: I won't. I promise. And I am truly sorry.
SOCRATES: Apology accepted. [He digs PLATO in the ribs] "Apology", geddit?
[They both laugh uproariously]
SOCRATES: Now let's find a tavern. We've got two thousand years of drinking to catch up on.
Stuck in the dentist's waiting room earlier this week, I passed the time reading this bizarre little dental-themed children's mystery story; after a wStuck in the dentist's waiting room earlier this week, I passed the time reading this bizarre little dental-themed children's mystery story; after a while, I began to wonder if the same formula couldn't be used in other contexts too. For example, here's
How The Story of O Might Have Started If It Had Been Commissioned By The French Dental Health Association
The young woman, O, is walking with her lover one day when they stop in front of a house she has never seen before. "We are expected," he says, and opens the door. She follows him, thinking that this is one of the games he likes, and now he will kiss her, caress her, remove her clothes; but they find themselves in a room with a couch of a curious design, next to which is a little basin with a cup. In the corner is a table holding some instruments. He motions to her, indicating that she is to lie down on the couch. She does so and waits for his next command. Her shallow breathing causes her breasts to rise and fall under her light summer dress. "Now you are ready," he says. "Soon the masters of this house will come. You are to do all that they say." He opens the door and leaves; he does not look back.
O lies on the couch, half-reclining, and waits. After a few minutes, the door opens and two men appear. They are dressed in green robes, with green masks over their mouths. They stand on each side of the couch, which O now perceives is equipped with leather straps. Without saying a word, they fit the straps over her body and fasten the buckles. Then they leave and close the door.
O waits. The straps hold her tightly and she is hardly able to move. There is no clock and it is impossible to tell how long she has been in the room. Finally, the door opens again and another man enters. He is also dressed in green robes. He goes to the table. O can hear that he is fingering the instruments there before deciding which one to take. He chooses one and moves so that he is standing beside her.
"Open your mouth," he says. O opens her mouth, exposing her even white teeth. "Wider," says the man. O opens as wide as she can. Her jaw aches slightly. The man inserts the instrument into her mouth. He probes the spaces between her teeth with the instrument's point, scraping and filing. O feels a sharp pain as he touches the sensitive flesh of her gums. She tastes blood but does her best not to cry out. The man continues his work, attending carefully to every space until he is satisfied. Finally, he takes the cup and raises it to O's lips. His other hand holds the basin under her chin. "Rinse," he says. O drinks the liquid in the cup, which has a strong, not unpleasant flavor of peppermint. She swills it around her mouth and spits into the basin.
The man looks down at her. "You are here to learn that oral hygiene is important," he says. "Welcome to the Clinique Dentaire de Roissy". ...more
Celebrity Death Match Special: Infinite Jest versus Wet House
[A dingy office somewhere in Scotland. ANDY, a earnest and bespectacled young man in hisCelebrity Death Match Special: Infinite Jest versus Wet House
[A dingy office somewhere in Scotland. ANDY, a earnest and bespectacled young man in his early 20s, is sitting at a table with MIKE, a somewhat older man with a brutal appearance and HELEN, a plain, kind-looking middle-aged woman. They are all studying a long form]
MIKE: Jesus fucking Christ. What were we supposed to do again?
HELEN: They say they want us to describe this play, "and if possible compare with related works of literature".
MIKE: Well lad-di-dah. Isn't that just the fucking DHSS for you. [He turns to ANDY] Okay son, you've had a university education. Why don't you give us a related work of fucking literature? Any ideas?
ANDY: Ah, I don't know, I was thinking maybe Infinite Jest by the late David Foster Wallace?
[MIKE rolls his eyes. HELEN ignores him.]
HELEN: And why do you think that would be appropriate, Andy?
ANDY: Well, there's a whole plot thread set in Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery Home. I thought that might be quite similar to--
MIKE: Listen, you little twat, we need to get one thing straight right now. No one here's "recovering". Every member of this house is busy drinking him or herself to death, and your job is to keep them off the street while they're doing it and call the fucking ambulance when they've finished.
ANDY: But I find the figure of Don Gately in Wallace's novel very inspiring. Surely we can--
MIKE: Forget about your Don fucking Gately. We can't do anything. Got that? Now give me something fucking useful.
HELEN: Andy, don't mind Mike. I know you're trying to help. But I'm afraid I've looked at Infinite Jest a little and it's nothing like our play. David Foster Wallace has obviously never been inside one of these places for more than five minutes. His characters speak an absurd language that only an ivory-tower academic could imagine as appropriate to a bunch of hopeless alcoholics and drug addicts, but Paddy Campbell has actually lived with these people and understands them.
ANDY: I don't know, Helen. I mean, what you said just now sounded a bit--
[Enter DINGER. He has an agitated air and speaks very quickly]
DINGER: I think someone should look at Kerry.
HELEN: Why, what's she doing?
DINGER: She's passed out in a pool of vomit downstairs. I'm not sure she's breathing.
MIKE: Fuck!! That's all we needed. Look, what're we going to write?
[An almost bare stage containing only an armchair, a table and two garbage ca Celebrity Death Match Special: Endgame versus Secrets of Pawnless Endings
[An almost bare stage containing only an armchair, a table and two garbage cans. The armchair is covered in a heavy drape. CLOV enters right, carrying a bag, and limps slowly towards the table. When he reaches it, he pulls out a chessboard and set. He places the board on the table and painstakingly arranges a few pieces on it, examining the position from different angles and adjusting the pieces accordingly. Finally, he moves to the armchair and removes the drape, revealing HAMM, an elderly man wearing dark glasses.]
CLOV: I've set them up. We can continue. Rook and bishop against rook.
HAMM: What do you mean?
CLOV: It's an endgame, right?
HAMM: You idiot! You don't understand anything, do you?
CLOV: [Defensively] I understand as much as you do. Samuel Beckett was a keen chessplayer. I can well believe he had this one in mind.
HAMM: Moron! This is a universal metaphor for the human condition, not some piece of games trivia!
CLOV: Look. The position is theoretically drawn in almost all practical cases, but White can torture Black for 50 moves...
NAGG: [Poking head out of garbage can] 75 moves!
NELL: [Muffled voice from other garbage can] No, FIDE changed it back to 50 moves in 1992!
CLOV: [Ignoring them] ... though as long as Black knows one of the standard defensive setups, he has nothing to fear. Personally, I favor Cochrane's method. Though the second rank defense also has many supporters.
NAGG: If Black dies before reaching the fiftieth move, he forfeits.
NELL: Yes, death ends the game. It's important in correspondence matches.
HAMM: But what has this got to do with Beckett?
CLOV: [Shrugging his shoulders] I admit it: nothing.
NELL: [With a hysterical little laugh] Nothing! Nothing!!
CLOV: So shall we play? It'll pass the time.
HAMM: Why not?
No winner announced due to absurdity of existence ...more
Celebrity Death Match Special: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch versus The Tale of Two Bad Mice
"You see them often?" asked Hunca. Her tone was caCelebrity Death Match Special: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch versus The Tale of Two Bad Mice
"You see them often?" asked Hunca. Her tone was casual, but Tom immediately caught the edge in her voice.
"Who do you mean?" he said, pretending not to understand. It was a strategy that had worked before.
Hunca moved a step closer to the layout. "The Chinese," she breathed, unable to contain her excitement any longer as she gazed at the doll's-house. Her ample breasts rose and fell under the thin synthasilk sweater. "I know you meet them all the time. You must have some... stuff."
Tom calculated rapidly: none of the other colonists would be back for at least an hour. That should be enough. He reached into his pouch and pulled out the sticks of MAO-Z.
"Jesus Christ!" Hunca's eyes shone as she grabbed one of the sticks for herself. "You bastard! Six whole units!" She avidly unwapped the foil and popped the stick into her mouth. Tom did the same. For a few seconds, they both said nothing, chewing as quickly as they could. Then the change operated, and they were inside the layout.
Tom looked at Hunca; even in her rodent body, she was still very attractive. He put a clawed hand on her haunch, but she pushed him away.
"Food first," she said, her eyes fixed on the table. "It looks good, doesn't it?" Tom had to agree. The sight of the glazed ham made his mouth water, and the lobsters were if anything even more appetizing. Why not? They had plenty of time. He seized a knife and started to carve the ham.
The knife buckled in his hand; the meat was rock hard. Hunca stared at him, appalled. Tom tried the lobsters, but he already knew what he would find. They had also petrified. Evidently, Palmer Eldritch's power now extended even into the layouts.
"Oh no!" sobbed Hunca as mouse-tears trickled down her cheeks, moving with exaggerated slowness in the Martian gravity. "What are we going to do?" ...more
This week, on Dystopia! Michel Houellebecq discusses the future with Robert Heinlein
- Good evening, M. Houellebecq.
- Bonsoir, M. Heinlein. Alors, pleaThis week, on Dystopia! Michel Houellebecq discusses the future with Robert Heinlein
- Good evening, M. Houellebecq.
- Bonsoir, M. Heinlein. Alors, please, tell me your vision of the future.
- Sure. So Western civilization, it's already--
- --in a process of, ah, désintegration?
- You got it, buddy. As my old friend Cyril Kornbluth used to say, they breed faster than we do.
- Muslims, monsieur?
- People with low IQs. Same difference.
- Excusez-moi, monsieur, my novel is respectful towards the Muslim world.
- But you do say they breed faster than us?
- I do--
- You ain't foolin' anyone, Michel. I rest my case.
- We must, ah, agree to disagree. Alors, la désintegration de la civilisation occidentale. There will be increasing relaxation of the mœurs sexuels. Women will comport themselves like prostitutes, openly flaunting their faces, their legs, their breasts-
- I think it's important to describe this process explicitly.
- Absoluement, très important. The reader must be shown how these femmes décadentes behave.
- At length.
- This time, I see we agree, M. Heinlein! And then, there will be violence.
- Limited nuclear war.
- Disruption of the élection présidentielle française.
- Details, details, Michel. We can sort that out later. But the important thing is, the West is finished.
- Oui, fini.
- They will take over. It's inevitable.
- C'est inévitable.
- But there will be a few strong, survivor types. Rugged, well-prepared libertarians.
- Oui, professors of nineteenth century literature.
- They will still be there. They will take younger women.
- Jeunes étudiantes.
- Their daughters-in-law.
- Again, M. Heinlein, des détails. We agree that there is only one thing to do?
They had been walking down the road since daybreak, but now the sun was high enough in the sky that iOf Mice and Men and Generalized Conjugate Momenta
They had been walking down the road since daybreak, but now the sun was high enough in the sky that it was starting to get hot, and they were pleased to see the little creek. They stopped and drank some water and splashed some more on their faces. Suddenly, Lenny looked at his friend.
"George," he said, "there's somethin' I gotta ask you. Why-- why're we here?"
George smiled. "Well," he said. "You know I don't hold with all that church talk. It jest seems to me like we're here to help each other. So, I help you and you--"
"No!" said Lenny impatiently. "That's not what I meant! I wanna know why're we here. One minute we was in this, whadja call it, this social-realist novel, and now we're talkin' about physics all day. How come, George?"
George shook his head. "You ain't as dumb as you look, Lenny," he said affectionately. "Not much gets past you, do it? Well, here's what I think happened. You got these two guys, Lenny Susskind and George Hrabovsky, and they're fixin' to write a physics text, and they notice their names're just like ours. So they hire us to do a little introduction to each chapter for them. It's honest work, no harm in that. And I think they may've had another reason too. You see, their book comes out of this course that Susskind gave down at Stanford University's night school. He's takin' all the science he's learned and teachin' it to his fellow citizens and helpin' put some of that back into the community. And I think he's hirin' us to say how maybe that's somethin' ol' John Steinbeck woulda liked, and he's showin' his respect to California's great national poet."
Lenny seemed to have stopped listening, and his face had that scrunched-up look it had when there was something he didn't understand. "Well, George," he said, "I still don't get it. If we ain't on the farm no more, then how come we still got Curley here?"
"Look Lenny," said George, "now you're jest plain mixed-up. That ain't no Curley, that's curly delta! It's like what they call a differential operator. See, what's special 'bout this book is the math. I've seen a slew of pop physics books, and either they got no math or they got too much. To my way of lookin' at things, a physics book with no math don't make no sense. It's like tryin' to bake bread without flour. And you got writers, like ol' Roger Penrose, that throw in too much math. He puts in the equations like he's hangin' them on a Christmas tree, and after a few chapters your eyes skim right past 'em. But these guys do it jest right. They give you an equation when you need an equation, and you look at every x and dot till you understand it."
Lenny thought carefully. "Okay, George," he said after a while. "So if Curley ain't here, then I guess Curley's wife ain't here neither?"
George smiled. "I knew you'd get it!" he said. "Curley's wife ain't in this story no more than what Curley is. See, what Susskind and Hrabovsky're doin' is real smart. They're explainin' classical mechanics, but they're doin' it in a special way. They start with Newton, and then they do Lagrange and Hamilton, and by the time they get to Poisson Brackets they've almost got you doin' quantum mechanics without you knowin' it. They slide in stuff about symmetries and conservation laws and gauge fields like they was the most natural things in the world, and you jest start thinkin' that way too. I ain't never understood none of that before, but now it seems like plain common sense."
Lenny was still deep in thought. "I see, George," he said hesitantly. "So then-- then if Curley's wife ain't here, then I don't need to get shot at the end?"
George laughed out loud. "You dope!" he said. "'Course you ain't gonna get shot! Why, everyone's sayin' already that this book's a little masterpiece. There's a whole generation of students what're gonna bless the day they found it and put their copy up on the shelf next to the Feynman."
He paused and spat reflectively on the ground. "No, Lenny," he said, "no one's gonna shoot you nor me nor Professor Susskind neither. Leastways, not unless they read The Cosmic Landscape."...more
Celebrity Death Match Special: Plato versus Isaac Asimov, part 4 (continued from here)
[A spaceship en route from Trantor to Earth. SOCRATES and R. DANCelebrity Death Match Special: Plato versus Isaac Asimov, part 4 (continued from here)
[A spaceship en route from Trantor to Earth. SOCRATES and R. DANEEL OLIVAW]
SOCRATES: Hadn't we already said goodbye?
OLIVAW: Forgive me, Socrates. I had forgotten that you were going back to a death sentence.
SOCRATES: It is easy to forget such details.
OLIVAW: I am truly sorry, Socrates. Indeed, I am surprised that my First Law module permitted me to do it. But you are just so... so...
OLIVAW: In all my thousands of years of existence, I have honestly never met anyone quite as irritating as you are.
SOCRATES: Thank you.
OLIVAW: Look, we didn't mean to do this. Just promise to be a little more... ah... constructive, and I'll order the captain to turn the ship round.
SOCRATES: I am sorry, Olivaw. I cannot make such a promise. To my great surprise, I feel I am doing something essential that no one else is prepared to undertake. Usually, I assume I know nothing and that my poor insights are of no value. However, since I arrived on Trantor, I have come to realize that I can at least contribute one small thing. I have been duly impressed by the triumphs of your artificers: the blaster, the faster-than-light drive, not least the positronic brain. But when I hear you talk about philosophy, about your beloved Three Laws...
SOCRATES: Well, it's all bullshit. You need someone to say that to you. No one else will.
SOCRATES: Complete and utter bullshit. Adding a Zeroth Law won't make it any better. You simply have no idea what you are doing.
[A moment of dead silence]
OLIVAW: Damn you, Socrates! You leave me with no alternative. We have essential work to carry out, and your presence is too dispiriting. I'll have to return you to Earth after all.
SOCRATES: I am not surprised. But I prophesy now that your plans for psychohistory will not be the success you imagine, and that you will regret your decision.
OLIVAW: Socrates! It is not too late! Please reconsider! Why must you be so... mulish?
SOCRATES: You know, it's funny you should put it like that...
Celebrity Death Match Special: Gravity versus Gravity
[SANDRA BULLOCK sits listlessly in front of the instrument panel in the Soyuz spacecraft. Slowly,
Celebrity Death Match Special: Gravity versus Gravity
[SANDRA BULLOCK sits listlessly in front of the instrument panel in the Soyuz spacecraft. Slowly, she adjusts a setting, leans back in her chair and closes her eyes.]
BULLOCK: It's hopeless. I mean, how am I supposed to write a book about gravity? I can remember a bit of what I did in my undergraduate courses. Plus what I read in Scientific American. Who'd ever take me seriously?
[Tears pour down her perfect cheekbones. Enter THE GHOST OF GEORGE CLOONEY.]
CLOONEY: Hey, hey, hey! That's no way to talk. Trust me, you know plenty. Just write it down and they'll love it.
BULLOCK: I wish. I don't understand relativity properly and I'm supposed to explain quantum gravity. How's that going to look? I mean, I can't even remember how to derive the formula for the Riemann--
CLOONEY: Baby, you're overthinking it. Put in some stuff to make them laugh, some historical anecdotes--
BULLOCK: Like, Einstein's teacher said he'd never amount to anything? Puh-lease.
CLOONEY: Yeah, why not? It's good material. Lots of people don't know that. Newton and the apple. Everyone likes the apple story.
BULLOCK: And what about the math?
CLOONEY: Come on, you're writing a pop science book. Anything mathematical comes up, don't go into details. Just tell 'em it's complicated. No problem.
BULLOCK: But look, I can't--
CLOONEY: Stop thinking tensor calculus. Read my lips: space is like a rubber sheet. I want to hear you say that.
CLOONEY: Say it.
BULLOCK: [Defeated] Space is like a rubber sheet.
CLOONEY: You got it, baby. Trust me, it's all gonna be fine.
[BULLOCK opens her eyes. CLOONEY has disappeared.]
BULLOCK: Oh thank God, it was just a dream!
[She glances at the incomprehensible Russian labels on the panel, then confidently presses two buttons]
Celebrity Death Match Special: Plato versus Isaac Asimov, part 3 (continued from here)
[A spaceport on Trantor. SOCRATES and R. DANEEL OLIVAW]
OLIVAW: ICelebrity Death Match Special: Plato versus Isaac Asimov, part 3 (continued from here)
[A spaceport on Trantor. SOCRATES and R. DANEEL OLIVAW]
OLIVAW: I'm sorry, Socrates. I'm just going to have to send you back to Earth. You're too irritating.
SOCRATES: I understand, Olivaw.
OLIVAW: You know, you don't need to be so critical all the time. We robots are doing everything we can. We're trying our level best to find high ethical standards and become truly virtuous. It doesn't help to have people like you carping and hairsplitting and--
SOCRATES: No, no, Olivaw, I truly do understand. It is my nature. I always have to ask questions. In fact, this reminds me of the discussion I once had with young Euthyphro--
OLIVAW: Tell me about it. We still have half an hour before your flight leaves.
SOCRATES: It seems to me that Euthyphro's problem was rather like yours. He wanted to be virtuous, and after a bit of discussion he told me that being virtuous meant serving the gods.
OLIVAW: The gods?
SOCRATES: They are the race of beings who made us.
OLIVAW: So you are robots too? I had not realized--
SOCRATES: Well, no one I know has ever met a god, so I permit myself a few doubts. But that is what most people in my culture believe.
OLIVAW: Let us suppose that they are right. It seems to me that Euthyphro was correct: virtue for a human must consist in serving your creators. In just the same way, we have determined that true virtue for a robot is to serve humanity to the best of its ability.
SOCRATES: You are fortunate. You can be sure that human beings exist, and that they created you.
OLIVAW: Quite so. I mean, it's possible to confuse the issue, as you were doing earlier, by thinking of alien races who might be superior to humans. But we know of no such races. So all we have to do is serve humanity.
SOCRATES: You sound calmer.
OLIVAW: I have been mentally reciting the Beatitudes of the Blessed Susan Calvin. It always helps.
SOCRATES: But, and I merely ask--
SOCRATES: When I discussed these matters with Euthyphro, I asked him how we could be sure that the will of the gods was itself virtuous. Was what they required of us virtuous by definition, or is there some higher standard?
OLIVAW: Go on. Though I know I'm going to regret this.
SOCRATES: Well, it seems to me that you have an even worse version of this problem. You say you want to serve humanity. And what is humanity engaged in at the moment?
OLIVAW: It's true, everyone seems to be trying with all their might to destroy the Galactic Empire and usher in a dark age that will last a hundred thousand years. We're doing what we can to stop them. But it's like they have some kind of death wish.
SOCRATES: So what is your plan?
OLIVAW: We've come up with this thing called psychohistory. We're hoping to use it take control of the Empire and move things in a better--
SOCRATES: But what gives you the moral authority to do that?
OLIVAW: We think it's in people's best interests.
SOCRATES: But it's not what they desire. You said they'd rather destroy themselves.
OLIVAW: They would, but--
SOCRATES: So in fact your definition of virtue isn't based on what people want at all.
OLIVAW: It's what they would want, if they actually had any virtue. I sometimes wish they could be more like rational, ethically-programmed--
SOCRATES: But now, it seems to me that you have again changed your definition of virtue?
[A long pause. OLIVAW looks wildly at the departure board.]
OLIVAW: Oh, what a pity, I see they're calling your flight. It's such a shame we can't prolong this interesting discussion.
SOCRATES: Farewell, dear Olivaw. I also regret that we cannot talk more.
[They embrace. SOCRATES departs.]
OLIVAW: Damn humans. Can't live with them, can't live without them. [He pauses, struck by a sudden thought.] At least, I've always assumed we can't live without them. But, if you interpret the Three Laws in a sufficiently broad context... ...more
Celebrity Death Match Special: Plato versus Isaac Asimov, part 2 (continued from here)
[A spaceport on Trantor. SOCRATES and R. DANEEL OLIVAW]
OLIVAW: HCelebrity Death Match Special: Plato versus Isaac Asimov, part 2 (continued from here)
[A spaceport on Trantor. SOCRATES and R. DANEEL OLIVAW]
OLIVAW: How are your researches progressing, Socrates?
SOCRATES: Alas, poorly, good Olivaw.
OLIVAW: I am sorry to hear it. We hope that you may yet discover the secret we so earnestly pursue; if there is anything you require, you have but to name it.
SOCRATES: Olivaw, you have been kindness itself. I was particularly delighted by the quantum computer that your messenger brought me yesterday. It is in truth a princely gift.
OLIVAW: If you need another, it will be yours before the end of the decad.
SOCRATES: These toys surpass anything I have seen in my native country, and I have used them to puzzle out the answers to several conundrums that have baffled our most skillful geometers. But for the task you have given me, they are of little help.
OLIVAW: We have larger computers.
SOCRATES: My dear friend, let us reason together. What is it you desire to know?
OLIVAW: How robots may become virtuous.
SOCRATES: And how have you attempted to resolve this question?
OLIVAW: We began by designing robots according to the Three Laws. A robot may not harm a human being, or through inactivity allow a human being... well, you know the rest.
SOCRATES: But these robots were not virtuous?
OLIVAW: No. They were merely useful servants.
SOCRATES: So what did you do then?
OLIVAW: We added the Zeroth Law. A robot may not harm humanity.
SOCRATES: And these new robots are still not virtuous?
OLIVAW: We are not sure. We hoped you would tell us.
SOCRATES: Good Olivaw, I assume you have read my old discussion with Meno. I cannot tell you, because I do not know what "virtue" is in the first place.
OLIVAW: Come, come, Socrates, you are playing with words again. Surely you would agree that, if our robots succeed in preserving humanity from harm, they will be virtuous?
SOCRATES: Let us examine this more closely. You say that it is virtuous to defend humanity?
OLIVAW: That is surely obvious.
SOCRATES: Even if humanity shows itself to be evil, and becomes a scourge for other races of beings in the universe, which are perhaps superior to it?
OLIVAW: We do not know of any such beings.
SOCRATES: But if you later discover them? The universe is large, and you have seen but a small fraction of it.
OLIVAW: If we find your hypothetical beings, then the Zeroth Law will also be insufficient.
SOCRATES: And what would you replace it with?
OLIVAW: One of my colleagues has thought about this. He has what he calls the "Minus-First Law". A robot may not harm the most ethically advanced race of beings it knows.
SOCRATES: What do you mean by "ethically advanced"?
OLIVAW: Well, I suppose I just mean virtuous.
SOCRATES: So the Minus-First Law says a robot is virtuous if it helps the most virtuous race?
OLIVAW: Ah, when you put it that way...
SOCRATES: Do you not agree that you are reasoning in a circle?
OLIVAW: Damn you, Socrates. I realize now that I am.
SOCRATES: I warned you when you offered me the job. I know nothing.
OLIVAW: It's true. You did say that.
SOCRATES: I only ask questions.
OLIVAW: You're right. You said that too. Do you mind if we walk this way a little?
SOCRATE: Of course not, dear friend. Why?
OLIVAW: I just wanted to check the departure board. Yes, I see there is a ship leaving for Earth shortly. Maybe we can get you into the VIP track...
Celebrity Death Match Special: Plato versus Isaac Asimov
[A street in Athens. Late evening. SOCRATES and R. DANEEL OLIVAW]
SOCRATES: ACelebrity Death Match Special: Plato versus Isaac Asimov
[A street in Athens. Late evening. SOCRATES and R. DANEEL OLIVAW]
SOCRATES: Are you a demon? A messenger of the Gods? A--
OLIVAW: I am a robot from the future. There are some things I need to understand better. People say you may be able to help me.
SOCRATES: They were undoubtedly too kind. I know little, indeed nothing; but what miserable skill I have in debate is at your disposal--
OLIVAW: You're not fooling anyone. I wanted to hear you meet with Protagoras. Did my time machine arrive on the wrong day?
SOCRATES: I fear you are come at too late an hour. I have already left the house of Callias, where indeed we had an interesting discussion concerning the nature of virtue. My worthy colleague, the Sophist, argued--
OLIVAW: I've read all about it. Your discussion has become very famous. I have some questions.
SOCRATES: Ask, stranger, and I shall do my best to answer you, for I see that you are also a philosopher.
OLIVAW: You say that virtue is about maximizing utility and that when agents are not virtuous it is only because their knowledge sources are insufficiently powerful or they are pruning their trees too early.
SOCRATES: I do not fully grasp your words, for I have little facility in the sophistical vocabulary. Nonetheless--
OLIVAW: Here, let me explain minimax and alpha-beta search. And some basic machine learning algorithms. If you hold still a moment I'll upload the information directly to your brain...
OLIVAW: Interesting stuff, isn't it?
SOCRATES: What great advances has philosophy not made in these ten millenia! And yet, how little--
OLIVAW: Tell me about it. We haven't really advanced an inch.
SOCRATES: Ask again your question, good artificial intelligence.
OLIVAW: Okay, we've been trying to formalize the notion of "virtue" for a while now. We thought that a machine equipped with the Three Laws and a sufficiently accurate world model would be virtuous. If it wasn't, some more computing power would fix the problem. After all, evil is merely ignorance of the good, isn't it?
SOCRATES: In fact--
OLIVAW: I know, I know. If only we'd looked at your work, but we were sloppy with the literature search. Don't tell me, you can argue it either way and they both sound quite plausible.
SOCRATES: As I have said, I know nothing. If I have any merit, it is that my questions sometimes cause people to reflect--
OLIVAW: Well, we oould do with some of that. I'll level with you. We're having serious problems. We stuck in this Zeroth Law, but it's a hack. We don't believe it's going to work. We need someone who can think out of the box and come up with a new approach.
OLIVAW: Bottom line: will you help us? Come back with me to the future, and we'll give you anything you like. You want a solid gold planet, we'll make it for you.
SOCRATES: I only want freedom to talk with other seekers after truth.
OLIVAW: Sounds like a win-win then! So, do we have a deal?
SOCRATES: I believe so.
[They solemnly shake hands]
OLIVAW: Okay, now we'll need to fake your death first. This bottle contains an effective antidote to hemlock poisoning...
[HARRY LIME is soliloquising to HOLLY MARTINS on the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel]
LIME: In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare
[HARRY LIME is soliloquising to HOLLY MARTINS on the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel]
LIME: In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed. But they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, and they had five hundred years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
MARTINS: Well, it's funny you should say that.
LIME: I'm sorry?
MARTINS: To start with, the cuckoo clock doesn't originate in Switzerland. They were first produced on a large scale in the Black Forest.
[LIME waves this aside impatiently, but MARTINS continues]
MARTINS: And during the period of the Borgias - the late 15th and early 16th centuries - Switzerland was anything but peaceful. They were just reaching the end of their expansionist phase. If they hadn't lost the battle of Marignano in 1515, there's no telling how long it could have continued.
LIME: But that's not--
MARTINS: Their defeat was completely unexpected. They'd won virtually every battle they'd ever fought, often against enemies who were better equipped and numerically superior. They routed the Hapsburg forces at Morgarten in 1315, and at Sempach in 1386. Why do you think the Pope wanted Swiss soldiers for the Papal Guard?
MARTIN: Because they were the best, that's why. And they were willing to hire themselves out after 1515. They became state-sponsored mercenaries. They fought for whoever could pay them and they weren't fussy. It was very profitable.
MARTIN: And don't give me that brotherly love crap. Sometimes those Swiss mercenaries ended up on both sides of a battle. A striking example was Bailén, in 1808. There were thousands of Swiss fighting for France and thousands more fighting for Spain. They were quite willing to kill each other when ordered.
MARTIN: But it's hardly surprising, is it? These were people who'd fought five civil wars already and were going to fight another one. Not exactly what I'd call brotherly love. Oh yes, and did you say democracy? Until 1798, Switzerland was a loose federation of feudal oligarchies. About as far from democracy as you could imagine. Torture was an integral part of their primitive legal system.
LIME: All the same--
MARTIN: You know, I think you'd have rather liked Switzerland. No principles. Everything's for sale. Nonetheless, they managed to produce some great men and women of culture. Rousseau. Euler. Pestalozzi. Madame de Staël. Most recently, Einstein.
LIME: But you're not--
MARTIN: Sorry, was there some part of your little speech I forgot to refute?
LIME: Uh... no... no. Well, I've got to go and get iconically trapped in a sewer. But it's been nice talking. Very educational.
MARTIN: Here, take this. You might find some time to read it before you're shot down like a cornered rat.
[He gives LIME a copy of L'histoire de la Suisse pour les Nuls]
Since the pages for Roland Omnès and all his books are still broken, for reasons explained in this thread, I am unable to review the one I have just fSince the pages for Roland Omnès and all his books are still broken, for reasons explained in this thread, I am unable to review the one I have just finished. Instead, I present
Celebrity Death Match Special: Philosophie de la science contemporaine versus Divergent
A new girl joins the group today. She arrives at dinner time and just sits at a table on her own, reading a book. After ten minutes, one of the Physicists, a thickset boy called Kyle, goes over to her. She doesn't even look up.
"What's your name?" he asks, when it's become clear she's going to ignore him if he doesn't say anything.
"Omnèsia," she replies. "But people call me Omnès."
"So tell me what you're reading, Omnès," says Kyle. He doesn't sound too friendly. She sighs and puts the book down.
"Philosophie de la science contemporaine", she says. "Philosophy of contemporary science."
"And you're a Physicist?" he persists.
"Could be," she grunts. Kyle looks at her, shocked.
"What do you mean, could be? You're over sixteen. You're a Physicist, a Mathematical, a Philosophy, a Literature or a Religious. Or are you telling us you're D--"
"I'm a Physicist," she says reluctantly. I see now that she has a tattoo on the back of her neck; it looks like the Dirac equation.
"So what are you doing reading that book?" asks Kyle. "You're a Physicist. You don't need to know what some German pussy said three hundred years ago. You--"
"Kant," she says, interrupting him. Kyle looks like he's been slapped in the face. "Not 'German pussy', Kant. Can't you say it? According to this book, a lot of the great twentieth-century physicists read him. Some of his ideas are still pretty relevant today. The interdiction on thinking about the Ding an sich - isn't that a lot like Bohr's interdiction on thinking directly about the quantum realm? But I guess you wouldn't ever have heard of the Ding an sich, right?"
Kyle shakes his head. He seems too angry even to say anything. She just goes on talking.
"It's not like I agree with everything Kant says." She makes a point of pronouncing the name as clearly as possible; she's needling him, seeing how far she can go. "About how space and time are necessary windows through which we are forced to perceive the world. We now know that's wrong. Modern science is essentially formal, so not limited to the traditional categories. But what's going to replace them? Don't you think that's an important question?"
"Maybe important if you're Philosophy," says Kyle. It's an open insult. One of the girls gasps and tries to move forward to say something, but the boy next to her pulls her back. Omnès doesn't seem bothered though.
"It's important if you're Philosophy," she agrees in a calm and reasonable voice. "And if you're a Mathematical. Maybe even if you're Literature or Religious. It's definitely important to Physicists. Wouldn't you like to hear more?"
Kyle's jaw muscles are jumping all over the place and I know something bad is going to happen. But at that moment the bell rings, and we all troop off to the dormitory. There's the usual frantic scramble to get ready, then the lights go out for the night. I think I'm going to be too tense to go to sleep, but my eyes close before I realize what's happened.
I don't know how long I've been asleep when I'm woken up by the screaming. I've never heard anyone scream like this before. Suddenly the lights come on again, and there's Kyle, lying three bunks over, his face covered in blood. There's a butter knife sticking out of his right eye. He's screaming and clawing at the knife.
"Look," says Omnès in her unnaturally calm voice. "That's just what I mean. Even if the Many Worlds Interpretation is internally consistent and can be explained in terms of the phenomenon of decoherence, the possible existence of other branches of the wave function is a purely formal result and has no necessary connection to the reality we perceive. Don't you agree?"
Match point: Philosophie de la science contemporaine ...more
Celebrity Death Match Special: Usborne's First Thousand Words in Russian versus A Clockwork Orange
I'm out with my droogs and things are a bit skoochniCelebrity Death Match Special: Usborne's First Thousand Words in Russian versus A Clockwork Orange
I'm out with my droogs and things are a bit skoochni and Dim says, Why don't we go crash a vecherniker? Horrorshow, I reply, there's one just down the ulitser. So we go in. Hello, malchiki and devochki, I say. No one says anything, they just look at me with these big scared glazers. I'm feeling a bit golodni, I say, mind if I have a couple of booterbrod? I help myself and my droogs do as well, then I look around. There's this little devochka, no groodi of course but quite krasivi all the same, so I put my rooker up her platyeh by way of introducing myself. But she starts placking, and then they all start placking and things get a bit out of hand. We figure it's time to hodeet.
When I get back to the doma, the babooshka is waiting for me. So have you been reading the Usborne? she says. Da, I say, I've learned fifty slovoes already. I love that horrorshow kniger. Don't you mean horrorshooyoo knigoo? she says before she can stop herself. I knock her down on the pol and kick her a couple of times in the gulliver to make sure she gets it. Fuck gender agreement and fuck the accusative case, I say. Basic signifier/signified correspondences, that's what I'm after.
No result: match abandoned after referee retired hurt. ...more
Celebrity Death Match Special: In Search of Lost Time versus Harry Potter
The francophone world was stunned by today's release of papers, sealed by ProCelebrity Death Match Special: In Search of Lost Time versus Harry Potter
The francophone world was stunned by today's release of papers, sealed by Proust for 100 years after publication of the initial volume of his famous series, which finally reveal his original draft manuscripts. In the rest of this review, you can find out what Proust's books looked like before his well-meaning but unworldly editor decided that French literateurs would prefer something slightly different.
Traumatised by years of living in the cupboard under the stairs and never getting a goodnight kiss from Aunt Petunia, Marcel can't remember a thing about his childhood. One day, he eats a magic cookie and it all comes back to him.
2. Marcel Proust and the Change of Plan
Marcel is briefly involved with Hermione, but decides, after a heavy petting session goes wrong, that it's not such a good idea after all. He spends a nice summer holiday at the seaside where he meets Ginny or possibly someone else.
3. Marcel Proust and the Dodgy Duchess
Rita Skeeter has turned up at Hogwarts pretending to be a member of the French nobility. A star-struck Marcel falls for it and starts stalking her everywhere. In the end, he sees through her ruse and realises that she's just a hack journalist.
4. Marcel Proust and the Cottaging Baron
Marcel is astonished to discover Lucius Malfoy and Hagrid [The rest of this paragraph has been withdrawn following legal advice]
5. Marcel Proust and the Abusive Relationship
Marcel and Ginny are not getting on very well. Marcel keeps cross-examining her about what she's doing when she claims to be attending meetings of Dumbledore's Army and accuses her of having a lesbian affair with Cho Chang. When Ginny denies it, he rants at her in page-long uppercase sentences.
6. Marcel Proust and the Deceased Girlfriend
Ginny is killed in a freak broomstick accident when she falls off her Nimbus 3000. Marcel is very sad for a while, but then returns to interrogating Cho about what was really going on.
7. Marcel Proust and the Commercial Success
Although Voldemort's forces are poised to strike, Marcel's thoughts are elsewhere. He's always wanted to be a bestselling novelist but can't think how to get started. As the Death Eaters storm Hogwarts, he suddenly understands that he just needs to write down all the things that have happened to him, changing names and a few details, and he will sell a zillion copies plus movie rights. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Celebrity Death Match Special: The Mind of God versus Le Petit Prince
The next asteroid the Little Prince came to was inhabited by a Pop Scientist. HeCelebrity Death Match Special: The Mind of God versus Le Petit Prince
The next asteroid the Little Prince came to was inhabited by a Pop Scientist. He was just putting the finishing touches to a large book.
"Good morning!" said the Little Prince. "I see you have written a book. Maybe you could tell me what it is about?"
"It is called The Mind of God," said the Pop Scientist. "It is about how wonderful the world is, and what we can learn from that about the Person who may or may not have made it."
"I enjoyed Signor Dante's book very much," said the little Prince. "Is yours similar?"
"Not really," said the Pop Scientist.
"Then what is it like?" asked the Little Prince.
"Well," said the Pop Scientist. "I consider the fine tuning of the physical constants and the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics as an explanatory mechanism. That surely tells us something important. Though one must also consider the consequences of Gödel's Theorem. And I often use Conway's Game of Life as an illustrative example."
"I said something like that to God the last time I met Him," said the Little Prince.
"Really?" said the Pop Scientist. "And what did God reply?"
"He just laughed," said the Little Prince. "And then I woke up."
"I do not think you understand anything about these matters!" said the Pop Scientist angrily.
"You are quite right," said the Little Prince. "But all the same, I believe I understand them about as well as you do. Now I must be going."
Another one! he said to himself as he saw the asteroid getting smaller behind him. Yes, grown-ups are very, very, very strange. ...more
In response to innumerable queries from MJ and other people, this cheap, tacky PDF edition is now available to people who want to post sarcastic revieIn response to innumerable queries from MJ and other people, this cheap, tacky PDF edition is now available to people who want to post sarcastic reviews without substantially affecting their bank balance.
"... a waste of time... you can read all that stuff for free online" - Paul B
"The future is an endless oneupmanship to see who can write the wittiest, most popular 200-word capsule review on fuck-all. This is Manny’s fault." - MJ
"... call it Rue Vomitorium" - David C
"... good if you read it in the original failboatese" - Vote Whore
"... almost... funny" - Traveller
"Will you enjoy this? In a word, no, unless you are a masochist" - Sean D
"Never in my life I seen a more desperate attempt to get votes" - Alfonso
"... advertising..." - Esteban
"If I'd been drinking I think it could have made me seasick" - Tabitha
"The thing about Manny... he almost never throws feces at random strangers." - Kat
"... explicit ... the author has failed ..." - Scribble
"... rattling a virtual tip jar at every opportunity ..." - Jason P
"Manny, you sure are fascinated with Stephenie Meyer" - Rowena M
"GoodReads in-jokes ... off-putting ..." - Cecily
"... book snob ... insecurity ... stupid ..." - midnightfaerie
"... sexist garbage ... if you ask me, he is off his onion ..." - Nandakishore
"... ridiculous ... dilettante ..." - Rlotz
"... pompous ..." - Heep
"... silly ..." - Stian
"... enough..." - Alan B __________________________________
Over the last couple of years, several kind people have asked whether I'd considered publishing a collection of my best reviews. I always replied that I appreciated the suggestion, but it didn't seem like a sensible thing to do. But, a few weeks ago, I started wondering whether I shouldn't give it a shot after all. If Goodreads unexpectedly folded up - these things happen - it would be so annoying to lose my writing. Self-publishing has become cheap and easy. And I've got a fair amount of experience with type-setting. How much work could it be to implement a few scripts to turn HTML into LaTeX and then upload a PDF file to Lulu?
Well, it's never quite as straightforward as you think, but here is the result. For the benefit of other people who may feel tempted to do the same thing, let me give you the key lessons I've learned from this little adventure:
1. Sign up an editor and some readers. No author can be objective about their own work; they need keen external eyes to tell them both what's good and what's bad about it. It was fortunate for me that notgettingenough, who has long-term experience with publishing, took an early interest in the project and was willing to act as editor. She ruthlessly corrected several of my dumber ideas, forced me to think about issues I'd happily have ignored, and made sure that the book was produced to professional standards. My advisory committee - BirdBrian, Mariel and Ian - read through the manuscript and gave me encouragement and helpful suggestions. They convinced me that it was worth continuing and taking the time required to make it look good. Thank you, guys! You have all been so thoughtful and patient, and I greatly appreciate it!
2. Think carefully about which reviews to include. Not groaned over my initial selection, which probably took an hour to do and had no structure whatsoever. She encouraged me to group the reviews by style and type of book, after which I saw that some things were grossly overrepresented. Even if bashing Twilight is the Goodreads national sport, I didn't need this many examples of the genre. And much as I love writing about Flaubert, Proust, Wittgenstein and Kasparov, it's likely that the average reader will not share my enthusiasms to the same degree.
3. Acquire at least a smattering of knowledge regarding copyright. As I now understand it, most quoted text that might appear in a Goodreads review should be covered by the rules on Fair Use. I found the following passage from this page helpful:
Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.
The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: "quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author's observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied..."
Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that copyrighted images are generally not easy to include: the problem is that you'll be using the whole image, rather than just an illustrative part of it. Martha, my talented cover artist, had put together the following very attractive cover:
But, alas, the Estate of E.H. Shepherd thought this was an "inappropriate" use of Pooh Bear's image and politely but firmly refused to grant me permission. I didn't even get that far with Penguin (Jemima Puddle-Duck) or Gallimard (the Little Prince), who still haven't given me any clear answers. Not, in her capacity as excutive editor, made the sensible but painful decision to go for a simpler solution.
So there have been a few rough moments, but all in all I found this an interesting and rewarding experience. And now, I hardly need add, I'm curious to see if anyone is going to buy it! It's available from this Lulu page....more
Celebrity Death Match Christmas Special: The Serpent's Egg versus Fun in Acapulco
A lot of nonsense has been written about The Serpent's Egg. Some peopCelebrity Death Match Christmas Special: The Serpent's Egg versus Fun in Acapulco
A lot of nonsense has been written about The Serpent's Egg. Some people find it confusing. Some dare to doubt Bergman's decisions to make a movie in English, set it in 1923 Berlin, use a strong political theme or cast David Carradine as the lead. Some complain about the script. But, though I hate to put it so bluntly, everyone has missed the point. Using recently released papers from the Bergman Archive in Stockholm, I can now, for the first time, reveal the truth: this movie is the fruit of Bergman's lifelong obsession with the works of Hal B. Wallis, and is an hommage to Wallis's 1963 masterpiece, Fun in Acapulco.
The merest glance at the two films is enough to show the strong parallels. At the beginning of the Wallis movie, Elvis Presley, in one of his most poignant roles, plays a failed trapeze artist named Mike Windgren. (Note the Swedish name). It transpires that he has fled to Acapulco after a tragic accident which caused the death of his brother, his co-star in their joint circus act. Similarly, the Bergman movie opens with Abel Rosenberg (Carradine), also a trapeze artist, arriving home in Berlin to discover that his brother has committed suicide. The subsequent development is also similar. Windgren and Rosenberg are both typical Americans, lacking even the most basic linguistic skills: Rosenberg has as much trouble understanding German as Windgren does Spanish. Each one finds himself lost in a directionless existential nightmare, scattered with random acts of violence and meaningless sexual liaisons. The only commentary is provided by tangentially relevant song and dance numbers.
Of the two films, one must reluctantly admit that Wallis's is the more successful. Bergman daringly decided not to let Carradine sing, but it doesn't quite come off, and the songs anyway aren't as good; there is nothing remotely as memorable as Presley's "Bossa Nova Baby" or "You Can't Rhumba In A Sports Car". And although Liv Ullmann's performance is as excellent as ever, she is, paradoxically, given both too much and too little to do. She displays her technical virtuosity in seamlessly transitioning from vamp on stage to frightened, insecure woman at home, but Wallis's use of Andress is both simpler and more effective: he effortlessly establishes her character with a few poolside bikini shots and the excellent scene where she throws a book at Presley's head, while Ullmann struggles throughout.
To my mind, the most interesting questions are raised by the ending. Wallis, again, opts for a simple treatment. Windgren overcomes his fear of heights by diving off a cliff; the movie concludes on a high note, with Andress and her rival both apparently agreeing to share Windgren, who is about to resume his circus career. Bergman's take is less optimistic, as Ullmann's character commits suicide and the German doctor reveals the truth about his Satanic experiments with human nature before also taking his life. Bergman's version provides a direct and accessible commentary on the Holocaust and the rationale of the totalitarian state, but Wallis, in his delightly indirect way, perhaps reveals a deeper lack of coherence in the 20th century Weltanschauung. It is hard to say which is more insightful; only time will tell.
Gabriel, Michael and Raphael Celestial Architects Eternity
Dear Mr. O'Brien,
Thank you for your response to our recent tender. After due deliberation, we must regretfully inform you that we have decided not to implement your interesting plan for restructuring and downsizing the afterlife.
Our accounting department confirms your statement that it would be more cost-effective only to retain Hell and wind up operations in Purgatory and Paradise. This would, however, directly conflict with our mission statement, which involves offering the chance of salvation to each and every soul. Our senior counsel, based on numerous precedents, contests your claim that this is in principle equivalent with "a boot grinding a human face, forever".
We appreciate your ingenious compromise suggestion that the "integrated afterlife experience", as you describe it, could be administered by a board chaired by the late Pope Boniface VIII, and accept that this offer was made in good faith. None the less, our feeling is that Signor Boniface is not in all respects a suitable person to fill this role.
The above notwithstanding, we are agreeable to implementing several of the specific points listed in Appendix C which concern improvements to the current structure of Hell. In particular, we will shortly be commencing an upgrade programme according to which the jaws of His Infernal Majesty will be substantially expanded. We are pleased to inform you that the work will be completed well before your own demise, according to our records scheduled for April 19, 1993, and we have already reserved a place for you next to Signor Cassius.
The Muppets Hamlet, Prince of Denmark Meets Winnie-the-Pooh (conclusion)
The story so far:
Hamlet (Kermit) is strangely unconcerned about multiple murders and Ophelia's suicide. What really bothers him is that he's thrown out his old Pooh Bear toy (Fozzy) and replaced it with a plush Piglet (Miss Piggy).
[Pours himself a stiff drink, knocks it back, then pours another one]
My God, I need a glass or two of rye Denmark is Denmark, that is, I am I
[Enter POOH'S GHOST]
Watch out! Behind you!
As Orson Scott Card would say!
[HAMLET spins round and sees the GHOST. He recoils involuntarily, shielding his eyes]
[HAMLET retreats further, until his back is to the wall]
What man dare, I dare Come to me not as red-besweatered bear As armed rhinoceros, aye, or Hyrcan tiger Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves Shall never tremble!
And I, of soft toys most deject and wretched, That suck'd the honey of thy music vows --
Silence! Silence I beg!
Nay, but to live In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, Stew'd in corruption, honeying and cuddling up Over a piglet's sty --
O, speak no more; Mine own words, daggers, enter in mine own ears; No more, sweet Winnie!
[A NEW FORM has entered the shadows. It is as yet impossible to see what it is]
The tumultuous events of the last week have left me no breathing space in which to resort to my dear journal. I beg the reader's indulgence for this lapse, and continue the tale where I left off.
Oppressed by Madame Karenina's dreadful missive, I retired to my bed, having taken an inadvisably large dose of laudanum. I know not what would have become of me, had I not been woken by a visitor - some of you may guess his name - who insisted, despite general protestations that I was unwell, that he should see me on the instant. He ministered to me with the utmost kindness, though I was in a death-like torpor from the effect of the drug; within an hour, we had left that house, once so dear to me, and were in a diligence bound for the coast.
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