Archive for June, 2011

Brown vs. Entertainment Merchant’s Association

June 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve never done a review of a Supreme Court decision before, so you will have to forgive the writing style if it’s completely inaccurate or not on par with typical legal reviews. I should like to think that this will be better than what the tech columnists and television personalities who have covered this decision. As they have been pretty stuttered in their delivery leaving their familiar ground of cell phones and video games to go to a legal decision about video games. Which is why they all failed, this wasn’t a decision about the legitimacy of a game’s right to be violent this was about free expression and whether the California statue instituted in 2005 violated the first amendment’s free speech clause.

The California law banned the sale of violent video games to minors, and wanted a 2″ label indicating that the game was for 18 and over. There was also talk of fining the store making the sale as well but since the law was instantly challenged the moment governor Schwarzenegger signed it the logistics were never in place. At stake here is no the role of video games in society or their status as an art form as some protestors outside the court were hoping. What was at stake is whether or not violent video games have an effect on those that play them and whether this effect constitutes an exception to the free speech clause.

The standard that was presented was whether or not California could indicate a problem that existed which would either be solved by the law or had the possibility of being solved based on research into the subject. The Majority opinion, written by Justice Scalia, reminds the court that California’s research into the connection between violent video games and violent behavior holds no ground and has been rejected in every court for which it has been brought as indicating only correlation and not causation.

Furthermore California’s claim that the games cause violence and are dangerous to minors fails in another respect. If what the research the state relied on for its evidence was true, vis a vis–that games cause violent behavior. Than why is it that a minor is perfectly capable of playing the game if one parent, or even aunt or uncle says that it is ok. To quote the opinion: “The California Legislature is perfectly willing to leave this dangerous, mind-altering material in the hands of children”…”And there are not even any requirements as to how this parental  or avuncular relationship is to  be verified; apparently the child’s or putative parent’s, aunt’s, or uncle’s say-so suffices.  That is not how one addresses a serious social problem.”

What this tells us is that California was being self-contradictory. On the one hand the games pose a serious threat to the mind of a minor and thus that minor must not be allowed to purchase them. Yet on the other hand the minor can have his mind warped and mocked as long as one parent says its ok. It would seem then that California wanted it both ways. Which is also contradictory in lieu of the state’s unwillingness to restrict cartoons or even pictures of guns which their research has indicated shares the correlation in violent tendencies to the same quality as the violent video games themselves.

Ultimately the majority opinion rests on the implication that this law is only the latest in an attempt to “protect the children.” Where television, rock and roll music, and comic books have suffered the same trials as before. In each case the industries themselves were left to self-policing and in this the Court recognized that the game industry as not only long instituted its own rating system but that system actually out paces even the film industry in the avoidance of the targeting of minors in advertisements and availability. That some corruption in the system occurs is unavoidable as studies have shown that about 20% of minors are still able to purchase “M” rated games, yet even the failure rate of alcohol which is illegal to minors still occurs at around 18%.

Ultimately the state failed to prove the necessity of the law that would necessitate an exception to the First Amendment. While Justice Scalia did offer the comparison between video games and Dante’s Inferno those that would take this as legal confirmation of video games as an art form are mistaken. It was merely done to explain that such depictions of violence are not just in the realm of popular culture but also in what we term as the “classics” of world literature.

Categories: current events

Anxiety (The New Moon Walkthrough pg. 53-59)

June 28, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m sure that if you are reading this blog you’ve probably been there. You wake up in the morning, unsure of where you are, where you were, and where your clothes are but one thing is for certain: you are pretty sure that something you did last night was a mistake. Or it would have been a mistake but again, there is that memory lapse. Time brings back those memories once the fog clears, you’ve gotten your butt off to the Greek diner for something involving eggs, lamb, and feta all dripping with grease and salt as well as the obligatory coffee and at least three refills. If you haven’t been there, uh, take that preceding sentence as a guide for what to do when you do get there. People will always tell you that a hangover is the product of too much drinking, but it’s not–don’t hate. What a hangover is, is the product of dehydration. Alcohol leeches the water out of your system which is the reason that mild dehydration and hangovers have the common symptoms: headache, nausea, loss of balance, inability to focus…etc. The reason you vomited? That wasn’t too much alcohol, it’s because you were drinking draft beer, or bottled beer, or doing that one other thing that you normally don’t do.

Bella wakes up after the party and she’s worked herself up a bit. She’s convinced herself that something is wrong based on a second hand memory of a look that Edward might have had the day he sent Bella off with Jasper and Alice to go kill James, or whatever. That day, Edward was grim and said that he would have no contact with her, and now Bella seems think that he has the same look last night before he left, before he returned to watch her sleep at night. She has a nervousness in her stomach that she can’t shake, and when Edward picks her up in the morning to go to school he is quiet. Which leads to Bella to examine the silence in a million different ways that should be familiar to readers of Cosmo, because they are told that silence means something. I guess I’m being unfair, the silence does mean something–it means he doesn’t want to talk. And he certainly doesn’t want to hear, “what’s wrong Edward?”

What works for Edward now, as has worked for him so far, is that he’s pretty much got Bella convinced that she is beneath him to the point where she is unsure about herself and can’t commit to action. Last night’s “my blood or my body” question was out of character for her, and she’s returned to normal, “I didn’t want to bring up last night, but I wasn’t sure if avoiding the subject would be worse.

The thing is that when she begins, she’ll phrase it completely wrong. She’ll ask Eddie, “what’s wrong with you?” or “what is the problem?” etc. Instead what she should say is, “I’ve become suddenly uncomfortable around you and I don’t know why.” This way if it’s a simple perception issue with her they can talk about it, but if it’s something real than she’s opened the door in a non-accusatory manner. Which is good, but she won’t do this. She’s too sheepish and under his thumb to ever get confrontational with the dream boat. 

Her inner monologue is funny though, because as she tries and tries to deal with her “problem” (I put it in quotes because we don’t know if it is real or not, and she’s unreliable narrator) the more she describes herself–headache, anxious, noises are echoing in her head, she is little patience with anyone; the more I think she had too much to drink the night before. She ought to just hit the lunch table and grab some coffee.

We find out that Jasper and Alice have gone to Denali. They’ve gone there because Jasper was upset at his behavior the night before at the party, and Denali is where the other vegetarian smug vampires live. I’m thinking it must be like Seattle or Modesto full of vegans who are just ‘with it’ and ‘tight.’ The kind of place i would like to bring a chainsaw and forty pounds of thermite to. My question is, why did Alice go? She’s so far my favorite character and now she’s out of the story. Actually I know why she had to go, she’ll ruin the story. Bella has already indicated that she was looking forward to talking with her about the “problem,” so she’s off to somewhere else. The only trouble is that story-wise her leaving doesn’t make any sense. She doesn’t have an excuse other than taking care of her brother…ok so I guess that’s something.

Bella, who instead of talking to Edward, has decided to take the long run around and sneak in through the back door rationalizes, “She (Alice) would have to come back for school right?”

No. This is one of those points in the book that the author, and narrator, seem to forget that the Cullens aren’t actually in school to be in school. They are only there for a reason that is unsatisfactorily given as ‘need to blend in.’ Of course hiding their true natures would be a lot easier if they never interacted with anyone, but they’re idiots, the whole lot of them. Even Alice who should be constantly shaking her head in a littany of “I told you so’s” as Edward et. al make a stupid decision after stupid decision. Alice never has to come back and Bella decides that if her and Edward don’t talk, i.e. if he doesn’t bring it up, she’ll go to Carlisle.  Which is much better than talking to the person she has the problem with I’m sure.

The motivation behind every single one of Bella’s rationalizations makes sense. She’s afraid that Edward is going to dump her and leave her back to the normal life she can’t go back to. In a way she’s a lot like the Dr. WHo companion Donna Noble from a couple of seasons ago. She got a taste of time/space travel and couldn’t go back, it makes sense. Her actions thus, ought to be clouded by her sense of panic. Remember, this is a one way relationship, she adores and worships him so everything she does she feels must be carefully planned and dissected before action. Sometimes she reasons correctly, “compared to last spring, it (the wound on her arm from the party) seemed especially unimportant.” I said it last week, they were all in the dance hall and Bella almost died of blood loss but no one batted an eye then. Now the paper cut sets off a reaction that results in a large gash on her arm.

What’s funny is that all of her craziness works out for Mike. Mike asks her how her birthday party was, a normal question, and she replies that she was glad it was over and Mike, “looked at me like I was crazy.” Which he ought to, and he ought to retry Jessica.

That was all after school and during her job where she works with Mike at his families sporting goods store. A job that she has absolutely no qualifications or business working at. She can’t play Badminton for Odin’s sake she shouldn’t be selling shin guards. At home Edward’s car is waiting for her and inside he’s watching ESPN with her dad. So far so good, but she takes it as a sign that something is really wrong and describes a situation where it sounds like she almost threw up out of nervousness. She reasons, “what’s the worst that can happen?

This is solely in reference to the two of them sitting watching the baseball (I assume) highlights. No other context, she takes a breath because thinking of the worst possible scenario scares her, but then she corrects herself, “what’s the worst that can happen that I can live through?

Huh?? So the first situation that she thought of was of her not living through it? What did she think the two of them were going to do tie her to the rack?

I have that thing I do with people, if anyone ever asks me to do something ‘by all means’ or ‘by any means necessary’ I double check with them to see if they really want to give me that kind of blank check permission. A boss of mine once told me to fetch a case of paper by all means, and I walked out the front door saying that I was going to buy a gun and the ingredients for thermite. I figured those were all the means I needed to get that case of paper from the back room.* Bella is like that here, she asked herself to consider the worst possible situation that her father and Edward could do together and it scared her into thinking of a scenario that didn’t involve her death. Tension is a killer. 

It finally Passed

June 25, 2011 Leave a comment

An episode of Futurama from last season had Fry, the Professor, and Bender stuck travelling forward in a time machine. At a certain point they had just resolved to grab a six pack and watch the universe end. As they turned forward till the end of time the professor explained that the last proton ought to be decaying into nothingness. Fry replies, “goodbye last proton.” The end was here.

Similarly last night, the end of marriage as we know it happened. No longer could the sanctity of marriage be explained with a straight face. All of us married people ought to throw our rings into the smelter because two people we don’t know, didn’t really care about one way or the other, can now get married. They can now visit each other in the hospital when they are sick, and whatever else I can do now that I couldn’t do two and a half years ago with my wife. Or whatever, I’m not even sure what the homosexuals get out of this aside from a recognition that they are officially married.

Which is important, but I’m trying to think of why the other side of the argument was so against it. Fighting this seemed to be like fighting the changing of the seasons. The vote passed 33-29, 53% for, a recent poll in NY found that 51% of the population were in support of equal marriage rights. For once the legislatures seem to be tracking right around the will of the population and if you are really into democracy and the idea of it which this country was founded upon then how could you really be against it. We do all know what a “Yankee Doodle Dandy” is right?

My facebook wall has been pretty much all “Good for the state” or “I’m proud to be a New Yorker today,” but there are those who simply won’t let it go. One person has publicly stated on their wall that gay people are evil, it’s not even veiled or hidden in subterfuge that person just openly said it, and then there were other people who started talking about moving out of New York because of this. Seriously!?

To those people who really believe that this vote was the same as the last proton decaying, leave. Goodbye, but remember this: it isn’t just the Leftist states in the upper East Coast of the country that have passed it, Iowa passed it too. You better move South where they still think Evolution is scientifically controversial or that that it’s just a theory (just like Gravity).

The law passed is specifically so that the state government recognizes the marriage civilly. It doesn’t decay that proton, it just makes it so that the law recognizes the union. It doesn’t force religious institutions into having to marry people, that would be a first amendment violation. It doesn’t even force halls to host ceremonies or receptions. In short nothing really changes unless you are in the state licensing department, an insurance company, or a hospital. So really what is there to complain about?

Oh right, it’s an affront to god or whatever. Well not really. See gay marriage isn’t a sin, it’s not even mentioned in the Bible…at all. Go ahead check one of those really well done, polished, and easy to use Bible websites (seriously, those people put some work into them). Now there’s the famous line from Leviticus but that isn’t about marriage that’s about having homosexual sex. Getting married doesn’t further the sin in anyway, in fact it probably lessens it given what every male stand up comedian talks about regarding sex and marriage. Given that this is entirely a secular issue can’t the religious people just be smug? Can’t you people (not all religious people, in fact if you are reading this I just assume you aren’t one of them) just be resigned to let people go to hell without raising a stink about it? It’s like that one phrase is the unchangeable word of god but everything else in that book is ignorable.

As a follow up it’s nice also to see that this vote wasn’t political. No politics were involved, just the normal functioning of government. Isn’t that right Jim Alesi? I wrote about him last time and he was an asshole for his reasons in voting against it. I guess when you remove the politics from it you can actually vote the way that you want, or something. I would love to corner him with that question in a press conference.

It’s only now a small matter of time before dogs and cats are getting married, Christmas is outlawed, and whatever else the fear mongers think is going to happen. It’s almost as if, in 30 days (probably from Monday I doubt the governor is going to come in on his day off to write his name), nothing will change but the perception that we need to force that last proton to decay in order to save America. That or we could just move to the libertarian paradise that is Somalia, where no government exists and these things can be prevented.

Categories: current events

“Among the Truthers”–Jonathan Kay

June 21, 2011 Leave a comment

To be interested in Conspiracy as a flight of fancy is one thing, but to truly believe in a conspiracy theory is more akin to really believing in the various stories surrounding religion. While this may be deemed offensive to some (on either side of that comparison) the parallels are pretty numerous. First and foremost is the belief that world events are not random, they are controlled or at least guided in much the same way that believers in God will explain the path of a tornado that rips through a town and kills very few people. This belief though is opposite in tone than the religious, whereas the faithful will ascribe events that spare human life as the result of God’s hand, Conspirators believe that events which claim human lives are the result of a master plan. There is also the notion of belief in something despite the lack of evidence, i.e. that of faith.

Jonathan Kay’s book, “Among the Truthers” is an examination not of conspiracy beliefs but of the people that believe in conspiracies. Focusing on the most prevalent of modern conspiracies, that of the theory that the September 11th attacks on NYC and the Pentagon were an inside job (most theories either ignore the Pennsylvania plane or have a different theory to cover it: that it was shot down by US Planes is the most common). This choice of focus is obvious as it allows the author to immerse himself in a world that is still living and still growing. Despite the fact that most people believe that the single shooter of JFK is a dubious idea, the theory is pretty stagnant relegated to once a year repeated specials on the History Channel.

It should be noted that the author does not believe in the theory, accepting the events according to the 9/11 commission’s report, and the numerous scientific studies that have proven the collapse happened the way it did from the cause of the plane’s collision. Kay, also ignores the temptation to include a chapter or two on why the alternative theories presented are wrong. He claims that this was advised by his editor who said that there would be no market for such a book. Believers in the theory would claim that he was a puppet while people accepting the official explanation would have no need to read it. There are numerous web pages on the internet devoted to both.

Which is one explanation that he offers for the spread of this theory. The development of the internet not only allowed people formerly regarded as crackpots to disseminate their beliefs but it did something else, something much more important than just giving them an outlet: it gave them encouragement. Where once they might have wrote about their theory and then forgotten about it. The internet could now give them instant feedback and compel them to continue. The theories became compartmentalized much like modern political discourse into an echo chamber where theorists only hear support for their beliefs and are thus more and more convinced of the “truth” of it. Is not this the exact opposite of the dream of Web in the mid-1990s? What once was supposed to be access to the world of divergent opinions and information instead has became a collection of cliques that only speak to each other.

The causes of conspiracism are varied. It’s propagation is not only based on the web but also in the atmosphere as well. The book goes to great strains to explain that while people on the right or left would like to blame the other side for these ideas, the genera of conspiracy is actually the fault of both. While the right wing has had more prevalence lately in the dissemination of conspiracy theories, the left wing has had its time before. Whenever one group is in power it is the other group that will have among itself a fringe element that sees conspiracy. The difference we see now is that conspiracy theory was given public air by Glenn Beck, whom Kay categorizes in the book as a conspiracy theorist for which I have to agree (his threading of Soros as a liberal puppet master should suffice as evidence). On the left though there have been Noam Chomsky and Jacques Derrida. What has to be decided is which is worse: a political pundit on the number one cable news channel or two well respected PhDs? These enablers lend legitimacy to the odd theories and give them main stream acceptance.

The point is made though, that we cannot ascribe to one side of the political debate responsibility for conspiracy, only specific theories that often have origins in some surprising source. For instance, it was the KGB that first implanted the idea that AIDS was genetically engineered. Or, although not mentioned in the book, “Birtherism” first appeared not in the GOP or its followers but in supporters of Hillary Clinton’s nomination bid.

The most damning indictment though, and deservedly, goes toward left-wing academics. The era of political correctness has basically necessitated that America is the evil empire in the world and academics adhering to a false model of Marxism have portrayed the United States as hegemonic in its goals. Belief that “the great engine of evil in the world is American hegemony–and so every epic tragedy the world suffers must somehow be laid at Washington’s doorstep.” This era of PC has also given the general population the reluctance to criticize people for holding certain opinions. Forcing relativism on people who would otherwise know better. Medical conspiracies including the vaccination conspiracies rest on theories that just “feel right” to people like Jenny McCarthy despite the united opposition of Pediatricians in both the US and for most of the world.

Another important facet that Kay concentrates on is to make a differentiation between people who are conspirators and the genuine insane. Most conspirators are not insane, he mentions, but some are. Despite the fact that someone with mental problems might be a conspiracy believer is the exception. The line is whether or not the person believes themselves to be involved in the conspiracy, usually this involvement is in hiding from the guiding hand of the world events. Most “truthers” don’t think someone is out to silence them.

The religious analogy also applies to the various sects of conspiracism. Within each there are hierarchies, schisms, and outcasts. Getting the “story” straight is often difficult for them, and people who do not ascribe to the “official” story proposed by the conspiracists are often shunned or labelled crackpots. The irony of this is that they themselves deride the mainstream press and government officials for doing just the same.

Ultimately though the conspiracist movement is full of ironies and contradictions. Professional Academic journals have thus far not accepted the movement’s ideas as having any truth (although there are Academics who are truthers) and thus are called “ignorant” or “puppets” by members of the movement. Yet, those very same people seem to crave such acceptance to the point where they have set up their own academic sounding journal “Journal of 9/11 Truth.” The same with the media, while You Tube videos abound with truther confrontations these amount to no more than pranks. The media is “in on it” but then upon meeting journalists those that don’t specifically dismiss them often seek to get their ideas mentioned in it. This lends itself to the idea that substratum for a good deal of conspiracism activists is stardom in one fashion or the other. They deride the mainstream academics and media as being worthless then brag about how their theories and intelligence make them outliers but in the next breath they are seeking the approval of the mainstream.

Ultimately the contradiction inherent in the 9/11 truth is that the truth for them is unfulfillable. If we assume them to be correct, and that a group of people (or aliens) were able to manipulate the entire world into believing what happened on 9/11 was the real thing, then what kind of independent investigation could escape their grasp? The invisible hand is suddenly unable to direct a second investigation? It would seem that what the most vocal people espousing these theories really want is to lead the investigation.

Kay’s book is gripping, especially for people who may not be familiar with this world. His only fault is in his writing style, which is journalistic in origin. That’s not a problem so much as his constant need to cite earlier and later passages in the book, as if we were reading a series of articles in a newspaper. It gets quite distracting to the point where i was noticing that he couldn’t go three pages without making a reference to the past or the future. Much like the flow chart of a conspiracy theorist explaining how the Bildergergers were really the puppet of the Tri-Lateral commission or something.

Categories: book reviews, reviews

Amnesia (The New Moon Walkthrough pg. 37-52)

June 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Amnesia is an awfully convenient story telling device made into quite the cliche for soap operas. I’m not even sure that soap operas even use it anymore but that whenever there is a satire of a soap opera one character always has amnesia. There is some forgetfulness here as well, but the difference is that in those stories and the satires thereof, the amnesia is purposeful. In this book some things are forgotten but no one chalks it up to amnesia. It’s just simply told as what happened.

Carlisle is finishing up stitching Bella’s arm, which as we remember was caused by Edward who threw her into a glass table. The non-sequitor discourse on religion continues, but it’s given a point here. It takes awhile to get to it, and its one of those conversations where they have put the cart before the horse. The whole religion conversation takes place as Carlisle explains it, “Edward’s with me up to a point. God and heaven exist…and so does hell. But he doesn’t believe there is an afterlife for our kind.”

There’s one problem with this, and that is that neither Carlisle nor Edward through Carlisle here have given a reason for this belief. Carlisle was raised by a Pastor so if his reasoning is based on that then he should say something. In this book it’s said as a given, same with Edward’s belief that there is no afterlife for a vampire. He has as much reason for believing this as anyone does for believing that there is an afterlife for them. Maybe Edward will talk about it later for now the only link we have for this is that Edward doesn’t believe that Vampires have souls.

Then we come to the point of the whole thing. The reason that Edward won’t turn Bella into a vampire is because he doesn’t want to take her soul away. How does Edward know this, or even think it? We, again, aren’t given any reason for it. The idea of the soul isn’t new, in fact, it’s one of the oldest theological questions going back to the days of the Pre-Socratics. I may be mistaken but I think the philosopher/mathematician/cult leader Pythagoras was the first in Greek to mention the idea of souls. The Egyptian had a conception of the afterlife but their mythology seemed to dictate that the body was coming with them, I don’t know if that implies soul so I’m going to chalk it up to the Greeks. Carlisle’s point about Edward’s belief is that if Bella was the vampire, “If you believed as he did. Could you take away his soul?”

It’s a great question. One that Carlisle frames in such a way that it shuts up Bella. She admits this as well. This is the first time that we have actually been shown Carlisle’s wisdom, instead of just being told about it. It’s good writing, this brief exchange. Not only do we get resolution on the Vampire question, but we get satisfying resolution as well as some character development. Unfortunately it’s too brief and we go back to the story of Edward.

It was mentioned in the last book that he was turned during the flu outbreak of Chicago near the turn of the century (1900). Edward’s father was dead, his mother and himself dying. Carlisle’s lonliness was getting the better of him when stumbled upon Edward “burning with fever, his life slipping away with each tick of the clock…I shuddered again and forced the picture from my soul.”

The above quote isn’t Carlisle talking, it’s Bella. Which I think is unnecessary. Why not just have Carlisle tell us the damn story since it’s his? The shuddering she mentions isn’t Carlisle shuddering, it’s her dreading the (now defunct) possibility of Edward having died. I might be cold hearted here, but seriously, she’s shivering with dread at something that not only didn’t happen, but didn’t happen over a hundred years ago. It doesn’t seem realistic given its remoteness.

Apparently Edward”s mother made such an appeal that Carlisle had no choice but to turn him into a vampire. He felt she knew what he was and that’s why he did it. She was so forceful about it, like any mother on the planet would be if they thought someone could save their child. I wonder how many other people Carlisle talked to who pleaded for their children’s lives and he thought ‘meh, she’s just not that serious about it.’

The deciding factor was when Carlisle looked at Edward’s face and saw that, “there was something pure and good about his face.”

Ok, we get it. He’s a good person. Stop telling us this. Instead show us that he is good. It’s a fundamental principle of writing and whenever it needs to be displayed that Edward is good we are simply told “he’s good.” At best he’s on the plus side of morality when it comes to protecting people in danger, but that doesn’t make him a good person. It makes him an average one. He rescued Bella from a car accident, something that I think we would all do if we had the chance. In fact, it might even be a moral duty as long as our lives are not also in danger. Which in the case of Bella and Edward, his never was.

Bella is done getting stitched up and needs to go home. Edward of course takes her. It’s awkward in the car as Edward clearly wants to say something but won’t and Bella won’t stop worrying about what he thinks. I’ve been in that situation it’s annoying, and here it’s annoying too. But it’s accurately annoying so we can’t fault our author for it.

Finally the conversation opens up and it’s all about the blame game. The first round of blame goes to Bella who defends Edward by explaining that the whole party mess wasn’t his fault. Are you sure about that Bella? The way it read was the she cut herself on some wrapping paper, after being assisted by Edward (?), in which Jasper growled and then Edward threw Bella into the wall cutting her arm in a more serious manner. That paper cut, could have been just Bella, but she had help from Edward in opening the present. At best we can’t assign blame to the paper cut since it was purely accidental, at worse we can fault them both because the two of them contributed. In either case if anyone is to blame for the paper cut Edward is one of those people.

Secondly, the real problem is the arm. The arm was definitely Edward’s fault. The small drop of blood in the room may have made Jasper growl, but everyone got hungry when she sliced her arm open. Edward had other options, he could have whisked her out of the room, or whisked Jasper out of the room, or literally did anything other than what he did. I’m not saying that he intended for her to get cut to hell, but that is what he did. It really is his fault, but all he ever does is apologize for his family’s behavior, the behavior which is pretty normal given what they are.

Bella is continuing to beat herself up about it and Edward reassures her, “Bella you gave yourself a paper cut–that hardly deserves the death penalty.” Never once does he apologize for gashing her arm open.

Home we might consider Charlie, but since he “was never surprised to see me bandaged” it’s just blown off. He asks her about her arm and then shakes his head. That silly Bella, he must think, always going around and needing stitches.

They make out a bit on the bed and then Edward stops. Something is bothering him but he won’t say. Bella thinks its temptation and for once bluntly asks, “which is tempting you more, my blood or my body?”

It’s a good question and one that deserves an answer. We don’t get it, but for once Bella is being the assertive person that she tells us she is. I guess she forgot that this is completely out of character. 

On Reconstruction

June 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Summer isn’t that intellectually stimulating on its own. There are no classes to take, and none so far to teach. So I have to actually make it such or else lapse into ozio. My personal goal for the Summer is to take the notes and lectures from the Critical Thinking Class I taught three years ago, update the examples and then transfer them all over to Power point. Since a good number of colleges have the projectors it makes good sense to take advantage of the technology and save myself the time and trouble of having to write on the board or explain examples that sometimes need pictures. I have been working on it a little at a time. I had forgotten how much work this actually is.

Some examples are pretty timeless (Einstein) and others are anecdotes regarding the run up to the last presidential election which probably need to be changed. In each case I don’t like to go three or four slides without a picture, this is because it grabs the attention a bit more when there is a visual cue along with the text. My problem is that I ran into a snag…well it’s not really a snag but a choice.

I was researching examples for the fallacy of false authority when I came to what I call “the citation circle.” This occurs when person A cites B who cites C who cites D who then cites A. Nothing new is added to the conversation and the only thing that really occurs is intellectual ego stroking. I didn’t have a strong example of it where I could display how this happens. My two weak examples were Bill O’Reilly having an expert guest on his show in the person of Glenn Beck and a longer chain of political opinions involving Maddow, Maher, Moore, and Olberman. Since all of the people involved (from both examples) were just explaining their positions they weren’t good examples. Instead I found a nice little chain involving some 9/11 “truthers” in which one person wrote a theory (in October of 2001 no less) citing three articles, which in turn cited that first person’s article. This perfectly illustrated what the citation circle looks like, and since the conspiracists are alleging that their ideas are based on previous “evidence” then we are left with an example that completely trumps the earlier two opinion based examples.

Then it really struck me: I could essentially teach an entire course on critical thinking through the lens of American Conspiracy Theories. Every informal fallacy from “False authority” to “historian’s fallacy (aka the hindsight fallacy)” is there. Now as I am working through the fallacies regarding authority I find myself drawn to this idea.

While teaching the class the last time I wondered about spending a couple of weeks running through the popular American conspiracy theories to explain how they don’t stand up to things like “Okham’s Razor,” “Verification,” “Falsifiability,” or even the more basic features of theories like “evidence based” or “context.” I didn’t have the time to work through the idea before the class ended (we ended discussing things like textbooks and their “truth” [both American and foreign]).

Having some experience in the world of conspiracy theory this idea is more like an expunging of an old belief system I once held. Perhaps this is the best way to do it, to go through the old ideas and utterly destroy them. I held, not in any order of importance, the belief in conspiracies surrounding UFO’s, the JFK assassination, Pearl Harbor, the UN, FEMA, essentially all of the theories that were so prevalent in the 90s with the advent of the internet which, as is being argued in the book “Among the Truthers,” contributed so greatly to the abundance of theories that exist now. I can’t say exactly what turned me off of the theories, I would like to say that it was the inherent anti-semitism that exists as a subset of every theory out there (not that all theorists are anti-semites, but that for every theory that I held to be true there existed a group of people that believed in some Jewish Cabal responsible for it) but since I, along with other theorists–even today, regard those people as crackpots it wasn’t it.

I think I just lost it. The flavor of it, in some part I knew that what I was reading was bullshit. At the base of every theory is a confusion of the term “improbable” and “impossible.” Yeah it was unlikely Oswald could have gotten all three shots off in such a short period of time, but that does not mean that it could not have happened. Motivated individuals often produce feats of superhuman ability that they would normally not be able to make nor could they recreate if asked. The so-called magic bullet is a straw man since the President and the Governor weren’t sitting directly in line with each other. The fact that Oswald had attempted to murder an Army general months before Kennedy gets lost in the whole thing. All in all conspiracism boils down to selective evidence and a multiplication of pluralities. Everything that needs to be explained for the theory is chalked up to some mysterious device, or group. In the case of the former it’s always hidden under a cloak of secrecy, like the mythical “super-thermite” or “nano-thermite” that brought down the World Trade Center. In the case of the latter it’s a mysterious “they” that often presents itself in demonizing relatively benign organizations or injecting a great deal of power into an agency that just doesn’t have it as we saw with FEMA after the flood in New Orleans.

It’s kind of fun, but in another way it’s embarrassing. I shake my head when I re-read some of these theories, or when I see the parallels between them and 9/11 (which I never bought into). It’s interesting to do this and I would like to have it finished so I can show someone the entire class and see if it works or if it belongs to a different course.

Categories: philosophy

Non-Sequitor (The New Moon Walkthrough Pg. 30-36)

June 13, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve taught critical thinking both in my days as a lowly academic slave, er…teaching assistant, and as an adjunct professor. One of subjects that takes up most of the class (at least when I teach it) is the extremely long list of mistakes known as informal errors. Whereas formal errors are those that are mistakes in logic, informal errors are mistakes in evidence. One of the informal errors that I’ve covered is the non-sequitor. Roughly, “non-sequitor” means “it does it not follow.” A person is guilty of committing the non-sequitor fallacy when they have a conclusion that is not at all related to the argument they are using as evidence. In other words what we are presented with now is unrelated to what came before it.

Chapter 1 ended with Bella facing down six ravenous vampires, after receiving a paper cut. Of which then Edward made worse by throwing her into a glass table. He did this because Jasper scented the blood and was becoming unable to control himself. That doesn’t make a great deal of sense given that he was attending high school. What we are being told, in order to maintain consistency, is that for Jasper’s entire tenure in school no one had ever received a paper cut, a scrape, or anything of the sort. This is not only during his time at Forks but in the other times that he had gone to school. Also he was oblivious to the blood in the dance studio where Bella was attacked by James.

Six vampires. Carlisle we know controls himself and Edward is protecting her. That means that all of the others are about to attack. The beginning of the Chapter 2 downplays the excitement of the end of chapter 1. Everyone stands around only to be dismissed by Carlisle who “was the only one who’d stay calm.”

This reads almost like Oliver Twist where Dickens ends every chapter with a suspenseful scene. We forgive Dickens though because he was writing a serial story for a newspaper, and those types of hooks were necessary to keep readers (and for him to keep his writing job). Here, it’s a let down. Instead everyone files out, “Esme’s heart-shaped face was ashamed. ‘I’m so sorry Bella,’ she cried as she followed the others into the yard.”

That’s pretty believable, and seems like a normal reaction that she ought to have. The mood is not one of frustration but of embarrassment. They are almost portrayed as recovering addicts who just gorged themselves on whatever drug their choice is. I like it as it shows them to be wrestling with addiction. It’s done quite well, albeit too briefly.

Alice brings over Carlisle’s medicine bag, which he probably has left over from when doctors used to do house visits and Carlisle asks Bella if she wants to go to the hospital or have her gash fixed at the house. He’s giving her a choice but it seems odd for him to do so if he can just fix it up right there. I’m being kind of nit-picky on that, it is after all a courtesy that he would probably try and talk her out of if she did decide to go to the hospital.

“Here please,’ I whispered. If he took me to the hospital there would be no way to keep this from Charlie.” I would probably choose to have him fix me up as well, but for the reason of expediency and not secrecy. The real trouble is that Bella tells us that Carlisle is stitching her wound, how is she going to hide that from Charlie? Right decision wrong reasoning.

What follows is a nice dialogue between Bella and Carlisle, that shows us more of Carlisle’s character than Bella’s. Everything we have learned thus far about Carlisle is that he’s a doctor and really good looking. However, he also reveals himself to be quite thoughtful as befitting someone as old as he is. Bella asks him how he can stand the blood and he replies that it’s been so long that “I barely notice the scent anymore.” Just like someone who used to drink and now can barely remember why they drank in the first place.

He follows this decent thought up with “Even the sense of smell is a useful diagnostic tool at times.’ One side of his mouth pulled up in half a smile.”

I suppose he is talking about smell generally but in the context of the same paragraph it appears as though he just contradicted himself. Leaving that aside I want to know what the deal is with the half smile. There’s no context or justification for it. I guess he’s just a smiling fool.

Bella hounds him about why he doesn’t eat people, which is probably not the brightest conversation that you want to have while he’s stitching you up. Carlisle explains that his dad was a firebrand preacher in England (probably a Puritan), but he doesn’t continue this conversation the way we expect. It would seem obvious that his father gave him a sense of morality or that life is sacred, or something, and that is why he doesn’t eat humans. However, he goes on a religious monologue about the belief in God, “But never in the nearly four hundred years now since I was born, have I ever seen anything to make me doubt whether god exists in some form or another. Not even the reflection in the mirror.”

It’s completely out of the blue. The religious subject, isn’t out of place necessarily, but it’s completely unconnected to anything. What does belief in a god have to do with not eating people, it may seem obvious, but he’s got to connect the premises. He explained that he was questioning his father’s worldview but that would imply that he was going the other way, toward unbelief into my realm. I would suppose that Carlisle’s faith in god must be pretty strong because he’s seen some shit in four hundred years that ought to make him at least question the belief. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755, one example of nature annihilating an entire city, led Voltaire to question not only the existence of God but also to begin an attack on Leibniz theory that this had to be the best of all possible worlds.

The non-sequitor is established and Bella runs with it, “my own life was devoid of belief.” Do we need “devoid” or can we just use “void” I’ve heard it both ways. Bella explains that her father is a Lutheran but only in name, as he never went to church. Her mother was a dilletante in many different ideas and theories, I get the impression of new age-y pseudo Buddhism about her, but this only means that Bella’s life was devoid of religion not belief. The difference is important because if you think there’s a god but aren’t a member of a religion, you still have a belief. You are classified as being an agnostic along with all of the people who are unsure that there is a god or some higher power. Bella can still believe in it she just lacks anything specific.

Given the time spent on the religion discussion perhaps this section ought to have been titled “Straw Man.”