Archive for April, 2009

Dirty Hippie Monday

April 21, 2009 Leave a comment

The big discussion about bailing out the economy is now the remerging question of whether or not we should legalize marijuana and then tax the shit out of it. I think this argument suffers from a number of fallacies but I should go on record to say that I think we should legalize all drugs and deal with the problem as a health issue rather than a crime issue.*

The facts are this: the majority of the population is not going to start shooting heroin or hitting the crack pipe just because it’s legal. Most people aren’t going to do something that they already aren’t doing now. Availability isn’t what drives people to use drugs. Take myself for instance, I have never smoked weed nor have I ever used heroin; but I have no doubt that if I wanted to get any of those drugs it wouldn’t take me more than three phone calls and a car ride to get them. Yet, I still haven’t done any of these drugs. The reason is that 1) alcohol is enough for me and 2) I just don’t want to. I’ve seen the horror of what an addict looks like, I’m not signing up for it.

All that being said the idea of legalization is that all the pot smokers are going to come out of the closet and start buying their weed on official levels. Is that really what people are going to do? I doubt it. If Jim is growing and processing the shit in his closet is he really going to start reporting his earnings to the government? Also are his customers going to be willing to be a percentage mark up because of the new tax stamp?

This is a “shoe horn” issue,** something being slipped in to the current debate because it holds a bit of promise even though the largest advocates haven’t really thought it through. Of course, the tax issue can be declared null if legalization causes a price drop–which it should since the dealers no longer have to add “risk” into the cost of doing the business. I would like to see it legalized if for nothing else than to shut the potheads up.

Since it’s 4/20/09 we are doing a blast from the past, originally posted in 2006 the list of historical events that all you ignorant people are celebrating today:

570-Muhammed is born. Not a bad guy himself, but his more zealous followers haven’t really been getting along in the modern world.

1861- Robert E. Lee decides that America isn’t good enough and decides to fight for the rebel slave owners.

1889-Adolf Hitler is born.

1912-Bram Stoker dies, and his big book (something about Vampires) will get turned into a hundred thousand shitty movies.

1914-The Colorado national guard opens fire on a miner’s strike killing 20 people whom were mostly children. Well, I guess only the good die young.

1918-The Red Baron kills his 80th enemy.

1953-MKUltra begins. This is the CIA’s attempt at using LSD to brainwash its victims. I suppose this is appropriate given the day.

1979-US President Jimmy Carter is attacked by a rabbit while on vacation. The Secret Service kills the rabbit. Elmer Fudd snickers.

1999-Two highschool students go on a rampage and kill their fellow classmates before committing mutual suicide.

*As a former mayor of Baltimore was crucified for advocating many years ago.
** I, rdxdave, am hereby coining this term.

Categories: current events, politics

Chariots of the Gods? II: the batteries

April 16, 2009 Leave a comment

While it may still be possible to go through the book chapter by chapter, some of the fun in dissecting this theory lies in offering alternate explanations to the evidence that Von Daniken uses. While the previous entry focused on the two major errors of argumentation that the book commits, this one will focus on an oddly unique historical artifact and how it is misused by the esteemed author.

I should note to my Myspace readers that this series is going to be placed in the “Religion and Philosophy” category. I don’t know if this is the correct label but it is at least the most correct of my choices, I would much prefer to label this in some sort of history class but that is not available.

Ok, so enough of  the introduction. Today we are discussing the “Baghdad Batteries,” a discovery made in 1936 by German Archaelogists probably searching for the Ark of the Covenant or something else (Hitler was afterall obsessed with this sort of thing). They consist of a clay pot, with an iron rod, and another metal (copper or tin) sorrounding it. The pots showed evidence of acidic decay leading German archaeologist Wilhelm Konig to claim that they are batteries.

Why this assumption? Well simply put, they work like batteries. Go to any science museum in the country, or even the world, and you can buy a kit that allows you to build a clock using only a potato. By sticking two pieces of metal (one copper the other iron or some other metal) into the potato you can generate enough current to power a digital clock. It’s a simple transfer of electrons through an electrolyte solution that generates electricity.

The solution can be just about anything, tests have involved Orange juice, vinegar, and grape juice and all have produced voltage between .5 and 1.1 volts. Not much but when you look at the time period these things were dated from (c. 200b.c.) it is still quite impressive. While the use of these things remains a mystery several theories are put forward. The best known theory, and the most widely accepted is that they were used for electroplating gold on to another metal. By running a small current through a solution of gold and water the volt while bind gold to whatever metal giving the outside a nice shiny coat. Other theories put forward involve religious ceremonies and magic displays, all plausible and realisitc theories (the Egyptians and Greeks used complex machines to influence the populace in religous rites).

While all of that is quite interesting what does this have to do with Von Daniken’s alien theory? Well, the invention of the battery is creditted with Alessandro Volta in 1799 so these clay pots put him off by just over 2000 years. Shortly before Volta’s invention Ben Franklin is doing his famous electrical experiments and inventing the lightening rod all to score tail in Paris. We have the pattern that Franklin begins to outline the principles of electricity and then an invention.

Daniken asks how those ancient Iraqis would have been able to invent a battery without understanding the basic principles governing electrons, ions, and such. The implication is that only the existence and occurance of extra-terrestrial visitation can explain the existence of the battery. From the back cover of the book, “Did Spacemen visit Earth thousands of years ago? We now have proof! -Because we find electric batteries many thousands of years old!”

Obviously the back cover is designed to catch the eye, it exploits the casual understanding of batteries. Someone just glancing at the cover may think it to mean a lithium ion battery or at the very least something akin to a duracell. On page 27, there is a brief sentence describing the battery being on display at the Baghdad Museum, which may not be true after the invasion but they were there. And finally, the inset pictures show the remains of the corroded rods of one of the batteries. The line on page 27, “Electric dry batteries, which operate on the Galvonic Principle, are on display at the Baghdad Museum,” accompanies a list of odd and curious artifacts like crystals, fabrics, and metals that seem to be inconsistent with the times they are dated back to.

Again, the implication, is that ancient Iraqis could not have built them with no understanding of electrical principles. However this assertion puts the cart before the horse. The Chinese invented gunpowder with little understanding of combustion or even the long discreditted but once widely accepted Phlogiston Theory (which described fire as being a form of matter), yet still they made gunpowder. Numerous civilizations from around the world understood that adding carbon to iron greatly strengthened the metal for use in tools and weapons, with no understanding of the changes to the element on the atomic level. I could go on but I think you get the idea.

The question than comes about as to how they invented it. I can’t give a definite explanation of this but I can offer a reasonable hypothesis that doesn’t use aliens. It was probably accidental, someone mixed iron, copper, and an acidic solution into a clay pot and shocked themselves. If you have a large clay pot, and poured a liquid through a copper funnel, then used an iron rod to mix it- you would completely recreate the necessary material and situation for the Galvonic principle to apply. My example while being a little far fetched still seems more reasonable than saying that aliens had to have done it because humans were too simple to do it themselves.

To further add to Von Daniken’s problem here, I would also like to ask where our batteries came from? Let’s assume that he is right and aliens (the ones from “V”) gave us batteries 2500 years ago. Obviously that direct knowledge was lost and we had to come up with it from scratch–with no previous knowledge and a very basic understanding of atomics. By Daniken’s reasoning we shouldn’t have batteries without outside interference, yet I’m typing on a machine that operates on a battery. This shouldn’t be possible.

Next time: Mayans and their doomsday.

sources: Strange Artifacts, Smith College Museum, BBC

Chariots of the Gods?

April 14, 2009 Leave a comment

My relationship with this book begins long ago when I was attending Trocaire College (which I would later teach at) and their library’s book sale. For fifty cents I picked up two paperbacks no longer needed in the library’s catalog. The two books ended up being at the opposite end of the scale of usefulness but their covers made them look interesting and two quarters are nothing for two books. The two were Chariots of the Gods? by Eric Von Daniken and The Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy by Niccolo Machiavelli. I read one of the books that week, the other sat in the trunk of my car for five years until boredom necessitated my picking it up. I wonder what my life would have been like had I read Machiavelli before Daniken.

I am tempted to do to this book what I did with Wiker’s book on the ten worst books in history, but as I mull that idea in my head I think a quick entry about the ideas in the book and how they are completely out of whack with reality might be in order. So that means that this entry is either an introduction to a new series or just an entry for monday/tuesday morning. I haven’t decided yet.

The renewed interest in the book for right now is that I watched a History Channel show called “Ancient Aliens” in which Daniken is the featured interviewee as his book, although frought with problems, is still the most important book on the theory. The theory is that extra terrestrials have visited the planet in various ancient times and have apparently influenced civilizations in one way or another.

The proof for this theory is varied. It resides in ancient texts, archaelogical sites, and artifacts that showcase otherworldly images and ideas, or technological and engineering feats that are deemed impossible yet still exist. The Pyramids at Giza are the most well known example. Although Egyptian hieroglyphics show vast numbers of slaves building the structures people subscribing to this theory will claim that it simply isn’t possible. Admittedly, those structures and others like it would be difficult to build; not only with slaves then but even with modern technology today. Engineers and architects will attest to it, but they attest to the difficulty of the feat not the impossibility of it.

We are not just talking about the Pyramids. Structures in South America, Meso-America, the Pacific Islands, Stonehenge, etc. all seem to be too big, too complex, or too perfect for a bunch of knuckle dragging, spear chucking, loin cloth wearing, stone-age barely homo sapiens to accomplish. Case in point is that the Great Pyramid (I’m using this because it’s easily the most well known) is allegedly oriented nearly perfect along the four compass points. And as all of us Civilization Game fans know, magnetism isn’t possible until after the Bronze Age. So without the compass how did the magic Egyptians orientate their great tomb?

Well, who is to say that they did? It could just be a coincidence. However, to be generous and say that it was on purpose couldn’t they have just used the North Star and then bisected the 90 degree angles from that? Nope, nope, nope must have been aliens. Aliens, I might add, that had nothing better to do upon landing on Earth than build a Pharaoh’s tomb.

The book and theory suffer from two imporant violations in Philosophy. The first being that of Okham’s Razor. Okham “The Razor” was an English Philosopher who stated that one must not over complicate explanations when it isn’t necessary. In other words, the simplest explanation is probably the correct one. Instead of just taking the Egyptians’ writing at face value the explanation of alien intervention is postulated. Which is the simpler explanation? Aliens landing, working with the Pharaohs, helping them build great tombs for no other discernible purpose and then leaving or that slaves built the pyramids under the lash?

The second is the fallacy of Appeal to Ignorance. This, simply put, is that if I can’t explain how the large stones were used to build the Pyramids or where they came from, then the source must be Aliens. This works on the idea that any explanation is better than no explanation. The book/theory is full of this.

I know I’m skeptical, and sometimes this leads me to discredit things a bit easily but I’m sure we will find that some theories are worth tearing apart. Although this time it should be easy to stay away from Ad Hominem attacks unlike I did with Wiker (although he did kind of have it coming).

FEMA Camps

April 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Flipping through the various news outlets during the day I’ve been hearing talk from the right wing extremists (Glen Beck mostly) about the supposed plan for the return of fascism and the complete loss of rights for the average American citizen (of course we have to forget the warrantless wiretapping and cell phone monitoring from the previous administration). According to Michelle Bachman (of Minnesota) one of our main worries should be the institution of re-education camps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Every time I think that I am thirty I am reminded about how I am actually 16. It’s like this fear can only communicated when there is a Democrat in the White House. This fear was “popular” amongst the conspiracy theory set back in the 90s when Clinton was in the White House starting around the time of the Oklahoma City Bombing. It played a central role in the horrible first X-Files movie that is a bit too involved in that series’s mythology regarding the aliens and the organization chaired (?) by the Smoking Man.

What I like about this theory the most is that it is as stable as the Pearl Harbor conspiracy when held to the light of reason and historical record. Since conspiracy theories operate under hearsay and conjecture (those are kinds of evidence right?) we have to establish how this is even remotely believed by anyone.

Allegedly, during an emergency, FEMA can suspend the civil liberties of the citizenry in order to expidite their mission. This due mainly to safety concerns where due process would jeapordize lives. So the average public would be denied things like the right to assembly or habeus corpus if a high magnitude earthquake hits San Fransisco, for example.

The problem with the theory is that it operates on a worst case scenario, in the worst of all possible worlds, and as long as the people in that world are dumb, blind, and deaf. Disaster scenarios rarely, and by rarely I mean never, approach even remotely anything like the town in the movie Outbreak.

Case in point: when a disaster of a city wide scale did occur it took FEMA three days to get water to the Superdome in New Orleans. And that occurred only after the President personally forced them to do something. FEMA couldn’t forcibly evacuate the city before Katrina made land. Why? Because the state government didn’t ask them too, which was one of the requirements in their charter.*

FEMA as an organization is more of a money giving agency than it is anything else. The current flood situation in Fargo and the sorrounding area was pretty bad two weeks ago and FEMA didn’t forcibly evacuate the area. In fact their involvement still doesn’t exist, same with the October storm in Buffalo a few years ago. FEMA didn’t provide anything but money. They don’t have the capability or the permission to do anything like some of these people are broadcasting they can or will.

It makes me wonder if these people are serious or merely charicatures.

*The strange thing here is that I am using the right wing’s defense of Bush’s actions post flood to defend their extremists’ current view point.

Categories: current events, politics

Histories II

April 7, 2009 Leave a comment

My quest thus continues from before. The last time I wrote about the book, I wrote primarily telling of how I was reading it just to read it. That was when the whole project seemed laborious. The problem was that in Herodotus’s writing he is very pedantic. Having the details of the lives of one tribe of Persians versus another tribe of Persians might be interesting to some, but if his goal is to write a detailed inquiry into the causes and primary events of the conflict between the Persian Kings and Greece (primarily Athens and Sparta) he shouldn’t bog down his narrative with the idiosyncrasies of every civilization the Persians conquered before their expedition into Hellas.

Again, we can forgive him for this because this work is the first of its kind. A written record of events whereas before it, it was only oral. Last time I wrote one of these on this book I had just finished book II which was on Egypt. It detailed the organization of society before and after their subjugation by King Dareios. The next three books detail the expansion of Persia, a brief civil conflict, and then more expansion.

Most people nowadays know of the Persian expansion under King Xerxes and the movie 300. However the account given by Herodotus both compliments some aspects of that movie but also contradicts the behaviour of Persia prior to that particular King. The primary compliment is that Persia was an expansionist kingdom under Cyrus, Darieos, and then Xerxes. Often times they did send heralds asking for gifts of earth and water as symbols of their kneeling before the crown. Those that didn’t give the heralds the symbolic gift were often brought to heel anyway.

The main contradiction is that if Xerxes fancied himself a god, then his memory is pretty short. His father Dareios was clearly not a god, and I don’t mean in some post-enlightenment atheistic way either. Dareios took the throne from usurpers pretending to be his uncle and then with twelve conspirators decided that despotism is the way to go. Xerxes, himself, was not the oldest son, the kingship fell to him as the others were deemed unfit.

What started really grabbing me in the book was the story of the rise of Dareios and the ever growing arm of the Persian throne. Herodotus wisely disregards the long historical details of the lives of different tribal parties as Persia begins its assent. My theory on this is that Herodotus is Greek and was writing for Greeks. Once Egypt, Carthage, Libya, Arabia, and Ethiopia are detailed there isn’t a reason to go into the stories of the various Greek city-states because his audience is going to already know it.

Some more selections that keep me going:

“…That in some of our affairs we should be prosperous and in others we should fail, and thus go through life alternately fairing well and ill, rather than that we should be prosperous in all things: for never yet did I hear tell of anyone who was prosperous in all things and did not come to an utterly evil end.”–King Amasis 3.40

“Pride is a mischievious possession. Heal not evil with evil. Many prefer that which is reasonable to that which is strictly just;”–The Sister of Lycrophon 3.53

“Nothing is more senseless or insolent than a worthless crowd; and for man flying from the insolence of a despot to fall into that of unrestrained popular power is by nor means to be endured.”–Megabyzos 3.81

“However whether there ever lived a man Salmaxis, or whether he is simply a native deity of the Getai, farewell to him now.”–Herodotus disregarding a popular legend 4.96

“As it seems, too severe punishments inflicted by men prove irritating to the gods.”–Herodotus 4.172

“When a child has been born the nearest kin sit round it and make lamentation for all the evils of which he must fulfill the measure, now that he is born, enumerating the whole number of human ills; but when a man is dead, they cover him up in earth with sport and rejoicing, saying at the same time from what great evils he has escaped and is now in perfect bliss.”–a funeral custom of a nomadic tribe of Scythians 5.4

Working at the Movie Theater

April 4, 2009 Leave a comment

This post is a long time coming. About two years ago I used to frequent the same bar over and over again (I have a habit of getting into routines), it is called “The Buffalo Street Cafe” and is located in the village of Hamburg. One Thursday night, I was drinking away a particularly difficult Bio Medical Ethics class when a woman who I completely did not recognize said hi to me. This wasn’t odd in itself, looking like Buffalo’s star goalie invites this sort of thing, but it was the sense of familiarity that she brought to the conversation. She told me her name and then I rememberred her. She had worked with me at the movies for a couple of months. I worked there on and off for three years, and was amazed that she rememberred me. Upon my inquiry as to whether she had an awesome memory or just a random one she said, “neither, you were just a pretty big deal there.”

I started working at the theater in 1997. It was the first job I applied, interviewed, and was hired for without any favors. I did it all on my own after quitting a terrible job at an auto detail shop (the owner repeatedly reminded us that if he could train monkeys to the job he would fire us, and he wasn’t kidding). My first shift was a Friday night, which is typical for almost all theaters, and the movie “I know what you did last summer” had just opened. The place was packed and my first assignment was to hold back the masses as they itched to get into the theater. This was back when Scream reignited the horror movie franchise, which needs another shot in the arm because all they are now is 2 hour long snuff movies (Saw, Hostel, Passion of the Christ).

I worked the McKinley 6, General Cinema Theater. It was attached to the McKinley Mall, and on opening night it was a general madhouse. It was built with the mall, in 1985. In the early to mid eighties the movie industry was seeing a decline in attendance and I’m sure this affected the decision to build the Cinema rather small. The lobby simply could not support the amount of people that would generally try and pack into it. Especially in the cold winter where even more people would force themselves in which usually propped the door open freezing the skin off the ticket takers (one of my illustrious positions) who were only allowed to wear polo shirts.

When I was hired, the place had one general manager, four assistant managers, and a couple of “leads” which functioned as sub-assistant managers. Everyone seemed to get along, united by the general disdain felt for the various customers that came in. Teenagers bore most of our hate and venegeance. When I think back on the years that I worked at the theater I do remember them fondly, it was the second best job I ever had, by the time I left I was pretty much running the place while the three assistant managers took care of paper work. There are alot of stories I can tell about the place, which I will relate one now.

Halloween usually meant a new horror movie, which meant teenagers, which meant a long trying night if Halloween fell on a Friday. The one year it did, and everyone knew it was going to suck. On the plus side Halloween also meant we could wear whatever we wanted as long as we could somehow justify it as a costume. One co-worker, Lori, always wore a giant foam M&M costume, she looked ridiculous but she knew that. I, decided one year to dress up as a manager.

When General Cinema still owned the theater the managers wore dark blue or black suits. This is usually typical at any movie theater and I having one of these suits put it on and came to work. My actual manager, Lou, looked at me coming in and asked me to hurry up and get changed because one of the theaters was going to let out. I told him that i would, went upstairs to take the nametag off my polo shirt and placed it on my suitcoat. Then I went downstairs.

Lou, with whom I had an antagonistic relationship, looked at me with the nametag on my coat and told me to change. I told him I was in costume. He asked me what that costume was and I said “a manager.” He told me that if I didn’t change I was going to get written up. I responded by shrugging my shoulders and saying, “do what you gotta do.” Remember I was 19 at the time, that devil may care attitude has always been part of my work “ethic.”

He didn’t, because he realized that the customers would think that I was a manager and wouldn’t bother him with trite complaints that customers always have. “Why is the popcorn this salty?” “How cold is the ice?” and my personal favorite “What’s the name of that new movie? You know the one with that guy?”

I handled most of the customers’ problems that day…in my own way of course. Customers like to feel important, they think that somehow we the lowly workers really give a shit about whatever it is they are flapping their pie holes about. Female customers, I’m sorry to say this, are the worst. Being told from birth that they are special little princesses doesn’t do anything good for society.* I learned that when a female customer was complaining they were angry because no one carried them to their seat in a litter and personally deliverred their every want and need to them while feeling grateful for the privelege. I began a series of fake firings. Every time a woman complained I fired the employee the complaint was about.

I fired Lori seven times that night and each time the same thing happened:
Customer: Oh, [blushing] I didn’t mean…
Me: Well you said that she was incompetent/stupid/rude and you didn’t know why we kept her. So now we aren’t and she’s out of a job [I always emphasized the last part to really make them feel bad].
Customer: But it was really nothing, I was just angry and…[they always trailed off]
Me: Frankly it may seem like such a small trite detail but she is gone now.
Customer: Oh she has done this before?
Me: No, first time. If there is anything else I can help you with?
Customer: [meekly/looking down] No.
Me: Enjoy your movie.

The thing is that never once did I let on that I wasn’t a manager, people just took it for granted. I must have really ruined some people’s nights that day. I’ll have more of these stories later.

*Before anyone gets all in a huff, there’s a reason there is a show called “Bridezilla” and not one called “Groom-something.”

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

April 3, 2009 Leave a comment

Someone once told me that Phillip Dick was the greatest idea writer but a lousy novelist. What this person meant was that he had really good ideas but wasn’t so good at actually putting them into stories. Most people know Dick from the movies based on his books: Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, and most notably Blade Runner.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is the book in which Blade Runner is based on. The problem with reviewing this book and making the obvious comparison with the movie is that I am not exactly sure which movie I should be comparing it to. The problem with Blade Runner is that it has undergone a series of changes, from the extended edition, to the director’s cut, the collector’s edition, etc. These changes were all occurring before the dvd revolution so even before movies started shooting for a director’s cut this movie had the director’s cut thing locked down.

There are two primary versions of Blade Runner with the notable difference being the end. In one version the movie ends as Deckard kills, or “retires” the last nexus 9 android; in the other version we find out that Deckard himself is an android (get over it: you’ve had over 20 years to see this movie). So I wasn’t sure which I was getting when I checked out the book.

Back, to the initial comment someone made to me a long time ago…I have to pretty much agree with it. Reading Do Androids…(I’m just not typing that out) it’s fairly hard to figure out what the point that the book was vying for was. At central in the plot is the story of Deckard and his role as a bounty hunter who retires rogue androids. These androids have escaped their masters on Mars and were seeking freedom on an Earth devastated by Nuclear War between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.

Our other story has to do with a “chicken head” named Isidore. Life on a radiation soaked planet has reduced some of the population’s intelligence and physical capabilities. Both plots eventually converge, but just like Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet, I wasn’t sure what book I was reading when the second part began.

There is also an overriding arc about a religion named Mercerism which compels all humans to grab an “empathy box” and are therefore linked emotionally with all other people. The Androids can’t do this which is how some of them (and the humans) distinguish life.

The book teases with idea of delving into the question of whether or not the Androids were alive, something Deckard ponders but then leaves it alone. He is good at his job but he meets another named Resch who views his job with complete amorality, these androids are things not people. Resch’s view is that retiring androids is like shooting a toaster, an idea that he gleaned after sleeping with one of them (which I guess is like masturbating to internet porn).

Yet this question, and argument; isn’t dealt with in depth. Which is where the comment comes back to us. Dick forces us to ask the question which is either a mark of complete brilliance or its exact opposite.

The interesting aspect of the book is the questions that I asked myself about various facets of this world that are regarded by the characters as status quo. Adding to the above is the conversation that Resch and Deckard when each thinks the other is an android. They have a brief bought of existential despair–especially in view of what they do for a living. Ideas like that can be their own book (and what looks to be part of the plot of the new Terminator movie).

There is also the sense box, something that initiates feelings into the user…like electric prozac and it gives us this interesting thought:  “I can’t dial a setting that stimulates my cerebral cortex into wanting to dial! If I don’t want to dial, I don’t want to dial that most of all, because then I will want to dial, and wanting to dial is right now the most alien drive I can imagine; I just want to sit here and stare at the floor.”

It’s a logical contradiction that a person like me just loves seeing in books…well unless that book is titled “Advanced Logic.” After finishing the book, I can see why there is great interest in adapting his works. You can turn three features of this book into it’s own story while still only having to pay royalties to one person.