Saturday, May 30, 2009

Time Travel Movies

Ok, I watched this weird time travel movie tonight on the Roku, called Truecrimes. It got me thinking about how many different flavors of time-travel movies are out there. Time-travel movies are cool, because they must make philosophical assumptions about fate, paradox, and even plural realities.

A great line from a South Park episode:
[at the time portal. News vans, reporters and scientists, one in a space suit, gather around and marvel at the portal] Aaron, I'm standing at the time border which scientists say follow Terminator rules. That is, it's one way only and you can't go back. This is in contrast, say, to Back To The Future rules, where back and forth is possible, and of course, Timerider rules, which are just plain silly. Anyway, it appears that the man from the future is here to stay.

First off, I have to say... I don't believe time-travel is possible. Nothing surpasses the cosmic speed limit, c. Worm holes and space-time curvature are wild exaggerations that help describe a theory, but there's no reason to believe it's possible to tear space-time. Still, it's a fun conversation topic for the logical and philisophical implications.


Back to the Future has a memorable scene (oddly one of my wife's favorites) where Marty McFly literally fades transparent as his parents almost don't hook up. Even if the effects were cheesy, it shows the writers relied on a single linear timeline. Apparently, even if Marty from Timeline-A travels back and prevents his own birth thereby erasing Timeline-A, the new Timeline-B would still become a new permanent timeline. A bit of a paradox, but hey it comes with the territory and those were a fun series of movies!


The Terminator movies got a bit more into destiny, and a lot more into paradox. SkyNET and the machines travelled back to kill Sarah Connor, who would give birth to the leader against the machines, John Connor. The trippy part was: John Connor sent Kyle Reese back to save his mom, and Kyle Reese has sex with John's mom becoming John's biological father. So, one must assume... some timeline must have originally caused Kyle Reese to go back and hook up with Sarah Connor for John to have ever existed. Either that, or Sarah Connor had some serious machine-ass-kicking genes... and she birthed a John Connor by another man in an original timeline who led the fight against machines.

Now, there's a whole category of time-travel stories that are pretty ridiculous - the "go back and fix it" premise. Superman: The Movie has one at the end where Superman flies around the Earth (presumeably > c) to save Lois. Star Trek IV has one where they go back to get a humpback whale because a whale-song-loving-alien is threatening Earth. It's amusing that they fly around the Sun (presumeably > c) to travel backwards, then conveniently do the same thing to return to the future. It's all worth it to hear Spock cuss though. I wouldn't call Groundhog Day a time-travel flick... it's more of a deja vu scenario.
Time Cop is probably the worst time-travel movie ever. Not only are the characters going back and interacting with their past selves without altering their memories or the timeline. They switch to 'Back to the Future' rules when the past-villain gets a cut, and the scar appears on the future-villain's face. Then they change the rules again at the end of the movie after Jean-Claude Van Damme's character prevents his past-wife's death. He returns to the future to find he has children with his wife he has no recollection of. If there's one thing that makes a bad time-travel movie, it's inconsistency of applying the rules.

There are so many great time-travel flicks. I haven't even talked about Time Bandits, 12 Monkeys, Butterfly Effect. Then there's more bad ones like Bill & Ted. (How come the 80's were such a big decade for these films though?) The movie I watched tonight, Truecrimes, is worthwhile for anyone who likes time-travel flicks. It had a bit of chicken-egg dilemma in it, but taught the same important lesson as most time-travel movies: Just don't mess with time-travel, it ain't worth the trouble it will cause!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Perverting "Equality"

Equal rights! Equal rights!
Those who are at a disadvantage should get special help!
Everything must be fair.

We can all agree slavery is evil. No one should be forced to act behind the barrel of a gun. Life, liberty, property - these are the rights every person must have equal protection of. However, our culture and media are always debating 'equal rights' issues. At what point does it all go too far?

I've heard women at work argue that females need to be promoted in the workplace. I've heard complaints about our 'male-dominated society'. Are these accusations true? Let's not forget: men have a penis, and women have a vagina. Testosterone pumps through the hearts of aggro-macho-competitive males, shortening their lifespan. Men are tuned to compete harder, in order to acquire the power and resources that attract females. Sure there will be Joan of Arcs and Hillary Clintons in the world - but women, by nature, will never be equal in status and power to men on average. If equality is forced by regulation based on guilt and ideals, we'll suffer negative social consequences. Let there be inequality. It's natural.

What about minorities? There are many racist people in the world. Regulations like "affirmative action" have been sought by minorities to make things more fair. However, who really gets hurt when a business hires a less qualified person based on racism? The business only hurts itself. What explains the fact that most I.T. departments employ many eastern Indians? These 'colored' people didn't get the job by affirmative action, but by being highly skilled and industrious workers. Affirmative Action, like rent controls or subsidies, create an economic 'dead weight-loss' where everybody loses.

Today the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, restricting marriage to be between a man and woman. I'm not going to preach on that. I've already voiced my thoughts on Prop 8 aftermath.

Today, the Court said:
"Proposition 8 does not by any means "repeal" or "strip" gay individuals or same-sex couples of the very significant substantive protections afforded by the state equal protection clause either with regard to the fundamental rights of privacy and due process or in any other area, again with the sole exception of access to the designation of "marriage" to describe their relationship."

Again, we had a minority group whining "no fair" that they didn't have equal rights. They don't really care about the fact that 'civil unions' are the same as marriage, and they don't even want to fight that fight. They want the word "marriage", and nothing less, claiming they are 'separate but equal'. The gay/straight-marriage-equality debate is invalidated with the same dose of reality as the male/female-equality debate: biology & nature. When two things are not the same, they shouldn't necessarily be treated the same. Penis-vagina. Let the Boy Scouts keep the girls out & vice-versa.

Perverting "equality" is what this all comes down to. American culture is infected with an ugly sense of victimization and entitlement. When any group is hurt by circumstances or jealous of another group, their first course of action is to cry "no fair" to the Nanny-State, which adjusts the rules until the whiner is appeased. The loser in the race always cries that the winner cheated. We correct government meddling with more meddling. We fight the wrong fights and ask the wrong questions, because no one ever asks "What is government's proper role?" Sadly, most Americans think it's ridiculous to ask: "Shouldn't government just stay out of marriage in the first place?" We're so caught up in twisting the system in our favor, that most of us forget what the system is supposed to be: protector of rights, not granter of rights.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Jesus Christ, Vampire bats, and Ayn Rand

What do Jesus Christ, vampire bats, and Ayn Rand all have in common? No, there isn't a bad punchline.. and no, I'm not blogging about Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter. What they have in common is... they all say something about altruism.

First, let's examine two differing moral philosophies: Jesus' Christianity & Rand's Objectivism.

Jesus Christ taught 'the meek shall inherit the earth', and 'to turn the other cheek'. Christ taught that a rich man cannot enter heaven. He died on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Of course, all of this is held irrefutable coming as the word of God. Altruism and self-sacrifice are a central theme in christian morality.

Ayn Rand, the philosopher who founded Objectivism, taught that self-sacrifice and altruism are immoral. This derives from the logic that we are rational beings, and 'man is an end unto himself, not a means to the end of others'. Therefore, the pursuit of our own happiness and self-interest is the highest moral purpose. Capitalism and voluntary trade is the ideal social environment, where every person has a right to choose and be protected from force or fraud.

I got to thinking on this topic after a family discussion about morality and law... where it was argued that religion is the foundation of morality in our country. You see, many people think our country was founded on judeo-christian values. This connection comes from references to "god-given, inalienable rights". There lies my problem. There is an inherit danger in labeling the source of our liberties as a 'natural law', or 'gift from God'... because a religious, mystical source has no substance. It can be created out of thin air as easily as the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Rand's philosophy is unique because she uses reason, logic, and axioms to deduce that individualism is the ideal morality. Within her framework, standards of sacrifice and altruism have no logical moral value.

We each have different individual morality. Our society's rule of law forms from social standards of morality. For example in the Muslim middle-east, law prescribes religious practice. In our religiously tolerant USA, religion has less legal influence (although some, remember Prop 8?). Our individual morality comes from our individual philosophy. So what's more admirable? A morality based on supernatural dogma & mysticism, or a morality based on philosophy & rationality? The latter is, since it can be applied consistently based on reason and logic.

To complete this comparison of religious/christian morality vs. objectivist morality... I'll address the first criticism most people would pose: 'Objectivism sounds selfish and unfeeling. Christians must be more warm and giving people because they value charity, right?' Here's where vampire bats come in.

Surprisingly, vampire bats are highly altruistic creatures. Interesting studies have shown these bats to feed each other when starving. Is this caused by guilt, shame, love, or charity? Such emotions are merely the same bio-chemical responses that modify behavior in both humans and animals alike. These bats learn to trust those that fed them before, and remember 'cheaters' that don't reciprocate. Bats have no moral code, they perform this behavior because it works in their social structure and eco-system. These bats aren't christian.

Humans have no monopoly on charity or altruism, and religion has no monopoly on morality. We learn many hard lessons in life... like lying and cheating are not worth the trouble they cause. Religion often does a nice job of packaging these bits of wisdom into digestible chunks like commandments or parables. Still, I consider the highest morality one that has a solid foundation. One that can be questioned without fault because it's deduced from a structure of principles and philosophy, rather than mythology and dogma.

This is what we can learn from Jesus, vampire bats, and most of all... Ayn Rand.