"I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess." -Martin Luther

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Creation and Evolution of Language II: Stories

Yes, now that I've come back to this delightful subject, I'm going to veer off on a rabbit trail. How many of you have actually really gone down a rabbit's trail? Just wondering. What I hope to do in this post is look at how stories are created and evolve, as a clue to how language is created and evolves, as I work my way towards showing that language either was created perfect and is being degraded, or began in chaos and is moving towards order.
Quoting George Lucas is not a good idea, for the most part. His Star Wars movies have left lots of young people scratching their heads over what good and evil are, and a lot more snickering evilly as they blow away the goodguys with force lightinging on their Xbox. No, I have not played as the darkside on Jedi Knight. Well, ok, I did play tie fighter, but I killed the emporer so many times by accident that it really made up for it. Half the time I was taking out rogue imperial warlords anyway.
But I am going to quote Mr. Lucas. Well, not exactly. I don't remember what he said. But it was something to the effect that there aren't that many original stories. Mr. Lucas is apparently fascinated by a book that tries to show that all stories come down to a handful of basic ones. The idea of several foundational stories being rehashed in a thousand different ways over history, so that now there are an infinite number of variations, could actually be produced as evidence for a created language, or an evolving language!
If language was created, it would make sense that whoever created was pretty smart. This creator of language might also have had some very good stories to tell. These really good stories, over the years, passed down in handwritted manuscripts or by word of mouth, would morph into many different stories, with their own unique variations, but could be traced back to the originals.
If language began in chaos and evolved, it would make sense that people could have thought up stories in the past which then proliferated into an infinite number of variations on the same, sortof like our possible future one-word vocabulary, while based on one word, has an infinite number of possible meanings. In this view, however, the base stories weren't neccessarily any good.
Wow, a short post. I'm amazing.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Gun Control 2: Should Guns Be?

In my last post, I made an effort to show that the differences between "assault weapons" and "personal defence weapons" are the following:

-Personal defence weapons are less accurate

-Personal defence weapons are shorter range

-Personal defence weapons have lower fire rates and ammunition capacity.

-Personal defence weapons typically do more damage on impact, including wounding, tumbling, fragmenting, bruising, knocking down and knocking unconcious.

I would personally think accuracy in a personal defence weapon is key. If you cannot hit your target, what's the use? In addition, people unused to shooting criminals will be much less accurate with their aiming in the first place, without the added inaccuracy of the weapon itself. Shorter ranges for defence weapons shouldn't be a problem. If you must kill someone in self defence, they are probably nearby. Otherwise, you should be able to avoid them in most cases. A lower fire rate may or may not be reasonable. It allows for careful aiming, and lowers the chance of accidentally shooting more than one person. The higher caliber, spread-on-impact ammunition common to larger caliber handguns considered personal defence weapons are a good idea. These bullets probably won't go all the way through the target, lowering incidence of hitting someone accidently (or, though this isn't all that important in the long run, shooting up the furniture). They are also much more likely to instantly incapacitate whoever they hit. In a life-and-death, me or them situation that forces me to shoot in self defence, I do not want to hurt the criminal a little. I want to make him instantly unable to hurt me. The funny thing is, people in favor of gun control dislike the following weapons: high caliber weapons (like handguns); ranged, rapid fire weapons (like assault rifles). Their arguments against these weapons, however, at least the arguments that allow for some weapons to be legal for "personal use" always contradict. Low caliber weapons like the .22 are ok, because they aren't as dangerous. Blink...blink. I thought guns were supposed to be dangerous. If a gun weren't dangerous, why keep it around? I'm not against non-lethal weapons. I'm just saying the purpose of a gun is to kill somebody. That argument would say that the approximately .22 sized rounds fired by the M-4 carbine, M-16 assault rifle, and countless others, should be legal. The other argument is that all these high fire rate weapons should be banned. So, we should allow the low fire rate .45, .38, 9mm, etc, which are much more dangerous, at close range, on a shot to shot basis?
What it comes down to is this. If the government is going to ban some guns whithin these boundaries, it had better ban all of them. I'm not talking about banning 40mm automatic grenade launchers from civilian use. The training and use this weapon requires makes it impractical for defense in the first place. My point is, the government is going to leave us with either bb guns, or nothing to defend outselves with. Would that be ok? What if we came up with effective, cheap stun guns that, at close ranges, always effectively knocked out a target for half an hour? Could we then ban all lethal weapons like firearms from civilian use?
I think the write to keep and bear arms speaks for itself.
If you don't think this, just remember that the reason this right was included in the Bill was to make sure the government could not control the country.
Say what?
Yeah, the country is supposed to control the government. The governent serves the country at the country's permissal. The governent doesn't have to ask before it does most things, and it is not supposed to base its decisions on what its citizens want, rather, on what things are good for the country that are within the governent's authority to attain. But it still serves. Our system was crafted to prevent the possibility of the army being sent in the make the citizens slaves of the government, without rights or liberties. Oh. So, this means... Oh, right. Gun control is just such a breach of rights. A breach of rights that would allow all rights to be breached quite easily.

Gun Control: Assault Weapons

www.cnsnews.com: "Democrat Targets .50 Caliber Revolver for Nationwide Ban" Feb17, 2003

Gun Lethality Article

These two articles set the stage for me to geek out and laugh. I really got a kick out of them both. The first is just funny to me. The second discusses physics, one of my favorite subjects. The second article does go into some graphic detail of what bullets do to the human body, so be warned.
There are lots of questions about the government's role in controlling guns. Let's try to keep it within the spere of the government, though. Man should not ever need to kill man, but this doesn't mean a government is being peaceful by taking guns away from all the citizens, leaving only the outlaws with them.
Some people think a better course is to classify weapons as "Assault weapons" and "non-assault weapons". Ban the former from all citizens, and then you have weapons useful for self-defense, but not so much so for...killing people. I'm already getting tickled.
"'It's hard for me to rationalize any need or purpose' for the 500 Magnum, said Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) 'I think guns are made to kill people, that's my opinion.'"
What Representative Davis is getting at is that this weapon, a short range, .50 caliber revolver, is uneccessary, especially for hunting, for which it is advertised, and will only be used to kill people. My response, sober out of respect for our governmental authorities, but only because of that, is that all guns are made to kill things. Of course they are. Why else would you make them? That is their "need and purpose."
Or is it?
In the second article, a truly stunning statement is made.
The fact is that armies have learned they don't need or even want weapons to kill enemy soldiers

"On the battlefield," the article continues, "putting enemy soldiers out of the fight works just as well as killing them, and it has added benefits. The enemy must use resources to carry away and treat injured soldiers, and our own army can carry more bullets to put more enemy soldiers out of commission since the bullets are smaller and lighter than more lethal bullets."
Wow! This, apparently, is why the army has been downsizing its ammunition. From the .45 handgun of the world wars to the 9mm caliber now standard in the US army. From the .30 caliber of the M-1 to the 5.56X45 mm M-16 and M-4. For comparison accross the different caliber scales in use, note that the M-16 has an alternate .223 ammunition, compared to the .30 caliber.
These bullets, the article says, are designed, with the help of high airspeed given by the assault rifle, to penetrate through a target. They are not designed to spread or fragment inside, or deliver a heavy punch to the target. They cause small holes and bleeding. Because of their light weight, more can be carried per magazine and per soldier, and kick from firing is lower, increasing accuracy.
So, non-assault weapon handguns...are more likely to kill someone (at least at close range) than an M-16, presuming you are firing both weapons semi-automatic (one shot per trigger pull). Yes, since all versions of the M-16 have burst or fully automatic modes, they could be used more effectively than a pistol against multiple targets. But the idea that, because a weapon is big, powerful, and shoots a lot of bullets, is more dangerous than a handgun, is not correct.
Of course, the handgun in question in the first article is not a military weapon firing automatically with small caliber ammunition. It is a hunting weapon firing single shots with massive .50 caliber ammunition. Personally, I think it would be a great personal defense weapon. It is hard to conceal. All the better, if I am a peace loving citizen, I don't mind if a criminal knows I have a really big gun. It is big and loud. This is called fear factor. Its bullets are designed to cause massive wounds, and deliver a huge punch to the victim. Thing about firing an arrow through the water for M-16 bullets, and about a belly flop for the .50. That's an exxagerated example of what happens to human bodies. So, chances are, if I hit a criminal, he will most likely die, or, at the very least, be put out of commission from pain, or, if not that, knocked cold, or, if not that, knocked down. It carries only five bullets. Typically, criminals must deal with lots of targets. Citizens firing in self defense typically don't.
Just some thoughts. And I'm still laughing.



Monday, February 13, 2006

The Ability of Suits to Make Skillful Art Good: Description is Art III

Don't worry, the title might make sense after you read this, but it's not important.
Well, in I, I wrote that description is art -- holding value in and of itself -- but has come to be thought of as nothing more than a medium for cheap thrills. This makes it boring, which makes it even less respected, throwing it into a lovely cycle of degredation. In II, I said that, while description is art, content matters. My final point was that there is good and bad, good is better than bad, and thus there are good and bad subjects for an art medium, in this case, description.
I've had some opportunity to think about this. Several years back I wrote a historical fiction novel for school. I really put a lot of effort into it -- my friends had jobs; but I wrote a story. It was a pirate story, and I suppose I will forever be having to repeat my true claim that I had not seen Pirates of the Carribbean when I wrote it. Not to say it was as good as that lovable movie, but that it seems to be the logical motivation for me writing. Why do I not liking to be thought of as copying, or getting my motivation from a movie I think is awesome, in the modern sense of the word? I suppose that should be my next post: "Where do stories come from?" George Lucas has a lot to say about that. But I bet I have more!
The reason I mention this novel having pirates is because it also had british royal navy personnel. This made for some violent encounters. I was trying to write a book that would be good, instructive, edifying reading for people about my age, and younger. While I mentioned that profanity was used, I didn't give examples. I stayed away from the subject of sexual immorality as well. But when the cannon started firing, the boarders took the leap, friend and foe mingled blood on the shattered deck... well, I just didn't think about not describing it. Any book by a modern author, written at the level I wrote, would have done so, so I did. Now, in case you are disgustedly clucking your tongue at this legalistic little geek, understand that I don't think it is wrong to describe gore. But what was my purpose in doing so, and how could I expect my audience to use my description? Well, I suppose I might have thought my purpose was to give the hard truth about what went on in those battles, to give a true feel for them. If so, I didn't go far enough. The other reason would be so that my readers would enjoy reading about it.
I hope that sounds disgusting to you. I suppose it may not to everyone. But think about my audience -- say ten to eighteen year-olds. Should anyone, much less someone that age, enjoy reading the details of a human body being destroyed? Shouldn't they throw the book down in disgust? Wouldn't it be sufficient to say that men were stabbed, wounded, mangled, beheaded, etc, without having to go into case by case descriptions of "how the blood spilled..."?
Now, there is some room for question here. Were my descriptions wrong? I think I might be able to truthfully say I included them for accuracy, to make the point that these battles were horrible. I can say I was blind to the fact that people in general, and teenagers especially, are tempted to take pleasure in reading detailed accounts of people being killed. It is the greusome twist in the stomach, the "oh, wasn't it bad when..." to a friend.
Why was I blind to it? I suppose I was just used to it. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, war movies, the wonderful Redwall books, and most historical fiction involving war, all include this graphic violence. And, because there is a lack of descriptive excellence, the content must have more and more shock value to put the desired pleasure into the audience. Was I the only one who cringed a little in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, when Anakin started slicing geonosians apart with his lightsaber -- they may have been giant termites, but they were sentient giant termites. Not to say it shouldn't have been in there, but how come that movie got a lax rating? If he had been cutting humans in two so graphically, it wouldn't have. I think it would have been a much more worthwhile use of time to use some lines, close-ups, and a little down-to Earth fear to remind you that Anakin is fighting for his life, trying to keep Padme from getting killed. That could have been a moving scene, instead of "oh, look, scary flying things. Oh, look, he's cutting them up. Oh, on to the next visually impressive scene..."
We've run into the lack of description again. I've lost my point. It was that violence for pleasure is just not right. Violence for entertainment? It depends on exactly how you define entertain. To entertain, is to hold the senses. Well, what are you doing with them while you hold them, is the correct question. Are you trying to please the audience? Then don't use gore, that isn't right. Is there some pleasure to be had when Aragorn, with a last, fatigued blow, finishes off the Uruk-Hai leader Lurtz at the end of Fellowship of the Rings? Sure, there was applause at least one of the times I saw the movie. We should be glad when evil gets its due, but not in an "oh, goodie, his head got chopped off," gleeful sort of way.
I hope you follow because I'm done saying what I'm saying over and over again.
There are other things, but I think violence is the primary one. I suppose I could go through this entire proof with sexuality and sexual immorality portrayed graphically, but I won't. The reasons this is "bad" are almost all the same.
Could a discussion of sexual immorality be in a book in a right way? Of course, just mind your audience. The same goes for describing violence. I wonder at people wondering at school shootings. If a young American wanted to have his head filled with violence around the clock, he could. There's plenty of people talking about it at school, he can find it online, and in the ever-more realistic computer games he can play all afternoon. After that, thinking about it duing class, doing his homework, even dreaming about it all night isn't so hard. After that, what's the difference between thinking about killing people all the time, and doing it? At the same time both none at all, and all the difference in the world, because thinking it doesn't make it done.
My point is that young minds should not be exposed to the depth of violence in this world, especially not in a form meant to please.
I'm not old enough to address adults on this, but just one thought. If it is wrong for children to fill their heads with this, is it suddenly right when you get taller and move into your own house? Maybe you think you are mature enough to deal with it. But does maturity mean going and enjoying all the low, gruesome, dirty things in life, or having them around you, knowing of them and working against them, all while keeping yourself from taking pleasure in them?
If you haven't watched hitchcock movies, you should. Most of them are not gory, certainly not in the humdrum way most modern movies are. Yet they capture the senses, and scare you to death, and make violence seem very terrible. Hitchcock, one might say, was an artist. People oohed and aaahed at the fifteen minute long battle of Helm's deep in the Two Towers. Tolkien's version was longer and more bloody, but he didn't describe nearly so much violence as the movie portrayed. Still, he caught you up in it with his charachters, and the brave stand to hold the Deep. The battle of the Pellinor fields in the Return of the King was much larger, and much longer in Tolkien's book than in the movie, yet Tolkien wasn't trying to get you to take pleasure in the gore. Instead, the reader is moved to take pleasure in the gallantry of the men, the brave leadership of kings, princes, and wizards, and the great, moving climax when Aragorn unfurled the banner of the king, the banner woven for him by the elf princess Arwen. But we skipped all that for a few more shots of men and horses being crushed by elephants.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Content Matters: Description is Art II

In my last post I held that description, in and of itself, has value, regardless of what it is describing, as a means of communication. This medium, however, like all media, must have "good" content to be "acceptable." I added quotations because these words really mean very little to this discussion at the moment. I hope to add context.
Description is art. We can, therefore, draw the parallel between description and the visual and sonic arts. Most paintings are of something. Almost all paintings have a title. All paintings have a purpose.
The fact that most paintings are of a particular thing is obvious. Most artists pick out a physical object, or perhaps an event or emotion, and try to express it on the canvas.
Almost all paintings have a title, given to them by the artist, or, in case of ancient paintings, by popular concent.
All paintings have a purpose. I don't think very many people would have argued with me about this a century ago, perhaps not even half a century back. But today a lot of people would. I will bypass the argument that documents and, implcitly, paintings can have no meaning, since this is, to my best knowledge, still recognized as the ludicracy that it is. But do all paintings, all of them, mind you, have a purpose? Some artists seem to go out of their way to avoid including one. On the other end of the spectrum, some artists simply draw a scene exactly as it appears to the eye. The former artwork has the purpose of appearing purposeless. The latter has the purpose of conveying as exactly as possible a visual scene. Between these two extremes are all sorts of art with all sorts of purposes behind them, but they do have a purpose.
With these preliminaries completed, I will try to show that content has a direct relation to the art itself.
I am laughing at myself. You should be laughing at me as well. Why do I need to prove this? Think about it; if you are describing or painting something, what do you do? You think about, or look at the thing, and then you describe or paint, using the information you got from your looking and thinking. Of course what you are painting or describing has a direct relation to the art itself! Thing -> artist -> description/art. Oh, look, the artist is a function. How interesting...
Anyway, you can see that the only three components of actually making art are the subject ("subject" sounds a lot nicer than "thing"), the artist, and the artwork. The artist, the subject, and the artwork all have different components, of course, but these three hold all the sub-categories.
Why, you may be asking, am I reversing on myself? Last post I said that description, in and of itself, is art. Now I seem to be saying that the subject has just as much input on it. Because there is bad and good art in two different ways. There is art that lacks talent or inginuity. That is art that, regardless of subject, is bad art. It doesn't matter the subject, it will still be bad art. Will it convey it's meaning? Possibly, but not well. Then there is art that can be called good along those lines, but is bad all the same. This is art that has a bad subject, or purpose.
What is bad and what is good? We need a standard if I am going to say this. For the former bad and good I described, the standard was whether the art conveyed its message or subject in an inadequate way, or not at all. But what subjects or purposes are good for art? Who is to judge. Certainly not me. Then how am I to continue?
Every human being knows there is good and evil. He may very well deny or twist it, but he knows it all the same. He is angry, he is sad, he is happy and joyful, at things that are done or seen. He feels guilt and vindication. These things are true. And, though he may deny and contridict this, every man knows which of these two sides of the coin is good, and which is bad. He may call good bad, and bad good. He may love bad and hate good. But he never can switch them. This brings me to conclude that while they may be entirely opposed, they are not opposites in the sense that they are identical. The anti-matter universe is typically portrayed as an alternative. Matter still looks like matter. Everything works the same way. A relection is backwards, but if you were inside the reflection, through the looking glass, it would seem to be the right way around, and the real would seem to be flipped. The dark and light sides are equal and opposite, and need to be balanced. We all have our concious and our sub-concious.
These are lies, when they are applied to good and evil. We are polarized. We cannot flip, so that good is evil, and evil good. Yes, we love evil and hate good, but we know in our hearts that we are wrong, not right!
Good, therefore, is not on a par with evil. It is my belief, from which I will never be shaken, that good is greater than evil, because good has no age, but is eternal, while evil not only had an origin, but no real existence in and of itself. When people deny good, they also deny evil. Why? Becuase evil is -- and here I mean to define evil -- whatever is against, or opposed to good. Good, however, is not whatver is against or opposed to evil, not in a definitive sense. This is true, but it is not the definition of good. Good is the action, evil the reaction. Good is eternal, and has content. Evil merely takes the content of good and rebels against it.
So there are purposes and subjects that are evil and should not be given to art. Obviously, I have not really made any claims as to the conten of good yet, but I have come so far as to firmly state that there are reasons for art, and subjects for art that are wrong, and ruin even good or skillful artwork. This is true not only in visual and sonic, but in the written art of description.
Whew. Perhaps a third installment is in order...