Not Enough Lasers: An Interactive Fable

The first alien spaceship appeared over Blair House in 2001, followed quickly by others that positioned themselves above the White House, the Pentagon, the Capitol (there were a lot of spaceships over the Capitol), the State Department, and most other government institutions. One sneaked up very low — under the radar, although they couldn’t actually be picked up on radar — to a spot above CIA headquarters.

Once people realized what they were, they started seeing them in places where they’d actually been for a couple of years, just somehow unnoticed, in Atlanta and New York City where giant media “news” conglomerates had their operations. One was seen flying low and slow across the Atlantic to take up residence in the airspace of Downing Street.

A flurry of concern and trepidation passed over the world when humans first realized they were not alone. They didn’t know why the aliens had come. They didn’t know why they just flitted about the cities they appeared in. The one over the White House would disappear frequently, and eventually its absences from Washington, DC were linked to the appearance of a spaceship in Texas.

A variety of attempts were made to contact the spaceships, with no results. Their obvious unearthly origin was apparent but nothing could be discerned of their secret inner workings. While a few generals suggested attacks on one of the outlying spaceships to see what would happen, cooler heads prevailed and no aggressive action was taken. The fears of most people settled down and a lot of people just grew to accept the spaceships.

Then, just under a year after the spaceship over Blair House showed up, things started happening. A few spaceships would take off to nobody knew where and in a short time word of incredible damage to a city or country would make its way back. There appeared to be no rhyme or reason to the attacks. Nobody actually saw the spaceships attack, they were so fast when they moved, but people figured out soon enough that when certain of the spaceships got together that there would be trouble to follow.

After years of the attacks, the generals who had suggested a test strike on the spaceships were given the go-ahead from people concerned that the next target would be in the US. They debated the best course of action. The spaceships — except for the one that visited Texas so often — spent all of their time over populated areas. That made the use of the most powerful weapon — a nuclear-tipped guided missile — problematic. Even if the population of a city could be evacuated without alerting the spaceships over that city, by the time all of the spaceships were eradicated with nukes, most of the major cities of the nation would be radioactive ruins, and the majority of the country’s population would be homeless.

An attempt to shoot down one of the spaceships with a squadron of planes equipped with air-to-air missiles resulted in the destruction of the squadron even before the missiles were launched. At that point, one of the missiles was tried, and while the city of Minneapolis was destroyed, the spaceship just zipped around in the air — somewhat querulously — then almost seemed to shrug its shoulders before heading off to the east.

One of the generals overseeing the operation had participated in the development of a secret weapon, and he’d been ready with a Plan C. He had truly hoped not to have to suggest a test of his project, because the last time he had, it had blown up in his face. Well, not literally. Literally, it had blown up in the faces, torsos, and legs of about fifty engineers and scientists working on the project, but it had been nearly ten years since that fiasco.

They tested the weapon, a giant laser, on a spaceship above San Francisco. The beam blinked on, the spaceship turned into a cloud of fine dust, and the dust fell to the ground.

The general and his crew were celebrating their success and their continued existence when news reached them that the spaceships had gone on a rampage to destroy missile silos and missile submarines around the world. They cut their celebration short, and dispersed to a variety of locations, except for the general and a driver who stayed with the mobile laser. They waited for many hours and nothing happened. This attack at least had taken the aliens by surprise.

In the corridors of power, however, things were happening. For the first time, the aliens had contacted the humans below them. They were hideous creatures with big, clacky mandibles and grasping claws that which their demand only too believable. They had been content, they said, with the status quo, but now that their ire had been aroused they were demanding nothing less than the flesh of the children of the human race. Round them up, the order went, and put them in open fields in exactly one month’s time. We will take care of the rest. Sluuuurp!

You have a month. You have one laser and there’s no possible way to build enough of the beasts to knock out all of the spaceships. What do you do?

  • Capitulate. There’s not enough lasers. Say goodbye to the kids.
  • Compromise. Make a sumptuous counteroffer of half the children and offer to host a BBQ.
  • Fight. Build lasers like crazy and hope that you can manage to take out enough of the bastards to make them think that maybe they’ve tried to bite off more than they could chew.

Dedicated to the memory of Damon Knight, who was always a gracious host to an aspiring writer.

The White Zone Is For Loading XML

A question on DIRECT-L about sending a command from ActionScript to Lingo using a URL beginning with the string "lingo:" made me think that perhaps a post about the interrelationship between Flash and Director might be useful, since I hadn’t done anything on the subject for a while.

The question involved trying to trigger a Lingo handler with the XML.sendAndLoad in order to load data into a Flash sprite from the host Director movie. The intention was to get XML content and specify a destination for the data within the Flash movie in one operation, I assume.

The thing that’s important to understand here is that the ActionScript getURL function that supports the "lingo:" and "event:" functionality doesn’t actually tell Flash to do anything, it’s a command that passes data to the Flash movie container, whether that’s Director or a Web browser.

When you execute a getURL with a string beginning "http://" in a movie embedded in a Web page, the message goes to the browser and the browser loads a page. Flash does nothing with the command.

Likewise, when you use getURL in a Flash sprite in Director, it’s passed directly to the Flash Asset Xtra, which is then in charge of doing something with the string data. The movie itself is finished with the command.

The loading commands (for MovieClips, XML, etc.) on the other hand are completely internal to Flash. They actually return data to Flash and therefore do not send a message to the container application.

It’s not incredibly difficult to get XML-formatted data from Director into Flash — the last several applications I’ve worked on read faux-Unicode (you don’t want to know how screwy that is) Japanese XML files from the hard drive for manipulation in Director and display in Flash — but the only conduit for passing messages through from ActionScript to Lingo is that getURL command.

Sometimes You Have to Assume All the Eggs Are There

Digby introduced the FDL Book Salon with Glenn Greenwald this afternoon, and naturally the topic of impeachment came up.

As usual in these things, comments were made along the lines that impeachment wasn’t an option because there was no way to get Republicans senators on board: “To think that a significant number of gooper senators would vote to kick out a gooper president is beyone fantasy. Ain’t a gonna happen.”

The Democratically-controlled House Judiciary committee started formal consideration of impeachment in February 1974, by discussing what types of offenses impeachment covered and what grounds might exist to impeach President Nixon. In May, the committee began to hold impeachment hearings.

This is an excerpt out of TIME from mid-July 1974 after two months of Judiciary committee hearings, and about three weeks before Nixon resigned:

Impeachment Vote. The impeachment question may preoccupy the House for most of the summer, but the Democratic leadership believes that, barring some dramatic turn in favor of the President, the outcome is virtually decided. After an informal member-by-member analysis, the Democrats concluded that the House is now disposed to vote for impeachment by a margin of at least 55 votes. The lineup, according to the Democratic count: 245 (including 210 Democrats and 35 Republicans) for impeachment; 190 (38 Democrats and 152 Republicans) against. “That’s our minimum figure,” declares a ranking Democrat, insisting that the leaders counted only the sure votes for impeachment.

The survey indicates that the House will probably vote to impeach Nixon by more than a narrow margin. On the other hand, it suggests that the vote may not be spectacular enough to move the Senate to convict the President by the necessary two-thirds majority and thereby remove him from office. In any event, the mood in both chambers of Congress will be greatly influenced by the historic decision now facing the Supreme Court.

The Last Truth of the GOP

As long as we’re dredging up 2000 election history, I just ran across a couple of transcripts that made my point in another conversation.

NewsHour, 7 August 2000

FORMER SEN. DAN COATS [R-IN]: First of all, Joe Lieberman’s a terrific fellow, and I’m a good friend. It’s hard to say anything negative about him, but I do think it raises the question about Al Gore, why he chose Joe Lieberman, because their positions on some of the key issues in this campaign, Social Security reform, education, national defenseJoe Lieberman’s much closer to George Bush than he is to Al Gore and how he’s going to finesse that or answer that I’m not exactly sure. And how Al Gore’s going to explain that, whether it’s another attempt to reinvent Al Gore or another attempt to cover both sides of the issue, I think is going to be a question, because there are very fundamental issues where Al Gore has attacked Governor Bush for taking that position, and yet it’s exactly the same position or very close to what Joe Lieberman has done and said on the Senate floor.

Larry King, 7 August 2000

KING: Governor Dukakis, Ari Fleischer, spokesman for the Bush campaign, said: “Al Gore has chosen a man whose positions are more similar to Governor Bush’s than his own. The fact that Al Gore is willing to select a running mate whose positions he attacked throughout the campaign will cause many to question Al Gore’s commitment to the position he takes.” What’s your response?

Now, the Republicans were going to attack Gore’s VP choice no matter who it was, but the fact that they were attacking him for being too much like their own candidate? It may have been the last thing they told the truth about.

No 9/11

Robert Farley at LGF makes “Hopefully My Last Nader Post Ever” (which would be something considering that “nader” appears 4,280 times on the site in a Google search while “bush” shows up only 2,920 times) and dismisses the possibility that a Gore administration would have gone to war in Iraq.

No 9/11, no Iraq War.

The breakup of the 9/11 plot would have had to be 100% in order to prevent “9/11”. They would have had to know about, find, and capture or kill all four groups of hijackers in order to stop something from being referred to as “9/11”. If they’d been 75% successful and one of the towers had fallen, or if just the Pentagon had been hit, or whatever the target of the plane that went down in Pennsylvania had been hit, there would still be a 9/11.

Even if they’d been prevented from doing any major damage, the very knowledge of the plot would have been a rallying cry to do something about Muslim extremists. Remember the “Millennium” bomb plot that was foiled by border agents in Washington state? You’ve heard of it? Well, imagine if the country had found out that Osama bin Laden had four teams of guys in the US who were foiled in an attempt to hijack planes and crash them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the White House? Would people have just said “Hunh” and gone about their lives? Or would we have gone into Afghanistan as we did?

And just for fun, imagine that the Vice President was a guy who had a hard on for Iraq since before he was in Blair House. The guy who picked him is a member of his centrist political club. A bunch of the people in their club think that Iraq’s a problem for a lot of reasons.

Then the Republicans — a rowdy lot — start saying that there’s some sort of connection between the guy who almost blew up America and Saddam Hussein (who everyone knows is a bad guy). Ex-military and geopolitical strategists that the administration and its supporters listen to all say they think a war with Iraq might be a good idea. Newspaper columnists and radio and cable talkers start questioning the manhood and resolve of an administration that won’t take on the obvious threat from Saddam. The people in the President and Vice President’s club know Iraq’s not a real threat to the US — particularly since Iraq’s been under sanctions for a dozen years and they don’t have any real technology — but they do have oil. And while we’re in the region….

In Bizarro universe, where a total moron and his robot Frankenstein took control, the Vice President remained a Senator and he and almost all of his friends from the club supported a war with Iraq. In that universe, the would-be President broke with his former club members and came out against the war after conceding a close election that he won “for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy” and watching what then happened for a couple of years. Of course, he didn’t have to run for office then.

Simply A Little Bit Different

Reed College sent out an electronic newsletter linking to Die Zeit‘s article on quality US schools (“Die Wundertüte”), which mentioned Reed right up front.

The translation in the newsletter provided by a German professor said the school was right for students “who are highly intelligent or simply a little bit different” (“für die hochintelligenten oder einfach ein bisschen anderen Studenten”). I guess I know by now which category I fall into.

The Region

Inspired by “Today On Holden’s Obsession With the Gaggle”:

Q But before the war, the President said that taking out Saddam Hussein would help stabilize the Middle East. Do you think that’s turned out to be true?

MR. SNOW: Hard to say. I mean, what you saw, for instance, was very swift change of behavior on the part of Libya. Certainly we continue to work closely with our other allies in the region.

Someone needs to get the White House some maps. Libya may be a neighbor of Egypt, it may be a country with an Arab population, but one thing it’s not is the “Middle East”. It’s in North Africa.

In fact, a few minutes with a copy of Google Earth or a quick trip to’s distance calculator would show that Tripoli — the capital of Libya — is more than 1800 miles from Baghdad. Here are some other calculations:

Baghdad, IRAQ to miles
Athens, GREECE 1205
Kiev, UKRAINE 1383
Moscow, RUSSIA 1588
Warsaw, POLAND 1755
Tripoli, LIBYA 1801
Rome, ITALY 1830
New Delhi, INDIA 1968
Berlin GERMANY 2035
Helsinki, FINLAND 2060
Copenhagen, DENMARK 2174

Taking Out Saddam: Bringing Change to Libya, Finland, and India aka “The Middle East”.

A Rock

I, for one, am amazed at the total lack of humor shown by people who normally pride themselves on being funny. I can understand that “serious” political commenters with no pretense to a sense of the absurd might be befuddled by Mike Gravel staring into a camera for a minute, then walking away to grab a big rock and drop it in the water, or a couple of minutes of a fire burning with the campaign web address superimposed over it, but there seems to be an awful lot of people so invested in seeing Gravel as some sort of nutcase that their comedic radar is turned off when someone else is coming in over the horizon.

I don’t agree with Gravel on any number of issues (direct national balloting and national sales tax, for example) but I can still recognize that that the guy doesn’t seem to be too puffed up with self-importance to poke some fun at himself.

Let Us Proceed

When impeachment proceedings were started against Richard Nixon by the House Judiciary Committee in February 1974, there weren’t enough votes in the Senate to convict him. It took several months of Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski fighting with the White House and a Supreme Court decision to get the White House to turn over tapes that implicated Nixon in the Watergate cover-up.

What many members of the House would really like, of course, is for Nixon to resign, taking the House off the hook. That, too, is true on both sides of the aisle, though no House Republican has thus far dared publicly voice the feeling. (On the Senate side, the only Republican to call for resignation so far has been Massachusetts’ Edward Brooke.) Democrat [Representative] Frank Thompson Jr. of New Jersey puts it bluntly: “Most guys hope and pray for a resignation. I can think of 25 Republicans I know who will have to vote for impeachment to save their skins.”

There was concern then about referring the case to the Senate too early, but the decision was made to begin an investigation of grounds for impeachment:

Fully aware that the resolution would carry by a large margin, Republican House leaders made no effort to challenge it. They discouraged amendments because they knew that such attempts, too, would fail and the votes might be interpreted as a test of actual impeachment sentiment-to Nixon’s disadvantage. Thus G.O.P. attempts to set an April 30 cutoff date for the inquiry were opposed by such Republicans as Minority Leader John Rhodes. Also arguing against an arbitrary cutoff, Judiciary Committee Democrat William Hungate of Missouri said wryly: “We must not find ourselves in the position of the sky diver whose chute failed to open and he found he had jumped to a conclusion.”

Summing up the predominant mood of the House, Rodino solemnly and eloquently declared: “Whatever the result, whatever we learn or conclude, let us now proceed, with such care and decency and thoroughness and honor that the vast majority of the American people, and their children after them, will say: That was the right course. There was no other way.”

The ball doesn’t start rolling by itself.