My response to “Did Darwin Kill God?” part 1

•July 23, 2012 • 1 Comment

This is part 1 of my appraisal of the hour long BBC special Did Darwin Kill God ?. This part is mostly concerned with my disagreement over Christianity’s historical position and its importance in the creationist movement. I’m a rank amateur in theological history, so I would be happy to hear from any suggestions or corrections. Part 2 is here.

I watched a BBC special awhile ago presented by Conor Cunningham entitled Did Darwin Kill God?  which possessed some disagreeable misappropriations of what Cunningham terms “Ultra Darwinism” as well as some fairly calculated observations about the history of Christianity in general. The program was not all bad- its investigation into the history of creationism was quite interesting, even if the staged walks and drives of the narrator/writer/producer do seem a little jejune.

To begin, Cunningham is very selective in his appraisal of how Christianity behaved up to the discovery of evolution. Cunningham suggests that orthodoxy, that is, the acceptance of translating the Bible as metaphor, has been a mainstay of Christian ideals since the advent of creationism. Citing the Christian philosopher Philosouras(who I have admittedly not come across), he uses the example of the two creation myths in the Bible to elucidate what was commonly believed- that there was an allegorical creation myth and a literal one. Let’s pull up here for a moment and consider what this entails. This means Philosouras meets Cunningham only half way, and as a result not at all. If Cunningham wants to promote a “Bible as metaphor” image, then he doesn’t do himself favors when he states that adherents really did believe parts of the Bible to be true. Modern extrapolations of this idea are manifest in the many varieties of Judeo-Christianity, each of whom take particular parts of the Bible to be true, and the rest either discarded or as metaphor to be interpreted in whatever way they see fit. As an aside, this is a dangerous attitude to promote; it is precisely this reason that inter-Christian violence spanning centuries has occurred, as well as rather unpleasant interactions with everyone in general including the Spanish Inquisition, Crusades etc.

Far be it from me to say that orthodox belief is what Christianity is concerned with. It was not, and remains, however lightly, still not to be the case. How does Cunningham respond to the cult of relics, which partially motivated the Reformation? These relics are things that Christianity and various churches ardently believed were actual physical manifestations of divine material, from Virgin Mother’s breast milk, to fragments of the actual cross, to feathers from the angel Gabriel. As I’m told, the whole affair became embarrassing when twelve churches each claimed to have the Virgin Mary’s mother’s nose. What does he say when theological arguments proposed that the rings of Saturn were Jesus’ foreskin? What reply does Cunningham have when faced with the enormous and bloody arguments waged throughout history regarding the state of transubstantiation, for which many believers to this day contend that the eucharist transforms into the actual flesh and blood of Christ based upon biblical reference? Indeed, what response can one make when one appraises the treatment of Copernicus and Galileo by religious officials, who were motivated to action in no small part from scripture?

I agree with Cunningham that this sort of zealotry on part of Christian organizations had reduced significantly by the time Darwin came around. They didn’t really have a choice, given the onus of scientific identity that came with the Enlightenment, the rise of the middle class, and the surrounding Industrial Revolution. What I disagree with is his suggestion that creationism is some sort of unexpected, perverted tangent of Christian belief. When approached historically, creationism in both tenets and origin, would have been the dominant belief system all the way up to Darwin, and endured for a great deal of time after, even without the evangelical howlings from American pulpits a few scant decades later that strengthened anti-evolution fervour. It was these evangelicals who first used the actual terminology of “creationist”. I believe that the terminology being implemented belied the fact that creationists were reducing to a non-majority population, thus needing identification in a world increasingly at odds with their beliefs, and not, as Cunningham suggests, an explosion of believers in misappropriated Christian values.

Part 2 of my response will be concerned more about something I’m a little more comfortable with, so-called Ultra Darwinism and Cunningham’s treatment of Darwin and science in general.

The top five video games that I’ve lost the most time to

•July 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Video games are becoming a medium with increasing respectability as more finance and talent is directed towards their creation. It’s hardly a surprise really- interactive story telling is the greatest immersive potential yet realized, and the bang for your buck far outstrips most other forms of entertainment with a game taking anywhere between 10-100 hours of time to complete.

With this is mind, I’ve decided to create a short list of the five games that I’ve whittled away many, many hours to. These are not necessarily the best games I’ve played (though most rank very highly) but their longevity speaks reams about their very high production quality and I encourage anyone with extra time here and there to invest in one. As might be expected, the list is mostly RTS and RPGs, given their usual, immense time demands. Honourable mentions include most sequels and prequels to the games shown here (Pokémon Blue in particular), as well as Anno 1404 (whose time demands are so great I actually gave up) and of course the entire Zelda and Halo series.

5. Goldeneye – N64

A teenager in the mid nineties did not truly have a soul until they played at least a few multiplayer games of Goldeneye. You could literally spend hours changing missions, upping the ante with different weapon arrays and handicaps, or even throw in a few cheats. I can still remember some of the house rules and note I had playing with neighbourhood friends- no Oddjob, klobbs are terrible and proxy mines were awesome.

Single player Goldeneye may be dated by today’s standards (for instance, shots from AI are calculated as probabilities, as opposed to bullet physics) but its fantastic learning curve, litany of missions and fun cheats made it replayable, enjoyable and engaging. A sore point for me is never quite beating Control on Secret Agent and thus missing out on the hidden missions. Goldeneye remained powerfully popular for years, petering off when Perfect Dark came out, and finally winking out when the next generation of consoles blew us away with Halo and GTA III.

4. Pokémon Gold – GBC

If there was ever a game that spoke to my inner obsessive compulsive, it was Pokémon Gold. Never mind the great adventures you had across Johto and Kanto, or the solid storyline that went along in quirky pokémon style, it was all about forming an unbeatable team full of great statistics, monsters and move sets. You don’t understand- this could take years.

Trading with other games, you had to beat the game once to get access to a monster I wanted big time- Larvitar. But you couldn’t train Larvitar because there would be no one to fight against. What do? You trade him to another cartridge, breed him with another (because exchanged monsters have weaker stats) and push through with a level 5 one throughout the new game. Mistakes with TMs were permanent and soul crushing.Think it was a simple game? Check out this website and feast your eyes on the horrific demands and calculations required to master the bloody thing. The release of Pokémon Stadium II, allowing play on the big screen with better trainers, only exacerbated the pain. I’ve since moved on, but I still keep a copy of Blue in the car when I’m bored.

3. Rome: Total War– PC

While I’ve played other games for a little longer, and other games have more variety, Rome: Total War wins out on sheer duration of play sessions. I wouldn’t call myself a fanatic so this won’t look too impressive, but I managed to play it 10 hours straight all the way into 7am.

The game play of Rome is RTS, but quite unique in the way that you organise cohorts, the affect of moral and tiredness, as well as castle defense et al. Its realism is a downfall for time management, as units ponderously behave like real armies would (I’m guessing) and with potentially thousands against thousands, it makes the whole scheme crazy especially when you consider the hundreds of battle required to beat the game. Rome: Total War and its successors are probably the closest you can get to really playing the general, and the only real fault lies with rather terrible AI. I’ve had to wean myself off this game, as the repeatability was getting rather silly.

2. Sid Meier’s Civilization III

 

Later Civs are a bit too easy and cutesy for me, and I never got into Alpha Centuri; Civilization III is the greatest history creating game in the world. The directive is to defeat other opponents as your civilization grows from stone age brutes all the way to tech-savvy modernity with all the stops along the way. It’s a game that can’t really be described in a short passage, so I’ll state that it is in a league of its own when it comes to master plans, careful negotiation and brutal policies.

Civ III is bloody hard until you have the grasp of it and even then is very difficult. As a time waster therefore, it lends itself to restarting and re-strategising. More than any other game on the list, it hides just how much time is wasted from you; a few turns is a few hours, and even when you quit it innocently inquires whether you’d rather keep going at it. Don’t listen!

1. The Elder Scrolls III- Morrowind -PC/Xbox

Yes there was Oblivion and Skyrim. Yes they are both unbelievably deep and fantastic games. But nothing, no game, ever, has come close to the hours spent and enjoyment earned from the little game known as Morrowind. When it was released there was a collective gasp of amazement at its graphical beauty (before you ask no, it doesn’t hold up) and enormous land to explore. But while it was highly praised there was a lot of whinging about the simple combat system, the massive demands for being a good magic user and the cliffracers. These all removed a lot of gamers from the warm loving embrace of Morrowind and the island of Vvardenfell. Those who endured have come to recognise that the game, put simply, cannot be fully explored. I’ve spent the good part of a decade dusting it off, playing with my prime character (a level 65 Nord in full daedric no less) and I’ve still not come across everything there is to find.

So what can I tell you about it that makes the game so huge, even when Oblivion and Skyrim are ostensibly larger? Well for starters, Morrowind reckons that the fast travel system in those games are for pussies. You have alternatives, such as the spell combo mark and recall, as well as various vehicular/magical travel to major cities and areas (that you pay for), but that leaves about 80% of the world map difficult to access. Secondly there’s no HUD map that alerts you to nearby undiscovered POIs- you have to find that stuff by yourself. And third- depending on Speed and Athletics, you start running about one quarter the speed of an Oblivion counterpart.

I would not change it for the world. Unlike the generated dungeons of Oblivion, Morrowind was hand made from the ground up, making every cavern a fascinating exploratory procedure. Monsters are also varied and unique and include the greatest number of daedra to date. When you come across your first silver sword, you really feel like you’ve earned it (and chances are, you really have). I can’t say how long I’ve invested in this game, but the number would be embarrassing. If you have the patience and tolerate the graphics and sound, then Morrowind will reward you in ways you didn’t think were possible for a video game to do. Morrowind sits on my shelf right next to Skyrim and Oblivion, and if I ever feel the need for some nostalgia, I know which one of the three I’ll be picking up.

Prometheus is the new new Emperor’s clothes

•June 23, 2012 • 1 Comment

Prometheus is a bad film with enormous plot holes, bizarre pacing and for some reason, almost universally loved. Hell, Ebert gave the damn thing four out of four stars. Everyone quoted the visuals being this wonderful experience (even the not-so-happy reviews) but approximately 50% of the film is darkened hallways and 45% dialogue in a futuristic bar. If you want pretty visuals, Avatar beats it hands down (and terrifyingly enough, in the story department too). The best way to sum up the film is this:

I kept getting twinges of some sort of ham fisted symbolism of faith et al., but even then it was either so thinly veiled as to not really warrant further investigation, or so convoluted that it hid the underlying message too well. I suppose you could call Millburn and Fifield, based on their dialogue choices and characters, as avatars of science and paganism respectively, and Elizabeth as the Christian ideal, but that would be a stretch, and if true, a thoughtless theme. Characterisation, despite the length of the film, is almost solely on David, Meredith, Holloway, and Elizabeth, and I believe it is not sufficiently carried out for three of these individuals.

What irked me most about the film was the plot, although other qualities were also poor. I can hold my suspension of disbelief only for as long as a film allows me to keep my mental faculties. Unfortunately, Prometheus demands I leave my brain at the door with a plethora of plot holes, schizophrenic characters and bizarre rules regarding the technology of both human and alien origins. Rather than make an enormous post about the flaws myself and friends found during viewing, I’ve broken them up into subheadings and bullet points. Read them if you’ve watched it (and hopefully give some answers for) or read them before going in, and see if you can make sense of it. Spoilers logically follow.

The Engineers

-The first scene depicts the start of mankind. If this is the start of mankind, why not just clone some cells and have them go down the river instead? Why bother killing off one of your own? If that is really how life started, how is it that there are multiple instances of civilizations across the globe randomly aware of where the life came from when no evidence (possibly beyond an empty, featureless jar that isn’t mentioned again) is possible? Why, if this really is the cradle of civilization, does finding the root of all languages and forming a language unto itself make a person capable of understand the complicated glyphs, and you know, actually reading the language? The engineers didn’t teach language, or starmaps, or anything, they just bugger off after letting one of their own die and fall into a river.

-Why does the alien ship, with fantastic energy supplies and capacity to create great holograms, fly etc. not actually show anything meaningful in aforesaid holograms, or have data records that are accessible?

-Why do the containers of the dark liquid somehow not contain the dark liquid, and not contain it so poorly?

-What purpose is the big head?

-If evil engineer was in cryostasis, why didn’t his supremely advanced pod not open up when the coast was clear? If he wasn’t supposed to wake up, why not kill everyone then go back to stasis? If he woke up, everything was fine, but wasn’t warned by his presumably alive brethren, why not investigate that before carrying out his mission? If his brethren aren’t alive, aren’t there better things to do then send bioweapons on a mission presumably made by his civilization which is now extinct? If his mission is that important, why not realize that the humans that woke him up probably had a spaceship that could give him grief during takeoff?

-Why are the engineers genetically identical to humans yet have a significantly different form? They are genetically identical. They could, in theory, cross breed yet an engineer stands about eight foot high, impossibly muscled and less possibly pigmentally challenged.

The Prometheus Mission and technology

-Why don’t the characters know each other, or where they are, or what they’re doing? Why don’t they know these things to ensure a safer mission? Why not introduce everyone before the mission and ensure everyone is psychologically fit for such an undertaking?

-How could anyone be infertile in this technologically advanced civilization? Why bother mentioning she’s infertile when it adds nothing to the plot?

-Why does no one listen to orders? This is a trillion dollar investment and people are wandering around as if it’s a summer holiday house.

-Why the hell did they decide that an electrode blasty thing on the alien head was the best possible way to investigate the “new cell growth”? What did this new cell growth do? Why didn’t anyone put anything under a microscope?

-How come they travelled light years on a multi-year mission, with seventeen experts, and somehow are completely unable to provide a routine procedure such as a caesarean or foreign body removal? If they were so incapable, why would David be capable of assessing the “fetus” to be three months old? If the body inside her was so foreign that David knew it couldn’t possibly be a child, why term it as a “pregnancy, by the looks of it three months old”?

-Why did no one assess the character’s motivation prior to the mission? Fifield is nothing short of a pot smoking lunatic, David is more than a little crazy, the captain disobeys direct orders from his superior Meredith.

-I understand that Meredith stated Weylon wanted “true believers” on board, but ffs they’re archaeologists. Even if they didn’t come aboard, there would be no advantage lost, even if they did come aboard, there’s no reason to make them the captains. I doubt they need their egos filled that much.

-If the “pups” could pick up life readings, why not pick up serpent thing or the bugs crawling around various chambers? Or the black liquid in general? The readers definitely were not “carbon detectors” or else they would have picked up an enduring signal and not a glitch, so it could be based on movement patterns, or sounds etc., all of which, presumably, would also pick up serpent et al. If they weren’t capable of picking up serpent things, why didn’t anyone make note of that for future missions?

-Why bother having human guards when they could employ some kind of killbot or even 20th century weapons that would be infinitely more useful. Why use short range and surprisingly bulky flamethrowers?

-Why would Meredith’s operation docking thing only work for males when she is presumably female?

-If it only works for males, why didn’t it notice it was working on a ‘pregnant’ female?

 

Milburn and Fifield

-Why didn’t anyone play back or listen to the radio logs of Milburn and Fifield when they were killed by the snake things?

-Why did Milburn and Fifield, self confessed cowards and terrified of the situation, wander around when bored? Why did they think trying to cuddle up to an alien cobra-like monster was a good idea after shitting themselves over the piles of dead bodies they came across?

-Milburn and Fifield left the main group far before the storm hit. Fifield is the expert of the layout of the entire structure. How did they get lost, especially when he has his “pups” sending him updates constantly? If it wasn’t the case that any ground force knew what they were doing, why was the main group so successful at leaving the chamber? If they didn’t have a map and the main group did, why the hell did they leave in the first place knowing they didn’t know how to get around?

-Why did no one, out of the five or so perpetual Prometheus crew actually monitor Milburn and Fifield throughout the storm? They quoted bad reception, but there’s the shot of the empty bridge and reports coming from both of them quite clearly.


David

-Why did David spike Holloway’s drink? Why didn’t they just analyze the fluid? If David was aware it was dangerous, why not inform someone like Weyland? If the drink was that dangerous or unknown, why not use it on someone who wasn’t their leader of the mission?

-If David was aware that the entire ship was full of biological warfare components, and that it was en route to Earth, why didn’t he warn Weyland or not activate the Engineer’s hibernation pod?

-Why is David an unshackled AI capable of disobeying direct orders from Meredith et al? How does no one keep tabs on him as he continually disobeys orders and runs around doing what he wants?

 

Character actions

-Why didn’t Holloway report to sick bay when he noticed worms growing out of his eyes?

-Why is everyone so passive when people go missing or come back as zombies from an alien structure?

-Why does Meredith get her own detachable spacepod but her father is completely shocked to see her there?

-Why does the Meredith character start off hardcore, go to ultra bitch, to sleepin’ around happy, to ultra bitch, to concerned for contagion, to angry-at-dad, to helpless female, to stupid bitch (i.e. not running left or right when trying to avoid rolling spacecraft)? Why bother with a sizeable portion of showing her escape when she just gets axed immediately? Why did her escape shuttle totally not calibrate a landing despite having ample time and warning about evacuation?

-Why would anyone breathe the air of a completely alien spacecraft when their sensors are apparently completely unable to pick up anything beyond base components?

-Why did no one have decontamination protocols, especially when they were aware of two things- 1. The engineers created humans and presumably were aware of their genetic makeup. Later on it is confirmed that they are identical to humans and all mysteriously dead yet no special decontamination occurs. 2. They’re in a fucking alien spacecraft.

-Why is the discovery of alien life, even dead, considered a massive letdown for everyone, and even the crew immediately gets bored of the situation?

-Why is it that they have human security, but the first mission into the caves, no one is armed?

-Why did Weyland feel it necessary to hide himself for several hours, even after Engineer relics are found? Why is talking to an Engineer inherently better than looking at their data files?
The film was confusing and dull and really unintuitive. The core plot is both simplistic and often mired in errata and poor character choices, and culminating in a rather obvious deus ex machina. I implore you to look elsewhere for sci-fi greatness, like Ridley Scott’s superior Alien franchise from what this is shoe-horned into.

Odours and naming conventions

•June 14, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I’m an olfactory psychologist by trade and I’ve been interested at the marginalization of my area of study when compared to other, trendier senses. It is with a grim acceptance that my audience may not know what this is, so I’ll state that olfaction pertains to the sense of smell. This sort of naming convention isn’t necessarily exclusive to olfaction; that is, that we have a popular word and then an unpopular (but scientifically literate) word for one sense. However what I am saying is that there is some sort of joke at the olfactory psychologist’s expense that not everyone else who studies senses et al. has to deal with. A taste psychologist sounds legit (even though you could call them a gustation psychologist), a hearing specialist (as opposed to say, an aural technician) also sounds decent. However it is only my domain where I can’t really call myself something similar i.e. a smell psychologist. There’s something weird about it; it sounds almost humourous. What makes it worse is that the word “smell” applies to both the act of smelling and the act of discussing the sense of smell hence the classic joke:

Tony: my dog recently had an operation and had his nose removed.

Dick: how does he smell?

Tony: terrible!

… whose existence probably exacerbates the confusion. I do not use my own nose to solve psychological conundrums. I use participant’s olfactory responses to make scientific theories. It seems strange to me that in the wordingly verbose language that is English that we have to share a word between two similarly-based but utterly different meanings.

The origins of why olfaction have been sidelined are surprisingly ancient. Aristotle (that bastard) called it a “lower” sense compared to vision, hearing etc. and it was subsequently semi-ignored except as a sort of indulgence in the form of perfumes and exotic scents. Imagine how much exposure to bacterial infection could have been avoided if people in the middle ages paid attention to what their sense of smell was telling them. Therein lies half the humour and source of vituperation. A bad smell is typically the one you pay attention to, and it’s made worse in that you can’t close your nostrils quite as easily as your eyelids.

The organ of the nose, despite being directly on your face, does much to discredit olfaction. Even Shakespeare had his fun with half a dozen characters with odd shaped noses, such as Bardolph from Henry V. There’s a strange Japanese theme that runs throughout anime and some images to de-emphasise or completely remove the nose from characters and portraits (take a look at Dragonball Z’s Krillen as an example). Yes there are handsome noses, but when we find a handsome nose, we typically take the person to have a handsome face, and an ugly nose remains an ugly nose, regardless of what face it is on.

I digress. Let’s move away from the social politics and science and look at what it takes to name an odour that you smell. It’s really rather difficult without referring to what it “tastes” like (although most of that is smell too) or what the object producing the smell is. So it is easy to say “mmm coffee” when one smells coffee, or “eugh, must be a skip” but you can’t say more than “it’s disgusting” or “it’s nice”. For vision you can say something is a particular colour, hearing you can define pitch and tone, taste has the five classics. Meanwhile smell is a hodge podge of naming conventions.

Defining odours to any kind of complexity is difficult for two reasons. Firstly, there is simply not a big enough vocabulary. Secondly, you have to train yourself to identify odours. By the way, I encourage you to really detect the odours you experience- it empowers memory and can give a dearth of  information and experience. Defining odours needs something new; probably a whole set of words that may have some connection to objects and tastes, but should nonetheless be identifiable as  concepts, not just singular objects. Here are a few concepts I propose as examples:

square: the odour has a quality that makes the nose a bit itchy, or “heavy”. It’s generally unpleasant and  smells uncompromising and monotone, like it has the capacity to damage your delicate nostrils. Worked metals have a strong square smell, as does chlorine in the pool, and some wood varnishes.

buttered: the smell quality is “warm” and somewhat oily. It serves as a background smell and wraps up other odours, often mixing them, usually generating food anticipation. Butter being cooked, especially with herbs, has this quality, as does most food stocks, broths, soups etc. Non-food sources do exist, such as fish carcasses at markets, or as a pure nonfood based, something like an oil burner when other odours are also involved.

florid: a smell that is water based but has unmistakable touches of plant matter. It’s a difficult concept to describe, but one could describe florid as the odour quality of fresh cut grass that is shared with the smell of breaking a green branch, or cutting the stem of a weed. Curiously, florid is the smell I would almost describe certain weedkillers to possess, such as Roundup.

So there you have it. Think I’m on to something? Think it’s a lost cause? Think it’s not worth your time? Let me know. Any more odour qualities I’d be happy to hear about too!

Culturalism- an acceptable, more accurate alternative to racism?

•June 1, 2012 • Leave a Comment

It is a clear and self evident fact that racism, that is, to discriminate a person on the basis of the country(or continent) of origin is in this day and age both wrong and grossly inappropriate. It seems to me that most racism is centered around virtually inconsequential physical features such as varying hues of skin, or the shape of skin around the eyes. From these physical differences, a racist believes it is possible to infer a person’s history, way of life, upbringing, intelligence and physical prowess. This is surprising given that the definition of race is pretty much hokum.

Racism is still quite prevalent, even in more developed countries. Undoubtedly a lot of racism is a delineation between in-group and out-group. However I think racism has endured even when in-group and out-group definitions become fuzzier. This is because it acts as a universally understood shorthand of the type of person (or not) that an individual being described is like. So collectively understood, we could say something (forgive the racist examples) like “she’s Asian, so you know what she drives like” or “his name is Nicholas, so you know he’s Greek”.

This kind of understanding may or may not have many real life examples that the person can draw from- and racism is useful only when the person they are talking with has also experienced similar occurrences or at least knows what they are talking about. Whether they are universal truths is not up for debate here, but the usefulness of a racist descriptor when we are consistently bombarded with different races whose group individuals seemingly share similar traits is difficult to ignore.

The backlash against racism since the 60s has been strong, necessary and prevalent. Groups such as the ADL do exceptional and important work. However, outcry for racism is occasionally taken too far, or in a way it is not meant to be. Accusations of racism are common in inter-racial police matters where it is sometimes and sometimes not an actual issue. It can also be used as a weapon, one that academics have found hard to fight against given its inherent taboo. For this discussion, I believe that there are certain claims that are deemed “racist” but which can be better described as “culturalist” and as a result may still have a place in the emerging world.

I believe that culturalism can be an effective shorthand descriptor of individuals, as well as a legitimately acceptable type of communication without invoking race. Indeed this is already manifest in a few forms, such as the classification of generations like the baby boomers or a complex designation such as WASP; both of these examples have traits indicative of their behavior and custom.

The trick is, I believe, is to keep the cultural classifications alive while doing away with the racial markers. There are several advantages as to why this is beneficial and acceptable. Firstly, defining someone by their culture and their adherence to that culture is a really good way of quickly defining what sort of person they are in shorthand. You can’t really do away with it if you want to get multiple points across, and you can’t call upon racial traits because they are both abhorrent and wrong.

Secondly, cultural trends are a choice, not something that a person has no way of escaping, and this makes it acceptable to discuss it in whatever connotations you want to discuss it in. This works in the same way as critiquing someone’s love of peas, or their political affiliations, or answer for a mathematics question. Of course you may choose to keep your views private, or even share those views, but the point of the matter is is that it is not illegal or racist to possess counter views. Whether there is potential for meaningful criticism is up to debate, but one could say that one culture is “better” than another for particular goals. For example, if one culture promotes family bonds and another promotes individuality, then you can easily say that the former will produce more independent people. I think it is acceptable to say something like I personally prize science, as a result I will favor western rational cultures moreso than cultures that support hero worship or are strongly religious.

Another advantage of culturalism is that it will tend to be more accurate. A common racial slur in Australia is the term “Wog”. The etymology of the word is interesting, but it has come to define individuals of middle eastern descent who drive modified sports cars and adopt different language terms (such as “bro”,”cuz” and the eponymous “fully sik”). Now while this is technically a racial slur, it seems unfair to both people from the middle east as well as modified car driving enthusiasts (who are not from the middle east) that are involved/not involved in this slur. I know many non-middle easterners who could be termed to behave “Woggy” in the same way I know many middle easterners who would not be. We can see here that cultures are easier barriers to break than racial ones, and that they also encapsulate objective social truths better too (and I dare say better than any alternative descriptive methods). Chris Rock points out the dichotomy between race and culture, as well as pointing out how a supposed racial slur is really a cultural one:

So I think (unless someone can correct me) that culturalism is acceptable, accurate, useful and allows us to be open to criticism.There are fringe benefits when this is taken large scale. Firstly,it is far less upsetting to be criticized about one’s culture as opposed to race, due in part to the fact it can be changed, and that you will personally know its foibles and be able to change your stance if you so desire. Secondly, the illusions of patriotism go down very quickly when racism is completely replaced by culturalism. Not only does everyone have cultural groups that will be recognised as such by everyone, but it makes it easier for people to get along when they don’t believe that their particular country doesn’t have a god given right to exterminate another particular country, and that differences between individuals are malleable and not all that dramatic.

I’m not saying discrimination is a good thing- it is not. What I am saying is that we should be allowed to use culturalism shorthand, retain our sense of identity, have some fun with it, and remove ourselves from the painfully rigid and dangerous forms of patriotism and racism. What do you think?

Update:

recently seen this video on youtube. While the whole discussion isn’t really about “culturalism”, Dennis Prager points out his definition of the term “Islamophobia” as a way in which to comment on a cultural phenomenon as opposed to a peoples.

Zombie Month part XI: Dawn of the Dead (remake)

•May 30, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Dawn of the Dead (2004) directed by Zack Snyder

Speed:really fast, perhaps faster than sprinting human. Agile to boot.

Intelligence:very low. One managed to “hold” a shutter for a short period of time, otherwise mindless.

Behavior:ultra aggressive in presence of prey, otherwise they tend to congregate and shamble aimlessly. They also “roar” and hiss when in close proximity to humans. Only eat humans and ignores other animals entirely.

Longevity:unknown but there a few clues. The zombies after about a month have begun to look sallow faced and gaunt, suggesting that they will degrade over time. A head of a zombie was found in a cooler bag to still be aggressive so it suggests they are undead.

Infection:bite. Onset is dependent upon location of bite but incubation is twenty four hours to a couple of minutes.

How to kill:headshot is the only way to take them down permanently, although sufficiently large explosions vaporise them.

Dawn of the Dead remake(hereafterDawn of the Dead) centres around a group of survivors holed up in a shopping mall while their world crumbles around them from a deadly zombie outbreak that is taking over the world. As they begin work together, they realise that they are fatefully unlikely to survive, and eventually hatch a plan to escape the zombie menace.

Dawn of the Dead is genius, but you didn’t need me to tell you. The storyline is awesome (sans the escape attempt at the end that left me scratching my head), the characters all memorable and the combat brutally visceral. Every combat scene has you on the edge of your seat for three reasons:

1) The characters are all memorable, even the jerks ones are likeable.

2) I don’t think there is any fight where the group is left unscathed- you know somepeople’s gonna die.

3) the zombies are fucking terrifying.

The horrors inflicted upon the survivors are vast and varied, yet it is through their characterisation and excellent plot line that the whole things doesn’t seem like far stretch (except for you know, the zombie apocalypse). In short, this is the best zombie film, probably ever.

Well that wraps up zombie month. I apologise for the succinctness but I’m new to the movie review thing. Send a comment as to what zombie films you think I’ve missed that are either really good or terrible.

Zombie Month X: Shaun of the Dead

•May 28, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Shaun of the Dead directed by Edgar Wright

Speed:shambling

Intelligence:minimal- cannot open doors. One *may* have turned off a radio but it could be due to chance

Behavior:aggressive to those in close proximity. Tendency to cluster

Longevity:unknown but no signs of degradation after six months

Infection:bite. Incubation rate varies on location of bite and injury of the host. Incubation range is about 12-3 hours.

How to kill:destroying the head or removing the brain.

Shaun of the Deadis about a 30 something Shaun leading a group of friends (and flatmates) through a newly infested London to hide and barricade themselves to survive the onslaught. While he tries to gather his nearest and dearest to survive, he also has to put up with his indolent buddy Ed, a couple of his ex-girlfriend’s flatmates (played by Dylan Moran and Lucy Davis) as well as his stepfather (played by Bill Nighy).

Shaun of the Dead is a self professed (and probably only) zom-rom-com and brought to you by the same handfuls of talent that made Hot Fuzz as well as Spaced and Black Books television series. It is, in a word, excellent. The comedy is biting and hilarious. A hallmark of Wright/Pegg writing tends to be themes that carry themselves along the course of the film, and Shaun of the Dead is no different;it adds layer upon layer of dialogue complexity, characterisation and really engages second, third and fourth viewings. The zombies themselves a played very well, and are zombies first and foremost- the comedy aspect is derived from the characters themselves who are instantly understood to anyone who has stepped foot on English soil.

The behavior of the characters is excellent, not in that they make particularly good decisions, but because you understand the characters well enough to see they make the decisions you expect them to. Action scenes range from hair raising brutality to slapstick hilarity and references to other zombie films are nicely integrated and clearly show the writer’s enthusiasm for the genre.

Shaun of the Dead is an amazing film and encourage even the greatest sufferer of anglophobia to watch it; at least you’ll see the vast majority of the Poms get eaten.

Zombie Month IX: Land of the Dead

•May 21, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Land of the Dead directed by George A. Romero

Speed:shambling

Intelligence:it starts off very low, but as a part of the storyline, the zombies begin to adapt by using weapons and enacting the behaviours they possessed when they were alive.

Behavior:some are aggressive. Many who are not in the presence of prey enact what they did in life, such as mowing the lawn etc.

Longevity:very long, possibly centuries

Infection:bite. Incubation is a few hours

How to kill:headshot

Land of the Dead is the latest zombie film from Romero, and it revolves around one of the last bastions of humanity after a zombie outbreak has left the majority of the planet zombified. Dead Reckoning, a special anti-zombie tank has been stolen by a scavenger formerly under employ of the rich and powerful Kaufman. Kaufman has sent  a team led by Riley to find it and bring it back. While this is happening a mass of zombies is learning, adapting, and preparing to overrun the settlement.

Land of the Dead may break the Romero zombie’s own rules, but considering that it comprises a large part of the film, it can be considered canon. The overarching, and obvious, anti-capitalist and anti-classist subtext is rife throughout, and it felt a little 60s ish at times. The effort gone into showing off the zombie learning is interesting but not exactly thrilling, and the story similarly plods along at a decent and logical but ultimately staid and reserved pace. With the exception of the core group, humans are invariably a bit thick, and a bit shit at firing assault rifles. Zombie attacks also tend to be a lot sneakier and unpredictable than what everyone gives them credit for (even the guys whose jobs it is to avoid getting attacked) so it unfortunately feels as if characters are just lopped off for the good of the plot as opposed to being in error. All that said, it’s about as dyed-in-the-wool as you can get for zombie films, and a nice glimpse into a Romero-zombie-filled world.

New reasons why Mass Effect 3’s ending was terrible.

•May 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

A casual glance at youtube videos regarding this issue will make abundantly clear the big problems with the Mass Effect 3 ending. I particularly like the philosophical problems with the ending that this video points out. While these two videos sum up about 90% of the issues that make it so terrible, I thought I would put the last knee in and come up with some additional reasons as to why the whole thing is a stinking puddle of cat piss. Now there is without question an enormous amount of spoilers. Do not read if you want to play ME3. ME3 is a fantastic game with superb combat, dialogue trees, immersion etc. it just so happens that the ending (and a handful of other things) are not up to par.

The boss fight

Right. So you’re about to race up to get to the big transport beamy thing that the Reapers have in place. One last Reaper stands it your way and you’ve got to take it out with guided missiles, but the reaper itself needs to be far away from the extraction point in order for you to blow it to kingdom come (using the Normandy’s upgraded technology-somehow). So, in this final, gripping scene before the mad dash to the beam, a horde of darkspa-*cough*adapted reapers come to stop you, and you are left with the final big boss of the series.

Oh wait! No you aren’t! Instead of a boss like the last two games that both were  a creative way to kick your ass, you’re left with tackling about five Brutes, a couple of Banshees and a handful of Husks. A lot of enemies does not make an end game boss. Last time I saw someone pull this shit was the first Doom, and that was fair because the concept of a boss battle was fairly new at the time. To add insult to injury, after you get to the beam you’re final challenge is a single Marauder, a couple of husks, and you take them out with a pistol you didn’t necessarily have to be carrying with you up to that point. No biotics, no tech, no big guns; it’s an interesting way to go when you literally say “screw you and your combat specialization” to literally every specialization possible.

The Catalyst

Imagine. You’re a nigh omnipotent being capable of creating (no less) a self perpetuating army so powerful that it has dominated the galaxy for a billion years. You’ve made the calculations that synthetics will always try to kill organics (severely disproven in the very same game provided Shepard used a speech option). Yet somehow you can’t actually do anything with regards to your ship. You can’t affect the drive cores, or throw a human in to become synthetic, you can’t even tell the Reapers to stop for a second or two.

OK fine. Let’s say its some sort of inter-dimensional being who can’t affect material things. Fine. What you need then, is an organic, aka Shepard, to make the best possible decision because despite the billion or so years of time you’ve had to contemplate, you can’t come up with a decent option yourself. What you need to do is probably patch up the poor guy if he’s making a decision that is going to affect the entire galactic community until complete heat death… ahhh no. Well maybe you should explain exactly why the relays arbitrarily need to be destroyed… ahhh no. Well at least let’s not give this frail organic any reason to be any more traumatized by this ordeal because if he doesn’t make a good choice then the galaxy is screwed… well shit. Rather than do that and keep Shepard a bit more sane, The Catalyst takes the image of the human child that Shepard has had recurring nightmares about for months. The same child that Shepard didn’t save, and who Shepard perpetually dreams dies in a fire while passively looking on. The same child that, at the final dream, rather than being saved, dies in a fire that includes Shepard as kindling.

Synthetic/organic blend option

Now the Catalyst informs us that the synthetic blending stuff is going to be the right option for everyone involved. But what exactly would that entail, beyond forcibly changing every sapient individual into a homogenous blend?

Let’s not forget that the Catalyst is the same sorta fella who thinks that forcibly making Reapers from genetic material of billions of organics is a great way to preserve biological diversity- does that mean everyone becomes a reaper? Or what about all those Husks, Marauders and Banshees you’ve been dealing with- they are individuals who’ve been “blended” by the same inventor. Maybe they’ll all turn out like the collectors.I agree things are going to be a bit less argumentative when everyone is a slathering drone. Let’s say that this  isn’t the case- semi synthetic people are still independent thinkers with independent ideals and belief. How exactly does this situation halt someone making an AI different to Reaper hardware? What exactly is stopping that AI doing what The Catalyst has been fearing all along?

Synthetics will destroy… wait, what?

Ok. So synthetics always wanting to destroy organics may, may not occur. The Catalyst is really concerned about that. Wouldn’t it be great if there was some sort of weapon, deployed across the galaxy, that would halt synthetic rebellion with one fell swoop? I mean if we had that, then surely the possibility of synthetics actually rising up would stop, right?

Oh wait! We do totally have one of those! It’s called the Crucible, it’s powered by the Catalyst, and as the Catalyst states can totally destroy all synthetic life in the galaxy in one fell swoop. But AI could still get us right? I mean if they got sufficiently powerful, even with like, 30 Crucibles around, they could, y’know have a big army or a big number of insurgents and they could all, at once, disable all the Crucibles? If organics are stupid enough to let that happen then they probably deserve it. A better and easier option would be this- ban all AI, even EDI (sorry EDI). Then, make a crucible, as well as perfect mass relay tech. Every thousand years, whether AI has been reported or not fire the damn thing and if needed replace the relays (I’m sure you could figure out how it could avoid destroying the relays). That way AI doesn’t even have a chance to grow into a decent force… ever. Even by accident.

Synthetic issue no.3: the syntheticanning

Remember how The Catalyst said that all synthetic life would be destroyed? Ah hell no, EDI, an unshackled AI, is still alive and kicking after the great swathes of destruction. Now people might say that what Catalyst meant was “all Reaper synthetic life”, but that’s not really a factor that you could confuse with “all synthetic life” as the Catalyst clearly states. So it’s either a plot hole, or the Catalyst is a bit of a douche (or both).

The stargazer

Ok. Last rant. The stargazer and child are boring and stupid and corny and unnecessary. What I don’t get is how he managed, under a pretty cold night, to discuss the entirety of the Mass Effect series to a small youngster, who is somehow eager to hear more. That was like sixty hours of gameplay, minimum there kiddo. Talking about it is probably going to treble that figure. Plus there’s more than a few racy scenes in there granpa, you sure you want to expose the kid to Shepard banging a variety of female aliens  and then a moustachioed shipmate? Or killing innocent civilians in cold blood? Or Conrad Verner?

Maybe I’m just old fashioned that way.

Zombie Month part VIII: Return of the Living Dead

•May 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Directed by Dan O’Bannon

Speed:human running

Intelligence:very intelligent, on par with humans

Behavior:aggressive, vocal, capable of large scale ambushes. Eats human brains and nothing else, leading to practically all they attack becoming zombies themselves.Given their ability to seek out humans even when they shouldn’t be able to find them is either extrasensory awareness or plotholes

Longevity:immortal

Infection:bite. Incubation is a couple of hours

How to kill:nothing short of total and complete immolation, which carries its own risks

Return of the Living Dead centers around a couple of warehouse worker-like guys finding a vat of chemicals and finding that they spontaneously reanimate dead tissue. They panic, but eventually manage to throw it all in a crematorium. Unfortunately the fumes somehow endure the heat but are caught by the rain which makes it fall down on a graveyard, reanimating the dead into a full zombie outbreak. The story then tells of a small group of survivors stuck in a funeral home and the failed attempts to contain these invincible, ravenous zombies.

This film was created after the original writer John Russo had a falling out of sorts with Romero, and made his own chain of zombie films. What is up with people named Russo making whacky, weird and illogical write-ups for their crafts? As you can probably tell, I didn’t enjoy Return very much, or any of its sequels, which by anyone’s standards was a textbook example of diminishing… returns haha geddit‽ Anyway the film is campy, the zombies totally unbeatable and as a result its completely unrealistic throughout the film to expect any sort of “good” ending. That’s probably where the film falls hardest for me- zombie films might be predictable, but at least there is always a glimmer of hope until the very end; by contrast Return starts off impossible, finishes even more impossible, and is dealt with in an impossible manner that impossibly doesn’t finish the job.

The story itself is pretty dull. Emotionally there’s not much going for it as the vast majority of the characters are cardboard cut outs of 80s stereotypes- scared small town girl, bikie gangs, the local slut, dumb everymans. The love interests are equally mundane and ruined and their reactions to the zombies are so enmeshed in their stereotypes that they become even more useless as combatants. It wouldn’t be out of place to see a bikie combing his hair before taken on a zombie.

Another thing is that not a single, meaningful zombie is actually killed, people run away into bizarre places or split up for no real reason and, and… it’s got a positive review on Rotten Tomatoes!? Oh… so they liked the comedy?

Well the comedy for me isn’t really there. There are a few giggly(and jiggly) bits for the intensely morbid, and the costume design is somewhat.. amusing I guess? To call it anything close to a comedy is a far stretch though even when the combat reaches its hammy, silly crescendo.