Sunday, May 22, 2011

Transexuals and disclosure.

This post is mainly a response to Zinna Jones' video which I commented on. I basically expressed that I found the part of the video dealing with a man sleeping with a transsexual they didn't know was trans contained some bad argument. I got pissed off with you tube's (not enough to actually say anything substantive) comment character limits and decided here would be the best place for a response.

So, is it unreasonable for a trans-woman who is about to sleep with a man to say nothing about her once himness to her imminent lover?

Like most interesting issues the views of both sides have something going for them. From the point of view of the woman, she is a woman, end of! Why should biological history matter?
Many heterosexual men find the idea of sleeping with another man truly horrifying. While the woman he is sleeping with is not a man, the fact that the individual was once a man is not entirely irrelevant. Most men would have a kind of crying game reaction to sleeping with a transgender woman; said reaction might not be rational or fair to the woman, but that won't stop it from being the case. Most men would be harmed by the experience.

I can personally attest that I would not like to sleep with a transgender woman. It may not be rational, it may be very unfair to discriminate on those grounds, but it is the case. I expect that this would be the majority opinion on this issue.

As to the notion that a man who would be very bothered by this should take the precaution of asking any woman they are about to sleep with if they are a transsexual, I find this suggestion ridiculous. If anyone, male or female, asks anyone else, male or female, "Are you a transsexual?" the reaction will in general be quite negative. If that particular question should pop out immediately pre-coitus, chances are the sex ain't gonna happen after all. Most people are offended by anything which questions their gender identity and this particular question does so directly. It is simply an impractical suggestion. It is something of an irony that it is the very same sense of gender identity that would prompt a transgender woman to not want to disclose the fact in the first place.

Consider the legitimate concern you might have about being driven around by a taxi-driver who was bombed out of his mind. Were you to discover, after the fact, that the taxi-driver who just dropped you off had been smashed behind the wheel you would probably be fairly upset by it. While you may be well aware that you are adverse to being driven around by a drunken taxi-driver, it would be none-the-less impractical, not to mention rather rude, to ask every taxi-driver whose taxi you get into "Have you been drinking?"
One of the reasons we don't ask questions like this is that we expect our taxi-drivers to be sober. It will be almost always the case that taxi-drivers are sober. It is the default state of things. Even though a drunk taxi-driver might well actually kill you, we are willing to take the possibly fatal risk on the grounds of how unlikely it is and the hassles we would create by actually asking every taxi-driver we patronise if they have been drinking. The asking of every potential sex partner if they are transsexual is a similar proposition. Though it would be psychologically damaging for many men, myself included, to unwittingly sleep with a transsexual woman, it is statistically highly unlikely to occur and the rather severe social penalty we would pay for asking just to be sure, makes it far more practical to simply take the risk. It is worth noting that the possibility probably doesn't even enter the minds of most men. That is in no way an indicator of how much it would bother them.

What we risk is not just a function of how damaging or not an unfavourable outcome would be, but a weighing of that outcome against the probability of the event occurring. While getting hit by lightning would be extremely damaging, most of use will risk going abroad in inclement weather armed with nothing but a confidence in the extremely low probability that it will actually happen. That we may not even forsee a potential harm does not equate with not finding the experience harmful should it happen to occur.

I think the notion that how much effort we put into protecting ourselves from a particular harm (especially a harm that has a negligible probability of actually occurring) is in a measure of how harmful we would find it is a terrible argument. It is a weak argument in general but with something as specific as sex with someone transgender, it is particularly weak. The possibility that any of my previous sexual partners might have been transgender never even occurred to me. It is an extreme rare thing. People simply would not be able to function if they were to try to protect themselves from every potential harm, no matter how unlikely.

I am entirely sympathetic to the crappy position this puts transgender women in. As ZJ mentions in the video, such women are women and have gone to great lengths to fully adopt their true gender. They neither want to mention previous biology and most likely feel there should be no need anyway. They are also reluctant to mention it as it would evoke stigmas etc.
While I sympathise with the position of such women, I can't help but think there is a slightly disingenuous quality to not mentioning it. In the video ZJ compares this in some fashion to someone having to list everything about themselves, from religious views to political preferences etc. While it would be absurd to expect two people who are considering having sex to disclose every detail of their minds and bodies, there are some cases where it might be more relevant. If you are fairly sure that something you are withholding is likely to make your potential partner not want to sleep with you (say you are actually a very mature looking 15 year old and you know the other person thinks you are older) but choose to keep it to yourself, there is an element of deceit at work.

ZJ suggests in the video that a man's primary concern, if they found themselves in the situation of having slept with a transgender woman, would be a crisis of sexuality. I doubt this would be a factor for most men at all, let alone the central concern. Many men find the idea of being with other men repulsive in the extreme. It is an echo of this revulsion that is at work. The ignorant may idiotically cry "homophobia" at this revelation. This is not the case. If I suggested that the idea of eating live spiders was revolting to me, few would cry "arachnophobia". While I find the idea of having sex with another man horrifying, I have absolutely no issue with gay men (or women or bi or trans either for that matter). I entirely support the rights of gay couples to marry, adopt etc. I would not feel any particular need to discriminate, hate or even find unsavory a person who did choose to eat live spiders, I just wouldn't want to be sitting at the table with them while they did it. This is not a suggestion either that gay people should keep their relationships hidden or any such nonsense. Refraining from having sex in public places on the otherhand is a reasonable expectation to have of people of any orientation :P
If I were to have unwittingly slept with a transgender woman, I would not have even the slightest hint of a sexuality concern. I am heterosexual. I would be perfectly OK with being gay, were I gay.(I've had moments with girlfriends where I might even have wished I was gay :P) I just happen to hetero.

I haven't slept in a long while, so apologies for spelling/appauling grammar etc.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A quick bit on fine tuning!

The fine tuning argument is one of my pet hates. It has left me astonished on numerous occasions. I am not astonished by its brilliance or by how difficult it is to refute as many religious folk might presume. I am astonished by how much weight sensible, intelligent atheists give to it. It is a deeply flawed argument. Let’s ignore for a moment the obvious implications of the anthropic principle. Let’s just take a look at the argument. It proposes that the fundamental constants of the universe, for instance gravity, are set exactly where they need to be in order for life to exist. An example might be something like the nuclear forces. Let’s assume they are extremely weak. If this were the case, it would be impossible for elements to form (except perhaps in some very specific cases). The matter in the universe would just be clumps of fundamental particles clustered in gravity wells. See! Life would be impossible! If you follow this line of reasoning, the fine tuning argument need not be directed towards life at all. You would have just as strong a case (stronger even) for the claim that the universe is fine tuned for the existence of heavy elements. Long live uranium!!!!

It presupposes a special privileged status for life. It essentially begs the question. The assumption that it must be all about life is inherent in the argument.

Forget all that for now though. There is a much more fundamental problem with this argument.
It uses our current physical models of this universe to predict the results of changing some of the constants of the physical laws. That is ok to a point. We can predict what our universe would be like if gravity was much stronger or weaker (to a point). It is a reality of science that experimentation is necessary in order to discover those things you didn't consider. The knock-on effects of changing even one of the constants of the universe would be near impossible to predict as none of these constants operate in isolation from each other. Usually, we are told that if x were different, then y would cause this or that. No consideration is given to how w, u or z might also be affected and what effect those affects would have on all the other constants and what effect those affects would have etc. (How many of you just spent a good few seconds judging my use of the words effect and affect? - flaming, nit-picking atheists :P. For the record, I gave no consideration to which was warranted in any case there!) To make matters far worse, usually only one of the constants is chosen to be altered at any given time. No consideration is given to the massive number of possible universes in which many or even all constants are changed at the same time. The resultant universe would be simply too different to accurately assess. What kind of life might exist in such universes? No idea, probably nothing like us, but would life of any kind be possible. No-one can say.
Consider the following analogy.
Let’s assume that humans are the only form of life in the universe. A fine tuning proponent attempts to argue that human organs are fine tuned to allow for a living body and that if you changed any of the constants of human anatomy, a living body would be impossible.

"Consider the heart!. Were it much smaller, it would be unable to pump the blood with sufficient pressure to provide adequate circulation. The organs would be starved of oxygen and sustenance. Death would be assured. Were it much bigger, it would pump the blood with more force than the arterial walls could safely endure. Haemorrhage would be inevitable!
That is just the heart. The lungs too must operate within precise parameters. Too much mucus for example and you would literally drown, too little and debris would collect in the lungs and you would suffocate. There are literally thousands of parameters within the body that must be just so to allow the body to live. The only logical conclusion is that some kind of intelligence designed the human body to allow it to live!!......... Hail Jesus!" - I am not a doctor, a biologist nor educated in any way in human anatomy. I am sure there are much better ways biologically speaking to make the point above. I am strictly using this analogy to illustrate a point!

This individual might be taken seriously in a world were there were no other forms of life. Even if other forms of life relatively similar to human did exist, their commonalities may be presumed to be fundamentally necessary. Assume dogs, horses and pigs also existed. What do you think are the chances that these people, living in a world that only consists of humans, dogs, horses and pigs would be able to predict or even imagine a very different form of viable life like an earthworm or a jellyfish?
The truth of the matter is that we cannot even begin to imagine what universes might possibly exist under much different conditions than our own. There may be entirely different systems that are possible in which concepts like gravity don't even make sense. To try to make the claim that only this universe could support life is at best arrogant and incredibly presumptuous.

Down with this silly argument I say!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Response to "A Concise Refutation of Materialist Atheism"

This is a response to the post "A Concise Refutation of Materialist Atheism"

What is the assumption here? One clearly must have data. What does the collection of data assume? It assumes a material existent. Science cannot work with anything that is not a material existent.

It is not strictly true to say that science cannot work with anything that is not a material existent. Science can and sometimes does work by implication. While the materially existent may not be directly observable, it is necessary to add that it must also have absolutely no impact on anything that is existent in order to be complete outside of the realm of science. Many theories in science are based on the effects of a thing rather than the direct observation of the thing itself. It must, of course, affect something that is existent and observable. A god, if there is one, could not take any action or have any effect on the universe after its initiation to be certain of not being detected.
You are making a huge assumption also that said god or gods are necessarily not materially existent.
You have not made clear what it means to be “not a material existent” thoughts and even concepts are slaves to material origins.

“There is no scientific evidence for the existence of God” are clearly offering an irrational argument.

This argument, even if false, is not irrational. It is a bit like saying that there is no visual (light) evidence for gravity; ignoring that this is not strictly true lets assume that there is no reason why there should be any light evidence for gravity, the statement is not irrational. It is at worst, irrelevant. The statement is either true or false. The either is, or there is not, scientific evidence for God. The conclusion of many people, though not all, is that there is not.

Science assumes material data. To apply its methods and argumentation to a deity question is to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what science is. or a misunderstanding of what a deity is?

Also, the problem of universals shows that there are indeed non-material existents. Most or all of math is a non-material existent. One cannot find math anywhere as a physical object.
While it might be tempting to view math as an existent, it is not accurate. Math does not exist outside of the perception of minds. Even these concept are emergent from the matter in a human brain. I take it that you are presuming that math is existent in the sense that even if there were no people; two planets and two planets would still make four planets.
This is not strictly true. Math is a system by which we humans conceptualise and compartmentalise the physical rules of the universe. If you have two apples and add two more apples you never suddenly have 3,000 apples. This is based on the physical rules of the universe. We give names to distinctions like 1 and 2 but they are just concepts in our minds.

One knows that the number two really exists, but where is it?

Only in minds. Nowhere else. The concept exits, that is all it is. The very idea of "number" is also only a concept, dependant on a mind which is in turn dependant on material.

Two tables before me and two chairs behind me both use the exact same existent “two.”
You cognate them as sharing a common distinction. If you had always been told that what everyone else calls “two” was called “four”, you would see four chairs and four tables. In the absense of a mind what sense does two or four make here or chair or table for that matter. In the absense of a mind there simple is; though the is doesn't know it :)

Thus, one cannot reasonably claim that there is no such thing as a non-material existent.
I think you can. That there are emergent effects which seem like non-physical existents is certainly true. You feel like you mind is separate from your brain. Thoughts seem like disembodied existents in themselves. They aren’t of course, they are as reliant on the operation of matter and physical forces as falling rocks are. The most that can be said is that the universe has a particular state (i.e. the laws of physics). It is tempting to suggest that these "laws" are non-material existents but they themselves don't make sense outside of material existence, they don't operate and are not even coherent without the presumption of the physical.

This opens us up to another realm where there are things that are real, and exist, apart from physical phenomena, such as mathematics and consciousness.
When a person dies, they no longer have consciousness as the required physical activity of which consciousness was an emergent property has ceased. Consciousness itself a physical phenomena.

Thus, the evidence based atheist who says there is no evidence for God, and therefore, he does not exist is using an invalid method for the debate. One cannot use any purely material based approach to the question of a non-material existent, such as God.
Again, you must justify the assertion that God is a non-material existent.

In many cases, this confidence turns into arrogance, which in turn explains some of the recklessness when a materialist glibly applies the method to non-material questions.

I also suspect that when a philosophically astute challenger points out these obvious errors of materialism, the materialist suddenly feels exposed and naked, since his previously unassailable method has been shown useless (for some questions) with arguments he has never thought about before. And, a scientist usually does not take very well to exposure that his previously reliable intellectual approach, (and often by implication his reputation of being “smart”) is shattered so easily. I think a lot of the materialist evasion after being challenged effectively is a turning away on their part to the truth shown in the argument coming from from a fear of looking directly at the issue, because an entire world-view will be shattered for them, in many cases.

This seems a rather arrogant conclusion and clear assumption that your argument as laid out here is completely unassailable. I don’t mean to be confrontational but you are using materialist in a condescending manner here and as a materialist I find it a tad provocative! That aside, it is an interest topic and look forward to your response. I need more convincing on the idea of non-material existants and you must establish that "God" is non-material.

Monday, April 19, 2010


There is a prevalent opinion in the dimmer recesses of society of american society. Not only American society, but that particular community certainly seems to be the most vocal. I do not think that the prevalence of a high degree of religious conviction in this same community is coincidence. I was recently reading a piece on a Christian website (sorry but I can't find it again for a link) where they attempt to build a case for homosexuality being a product of nurture rather than nature. The case was something along lines that most of you will have encountered before. Absent father, over protective or possesive mother combined with a "sensitive" young man etc. Interestingly, I would love to hear an explanation of what a "sensetive" young man is and how these people believe that this "sensetivity" came about. They are obviously presuming that all people are born having roughly the same starting nature. Presumably all boys start out insensitive, and somehow become sensitive. Boiling down the sexualisation of some young men to enviornmental and maybe psychological factors.
I have issues with this. As a hetrosexual male I am certain that I could not be socialied into being gay. I have absolutely no doubt about this. Most hetrosexual people have no doubt about their being hetrosexual. The sexual responce is for most people, men especially, very very strong. It is not ambiguous or vague and has nothing to do with how we characterise the opposite sex. For men usually, not liking a particular womans character does not alter her attractiveness. If you meet a real, gold plated, peer reviewed and confirmed bitch, she can still be really hot. In the case of women, their sexual attraction to men can be governed to a fair degree on their opinion of the guy as a person with psyical considerations being much less important. These ideas are generalisations or course.
The site goes on to talk some complete horseshit about how homosexuals who go out partying are really only looking for sex and conquest. Yeah! The majority of young hetrosexual men must then be going out to nightclubs and bars looking mainly for a deep and fulfilling human connection and the sex is only incidental.

This is the really really weak evidence for homosexuality being a result of nurture. I say nature here as I am not certain what particular aspect of nature is responsible, it could be genetic, it could a factor from fetal development a combination of these things, whatever. I think it is pretty obvious from the evidence that your sexuality is something you are born with.

Consider this. There are many physical conditions that people are born with which are related to their sexual assignment. Some people are born with a mixture of the sexual organs. penis and uterus, penis and vagina etc. These conditions are not thought of as being a reaction to psycological pressures. "My father was such a cold asshole, who was sooo absent that in addition to my penis I was also born with a uterus." No one questions this. If you are unlucky enough to be a person for whom the sexual assignment proplem occurs in your brain, well your in trouble. Brains can be male or female. There are actual differences in male and female brains. There would have to be, otherwise the sexes would exibit more or less the same traits. If you have a very predominately female brain and your body is male then you aren't gay. You are woman in a man's body. This is about as extreme as a gender identity condition can be. But it is not an all or nothing proposition. Every brain falls somewhere along a range of possibilities with entirely male and entirely female being on the polar ends. I suspect there are very few men who have entirely male brains and very few women with entirely female brains. It is also not so simple as a degree of male or female. We know from study of the brain that different people manifest different amounts of function in various parts of the brain. An example might be the left brian/ right brain idea where the left brain is believed to be the hemisphere for logic and reasoning and the right brain intuition and emotion. Your ability to speak comes from your left brain etc etc. Some people have very strong brain biases in certain areas. This can mean they have great talent at a particular thing or find a particular thing nearly impossible. Its seems reasonable to me then that peoples brain develop in a wide ranging variety of ways. Why do some people (who just so happen to be almost exclusively religious) think that the parts of the brain responsible for sexality and sexual attraction should be immune from this varience? If you can be born with a penis and a uterus, why can't you be born with a penis and brain that finds men attractive? Even the term homosexuality is broad and encompasses a wide range of more specific sexualities. For example, you will probably have met gay men or gay women who act entirely as you would generally expect for their gender and you have probably met gay men or women who act much more in accordance with what you would expect from the opposite sex. All of this varience and indeed homosexuality itself seems to me to be an utterly unmysterious thing. It is no more immoral to be gay than it is to like action movies, or being the sporty type. I think that religion is probably the only reason why western socitey even considers homosexual to still be a debatable topic. The religious can't recognise it as being inborn in people without their precious, ancient and horrible little faiths taking yet another knock. Sadly, this nasty little predujuce is probably going to be with us a while yet.

Incidentally, I think our emerging understanding of the brain is making it more and more difficult to believe in a "soul" and still maintain the illusion of rationality, but we'll leave that for another time.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In repsonse to Philip Bitar

Philips comment:

This is a discussion of video 9, "What exactly is knowledge?", which is posted on my website A number of YouTube viewers challenged my presentation, but it is impossible to carry on a coherent conversation of sufficient detail on YouTube due to the limitation of 500 characters per comment, so I'm switching to this venue.

My theory of knowledge, which I refer to as the Best Predictor Theory, is that all knowledge is the result of reason applied to experience, and, more specifically, that knowledge is given by the simplest, most accurate predictor model for our observations.

The fact that knowledge is the result of reason applied to experience is easy to see since experience (all forms of experience) are all that we have to work with, and knowledge must be rational or else we'll be unable to productively interact with other people and with the world, and, as a result, we'll soon die.

The idea that knowledge is given by the best predictor model - the simplest, most accurate predictor model - is intuitively clear once you see what it means. An observation is any experience that you designate as such and that you want to explain. Knowledge obviously requires predictive accuracy, but, it turns, out, knowledge also requires simplicity, otherwise you can take a predictively accurate model and augment it with nonsense.

For example, we could claim that the world is flat and is resting on the back of a turtle, and that the reason that science says otherwise is that we're suffering from a systematic delusion. I recall reading that some Christians have actually suggested that the fossil record that establishes the basis for the theory of evolution is a hoax by God to deceive us! Along these same lines, in the early 1600s, when Galileo was promoting heliocentrism, the Catholic church approved this as long as Galileo would say that heliocentrism was merely a theory, thereby allowing reality to be something else that was consistent with the Bible.

The feature of knowledge that eliminates deductively accurate but otherwise idiotic theories is the simplicity criterion. So the simplicity criterion is an integral part of knowledge. It is not added on for convenience or for esthetic elegance, as in the common understanding of Occam's razor. No, the simplicity criterion is absolutely essential to knowledge.

Now, most atheists and theists, I believe, think that if God exists, he could communicate this fact unequivocally to humans, thereby laying to rest the debate about his existence. But in view of the Best Predictor Theory of Knowledge, this is logically impossible for God to do because a human's knowledge necessarily consists of the person's best predictor model - the person's simplest, most accurate predictor model - for their observations. It is logically impossible for knowledge to be anything else.

Note that we exclude the idea that God will robotically manipulate a person's mind because if God exists, he obviously created humans to be free agents who intelligently pursue knowledge. God did not create humans so that he could robotically manipulate their minds and their bodies!

Also note that a predictor model is a deductive model, and that since I've proven reality to be indeterministic, prediction is necessarily probabilistic.

I was not allowed to comment on Amazon having never purchased anything from them so I placed my response here.

Would you say that quantum mechanics and the current understanding of cell biology are simple models?

Descarte proposed that God simply made everything happen. The grand puppet master so to speak.
A VERY simple model. It can even be explained in one sentence. It can presumed to be the cause behind every effect and can never be wrong in that regard.
The naturalist explainations are not simple. They are more accurate however. Accuracy, not simplicity is the only indicator of the efficacy of a system unless two systems are equally accurate. It is then that occum's razor applies. The theory which makes the fewest assumptions should be preferred.

But in view of the Best Predictor Theory of Knowledge, this is logically impossible for God to do because a human's knowledge necessarily consists of the person's best predictor model - the person's simplest, most accurate predictor model - for their observations. It is logically impossible for knowledge to be anything else.

This is completely circular. It is logically impossible for knowledge to be anything else because you have asserted that it can't be. This is not a proof by any logic I am familiar with. Any conclusion is logically correct if you choose the right premises.
For Example.

Premise : Everyone is secretly aware of God's existance
Conclusion: Anyone claiming to be an atheist is lying.

From the premise provided the conclusion is logically valid. The premise however, presumes far too much. The trick to most logical arguments is showing that your premise is correct.

You argument works pretty much like this
Premise A: Simpler explainations are correct providing they have the same explanitory and predictory power.
Premise B: Knowledge is the result of reason applied to experience
Premise C: Knowledge can't be derived any other way
Conclusion : B somehow yields A therefore God cannot exist

Also, God might well exist and not bother communicating with anyone but lets leave that alone for now.

I have issues with some of the premises and definately with the circular conclusion.

Firstly: Define reason. By what criteria do you determine that your reason is reasonable?
Might I not apply my reason to an experience and conclude something entirely insane?
As Descarte discovered the only thing we can say with any certainty is "I think, therefore I am"
He then lept to the very simple but silly assumtion that God simply pulls all the strings after that.

Secondly: Suppose that what you are proposing is a valid hypothesis for the discovery of knowledge, it in no way suggests that knowledge cannot be found in other ways. You attempt to suggest that it does by simply appealing to it.

Note that we exclude the idea that God will robotically manipulate a person's mind because if God exists, he obviously created humans to be free agents who intelligently pursue knowledge. God did not create humans so that he could robotically manipulate their minds and their bodies!
That is nothing short of a wild assertion. There is nothing obvious or logical about it. You are attempting to dissmiss it out of hand because your theory cannot handle the scenario.

and that since I've proven reality to be indeterministic
You did what now? I missed that in there. Even an entirely naturalistic explanation of the universe cannot rule out determinacy.

But in view of the Best Predictor Theory of Knowledge, this is logically impossible for God to do because a human's knowledge necessarily consists of the person's best predictor model - the person's simplest, most accurate predictor model - for their observations.
This statement is covertly suggesting that a person who applies their reason to their experience and concludes "God just informed me of his existence" is just wrong somehow....

You are making massive and unjustified logical leaps. Apples proves oranges therefore pears.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Movies: When exactly did this happen?

Warning! A somewhat nerdy rant is forth coming.
You have been warned!

I was wondering recently after watching the film Wanted (warning: minor spoilers) when it was exactly that Hollywood decided that the laws of physics no longer had any place whatsoever in movies. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not beyond a little disbelief suspension and Hollywood has always had a somewhat casual relationship with the laws of physics. What I am talking about here is the utter abandonment of them altogether.

I really like the first Matrix film. It was a reasonably interesting story with some really great action and fight scenes. I had no problem at all with the characters leaping about with no regard for gravity because their ability to do so was explained in a reasonably sensible manner. They were in a computer simulation so it was ok. I am happy to not examine the notion any further. Wanted though is an example of where Hollywood has been steadily heading over the last decade or so. People for no good reason can simply choose to ignore the laws of physics. Apart from the odd bit of completely outlandish aerial acrobatics in cars, the most ridiculous notion in the film was the characters utterly unexplained ability to curve bullets round corners. I am don’t just mean putting a really slight deflection on a bullet here, we are talking a full 360 degree circles no less. Why this was even included in the film is quite beyond me. I guess the hacks that vomited up this silliness just felt like they needed something more to make the film different.

On a side note, if you feel like a good laugh, take a look at James F. McGrath's post on the film. It is the perfect example of modern theology. Seeing meaning where there is none.

You might just scoff and think me a nitpicking nerd. Fair enough, I can understand the argument.

I am not suggesting that all films need to be 100% physcially plausible. I just would prefer it if they were not blatantly 100% phyically impossible. I think the reason I object to this sort of thing is that it is so completely unnecessary. Many a good action movie in the past has been made without the need to throw physics completely out the window. Maybe it is just the nerd in me but when something happens on screen that is not just physically dubious but ridiculously physically impossible I can’t help getting a little turned off the movie. I am of course referring to thing that are not supposed to be absurd or ridiculous on purpose. If for example a film about vampires has people bursting into flame when exposed to sunlight or Spiderman has people walking up walls I’m fine with it. It is intended to be fantastical. In a film like Wanted there is nothing about these people which should enable them to make bullets do impossible things. They just….do? I just can’t understand why this is done. Are there lots of people out there that find this kind of thing really enjoyable? Is there someone out there that thinks this film was better than it would have been if this particular talent had just been omitted? When action films employ this sort of impossible to ignore nonsense they reduce the film to the level of a cartoon. Consider the Bourne films. Matt Damon gets up to all kinds of improbable adventures as a super-spy/assassin. The action is intense and the story fast paced and gripping. Really enjoyable. Nowhere in the film do we see Bourne bending bullets around corners or performing impossible feats yet he seemed a far more dangerous and competent character then the bullet-bending super humans of the movie Wanted. I won’t even get started on the colliding bullets bit. I mean why?

I do realise that Wanted and Bourne are different animals but I just can’t fathom what a movie like Wanted is supposed to gain by the inclusion of this sort of thing. Suspension of disbelief is fine but do they have to make it this damn hard for us? There were some things I quite liked about the film. The depiction of the main characters depressing life was very well done and quite entertaining. I think most of can relate on the boring 9-5 front anyway. They took some tips from the likes of fight club in style for that part of the film.

If, unlike me, you have no issue with this kind of thing, you will probably find Wanted to be a reasonably entertaining film. If you share my irritation at this unfortunate trend in films, to place their stories in a different universe to ours, then this one will get on those nerves a bit.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Uncle Sam is packing heat!

This post started off as a response to James Elliot's post In Defense of the Self and the Second Amendment but I rambled so much I decided not to clog up his comments section. I do go a little off topic here but I know you love it (I don't know who you are but I know you love it!!!)

While I liked the post and indeed would feel fairly comfortable about the presence of large numbers of guns in my environment if all gun owners showed the same consideration as James has; gun control is only sought because large numbers of people don't treat firearms with any kind of respect. Freedom, personal and otherwise can and does exist in the absence of the second amendment. While it is certainly true that an individual can use other weapons of their own construction or even their physical body to attack others, guns allow an immediate and wholly disproportionate increase in one individual’s ability to coerce others. Guns are very simple to use, you can argue about their effective use but I suspect most people would not dismiss even an untrained child holding a loaded gun. It is very easy to kill someone with a gun, or even kill lots of people. I haven’t studied the American constitution or its amendments in great depth so correct me if I am wrong here but the amendment only seems to say that the people have the right to “keep and bear arms“. It doesn’t seem to address what kind of arms so it is open to debate in either direction. Presumably at the time it was referring to firearms then available but times have changed. Is it my constitutionally protected right to own a tank or a fighter jet or a nuclear weapon? I am assuming not. We can and must amend our rights in reasonable response to changes in technology or economic realities. I am guessing there is other legislation that prevents an ordinary citizen from owning a nuke. The common sense reason for preventing a private citizen from owning things like tanks and F-22s is that they are too dangerous. The question then becomes one of degree. What kind of “arms” are too dangerous for private citizens to own? Is a pistol ok; what about an M16 or go a little further to an M60? Is a .50 Barrett sniper rifle too much? What about RPGs and Racket launchers?

We must have some restriction on what arms a person has the right to bear. The second amendment seems fairly broad in those terms. It is certainly not unreasonable to suggest that guns in general (particularly modern guns) are too dangerous for general civilian ownership. The matter is certainly worthy of debate. On the point of self defence, a lot of private citizens in the U.S. own guns but the U.S. has the highest rate of gun death of any first world country. It is not unreasonable to assume that more guns will likely lead to more gun deaths, either as a result of accidents or of people simply making use of the greater availability of guns when settling disputes. Given the fact the many democratic nations have managed to remain free despite great restrictions on individual gun ownership and the fact the more guns just don’t make people individually safer, I am not sure either argument really holds much water. In the colonial times of the birth of the U.S. I’m sure it made perfect sense. I am Irish and in Ireland not even the police have guns. While gun related deaths are on the rise and I’m sure that eventually the police will be armed (I think they already should be) I doubt that arming the general public with a wide variety of firearms from pistols to assault rifles would do anything but raise the level of gun death. Despite the fact that I quite like guns personally and would love to own a few, I don’t really consider it a particular violation of my rights that I am not allowed to have one or at least not an unjustified restriction. The truth is that if I am allowed to have one, everyone around me is, at the very least, potentially much less safe; be it through my incompetence or my malice. That might even be considered an impact on the rights of those around me but that might be taking it too far?

In general Americans make a big fuss about liberty on this issue. I consider Ireland to be as free or freer than the U.S. at this point. I can ridicule our prime minister in public if I want to without being confined to a “free speech zone” or being investigated by any number of secret police like organisations. The police in this country seemingly have a harder time invading my private space than they do in the U.S. and the thing I am most thankful for is the notable absence of the huge number of government organisations that exist in the U.S. like the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the N.S.A., the D.I.A, the D.H.S. and many more; all removed from the already present local police and their own special divisions like S.W.A.T.
For a nation that prides itself on liberty and individual self-reliance there seems to be an almost paranoid quality in its approach to defence, national and personal.
Simply being allowed to own guns will never be a safeguard of freedom. In my opinion, the best safeguard of civil liberties and freedoms in a modern democracy is a free and objective press. Fox news and the slow and continuing slide of American press into that mode of highly partisan news reporting is a far greater threat in terms of your government becoming authoritarian than any restrictions placed on your rights to own guns. The G. “dubya” B. administration alone has demonstrated the means by which a democratic government restricts the freedoms of its citizens. It is not with tanks and bullets but with bills and legislation. A slow shifting of the boundaries of civil liberties heavy with terms like patriotism and freedom. America is no longer a land of patriots and it is well on it’s way to becoming a land of sycophantic nationalists. There is no better way to gain control over people than by getting them to think it is a good idea and of benefit to them and their security. That political objection can be effectively defeated by simply calling it “unpatriotic” or “un-American” is truly frightening. That the majority of votes cast on the patriot act were cast without the voter even having read it is not only frightening; it is dumbfounding.
It is such an obvious abuse of the democratic process but it was done in a reactionary “God bless America” moment so it was ok. Any country willing to abandon it’s democratic principles in the face of a relatively minor crisis (as opposed to say large scale invasion) is not really a true democracy at all. It is a democracy of connivance as much as conviction. It is like a man with a gun not interfering with your freedom only because things happen to be going the way he wants. I find it strange that American labels the invasion of a foreign country as an act of ‘defence’. The most powerful military an economic power on the planet invades a country about as geographically removed from it as possible and with absolutely no hope of mounting any kind of military threat to the U.S. and does to keep America safe and free…….WTF???? There is a pervasive idea amongst American soldiers and the America populace in general that a soldier serving in Iraq or Afghanistan is defending the freedom of the U.S. This is complete horseshit. This is complete and utterly obvious horseshit. GWB and his henchmen have made good use of this culture of paranoia and persecution and have actively sought to exaserbate it for their own ends. But I digress !

Getting back a little on topic, the goals and ideals of the founders of the U.S. were in my opinion noble and worthwhile particularly so in the time they were living. I think their ideas were progressive and well intentioned. Modern laws and rights do not have to continuously replicate or maintain old laws and rights to successfully replicate the intent and the ideals and there might well be situations where maintaining obsolete notions is actually counter to those ideals. Whether or not gun ownership falls into that category is definitely debateable. It is absolutely true that as of this moment American citizens have the constitutional right to bear arms. That says absolutely nothing about whether or not they should have that right.