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Blocked

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve been doing this blog now for about 6 years, this means that for a very long time I’ve been making observations, complaints (mostly complaints), and whatever for a very long time. I’ve noticed that in the beginning* I was pretty bad at this. I think the biggest problem I had was that I was trying to be so profound or observant that what came out was the most inane chatter, it was like reading a short story from a group of English Grad students (Deadmoneywalking knows what I am talking about) all thinking that they are going to be Hemingway, or Faulkner, or [substitute favorite author here] on the first try. Some of it is quite embarrassing to read for myself, but I would never delete it. All of the failures are still part of the process, it all makes sense in the end.

It’s weird after this long doing the same thing on a completely non-regular schedule I begin to wonder what the point of it all is…why am I doing this? Why is it that when I am on one of my “posting” days (Sun-Wed) and not writing this thing do I feel anxious? I’ve always been a creature of routine but it goes beyond that. There are days when I have nothing to write and will spend several hours clicking around on the internet looking for a story, a game, some news, anything to write about. I feel almost relieved when Thursday arrives because it means that I won’t have to write anything that day unless something really tickles my fancy and cannot wait until Sunday.

Although I don’t want to mislead anyone, most of the time writing this is not a chore at all. In fact I often times shorten my posts because I know that people will just skim them if they exceed a certain length. One of my hobbies in writing this for the last year or so has been to try and figure out the magic size a post needs to be in order to say what is needed without being too short or too long. I call it the “goldilocks length.” As soon as I think I have it I will let you all know.

I have noticed a stark improvement in my writing though just from rereading several of the posts from the earlier days, I can bring my voice across pretty well and I think it must have been year four of this blog where I not only found a solid “voice” for the posts but I was also getting a bit more familiar with what I wanted to say as well. The posts also lost a consistent and annoyingly angry tone that I had in the beginning.

I like the posts the most when I actually have to do some research. Those take a long time to both conceptualize and write, which is why we don’t see too many of them. I also like doing the project posts, I only have a couple of them with the most recent being the Wiker book so I am thinking of going through another book chapter by chapter but I don’t have any ideas as to what that would be. More importantly I am also considering focusing the schedule to a more topic based system which might help days like this when I have nothing but need to write something. We’ll see how long I can keep going with these blogs but I don’t see an end in sight.

*The odd thing is that I am not able to read my very first post anymore, it’s like it has been erased.

Categories: personal update

Teach the “Controversy?”

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment

I picked up a copy of Skeptic magazine the other day because it had an interesting cover article that promised an answer to questions regarding the 2012 bullshit from a NASA scientist. It was a pretty good article covering almost every possible angle of the alleged prophecy of doom. It also ended with a nice line: “I have a page day calendar that runs out on December 31st of this year, does that mean the world is going to end?”

The magazine contained some other articles of interest to me, but perhaps the best one (so far) was an article about teaching the “controversy” between Evolution v. Creationism. I have taught the “controversy” a couple of times in my Philosophy or Religion classes mostly as a nice history lesson to snuggle in between the chapters covering the proofs of God’s existence and the philosphical justifications for atheism.* We covered the controversy from the standpoint of the American experience beginning at the Scopes Trial and ending with the Dover Pennsylvania Case.

The Courts have repeatedly struck down attempts to teach Creation in public schools. The Creationists then go back water their theory down and return with a new attempt. First it was banning Evolution altogether, then it was to teach Creation, then equal time requirements, then it was Intelligent Design, more recently there have been attempts to just teach the fact that there are alleged problems with Evolution and that it is merely a “theory” not a “fact.” The article was very poignant on this matter comparing the attempts by the Creationists to the “Shadow” in Tolkien. It even begins with the quote, “Always after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again.”

The article cites some recent surveys that state almost half of the current population believes in Creationism, which compels the author to say that maybe it’s time to teach the “controversy” to nip this disturbing trend in the bud eventually reversing its course. He brings in the analogy that if half the population believed that the Holocaust never happened wouldn’t we be forced to deal with this issue?

Well yes and no. Yes we would have to explain to people that the Holocaust happened but we wouldn’t have to coddle their denial of an obviously true fact like we have to do with Intelligent Design—or whatever mishmash of words the ironically named Discovery Institute comes up with. This is a realization of one of the fears of the 90s Conservative movements concerning “Political Correctness.” You can’t tell a person that they are completely wrong anymore. There is no “Science” in Intelligent Design and its ilk. From Kirk Cameron with his stupid banana**, to the Discovery Institute’s laughable attempts to hide its true agenda (actual surprise of the day: Benjamin Wiker works for them).

I don’t think that we need to teach the alleged controversy. I think what we need to do is teach the definitions of the word “theory” and how its application is more towards “gravity” and even “phlogiston” than it is “I think her hair is dyed.” We should teach that the Creationists won’t accept any counter evidence to their claims and won’t even explain what it would take for them to believe that they are wrong. We should also teach that the terms “unfalsifiable” and “true” are not synonyms. What we should not do is give them their goal and begin even tolerating a hint of pseudoscience in science classes.

I’m not saying that we should be preaching atheism in science classes either, but rather to only teach science in Biology classes.

*Because inspite of what morons think, you cannot logically prove that god doesn’t exist.
**You can look from the original but I like the music in this one.

Categories: philosophy, reviews

The SOP

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

My second attempt at applying to PhD programs has been a little less frustrating than the first. Not having the pointless GRE exam* as an upcoming hurdle is nice, I can actually focus on getting the applications in rather than relearning a bunch of algebra, geometry and their relationship (thank you Rene Descartes, asshole). This victory has been Pyrrhic though because without that sword over my head I can look clearer at my failed attempt from last year.

Most notably I am at the stage where all the materials are ready and they merely have to shipped out. Of course, that is what I thought until I re-read my SOP (statement of purpose). If the GRE was the worst thing about applying to these programs, then this is for me easily the second. I hate writing these things because I feel that their ultimate purpose is known to the final arbiters of the application. They know why I am applying, they just want to hear me say it.

I have always felt this regarding any letters of intent, application notices, and the like. When I send out resumes I know that I have to write the letter of intention, to which I always think to myself that I could do it one sentence: “Dear Sir or Madam, I am applying for this position in the hopes that you will hire me thus allowing me to earn money for the work that I will perform. Thank you for your time, Dave.”

Ok, two sentences. As much as I want to write that as my statement of purpose I know from the many guides that I have read this isn’t what they are looking for. I suppose that they want to feel as though the institution that I am applying to is special and not merely a cog in the wheel of my life. Something to make it known that I am not just applying anywhere I did some looking and this place is where I want to be. Which they should know isn’t exactly true. Sure, I want to be at school A, but I also applied to a couple of other places because it’s not smart to just apply to one.

Probably, in Liberal Art disciplines, it matters more than others as we don’t have the track record of being uber rich sending out the mad money in donations. I know it matters but I just don’t see the point of all of this. Can someone with three publications, almost three years of teaching experience at the college level, really be eliminated from contention because they wrote a shitty statement of purpose?

This is the rationalization that I have been telling myself for the last several days as I continue to churn out dreck after dreck with only moderate signs of improvement.

My other favorite aspect of these applications is the “Course List” requirement. For those who don’t know this is a list of all the classes in a particular subject that you have taken in your academic career. It makes sense to have this as a requirement. But it is completely superfluous since the school also requires you to submit official transcripts that not only contain the list but also the grade you earned on it. It’s an easy one but it seems that most of the information that these applications require are only necessary because they require it. That or I am just tired of this process.

*The GRE is a perfect example of circular logic. Why is it important? because you need to get a good grade on it to get into graduate school. Why do you need a good grade to get into graduate school? Because ETS says that the test is important.

Ft. Hood

November 18, 2009 Leave a comment

Since the Fort Hood shootings I have been pondering how or what I should post regarding the event. Of course this was a tragedy, it’s even worse for the victims who spent all that time in a warzone, survived, only to be killed in a hospital inside the United States by a doctor. My problem was that the previous sentence sums perfectly my feelings on the subject. My only other thought was that I was happy they got him alive, which sounds odd but whenever these mass shootings occur we are only left to speculate on the shooter’s motivations because they usually end up dead. The rash of high school shootings in the 90s could probably have been shorter if just one of them had been captured and could tell us the answer to the question of “why.”

Then my thoughts turned toward something else. The question that many people were asking and then many other people were shirking from answering, “Is this about Islam?” Did Nidal Hassan do what he did because he was Muslim or because he had some other issues?

The evidence is quite damning, pictures of him dressed in Islamic garb at a convenience store prior to the shooting, the reports of him shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) during the shooting, pretty much indict Islam as being a primary motivator for his actions. Reports of him partaking a visit to a strip club before the shooting are reminiscent of the 9/11 hijackers partying in vegas before their actions. I suppose when one decides to be a martyr then one gets a free pass. Islam is the only religion promising sex in paradise but I digress.

My problem with wanting to indict Islam in this shooting is that we don’t do this in other crimes of this nature. Take Scott Roeder accused of shooting Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, during a Sunday Church service. Roeder has denied feeling any guilt, and also claims that the shooting was justified, yet we don’t ask the question that is apparently so obvious when people like Hassan commit their crimes: is the man’s religion responsible for the actions?

Would Roeder have killed Tiller if he weren’t a Christian? Would James Kopp have murdered Barnett Slepian if he weren’t a Christian?

I guess the difference is that Islam tends to have more violence associated with it. There is no “active martyrdom” aspect of any other major world religion. There’s the Christian notion of dying for the cross, but not going out and killing yourself for the cross. Islam is also the youngest of the three Abrahamic traditions and seems to have burned out on intellectual criticism of its own text and history. It had its renaissance before Christianity did, but then something happened and its leaders seem to have decided that it must stay in some sort of medieval backward period where desperation is breeding the desire to die for one’s god and applying the most backward of legal systems with the harshest of punishments.

This is the 21st century not the 15th, this should not still be happening, but it seems endemic to the sort of desperation present in ultra-fundamentalist Islam where the idea of being persecuted is encouraged. It’s almost as if their faith in their own religion is so tenuous that any dissenter is scared into hiding from the death sentence laid on their head.

For the most part I’m pro-Islam, well I guess “pro” isn’t the right adjective. I should say that I am as tolerant of the idea of Islam as much as I am as tolerant as the idea of any religion. In general it seems to be an ok practice, it will never happen for me as I like my alcohol and bacon too much, but I think their alphabet is pretty cool looking, and their major book is alright. It’s just that in the Western world we generally tend to like the idea of ignoring our religious fundamentalists. When Jerry Falwell spoke it was nice to hear the crazy and then go on to ignore it. When their fundies speak out, it tends to proceed either a really loud bang or several successive bangs.

The desire to tie Islam and Hassan to this act, I think, is not only predictable (although not from some of the places that I have been hearing it–NPR) but acceptable. Unless we find out that he is a paranoid schizophrenic with dis-associative personality disorder his religion is going to be the prime motivator in his crime. This is of course conjecture, it may just be that in a another world the atheist/Christian/Buddhist Hassan would have done the exact same thing but that doesn’t seem as plausible. It’s not racism to point out the connection. In cases like this what is more dangerous: to make the connection visible or to pretend that it doesn’t matter so that we can all feel better about our tolerance?

Xenu and the Aliens

November 17, 2009 1 comment

I haven’t discussed Scientology in a long time. Probably not since I did two lectures on it when I was teaching Philosophy of Religion back in 2006. This was during the controversy concerning South Park, Chef, and the episode “Trapped in the Closet;” where Stan is determined to be the reincarnation of Scientology founder and sci-fi hack writer L. Ron Hubbard. Apparently Isaac Hayes felt that the show had gone to far in insulting a religion, which I thought was odd since they have spent their entire career insulting everything including religion (I guess he missed the episode where they lampooned the Passion of the Christ). Then we found out that the press release was in error and Hayes never intended to quit the show to begin with but only took some time off…or whatever.

The odd thing is that whenever I post something about Scientology I always get an immediate anonymous response from someone who is defending the religion and telling me that I have it wrong. No response I ever write gets answered and I in the three or four times I have talked about the religion my response to the anonymous comment has always been, “what exactly do I have wrong?” Opinions, by their ontological nature cannot be wrong so I never retract those, and any facts that I post I do so to the best of my ability. If the occasion occurs that I have something wrong and it’s pointed out to me then I will post something in my comments stating the error and correcting it. So the fact that my responses never get answered is puzzling to me. I’m apparently wrong, but no one ever wants to point out specifically what it is that is wrong.

Which brings me to this interview. It’s been making it’s way across the internet today, and since the only thing I hate more than religious fundamentalism are religious cults I decided to post it as well. The clip shows Martin Bashir asking a question about the beliefs of Scientology to Tommy Davis who is head of the celebrity center of the religion.* By now we all probably know that Hubbard wrote of an intergalactic war, space ghosts trapped in a volcano, and nuclear weapons having to do with the origin of the religion. This is the story that is circulated on the internet, that South Park episode, and the essence of the question that Bashir asks.

Davis quickly becomes insulted calling the story “a perversion.” Which causes Bashir to ask the question again and Davis gets upset and leaves. Davis has some explaining to do, and right here was the perfect opportunity to do it, but the blame also has to go to Bashir who should have changed the question. At 5:19 Bashir explains why he is asking the question then proceeds to asking the question again at which point Davis leaves. Davis warned him that would happen, but what would have happened if Bashir had inquired as to what exactly the “perversion” was?

Davis becomes evasive, but he never calls the story a lie. He never explains what it is that is wrong. The orcs in Middle Earth were perverted elves. In order for something to be perverted there has to be a fact which becomes twisted and mocked until something new is formed. If Bashir was interviewing a Catholic asking him if he believed that Easter was “Zombie-Jesus Day,” which can be found on the internet I think there is even a facebook page for it, and the Catholic responded that this was a perversion. It would be like the same situation in the interview except that I don’t think a Catholic would have any trouble explaining why “Zombie-Jesus Day” is a perversion of the truth according to their religion.

If the accusation of Xenu, the aliens, the DC-8s, and the Volcanoes are twistings of the truth then what is the truth oh future Scientologist Commenter? Help me out, help your religion out, because your public face seems to be occupied by a bunch of jackasses lately.

*Which is an odd thing itself as it must be the only religion that has a celebrity center.

Why I don’t/Can’t hate the Twilight Series

November 16, 2009 Leave a comment

First off: because I haven’t read any of the books or seen the movie.

The great war of nerd-dom continuing on from the previous year is over the book series by Stephenie Meyer and the franchise phenomenon that has been all the rage at least until the next thing comes along. The nerds are pissed off because “these aren’t vampires” according to the traditional definition of the mythical* creature and now the entire world of nerd-fiction is flooded with people wanting more vampires but not real vampires, those kind of vampires that drink animal blood and are good looking.

Well let’s get straight to it: the typical nerd isn’t popular. He (because it’s usually a he) likes the sorts of things that nobody else likes and now his realm of fiction is flooded by people who have turned off Gossip Girl and new versions of Gen X shows (90210, Melrose Place) to start reading about things that they now like…and it pisses them off. To all the nerds out there sitting at your computers posting in forums about what a hack Meyer is or how Bella is neither hot nor creatively named I have news for you: She won.

Meyer won, because she wrote a popular series of books about teenage romance that featured a vampire and she won because for all of the rough drafts of stories that you may have started and never finished with the long haired brooding vampire she’s been published, adapted, and popular. She won your war and she wasn’t even trying to fight it. The worst part is that the victory is so Pyrrhic for you that you wished she had lost it. Now you have to share your domain, your sacred fantasy life, with the same people that wouldn’t look at you in high school.

In short, all the backlash against her is the same shit we heard five years ago with Avril Lavigne. Avril brought punk to the masses by watering it down. And like the rage directed at Avril Lavigne, the viscera directed toward Stephenie Meyer isn’t because she wrote a bad book, although they will claim that is one reason. It isn’t because the Vampires in the novels, allegedly break the “rules” of Vampirism,** although they will claim that is another reason as well. It’s not because it adds to a cheapening of intellectual aspect of undead fantasy fiction (often times this comes from the militant defenders of Joss Whedon’s insipid dialogue and thinly veiled misogyny) although again they will claim….No it’s because Stephenie took it away from them in the same way that Avril took the elitism of punk away from its fans. Vampires are no longer the domain of gothic types sitting in Denny’s at 2am writing in their black leather-bound journals with red ink. It’s now the talk of the cheerleaders who pine away for their quarterback boyfriend to act for one second as devoted to her as Edward does to Bella; and that is what pisses them off more than anything.

For every story that someone penned about vampires in a journal or in a buried file on their computer (so that on one could accidentally see it) half of them are about a lonely, smart, and misunderstood girl meeting a mysterious guy who turns out to be: a vampire. The other half are about a guy who is smart, lonely, and misunderstood being a hero to an attractive woman who turns out to be: a vampire. By Epicurus I think I wrote the latter in high school (never finished it) and the former is how the HBO series True Blood begins.

A friend of mine called the series a “pop-culture abomination” but the thing about pop-culture is that it pops in and then it pops out. Avril Lavigne is hardly on the radar anymore, the boy band craze ended, this too will end. The thing about it is that it is so insanely popular right now that the counter culture people feel that they are being personally attacked by the mobs of people invading their turf. When the craze is over those people will hold on to the books for nostalgia purposes while the “true” vampire fans will still be penning their stories. If the series’ popularity is the only reason you hate it then go buy a “non-comformist” shirt from hot topic and get ready for your formulaic complaint for the next craze that runs through the media because it’s coming.

The Twilight series isn’t really about Vampires, it’s about teenage romance issues as the target demographic is young girls. One of those girls, my cousin, told me that she doesn’t read them because they are popular. At least she’s honest about the whole thing which is a lot more than most people who level such polemics against the movies and the books. If anything the vampire thing is hot right now and the very people that hate it and her, should be thanking them for making their interests so much more accessible. Why not enjoy the fact that you now have something in common with more people than ever before, isn’t that what all of those “no one understands me” complaints are about in the first place? Instead of hating a woman who struck gold with her first novel just let her fans have their fantasy.

*Mythical: Of or relating to myths, described in a myth, of the nature of a myth; fabulous; IMAGINARY; fanciful, mythological.

**Which is complete bullshit by the way. Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel is hairy palmed, ugly, and can walk in daylight. When was the last time a vampire movie followed that arch-type? And where was the bitching for Wes Craven’s Dracula 2000 when he made Dracula’s true identity Judas Iscariot? Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Civilization IV: a more game oriented review

November 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Since I tend to rotate the subjects of my various blog posts an idea struck me many months ago to do double reviews of games. One of the problem with reviewing video games is that there is a discrepancy between how a game appears when it’s first played and how the game lasts over time. Halo 3 is a good example of this, my review of the game was based around two things: it being brand new thus better than previous installments and one of my first games on a new generation console. Looking back the game doesn’t hold up against its immediate predecessor in both campaign and online play. It’s good but not as great as almost all reviewers have rated it upon release.

With my first review of Civilization IV I played through three run throughs getting used to the new controls, features, and changes of the game. I concentrated most of the writing on the religious aspect as that was the newest feature. Would the game hold up against the years I have spent playing the previous two installments?

The good news is that it does. The bad news is that some of the problems in the previous games still carry over into this one.

The first major problem that I have found with the series is that progression through time is still too fast. The game should feel like you spend forever in the prehistoric, classical, and medieval ages. This is reflected in the games chronology as you do spend quite a number of years in these periods but that is not reflected in the number of turns. The turns in each age take a different number of years. So one turn in the pre-historic age may equal 50 years while in the modern age it only takes one year, even on the “epic setting” which promised a fix for what I am currently complaining about nothing changed.

The second problem unique to this game is that the AI for opposing civilizations is too easy to placate. In previous versions this was reversed. What they changed was giving you the numbers and specific instances of why they are pissed off at you. If an opponent is at minus 6, they are angry which can be moderated by just handing over something that they don’t have free of charge. This will raise them to a minus 5 which means that they won’t declare war. Previously, the war declarations seemed out of the blue and thus unfair, but that did keep a player on their toes to constantly ramp up the defense spending or at least keep the most modern units guarding the borders. Here i can faithfully predict what enemies will want to fight me, and often goad the weaker into making the mistake.

The biggest improvement has been the introduction of many more World Wonders. Previously each age only had about one or two wonders that needed to be built or else you were at a severe disadvantage. In Civilization II, not being the first to complete Leonardo’s Workshop meant having to pay for every unit upgrade while the civilization that had it did not. When that person discovered gunpowder all of their melee units just changed into musketmen, this was a huge advantage. The new version mitigates the importance of one wonder by adding almost one for every technological discovery, and scrapping the Workshop altogether.

My favorite world to play is a discovery world where every civilization starts on one or two super continents with a “new world” that exists on the other side of the planet. This changes the game as you have to both play against existing opponents while racing to develop the ability to traverse oceans in order to seek out and colonize the new area. It makes the game kind of easy, but only if you are the first one there. Plus the continent is developed by barbarian tribes. It took a couple of landings before I was able to actually put in place a permanent settlement, damn Skraelings*.

The game definitely holds up. It still allows for various creativity in how you want to win the game and the difficulty level is reduced on the lower settings. I’m still searching for that happy medium between impossible and easy. The game’s rating and recommendation hasn’t changed at all, so maybe this experiment was a failure but we will try again.

*Kudos if you get that reference, no wiki-cheating either.

Categories: reviews, video game review