Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve: some reflections

2011 was the year I began to get back on my feet. The previous year had begun with my mother's death, followed seven months later by a major rupture within my remaining family. A double-whammy like that is hard to recover from, and I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that it's been hard on my brothers, too. In November 2010, I moved out to the mountains in search of peace and cheap housing, and began the struggle to find steady work. The job I found, as an essay rater for ETS, lasted only a few months when the rating work dried up in January and February. What followed was a flurry of desperate borrowing-- most often from friends-- and desperate job-searching to match.

In March of this year, I began working at YB (not its real name). Life started to improve, but it's still been a desperate scramble, financially speaking; the YB tutoring job isn't a full-time position, and as with ETS, it's subject to the vagaries of student demand. All in all, though, I've come to like this job; I only wish it paid about five times more than it does. In June of this year, my mother's car gave up the ghost with a slagged transmission, thus ensuring that I would remain financially behind: I bought a used car, and am now saddled with car and insurance payments (Mom's Honda had come to me nearly free). Car ownership also introduced me to the wonderful world of property tax, something I'd never had to deal with while living, car-less, in Seoul. And things don't promise to get any easier: in February 2012, one of my scholastic loans-- currently on forbearance-- will kick back in, piling another $320/month onto my debts.

I've somehow managed to make payments throughout this year thanks to a combination of factors: the discovery of a large sum in my Korean bank account (thanks, Charles, for helping out with that), the borrowing of money from friends (Mike, Hahna, Steve, Bill O., et al.) and brothers, the obtaining of proofreading work from a Korean friend's sister, the radical increase in my work hours during the summer months, the eBaying of several old items, and the very random arrival of a refund check from my town for having overpaid my electric bill. Every month, I've somehow barely managed to scrape by, but with the return of the Sallie Mae bill in February, life is going to get very interesting.

So 2012 will begin with some hard choices. In all likelihood, I won't be able to stay with YB, and it doesn't appear that I'll be getting that high-paying job with MGRE anytime soon. The most obvious choice is for me to go where I and my bizarre, narrowly-marketable skill sets are wanted and appreciated: back to South Korea. I can easily find university work, complete with partially-funded housing, and pay my bills (and my list of friendly creditors!) without breaking a sweat. The only things keeping me from leaping at this option are, first, the fact that I'm within driving distance of my brothers and other loved ones and, second, the strangely stubborn desire to try and make something of myself here. But fiscal prudence is probably going to win out over pride, so it's very likely that, in November or December of 2012, I'll be heading back to the Land of the Morning Calm when my apartment's lease expires. I'd like to be in a position where I can breathe more easily. Being constantly in debt is no picnic, and is, frankly, depressing. A return to Korea seems the best solution, at least for the moment. I might be singing a different tune by the end of January.

2011 wasn't all about the finances, though: my lovely goddaughter turned 14 and became a high schooler. I made the acquaintance of the embattled-but-cheerful Marissa Parks through, of all things, an article at Cracked.com (the author of the humor piece is a friend of Marissa's; he'd linked to her blog). Through Marissa, I "met" her father Brad, who is determined to do whatever it takes to help his daughter weather the brutal storm of her glioblastoma multiforme. Brad and I have maintained a steady correspondence over this year as I've shared my own experiences in dealing with Mom's GBM. I also drove the entire length of Skyline Drive, and discovered that its middle and its southern end have far fewer tourists than the northern end, which starts at Front Royal.

I'm still hoping to embark on a trans-American walk, but I no longer know when I might do this. To me, it seems best to get the walk done before returning to Korea; otherwise, I'll have to leave Korea yet again to do the walk. But with the money situation the way it is, I don't see how the walk can happen anytime soon.

Of course, no one said life would be easy. If anything, I should put my problems in perspective and recognize that I have it easier than most: I live in a decent apartment, I've got a working car, I'm well-fed (too well-fed), and I can afford to plan my future. When I look around me, I see much to be thankful for: brothers and friends who love me, a supportive online readership, plenty of books to read, and the rest of my life ahead of me.

But first things first: let me wish you all a Happy New Year. May 2012 be a Year of No Self-pity and a Year of Making Things Happen for you, as I hope it will be for me. It's going to be the Year of the Dragon in lunar reckoning, after all; not an auspicious year in which to mope. As Koreans might say, let this be a year of Try, try, try. As the ancients of classical antiquity would have said: Per ardua ad astra-- through great effort to the stars.

So! Once more unto the breach, dear friends. Once more!


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defunct ombudsman

Dr. V. links to the hilariously cringe-inducing results of something called The Bad Writing Contest, which apparently ran from 1995 to 1998. The contest seems to have been the scholarly equivalent of the Golden Raspberry Award, i.e., the participants in this contest were all unwitting, and were all notably bad at their avocation at the time they were nominated.

I'm glad that such watchdog groups as The Bad Writing Contest exist, even if only temporarily: they perform a valuable service. Seeing examples of bad writing up close can be educational, and in this particular case, I'm glad to see samples that can stand alongside the awful and illogical prose of "philosopher" Slavoj Žižek, which I had cited here.


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Friday, December 30, 2011

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rick Santorum on national sovereignty

Idiot contender for the GOP nomination Rick Santorum recently had this to say:

"My concern is that Ron Paul would walk in there, day one, pull our troops back and leave an enormous void around the world," Santorum said. "He can do that day one without congressional approval. He can, as commander in chief, move our troops anywhere in the world, disengage from every place from Europe to the Middle East, China, abandon the Strait of Hormuz, pull the 5th Fleet back. That's one of the reasons I think you see folks who are having second thoughts." (italics added)

You hear that, world? We can move our troops into your country if we damn well please.

While I think it'd be nice to have someone in the White House aside from Obama-- who has managed to alienate elements on both sides of the aisle-- I think we're in for a second Obama term. The GOP field contains, at this point, no one I'd consider fit for office-- certainly not the shifty Newt Gingrich, the gelatinous Mitt Romney, the clueless Rick Perry, the hyperventilating Michele Bachmann, or any of the feckless remainder. Ron Paul is currently enjoying a jolt in the polls, but it seems that every candidate is taking a turn, so I don't find Paul's elevation significant. As for Santorum-- I've hated him since I first heard about him years ago. His social conservatism, in particular, is nauseating to me, and he's the man I most associate with the notion of "creeping theocracy."

2012 may just be the year in which I vote for a cartoon character, as I've been threatening to do over the course of three presidential terms.


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solemn occasion







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links from the Twitter feed

Steven Pinker: "Has Religion Made the World Less Safe?"

Jonathan Rée: "Varieties of Irreligious Experience"


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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas with the dawg

I had thought that I was going to be spending a quiet Christmas alone in the mountains. I've been feeling Mom's absence more intensely this year than last year, so I had planned to drive up into the Shenandoahs and spend some time alone at an overlook, contemplating the great valley and its winding river.

As things have turned out, however, I'm spending Christmas alone with Maqz, my brother Sean's chihuahua, as I house-sit for Sean in Alexandria. This works, too; I'll hang quietly with the dawg, maybe take him for a walk in our preternaturally mild weather, and watch all the TV I've been missing. Christmas Day is also likely to be a massive laundry day for me; I've got a New Year's guest, and need to wash the linens for the guest bed, which was occupied not long ago. I've brought over to Sean's place both my normal load of clothes and two sets of bed linens. I hope Sean won't mind that I'm putting his washer and dryer through their paces.

Because I'm house-sitting for several days, I had to make sure my own place was in order before leaving. Specifically, I had to undertake a marathon cooking session so that all the highly perishable ingredients in my fridge were prepped in such a way that they wouldn't be rotten by the time I returned. To that end, I made three kinds of soup. You've already seen the budae-jjigae; in addition to that, I made spicy kongnamul-guk (not my photo) and chamchi-jjigae (tuna stew; sample photo-- again, not of my cooking-- here). In the process, I managed to use up all my extra vegetables. The two jjigae have been containerized in small Ziploc freezer bags, one serving per bag, and the kongnamul-guk has been placed in large plastic containers, giving me over two weeks' worth of nutritious soup. I had spent $90 on those groceries; it's nice to know that they've been made to last even longer than my anticipated three weeks.

So I've got homemade soup to look forward to when I'm back at my place: eight packets of chamchi-jjigae, seven packets of budae-jjigae, and another eight or nine servings of kongnamul-guk. I'm sure I'll be jonesing for bread and cheese and chocolate while I'm plowing my way through the soups, but you can't argue with the money I'll be saving: $90 divided over 23 days is less than $4 per day. I've also got extra ddeok with which to supplement each serving of soup, not to mention rice. Each meal will be like two meals, which makes each meal less than $2. Why am I not hosting a Food Network show, eh?

So that's my holiday: celebrate with the chihuahua and come home to wholesome soup. In the meantime, I wish all my readers a Merry (and mindful!) Christmas. Peace.


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Saturday, December 24, 2011

more on Christianity and paganism

Thanks to a tweet by Lee, I was led to this detailed fisking. It makes some of the same points that I've made, such as:

Almost all of these debates about the ‘real meaning of Christmas’ seem to rely on the suspect assumption that the origins of a particular tradition or practice have some privileged claim upon its ‘meaning’ (and the idea that a feast such as Christmas is best understood in terms of what is generally meant by ‘meaning’ sounds fishy to me). I don’t see any reason why the ‘meaning’ of Christmas or any other such feast need be regarded as any more fixed and unchanging than the meanings of words. While there may be good reasons for seeking to preserve certain meanings, the original use of a word does not set in stone its meaning for all time.

Echoes of my argument that the sound "ah," though not originally or even uniquely English, is nevertheless totally English, and that by the same token, pagan elements of Christianity, though not originally or even uniquely Christian, are nevertheless totally Christian.


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Friday, December 23, 2011

stuff at my other blog

Here's what's going on at the TEF blog:

1. a repost of my response to the dismissive claim that "the Christmas tree is a pagan symbol"

2. for beginning French students: the lyrics to Sting's "La belle dame sans regrets"

3. an exercise in synthesis

4. this week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge (with my attempted solution)-- this marks the first time I've seen MGRE do a Data Interpretation problem


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about that name

People are noting that Kim Jong-il's Russian name is Yuri Irsenovich Kim. The only parts of that name that are really Russian are the "Yuri" and the "-ovich." That suffix means "son of," which makes Irsenovich "son of Irsen." Tweak the pronunciation of Irsen a bit, and you'll see that it's a bastardization (or Sinicization) of Il-sung.

Speaking of Yuri Irsenovich, you might want to read Adrian Hong's (optimistic?) article on how to free North Korea.


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the flood

My nose is running big-time. This is awesome.

In other news, I'm getting a flood of hits from the Marmot's Hole, thanks to Robert's linkage to my previous post. My thanks. I'll enjoy the way this skews my site traffic averages.


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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

riddle me this

The Marmot points to a "must-read" article by Korea expert Andrei Lankov, a Marmot's Hole favorite. It's an excellent piece, but I wonder about one claim:

The affluence and freedom of the South represent a dire threat to North Korea, whose rulers realize that the spread of knowledge in their country about the prosperity of the outside world, particularly of their fellow Koreans in the South, would deliver a heavy blow to the legitimacy of the regime.

I've heard this many times, so it's not as though Lankov's claim is anything new. But I've also read North Korean defectors' testimony (especially that of Kang Chol-hwan, author of The Aquariums of Pyongyang) to the effect that NK citizens aren't stupid: many are fully aware of the prosperity of the South. This awareness hasn't translated into concerted citizen action-- for a number of reasons, including the country's shoddy infrastructure-- which makes me wonder whether South Korean prosperity really represents as dire a threat as Lankov thinks.

Your opinion?


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math problem up

At the TEF blog.


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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

for those who've been following the math problems

I'll be doing all of my MGRE Math Beast Challenge blogging to the TEF blog from now on. I've reserved Tuesdays as my mathblogging day, so you'll see the latest Math Beast Challenge up there tomorrow. For now, be satisfied that, if you selected (A), 40, as the answer to last week's problem (as Elisson and I both did), you were right. MGRE's solution looked exactly like ours.

The latest MGRE problem is from the Data Interpretation section. Ought to be interesting.


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the three stages of budae-jjigae

First: the preparation.






Second: the cooking.






Third: the eating.






Bonus: that recipe of mine once again.





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now there's a way to remember your birthday!

My sympathies. Kim Jong-il apparently died on Holden's birthday.


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Monday, December 19, 2011

a repost in honor of Kim Jong-il



UPDATE: From my reading list, reactions to Kim Jong-il's death:

The Marmot's Hole.

Joshua Stanton.

Aaron McKenzie.

GI Korea.

I see that some of us do remember 1994.


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do NOT ululate

Hitchens, Havel, Jong-il... I guess everyone's trying to get their deaths in before the end of the year. Will 2012 be a bad year to die?

It's being reported that Kim Jong-il is dead, but until I see definite confirmation of this, I'm inclined to be skeptical. Besides, even if the man is dead, do you expect there to be a softening of the rule of the Kimist dynasty? As Malcolm just wrote:

One of the consistent lessons of history, from Aristagoras to Gorbachev, is that authoritarian systems place themselves at great risk when they attempt to liberalize.

Humans being human, the above wisdom applies as much to North Korea as to anywhere else: there's no NK liberalization in the cards. We in the West often forget how thankful we should be that we have peaceful transfers of power, without having to worry about whether the end of one administration will spell total chaos. The more cynical among you might scoff, but we handle our transitions in a spirit of trust that's a damn sight more civilized than what dictators have to do: in oppressive dictatorships, transfer of power always comes with risk.

For North Korea right now, the main risk is that the newest leader, "Young General" Kim Jeong-eun (I'm assuming he will be the successor), is too young to take the reins effectively. He may quickly become a puppet of whichever puppet-masters have been awaiting this moment. Will this new situation lead to internal strife that somehow explodes outward to North Korean society as a whole? I somehow doubt it. We've been predicting the regime's collapse for years, and it's disappointed us at every turn. It's more likely that internal stability-- even if this means the augmentation of repression-- will be maintained.

We'll see. For now, I'm just waiting for confirmation that the old bastard has kicked the bucket. If he has, I hope South Korea breaks out into collective song, and that this image gets broadcast to the generals up north. But here, too, I doubt this will happen.

Kim Jong-il is one of those people who makes me wish I believed in hell. I do hope he is gone.

UPDATE: Wild-eyed speculation about intense power struggles and regime collapse at the Marmot's Hole. It's almost as if no one remembers 1994, when Kim Il-sung karked it. I was in Seoul at the time. Nothing happened. Taxi drivers I spoke with all had the same attitude: a big, New Yawka-style shrug: Eeeeeeeyyyy, whadaya?

UPDATE 2: I've emailed my Korean insiders to get their opinion, as Koreans, on what this all means. One leans right; the other leans left (and they're siblings!). I hope to hear from them in the next couple days.

UPDATE 3: Kim Jong-il has apparently been dead at least two days. Way to go, SK intelligence! SK's military is on high alert and government officials are primed for action. Whatever that might mean. Looks like I picked the wrong day to stop humping sheep.

UPDATE 4: SK markets are taking a tumble, but a Marmot's Hole commenter says this isn't what it appears to be. The tumble is a typical reaction to rumblings from NK: "[South Koreans] are waiting for the stocks to hit bottom before buying them at bargain prices and [then selling] them when [the market] bounces back a few days, a couple of weeks later max, for a quick profit. It’s a pattern I call the NK Fluctuation. It has made me a lot of money over the years." (See here.)




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apps for all seasons

I recently read an article about the popularity of a smart-phone app called "I Just Made Love." The idea seems to be that you triumphantly broadcast the fact that you've completed a zesty session with your squeeze-- including data about your location:

Sharing apps such as Foursquare already let us share where we eat, drink and shop.

Now 'I Just Made Love' lets you log and GPS-tag your private life in just the same way - and, bizarrely, some people seem to want to.

The Android app has been downloaded 10,000 times, and rated five stars by dozens of users.

'Did you just make love? Or just want to check where people near you made love?' says the app.

'I just made love lets you do all that and more!'

The Android - and now iPhone - app lets you record where, when and even in what position you 'made love' - and then upload it to an online database - with your comments.

[...]

The app is free, earning its money via advertising.

The I Just Made Love site claims to have recorded 193,000 'acts of love', along with where the event occurred and a limited amount of context - very limited, in fact, offering only the options of Inside, Outdoors, In a Car and On a Boat.

Most of the posts via the site so far seem to be in Polish - with only isolated instances of lovemaking in other countries.

One brave soul (male, on a sofa) even logged an act of love from Iran - although he declined to comment.

Tech site The Register pointed out that as the app is anonymous, posting lovemaking statistics on a version of Google Maps, its impossible to verify, or even challenge anything posted via the app.

'I Just Made Love lets one brag without the fear that someone who knows better will pointing out that one apparently managed it without company,' the site wrote. 'What is clear, and at risk of quoting Tina Turner, is that love has nothing whatsoever to do with it.'

The most obvious response to this nonsense would be an "I Just Took a Massive Dump" app. But what about some others? I propose the following.

For high schoolers:

1. I Just Cheated on That Test
2. I Just Came Home from Stalking Her
3. I Just Stared at a Fat Ass for Five Minutes
4. I Just Drank Illegally Again
5. I Just Broke Up and am Now Available
6. I Just Popped a Massive Zit
7. I Just Lost My Virginity
8. I Just Videoed a Fight at a McDonald's

For college students:

1. I Just Ordered Pizza! Hells, yeah!
2. I Just Fucked My Professor
3. I Just Shat On a Car
4. I Just Sucked a Massive Tit
5. I Just Discovered a Rash and Swore Off Sex
6. I Just Vomited Spectacularly
7. I Just Woke Up Somewhere Unknown to Me (GPS tracking for Walk of Shame)
8. I Just Flashed a Flash Mob

For young graduates:

1. I Just Bombed my Job Interview
2. I Just Found Out I'm Gonna Be a Parent
3. I Just Found Out My Father is Gay
4. I Just Ate a Pet to Reduce Food Budget
5. I Just Bought a Shitty Car
6. I Just Realized I'm On My Own
7. I Just Ate Teenage Pussy

I'm sure you can think of others.


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ululate!

The great, noble, profound, and eloquent Vaclav Havel is dead.

(With thanks to Lee for noting this on Twitter.)

UPDATE: Joshua offers reminiscences on Havel's effect on the Czech people, as well as thoughts on the passing of Hitchens and the state of North of Korea.


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Sunday, December 18, 2011

now on Etsy.com

Etsy.com is like eBay for artistes. The difference is that the listing fees are cheaper, you can keep a larger proportion of your sales, and there's no bidding: it's all (as eBay would put it) Buy It Now.

I've just listed the last few dozen copies of Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms there. Go see.


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synchronicity

The great Christopher Hitchens dies, and perhaps not coincidentally, Whoopi Goldberg flatulates on national TV.

(A cushion joke would be fart too easy.)


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Saturday, December 17, 2011

my blogroll on Hitchens

The Four Horsemen of the New Atheism are now Three.

Tributes to Christopher Hitchens have been blossoming throughout the Internet since news of his death arrived last night (about midnight, DC time). Far more interesting to me are the reactions from my own reading list. Thus far, I've got three:

Mike's matter-of-fact announcement

Nathan's reaction

Jeff's reaction

I'm sure more tributes and meditations are forthcoming. For myself, I was surprised that Hitchens died so soon after the publication of his most recent article refuting Nietzsche's famous contention that "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." It goes to show that the media aren't very good at tracking the progress of a dying person accurately (see my Kevin's Walk piece on Ted Kennedy's decline). I had thought Hitchens was healthier than he actually was.

But the manner of Hitchens's death-- he died of pneumonia-- came as no surprise. As we were told when my mother was dying of brain cancer, the immediate cause of death generally isn't the cancer: it's infection. All that radio- and chemotherapy, added to the cancer's own ravaging of the body, will leave the patient so utterly immunosuppressed that, eventually, the walls fall and the barbarians come pouring into the city. I can only hope that Mr. Hitchens was allowed to leave this existence as painlessly as possible.

UPDATE:

Dr. V weighs in with a repost here.

Malcolm offers his thoughts.

Skippy's meditation.

Dr. V again, this time commenting on Peter Hitchens's remembrance.

Mike again.


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Friday, December 16, 2011

nouvelle révélation triangulaire

One of my students, BZ, took a look at the MGRE problem from two weeks ago-- the one about the right triangles-- and arrived at the correct answer, (C), within a minute. BZ's approach was far superior to MGRE's own approach (and, by extension, mine, since my approach was simply a truncated version of MGRE's). First, take a look at the problem again:



BZ noticed something very quickly: Quantities A and B are both related to the area of the large triangle!

The area of a triangle is one-half its base times its height. Quantity A is abc, which can be restated this way:

c times twice the triangle's area (since ab = the area of a rectangle)

Quantity B, which is h(a2 + b2), can be rewritten as hc2. Notice that hc is also twice the area of the triangle in question, because h is the triangle's height and c is, in this orientation, its base. This means that the expression hc2 can be restated as

c times twice the triangle's area

Amazing. If we use the letter Q to represent "twice the triangle's area," we see that, when comparing Quantities A and B, the equation is

cQ = cQ

The quantities are equal.

This is so easy to see in hindsight, and now I'm wondering why MGRE didn't include this very simple and obvious approach in its own explanation.


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ululate!

Christopher Hitchens has died. RIP.


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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Almost a week ago, I finished the English translation of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which chronicles the adventures of Professor Pierre Aronnax, his faithful assistant Conseil, and the Canadian whaler Ned Land, who find themselves prisoners on Captain Nemo's Nautilus. This was my first time reading any Verne whatsoever, and I came away from the experience entranced. Did Verne get a lot of the physics and oceanography wrong? Undoubtedly; he was a product of his time (the original French-language novel was published in the latter 1860s, only a few years after the American Civil War). But clunky science aside, the story was an immense, sprawling adventure.

Unfortunately, a glance at the Wikipedia entry on the novel showed me that a reading of the translation in my possession might not have been the best approach to Verne:

The novel was first translated into English in 1873 by Reverend Lewis Page Mercier (aka "Mercier Lewis"). Mercier cut nearly a quarter of Verne's original text and made hundreds of translation errors, sometimes dramatically changing the meaning of Verne's original intent (including uniformly mistranslating French scaphandre (properly "diving apparatus") as "cork-jacket", following a long-obsolete meaning as "a type of lifejacket"). Some of these bowdlerizations may have been done for political reasons, such as Nemo's identity and the nationality of the two warships he sinks, or the portraits of freedom fighters on the wall of his cabin which originally included Daniel O'Connell. Nonetheless, it became the "standard" English translation for more than a hundred years, while other translations continued to draw from it and its mistakes (especially the mistranslation of the title; the French title actually means Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas).

A modern translation was produced in 1966 by Walter James Miller and published by Washington Square Press. Many of Mercier's changes were addressed in the translator's preface, and most of Verne's text was restored.

In the 1960's, Anthony Bonner published a translation of the novel for Bantam Classics. A specially written introduction by Ray Bradbury, comparing Captain Nemo and Captain Ahab of Moby Dick was also included. This version is still in print.

Many of the "sins" of Mercier were again corrected in a from-the-ground-up re-examination of the sources and an entirely new translation by Walter James Miller and Frederick Paul Walter, published in 1993 by Naval Institute Press in a "completely restored and annotated edition."[7]

My e-book novel, a scanned and OCR'ed* copy of a 1917 edition, featured many of the problems noted above, especially the "cork-jacket" reference. I was also left to wonder just what I'd missed, assuming my copy of the novel was lacking a fourth of the original text. At some point, I'll need to check whether Google Books has the French original.

All that aside, I came away feeling that Jules Verne was the Michael Crichton of his time: 20,000 Leagues is filled with rich technical detail: the specs of the Nautilus, an extensive catalogue of sea creatures, and detailed descriptions of diving equipment and the experience of chopping one's way out of an overturned iceberg. Were I a reader in the late 1800s, I'd be amazed at the fantastic and tantalizing plausibility of the story unfolding before me.

My first experience with this story was through the Disney movie featuring Kirk Douglas as Ned Land. As a kid who loved ugly creatures, I was probably most impressed by the giant squid attack (the term "poulp" is used in my e-book's version; la poulpe is the French expression for "octopus"**). As I discovered, however, the novel differs from the movie on several points. One point is that Verne's Nautilus runs on electricity, whereas in the movie it runs on nuclear power. A person who had only seen the movie might assume that Verne was even more ahead of his time than he actually was. Another difference is that the mollusk attack involves more than one creature (see note below). A third is that Nemo doesn't die at the end: his fate is left uncertain when our three protagonists are ripped away from the Nautilus by a "maelstrom." (And in the book, Nemo is never shot.)

I do think, though, that James Mason's prickly version of Nemo is faithful to the paradoxically compassionate, intellectual, driven, and vengeful man we meet in the novel. The captain is as loyal to his men as they are to him. His motives are complex, but in the end he reveals himself to be primitive and barbaric, a consequence of the tragedies he had suffered.

Professor Aronnax, our narrator, ultimately views his captor with a mixture of admiration, fear, and pity. Aronnax's childlike wonder, the wonder of a naturalist, propels us through the narrative as we, along with him, make discovery after discovery. Nemo hovers always in the background-- a smug, confident presence, always two steps ahead of the professor, whose landlubber's knowledge of the sea is overturned with each new revelation about the undersea world. Unlike in the movie, however, the novel's Aronnax is not merely a timid bookworm who loses himself to the enchantment of Nemo's lifestyle; he wields an axe against iceberg and poulp just like the rest of Nemo's hardy crew.

If you've never read this novel, I highly recommend it. While its scientific notions are embarrassingly dated (Aronnax complains of the buildup of "carbonic acid" in the air as the Nautilus becomes stuffy from remaining undersea too long, with no chance to ventilate), the novel still retains its power to entertain and enthrall. The story takes us across the entire world, almost literally 20,000 leagues, most of it while under the sea.





*I read this on my Droid X phone via Google Books, which has a whole library of books in its vast stock. Unlike the Amazon Kindle, Google Books uses OCR (optical character recognition) to render scanned originals into modern fonts. The results are a bit dodgy at times; nonsense characters often make an appearance, and serif character pairs like "11" are sometimes fused into single characters like "n." This is yet another reason why I'm still leery of buying an e-reader of my own; the tech is far from perfect. While I was able to enjoy the general flow of my copy of Verne, it did bother me to be stumbling over weird typographical quirks every third page.

**The novel also refers to "calmars," le calmar being the proper French word for "squid." It's not obvious to me, though, that Verne meant the Nautilus had been attacked by giant octopi; the description of the attack that took one sailor's life seemed to imply that the creatures (yes, plural-- not just one giant squid, as in the movie) were indeed squids.



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here and gone

My brother Sean was at my place last night; he's got a gig at a venue three hours away from where I live. Since my apartment is a close hop to the freeway that would take Sean to his destination, he decided to spend the night here to cut off some travel time the following day. We had fun watching some goofy SNL clips on Hulu, listening to two different passacaglias, catching each other up on people we know, and downing burgers that Sean had bought locally.

Sean disappeared sometime early in the morning; I was asleep when he slipped out. Kind of sad to wake up and see the apartment empty. I sometimes miss family sounds.


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Thursday, December 15, 2011

don't be pretentious

Here.


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"Misfits"

I've started watching "Misfits," which seems to be the UK's answer to "Heroes." It's actually more like "The Breakfast Club" meets "Heroes": a group of youth offenders out on community service gets zapped by lightning during a bizarre hailstorm, and each group member ends up with different respective powers that correspond to their personalities. As one blogger describes the characters' characters:


  • Simon (Iwon Rehon), a somewhat creepy guy who clearly wants to be left alone. He's also the smartest of the group, though the others dislike him at first.



  • Nathan (Robert Sheehan). He's the most outrageous personality, someone for whom the phrase "anything for a laugh" is far too tame. He crosses over the line and then continues. But he gets the funniest lines, and you do get to know the reason for his attitude; it's a strange combination of utter asshole and sweet guy, sometimes all at once.



  • Kelly (Lauren Socha). She has serious anger management issues and speaks in an accent that US viewers might be hard to follow. But ultimately, she is worried about what people think of her.



  • Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett). A near world-class athlete, but whose career was derailed when he was caught with drugs. He's the most decent person of the bunch, though he is filled with regrets.



  • [Alisha; blogger had mistakenly called her "Lauren"] (Antonia Thomas). Party girl supreme, who is not afraid to use her sexuality and good looks to get what she wants. Her power is actually more a curse than anything useful.



  • Simon, the loner, gains the power to turn invisible; Kelly, who's insecure, gains the ability to read minds; Curtis, who regrets his actions and wants to turn back time, gains the ability to anticipate future possibilities (à la Nicholas Cage in "Next") and maybe even reverse time; Alisha, the sexy one, gains the unsurprising ability to drive people wild merely by touching them. Nathan doesn't discover his particular superpower until several episodes in, but he has a good time guessing: immunity to pain? ability to fly? ability to shoot webs?

    The show is hilariously bizarre, features some cheesy special effects, makes its share of pop-cultural references (some of which I don't get because I'm not plugged into UK culture), and somehow remains endearingly, even touchingly, human. "Misfits" has been around since 2009, but was only recently released in the US on Hulu, where it has since become one of Hulu's most-watched TV series. Each season of "Misfits" is short-- only about six episodes-- so it won't take me long to plow through the first two seasons. Season 3 is in production, but without one of the central characters. Americans may have to wait a while for Season 3.

    Hulu needs to show more foreign TV. And on that note: for the curious, Hulu does have the entire 62-episode arc of "The Great Queen Seon Deok."


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    fantasy versus reality

    Fantasy: Kirk and Leia steam the place up. (with thanks to Hahna for having found this image)

    Reality: Kirk and Leia call each other fat.


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    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    have I won something? or is this a scam?

    I've never won anything big from those scratch-off sweepstakes. In fact, I haven't done any scratching-off in years. But today, I scratched off some silver-covered circles on a Direct Buy brochure and "won"... something. Is this a scam?

    Most likely. See here.

    Word to the wise: when you think you're a big winner with Company X, go to Google and type "Company X SCAM," and see what comes up.


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    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Elisson and I think alike

    My chicken scrawl for the latest MGRE Math Beast Challenge problem:







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    this is not the greatest song in the world...

    ...this is just a tribute.








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    this week's Math Beast Challenge problem

    From here:

    "Walter's Exercise"

    Every day, Walter burns 500 calories from cardio exercise. On some days, he also burns an additional 600 calories from weight training. If, over a 240-day period, Walter burns an average of 850 calories per day from cardio exercise and weight training combined, then on how many more days did Walter engage in both cardio exercise and weight training than in cardio exercise only?

    (A) 40
    (B) 60
    (C) 80
    (D) 100
    (E) 140

    My answer will appear in the comments, but if you figure this out before I write anything, don't hesitate to leave your comment.


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    got it WRONG

    Damn. My answer to last week's Math Beast Challenge problem is wrong, and for once, I have no reason to debate MGRE's answer. You'll recall that my answer was (D); MGRE's answer is (C): the quantities are equal. Why? Because of one little fact about right triangles that I had missed: the triangle's altitude, drawn from the vertex of the two legs to a point on the hypotenuse, creates two right triangles that are geometrically similar to the large triangle. I should have realized this. Anyway, without further ado, here's part of MGRE's explanation for why (C) is correct:



    This could be solved with the Pythagorean Theorem, as there are three right triangles in the figure: the small one on the left, the bigger one on the right, and the largest right triangle comprised of the other two. It should also be noted that these three triangles are similar triangles; that is, the three triangles have the same three angle measures.

    For the largest triangle, a2 + b2 = c2 so by substitution, Quantity B = hc2. Now that Quantity B is more similar in form to Quantity A, we will compare.

    Quantity A: abc
    Quantity B: hc2

    Divide both quantities by c. Dividing both quantities by the same positive number will not change the relative values; the larger quantity will still be larger. This comparison becomes

    Quantity A: ab
    Quantity B: hc

    For similar triangles, the ratios of side lengths will be equal. For example, the ratio of the short leg to the hypotenuse will be the same in each triangle.

    (short leg)/(hypotenuse) = a/c (from the largest triangle) = h/b (from the triangle on the right)

    a/c = h/b

    By cross multiplying, we conclude that ab = hc and thus the two quantities are equal.

    MGRE's explanation continues, but it's basically a plug-in-the-numbers approach. What bugs me is that I was obviously on the right track, but I stopped in my ruminations before I'd figured out the "similar right triangles" part. Had I done that, I'd have seen that the equality I had discovered for one case must also obtain for all cases.


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    Monday, December 12, 2011

    the secret of Tim Tebow's power

    All hail The Tebow!







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    at the TEF blog

    On whether reading old books can help one's SAT vocabulary.


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    Audio Warhol: a glimpse

    My brother Sean just tweeted about his Audio Warhol project (which took place yesterday), and provided a link to a YouTube video of it. The video and audio are appropriately weird-- Warhol-weird-- so don't go into the video expecting standard classical fare. Warhol was all about exploring meaning (and meaninglessness) through repetition and pop culture, so that's what you'll be experiencing in audio form. The video seems to have been shot on a cell phone by Jason McCool, who does some rather bizarre aping for the camera. McCool's goal, if I understand correctly, is to make the "audience" part of the art. There's a lot of "meta" as a result: McCool films people filming him. Möbius reference.

    I admit I'm not always into the abstract stuff, but I liked this quirky vid and am proud of my brother for coordinating (and performing in) this nutty project.


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    the GOP debates in a nutshell

    MICHELE BACHMANN: It hurts when people confuse me with Zooey Deschanel.

    RICK PERRY: You're not Katy Perry.

    BACHMANN: Oh, God-- it's happened again. Who am I today?

    PERRY: I've got a question: anyone seen my third testicle? It's around here somewhere. I just can't... seem to remember where I put it...

    RICK SANTORUM: You don't have a third testicle, Rick. As for me, I'm just happy that there are enough homophobic people out there to keep my candidacy even vaguely plausible.

    NEWT GINGRICH: Your testicle rolled next to my shoe, Rick. I just crushed it.

    SANTORUM: What? I don't have a third testicle!

    GINGRICH: The other Rick, moron.

    SANTORUM: Watch who you call moron, Mr. Serial Spouse.

    BACHMANN: Ooh! I like cereal.

    RON PAUL: If I were president, I'd urge Congress to create laws ending all violence to cereal. It's bad foreign policy.

    SANTORUM: Hey, Ron! Great to see you! Wait-- you're in this debate?

    PAUL: And now, if I may quote a line from "Batman Returns"...

    BACHMANN: I wish Tim Burton were still directing those Batmans.

    PAUL: "I'd like to fill her void!"

    MITT ROMNEY: Don't you think that was out of line, Ron?

    GINGRICH: Your crushed testicle is beginning to stink, Rick.

    SANTORUM: Goddammit, I said I don't have a third testicle!

    PAUL: What? I wasn't talking about Michele; I was referring to that pretty one over there (indicates Santorum; leers).

    PERRY: There's blood on my slacks! Holy shit, I did lose a testicle!

    GINGRICH: Ron, Rick Santorum isn't a woman.

    PAUL: She's not? Then why these manly urges whenever I look at her?

    BACHMANN: I had a sophisticated wireless communication network installed in my nipples. With a simple mental command, I can launch missiles at any threat, communicate with Scooby Doo and the dead, and instantly create nipple's-eye-view YouTube videos.

    GINGRICH: Is anyone planning to say anything of substance, or are we all just marking time until I'm crowned the nominee?

    BACHMANN: Smile, Newt! You're on Candid Ca--

    GINGRICH: RAAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHH!! (runs over and bites off nipples)

    BACHMANN: Oh, dear. That was uncalled-for.

    GINGRICH (chewing pensively): Tastes like chicken.

    ROMNEY: Rick, I happen to have a neuticle in my pocket. Here-- see if you can slip it inside your scrote.

    PERRY: Thanks, Mitt. (takes neuticle, reaches into pants) Wait a damn minute... there's only one other testicle in there!

    PAUL (distantly): Why these manly urges, then? Why?



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    Saturday, December 10, 2011

    stew

    I had no idea, at first, whether this stew was even going to turn out OK. I fried up some ground beef (the cheap 70/30 stuff), drained it, and threw it into a pot with diced potatoes, diced carrots, frozen peas, and a variety pack of mushrooms from the local Food Lion. The stew's broth (which is actually a lot thicker than it looks in the shot below) was made from a leftover can of turkey broth, a can of beef gravy, some water, and some cornstarch as thickener. Salt, pepper, powdered garlic, powdered onion, and a healthy pinch of thyme all contributed to the alchemy. The result ended up being pretty damn good, and I've got enough stew to last me a few days.



    While I'd have preferred a different sort of beef for the stew, I used what I had on hand. Next time, the only thing I'd change would be the meat. In fact, I think I'd like to go for more of a steak-and-kidney-pie effect. Will have to see whether Food Lion carries organ meats. I think it does.


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    October scene

    This is what my morning drive looked like on Saturday, October 29 of this year:







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    chocolate variations

    Remember the marzipan I blogged about? Here it is:




    Question: what do you do with leftover homemade cranberry sauce? My answer, about a week ago, was to experiment with it: I whipped it with heavy cream and placed the mixture atop walnut bread covered in chocolate/hazelnut sauce (not Nutella; a different brand). Behold:







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    brush art from a few weeks ago

    For some time now, I've been pondering a redo of the front and back covers of Water from a Skull. The quality of my Chinese script on the back is bothering me, and I've also been thinking of simplifying the front cover in preparation for turning the second edition of this work into an e-book. The artwork below features no more Wonhyo; he's disappeared from the picture, like the Buddhus absconditus of so many sculptures and paintings.



    Some changes to the second edition will include:

    1. The re-introduction of contractions! I had eliminated contractions from many of my essays, resulting in an overly formal, stilted tone in some chapters. (Other chapters were originally research papers, so they didn't harbor any contractions to begin with.)

    2. The correction of yet more typing and formatting errors.

    3. The fusion of several related chapters into single chapters.

    4. The addition of a basic-level discussion of the fundamental concepts and issues in the domain of religious diversity.

    5. The addition of transcribed dialogues on religion from my 2008 walk.

    6. The addition of more religion-themed essays from this blog and from the Kevin's Walk blog.

    7. The correction of several errors-- not factual errors, per se, but errors all the same-- as well as several argumentative flaws.



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    old GRE score reports: 1992 and 1999

    As promised a while back, here are scans of my old GRE score reports from 1992 and 1999. Especially embarrassing to me are the Analytical scores and percentiles (remember: this was back when the Analytical section was composed of raw logic problems).

    1992 first:



    660 Verbal (90th percentile)
    720 Quant (83rd percentile)
    460 Analyt (29th percentile-- gack)

    I don't even remember having taken the above test. Finding this paper was a surprise.

    And here's the 1999 GRE, which I took when I applied for grad study at Catholic U.:



    710 Verbal (97th percentile)
    720 Quant (83rd percentile)
    500 Analyt (34th percentile)

    My 1999 results were a substantial improvement over my 1992 attempt, but as before, I was horrible with the Analytical. Now that it's Analytical Writing, and not a set of goddamn puzzles, I can score in the 96th percentile and be proud.

    I seem to have mis-remembered my 1999 scores, though. I'm pretty sure I wrote earlier that my scores were 720 and 720 for Verbal and Quant. Guess I was off by 10 points. Ah, senility.

    All in all, I get the impression that I've hit some sort of wall. My July 1, 2011 scores were, as you may recall:

    710 Verbal (98th percentile)
    710 Quant (69th percentile)
    5.5 Analyt (96th percentile)

    The following month (August 26, 2011), my scores were:

    165 Verbal (96th percentile)
    161 Quant (86th percentile)
    5.5 Analyt (96th percentile)

    Based on the above, 1992's Verbal score seems like a fluke. Meanwhile, my Quant score seems fairly consistent, but the percentile goes haywire on the July 2011 test, making it difficult for me to interpret whether my August 2011 performance was the result of a radical improvement in my performance, or merely the reshuffling of statistics as the new GRE format was phased in. It's frustrating not to be able to evaluate these results in a clear-cut manner.


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    Friday, December 09, 2011

    anticipating an objection

    I blogged earlier about the major flaw with the "no horse in my head" argument, and now I want to anticipate an objection. A dedicated substance dualist might counter that the information encoded on the Blu-ray disc still contains an "aboutness"-- a meaning-- that requires a mind to understand it. This merely pushes the issue of intentionality back a step, and it certainly doesn't destroy the dualist's case.

    My reply to this objection is that aboutness is not the point of the analogy: the point is that, with the proper apparatus, information that at first looks nothing like a horse can be decoded such that a horse will appear to us, and this is just as true for a human brain as it is for a Blu-ray disc. That's what the analogy shows: the conceivability of decoding the human brain.

    Dr. V argued the following:

    1. Marty [the Martian scientist studying human brains from a distance] knows all the physical and functional facts about my body and brain during the time I am thinking about a dog.
    2. That I am thinking about a dog is a fact.
    3. Marty does not know that I am thinking about a dog.
    Therefore
    4. Marty does not know all the facts about me and my mental activity.
    Therefore
    5. There are mental facts that are not physical or functional facts, and physicalism is false.

    I would dispute (3). If Marty has the proper decoder, then he would be aware that I'm thinking about a dog, and that would undermine Dr. V's two therefores.


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    Ave, Footsteps!



    I've been following the blog In the Footsteps of Wonhyo since I'd learned about it. The blog is about a group of fellows who are attempting to follow the route taken by Wonhyo, he of "water from a skull" fame. The pilgrimage serves several purposes, one of which is the promotion of spiritual tourism in Korea.

    The blog has already taught me a great deal about both the route Wonhyo took and some of the stories associated with the monk. If you haven't done so already, please consider adding In the Footsteps of Wonhyo to your daily blogging reads.

    (Wonhyo even has a martial arts routine named after him!)

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    Thursday, December 08, 2011

    throw the bums out

    Ausländer RAUS!

    Enter the English-teaching robots, I guess.


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    Ave, Elisson!

    Elisson's got a brief but thoughtful Pearl Harbor Day tribute up.

    UPDATE: There's a minor uproar going on about Sidwell Friends School, the school that President Obama's two daughters attend. It seems the school has chosen to serve Japanese food on Pearl Harbor Day. Menu planners claim the culinary choice was a random assignment made months ago. I just checked out the menu... and see almost nothing recognizably Japanese about it, except perhaps for the edamame. If anything, the selections skew heavily Chinese-American (because they certainly aren't truly Chinese, either!).

    Sidwell Friends doesn't deserve to be tarred and feathered for its menu. And even if an American school cafeteria did somehow manage to pull off the miracle of serving authentically and unrepentantly Japanese food on Pearl Harbor Day, are we really so symbol-minded* that we can't separate cuisine from a historical event? Why should food suffer from guilt by association? Should I be wary of vegetarians because Hitler happened to be one?

    And are we, today, the enemy of Japan? Certainly there are reasons to be bitter about the history of Japan's actions before 1945, but life also relentlessly moves forward. Relationships evolve. Even South Korea, for all its justified historical anger, has close ties to Japan: business relationships, student cultural exchanges, tourism, academic dialogue, etc. Pearl Harbor Day isn't Beat Up a Japanese Day.

    None of this means we should cast Pearl Harbor Day aside. Remembrance, an awareness of our past, is crucial if our goal is to move forward, as a global community, without repeating the mistakes of previous generations. And if we're going to address our lingering bitterness about events from a lifetime ago, shouldn't we be concentrating on something more profound than cafeteria menu items?





    *"I leave symbols to the symbol-minded," said George Carlin in his Madison Square Garden performance.


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    Wednesday, December 07, 2011

    rehashing an old problem in philosophy of mind

    Dr. V's latest post, here, concludes with:

    So right now I am thinking about a dog, but no presently existing dog. My thinking has intentional content. It is an instance of what philosophers call intentionality. My act of thinking takes an object, or has an accusative. It exhibits aboutness or of-ness in the way a pain quale does not exhibit aboutness of of-ness. It is important to realize that my thinking is intrinsically such as to be about a dog: the aboutness is not parasitic upon an external relation to an actual dog. That is why I rigged the example the way I did. My thinking is object-directed despite there being no object in existence to which I am externally related. This blocks attempts to explain intentionality in terms of causation. Such attempts fail in any case. See my post on Representation and Causation.

    The question is whether the Martian scientist can determine what that intentional content is by monitoring my neural states during the period of time I am thinking about a dog. The content before my mind has various subcontents: hairy critter, mammal, barking animal, man's best friend . . . . But none of this content will be discernible to the Martian neuroscientist on the basis of complete knowledge of my neural states, their relations to each other and to sensory input and behavioral output. To strengthen the argument we may stipulate that Marty lacks the very concept dog. Therefore, there is more to the mind than what can be known by even a completed neuroscience. Physicalism (materialism) is false.

    The argument is this:

    1. Marty knows all the physical and functional facts about my body and brain during the time I am thinking about a dog.
    2. That I am thinking about a dog is a fact.
    3. Marty does not know that I am thinking about a dog.
    Therefore
    4. Marty does not know all the facts about me and my mental activity.
    Therefore
    5. There are mental facts that are not physical or functional facts, and physicalism is false.

    But as I wrote on February 13 of this year:

    Substance dualists like to say that there's no clear connection between brain states and subjectivity. This divide between first- and third-person ontology (more simply, subjective and objective reality) is at present inexplicable, and presents itself to scientists and philosophers as "the hard problem" of human consciousness: why do we experience? One of the substance dualists' favorite arguments is that, when one thinks of a horse, no actual horse appears inside the human brain: no horse-shaped electrical pattern, no homunculus-like horseling running around inside the gray matter, nothing recognizable as (and relatable to) a horse.

    [...]

    And yet, despite the continued existence of the hard problem, the dualists' "no horse in my head" argument strikes me as a weak objection to physicalism. Look at a Blu-ray disc, for example. All you see is a disc that, when you tilt it in different directions, seems to reflect a shifting rainbow pattern. Yet you know that, in conjunction with a TV and a Blu-ray player and all the proper settings and connections, that disc is a key component in displaying a movie-- sight, sound, director's and actors' commentaries, etc. When I look at the disc, I see no movie, no director, no actors, and yet I know that the information corresponding to those concepts is contained on the disc.

    Why, then, should we be troubled about the absence of literal horse-images in our brains? As the Blu-ray shows us, other non-conscious phenomena have similar properties: they contain information that isn't evident until an array of devices makes it so.

    I take the issue up again here, where I quote a spirited exchange between two noted philosophers of mind: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Britney Spears.

    UPDATE: In a subsequent post, I anticipate a possible objection to the above.



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    sober reminder

    Bill's Advent meditation is an excellent reminder that Christmas is supposed to be a time of quiet, not an acceleration of the rat race.


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    Tuesday, December 06, 2011

    testing








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    Ave, Lee!

    Lee Farrand, biologist extraordinaire and a relatively new entrant in the Great Fatherhood Game, hilariously describes how he assesses his daughter, whom he nicknames Baengy:

    May Thor strike me down for doing so, but I've been roughly estimating Baengy's developing intelligence levels in comparison to familiar animals. As a keen biologist and animal enthusiast, [I find] it's an irresistible temptation. At the time this photo was taken, I estimated that her quiet blank stare was indicative of the IQ of a turtle. Nowadays, she's closer to a domestic cat.

    We're expecting a baboon within the next few months.

    Go visit his marvelous blog (245 members and counting!) to see the pictures and have a laugh.


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    this week's MGRE Math Beast Challenge

    From here:



    As usual, my answer will appear in the comments.




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    airless tires

    I'll be curious to learn more about the merits and demerits of Bridgestone's airless tires once they're beyond the prototype phase. The design looks quite clever, and according to the article, such tires can't suffer punctures. They may, however, rip apart in other ways over a long period of time and heavy use. As with anything newfangled, I think it's a bad idea to buy Version 1.0; it's better to wait until 5.0 or 6.0 is out before jumping onto the bandwagon.


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    vindicated

    MGRE reveals the solution to last week's Math Beast Challenge problem, and their official answer is indeed (C), 22. However, their method for solving the problem is quite different from mine, and I have to admit I like the simplicity and elegance of their approach:

    The easiest way to answer this question is to determine how many introductions Joseph would have to make if no one already knew each other, and subtract the introductions that have already been made.

    To determine how many pairs you can make from 8 people, use the combination formula, which can be most easily explained as:

    Everything!_____
    Picked!NotPicked!

    8!__
    2!6!

    (8)(7)(6)(5)(4)(3)(2)(1)
    (2)(1)(6)(5)(4)(3)(2)(1)

    (8)(7)(6)(5)(4)(3)(2)(1)
    (2)(1)(6)(5)(4)(3)(2)(1)

    28

    This, incidentally, is the exact same math we would use if asked, “If there are eight teams in a tournament and every team has to play every other team, how many games will there be?” or “If two associates are to attend a conference and eight associates are available to attend, how many pairs of associates could be selected?” In all the cases, the order of the two selected items does not matter. In our problem, introducing Lea to Juan, for instance, is exactly the same thing as introducing Juan to Lea.

    We are told in the problem that 6 pairs already know each other:
    Mary – Dave
    Mary – Edgar
    Dave – Edgar
    Edgar – Lea
    Edgar – Juan
    Edgar – Greg

    Subtract these six pairs from the 28 total pairs.

    28 – 6 = 22

    The correct answer is C.


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    Monday, December 05, 2011

    who knew?

    I had completely forgotten that I'd taken the GRE in 1992, a year after graduating from undergrad. Earlier this evening, as I was digging around for our family's rum cake recipe (my brother David wants to make rum cakes for the Christmas season), I stumbled upon a folder containing several college-related documents, including my grade report from my time in Switzerland* and my old GRE reports. I'll publish those scores shortly; they make for an interesting graph of my progress through the years.




    *I wish those grades could have been factored into my undergrad GPA. I was Dean's List both semesters of my senior year, and was the Swiss equivalent of Dean's List during my time at the Université de Fribourg. Those junior-year grades would have offset my suck-ass freshman and sophomore years in college.


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    for my age group

    I haven't watched the entire thing yet, but if you've got two hours and nineteen minutes to spare, go watch the documentary "Star Wars Begins." It's a fan-fueled retrospective with voiceover from the actors and from others behind the scenes, subtitled with some amusing comments and interesting trivia. Example: James Earl Jones was paid $7000 to be the voice of Vader in the first film. (That segment also includes on-set audio of Vader, i.e., we hear the muffled voice of David Prowse, with his English accent, emanating from Vader during the first strangulation scene on the blockade runner.) The film itself provides the narrative structure for the documentary. Have fun!


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    Saturday, December 03, 2011

    BSG's deity: not loving, and possibly insane (3)

    This essay is a repost of version 2 from my Kevin's Walk blog, but will be tweaked later today based on recent information.



    NB: This essay, a modified version of the original, makes essentially the same points as the original does, but adds some clarifications in the later sections, which focus on the inadvertent outcome of the divine "plan."

    [WARNING: What follows is probably the length of a small research paper. Maybe print it out and read it during your trips to the toilet. Watch out for hemorrhoids.]





    What good is having a Master's degree in religion and culture if you can't apply it to a pop culture phenomenon like "Battlestar Galactica," whose noisy/quiet, but very spiritual, finale aired this past Friday to a chorus of fan cheers, jeers, and tears?

    I want to discuss the BSG deity and its plan, but before I do, I'd like to address those viewers who were disappointed that BSG ended up taking such a spiritual turn. My question: What'd you expect? "Science fiction" is a broad term, usually distinguished from the fantasy genre, but it should come as no surprise that a large proportion of SF works are essentially religious ideas masquerading as SF. The creators of such works usually have little interest in the technobabble that enthralls fans of "hard science fiction." Much of what Arthur C. Clarke wrote, for example, took a religious tone, and I can name you a list of nominally SF movies that actually offer some sort of religious message. Right off the top of my head: "The Abyss," "Contact," "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "Dune," "The Fountain," "K-Pax," the Matrix trilogy, the six Star Wars movies, and so on. My point is simply that religion and sci-fi seem to mix very well, and if you're a BSG fan who feels hoodwinked, I'd advise you just to relax and go with it.

    The creator of the rebooted BSG, Ronald D. Moore, has confirmed in interviews that the spiritual angle was something his show had "from the beginning," but luckily for us, we live in the age of textual autonomy-- a work stands on its own (or so the postmodernists contend), so if you don't want to take the author's word for it, you don't have to. People who respect authorial intent can also take heart, however, for Moore has said that his intention in writing the BSG story was to provoke thought, and he is also on record as noting that certain important characters and events can be interpreted in a variety of ways.

    In other words, don't lose hope if you're one of the viewers who want to believe that the BSG universe is actually godless: you can probably find an interpretation of events that will satisfy your basic orientation. The easiest solution? Take your cue from the implications of Intelligent Design Theory. IDT is often used by theists (mostly Christian) who are looking for a "scientific" argument in favor of creationism, but the theory itself really says nothing about whether the Creator is indeed the God of the Abrahamic monotheisms. Be of good cheer: perhaps the BSG "god" is just an extremely old, extremely powerful alien and nothing more. At no point did any BSG character imply that this God created the entire universe.

    Having said all that (and I admit that I, too, am a wee bit disappointed with how BSG's hard SF ultimately gave way to a muddled religious outlook), I'm going to take Moore at his word and assume that his intention was to end the show with a peek at his version of the deity. But as we'll soon see, the BSG deity, far from being the comforting god of love that Head Six and Caprica Six claim it is, has some deeply troubling characteristics, and the deity's "plan," such as it is, offers us a rather disturbing cosmology.* Moore's BSG finale might have been intended to end on a bright, hopeful tone, but if we follow the implications of the data we are given in the finale and elsewhere in the series, the overall picture of who this deity is and what it's all about is very dark, indeed.


    I. Characteristics of the BSG Deity

    Much of what we learn about the BSG deity comes from the last hour of the finale. We've known for several seasons that the deity has some sort of vested interest in the perpetuation of both humans and Cylons, or so Head Six has been telling us.** According to the angelic versions of Six and Baltar that appear in Manhattan, this deity dislikes being called "God," which automatically leads to the question of what this deity likes to be called, but BSG provides no answer on that score.

    As the angelic Six and Baltar are walking through Times Square, 1500 centuries after our final glimpse of Bill Adama and Hera, we're privy to the angels' conversation:

    SIX (apparently reading National Geographic over Ron Moore's shoulder): At a scientific conference this week at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, a startling announcement was made that archeologists believe they have found fossilized remains of a young woman who may actually be Mitochondrial Eve. "Mitochondrial Eve" is the name scientists have given to the most recent common ancestor of all human beings now living on Earth. She lived in what is now Tanzania. Over one hundred and fifty thousand years ago!

    BALTAR (amused): Along with her Cylon mother and human father.

    SIX (looking around): Commercialism, decadence, technology run amok... remind you of anything?

    BALTAR: Take your pick. Kobol. Earth-- the real Earth, before this one. Caprica before the Fall.

    SIX: All of this has happened before.

    BALTAR: But the question remains: does all of this have to happen again?

    SIX: This time, I bet no.

    BALTAR: You know, I've never known you to play the optimist. Why the change of heart?

    SIX: Mathematics. Law of averages. Let a complex system repeat itself long enough, eventually something surprising might occur. That, too, is in God's plan.

    BALTAR: You know it doesn't like that name. (in response to Six's dark look) Silly me. Silly, silly me.

    Earlier in the episode, as the human Baltar lies in the African grass alongside Admiral Adama, Doc Cottle, and the newly-reinstated Lieutenant Hoshi, Adama marvels at Cottle's discovery that the hominids in the distance bury their dead and possess DNA that matches that of the 38,000 surviving humans of the fleet. Baltar affirms that the odds against such intimately parallel evolution are "astronomical," all the more reason to think that such evolution is the product of a divine hand.

    This is enough data to start filling in some blanks about the deity that has apparently haunted BSG from the beginning. If we take Baltar's conjecture on the African plains literally, we've got a deity that has existed for billions of years, tweaking the evolution of life to produce humans-- not once, but already several times on different worlds: Kobol, Caprica, and the first "real" Earth. We can add our Earth, the second Earth, to that list.

    Each of these places has evolved recognizable earthlife along with humans. The characters in BSG have long made reference to animals and plants that we recognize from our studies and travels; no new life forms are mentioned, and even back when the beleaguered colonials were fleeing through the cosmos, the few earthlike planets they encountered had recognizable forms of life on them.

    All of this suggests that the deity's focus on parallel evolution extends to more than just humans: it's humans plus the life that forms the ecosystem into which humans fit. The existence of earthlife on some of the worlds of the Twelve Colonies might be explained by terraforming, but all that life wasn't brought over on ships from Kobol. No: if the deity wanted humans, it also wanted the earthlife to sustain them.

    So we now have two properties of this deity: it's been in existence for billions of years, at the very least (enough time to shepherd the evolution of life), and it's been highly interactive with physical existence, actually expending energy to meddle with life's evolution. This deity, then, is not the God of the Deists, which is said to have created the universe and then sat back to watch it unfold.

    But there's more: we know that this deity has personal attributes. It dislikes being called God, for example. It is also said to have a plan, and planning is something done by beings with minds. Head Six and many of the other Sixes have repeatedly claimed that God is love, or that God loves us, which is further evidence that this is a personal deity, and not one of theologian John Hick's impersonae (like the Tao of philosophical Taoism, or the sunyata of Buddhism, or the nirguna brahman of advaita vedanta Hinduism). Of course, the claim that this deity is a loving deity is a matter of contention; ultimately, I will argue in the negative.

    Whether this deity has a noumenal aspect-- some untouchable, ineffable, unfathomable, existing-in-itself dimension-- is hard to say. I don't think that BSG provides any clear evidence in this regard. But we do know, based on the angelic Six's remark about letting "a complex system repeat itself," that this deity is performing what amounts to a massive moral-biological panspermia experiment: the biological facet of the experiment involves the deity's need to tinker with life's evolution so that humans are always the end product, and the moral facet lies in the deity's apparent desire to see (or its curiosity about) whether humanity, once evolved to its modern, sapient status, can break free of a troublesome cycle of violence. This cycle seems, time and again, to culminate in a Frankensteinian scenario in which humanity's creations, themselves having achieved a great measure of sapience and sentience, turn violently against their creators.

    The BSG deity's need to repeat these experiments demonstrates its non-omniscience, an important property. As I wrote elsewhere, the deity has much in common with the God of process theology, which is also highly interactive with the cosmos, non-omniscient, and intent on co-producing (the process God isn't coercive; it's a persuader or impeller) moral results that ostensibly enhance human freedom and flourishing-- as well as cosmic novelty, which parallels the "something surprising" that the angelic Six alludes to. The process God acts as a font of possibility which allows for surprises, but whether the process God actually has a plan, per se, is debatable. In fact, the BSG deity also seems less to have a plan than to be interested in experimentation, which isn't the same thing as divine planning, classically conceived.

    Furthermore, the deity appears to be internally conflicted-- possibly insane. After bringing life up to the human level (if I can be so arrogantly "speciesist" as to use the preposition "up to" to apply to human beings), it goes further, providing humanity with angels, prophetic visions, clairvoyance, and other forms of supernatural help-- the asteroid that smacks the shattered Raptor and causes the dead Racetrack's hand to fire the nukes at the Cylon colony could be seen as an example of this, and the resurrected Starbuck is an even more glaring example. This level of divine involvement might be evidence in favor of the BSG deity's loving interest in humanity's well-being, but it might also be seen as an extension of its desire to keep meddling even after the moral experiment has begun. Why not go Deist, sit back, and watch what humanity does with itself?

    The above implies something else, too: God's non-omnipotence. Could it be for this reason that Six says that God's plan is never finished? Is there always going to be a need for the deity to violate its experiment by constantly involving itself in human affairs? While one could counterargue that the BSG deity might still be omnipotent, the evidence suggests that it isn't. The need to experiment implies, as mentioned earlier, non-omniscience, which is already a major strike against the deity: omniscience is often considered a component of omnipotence. The deity's repeated failure, despite constant involvement, to help humanity escape the cycle of violence is also evidence against its omnipotence. In classical theism, human freedom is often thought to circumscribe divine omnipotence. The amount of human freedom in the BSG universe is debatable, but to the extent that humans possess any free will in this universe, that freedom circumscribes the deity's power much as it might be said to do in classical theism.

    So, to sum up our findings in this section, we can name the following attributes of the BSG deity (again, much depends on the extent to which we trust the truth of what the BSG characters themselves tell us about this deity):

    1. God is said to be loving, though this is, as we'll see, a controversial claim when we tease out the implications of the deity's intentions and actions.
    2. God is said to have a plan, but is actually more of an experimenter than a planner.
    3. God's apparent need to perform experiments implies its non-omniscience. (An omniscient God would already know the results of any possible experiments, assuming the term "omniscience" implies (fore)knowledge of all states of affairs, including counterfactual states-- the mights, would-haves, could-haves, wills, won'ts, etc.)
    4. God is a personal deity with a mind and will, and doesn't like being called God, even though the angelic Six seems to have no trouble referring to "it" that way.
    5. God is highly interactive with the physical cosmos, not merely tinkering with the evolution of all life, including (and especially) human life, but also interacting with it in various ways even after the moral experiment has begun.
    6. God has some traits in common with the God of process theology (a theology based on the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead).

    At this point, we've crafted a list of basic theistic attributes that rivals what theists in our world say about their deities. Now, we need to turn from the question of this deity's nature to the problem of its actions.


    II. Disturbing Aspects of BSG's Cosmology

    As near as I can figure it, the BSG deity's "plan" is, as described above, essentially an experiment that will, the deity hopes, lead to a "surprising" result after enough repetitions. We can assume that the deity has already performed its experiment at least four times-- on Kobol, on Caprica, and on the two Earths, with the second Earth being an experiment in progress. It's highly likely, given the apparent number of habitable worlds in our galaxy and the deity's fondness for exact repetition, that the deity has performed (or is performing) this same experiment on other worlds.

    While it's fair to ask why the deity is doing this, I don't think that BSG provides an answer. The question "why" is, in fact, a conundrum for many religiously-minded thinkers in our own, real world. Why would a perfect Creator create life, especially humanity, to begin with? A perfect being is, by the classical definition of "perfect," self-complete. It needs nothing. And yet... here we are, and here the universe is. As there is no universally accepted answer to the "why" question in our own world, I'll table it for the BSG deity as well, and will assume, as I do with this Earth's Yahweh, that the human appellation "perfect" doesn't quite capture the sacred and inscrutable nature of divine desire. Take that for what it's worth.

    What we can say, based on the evidence provided in the series, is that the BSG deity has one clear aim, which is to lift humanity out of the cycle of violence. I'm unclear on whether this is the cycle of violence in general, or the cycle that specifically involves human/sentient machine violence, which seems to be the point at which humanity implodes. The experiments have, thus far, ended in failure, with humanity emerging on multiple worlds, evolving socially and linguistically into world-spanning civilizations characterized by a recognizably North American, English-speaking culture, developing sentient artificial life, and finally succumbing to nuclear holocaust when that life turns against its creators.

    We know the Twelve Colonies speak twenty-first century North American English, using idioms and metaphors that we recognize, with only one notable difference in the lexicon of vulgarity-- the much-beloved "frak." Two explanations for such close parallel civilizational evolution suggest themselves. The first is that there is something mechanical-- dare I say Cylon?-- about humanity, something that makes it snap to a specific template as it evolves. The civilizations on different worlds might differ in their particulars-- variations in land and climate will affect the specific arrangement of cities, for example-- but the architecture, the fashions, and the general trends in current events will all be the same over time (which is why the civilizations all look and feel the same). That sort of close repetition isn't explicable by a concept like the Jungian collective unconscious. There's nothing inevitable about bread being called "bread," for example-- our own world history is evidence for this.*** If this is the case-- that the BSG deity has been carbon-copying humans onto different worlds-- then the deity is either insane or rather stupid, because the emergent mass behavior of a fundamentally mechanistic humanity will be incapable of producing surprises. The divinity should have realized that early on.

    The second explanation is one we've touched on already: the BSG deity cannot stop itself from continuing to immerse itself in human affairs, and has continued to guide humanity's progress long past the point at which hominids evolved into their modern forms. The deity of BSG might not be omnipotent or omniscient, but it is, we can presume, powerful enough to affect the course of the development of language, culture, architecture, etc. A theological question thus presents itself: what is the deity hoping to accomplish if it can't leave humanity alone? And a darker question: if it's the deity that's guiding humanity even unto its own implosion, then isn't that deity responsible for each Fall that occurs? Where, in the midst of all that poking and prodding to shape each culture into a copy of the cultures on other worlds, was human freedom? Ultimately, human blood is on this deity's hands (or tentacles, or robotic arms).

    In either case, the theodicy isn't a comforting one. Human suffering must be seen in the context of a massive and repeated experiment involving many worlds, an experiment in which the deity itself is meddling, inevitably to humanity's detriment. It is for this reason, then, that we must question Six's claim that her God is a loving one, for it could have altered circumstances in such a way that humanity would evolve into something morally better than what it is. The BSG theology differs from process theology in this respect: the BSG deity must be coercive to have instigated and sustained parallel evolution-- not just biological evolution, but sociocultural evolution as well. The God of process theology, by contrast, is not coercive at all. Humanity arose, but its arising was not inevitable, and in a universe for which God is the co-evolving font of novelty, creativity, and freedom, humanity's future evolution is open as well.

    It seems rather cruel for a deity to create sapient, sentient life, then force it to jump through predetermined hoops (a critique that is also frequently leveled against the divinities of our world!). But the evidence in BSG, unlike the evidence in our world (which is open to more than theistic interpretation), strongly suggests that the BSG deity has been specifically channeling humanity along a certain narrow path. Why the deity even bothers with prophetic visions, angels, and resurrected saviors is a mystery.

    If the ostensible goal of the deity is humanity's eventual leap off the samsaric wheel, the deity needs to resolve its own internal contradictions first before this can happen. The gift of freedom that the humans and Cylons cherish, and which is necessary for those two races to succeed in the divine experiment, is largely absent from the BSG universe. The existence of prophecy confirms this state of affairs: things will happen a certain way. Freedom entails the ability to do otherwise, but if events must occur as prophesied, then prophecy (like divine foreknowledge in classical theism) precludes freedom. BSG thus has some uncomfortable parallels with the world of Jack Bauer in "24." Bauer rarely claims to be making choices; he tends to view what he does as the only possible course of action. Bauer's world is a world of brute necessities, and as we muddle through the cosmology of BSG, we see much the same thing. (FYI, "24" is my other favorite show.)

    The God of process theism and the BSG deity both seem to be aiming at the creation of a fulfilled humanity. For process theists, this means a humanity that enjoys maximal freedom and cosmic novelty; for the BSG deity, this means a leap off the samsaric cycle of violence and suffering. The BSG deity is aiming for that one moment when humanity will finally do something "surprising," perhaps embracing peace and love and breaking free of what René Girard would call mimetic violence.

    But the critique of process theology applies to the BSG deity as well: does all this mean that we are merely grist for the cosmic mill, beings to be ground up in the hope of producing a wavefront (or a future generation) that finds fulfillment or divine blessing? Is all this cosmic churning merely to produce an ontological crème de la crème, and screw the rest? True: BSG has always been about the fleet's collective survival, humanity's collective survival, and not merely about the survival of just a handful. But BSG's darkness arises from a tacit affirmation of the theodicy I've tried to explain here: of the billions of people on the Twelve Colonies, only 38,000 make it to the promised land. Of them, only Hera, a newcomer to that group, is the true hope for the survival of both humans and Cylons. Evil and suffering are a necessary part of the divine experiment which will, it is hoped, evolutionarily produce people who free themselves from the vicious cycle. But evolution is a meat grinder, and many will be lost along the way to such a fulfillment.


    III. Why God is Doomed to Fail

    The problem for BSG's deity, though, is in the self-defeating combination of the divine experiment with the deity's behavior. We've already explored one aspect of this problem by noting the deity's continued desire to meddle even after the experiment has begun, a meddling that was probably instrumental in leading to humanity's fall in each case. We need to talk about another problem, though-- one hinted at by the way the series concludes.

    Let's assume that the humanity discovered on the second Earth is truly human, untainted by Cylon DNA. We now add to the relatively small native population 38,000 humans plus Hera, a half-Cylon. I think we can assume that the pure Cylons won't be having children with any colonials or any native Earthlings: their track record in that department has been abominable. Even if the Cylons do have children, the most important thing to remember is that it's Hera who is the Mitochondrial Eve for our world: she is the MRCA-- the most recent common matrilineal ancestor-- for all humans alive today. Hera is everyone's great-great-to-the-Nth-power grandmother; mitochondrial DNA is passed down matrilineally. We are all, therefore, part-Cylon.

    We've already established that the BSG deity repeats initial conditions as precisely as possible on each "lab" world by meddling with evolution, and that this evolution-- for whatever reason-- continues in precisely the same manner on each world, culminating in a Fall involving human-machine violence. This means, then, that modern humans on the Twelve Colonies are very likely also descendants of a Mitochondrial Eve like Hera: ancient humans there might have started off as purely human, but pure humans are gone by modern times. In other words, the colonials are already part-Cylon when we first meet them. The ancient Hera who visited the Colonies might have come, for all we know, from Kobol (here we have to rely on what little scriptural evidence the show provides us), itself a "lab" world, a fact we can deduce from the angelic Baltar's "take your pick" utterance, which implied that the BSG deity's experiment was performed on multiple worlds.

    So when Athena hooks up with Helo to produce Hera, the union is more Cylon in nature than it first appears, because Helo is already mitochondrially part-Cylon. Hera is thus more than half-Cylon. Her entire purpose, based on what the angelic pair tell the human Baltar and Six on our Earth, seems to be her assumption of the role of Mitochondrial Eve on the new world. The fleet might have seen itself as trying to find a safe haven, but what the deity was actually doing was using the fleet to bring Hera-- leaven for the new human-Cylon bread-- to the second Earth.****

    Because the BSG deity is not involving only one world in its experiment, we have to expand our scope to consider the deity's activity in the entire galaxy. The origin stories for modern humanity will vary according to which groups of humans visit which planets. In some cases, modern humanity will have evolved in "pure" form, created Cylons that rebelled against it, and either imploded or ended up breeding with those Cylons on a small or large scale, resulting in a Hera or Heras. In other cases, modern humans will have been the result of Cylon involvement, having descended from a Hera in their past. These humans, part Cylon, will evolve until there's a Fall, and the surviving remnant will either end up breeding with local Cylons or not. If they do breed with them, they'll produce a girl (it's always a girl, given the matrilineal nature of mitochondrial DNA) who will have a higher concentration of Cylon DNA in her than a regular human-Cylon half-breed. This latter type of being is what BSG's Hera is. Hera is actually a super-Hera, which makes us, here on our Earth, more Cylon than we might seem at first blush.

    The human members of the colonial fleet are also, as I've noted, part-Cylon thanks to the probable introduction of a Mitochondrial Eve in their past. They, too, might breed with the local population (otherwise, their scattering will produce a population bottleneck; it boggles my mind that Adama would think humanity's chances for survival would be increased by sprinkling them around on empty continents). Even if our human protags are really, purely human, the eventual result is nearly seven billion part-Cylons: us.

    When the BSG deity's experiment fails on a "lab" world, the evidence of failure is a nuked-out, useless planet. The deity either can't or won't go back again (cf. Kobol), and real estate is limited. You begin to see the problem, yes? Humanity has shown, up to now, no tendency to break out of the cycle in which it has been trapped (by its own devices, or by the deity's well-intended but destructive meddling, or by a combination of factors). The probability that it will escape the cycle at any given period in cosmic history is therefore low, and planetary real estate in our galaxy is limited. Pressure is therefore building: land is running out, and with each failure, with each new, nuked-out world, the problem is worsening.

    But pressure is coming from another quarter as well. Imagine us, the descendants of Hera, with an already-high proportion of Cylon DNA. If a Fall happens on our world as we fight our own homemade Cylons, chances are that some of us will also conclude that our Cylons are people, too, and will breed with them. The resultant Hera will be even more Cylon in nature. On the first Earth, Cylons evolved to the point where they could reproduce (hence the casting-aside of resurrection technology), so it's conceivable that, on some worlds, the production of Heras between humans and Cylons can occur more easily, given more fecund Cylons.

    The overall picture, if we look at the human population as a galactic whole, seems to be that aggregate Cylon-ness will increase over time: the deity's experiments will ultimately lead to the Cylonization of all anthropic life. The general increase of Cylon DNA in the galactic population, added to the rapidly increasing number of nuked worlds, points to the squeezing-out of all true human life.

    Even if "Cylonization" doesn't mean the creation of 100% Cylons everywhere, at the very best, humanity in the galactic aggregate can expect to become part-Cylon over time. The insertion of Heras into a "pure" planet's history will see to it that that planet's modern humans will be mitochondrially Cylon. As each human civilization reaches a spacefaring level, part-Cylons will breed with pure humans. Because each planet will slavishly follow the template followed on other worlds (we've already established that this will be the case), it will invent its own Cylons. Some of the native population (part-Cylon or not) will breed with those Cylons; the Cylons themselves will mass-produce (or breed with each other, as happened on the first Earth) at a geometric or logarithmic rate. The pure Cylon population will, in each planetary scenario, likely grow much faster than the human populations, especially if a Fall happens, drastically reducing human numbers.

    And the clincher is this: BSG establishes that most Cylons have a hard time dealing with the notion of free will. They are shown, at many points throughout the series, to be prisoners of their own machine nature. Cylons as a whole have less libertarian free will than pure humans do. And if the proportion of Cylon DNA in the galactic population is always on the rise, the chances that humanity-- or maybe we should call it "humanity" in scare quotes-- will break out of the cycle of violence spiral concomitantly downward.

    Maybe it is important to ask why the hell the BSG deity would put its humans and Cylons through such a cosmic wringer. At the very least, we can agree that Ronald D. Moore's theology and cosmology, when teased out like this, offer us a much darker ultimate scenario than the happy one portrayed in the series finale. And even if the BSG deity decides to redo this experiment in other galaxies, the ultimate results will be the same, especially if the deity insists on undermining itself every time.

    A final note for this section: the Cylons we first encounter, before we know anything about the Final Five, prove to be shockingly militant, mass-producing resurrection bodies and war machines at a frighteningly geometric rate, taking over tylium-rich planetoids and establishing bases on them, extending their hegemony through resurrection ships (I've long wondered: why only one Hub?) and so on. Such beings are far more viral and virulent than humans, especially when they lack internal quarrels and can still act in concert. What's to prevent the loose Cylons from one failed experiment from finding a planet on which the deity's experiment in peace and love has proved successful? Imagine the bloody result of that encounter. All in all, no matter how you slice it, BSG offers us little more than the infamous "grey goo" scenario-- one in which the machines overrun us all, leaving nothing but ruin. The logic of this process is inevitable, and stands in contrast with claims that the BSG god is loving or has all our best interests at heart.


    IV. Conclusion

    The deity of BSG has its own reasons for creating humanity. We can't know those reasons, but we can divine, based on the "canonical" evidence of the show, that this deity is interested in humanity's ability to break free of a cycle of violence of which the deity apparently disapproves (why Baltar describes God as "beyond good and evil," if the deity seeks humanity's good, is beyond me). We've seen, though, that this being, which is far less powerful than the God of classical theism, often seems to be working at cross-purposes to itself, sculpting the biology of many worlds into recognizable earthlife and recognizable humans, but not stopping there.

    The deity seems to want, simultaneously and paradoxically, (1) tight control to guide humanity's biological and sociocultural evolution (even beyond the sapient stage, such that carbon-copy civilizations arise), and (2) to allow humanity the chance to choose to escape the cycle of violence that repeatedly ensnares it. Because of the deity's constant meddling-- not merely in the way it coerces biological and sociocultural evolution to result in North American cultures, but also in the way it sends "help" in the form of prophecies, angels, and resurrected heroes-- the deity is, ultimately, responsible for keeping humanity in the painful samsaric loop. Along with lacking omniscience, this deity apparently lacks the wisdom to recognize the probable results of its actions, despite repeated failures on different "lab" planets. There is a good case to be made that all this internal conflict and self-undermining behavior point to divine insanity and/or obtuseness.

    This divinity therefore can be said to possess, at best, a questionable moral nature. But beyond its nature is the problem of the deity's actions. As we saw, there is a numbers game going on, but it's not the one alluded to by the angelic Six when she spoke of the "law of averages." No: here, the problem is one of limited real estate, the high probability of experimental failure, and an overall increase in the Cylon-ness of the galaxy-wide "human" population. While it might be possible for certain isolated populations of humans to remain genetically pure, it's more likely that any given modern human population will already contain Cylon DNA in low or high concentrations. The pressure of Cylonization and property-loss (i.e., nuked worlds) will ultimately lead to nothing but mitochondrial Cylons.

    While I'm glad the finale very cleverly defied my expectations (I had bet that we were already watching nothing but pure Cylons, with humans being long gone), the end result of the BSG deity's actions will be the disappearance of pure humans, the only source of which will be, through the BSG deity's agency, a long and drawn-out "special creation" involving tight control of the evolutionary process to produce pure humans and modern human civilization on new real estate. But as virgin worlds run out, the production of humans will become infeasible without the creation of new Earthlike worlds. Whether the deity will go so far as to create new Earths is impossible to guess, but it seems unlikely, given the evidence: the deity could have restored Kobol and started over there, but it didn't.

    Given this outcome, the deity's experiments with humans can be said to be doomed to failure, no matter how the experiment initially runs. The only true hope for humanity is for the deity to cease all meddling and allow humanity, finally, to run its course-- preferably on as few worlds as possible, to allow people enough real estate to succeed or fail on their own. That sort of deity, whatever name it likes to be called, might-- possibly-- be worthy of worship.





    *My atheist friends will wryly note that most theistic cosmologies are disturbing. To be honest, I agree, starting with the idea that an omnipotent god requires any sort of propitiation.

    **Head Six hasn't been the most consistent virtual being in this matter. On many occasions, she seems to cajole Baltar into actions that explicitly benefit the Cylons more than the humans. Part of the consistency issue has to do with BSG's writers' having made up the details of the story as they went along. But since much the same can be said for the real world's holy scriptures, which are a crazy-quilt of edited compilations, we'll just go with the flow and keep hermeneutics to a minimum.

    ***Come to think of it, our Earth seems to host thousands of languages, whereas the civilization of the Twelve Colonies, despite its hints at Latin (sine qua non makes an appearance), French (coup d'état), certain Asian languages (a ship called Incheon Valley), and older forms of English (the phrase "honor thy father" is heard at one point), is entirely anglophone, with variations occurring only in accents and local idioms. BSG's embarrassing lack of other languages is, I think, a linguistic chauvinism equivalent to the Star Trek alien problem: they all look and act human, and they all speak English. There are no aliens, per se, in BSG, but for the viewer's convenience, everyone speaks English. George Lucas got a lot of things wrong, but one of the things he got right in the Star Wars universe was its gleefully polyglot nature. Star Wars droids and aliens understand English, but feel no inclination to speak it... and if you listen carefully, you'll hear humans in that universe who also speak no English.

    ****As a side note, I think this is evidence in favor of my suspicion that the deity is specifically the Cylon God. The fact that the angelic Baltar calls it "it" in the singular also points to monotheism over colonial polytheism.


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