Friday, January 18, 2008

Are you suffering from individuality, and autonmy?

Then perhaps the mainstream media is for you!

I would suggest watching some of this guy's other videos (They're NSFW due to language), he's great! This is the kinda guy who could end up on the Daily Show, and he's half French Canadian, to boot! Makes me proud of my heritage ;)

Monday, January 14, 2008

This is what I hate...

This article was linked to on Penny-Arcade, and I am prone to agree with Tycho's opinion with regards to the author if this article. A friend of mine was kind enough to give a nice little writeup of the extent to which there is sex, nudity, and all around "risqué" behavior in Mass Effect. I quote,
The extent of nudity and sex in Mass Effect is actually fairly little. The most you see is a naked female booty and Kaden's bare chest. No actual "lewd" body parts are shown, except perhaps the beginning of the curve of a breast, but that's it. No nipples, no vaginas, no penises... nothing. Otherwise it would definitely have an adult-rating only. You know that Shepard and Shepard's love interest have sex, but you don't see it. You see them make out, then naked as the female crawls into the bed on top of the boy. It's not lewd, and there's nothing offensive. Unless people take contention with seeing asses for all of like 3 seconds, which would just be silly considering asses are on tv ALL THE TIME.
Wow, it seems like Kevin really did his research. But maybe the flaw lies not within his (poor) reasoning skills, but his personal experience; because for a man in his late thirties to early forties, he surely can't be serious? If these few seconds of non-sexual semi-nudity are his idea of "the most realistic sex acts ever conceived" then he has apparently never viewed a pornographic film, never seen an HBO drama, television drama, or engaged in any sexual acts himself. I'm not sure where he got this idea, but it certainly didn't come from any orifice north of his physiological border.

He also calls the title dishonest. I was not aware that titles had any concept of honesty; I'm pretty sure it's the authors behind the titles that are responsible for its content. Anyway, here's the quote I'm going to pick apart next:
Then there's the dishonesty behind the game' title. "Mass Effect" sounds like a war game with a deadly virus that is spreading unless the GI-Joes are able to defeat the evil and deadly substance and it's covert war plan.
I don't know what made him think of a deadly virus, but I personally thought of a sci-fi game, and planetary bodies, you know, massive objects, as in, having mass. Thus the obvious "sci-fi" genre. If he thought that the game was about a deadly virus and super-soldiers fighting it then wouldn't the title be "dishonest" even if it were, say, a puzzle game that involves balancing a solar system so its planets don't fall out of orbit? (Valve are you reading this? It's a good idea! ;) ) I mean, if the title makes him think the game is about X, and this does not turn out to be about Y, doesn't that mean it's dishonest? If so, so many titles would be dishonest that his argument would be moot. In fact, it's such bad logic that it's moot anyway.

As a slight aside before I continue with the poor logic and lies he has spewed, I have to take issue with another statement purely from the perspective of a gamer/geek.
But it IS marketed for the X-Box 360, perhaps the most visually stimulating gaming system ever made.
Apparently this man has also never heard of the Playstation 3. Or for that matter, any high-end gaming computer (which would technically be a gaming system, were its main intention to be used for gaming). Yet another lie, or perhaps this man is truly the most ill-informed consumer of computer/video games ever to be born!

Back to more of my problems with this man's arguments.
Yet here's a question that deserves to be asked, and in all likelihood will not be: "How much moral judgement should the President push into legislative issues that are likely to severely damage our children's innocence, function, and capability?"

I agree that the president should put "moral judgement" into such thoughts, though I disagree with him as to what these "legislative issues" are. It's people like him who severly damage our hcildren's function and capability; they would have children grow into "Proper Christians" whose sexual and mental frustrations are turned inwards or outwards, which results in physical or emotional harm. He would have them deny the truth of the world, of scientific data, he would have them be believers not skeptics. I cannot think of anything more harmful to a child's function and capability than telling them not to ask "why?".

Kevin then goes on further, to pure lies.
We now know because of the lengthy track record of serial killer after another that addictive use of pornography was prevalent in case after case - long before the switch got flipped and what their masturbatory imaginations have given into became what they were forcing real live human beings to do.
To begin with, there is no such "lengthy track record". I am certain he is using only anecdotal evidence at best, and the fact that he does not provide any source reveals his ignorance not only of the truth but of also how to write a convincing paper (If this were eighth grade, I would give him a C-/C for not properly supporting his arguments and numerous grammatical mistakes). In fact, I'm more than certain.
The amount of empirical research on men who commit sexual murders is scarce, and no distinction has been made between those who have victimized adults and those who have victimized children.
Well there's your track record for you. Unfortunately I only have access at the moment to the abstract for this article, but when I'm back in school I'll look through our library for the actual journal entry so I can give a more detailed analysis of the results. However, from the abstract we can gain important information about just how wrong Kevin is.
It appears that sexual murderers of children are more often victims of sexual abuse during childhood and present more often deviant sexual fantasies as compared to sexual murderers of women. The results show also that sexual murderers of children more often use pornography prior to crime, have contact with the victim prior to crime, and commit a crime more often characterized by premeditation, strangulation, the hiding of the body, and its dismemberment than the sexual murderers of women.
What can we gleam from this nugget of knowledge? That child-abusers are most often themselves abused as children. Seeing as this is a significant part of their psychological profile, this should be the most likely cause. The fact that these people view pornography prior to the crime is merely a correlation, possibly with a deeper psychological meaning, but this DOES NOT imply that pornography is a cause. I cannot emphasize this enough, as it is a logical fallacy that permeates our culture. CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION. Just because there is a correlation between two things does not imply that one causes the other. If, in the summertime, there is an increase in the consumption of ice cream, as well as an increase in violent crimes, does this mean that consumption of ice cream causes violent crimes? Or that violent crimes cause the consumption of ice cream? No. There could be another factor contributing to both statistics, and further study is required. This correlation involves no causation, and such is the case with pornography and sexual child murders. I will also do a follow up if I can find this article, as I'm curious to see how they accounted for the very small number of sexual murders of children they included in their study (only eleven). This seems like a statistically insignificant number, especially when they had sixty-six cases of sexual murders of women. Thus, expect some kind of follow up.

Kevin is also completely wrong about masturbation. I almost want to quote the entire article here, not only because it is short, but because it also clears up the origins of the fabrication (thus proving that his beliefs on masturbation are, indeed, a myth).
Masturbation was -- and, in principle, remains -- the ideal mental illness. First, it is a form of behavior: that is, something people do, not something that happens to them. Second, it is a form of behavior universal to mankind, engaged in from early childhood:* this makes it ideally treatable, since behaviors can be controlled, especially in children who are powerless to resist the well-intentioned brutality of adults. Third, the act makes use of a sexual organ, ideally suited for attaching fantasies of great harm (as well as great pleasure) to its uses and abuses.

Not surprisingly, masturbation is a disease of modernity. In antiquity and the Dark Ages, people worried about real diseases, such as the plague and consumption. Only after the Enlightenment did people awaken to the possibilities of scientific medicine, assigning material (physical), rather than spiritual (religious), causes to disease, disability, and death.

Not having the faintest idea what caused most diseases, the medical mind went in search of a scapegoat and found it in self-abuse. By the end of the 1700s, it was medical dogma that masturbation caused blindness, epilepsy, gonorrhea, tabes dorsalis, priapism, constipation, conjunctivitis, acne, painful menstruation, nymphomania, impotence, consumption, anemia, and of course insanity, melancholia, and suicide.

How did physicians know and why did people believe that masturbation caused all these diseases? The same way that physicians now know and people believe that chemical imbalances cause mental diseases, such as attention deficit disorder: By "diagnosing" and "treating" the (involuntary, child) "patient" and by discovering "cures" for the disease. Among the widely accepted treatments of masturbation, the most important were restraining devices and mechanical appliances (about which more in a moment), circumcision, cautery of the genitals, clitoridectomy, and castration. As recently as 1936, a widely used pediatric textbook recommended circumcision, double side-splints (such as those used to treat fracture of the femur), and cauterization of the clitoris.

Who were the beneficiaries of these medical miracles? Children and the insane -- then, as now, the two groups of ideal (involuntary) "patients." Powerless vis-a-vis their relatives and doctors, minors and mental patients could not resist being fitted with grotesque appliances, encased in plaster of Paris, having their genitalia cauterized or denervated, or being castrated -- for their own good.
Basically, masturbation is a natural process hard-wired into adolescents. There's nothing wrong with it. It feels good, it hurts nobody (including ourselves) and is actually beneficial to our health! What a surprise, something that has been hard-wired into our minds by evolution turns out to be good for us. Jeez, you'd almost think that doing things our body tells us to do would be good for you, eh?

Kevin also has a poor understanding of technology and the production of modifications (mods) to games. Some games, like Unreal Tournament and Half-Life have wonderful support for mods, all because of the developers of the game. Most often modifications of a game that change many or all of the features (called total conversions) require access to the tools the developers themselves used. Why? Because of the way games are made. Games are built upon an engine, which can be thought of as a framework. The details of the game are then built onto this framework. While these details can be great and very different from game to game (many games use the same engines) or mod to mod (based on a game), they are inherently limited by the skeletal framework of the engine. With the size and complexity of modern games, building in all these little, minute details would require impossible contributions of time and money if done entirely by hand. So what do developers do? They write tools to interface with the engine and produce what could take years of line-by-line coding in only a few months, or even days. Furthermore, since a game's engine is really its beating heart, many companies want to protect it. They build in security devices to prevent people from stealing this heart and making profit off of it. The company may license other companies to use their engine, and this is one way of making further profit off of an engine (especially because developing a new engine is an incredibly lengthy and expensive operation). So, in order to create a modification of a game, the user requires tools that interact with the game engine to produce the desired results, and these tools often protect the security of the engine. Thus, it is extremely difficult to modify a game without any of these tools, due to the security desires of the company that developed the engine. So when Kevin says "because of the digital chip age in which we live - "Mass Effect" can be customized to sodomize whatever, whoever, however, the game player wishes." he simply does not know what he's talking about. Unless you are a world-class hacker or have access to the tools used to create Mass Effect, you are NOT going to be able to modify the game, especially since it comes with the added security of being coded specifically and only for the Xbox 360. He's also wrong when he says " With it's "over the net" capabilities virtual orgasmic rape is just the push of a button away", and not just because it's 'its' not 'it's'! Mass Effect has no multiplayer capabilities. None. It will have downloadable content from the Xbox Live Marketplace, but NO MULTIPLAYER (If you want to know what to look for in that link, look under "modes" on the right side). That really puts a dampener on Kevin's hopes for "virtual orgasmic rape". It's a shame really, because the way he wrote that it sounds like he would've really enjoyed it.

What really gets me is this entire article was written about the presidential elections. Yep. That's right. Presidential Elections. Mass Effect. River linked me to another article on that same website, also about Mass Effect, but I simply can't read it. There's too much hate in the title for me to even fathom reading it; I think my head would explode. Since there's the possibility she may write a post about it, I'll leave that horrid task to her.

Articles like the one I am picked apart are only damaging to believers, not skeptics, but unfortunately the majority of the American populace is a believer. There are many reasons for this, but there are two major ones. Churches promote belief, and detest skepticism. So too, unfortunately, does our educational system. For numerous reasons, children are discouraged from asking questions (lazy teachers, poorly trained teachers, teachers unfamiliar with the subject matter). They are taught that they should simply believe whatever a person in an authoritative position says. They're even taught not to question the credentials of the authoritative figure. This is probably why people like Richard Hoagland can continue to appear in mainstream (or slightly off-stream) media as "authorities". Belief must be replaced with skepticism, as I have said numerous times before. Not only that but people need to get over sex. While I will admit there has not been enough rigorous scientific study put into sex, we need to get over our anecdotal and mythological beliefs to get to the truth.

Again, a BIG thanks goes out to River for letting me bounce ideas off of her and providing a couple links, as well as some ideas (The ice-cream and violent crimes correlation is something she mentioned)!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sorry for the lack of updates!

I'm sorry I haven't updated the blog in a few days, but I've been very busy. I know, it sucks, this is supposed to be my break, eh? Anyhow, I recently decided to go to and read a few of their articles. I highly recommend reading the acupuncture article, as well as anything that catches your eye. The site is a good example of skepticism, and better yet, it debunks a lot of medical myths that doctors may cling to, with little or no evidence (also known as quackery). There're some other websites under their "what's new?" section that are more specific than simple quackery. The best reason to visit quackwatch is to check up on what you or your doctor might believe about treating certain ailments, or how they're diagnosed, or just to educate yourself on the world of health, in a skeptical manner. In fact, they have a list of twenty-five ways to spot a quack. Good stuff, eh? :)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

China's Limited Internets

I just saw this article while at work yesterday, and as usual with online editorials from major news outlets, there isn't a whole lot of detail. I can sum up what's said in the entire article in only a few words: the Chinese government is going to filter online video websites (though the article, again, didn't specify whether they mean download-only 'sites or streaming .flv websites) for pornography, anti-China messages, and anything they happen to think is icky. Taken from the article,
Video that involves national secrets, hurts the reputation of China, disrupts social stability or promotes pornography will be banned. Providers must delete and report such content.
In other words, if someone disagrees with a Chinese policy, whether it be local, national, or international, and displays their opinions in a video blog or a comedic satire, they will be banned from the 'net. Alas, there will be no Chinese Daily Show! What's worse, this limits what the Chinese people hear or see, and their ability to learn the truth about their world. In fact, most Chinese nationals will probably hate the Japanese for their war crimes, but few of the Chinese people know of their apologies; these have been rejected unilaterally by the Chinese government before the people could hear them. Thus, the Chinese people believe the Japanese have never apologized, and hatred still brews between the two nations. But, that's the problem when you have state controlled media. The populace can only know what they are shown, and when people are not skeptical, they will believe anything they see. Thus, the Chinese government is entirely self-serving; they can do whatever they want so long as they do not lose control of the media or the army.

But then, the internet threatened to change this "balance" of power (about the same balance as a three year old on one side of a seesaw and a grizzly bear on the other). The Chinese people were exposed to the untamed wilderness of the web, and free information was at their fingertips. New opinions, not certified by their government, could be read and seen and heard by the Chinese people. If they learned just how oppressive their government is, they could start an uprising. Of course, the amount of internet users in China (about 164 million according to the first article cited) is only a small fraction of the population of the (truthfully) impoverished nation. Only about sixteen percent of the Chiense populace uses the internet, compared to the the United States, where the number of internet users is around 182 million, which is about two-thirds our population. So it will be easier to see a national ripple effect in the United States due to the internet than in China, where small communities that are isolated from the world and rely on state-run media only, are spread throughout the nation.

I also take issue with the Chinese government's fear of pornography and other threats to "social stability". Progress is not made within a socially stable nation. For instance, slavery in colonial and early United States history was socially stable and economically powerful. However, you could hardly call that a progressive society that would further develop the human race. Instability breeds progress. And pornography? People are hard-wired to be interested in sex. We almost all want it, almost all of us will have it, and almost all of us will enjoy it. So why are we so prudish about it? Religion, for one, teaches us to be ashamed of natural functions (like sex) and leads to very terrible situations when our natural urges build up as frustrations due to our continual denial (see child abuse in Colorado City, or read Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer). I can't tell you why the Chinese government hates sex, but they do.

Another huge problem I see with this issue, is whether or not the companies that run online video websites (I'm thinking mostly of Google here, one of my favorite corporations of all time!) will cave to the Chinese government. Let me rephrase that, to show some of the absurdity. Why should an AMERICAN company founded in a land in which one of the central tenets is FREE SPEECH cave to DEMANDS from a FOREIGN government to LIMIT FREE SPEECH? Furthermore, China would require that any Chinese citizen who posts something really "obscene" be reported! The government wants to hunt down its own citizens who speak up against them, or post a video of a naked woman! And they want American corporations to help them! If Google really is a non-evil corporation (which I believe) they will not bow to the will of the Chinese government. If they do, well, that is significantly evil. It may be a loss of revenue, but it's a stand for human rights and it will show the Chinese government that American corporations are not afraid, that we can be a strong beacon of free speech and free information.

The internet is this generation's wild frontier, a sometimes harsh and untamed land where people can make it big, make it small, or lose everything. More and more, government regulation is coming to the internet. This is not bad, however, so long as it does not trample on the basic rights of free speech and free transfer of information, and there will always be areas of the 'net that are dangerous and difficult to regulate, but as soon as governments clamp down on what we can and cannot say, the advantages of a global information exchange come to a very sudden and painful halt. So much for working together, for sharing experiences, for teaching a person in one corner of the globe that they feel the same things, share the same interests, as a person in another... The internet is the best, most interesting, and most dangerous sociological invention to come about since the printing press, let's do our best not to lose it to corrupt politicians, eh?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Waterboarding... And I Don't Mean the Fun Kind!

Sorry for my delay in getting this posted, but I've been quite busy over the past couple of days, and I wanted to try to make this the best post possible, given the controversial nature of torture. This forum post was first brought to my attention by Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, who saw the link from PZ Meyers of Pharyngula. Alright, so, on to the meat of this post.

First things first, read that link. There it is again. No really, go read it, I'll wait. This post won't make any sense unless you do! ... Ok, now that you're done reading the post and maybe some of the responses, I can really get started. First things first, a small anatomical note: Just because one's head is below the "water line" does not mean that one cannot draw water up into their lungs! With a small hole for air in the saran wrap as he described, and only water going through the hole, your lungs create a suction. So if you continue breathing in as water is entering the hole, you have the potential to draw water into your lungs, which causes all kinds of nasty spasms, and death. The technical term is laryngospasm, and it can causes the throat to close up. What makes this dangerous is if you are already low on oxygen, panicking (which increases oxygen consumption because of a stressful increased breathing rate), and inhaling water, you could suffocate because of water going up your throat. In actual drowning, the reaction can be more complicated, but cardiac arrest is another big risk, as stated in the article. For more on the reaction of the body to drowning, Wikipedia has an entire article on the subject.

Now we know Waterboarding is highly effective at breaking people down to a primal emotional state, and it is most likely psychologically damaging if done repeatedly, over long periods of time. So now I have to ask, what kind of person do you have to be to intentionally damage another human being psychologically, with a risk of death, let alone torture them, no matter what they have done? What sort of mental state does the torturer have to be in to conduct an act like waterboarding, while the victim is struggling below them?

The torturer would most likely be emotionally unstable themselves (especially if they enjoy the act of torturing), suffer something akin to PTSD and immense guilt if they were forced into the act of torturing without having any way of dealing with it at the time, or, and this is what I postulate is the case with most torturers from the United States acting on terrorists, is to view the victim as sub-human in some way. Why would I say this is the most likely mental state of the torturer? These people would probably be subject to lots of political rhetoric and lies from neo-conservative leaders, and possibly enraged over the deaths of Americans caused "entirely" by terrorists.

The torturer's mental state would be to view anyone who is a "terrorist" as less than human, and below even the most basic human rights. This is no different from how a Nazi-supporter would view a Jewish person. The view of one human being superior to another is often the progenitor of genocides, whether they be in Africa, Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, or the United States (Here I refer to our treatment of the Native Americans), and slavery (From Rome to Britain to again, the United States). With media outlets often blurring the lines between terrorist and follower of Islam, much of the public is too close to desiring a similar genocide of Islamics. They are tempted to make a connection between Islamic and terroist, a fallacy of logic that is very dangerous not only for people in the Middle East, but us, as well. But I shall get into the dangers to ourselves later in this post. This view can be summed up in a blog post I found while doing some reasearch for this post, which can be found here. I quote,
A better use of freedom would be to defend its continued existence at home rather than arguing for the non-existent rights of an implacable, murderous foe whose core values demand the complete extermination of the freedoms that allow articles such as ours to be written free of fear.
Why should any human's rights be deemed non-existant? Certainly, if someone wants to kill you, then you have the right to self-defense, as do they, but because of their methodology and tactics, we must remove their basic human rights? How will this do anything but spawn more hatred, on both sides of the issue? If our soldiers were captured and tortured, we would be in a complete uproar, and demand vengeance. What makes terrorists any different? If, however, we captured these terrorists and obtained information in a different manner, they would most likely have less support from their local populace, which brings me to a different topic.

Torture is not an effective means of information gathering. Want a professional article on this subject? Here you go. I'll sum up the important parts, but first, I'll want to state that it's important that we, as a public, be skeptics. We should not take any statements, by the government, by our friends, our parents, our children, or others, without some kind of evidence backing it, especially when human lives are at stake. If someone in the government or on Fox News says "torture works!" then we should demand evidence. We cannot take someone at their word in such important issues, it is far too dangerous. On to summing up the article. Even the author of the article agrees,
I've heard it said that the Syrians and the Egyptians "really know how to get these things done." I've heard the Israelis mentioned, without proof. I've heard Algeria mentioned, too, but Darius Rejali, an academic who recently trolled through French archives, found no clear examples of how torture helped the French in Algeria -- and they lost that war anyway. "Liberals," argued an article in the liberal online magazine Slate a few months ago, "have a tendency to accept, all too eagerly, the argument that torture is ineffective." But it's also true that "realists," whether liberal or conservative, have a tendency to accept, all too eagerly, fictitious accounts of effective torture carried out by someone else.
She goes on to cite a direct source on the issue of torture.
Or listen to Army Col. Stuart Herrington, a military intelligence specialist who conducted interrogations in Vietnam, Panama and Iraq during Desert Storm, and who was sent by the Pentagon in 2003 -- long before Abu Ghraib -- to assess interrogations in Iraq. Aside from its immorality and its illegality, says Herrington, torture is simply "not a good way to get information." In his experience, nine out of 10 people can be persuaded to talk with no "stress methods" at all, let alone cruel and unusual ones. Asked whether that would be true of religiously motivated fanatics, he says that the "batting average" might be lower: "perhaps six out of ten." And if you beat up the remaining four? "They'll just tell you anything to get you to stop."
Torture also endangers our troops, and I daresay, our civilians as well.
Worse, you'll have the other side effects of torture. It "endangers our soldiers on the battlefield by encouraging reciprocity." It does "damage to our country's image" and undermines our credibility in Iraq. That, in the long run, outweighs any theoretical benefit. Herrington's confidential Pentagon report, which he won't discuss but which was leaked to The Post a month ago, goes farther. In that document, he warned that members of an elite military and CIA task force were abusing detainees in Iraq, that their activities could be "making gratuitous enemies" and that prisoner abuse "is counterproductive to the Coalition's efforts to win the cooperation of the Iraqi citizenry." Far from rescuing Americans, in other words, the use of "special methods" might help explain why the war is going so badly.
Imagine, now, if we were a nation that did not have a large part of a large continent to ourselves, with only two countries bordering our own. Imagine we were a smaller nation sharing this continent with a few other, smaller nations, one of whom had decided to go to war with us. We would now be at war with a standing army. If we tortured their troops, or even their civilians, what would their reaction be? They would redouble their efforts, maybe even torture our own troops and civilians, and the whole situation would escalate, brining far more danger than necessary to ourselves. Now picture the real situation. We are such a large nation that it is difficult to screen all of our citizens for whether or not they would be a terrorist. We are torturing their comrades, and not gaining information about those within our nation (because torture doesn't work). What would be the outcome? We would be strengthening the resolve of those within our nation against us (reciprocity). And with our soldiers in a foreign land fighting these people, on more or less their own turf? Well, that's practically suicide, and the high death tolls of the War in Iraq would seem to back this.

I may be an atheist, but I'm most certainly a humanist. If there's one thing I believe in, it's Humanity, and the future we could have if we cooperate. Wars are inevitable, but they are a waste of human lives, and if we could cooperate, our future as a race is endless. If it weren't for conservative shows like 24, glamorizing torture and lying about its results, people wouldn't be so ready to accept that it is an "effective" method. We must, as a people, a nation, and a planet, learn to work together, or we are doomed.

A big thanks goes out to River from Psygeek for reviewing this post for me!