Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

The Simulation Argument, are we living in the Matrix?

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The Simulation Argument goes as follows, one of the following three statements has to be true:

1. For whatever reason intelligent species such as ourselves never progress to the point where they could run computer simulations of the human brain.

2. For whatever reason if such species do acquire the ability, they don’t exercise it.

3. We are more than likely living in a computer simulation.

That, in a nutshell, is the simulation argument. Discuss?

There’s a couple of codicils of course. By computer simulation of the human brain or computer simulation I mean having a computer powerful enough to create a simulated brain and its environment so detailed that the brain in question thinks it is a real brain living in the real world. And the scientific consensus at this point that such is possible with a powerful enough computer. Yes, gentle reader, it’s entirely possible that you and everything you know are simply historical simulation software running on a  far-in-the-future’s High School Student’s desktop computer.

Let’s look at the statements in their turn. Can we assume that humans have no technological future and are inevitably going to wipe themselves out or revert back to the Stone Age? No one really knows, and there are statistical arguments saying that the odds aren’t good. Still statistics and reality are two different things. I for one am going to assume humans have a future unless there is proof otherwise. So for the purposes of argument, I am assuming statement one is false.

OK, statement too. Future humans won’t have any desire to run realistic simulations of human beings? That would assume that humans who develop such capable computers lose their scientific curiosity and their desire to play computer games. Neither seem likely. Or for some reason such simulations are insanely dangerous or otherwise unlikely to be widely pursued. Basically for this statement to be true, we have to assume that the nature of the human race will change in the future, or there is some unforeseeable practical objection to such simulations. I think it’s safe to say that logically then this statement is unlikely to be true.

Lastly, if the first two statements are false, why is the third statement likely to be true? Because once humans start making such simulations, more than likely eventually countless simulations would be made. Even just looking at the Civilization game series, the number of “people” simulated on millions of computers has to be billions times millions. And that’s just one game. The odds are simply overwhelming that we are living in such a simulation, like it or not.

Fascinating, but aside from the intellectual heebie-jeebies, this is all moot, there’s no way we could tell whether or not we are living in a  simulation, so there’s no way to actually prove the Simulation Argument true or false right? Well, turns out there is. There are some ways that in theory we could today look at certain Cosmic Ray measurements and see evidence that we are in a  simulated world. I don’t fully understand it, particle physics not being my strong suit, but the gentle reader can read about it here.There are also some other implications of the Simulation Argument that I didn’t cover in the brief analysis, the actual argument in all its glory can be perused here.

I for one hope they make these measurements, science may not be able to prove God doesn’t exist, but let’s at least try to find out if we are living in the Matrix. Have a great simulated weekend everyone!

(The above image is taken from a promotional poster for the movie The Thirteenth Floor. It’s claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, and its a low resolution partial copy of the original poster. I also highly recommend the movie to my readers. Credit and copyright: Centropolis Entertainment. Vanilla Sky is another movie along those lines, and also recommended.)

Written by unitedcats

October 13, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Nazi Dogs

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A man in Germany has been jailed for teaching his dog the Nazi salute. Helpfully illustrated above, by  a previously contentious German dog. The dog above was trained for some sort of movie thing, some people were upset but no one was jailed. In the current case, the fellow had made a point of displaying Nazi regalia, he could be called a Nazi activist. So his going to jail is more or less voluntary on his part, it’s not like some schmuck trained his dog as a joke and got jailed. Yes, in Germany, displaying Nazi symbols is illegal. Holocaust denial can get one jail time as well I believe.

At first pass, I thought this was crazy. I wrote a blog about it even. Upon sober reflection, literal as well as figurative, I decided that wouldn’t be politic. It’s not my place to criticize German law, or more accurately, question the German’s sanity because of this law. I too have the American disease, I think I know what’s best for everyone sometimes. Since this anti-Nazi law violates my “principles” of free speech, I was outraged. That’s ideology, and ideology will betray one every time. It makes one a slave to an idea … and a slave to those who would use that idea to promote their own agenda.

Which is what Hitler did.  It was a really bad thing, one of the more terrible things in history in fact. And now there’s laws against even displaying Hitler’s symbols in much of Europe. Moving right along, if one doesn’t use ideology, one can at least use common sense. And in this case, I can’t think of any possible harm this particular law is causing. (I don’t want to hear any slippery slope arguments, those are almost always silly.) The guy was deliberately violating the social contract, law or no law; if this is how the Germans deal with it, so be it. Five months in jail is not exactly cruel and unusual punishment, he’ll survive.

Speaking of Nazi saluting dogs, apparently the real Nazis got concerned about one in 1941. A Finnish businessman reportedly had a dog named Hitler that raised its paw in the Nazi salute on command. The businessman was interrogated and claimed his wife had named the dog as a joke after its habit of barking with one paw in the air. The Nazi’s didn’t believe him, and investigated ways to charge him with insulting Hitler, as well as trying to sabotage his business. They couldn’t just shoot him though, Finland was a German ally, not a puppet state, and ultimately the good businessman lived and prospered long after the war. History does not record the fate of the dog.

No, I’m not making this up. One would think Nazi counter-intelligence would have better things to do in the months before the invasion of Russia, but government agencies investigating all sorts of weird things is by no means limited to the Nazis.  It’s kind of the nature of bureaucracy to find stuff to do, and when dealing with someone like Hitler, would anyone want to be the one to explain to Adolf why this open insult to the Third Reich wasn’t investigated?

In summation, I am capable of changing my mind. Ideology is bad, I’ll be blogging on that soon enough. Cultural imperialism is bad as well, and insidiously a part of the western mind set, and must be guarded against.  Yes, there will be a test. Lots of them. If you’re still here after one, you pass. They’re all pass/fail tests actually.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. Clearly it’s an historically important image, and even more clearly, in no conceivable way does its use here interfere with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. Credit and copyright: RTL. If the gentle reader hasn’t see “The Limey,” do so.)

Written by unitedcats

March 19, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Rant with links, or Doug’s Darkworld meets Donnie Darko

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For those who don’t get the reference, Donnie Darko is a kid in a  movie who has a series of increasingly bizarre and creepy adventures only to discover at the end that he was killed at the very beginning of the movie. Sort of. As the news, especially the Republican’s War on Women, gets weirder and creepier, I wonder sometimes if I didn’t survive my stroke, and this is just some bizarre afterlife. That, or some evil force has taken control of the body politic in the USA. It all ties together, the war on women, the war on terror, and our overseas adventures … all driven by a cult that has infiltrated our government and apparently the minds of many Americans.

First, the War on Women or whatever one wants to call the increasingly harsh laws being proposed to, well, put women in their place. And to turn back the clock to an era where there was no birth control. In the seventies we had Bobby Riggs spewing misogynistic nonsense, and the media and most people considered him a joke and a throwback. Now we have leading pundits calling women sluts and laws designed to force women to have children if they get pregnant. All  the name of saving babies, but since the only method they are proposing is making their religious code public law, this is about religion, not saving babies.

And this segues neatly into the Kony 2012 thing. This is a slick You Tube movie telling about the atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and surrounding countries. And it’s very much pro US intervention in the region, yes, the US army is going to go in and catch or kill this terrible man. Aside from the fact that the film wildly simplifies a horrible mess that the Ugandan army and government played a big role in creating, it’s predicated on the colonial assumption that the poor Africans need our help. And since an Evangelical organization created this movie, this is about crusading and conversion, all in the name of saving babies of course. Here’s what Africans say about it. I particularly liked: ” … once again Africans are being made to look like they need saving by yet another White person with a saviour-narcissist complex.”

Like all the children we saved in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some lovely stuff going on now, kids who dare wear western dress are apparently being stoned to death in Iraq now. Yeah, we turned Iraq into a fundamentalist Iran aligned mess, and seemed to have learned absolutely nothing from the situation and are going ahead and doing the same in Libya and Syria. And with our heads completely in the sand with what is going on In Afghanistan. Yes, the forgotten war, project number one in our post 9/11 cowardly violent ongoing spasm of re-shaping the world to prevent anything bad from ever happening to the USA again. It was our Christian duty, how could it have gone wrong?

The truth though is that many or most Americans completely swallow the “We’re there to help those poor brown people” line. And the beauty of the crusading colonial mind set is that when ti fails, as it almost invariably does, why it was because they were too stupid and primitive to learn our clearly superior ways, hamstrung by a 7th century religion. Said the people hamstrung by a 1st century religion. It’s a war on the truth. And that goes hand in hand with a war on science. The people making huge sums of money off the current situation, and the religious right, both hate science and are doing their best to suppress it. Using the power of modern technology and advertising, they are doing a good job of it. And going at it from both ends, science education is under attack across the USA, as evangelicals get their corrosively anti-science teachings into the classroom, one way or the other.

And of course while all this is going on, the rich are making out like bandits. Yes, the economy has been recovering the past two years … except virtually all of the recovery has gone to the top 1%. That still blows my mind, Obama bailed out the rich, and there’s still people who think he’s a man of the people? I could go into his enthusiastic endorsement of assassinating Americans or outlawing protest, but I guess believing in Obama is no more insane than believing the Earth is 6,000 years old or that “intelligent design” is a scientific theory. Hell, I guess compared to Rush Limbaugh calling the women of America sluts, Obama must look damn good to many people.

Basically evangelists and the rich have hijacked America and aren’t even hiding where they are going anymore. Two thousand years after Christ’s ministry, global misery is still being perpetrated in his name. A war on women, a war on science, a war on truth, a war on the non-Christian people of the world. And of course a lot of oil and money to be made on the side while we are saving all those souls, I mean babies. Is it all my stroke damaged brain’s imagination? I wish. Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image is the rabbit from the movie Donnie Darko. It’s a low resolution grey scale copy of the original, and I’m basically plugging the movie, so I think I am safe claiming it as Fair Use. It’s not being used for profit, yadda, yadda, yadda. I chose it because that’s the sort of mood I’m in. My Muslim neighbours are having a party downstairs, I think I’ll go join them.)

Written by unitedcats

March 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm


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A TV commercial just came on saying “Battle: Los Angeles” was the world’s number one movie. I’ve seen it. If it’s the world’s number one movie, it’s because it doesn’t have much competition. Not that it’s a bad movie. If one likes alien invasion movies, say Aliens crossed with Independence Day, it’s a passable and even enjoyable movie. (Aliens and Independence Day, whatever else one may say of them, are at the top of their genres.)

—Insert mild spoiler warning here.

The idea behind “Battle: Los Angeles” was to make a realistic alien invasion movie, combined with a gritty combat movie. In that, to a large extent, they succeeded where others have failed. In Independence Day for example, or Cloverfield, or Skyline, the alien’s rationale and tactics we’re both silly and/or incomprehensible. So I can get behind the idea of a realistic alien invasion movie.

And the producers tried, they really did. The start of the movie was great. The aliens managed to figure out a way to get close to Earth without being detected, and launched a basically D-Day style invasion of Earth. As war movies go, way cool. They emphasized the importance of air power. The aliens had a military very analogous to human militaries. They weren’t invincible, their weapons were no more powerful than ours. It was a great fight, humans were the aborigines that a colonial oppressor had decided to exterminate.

Sigh. The movie at one point explained the alien’s rationale for invading. I can only hope that in the director’s cut, this will be edited out. It was so stupid, that it rivals the scene in Independence Day where a Mac laptop interfaces with an alien computer system. The ugly truth is that if aliens capable of star travel wanted to capture Earth, they would just toss rocks at us from the Asteroid Belt, obliterate our 10,000 largest cites (and 90-99% of the human race,) and hunt down what humans remained like the vermin that we are.

The other really stupid thing, the aliens were terrible shots. I mean not just bad, but terrible. I mean, how hard is hit to it someone with a automatic weapon from 3 feet away? Maybe they weren’t used to Earth’s sunlight,  or gravity, or ere hung over from a  big pre-invasion party the night before, I dunno. Still, even with those two stupid things, it was still better than most alien invasion movies. Most alien invasion movies consist of endless stupid things and horrible plots as well. I think in that vein, Signs might be the stupidest movie ever made. It had the stupidest aliens too, I mean, an  alien travels light years to get to Earth, but can’t figure out how to get out of a locked pantry? The clincher was the thing that made the alien invasion doomed … water as like acid to them, just spray a bit on one and poof, fried alien.

Let’s think, say you’re a human leader and are looking for alien planets to invade. You find one. It has vast sulphuric acid oceans lakes, and rivers. Clouds of sulphuric acid float throughout the atmosphere, and sulphuric acid rain is commonplace. And the life forms on the planet are all mostly made of sulphuric acid. Would that make a great planet for humans to  invade and conquer? Of course not, it would be insane. Of course, considering some the USA’s recent invasions, maybe it wouldn’t be that far fetched.

Then there’s the fact that even watching the trailer, I thought, “The aliens want LA, so? Give it to them.” What can I say, I have  a Northern Californians attitude towards Southern California.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, is central to illustrating the post, and I’m basically plugging the movie so I can’t imagine anyone would object. Credit and copyright: Columbia Pictures. Next we get back into the disaster that continue to unfold in Libya and Japan Washington, LA getting blown up was just a  light diversion. Starting to look like LA is the Tokyo of our times as far as city destroying alien invasions go. If you see the movie, enjoy.)


Written by unitedcats

March 21, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Through Thick and Thin, Problems Inside Problems, and a Movie Review

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Why have I not been posting regularly? Short answer: Bad shoulder, bad computer, bad attitude. The first has turned me into a cripple in almost all walks of life. It’s healing, but slower than I hoped. My computer is freezing up regularly, trying to get to the bottom of that. And as part of my recent massive life changes, I realized I was using writing to avoid dealing with people. Sigh. So I’m spending a lot more time interfacing with other people rather than interfacing with my blog. As the forces in my life continue to rebalance themselves I expect I will eventually blog more, especially since all this change has given me new insights into the world and how people think.

One of my recent revelations is that a lot of people get their world view entirely from their own personal experience. For example I was in a  group discussion and the topic of the lunar effect came up. That’s the idea that there are more crimes committed, mental hospital admissions, etc on the night of the full moon. It’s an idea that scientists have investigated at great length, and never found any actual correlation in real life. Yet every person in the group fervently believed it, and cited their own “experience” as “proof” that the lunar effect was real. In another case I brought up the fact that working around horses was a very dangerous occupation, and one woman vehemently disagreed with me … and cited her long family association with horses as “proof.” I could quote all the NIOSH statistics I wanted to at her, but it didn’t matter, her world view came entirely from her own experience. I dropped out of the group, there’s no point “debating” with people who put more weight in their own experience that massive objective studies, collections of data, and statistics. That’s not to say one shouldn’t be very leery of statistics and studies in certain contexts, especially if the person presenting them as evidence has an agenda. Sigh. In any event I know this is sort of codicil to recent posts I have made, but see first paragraph, things are gonna be a bit chaotic in here for awhile. Doug’s JumbleWorld.

In a follow up to my CEOs as psychopaths post, I came across this little article: Is your favorite politician a sociopath? I wouldn’t take the article too seriously, but it does point out that it is very sociopathic behavior for politicians to get caught blatantly abusing their office, and then completely denying any wrongdoing no matter how much evidence there is. People for the most part wouldn’t tolerate behavior like that in their friends and loved ones, yet they can be remarkably forgiving of politicians that do the same. Go figure. And in a  delicious little bit of synchronicity, I went to the BBC news page, and the top headline is Gordon Brown testifying in the Iraq Inquiry that he still stands 100% behind the decision to go to war in Iraq, claiming it was the “right” thing to do. In the real world, it’s long ago been shown that the idea that Saddam had WMDs and was plotting some nefarious attack with them was baloney no matter how thin you slice it. Additionally the “war of liberation” in Iraq killed, maimed, or displaced about a quarter of Iraq’s population …  the worst humanitarian crisis in the middle east since the partition of Palestine in 1948. I’m pretty sure that if something like that happened to the USA or Britain, most people would agree that it might not have been the best idea. Yet despite the ghastly cost of the war to Iraq, and the complete absence of WMDs, it was still a good idea? Jesus wept.

Moving right along, I watched the recent movie 2012 last night. (Yes, I lost a bet.) Kinda fun in a frenetic kind of way, but my God, the science and physics. It’s beyond appalling, they use all these scientific words, but it’s just window dressing. It’s like if someone wanted some foreign language speech in a movie, and they just picked words out of a foreign language and strung them together. It might sound cool, but to someone who understood the language, it would be just gibberish. Maybe it’s always been this bad, it just bothers me more because I’ve become more aware recently just how widespread scientific scientific illiteracy is in the USA. Movies like this aren’t the cause, but they aren’t helping. Especially since it wouldn’t be that hard to make the science in the movie a whole lot more palatable, but they didn’t even try. Oh well, fun movie for what it is. I actually watch a  lot of stupid movies and TV, I mean, when I’m relaxing, might as well relax my brain as well and just enjoy. I’m going to do as much of that as possible this weekend.

And yes, my spell checker has somehow defaulted to American English. It looks strange to me too, problems within problems, that’s my life now. Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law as in was created in 1850. Credit: David Roberts, 1796-1864. It’s a a painting titled “The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem.” This occurred in 70AD during the First Jewish-Roman War. It is a neat image and I chose it because it obliquely refers to both 2012 and the invasion and destruction of Iraq. Iraq is number six and dropping on the most recent Failed State Index, not to mention the continuing violence, just in case anyone is interested.)

Written by unitedcats

March 5, 2010 at 11:14 am

Posted in Berkeley, Movies, Politics, War

2009 Movies, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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I rented and watched a movie that was so bad, I can’t get the taste out of my mind.  (And no, I’m not talking about Gran Torino.) It was so bad that I kept watching it in morbid fascination, surely it can’t get worse? It did. By the end I had decided there must have been some terrible mistake in the editing room, and all the good scenes got thrown out by mistake, so they cobbled the movie together out of the rejects laying on the floor. And upon further reflection, I’ve seen a number of movies this year that, well, sucked. So in the spirit of making the world a better place,  here are five movies to avoid. I mean if even one person is spared spending a few bucks renting a godawful movie, that’s a good deed? Right. Santa take note.

Terminator Salvation. I waited years for this? When I said there was no way they could make a worse movie than Terminator 3, it wasn’t meant as a challenge! Well, they did. The plot was muddy, the terminators were muddy, and just in general the whole thing lacked any of the edginess of the original two movies. Or originality for that matter, what the hell is it with all these movies that are filled with “tributes” to older better movies? Remaking a scene isn’t a tribute, it’s boring and says “We couldn’t think of anything better.” Why Arnold allowed the producers to use his image in this movie is beyond me.

Doomsday. Never heard of this movie? Good. This movie is made entirely of tributes. Basically it’s “Escape from New York” crossed with “The Road Warrior.” Without the originality,  charm, and dialogue of either. This movie was such a dog that even though it’s one of the biggest films to be made in Scotland in living memory, the Scots took great pains not to invite them to the BAFTA Scotland Awards, let alone consider them for an award. Ouch.

Transformers II. Yes, there is a theme here. So I should have titled the blog post “bad Sci-Fi movies of 2009.” It was  bad year for Sci-Fi, what can I say. The non Sci-Fi movies I saw were all at least passable. Moving right along, if you’re a rabid Transformers fan … that can be cured now: Watch this movie. OK, it’s not quite that bad, but the first movie was fun without being painful and awkward and stupid. On the plus side, if you fast forward through all scenes with the protagonist’s family and girlfriend, what remains is good Transformers fun. If, you know, watching giant CGI robots beat each other up is your idea of entertainment.

9. I got tricked into seeing this movie, how else can I explain paying to see two hours of CGI animated socks whining as a giant robot sucks the starch out of them? The giant robot red eye from Hal in 2001 plays himself in the strongest supporting role of the film. On the other hand, if you’re someone who thinks a movie is only a platform for stringing together a series of oh-so-really-cool CGI fight scenes with a different monster each time, this movie was made for you!

Land of the Lost. OK, this is it, one of the worst movies I have ever seen. Yes, this is the movie that inspired this post.  I don’t watch very many contemporary comedies, they aren’t really my style. When I do though, I usually enjoy myself and even get a few laughs. And I expected no different this time, I even brought the movie to a Thanksgiving Dinner. Fortunately we didn’t get around to watching it, so I will be invited back next year. What can I say, if you think that dinosaur bodily fluids are the ultimate humour prop, this movie was made for you. Who wouldn’t pay to see Will Ferrel pour dinosaur piss on his head? Yes, 4 year olds will find this movie terribly funny, but don’t bring them unless you want to explain the weird pointless gay themed adult “jokes,” like where one guy was trying to get two other guys to kiss? What the hell was that about? I rest my case. Shudder.

Last but not least, Gran Torino. I really enjoyed this movie and highly recommend it. I’ve seen it three times already, which for me is almost unprecedented. At some point I will be discussing it at length because it makes a number of points about racism , assimilation, and what it means to be an American that are worth going over. I only mention it here because I needed a pic to illustrate the post, and decided that using an image from a  movie that I’m panning wouldn’t be appreciated. I may stretch the limits of Fair Use at times, but obviously using a movie image to discourage people from going to a movie clearly is outside the scope of Fair Use.

So have a great weekend everyone. Rent and watch Gran Torino if you haven’t already done so. You will be tested on this. Next week, climategate  … brace yourselves.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s a low resolution copy of a movie poster, it’s not being used for profit, and it’s use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. Credit and copyright: Warner Brothers. And yes, I am a big Clint Eastwood fan, and no, this isn’t is typical Dirty Harry shoot-em-up movie. He gets off one shot in the movie, int0 the ceiling of his garage. Enjoy.)

Written by unitedcats

December 4, 2009 at 8:00 am

Posted in Movies


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Spoiler warning! This post assumes you have seen the movie 300.

I saw the film 300 last night. It’s a highly stylized account of the Battle of Thermopylae, where a small Greek army under the command of Sparta’s King Leonidis held off a much larger Persian army for three days, before being betrayed, surrounded, and annihilated. In the last scene of the movie a much larger Greek army, inspired by the courageous defense at Thermopylae, is about to engage the Persian army in the much lesser known battle of Plataea. Lots of chest thumping, slow motion violence, and beautiful panoramic shots. It’s based on a graphic novel (they were called comic books when I was a kid) so it’s not exactly trying for verisimilitude. The Greeks didn’t go into battle bare chested for example, no matter how cool it looked. And no, the Persians didn’t have giant war elephants, ogres, or war rhinoceroses…sheesh, it felt like they had spliced in shots from The Lord of the Rings in places.

Interesting and fun movie though. Much is made of how the heroic Greeks were fighting for their freedom against the invading Persians. True enough, in fact this war was the first time the Greek city states more or less united and acted in concert. Xerxes, the King of Persia, is portrayed as a megalomaniacal figure out to conquer the world. Well, yeah, Emperors did that. Also, freedom in Greece was reserved for a few. The 300 Spartans who died at Thermopylae so heroically had 900 unwilling Greek slaves with them, who also died. Um, the movie doesn’t mention that.

Still, the narrative still resonates with us today, in fact the wars between the Greeks and the Persians are possibly second only to the bible as being the greatest collective myth in the west. And it’s history turned into myth, there is no question that the history of early Greece greatly influenced and inspired the following Roman Empire, whose institutions and ideas underlay much of the west till today. I doubt King Leonidas imagined that his actions those three days would resonate through history as the ultimate story of a last stand of a few great men against a horde of evil “barbarians.” Of course Leonidis’s actions also led to the invasion of Persia a 100 years later, by an equally megalomaniacal Greek king, one Alexander, who went on to wreak such destruction that he may be the only person in history to personally usher in a dark age.

Some have claimed that the movie is part of a campaign to demonize Iran and the east, western propaganda for the War on Terror so to speak. I think that’s kind of reaching. Yes, many Iranians would be annoyed or event take umbrage at how Xerxes and the Persians are portrayed, but I’m willing to bet there are movies being made in Iran that aren’t terribly flattering or accurate in their portrayal of the west. (Welcome to Earth. Prejudices will be issued at the door, take your pick of someone to misunderstand and hate. If you don’t decide, your leaders will do it for you, no worries.) No, 300 is not propaganda in the true sense of the word, as in deliberately created to brainwash people. The movie is however a sort of cultural propaganda that spontaneously is generated by every culture. And in that sense there are a few more comments and clarifications I would make…

The Persian Empire was an empire like so many others. No better or worse than any other empire. There are actually very few Empires in history, the urge to subdue and conquer one’s neighbours only occasionally arises in a people. Like religion, imperialism is a not terribly well understood sociological and cultural phenomena that has wildly altered history in unpredictable ways. Yes, more blogs on this fascinating topic are planned.

True, the Spartans were one of history’s most militarized societies. I was annoyed however that they portrayed the Greek soldiers for Athens and elsewhere as artists and tradesmen who had taken up arms, while the Spartans were the only “true” warriors. Balderdash. All of the Greek city states had a cadre of professional soldiers, people whose career was being a soldier. As a side note, the movie didn’t mention it, but the Immortals on the Persian side were the Persian professional soldiers. The other Persian fighters were farmers turned into soldiers, with wicker shields and no armour. And the Greek professional soldiers in their bronze armour did indeed cut them down like wheat, as the movie so graphically illustrated.

As a final note, while the Spartan’s legend lives on to this day (my High School Football team was called The Spartans,) their extreme militancy and quest for the perfect soldier was ultimately their undoing. The only way into the Spartan Warrior elite was through blood, and people were kicked out for such infractions as sleeping on guard duty or showing cowardice in battle. So even though they were unmatched in battle and for several centuries were the ultimate power in Greece, at one point even “uniting” Greece by force and forming a league that invaded Perisia, ultimately they dwindled as the population of non Spartans grew. By the time of Alexander Sparta was still fiercely independent, but was no longer a player on the world stage.

In fact Sparta refused to join Alexander in his invasion of Persia, they had no interest in a war where Sparta wasn’t in charge. After Alexander conquered Persia, he had 300 suits of armour made and sent to Sparta, inscribed:

Alexander son of Philip, and the Greeks – except the Spartans – from the barbarians living in Asia

The movie doesn’t mention that either. Maybe in the sequel?

(The above is a modern image of the Thermopylae battle site. At the time of the battle the shoreline was where the road is now, or even closer to the mountains. It is legally published in accordance with the copyright holder’s permission: Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled “GNU Free Documentation License“.)

Written by unitedcats

August 5, 2007 at 10:09 am

Earth II discovered just 20 light years away, UN to debate establishing diplomatic relations with aliens

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Artists impression of Earth II and Gliese 581. Credit: Reuters

In a “Woohoo” moment for astronomers, scientists, and their fans…the first potentially Earth like planet has been discovered orbiting a nearby star. It orbits the star Gliese 581 which is just over 20 light years from Earth. Granted 20 light years is a little beyond our current ability to send probes, but it’s still right next door in the greater scheme of things. Granted saying Earth II is Earth like is a bit of a stretch, it’s about 1.5 times the size of the Earth and its surface temperature is between 0 C (32F) and 40 C (105F) degrees. That’s definitely ball park, and definitely within the range where liquid water can exist.

And that’s about all that is known right now. It could be a barren ball of rock, it could be covered with a world ocean, it could be a ball of gas like Neptune. However, it could be teeming with life, and every effort is going to be made to determine everything we can about Earth II. It orbits a much smaller redder sun than Earth, and thus orbits much closer to its sun than Earth. A year on Earth II is just 13 days long, eep. This means the planet is likely tidally locked to its sun, the way the Moon is to the Earth. In other words, the same side of the planet always faces its sun. So one side of Earth II would be way too hot for life, the other side perpetually frozen. At the terminator though, the edge between the light and dark sides of the planet, Earth like conditions could still exist, even though there would be constant hurricane force winds.

On the announcement of the news, bookmakers reduced the odds of discovering other intelligent life in the universe from 1000 to 1 all the way down to 100 to 1. They are probably being overly cautious, but bookmakers got badly burned in the sixties when they offered 1000 to 1 odds that man would walk on the Moon by 1970. They paid out over a million dollars in that little bet, they aren’t taking any chances this time.

On the subject of extraterrestrial intelligent life, a few weeks ago the UN announced in a press release that the United Nations General Assembly will debate “establishing diplomatic relations with advanced Extraterrestrial Civilizations that may now be visiting Earth.” Yes, that’s right, the UN is going to debate establishing diplomatic relations with aliens “…that may now be visiting Earth.” I’m not sure what to make of that, either the UN has way too much time on their hands, or they know something they aren’t telling us. And you thought the headline above was just another of my little jokes. :P

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is central to illustrating the post and it is not being used for profit. There was a science fiction show called Earth 2 by the way, and it was released on DVD a few years back. I really liked the show and was saddened when it was cancelled after just one season, though it is only for science fiction fans and doesn’t have broad appeal.)

Written by unitedcats

April 26, 2007 at 9:19 am

An inconvenient movie, a scheming politician, and a global disaster

with 13 comments


I rented and watched Al Gore’s campaign film “An Inconvenient Truth” last night. The man has clearly been taking lessons from Ted Haggard, he was charming, eloquent, and personable. He skewered the Bush administration with many pointed witticisms which had his obviously carefully selected audience rolling in the aisles. He even managed to get in several jokes about his failed election bid. Al Gore, robotman, is clearly a thing of the past. Like old Tricky Dicky, he has remade himself and is carefully poised for a comeback bid. If you are a fan of Al Gore, go see this movie. If you aren’t, don’t waste your money, you’ll be sorely disappointed, repulsed even.

My main criticism of the movie is very simple: They call this a documentary? Dear God, what is America coming to where we can’t even tell a slick political campaign ad from a documentary? As I watched the movie I kept thinking, “OK, this is just the folksy introduction, they’ll get to the actual movie soon…” No dice, the folksy fireside chat with the new Al Gore went on and on as my sense of horror and dismay rose…I had paid my hard earned money to see a slimy politician demonstrate his charm school lessons. Or maybe they just used computer graphics to add Al’s charm and personality, that would probably have been cheaper and easier. This movie made Michael Moore’s films vaguely resemble documentaries, something I would have said was impossible before watching “An Inconvenient Truth.” At least Michael Moore is making his films with the purest of motivations…to get rich.

On the more philosophical side, this movie does nicely illustrate a point I make from time to time. The rich and powerful will pursue their own selfish desires to the bitter end no matter what the cost to society. Here we have a clever egotistical politician hitching his horse to a global calamity in order to advance his political career. The man could easily have funded an actual documentary on global warming, and maybe helped counter the fabulous amount of money that is being poured by industry into their “global warming is a hoax/is too expensive to fix/is still a theory” campaign. Instead all he has done is further polarize the issue and given the global warming deniers further ammunition to cast aspersions on the science behind global warming. Good going Al, thanks for reaffirming my opinion that defacing my ballot is the only meaningful choice in American elections.

Speaking of global warming, the chart above is the elephant in the room that global warming deniers don’t want to talk about. Instead they’d rather talk about Al Gore’s college transcripts, conspiracy theories, and the climate in a few carefully selected spots on the globe. The reader needs to especially note that in the last decade the CO2 in the atmosphere has spiked to nearly 400ppm and is rising almost exponentially. Since in the last four hundred thousand years atmospheric CO2 has never passed 300ppm, it makes it ludicrous to claim that this is some sort of “natural cycle.” And the correlation to temperature continues as well, the ten warmest years on record have happened in the last two decades.

If someone can explain why this data should just be ignored, and that humanity can keep dumping CO2 into our planet’s atmosphere without restriction…that’s what the comment section is for. :)

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, is central to illustrating the post, and may be the most historically important image of our times.)


Written by unitedcats

March 10, 2007 at 8:40 am

America’s top ranked general on capturing Osama Bin Laden: “I don’t know that it’s all that important, frankly.”

with 8 comments

This was an incredibly moving scene for me.

There’s never any shortage of things to blog about. I’m still making my way through “The Guns of August,” a fabulously written book about world war one. On of the things that strikes me is how every country involved in the war was run by a combination of idiots and people with severe interpersonal issues. Yes, most countries throughout history are run by the same sorts of people that are running your office or company. Except of course they are trying to do something vastly more complicated than run an office or a business. There are individual exceptions here and there, but I think it’s safe to say that people wouldn’t trust their nation’s leaders to water their plants while they were on vacation, if they really knew what sort of people they were.

Which of course leads to one of history’s big mysteries, why the hell do so many people have bedrock faith in their government despite overwhelming evidence that they don’t know what they are doing? Christ, Hitler had reduced Germany to ruins and Russian tanks were rolling into Berlin, and still, people were maniacally defending him. And modern propaganda and the mass media being what it is, I think this problem may even be getting worse. More proof that our civilization is doomed, as if we needed any more proof.

Speaking of the end of civilization, I saw a movie last night which I was very impressed by: Children of Men. It’s a dark, violent, disturbing post-apocalyptic movie with a tiny sliver of hope running through it. I can’t recommend it enough, it touches upon avast array of contemporary issues, both spiritual and secular. It is however, not for the faint of heart, the movie is set in a future world where violence is endemic.

Moving right along, a few of today’s assorted news bleeps and commentary on same:

Israel Seeks Permission to fly over Iraq and attack Iran? I’m not sure what to think of this one, it says they are seeking permission from the USA to overfly Iraq on their way to bombing Iran. Um, gee, shouldn’t they be negotiating with the sovereign nation of Iraq? It’s also hard to imagine Israel doing anything so stupid unless they are trying to start a wider war in the region. Which may even be a possibility.

Comedy in Iraq. Maliki, the putative Prime Minister of Iraq claimed the crackdown was working, even as car bombs exploded in the background. He’s actually a pretty funny guy who says all sorts of amusing things along these lines. Of course he rarely if ever leaves the air conditioned splendour of the Green Zone, so his complete lack of contact with reality in Iraq can be understood.

Capturing Bin Laden “not important.” General Peter Shoomaker, the USA’s highest ranking officer, said he is unsure if the USA will ever capture Osama Bin Laden, remarking that “I don’t know that it’s all that important, frankly.” OK then. If capturing he man who murdered thousands of American on 911 isn’t important, what the fuck is important to these people? I mean, we started the whole goddamn war on terror because of this guy, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent, hundreds of thousands of people are dead and maimed, including thousands of Americans, two countries are in ruinous wars…and capturing the guy who started it all is not all that important? Please, could some of my pro Bush policy readers explain this dogshit?

No cat stories today, I won’t debase my cats by mentioning them in the same post as General “success is not a priority” Shoomaker.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, and it is central to the subject of the post. And I’m plugging their movie for God’s sake so I can’t imagine why anyone would object.)

Written by unitedcats

February 24, 2007 at 2:43 pm


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