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De Republica (On Republics)

May 29, 2009 Leave a comment

These are the words of Marcus Tullius Cicero, Senator of the Roman Republic and one of the foremost philosophers that emanated from the civilization of Rome. This book, though it might be more rightly called a treatise, concerns one aspect of Cicero’s political philosophy namely that of the type of government that is most ideal. Borrowing from Plato’s method, Cicero formulates the argument into a dialogue that being the style of the academic types of the day.

Like Plato, Cicero removes himself from the conversation only appearing as narrator to set up the situation and explain some dramatic movement or gesture from the participants. Plato could have learned something from him in this respect at least. The conversation centers around Publius Scipio, grandson of Scipio Africanus who successfully defeated Carthage under Hannibal during the first Punic War. As he was a Roman Consul, he is considerred to be the most wise concerning political affairs and it is through him that we receive Cicero’s philosophy. A confusing method, but no doubt those that employ the dialogue format (Plato, Machiavelli) are not so vain as to assume that people reading those writings will think themselves an expert.

Yet, it must be a false modesty. Plato, having never served a political office, still wrote The Republic. Machiavelli, having never led an army, still wrote a book titled “The Art of War,” but are we to assume that by placing the ideas into the mouths of others we can experience a distance between the author and the idea? It just adds extra leg work to the reader. For instance in the Republic are we to assume that Plato feels the same as “Socrates” in that justice is intrinsically good or should we assume his true beliefs lie with “Glaucon” who said that only a fool would behave justly if there were no consequences to injustice?

For Cicero and Machiavelli, we can at least say they were copying a known style, one familiar to the learned men of the day. Plato had to invent it, and his student Aristotle immediately dropped the format.

Oddly enough, apart from some speeches this was the first book of Cicero’s that I have read. 4 years of undergrad philosophy, and 2 years of graduate school and never has he been assigned. Which I think is odd being that I have taken several political philosophy courses and Cicero was a politician. Instead the academics seem to focus on political idealists, hacks who never served office yet exercise the right to criticize other theories without the practical knowledge of how things work (Marx, Chomsky, Plato, Augustine)…

…(rant over) Which despite that Cicero is a political idealist. Or at least appears to be. What is troublesome about the book is the state of preservation that it appears to be in. The first two chapters are complete. Once you get into the third it begins to fade as pages are lost due to the cold decay of time and the fact that it was written over 2000 years ago. By the time chapter 4 rolls around the extent of the decay becomes very apparent as large amounts of the book have to substituted by commentaries, notably from St. Augustine’s City of God, on Cicero. Which tends to remove credibility from the source as some commentators were newly minted Christians reading a Pagan book on politics. The inserts from Nonius, for instance are full of remarks about how Cicero cannot be trusted because of his ignorance of the Christian Bible and of Jesus. This, being both true and apt if one were writing a guide for the future Roman Empire, also means that a person like Nonius cannot be trusted to transliterate Cicero ojectively.

There is some interesting material in this book, which I will get to later. Namely the similarities between Aristotle, Machiavelli, and Cicero on the formation of states (why people form them), the types of governments, and transitions of power.

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Herd Immunity

May 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Herd immunity is a fallacy based on the idea that if ten people are immune to x and I am among them then I will also be immune to x even if I refuse the vaccine to x. Adults on the one hand, are completely free to refuse treatment for themselves. The largest question of course is what do we do with their children? Should children who are not vaccinated against certain diseases be allowed to congregate with other children? Ask anyone who has gone to school with the amish what they think, then ask the amish.

It’s a long topic, and one that requires months of research into both CDC records and various articles on bioethics, etc etc. The other question is the childhood vaccinations and whether they should be given at all, a question that i wasn’t sure was even a question until I hit this article. Actually, that’s not so true. I was aware of it last year when NPR did a story on the conflict between Jenny McCarthy and Amanda Peet. See, both women are on one side of the argument, both are celebrities and are using that popularity to further their cause.

On the one hand we have Amanda Peet. An Actress who has a resume including “THe Whole 9 Yards,” “Identity,” “X-Files: I want to Believe,” “Changing Lanes,” and the only think with Jack Black that I really liked “Saving Silverman.” These movies are not Oscar quality flicks but they are entertaining. The woman is an actual actress, with movie credits that most people have seen, co-starring alonside David Duchovney, Samuel Jackson, Ray Liotta, and Bruce Willis. On the other we have Jenny McCarthy, whose most notable film role was playing a ditsy blonde in “BASEketball,” while starring in numerous Playboy movies. Of course she has some other film credits including a cameo in Scary Movie 3. Just looking at the spokespersons for the causes which one seems to be more believable…I purposely have not included the side each one supports.*

Anyway, herd immunity works like a Creationist’s understanding of the word “theory.” It is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how diseases and vaccines work. A vaccine doesn’t prevent you from getting a disease. What it does is prepare your body for the disease by forcing the body to create the necessary anti-bodies ahead of time so that in the case that you do come into contact with the virus/bacteria your immune system has the tools to fight it.

The Vaccine can cause the eradication of a disease (like smallpox) because as it moves from person to person, each host kills the disease off not giving it time to spread. So when you get the flu vaccine, it is to prepare your body against the spread of the disease. In children we have developed vaccines against polio and whooping cough which people are refusing to give their children because they think it causes autism, which no medical study has ever observed in even a correllation.

Yet the idea of herd immunity still exists. Which brings me to the self-defeating circular logic of the arugment. If I deny Gwen the vaccine (I didn’t because I’m not an idiot) using the herd immunity argument, what I am saying is that since the children she will be associating with all have the vaccine she should be safe from the disease. Putting aside why this is silly (see above paragraph) it is ultimately self-defeating. Those other children are safe because of the vaccine, the herd immunity argument admits this which is admitting that it works, meaning that I am refusing my daughter something that would be admittedly beneficial hoping that others’ new ability will save her.

Get the vaccines for your kids people. If they were dangerous then all of our parents would be suffering from whatever lethal/harmful side effect people are making up.

Jenny McCarthy: Anti-vaccine
Amanda Peet: Pro-vaccine

Categories: current events, philosophy

Left 4 Dead

May 25, 2009 Leave a comment

“Don’t call it a comeback I’ve been here for years,” said LL Cool J.
The zombie phenomenon is not on the comeback because it really has
never left us. Just as Twilight didn’t bring back the vampire, Pride,
Prejudice and Zombies hasn’t reinvigorated the zombie as a movie
monster. It just made it popular again. In fact, Zombies are a great
monster/villain because they are easy (no character development needed
for them). They also represent the ideal video game enemy because their
endless respawning doesn’t destroy immersion or believability. There
are supposed to be alot of them, because one zombie is a joke even the
fast ones from the remake of Dawn of the Dead need the endless horde to
be the least bit threatening.

Which brings me to my review of Left 4 Dead on the Xbox 360. This game
is about zombies, but unlike some installments of the Resident Evil
franchise there isn’t a convoluted storyline or mystery to solve.
Simply put, this game is about bullets. You play as one of four
characters stranded in the middle of the zombie apocalypse and you have
to get from point A to point B without being eaten. There isn’t a story
per se, there is not much in character development aside from the
various comments from one of the four, it’s simply the recreation of
the last hour of almost any zombie movie. The survival/climax hour.

Which makes the game appear to be rote. It doesn’t matter which of the
four characters you decide to be: they have the same abilities (they
can shoot) and behave interchangeably. Unlike the movies where one
character is an ass trying to save himself and another is some sort of
person with training which influences their respective outcomes neither
of these characters seem to be any different. They look like these
archtypes, the anarchist biker, the war veteran, the business man (who
looks alot like the main character in the original Night of the Living
Dead), and the college girl; but it’s all appearances.

The game accounts for this by focusing on cooperative online play. Each
of the four characters is not meant to be inhabited by the game’s AI,
it is instead meant to be controlled by a person, either sitting next
to you or through the internet. What this does is add to the game a
human dimension to counter balance the repetitive gameplay. Further
adding to that counterbalance is the random spawning aspect to the
program. If you play the same level twice the zombies do not appear in
the same place. This adds tension to the game fitting it nicely to the
zombie apocalypse scenario.

Online play goes beyond the simple storyline too. Adding gaming modes
such as survival in which the end is written, we just have to see how
long the players can hold out. I’ve never made it far past 5 minutes.
Then there is the unique versus scenario.

This runs through the story line with one group of four occupying the
survivors and another group taking control of the zombies. I should
mention (or should have earlier) that the monsters here are not slow
and lumbering. They are fast and can navigate certain obstacles. They
have also mutated giving a leaping predator zombie, a frog tongued
zombie, and a fat zombie that explodes a bile that summons other
zombies to the target. The problem for the zombie side is that the
respawn rate is too slow, making most of the versus play being occupied
by watching the game waiting for your turn as the creatures are still
pretty weak.

It’s a fun game and worth it for the co-op play. However it suffers
from a lack of variety in both characters and weapons (there are only
8). I suppose it could have been much more difficult if they stuck to
the idea that zombies can only die through fire or catastrophic head
trauma, but then it wouldn’t have been that fun.

Story mode: 6/10 Romeros
Online: 7/10 Romeros

Categories: reviews, video game review

Lost?

May 21, 2009 Leave a comment

In 2003, James Foley released a movie called “Confidence,” it didn’t do well at the box office but it received some critical acclaim. Enough to warrant an interview on NPR, and with some news agencies which basically relegated it to the category of “things I’m supposed to like but will never watch/read/hear.” I recommend the movie as it has good acting, a great story, and nice cinematography.

The reason I bring the movie up is because director James Foley said in one of those interviews that, “you can’t cheat your audience.” In other words, if there is a mystery or a secret or a con (the movie is called Confidence) that the audience should be able to piece it together. The story shouldn’t rely on a deus ex machina to come in and fill up the plot holes. For instance, if Keyser Soze in “The Usual Suspects” turned out to be some character we never met in the film or some character that we saw die that would be bullshit. Instead, rewatching the movie you can see subtle clues that become obvious when you know the ending. Same thing with Fight Club. Or take a movie that violates the rule: The Fast and the Furious (the original).

In that movie, Paul Walker is trying to locate a group of hijackers among the street racing underground. The entire movie points to the Japanese gang, in fact you would have to be an idiot not to think it: they have a warehouse full of electronics, all of their cars are easily the most expensive, and they carry around silenced submachine guns. Are they the carjackers? No, Vin Diesel and crew are, a point that is completely out of the blue as they work at a garage (thus can afford their vehicles which aren’t too fancy) and own a restaraunt.

What’s the point of this tirade? The plot reveal in the season finale of Lost was complete bullshit. Spoiler Alert although you have had a week and if you cared you would have seen it by now.

Ever since we were introduced to the idea that Benjamin Linus was taking orders from someone named “Jacob,” we have wondered who he was. We have also wondered why it was that Richard never seemed to age, and also how Locke came back from the dead (Of course they also through the red herring of calling him “Jeremy Bentham,” which turned out to be completely inconsequential). All of this stemming from the mysterious Jacob. Then there was also the complete mystery of the giant stone foot and why it only had four toes.

The genius of Lost is that it throws out questions that seemingly have no answer. Yet, all the big questions have answers that seem to tie in to someone or some event in the already established plot. Then we meet Jacob, worse than that we meet his rival…and we see the full statue of the Egyptian god Sobek (at least I think, I couldn’t tell if it was a Jackal head or a crocodile head I’m going with the latter). Jacob is marked for death, but for some reason his rival can’t kill him he needs to work around the rules searching for loophole. Locke wasn’t Locke, he was the other guy, something that doesn’t make any sense and is completely out of the blue, much like the Eagles in Tolkien.

I’m glad the next season is the last season, because it means that nothing new can be added in order to frustrate the viewer who puts moderate thought into figuring out the puzzles. I guess it means that Claire and Jack’s father are gone gone, which was a pretty big “clue” that we were cheated into paying attention to. I suppose the next season will end with Osiris reading the book of the Dead.

Histories III

May 19, 2009 Leave a comment

 Herodotus writes the Histories, not just to write a History of the Greek world, or of the Persian Empire, but to chronicle the events leading up to and including the events of Persia’s expedition into the Greek peninsula. This conflict is one of the pivotal moments in history. It allowed the Greek states, to defy one of the largest empires in history, survive and then become the dominant power in the mediterranean world until the rise of Rome.

The cause of the whole thing is two fold: first there is the expansionist nature of Persia itself under the kings: Cyrus, Dareios, and Xerxes. The reading gives the impression that they were expanding simply because they had the ability to do so. Asking for the token gifts of earth and water, the very threat of their invasion was enough for most nations to heel. However, there were nations that did not and those were invaded and smashed. With the interesting exception of the Ethiopians.

The ancient mediterranean world regarded the Ethiopians with awe. Literally translated the word “ethiopian” means “the burnt people,” which is about as politically incorrect as you can get. To the Hellenic people though this was just a description, they believed that the gods travelled to their homeland to dine with the Ethiopians once a year and were on a personal basis with them. When the Persians threaten the Ethiopians they shrug them off and walk away. Persia does not invade. (3.21)

Greece is a completely different story. They are one step above the Ethiopians in insolence to the king of Persia. Let’s correct a pop-culture-i’ve only seen the 300-myth here: it’s not Sparta but Athens that brings down the Persians. The parallel to modern times is the war last year between Georgia and Russia over Ossetia. The region, although technically within the borders of Georgia was populated by people who considerred (and had passports to prove it) themselves Russians. Russia wanted it’s populace, and Georgia had the obvious problem with that.

In Herodotus’ story we have the same situation in the region of Ionia. The Ionians were conquered by the Persians, and assimilated into their territory. However, the Ionians never stopped believing themselves to be Greek and furthermore Athenian. They asked Athens for support in throwing the yoke off Persia off of them. Athens obliged, secretly funneling aid to the Ionians eventually resulting in a general insurrection. The result was that Dareios smashes Ionia, Miletus, and then moves against Greece proper.

It is said by Herodotus that Dareios had an aide remind him three times as he ate, “remember the Athenians.”

Dareios is angry and sets his sites on the two largest and most powerful Greek City-states, Athens and Sparta. He sends his heralds to them and the unthinkable happens: they both are murderred. The Athenians and the Spartans throw the Heralds into pits bading them to take the earth and water from thence and bring them to their king. For the most part, pop-culture gets this right. However this action so offends the Persians, that when Xerxes becomes king he doesn’t send heralds to either city. Every other Greek City gets the chance for peace but those two. What else isn’t mentioned is that Sparta attempted to make amends for the action and were refused. Killing a herald was a big faux pas in those days.

Why did this happen? The Greeks believed themselves to be free, prided themselves on the law which governed them; while the Persians were slaves to a king whom they had no power over, at least the movie got that much correct.

“You know well what it is to be a slave, bu you have never yet made a trial of freedom, whether it is pleasant to the taste or no; for if you should make trial of it, you would then counsel us to fight for it not with spears only but with any blade.”–Sperthias (to a Persian governor) 7.135

“for though free, yet they are not free in all things, for over them is set Law as a master, whom they fear much more, even than your people fear you.”
–Demaratos (to Xerxes) 7.104

Categories: book reviews, philosophy

ASU

May 15, 2009 Leave a comment

I love what passes for news these days. Although I think that everyone who reads this is probably getting sick of hearing me rant about how shitty the fourth estate is, it has been five years of me doing this thus far, they never get any better and worse they simply don’t learn.

As it turns out Arizona State University has refused to award President Barak Obama an honorary degree even though he is to give the commencement address for this year’s graduation. They have refused on the grounds that “his body of work is yet to come,” which means that after he has been president for a few more years they might reconsider. I’m sure it will depend on how he does.

The liberal media has been aghast at this news. How could Arizona State deny him, him, Barack Obama, an honorary degree? They’ve been soft balling him ever since last year and now some freakin’ state school has decided that he’s not good enough for an honorary degree!? WTF, I’m sure they all wrote on their Twitters.

I say, so the fuck what. They don’t want to give him that degree? They don’t have to. There is no rule that says a University must give a standing president an honorary degree. It’s not like they would be refusing on the grounds that he beat their Senator to the Whitehouse, which makes me wonder if anyone at CNN or MSNBC has had the balls to ask that question.

Conspiracy theory aside, one that I don’t believe in anyway, the idea of the honorary degree comes from the theory that a college/university shouldn’t just hand out the honor of commencement to any schmuck that it feels like. The person should be tied the school in some way. The honorary degree provides a loop hole for this requirement. It gives the transparent illusion that the speaker has some role in the school, allows said speaker to don a cap and gown, and everyone can go home with their degrees to celebrate by drinking themselves into such an oblivious state that they won’t remember until they really concentrate on it anyway.

I give credit to ASU on this one. It takes a lot of moxy to tell the President of the United States that he can speak but not as an honorary degree. I mean seriously, no matter what the politics of the school are, or how the state might have voted he’s still the fucking President of the United States. If I were him, I would tell ASU to fuck off and use the time to plan some sort of big airshow when he speaks at Notre Dame.

All that aside, let’s call this what it really is: a publicity stunt designed to bring attention to the school. Much more attention than they would have had if they had just given the “degree” and advertised the hell out of the fact that the President was coming. With probably not much more than a couple of weeks to go the school has been in the news more than they have…well probably ever. Is it worth it?

To me, yes. Nothing pleases me more than seeing pissed off liberals choking over their own rage. That’s right, cling to your principles of free choice now…it’s not so easy anymore is it? Still as a matter of respect to the office of the President of the United States they should have given him the “degree.”

Swine Flu

May 13, 2009 Leave a comment

My cold started Saturday. it was one of those that as the day went by I could feel it getting worse and worse. Sunday my parents came out for Mother’s Day and my cough was full blown. After one particularly bad coughing fit I exclaimed, “don’t worry my Swine Flu is acting up.”

This didn’t elicit the laugh I thought it would.

Initially I held off on the media panic. I held off because…well, honestly, they got me. No, I wasn’t that bad. I didn’t run off to buy a breath mask, I didn’t rediscover god, and I wasn’t upping my vitamin C while hoping that someone could get me some thirmaflu. I was however concerned. With all of the talk about a moderate fatality rate, the immensity of infection, and spread to the United States; it seemed a reasonable worry. Then the travel ban to Mexico where patient zero allegedly was, concern started to bite me. I shrugged it off as it was my honeymoon at the time.

Now it seems that all of it was bullshit. Swine Flu, or h1n1 (I think there is an “a” in there too) isn’t that fatal. The patient that died in the US had preexisting heart problems that, coupled with the disease caused his death. Of course, the regular flu, which kills far more people every year would have killed the man as well.

The press got me. What else can I say? The difference between this disease, SARS, and Avian Flu (as I called it many years ago “bird bird flu”) was that the media pushed the envelope on the panic much more than previously. It wasn’t the danger of it spreading to the US, but that it had and infected a whole school in New York City.

With all of the talk of transparency and accountability in government and business, wouldn’t it be nice to get some of that in the fourth estate as well? Clearly, they do not seem to be taking their role as the watchdog of the people over the government very seriously. In their rush to get the story out they jump on the first piece of news they have not checking to see if that news is correct or rumor. The first piece of news to break on the subject seemed to be a teaser for the new movie, “Death of the planet.”

Then CNN jumped on the label of pandemic, which was not only irresponsible but also dangerous. It also shows an ignorance of the word’s defniendum opting instead for the emotional attachment to the word. I pick on CNN because that was what was on at one of the bars, I’m sure (although if I’m wrong I will have no problem admitting it) that neither MSNBC, who probably blamed the Republicans, or Fox News, who probably blamed the president; were any better.

I wish we could just organize some sort of class action suit against such panic coverage. Well, here’s to the next panic.