Reactions to some recent news

I’ve been feeling sort of angsty today due to various stupid reasons and while reading some news on the bus I felt compelled to get some of it out but these are sort of not-for-Facebook ideas so I’m dusting off the old blog. Ironic that I feel safer sharing “controversial” things on a public blog than I do on a non-public Facebook page. On to my rants…

1. Silk Road website creator gets life term for drug plot
I can’t believe this guy got life in prison. I get that illegal stuff happened there, but to me this crime pales in comparison to so many things lately that people have gotten away with completely (e.g. Wall Street financial crisis, George Zimmerman, various police officers across the country, etc.). I completely agree with the defense’s position that “in contrast to the government’s portrayal of the Silk Road website as a more dangerous version of a traditional drug marketplace,” the website “was in many respects the most responsible such marketplace in history.” I’m skeptical of the claims that the guy took out hits on people, too. I also think it’s stupid that parents of people who died of overdoses were involved with this case and testified during sentencing.

2. Putin Accuses US of Meddling Into FIFA Affairs
I hate to agree with Vladimir Putin about anything, but I sort of think he has a point here. I understand the argument as to why the corruption is a bad thing and has real-world consequences (outside of sports), but why does the United States have to file the lawsuit? Soccer is a bigger deal in nearly every other country in the world yet we’re the ones bringing this lawsuit? I hate to say but it only bolsters the claims made by Putin and IS that the US is trying to control the world. (That said, I doubt that the US is doing this in an attempt to take the 2018 World Cup away from Russia.)

3. The Duggars
I find this whole situation extremely offensive. What other group but a religious group would harbor a child molester while continually bashing gay people. I’m not the first to say it, but ironic that people who insist that gay people are dangerous to children (brainwashing, sexual abuse, etc.) are in fact the ones who are literally dangerous to children.

Caprica Finale

Zoe and Lacey
I just finished watching the finale episode of Caprica (the spin-off/prequel to Battlestar Galactica) and my mind is whirling from it a bit.

This show, like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles finds itself in the interesting position of existing within and challenging an extremely loved franchise. I’m fairly certain that with both Battlestar Galactica and Terminator there are a lot of fans who are drawn to the sci-fi elements, the cool special effects, the violence, etc. Then along comes this new television series for each that starts looking at the philosophical issues and complicate everything we knew before.

And, of course, both T:SCC and Caprica failed to attract the audiences of the original series and were ultimately canceled (at least T:SCC made it to season two… but to be fair the first half of season one was pretty by-the-book/boring/what people wanted).

So as I reflect internally on Caprica, I have a few thoughts that will mean nothing to people who didn’t watch the show (sorry 99.9% of the two of you who still read this blog…). SPOILERS AHEAD so if you haven’t finished the show or don’t want to, stop reading!!

Re: The monotheism/polytheism stuff: As an atheist I love anything that deals with religion (!!). The religious aspect was by far my favorite part of Caprica. I loved the mind-trip that was Zoe as the holy trinity (dead girl ghost Zoe, bodiless Zoe in the computer world, resurrected Zoe as the cylon). And I loved the conflict between one vs. multiple gods.

Re: the Willie is Bill Adama’s dead half-brother reveal: Based on what I’ve read around the internet, people hate hate hate this aspect of the finale. The more I reflect on it, the more I love it. Basically it’s showing how resurrection is accomplished without resurrection technology. “William Adama” dies and then a few years later he’s reborn as “William Adama” (though with different DNA, memories, etc. — unlike resurrection). The story also sort of parallels the Greystone’s loss of Zoe: a child dies and it’s unbearable to the point where replacing the child with a copy of the original is the only coping mechanism. To me it doesn’t feel like a cop-out or gotcha-storytelling. I think that had Caprica continued beyond season one some of this stuff might have been made more explicit.

Re: Lacey: I think everyone agrees that her story was the best. She went from Zoe’s sidekick/friend who was afraid to join the monotheist cause in the pilot, to unwilling participant in one terrorist cause to unwilling participant in another terrorist cause to leader of the monotheist movement. And she could control the cylons!

Re: “Trying to fit too many things into one show and not getting to the exciting stuff that would’ve been season two fast enough”: Sure, the epilogue at the end of the series that sort of gave us a hint of what season two would’ve looked like was totally awesome. And it seems that a lot of people are saying that they thought Caprica should’ve ignored all the other stuff in season one (Barnabus, the Vergis corporation, etc.) and gone straight to the juicy parts. I disagree because I really felt like throughout season one the creators were able to develop the characters and really build the world of Caprica. I really think the creators assumed the show would get multiple seasons and viewed the first season as a way to set up the rest of the series. Had they known the viewership would’ve been so low they may have opted to change things up a bit, but given the popularity and critical-acclaim of Battlestar Galactica I don’t think they could’ve foreseen the difficulties Caprica faced.

Re: “A sci-fi version of Dallas“: This is sort of how the show was first explained — that it would be a soap opera about two powerful families (Greystones vs. the Adamas) facing off and it just happened to occur with a sci-fi background. Well, this wasn’t what the show ended up being at all (to its benefit, I think). I wonder had they pitched the show as an examination of science and spirituality had it done better?

Re: Good. vs. Evil: I loved that I never could decide who was “good” or “bad” in Caprica. With Battlestar Galactica I always know that humans = good, cylons = bad. With Caprica it wasn’t so simple: While the STO were terrorists and did lots of bad stuff, I found myself really sympathizing with them or at least really loving Clarice and Lacey. As for the Greystones, toward the end of season one I was so sick of Amanda that I probably cheered when she presumably committed suicide during the mid-season finale.

That about wraps up my thoughts. I’m incredibly disappointed that I won’t be able to enjoy a second season of the show. If there is one light at the end of the tunnel, it’s that reading reviews of the finale sort of reminded me that I should pick up on Babylon 5 again. I stopped mid-way through season three and am thinking I should start it up again. Somehow, it seems, that show was able to start with a five-year plan and execute it (for the most part) without fear of being canceled. Everything is supposed to tie together much more neatly.

By your command.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

During the rescue of the Chilean miners, I heard/read lots of people saying that they were praying for the miners. And once all 33 of the miners were rescued, people said, “Thank God!” followed by: “It’s a miracle that they made it out.” The president of Chile even said:

What started as a tragedy is ending as a real blessing. I think that the miners have given us an example of unity, of teamwork, of faith. Their families, they never lost faith

It was a miracle, because on the first day the odds were against us… At the end of the day, the miners were in the hands of God.

Well, actually, no. The miners were not in the hands of god. They were in the hands of humans. And it was humans who saved them.

God (if it exists — which I don’t think it does) had absolutely nothing to do with this mining incident. God did not save those miners — people did. People who used a lot of scientific knowledge and then bravely went down into the mine to rescue the trapped miners. If god was real and had any power and genuinely wanted those miners saved, it could’ve teleported them out of the mine or something like that.

And if god is so into saving miners all of the sudden, how do you explain the miners recently trapped in China? Did god just decide that miners in Chile are more important this week?

I know that that argument (“Why can’t god save everyone?”) is tired… my main point is this: People keep giving credit to god saying it was a miracle or that faith kept the miners alive, etc. Well, no, it was actually modern science that did both. I hate it when people praise god for things that humans did. It only diminishes the accomplishments of humans and hands them over to some nonexistent being.

Let’s give humans credit for what humans do.

Arresting the Pope


While I absolutely love Richard Dawkins and especially love Christopher Hitchens, I’m not sure whether I think of their recent movement to arrest the pope is brilliant or stupid.

Following the latest news about the pope’s negligence surrounding abuse victims, Hitchens has been especially vocal. I especially loved him on fellow atheist Bill Maher’s show, but he’s also written some stuff for Slate (“Cardinals’ Law: Two questions for the pope” and “The Pope Is Not Above the Law”).

The thing is, as atheists we sometimes forget (maybe?) what an important figure the pope is to religious people (and especially Catholics). It’s not the cardinals who pick the pope — it’s god itself who pushes the cardinals to choose the right person. It’s not like the pope is an everyday person who can break laws. There is even this idea of papal infallibility that essentially gives the pope a free pass from anything he does.

I’m not saying that any of this is right, but to believers it can be. If a secular authority (e.g. British government, American government) were to arrest the pope or charge him for a crime, they would for all intents and purposes be saying that god broke the law. As an atheist (along with Dawkins and Hitchens) I don’t think there is such a thing as a god who could break the law, but that’s not how most of the world sees it.

As an atheist it’s easy to see this as a legal matter where the pope was negligent at best and possibly criminally so… but to anyone who believes in the authority of the pope, I can imagine that this becomes a very religiously existential dilemma. And as we’ve seen time after time, people often chose the insane religious belief when given a choice (gay rights, women’s rights, etc.).

That’s what I’m not sure what’s going on with Dawkins and Hitchens. I know they are smart enough to realize that this is a futile movement and that pushing it might damage atheists even more. But in the end they actually are doing the right thing even if justice isn’t served. I guess my question that I’d love to see one of them answer is: How serious are you about this? My guess is they are doing this more for effect, but Hitchens argues so fervently that I think he actually has some hope this might happen — and if that’s the case it makes me sad that he’ll be disappointed with so-called secular governments again.

So my point: As sympathetic to this idea as I am, I’m also sympathetic to the fact that for believers to actually arrest or charge the pope with a crime would entail a religious crisis as big as anything in recent memory. To arrest the pope would be saying: that the god they believe exists may be wrong about something; or that god doesn’t actually make the pope the pope; or that god is evil; or worse yet for them: that god doesn’t really exist.

Revisiting A Hole In My Heart

One of the reasons I love the fact that I’ve kept this blog going for over 4 years now is that I can go back and read things I wrote before and see how my thoughts/perspective have changed.

A very recent example: I re-watched the movie A Hole In My Heart — which I still consider to be the most graphic, violent, sexual, and disturbing film I’ve ever watched. Although after I first saw it I never would’ve expected that I’d watch it again, there was something about the movie that has stuck with me all of these years. Now that I feel like I’m dealing with some of my own personal darkness, perhaps I wanted to see an example of utter darkness on film? I’m not sure.

Anyway, when I watched the movie during SIFF in 2005, I found the film to be an exploration of taboos and highly sexual behavior. Now I see the film as an examination of broken people who all seemed to have traumatic things happen to them at a young age.

I still find the film very challenging and I’m still not sure it approaches either of the meanings in a clear and meaningful way (I also found the film much more exploitative this time)… but I do find it interesting that I saw it in a such a different way this time. (And I realize that this isn’t a new idea at all — the idea that the way you see films [or anything really] changes depending on time was expressed very well in a scene in 12 Monkeys [or at least that’s when I was first really exposed/grasped the idea]).

…On a more upbeat note, while watching the film this time I managed to find the name of the crazy poppy song that plays early in the film. Turns out that it’s “Floorfiller” by the A*Teens.

Proof of ‘The Sexual Politics Of Meat’

Whats Your Cut?
Last month’s Details magazine had a an article called “The Greatest Virginity Story Ever Told.” The story is about a 21-year-old guy with down syndrome who is a virgin and goes to Las Vegas to get laid.

What struck me, of course, was this guy’s tendancy to objectfy women by comparing them to food. Some choice quotes:

“I like their boobs,” he continues. “Yeah. Lovely nipples. Perfect breasts. They’re like chicken breasts.”

“You’ve got a tendency to compare things to food, haven’t you, Otto?” Bill says.

“Yeah,” Otto says. “Burgers with boobs. Stick in an olive—it’s like a nipple. And they have legs like bacon. And their bottom is like a steak. And they also have eyes like round biscuits. Actually, their whole body’s like a biscuit. I’m hungry for a stripper.”

I think next to the image to the right, this is the second best piece of proof to support the theory outlined in the book The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory — one of my favorite feminist and veg*n-related books.

Considering the Universe

I’m watch an episode of The Universe about parallel universes and it’s got me doing some thinking…

First, the thing I find most fascinating and difficult to work out in my head is the idea that for everything that happens there is another universe in which something else happened. For example, according to this idea, there is another parallel universe where I didn’t write this post and you didn’t read it. In fact, there is yet another universe where you never read this blog ever and I never learned how to read or write.

I’ve been annoyed with this idea since it basically just says, eh, everything happens. But then I started thinking and I realized that there could actually be a measurable amount of universes if this is true. To figure this, however, we need to assume that the universe is finite. To be honest, I think I sort of do. Or at least for this thought experiment, I am going to consider a finite universe.

Okay, so let’s say that in this finite universe there are 100 atoms and the universe, being finite, will “die” or run out of energy or whatever after 10 years. So that means that for every instance of time during the 10 years of that universe, all 100 atoms can do only however many options an atom has. So let’s say that each of those atoms only has four choices: it can move up, down, left, or right. Over the course of 10 years there will be a universe for each and every option that an atom can do at each time slice. One of those universes may have the atoms moving over a course of time to create a star while another of those universes may have the atoms moving over a course of time to do nothing but just move around and not even interact.

So in the end you can do some really long permutation equation and come up with a number of possibilities. Even for my “small” universe of 100 atoms with 4 possible actions lasting 10 years the number of universes will be huge — but it would be quantitative. Apply that on a much larger and more complicated scale, and you’ve got our universe.

Let’s say, however, that you believe that the universe is infinite. Do you realize that if you believe this and based on probability, again, that somewhere in this huge universe there is another Earth? If the universe is infinite than why wouldn’t there be another place in the universe where nearly the exact same things happened that created what we know as Earth and now? That’s how big infinite is!!

My favorite parallel universe-related thing to think about, however, is what I just learned is called a level 4 parallel universe (aka the ultimate ensemble).

The idea of a level 4 universe actually plays into an idea I posted a couple of years ago: that the final step of evolution is creating a new reality. As I understand it, the level 4 parallel universe theory says that if you consider the universe to be a mathematical equation of sorts (which I think most people do), then that means that there are other universes that exist where the “laws of mathematics” are different.

The example I like to use is pi — a mathematical constant. In our universe the notion of pi equals a numerical value we understand as roughly 3.14. But where did this come from and why is this constant what it is?

Consider back in the days when I used to do some computer programing. Let’s pretend I’m writing a really simple computer game. At the top of the game I might define some constants. For example:

#define CHANCES 4
#define NAME "Jason"

These are constants for the entire program. Even if I tried to make a variable called “NAME” and give it another value, it wouldn’t be possible since at the top of the program I defined the name.

So let’s extend that idea into the universe. In our universe, let’s say there is something like this “coded” somewhere:

#define PI 3.14159 26535 89793 23846 26433 83279 50288
#define zero 0
#define one 1
#define NAPIER 2.71828 18284 59045 23536 02874 71352 66249

That means that in another universe, the “code” might read:

#define PI 3.12159 26535 89793 23846 26433 83279 50288
#define zero 0
#define one 1
#define NAPIER 2.71828 18284 59045 23536 02874 71352 66249

If pi was off by just that might I can imagine that the universe would be a very different place. Maybe planets wouldn’t form the way they do, etc. In fact, I bet we could figure this out if we wrote a super complicated computer program to see what happens. This goes back to my earlier idea about the next step of evolution being an intelligent species writing a computer program or tweaking the with mathematical formula that explains the universe in some sort of simulated reality.

I admit, I’m not much (or at all!) of a physicist or mathematician, but somehow this makes sense to me in an abstract way. I’ll also admit that there probably isn’t much value in even thinking about these things since I don’t think anyone has devised or even theorized on a good way to prove any of this — and if we did prove it, what would the point be? What is the ultimate implication of knowing/thinking that the universe works this way? I’m not sure… but if nothing else it’s fun and gives your brain a nice exercise!

Edit a few minutes after first posting: Now that I think about it a bit more, I think there actually are very important reasons to think about these things:

First, it shows that even crazy-unproven-and-out-there science is just as interesting and exciting as “religion” with god and stuff. It also begs the question that if the universe/multiverse/etc. is really set up this way, then there is no way “god” or anything like that could keep track of everything. Another reason to give up on a simplistic religion-based understanding of live.

Second, if we ever hope to investigate time travel or teleportation, understanding how multiverses work will be crucial. For example, it might be easy to teleport oneself into a parallel universe but impossible to teleport within one’s own universe. So is there a threshold of “acceptable differences” between universe A and universe B — that is, if the universe I teleport into is only different in the fact that 1,000 years ago a leaf fell 2 centimeters different than my original universe and scientists or whoever can conclude that this action shouldn’t cause any noticable difference, is teleportation from universe A to universe B acceptable? (Think of the TV show Sliders.) Likewise, if time traveling within one’s own universe is impossible, is traveling to a different universe with minimal differences OK?

So there you go: reasons this matters!

God/Immortality

I know this is kind of cheeky, but this morning on Dr. Laura a mother called in worried about her child’s recent obsession with death (e.g. “Mommy you’re going to die before me and I’m going to die before my little brother”).

Dr. Laura instructed the woman to tell her child that death is what makes life important and gives it meaning and that if we all lived forever our lives wouldn’t have much meaning.

This sounds pretty true and I agree with it.

So then why are religious folk who I assume would also agree with that statement obsessed with the importance of god’s life/existence and think that it’s so important to do what god wants, follow god’s orders, etc. if god’s life doesn’t have meaning since it’s supposedly immortal? Would you value the opinion of someone whose life you don’t think have value/meaning?

Like I said, I know this train of thought is cheeky and I don’t mean it to be a very serious argument, but it’s just another tiny reason I think religion is so obnoxious.

Afronauts

Miss E. So Addictive
Last summer Slate had a nice piece about the “Afronaut Invasion.” I.e. hip-hop music that was obsessed with outer space and sci-fi stuff.

I gotta say, that the more electro and spacey crazy aspects of hip-hop are certainly my favorites. The first hip-hop album I really loved was Missy Elliott’s Miss E… So Addictive (which I also think is her “gay” album).

Repost: Vanilla Sky Critique

Jobie and I rewatched Vanilla Sky tonight. I haven’t watched this movie for well over a year. There was a time back in 2003 when I was obsessed with the movie and watched it over and over again. During that time I posted a few things to my old blog “Out of Control.” Here are some postings from August 27, 2003: “My day of Vanilla Sky Madness!”

How I first watched the movie:

last night i re-watched the movie vanilla sky. i hadn’t watched it for quite a while, and it was nice to remember how much i love that movie. so for the remainder of the day, i will be obsessing about it. writing reviews of scenes, thoughts i’ve had after the fact, thinking about the music, trying to find academic papers on it, researching various theories about what happens. it will be fun times.

to kick off the day, i have two tidbits to offer:

first, how i got the movie… my mom had actually bought it because she loves almost famous (also directed by cameron crowe). i believe we were at sam’s club when she got it. anyway, that afternoon i was cooking something for dinner (this was last summer when i went home for a week) or making a cheesecake or something and i asked her if i could watch the movie even though she hadn’t opened it. she said sure. then i borrowed my sister’s new laptop (which had a dvd player) so i could watch it while i was cooking. i loved the movie so much that i convinced my mom that we should trade dvds, since i was going to sell her blue velvet anyway since i got the special edition. so she said yes and the movie was mine…. i’m not sure if she ever did buy a replacement or watch it. sad.

the other piece of information i wanted to share is that one of the songs toward the end (i cannot remember exactly what scene it’s from) which isn’t on the soundtrack is called “ladies and gentleman we are floating in space” by the band spiritualized. the most memorable lyrics (for me) are when they sing, “i could still fall in love with you/i will love you till i die, and i will love you all the time.” it’s just a really soft and relaxing song.

so there is a start for today’s vanilla sky madness.

Roger Ebert’s review and my thoughts on that:

checkout roger ebert’s review of vanilla sky. even though i’m not a huge ebert fan (mostly due to his trashing of david lynch pre-mulholland drive), this review is decent, and he even suggests that the entire movie is fabricated in david’s head. i think most audiences will be happy with “technical support’s” explanation that the splice happened after the night at the club before the movie turns overtly surreal. but ebert seems to think (and i agree) that even at the begining of the movie, david is dead and everything is part of his lucid dream. i think that’s a pretty gutsy suggestion for a mainstream movie reviewer to make, so i complement ebert on that. sometimes i think he’s just a stupid movie reviewer, but then i realize he’s actually pretty academic about stuff (for example, once a year he does this scene-by-scene disection of a movie with a bunch of film students. in the past they’ve done movies like pulp fiction and even mulholland drive).

also, ebert’s article reminded me that at least three somewhat successful movies (vanilla sky — obviously, mulholland drive, and memento) all came out around the same time and, as ebert describes it, “Requires the audience to do some heavy lifting. It has one of those plots that doubles back on itself like an Escher staircase. You get along splendidly one step at a time, but when you get to the top floor you find yourself on the bottom landing.”

interesting, no, that all of these movies do a complete 180degrees at the end and once you watch them the second time it’s an extremely different experience. more so than other movies, i think. i wonder what it was that was going on in american culture that spurred these three stories to simultaneously develop…

My “big deep analysis” of it:

so two ideas that have been rolling around in my head that were re-emphasized by watching vanilla sky is that the movie could be read as a critique of psychology and psychoanalysis in particular in addition to a a critique of film genre.

first, the psychology. most of the story is told in the context of a psychoanalytic discussion between david and his psychiatrist (dr. curtis mccabe). as foucault has taught us, confession is a privileged way of acquiring “truth” in western society, so because david is “confessing” to a “doctor” the audience is lead to believe that everything he says and understands is true — well, we know this is obviously very wrong, thus questioning the value of confession by “deranged” (which is mccabe’s diagnosis of david) people.

in addition, however, mccabe makes numerous comments (mostly early in the film) about how he’s not a “shrink” and “not all psychiatrists believe in studying dreams.” yet despite these claims, he does ask david about his dreams and toward the end of the movie suggests that david cannot tell the difference between dreams and reality. hmm, seems our “psychiatrist” is confused.

so i guess for those reasons it seems to be saying, “hmm, psychology is fucked because it buys into the confession of deranged people and it claims to be about more than dreams yet it’s still hung-up on them… and even when everything is a dream the psychiatrist is the one who argues otherwise, spouting conspiracy theories.” so a critique of psychology? i think so.

also, the movie seems to critique the genre-ization of film. until the end of the movie, vanilla sky comes off as a psychological thriller. the first time we watch the film, our theories as to what is happening are constructed within the context of the thriller genre: are the seven dwarves involved in a conspiracy? is julie somehow a body double/doppelganger of sophia? is david deranged enough to murder his girlfriend?

but then at the end of the movie it turns into this sci-fi movie about cryogenics (body freezing). this forces us to completely understand the movie in a different way. we ask: could this really happen? is he dead or alive? is this a dream or reality? (obviously some questions between the sci-fi elements and the thriller elements overlap).

then, and this is my favorite part, at the very end the movie is framed as “the ultimate love story.” first, david learns that sophia visited his wake and that she (something along the lines of) “also remembered what it was like to fall in love in an evening” and we find out that david’s “splice” occured at a moment so that in his lucid dream (assuming that the “technical support” explanation is true) he could live happily with sophia (until his dream turns into a nightmare). also, it is the impossiblity of their being able to live as lovers (“i’m frozen and you’ve been dead a hundred years”) that causes david to chose life rather than his lucid dream at the end — in hopes that he can hookup with sophia again “when we’re both cats.” love, it seems, is the ultimate drive of david’s lucid dream and thus the whole movie (or at least half of it).

so there ‘ya have it. vanilla sky as a critique of psychology and film genre.