Archive for May, 2011


May 31, 2011 Leave a comment

The beginning of this story happened a couple of years ago, and often times dramatic events happen because of some small beginning such as the word “genocide” being invented because a poor Austrian couldn’t get into art school or some idiot left a window open which happened to carry particular spores into a lab inventing one of the greatest medical breakthroughs in history* we start rather small.

It’s also probably important to mention that I’m talking about dumping a cell phone carrier and not anything actually important.

In the US (I really have no idea if any non-Americans read this), cell phone carriers reduce the cost of the cell phone device by subsidizing the cost with two year contracts. This would be like increasing a tax to pay for healthcare, you pay more in one way so that you pay less in another. European, and possibly Canadian work a different way, you pay the full price of the phone but then your month to month is cheaper and usually no contract. The reduced device rate is the trap that US companies use to get the type of brand loyalty that usually comes from good prices, service, or products. That type of loyalty is what really counts, if you doubt me just ask a mac user why they would rather pay three times as much for a iMac when they could get a Dell. It’s almost religious like the way they defend it.

Two years ago I purchased a cell phone for about 50 bucks after two discounts. This was with Verizon, and I bought an LG Voyager (which some of you may know as the Envy Touch) with the condition that I would sign on for another couple years. I was replacing an LG Chocolate, a phone which kind of sucked but had a great Mp3 player, for the reason that the phone just stopped ringing. Smart Phones were beginning to grab the substantial market place share that they have now, the very first android phone was still to be released. If you wanted “smart” you went with either blackberry or iPhone (then an ATT exclusive) or the short lived Google Nexus. The sales guys at Verizon didn’t push, they couldn’t, I knew what I wanted walked in and told them.

Forward a month or two ago, and I’m in the market again. It’s been almost two years and the Voyager shuts off on its own, repeatedly, and sometimes in the middle of doing something with it. This occurs whether the battery is drained or not. Truth be told, I wasn’t too happy with the phone at all. The touch screen really didn’t work that well, it wasn’t an amoled (like those on Droids, iPhones, etc.) but that wasn’t the problem. I could adjust to that, a working touch screen would be a step up from the Chocolate. The Voyager would “throw” things on its own, it was sometimes unresponsive and other times ultra sensitive. Because it had hard keys however, it was easy to just shrug and say ‘whatever, i’ll just ride out the contract.’ Not to say that I was just stoic about it, my stoicism began once the warranty ran out, I had taken it in several times and every time they told me that I needed a software update, they took in the back of the store and brought it out twenty minutes later. Nothing was different and I knew that it sat on a desk in the back. I’ve worked customer support for tech before, I know the drill, they just didn’t want to tell me that the phone was a POS or that it was suffering from the “ID 10 T” error that afflicts all manner of electronic devices from televisions and computers to phones and video games.**

It shutting off, however was a serious problem. Especially given that I commute an hour for school with my daughter in the car I am unwilling to drive that hour without a phone in case of emergency. Usually we substitute “need” for “want” but this time it was an actual need. I needed a phone that wouldn’t shut off if I was dialing someone in an emergency. However I’m a gadget guy, and if I was going to get a new phone I wanted something that I would like. My wife began to think that perhaps we would escape Verizon, but I was unwilling. I’ve had them since I moved back to New York, and in the six years the service has been good. I’ve only roamed once and that was in Baltimore, which was odd, but we already had service with them and the easiest thing to do is not change horses mid-stream. I popped Gwen in the car and we were off to the Verizon store.

I like to bring Gwen with me because sales people are less pushy when you have a small but garrulous little child with you, they can’t get into their shtick if they’re being interrupted and they can’t get mad about it when it’s an adorable little monkey. The experience at the store was when I realized that Verizon wasn’t the way to go. First off the sales guy didn’t even listen to me, but directed me right to the Thunderbolt, the first 4G LTE phone on the market. I get it though, it was brand new that week and I’m sure they had to sell so many on that day for a commission. Pointing me in the direction is one thing, but bringing me back to it three times after I explained we weren’t going in the smart phone direction is just dumb. You push hard one way, you get pushed back another. He also answered a text from his girlfriend while talking to me, although to his credit he did a good job at pretending he was showing me a feature of the Droid X. I gave him a point for that but since I had explained that smart phones weren’t our bag of tea it was a useless gesture.

Verizon, and what seems to be the rest of the industry now, labels the non-smart phones “feature phones.” In some marketing maneuver thought up by grad students to fool people into thinking that they are getting something good while at the same time letting them know that there are better things out there. Verizon simply did not have a single feature phone that was got a good review. I did the research, CNet and Verizon’s own website were basically giving the phones 3/5 at best. Any attempt to talk to the sales guy about it just got me pointed toward the smart phones, which told me that he was uninterested in selling me anything other than an HTC Thunderbold, Droid X, or iPhone 4. The problem was simply money, it’s not that my wife and i didn’t want one of those phones (although I wanted the Droid 2, because I like physical buttons on my keyboard) it was price. Verizon’s data plan, which you “need” on that type of phone, costs 29.99 a month on top of the phone bill and per smart phone. If my wife and I were to have gotten these phones that’s an extra 59.98 a month.

And it’s built on a lie. They say that the phone needs the data package to run because it’s a smart phone, however the only reason that the phone is considered “smart” is because it possesses the ability to receive wifi, i.e. if your phone has the ability to do something your laptop could do back in 2002 it is a smart phone. Secondly I get that to use the internet on the road or in a place without wifi the data package allows this, but that isn’t a necessity it’s a luxury (remember what I said earlier about “need” versus “want”?). Having a Droid hooked up to my wifi at home negates the need for the data package. The other places I go to school and the coffee shop all have wifi, why again would I need the data package? The sales guy explained to me that the phone just wouldn’t run without it. So even if I had one and had an active wifi connection the phone wouldn’t be able to function at all if I was in the basement of a building (at school for example) and couldn’t reach the network. He didn’t answer me instead going for the sale’s device of freezing out. This is when the sales guy wants you to feel bad for wasting his time by considering your options and then buying whatever it was that he wanted you to. Car sales and high end electronics sales people do this. I don’t see how it works but it must since I have had it done and seen it done many times. Gwen and I left and I began new research on other cell phone plans considering AT&T and Sprint/nextel. At the time T-Mobile was possibly going to be bought out by Verizon so they were off the grid for now.

I’ll say this about AT&T, they were at least honest. The woman taking care of me was kind of pushy (I was by myself this time) but not overtly so. She pushed a new HTC phone that had just come out, but when I explained that I was looking more for non-smart phones she never mentioned it again. It was a good tactic because it was what I actually wanted to talk about. At&T had a much better selection of “feature phones” than Verizon, in both quantity and quality. None really stood out for me though, then we went to pricing and plans and such. AT&T had better pricing, much better. Everything on their plan was cheaper by about ten-fifteen dollars. What it amounted to was that we could save around 30 bucks a month on the service and get everything including data for smart phones. That’s when the sales woman took me back to show me the newer phones, once it was established that we could get them, to her credit she didn’t lie to me about the definition of “smart” or why it needed data. She just told me that is the way it is, which is much better than not answering my question.

We then went to Sprint. The Sprint store in Rochester, the one official Sprint store, is a nice place. Couches, actual couches and a wide open room for Gwen to run around in…or for me to chase her made a nice presentation different from the cramped locations of the two previous companies. Sprint’s phone pricing occupied a place in between Verizon and ATT. Once we added up everything, with the optional data, it came to be the same as Verizon’s price. That isn’t a deal breaker necessarily, we are used to paying one price and if I could pay the same price and get more that’s a step up. The phone selection wasn’t so great though. They had more than Verizon but they weren’t as good. The sales guy there never pushed toward smart like the others had, but I think he was letting the products do the talking. The ultimate deal breaker with Sprint was that he made it sound like calling Canada was not possible with that company. My sister-in-law lives in Canada and while cutting her from the plan wasn’t out of the question it wasn’t going to fly with being unable to call her at all.

Ultimately we settled on AT&T. It just made the most financial sense, even with the data plans and the smart phones. I’m not an AT&T fan boy or anything like that, but it just seemed like they understood that lowering prices in this financial climate makes sense. Verizon it seems is trading off their name but their service seems to be centered around a reputation that they’re the best and no one would leave them. I’ve heard bad things about their land phone customer service but until this happened I was never anything but pleased with their cellular people. The objection that I have heard the most about AT&T is that it drops calls frequently, but two things bother me about that: 1) if this actually happened they wouldn’t be number 2 among the companies and 2) I know people with their service (anyone who owns an iPhone prior to 12 months ago) and they haven’t complained about it. I haven’t had a dropped call yet and the service works in the sticks (literally the forest in Alleghany NY and Humphrey NY). At the end of the day I went with an LG Quantum. A Windows Phone 7 that I’ll review in the future.
*Hitler and Penicillin respectively
**I’m willing to bet that anyone working customer service for technology just smiled to themselves while anyone who didn’t is confused as to what problem could afflict such a variety of techological devices. I’m not explaining it.

Categories: personal update

Wherefore (The New Moon walkthrough Pg. 13-17)

May 30, 2011 Leave a comment

In high school it’s Edward, Alice, and Bella as a happy little threesome who are now the best of friends. Almost getting murdered by a mutual enemy will do that to people but we forget about Bella’s other ‘friends.’ People like Mike and Jessica, who used to have somewhat of an important role in Bella’s life given that they are the first people she met here, the first people she hung out with, etc. Now however they are relegated to supporting players and although I’m supposed to say ‘I hate to say it but I told you so’ I really don’t hate to say it. Being right isn’t something I prefer to be modest about it which is actually kind of sad since I am outwitting a book aimed at teenage girls. I said it before, a long time before, that Bella’s problem is that she thinks she’s too hip to be happy, and that she would dump her friends as soon as she could. And she has, she’s too happy to be around Alice and Edward completely forgotten about the rest of the population of the school.

We run into Mike though, he has dyed his hair blonde-ish and spiked it out (or is it up). Apparently, as Bella conjectures, to copy Edward. This is feasible given that Mike had a thing for Bella last book, but anyone that thinks spikey blonde hair is going to overcome the stink of “too nice guy” needs to reevaluate their priorities. It’s not the looks it’s the fact that he treats her badly that makes her want Edward.

Just because Bella has forgotten about the rest of the school doesn’t mean that Meyer has. The section describing the new year is short, but that’s actually an improvement. I criticized the previous book for not being a realistic portrayal of high school. Everyone was too friendly and the social caste system didn’t seem to exist. I went so far as to wonder if Meyer was home schooled given that she just didn’t get it. That problem still exists here, but first we need to set it up. The older Cullens have graduated leaving only Alice and Edward left in the school. How they determine who is what age is probably better left to fan fiction, but what is important here is that the privileged table of social betters is gone. Alice and Edward could probably hold it themselves but with the addition of Bella it means the dynamic is changed. It would be doubtful that three people could hold the position as they did before.

This means that other people have been upgraded and economy of storytelling means that we have to have already met them. Jessica, Mike, Lauren, and Eric now sit with them. Eric is an odd addition given that he should remain somewhere else. He’s the dragon tee-shirt wearing, chess club, guy that was briefly introduced and then dropped. Lauren, I think, is the girl who hated Bella for her relationship with Edward and for some reason she sits with them as well. Mike and Jessica make sense though. This is where Meyer repeats her problem from before. Although it’s hard to fault her for it since in order to populate the table she would have to introduce new people or just use them. They might be sitting at the same place but they aren’t sitting with each other, Bella comments that there is an invisible line. It’s only Alice, Edward, and her on one side and the rest of the people on the other. They don’t mix, which means that it’s just for show. The only reason to have Bella mention it is so she can brag about it. Even worse than that is that she blames everyone else for this discrepancy.

Her complaints make no sense, because when Alice and Edward are in school she won’t talk to the rest of them. And when they are missing they talk to her. She’s got the best of both worlds, but as I have said before, she just needs to complain.

The school scene is short, and it’s just set up anyway. It’s just that the minor scenes often tell us more about Bella than is intended.

With school out they go home to watch Romeo and Juliet prior to the party that Bella doesn’t to go to. For some reason the version of the movie is stressed as being important (the 1968 version with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey). This is only done to show that Edward is old because its the version he hasn’t seen. It also means that he is cultured, something that thus far hasn’t really played any importance or relevance despite the fact that it is stressed that Bella is so smart. After some short making out they watch the movie.

Edward offers up a criticism of Romeo that is out of place if only because he is making it, “Well, first of all, he’s in love with Rosaline-don’t you think that makes him seem a little fickle? And then, a few minutes after their wedding, he kills Juliet’s cousin. That’s not very brilliant. Mistake after mistake. Could he have destroyed his own happiness any more thoroughly?

Edward makes an interesting point about Romeo being fickle. Rosaline ditches Romeo prior to the play beginning but then he falls completely in love with Juliet. All that really means is not that Romeo is fickle but that Juliet was the rebound girl. Other than that he’s completely wrong, Romeo doesn’t make a series of mistakes. Sure Tybalt is gunned down (or skewered) but it’s in keeping with the partisanship of renaissance Verona. I believe the two of them were fighting and Tybalt “gets got” but if he hadn’t then it would have been Romeo in the dust. The play is more a series of unfortunate events than it is about love. Which is why “wherefore” ought to have been the title. Despite what most people think “wherefore” doesn’t mean “where” it means “why.” The famous line of Juliet’s, “wherefore are thou Romeo.” Is not about Juliet wondering where he is but why he is. Why was he named by a Montague.

Edward’s criticism is made and Bella gets defensive because before Edward she had a thing for Romeo…as much as any person can have a thing for a fictional character. It really shows that she’s not attracted to the right type of person. Edward-a controlling narcissist or Romeo the gangster. Which leads us to ask wherefore Bella, wherefore?

To Protect Itself

May 30, 2011 Leave a comment

This is the conclusion to the Early Modern Philosophy paper that I have thus far presented on this blog in four previous sections. It contains the conclusion of the central thesis that if we accept either of the three reasons for the formation of the state from Hobbes, Locke, or Machiavelli; than we must accept that the state has the ability to defend itself using force or compulsion when necessary. How it uses it, or of what kind, is not within the scope of this paper and there are many many books and articles on this subject.


Despite their different views and the varied ways in which our theorists have arrived at the formation of the state they all have one thing in common: the state exists to provide some sort of protection for its people. While the focus of the protection is different, Locke’s claim is that it is for the interest of the individual while both Machiavelli and Hobbes both claim that it is for the protection of the self against others, it is still protection nonetheless. Having this established can we then say that the state is justified when it uses compulsion against the members of the state?[1]

            To protect the individuals from each other the state is obviously justified based on the three theories we have visited. In two of them this is the first purpose of its creation and the primary role, while in the third we can easily tie the individual’s interest to their protection. We can salvage a criminal justice system by reference to this.

            We can say then that the state has legitimate recourse to use force when it is acting in the interest of its self-preservation. However self-preservation of the state is a tricky concept when we consider that our discussion is merely focusing on using that force internally. No one aside from a true pacifist would be able to claim that a state could not defend itself from the outside, the only questions to raise in those situations are what kind of force and how much. Internal threats are much different, as we have to decide what constitutes a legitimate existential threat internally. Is dissent one of those threats or do the members of a state have to be doing more than just dissenting?

            Since we are unwilling to claim that the state’s existence is self-dependant, i.e. that it only exists for the sake of itself, to justify the use of force simply because the members of the state are unhappy with the form of government seems untenable. Dissension may be breed discontent and the drive for change, but the dissolution of the state does not necessarily follow. That dissension stems from unhappiness or discontent with the state seems obvious. Yet what is less obvious is that the discontent does not come from the state itself, but rather those in charge of the state. Forcing the population to yield in the case of suppressing a protest seems to be against the purpose of the state’s formation.

            The only true internal existential threat to the state is that of corruption leading to partisanship and the final “failure of the citizenry to support these structures (the governmental institutions) voluntarily.[2]” If the state exists to protect the individuals the individuals themselves must support the state, or else they cannot be said to be members of that state[3]. The difficulty in this claim is that under Locke’s theory an individual can return to a state of nature without leaving any political boundary.[4] The degradation of a state occurs in one of two occurrences, when the state begins acting in its own best interests as Machiavelli indicates,[5] but also when the people begin acting in their own interests only.

            These selfish interests begin to isolate the citizens from their civic duties, creating individuals that act not in accordance with the ideals of the state but with their own, forming partisanships.[6] Taken in the extreme these partisanships can destroy a state if they assume the places of power and then direct the state to act in their interest and not of the state in total. That some selfish behavior is beneficial, even inevitable is found in our three theories. The state is formed in the self-interests of the people, but in surrendering some self-interest for the general interest the state has the obligation to fulfill its role. When forces arise to challenge to the purpose of the state, the state is justified in forcing down the power of the partisans.

            Machiavelli places this responsibility on that of the populace, “it may be urged that the guardianship of anything should be placed in the hands of those who are less desirous of appropriating it for their own use;[7]” rather than that of the elite who are more apt to exercise control in order to preserve that which they have and to gain more, “for men are inclined to think that they cannot hold securely what they possess unless they get more at others’ expense.[8]” This intense desire to keep and gain creates a political situation in which political participation seems to the lower classes futile and “political rhetoric degenerates to a politics of noise.[9]

The state is justified in creating laws that give the opportunity for participation and eliminate partisanships which corrupt it so thoroughly that it no longer resembles the reason that people came together to form it in the first place. The use of compulsion then is justified in enforcing those laws through the punishments of those people or groups that would transgress them.

[1] “Citizen” doesn’t necessarily apply to the members of Hobbes’state, they would be more accurately described as subjects. Patrick Curry makes this claim, briefly, in Introducing Machiavelli, Curry, Patrick; illustrated by Oscar Zarate ©2000 Icon Books, UK.

[2] Pg. 960, Dobel, J. Patrick; The Corruption of a State, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 72 No. 3 pp. 958-973

[3] Pg. 464 Simmons

[4] Pg. 462 Simmons

[5] Pg. 106-109 The Discourses

[6] Pg. 959 Dobel

[7] Pg. 116 The Discourses

[8] Pg. 118 ibid

[9] Pg. 967

Categories: philosophy, politics

Assassin’s Creed II.1 Brotherhood

May 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood picks up literally right where Assassin’s Creed II ended: in the basement of St. Peter’s in Rome where a ghostly image of Minerva explains to Ezio Auditore of an impending doom facing the planet. Gone is the body of Pope Alexander VI, having survived the fight with Ezio. From there we follow Ezio’s uncle to his fortress town of Montenegro and the past story begins. The present story has Desmond and the fugitive Assassin organization still looking for the pieces of Eden to thwart the Abstergo corporation only this time they’ve also made it to modern day Montenegro where they are using Rebecca’s Animus to hunt for clues in Desmond’s ancestor’s past.

This is the setup for our story. I should warn here that spoilers follow, not just for the game but also for fans of the Showtime series “The Borgias” as historical personages and some events that take place are actual. While the previous game took place in the cities of Florence, Venice, Tuscany, and the Romagna this game takes place entirely in the Eternal City of Rome and the surrounding country side. This makes the game somewhat smaller in area but it is no less diminished by this as Rome has the enough hidden nooks and crannies to make the smaller location seem more varied. I remarked in my review of the previous game that it seemed odd that it would introduce Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI) and then omit his infamous children Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia, this game amends that omission. As well as the omission of having introduced people such as Niccolo Machaivelli and Caterina Sforza and then dropping them almost immediately is also amended. No longer are we dealing with the plots of banking families, now Ezio is fighting to free Rome from the grip of a tyrannical Pope and his son who is seeking to become the king of all Italy.

Ezio, is also older in this game. Typically a video game starts with a young gun happy and naive hero. Here, Ezio is wisened by his previous struggle and whose character acts as a seasoned veteran. This is a nice change from the cliche. The game also handles the character ability growth as well. Let me explain that: as a character moves through a game they typically gain health and more abilities, so that by the end of the story they are a much more advanced person than they were in the beginning. This game having begun at the end of the previous game faced a difficult problem in that reducing Ezio’s abilities would have to be done with care or else seem capricious thus breaking immersion. The problem is solved as the previous game placed all of Ezio’s abilities into the equipment he was carrying viz. his health was specifically tied to what kind of armor he was wearing. After a sexual encounter with Caterina Sforza a Borgia cannonball destroys Ezio’s equipment, thus reducing his health and power to almost nothing. It’s a clever device that solves the dilemma that I call the “Doom II problem*.”

The missions themselves in this game closely follow the types introduced in the very first Assassin’s Creed and then refined in the second. Retrieve something, follow someone, kill another, infiltrate this building, etc. The variety is a bit lacking but the different methods in which you go about it rescue them from tedium. What is more concentrated on here is stealth. Many of the missions require you to remain undetected or else the mission is failed.

There some new additions to the game that improve it upon the previous installment. The first are the Leonardo missions. Leonardo has been drafted into constructing weapons for the Borgia family’s wars in Italy (this actually happened), and this was against Leonardo’s will, he conscripts Ezio into destroying these weapons so that Cesare Borgia will be left without them. These are examples of the stealth missions alluded to before, if you get caught locating one (they take place in isolated towns outside Rome) the mission is failed. However once the blueprints are burned you get to take them for a spin. These missions were delightful then, because the inventions aren’t new cannons or Leonardo’s modified siege towers they are the tanks, glider (we saw in the previous game although this time it’s armed), and machine gun that appear in his notebooks based on his actual sketches and engineered by the developers to how they could have worked. The tank is the most fun.

The hidden messages have also returned. Although they have become much more complicated, giving two puzzles per message as well as a chess game that you have to pick one move per message for. Hint to actual chess players, don’t pick the move you would do, just pick the move hinted at by the clue otherwise it’s infuriating.

The most welcome addition for Brotherhood is the brotherhood itself. Ezio seeking to rebuild the Assassin’s Order begins recruiting followers from among the oppressed of Rome. When I initially read a preview of the game highlighting this feature I was less than thrilled. I figured that these would be worthless teammates ala Tie Fighter (and every other game you get wingmen in) that you would spend more time protecting than they would do helping. I was delighted to be wrong. The method for using them is this, you highlight an enemy or a group of enemies and then hit a button causing Ezio to whistle. Out of the nearest hiding spot (or if you are in an open field horses come riding in) your followers come and attack your targets using every ability that Ezio possesses. These are formidable allies and just watching them fight gives you the impression of what exactly it must be to be one of the Borgia soldiers facing you. Although I should say that you have to level them up at least to level 3 before you send them against more than one foe alone since they will only have their hidden blade at first. The other feature regarding them which was surprising is that if the enemy sees them they attack them rather than you. A couple of missions were remaining undetected was necessary were solved by having a group of my followers attack and kill guards out in the open while I snuck in around them. I’ve played plenty of games were if the guards catch your allies they’ve caught you. This not only adds to the gameplay but also to the immersion as these new assassin’s have their own existence.

All in all, fans of the previous game will eat up this version. It takes everything that was great about the Florentine adventure and expands upon it. The money system is re-worked so that you improve Rome itself rebuilding the aqueducts and various monuments, there are some sidequests. And you even get a bit into Machiavelli’s personality (a personal treat). This won’t make people who disliked the series thus far like it. But it will push those on the fence over. 
*Doom II Problem: so our hero after beating back the hordes of Hell in Doom is now going to invade Hell. What does he arm himself with? A cestus and a pistol.

Categories: reviews, video game review

Discrepancies (The Twilight Walkthrough Pg. 3-13)

May 23, 2011 Leave a comment

We begin the actual book with a dream. It’s an interesting dream too, and we should all know that if an author is going to write a dream it’s important for the story, otherwise why bother. It’s based on word economy and the old trope of Chekov’s gun. If it’s there a payoff is inevitable. The trouble with that is Meyer seems to be quite unreliable in this concept. The last book gave us hundreds of mentions that Bella was clumsy and it seemed that the only reason for that was to set up an excuse at the end of the book for her injuries, and it was a lame excuse at that. We’ve heard of unreliable narrators but what we have here is an unreliable author and that’s troubling. Yet we’ve read this kind of thing before with Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code so it’s nothing new.

Anyway the dream has a disembodied Bella looking at an image of her dead grandmother and then Edward appears behind the grandmother. It turns out that this isn’t her grandmother but her in the future as Edward hasn’t aged a bit. Filling Bella with a sort of worry makes a lot of sense and perhaps the payout for this dream isn’t plot wise it’s character wise. This is good, a very good start. It’s akin to the sequence in the movie version of “The Two Towers” where Elrond explains to Arwen why she should abandon Aragorn. It works here as well as there, but the atmosphere of futility was much better in Jackson’s movie, that’s ok as this book is for a different, and younger audience.

What the dream sets up is that there is going to be an issue between the two of age. Which is about as realistic as a story about relationships with vampires is going to get. This issue was brought up a little bit in the first book, but not to any serious satisfaction. Edward in the dream has a curious aspect to his character, “Edward stood beside me, casting no reflection.”

The lack of reflection is wholly new. It was never brought up previously when Bella was researching her crush, in any of the intra-vampire discussions nor in the list of attributes brought up with regard to the special superpowers that each individual vampire possessed. We might be able to forgive this omission but it seems to be quite important since all of the Cullen “children” go to high school and Dr. Cullen works in a hospital. No one has ever noticed that they don’t cast a reflection? All of the children would be required to participate in Gym class and that would entail showering with other people and then fixing themselves up, for their impeccable appearance, in a room with a large mirror. It also raises another interesting questions and that is whether or not they can be photographed.* School pictures, hospital ID badges, and sometimes in an OR procedures are recorded. The Cullens can probably escape picture day, but with the advent of cell phone cameras it would be kind of hard. Especially since they are so good looking. The Doctor is going to have some explaining to do when it comes to his ID badge.

The standard explanation given for the lack of reflection is that they are creatures of anathema to nature. They don’t cast reflections because nothing can abide their presence, which is why dogs bark at them etc. Mirrors are abhorrent to them because the lack of reflection reminds them of what they once were in reference to what they are now. This is a factor that Meyer has discarded but he’s still not showing a reflection so we are going to need an explanation for it. Perhaps they dodge the business with mass hypnosis, or even more realistically psychological explanation. The reason we think that a coin flipped eight times landing on heads all eight is “due” for a tails. Or if you look at a person with no eye brows, you realize something is wrong with their face, but you can’t quite place it because you are used to eyebrows being on everyone it is almost as if you do see them. 

The reason for all of Bella’s doubt is that today is her 18th birthday. She’s officially an adult that can buy cigarettes, lotto tickets, and pornography. What it also means is that she’s older than Edward, “I was eighteen and Edward never would be.” Well, yes and no. Sure he would never age biologically beyond and eighteen year old, but he is certainly physically older than 18. Mentally probably not.

She gets to school and sees Edward by his shiny Volvo “like a marble tribute to some forgotten pagan god of beauty.” We tired of this in the last book and I guess it’s going to continue. The troubling thing about the last novel and it seems this one as well, is that we are offered no reason to think Bella should be going out with him other than his looks. I suppose this means that Meyer hasn’t thought of any good reason either so she’s sticking with appearance. He stands there and next to him is Alice. I said last post that Alice was my favorite character in the series so far. Not only does she have good characterization and is an actual likeable person but she also brings levity into the situation. Edward and Bella get right into brooding, and Alice interjects by reminding Bella that 18 isn’t old. That isn’t the point of course, and I think that Alice gets that, what I believe she’s doing is reminding Bella that now isn’t the time for wondering about impending morality.

Bella also has another problem the birthday is going to put her into the spotlight that “any other accident-prone klutz would agree. [That] no one wants a spotlight when they’re bound to fall on their face.” This is entirely unnecessary. Meyer should have taken the pseudo-clumsiness out of the story since it already served its purpose before. Putting it back in just means we have to hear about it more. Further based on what we know about Bella, we already know that she will pretend to not want the spotlight. The klutz thing is superfluous.

It’s also established that this is a new school year, the beginning of their senior year. Bella has a job at a sporting goods store, even though this would be the worst place for her to work, and the manager must have been paid off or hypnotized into hiring her, she is not planning on going to college, “college was plan B. I was still hoping for plan A, but Edward was just so stubborn about leaving me human.”

This is your role model girls? She’s willing to sacrifice her future, any possibility where she could learn on her own or develop some actual skills at something, for a man. This is the same despicable theme that ran through “Sex and the City,” that a woman’s importance is only about landing a husband. Although in the HBO series it was all about a rich husband here that’s not so overt but since Edward is already rich I guess it’s still there.

The Cullens are rich too, Bella brings this up when fantasizing about being a Cullen in reference to her working class roots. They had a plethora of money that came from Carlisle’s unlimited life and “a sister who had an uncanny ability to predict trends in the stock market.” Bravo! Someone finally uses a person with the future sight to do something obvious with it. Of course it would be easier with regard to sports outcomes since the payoff would be almost immediate, but this is a nice touch. Most vampires are obscenely wealthy but their wealth isn’t usually explained. In the Blade series it’s not really touched upon, neither in the Underworld series, but here we get it. They exploited the psychic. Makes sense.

The other thing to note is that Bella uses “sister” and not “daughter” in reference to Alice. This is curious because she considers the money, the house, and the life she wants to be Edward’s and not Carlisle’s, or the Cullens’. She’s pretty much obliterated any reference to herself here as well. The only real assertion of her person that she makes is when she talks about how she’s “out of balance” with regard to Edward buying her things and how she would like him to stop. All of this is done in an air of how superior he is to her, making it that much worse. Even though she says she actually objects to his paying for things like dinner, a car, college, it’s not him being a control freak or anything like that. It’s about how much better he is than her, even though he “for some unfathomable reason, wanted to be with me.

Well that sucks, because I was hoping our protagonists had changed for the better but we’ve seen that she hasn’t. Let’s hope he has. 

*Check out an old BBC series (90s I think) called Ultraviolet where vampire hunters exploited this using video cameras to hunt their quarry. It’s unrelated to an incomprehensible Milla Jovovich movie of the same name.

The End of the World

May 21, 2011 Leave a comment

I can guide us through this, for I have seen these events before…

In 1984 two people identified a problem, a problem that wouldn’t occur for 16 years and since it was the early 80s the nation wasn’t into doing stuff right away. That time had passed, problems of the future were the future’s problem, unless you ascribed to trickle down economics which meant that the future was now, unless you were on the lower classes relative to the ultra rich then the benefits in the future were the future’s problem as well. It was 16 years and it was a different world then.

We had all heard that the rate at which technology expands is exponential. Think about it, the phone you have in your hand right now, possibly reading this, was unthinkable ten years ago. More to the point, your computer then could fit in your hand now. If you told me that my entire cd collection could fit in my hand, along with entire photo albums, and a functioning camera (it also makes phone calls), the ability to browse the real internet and not some shitty version of it, I would have burned you as a witch. Now memory is cheap, I hear tell of something called a “terabyte” which I assume is 1000 gigabytes, that kind of memory is staggering. But that is now, then it was different.

Memory wasn’t cheap, neither were computers. Memory could cost as much as one dollar per bit. That means that in digital parlance a “1” or a “0” is a bit and that costs a dollar. A one megabyte picture in these terms would cost 8 million dollars in memory for the 1960 technology. So in order to save space the technocrats just decided to omit some numbers. Instead of writing out 1989, they just wrote 89. Yes I’m talking about the Y2K “problem.”

The end of the world was coming, and in all seriousness people believed that was what was coming. Which was a problem since there were already end of the world doomsday cults existing just on the basis of the start of the new millenium, as had happened in the year 1000. Christian Eschatologists, jumped on the Apocalyptic bandwagon for some reason thinking that the year 2000 has something to do with Jesus returning. This, despite the fact, that a literal reading of the bible should lead one to conclude that Jesus did promise to return within the generation of his disciples, i.e. that they wouldn’t die before he came back (Mark 13:30, Matthew 10:23, 16:28, 24:34, Luke 21:32). It doesn’t matter though, facts have no place for numerologists.

So we take the typical doomsday scenarios which are incorporated with every major year turning into a nice round number, and add some computer stuff and you have the recipe of a nice sense of anxiety. Couple that with right wing fears of the UN’s New World Order (a phrase that originated with George H.W. Bush but ascribed to the Clinton White House for some inexplicable reason), the militia movement and anxiety gets much more fused as the year approaches 2000.

Y2K, which was a nice abbreviation was predicted for a complete crash of the financial world (they were only about eight years off on that one) as the counters would reset from 1999, to 1900. Which meant that any money deposited after 1900 i.e. all of it, would be inaccessible. Computers were to completely shut down because of the inability to process any program installed after the current date, all of them again. Planes were going to fall out of the sky for some reason, nuclear missiles were going to fire, basically everything that happened in the Halloween episode of the Simpsons and one episode Family Guy was an approximation of a prediction that some people believed, seriously. I was 20, so I remember this clearly and people were very concerned.

The funny thing about it is that at first no one really gave a shit. Most people figured that the advance of technology would mean that those two digit year programs would be replaced with four digits as memory became cheaper and new programs had to be written. Apple and Microsoft weren’t too concerned because in the 90s they were coming out with new OS’s every two years or so. As the years drew on and 1997 became 1998 it started popping up with more frequency. In 1999, Prince who had changed his name to something stupid was predicting a party, his prediction was oddly more correct despite his Church of Latter Day Saints leanings. People were stockpiling bottled water and buying homes with fallout shelters.

And then December 31st came. At the stroke of midnight…nothing happened. The world didn’t end, money was still accessible. So our guidance for this, the second time this jackass has predicted the Rapture (which doesn’t appear in the Bible by the way) will too pass. Let’s refrain from calling into his radio show and gloating on Monday. Maybe we can set up a staggered schedule so that everyone can get through. 

Categories: current events

States of Nature III: Machaivelli

May 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Despite my three publications concerning the philosophy of Niccolo Machiavelli, I have never been taught him in class. Somehow I have taken numerous political philosophy classes and history of philosophy classes but missed any lesson on Machiavelli. This wasn’t due to absence either, I am notoriously present in all of my classes. All of my interpretation is based on primary source material of the philosopher with some readings of biography and interpretation. I have also only been graded on a paper I have written on him once (which earned an A). This has led me to some anxiety in writing on him for two reasons: that I am untested and that I don’t want to be considered wrong on something that I have put so much time into. This is probably what led to the difficulty in writing this next section for my final in modern Philosophy.

3] Machiavelli and the State of Nature

            We leave the theories of English Doctors and Scholars and attend to the political theory of a politician. Machiavelli, like Hobbes[1], based his theory on observation. The analysis of political events, both ancient and contemporary, forms the basis of all of Machiavelli’s theories. This is especially important to note as Machiavelli, himself, was involved in politics in his role as both ambassador to the city of Florence and Secretary to the Ten of War (equal to the US Secretary of State).

Machiavelli’s political theory is not as concerned with this origin, but more about the maintenance and conduct of government. He does however deal with this founding. The difficulty in establishing a theory of the origin of a state in Machiavelli’s writings is that he presupposes the existence of political bodies centralized in cities. In The Discourses on Titus Livy Machiavelli discusses the origin of cities, which may seem to be outside the course of our discussion however for Machiavelli, these cities of Rome, Venice, Florence; represent not only physical cities in our modern definition but also centralized political states. For example, the Roman Empire is identified with its capital and any discussion of the founding of the city of Rome is also a discussion of the foundation of the state in general.

Like Hobbes, Machiavelli shares a dim view of the nature of humanity, that “men are more prone to evil than to good[2]” is assumed to be a given essential to Machiavelli’s theory. There is no explicit state of nature in Machiavelli but he paints a picture that is more reminiscent of Locke than it is of Hobbes. His claim is that a city is founded by one of two groups of people: either natives of an area or foreigners coming to an area.[3] It is on the former that he more vividly analyzes.

There is a common thread of necessity in Machiavelli, and that this necessity is what drives the development of the state into a theory that will show some similarities to both Hobbes and Locke. In the beginning of the world he claims that because there were fewer people those people lived “scattered like the beasts.[4]” These randomly spread out people eventually came together in conjunction with “the multiplication of their offspring…in order the better to be able to defend themselves.[5]  This gives us a peaceful picture of numerous communities living across an area in peace with one another. This existence is then shattered by the onslaught of an invader of which poses a mutual threat to all of the communities. This threat causes the varied communities to realize that “they cannot enjoy security since no one community of itself, owing to its position and to the smallness of its numbers, is strong enough to resist the onslaught of an invader.[6] 

This ever present and existential threat forces the communities’ hand so that “to escape these dangers, either of their own accord or at the suggestion of someone of greater authority among them, such communities undertake to live together in some place chosen.[7]” While the theory does stress the development of a place in which these communities are to live, it is in the mutual agreement that these communities centralize an authority for the purpose of common defense, which is also the motivation for the individual communities to form in the first place. This he claims is the founding of the states of Athens and Venice. Venice, is the more pertinent example, as the decline of Rome allowed the Gothic invasions which caused people to flee into the “islets at the top of the Adriatic Sea.[8]

What Machiavelli’s theory is a hybridization between both Locke and Hobbes. To the former we have communities of people living together in what we can assume is relative peace, identifying themselves as being members of a group but having no official law, although they may recognize one who possesses some sort of leadership role indicated in the phrase, “someone of greater authority among them.[9]” This person’s authority is not derived from the law, as we have no law as of yet, but authority is given this person through their character by the fellow members of the community who, “look about for a man stronger and more courageous than the rest, made him their head, and obeyed him.[10]

As to the latter we recognize a Hobbesian state of war with the foreign group. It is assumed as a given that this new element is coming for purposes of hostility. The authority given to the state in this instance is for protection and that protection requires power as, “security for man is impossible unless it be conjoined with power.[11]

We can also see the humanist element in Machiavelli who claims that law, is not derived from any law of nature but based solely in pragmatism. If the leader, and thus the state, is to be considered a benefactor, those who transgress the edicts from it were considered to be ungrateful which spurred the enmity of the fellow citizens. Those citizens were also aware that if a person could break a rule once they could do it again perhaps against themselves, so they “took to making laws and to assigning punishments to those who contravened them. The notion of justice thus came into being.[12]” Originally all states existed for the protection of the members of the state, the ruler (or rulers as Machiavelli believes in republican government) in conjunction with the people set up laws in order to protect the state and its leader.

[1] Pg. 296 Glover

[2] Pg. 132 The Discourses

[3] Pg. 100, 101 ibid

[4] Pg. 107 ibid

[5] Pg. 107 ibid

[6] Pg. 100 ibid

[7] Pg. 100,101 ibid

[8] Pg. 101 ibid

[9] Peter Constantine translates it as, “one among them who is prominent in authority.” The difference in translation is subtle but further lends credence to the idea presented that this person may be an informal leader or someone who is seizing an opportunity. Pg. 109, The Essential Writing of Machiavelli, trans. Peter Constantine, ©2007 Random House.

[10] Pg. 107 The Discourses

[11] Pg. 102 The Discourses

[12] Pg. 107 The Discourses

Categories: philosophy