September 30, 2002

analog yardstick

I bought Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 over the weekend, as Sony recently dropped the price down to a measly eighteen bucks. I figure if I’m going to destroy my academic credibility with video games, I might as well do it on a budget.

Last winter I had a whirlwind session with a rented Tony Hawk, where I played for six hours straight, threw a party, got drunk, played for another six hours and missed the turnover to New Year’s by thirty minutes. Yesterday I beat a lot of those old high scores in my first few hours with the game, and felt pretty proud of myself.

Then Doug came home. “Oh, you got Tony Hawk. I’ve played that a few times.” Doug ravaged every one of my high scores in his first run and made me cry. A record combo used to be around 20,000 points. Doug raked in 150,000 and signed his name ‘Poo.’ I now sign my initials in lowercase as an act of submission. I figure I no longer have a right to capitalization.

But the bloodletting was beautifully direct, and there was no question I had a lot of necessary training ahead of me to vindicate my name. Video games offer such a clear evaluation of one’s skills. Points. The more points, the more l33t j00r m4d 5k1llz. No questions. Whiners lose their turn and are tossed out in the rain.

Video games are addictive because you can see your progress clearly evaluated. You get points. You get more points. The levels always get steadily harder, and soon you find yourself wondering what the problem was with the zombie robot Nazis on level two. All you need to do is shoot off the cybernetic arms and smear the head against the wall. Done. Zombie robot nazis are nothing compared to the frankentanks of level six, but hey, there’s a reason they’re only worth 200 points, not 50,000.

Life needs to offer such clear goal accomplishment.

Last night I got wrapped up in a raging session of Monkey Battle. I started with a pathetic little chimp that does cartwheels. He went up against my two friends who chose apes with bazookas. As I figured out the controls I discovered that the chimp has bombs and uzis, and shortly thereafter my little chimp cleaned up the apes. The victory screen played lots of monkey music and ooking. It fit the atmosphere of the party so we jammed the dial up.

But what’s the point of life? To get as many damn points as possible, of course. But where are my numbers? Yesterday I called up Sky Harbor to see what the wind was doing. A computer responded: “Wind is at…1… “ahh crap-” 7… gusting to…3.” WHOO HOO! I grabbed my board and trucked on down to Park Point. The wind was insane. It was cloudy and 45 degrees. I put my rig together, went back into the car to warm up, retrieved my rig from the shrubs it had blown into, put on my wetsuit and climbed into the frigid deep. The wind was so squirrelly it was damn near impossible to stand up, what with the sail pitching a fit and all. I realized that gusting to three probably meant gusting to thirty, and gusts are not a windsurfer’s friend. Gusts are the cranky neighbor that calls the cops for some dumb reason like you forgot to mow the lawn or are building a meth lab in your basement or something.

I just now remembered that Sky Harbor measures wind speed in knots. It wasn’t seventeen miles an hour, gusting to thirty… it was much, much more. How much more I will leave deliberately vague, so you can insert your own insane numbers to illustrate how crazy windy it was! Don’t blame me for the ambiguity, blame life for not being a video game. Even lousy golf games have real-time wind speed readouts. Is it asking too much to have the same information scrolling across my retina?

The cold water was cold for some reason, and after sailing out a few hundred feet I felt it prudent to head back to shore before I died of an incurable bout with ice lung. I was able to sail half way, but the rest needed to be taken up with some paddling. While paddling I noticed how bloodied I had become. Cuts and scrapes embraced my hands like a lover. I managed to get my hands back to shore, but not before they had become two frozen lobster claws that argued over how to take apart my rig. No! The sail goes in the car first, then you take it apart! No! I need to take tension off the outhaul! No! Rinse off the blood, stupid!

I eventually got the rig apart and stowed in the wagon, but I felt strangely unfulfilled in the day’s journey. I braved the cold, the wind, the meteorological inconsistencies, but what was my score? Did I lose all points for failing to defeat the kraken, or did the lobsters and blood add up to a new high score for the level? How is one to evaluate his worth in this crazy swirl of moving colors when he has no digital yardstick?

Scars. Good old, analog scars. Looks like we’ve got six on the hands, three fresh. A more thorough evaluation of my existence may take awhile, but I know I’ve got a nice one on my arm from rock climbing last year, a doozy on my leg from grade school, and a light spot on my side from failing a four foot jump on my bike and jamming the handle bars into my gut.

What’s your score?

September 29, 2002

stony point journey

Yesterday some fog rolled in, filling the glens and dales and embracing the world in ambiguity. I grabbed my camera and shot some photos. I just now remembered, after all these years, what I did. It is a gallery.


September 27, 2002

rationality meltdown

I was having trouble. I had a sour look on my face. I don’t like being told I don’t know anything, and that anything I know is lies, lies, lies. What’s more, it was logic, my fine friend of so many years, that was telling me this.

“Dane, how are you doing with this stuff?’ asked the professor. ‘Have you taken any philosophy classes before?’

“Umm… I’m a philosophy minor.”

“Oh, good. What classes have you taken?”

“Problems of Philosophy, Birth of Modern Philosophy, 19th and 20th Century Philosophy and I’m currently enrolled in Philosophy of Language.

“Oh good. Philosophy of Language will definitely come in handy later in the semester when we start discussing cognitive science.”

“Yeah, we’re reading Steven Pinker right now. It’s really interesting stuff, how thought isn’t confined to language and how humans have an innate understanding of grammar.’

“Oh, Pinker. Yes, later in the semester we’ll talk about why everything he said is completely wrong.”

“Fuck you.”

Yesterday I narrowly avoided a complete meltdown of my faculties for logic and reason.

All this time, all the weblogs, all the reading… and the conclusion I finally came to was that I have learned nothing about reason. Oh, I’ve been reading droves of well-orchestrated arguments, but that’s all they are. I have been swindled by the bard with the silver tongue. Oh, the words of James Lileks and Steven Den Beste and Glenn Reynolds all seem to appeal to my grasp of reason, but that is merely my emotional response. Emotions can deceive.

Descartes had a metaphysical breakdown in his 20’s, where he was unsure that the world actually existed the way it appeared. “It could be that I’m being decieved by an evil genuis this entire time. The common-sense perception of reality may be completely wrong.” Descartes eventually came up with a tight little rational proof that gave him back the world and help him co-develop calculus. Good move, that one.

My destruction is epistemological. I can’t weave any deft proofs to pull myself out of this mire, as any of those proofs would need to be based on rationality, which is currently hissing and spitting beneath my feet like an angry tectonic rift.

On Tuesday it was mentioned that theists and atheists both have committed horrible rational blunders in claiming proof of their claims. Even the atheist makes claims that he knows something that cannot possibly be known. He says he has enough evidence from behind the curtain to show that a short bald man couldn’t possibly be throwing levers back there. However, the truly rational being, all real men, must declare agnosticism and claim no knowledge or evidence for or against the argument.

Ok. I’m fine with that. I’ve been haunting the atheist/agnostic line for nearly ten years now, and I appreciate that logic has finally made the decision for me. Take away my non-god. I can deal in spiritual ambiguity.

But what do you do when you discover that your even your capacity for reason isn’t sufficient to make sound arguments and arrive at truthful conclusions?

Here’s Pinker. Pinker is a great writer. Pinker sounds good and logical. Here’s why Pinker’s wrong. Now Pinker is publishing another book to argue he’s right again. Science is a binary star system with both suns spiraling into each other. “This sun is true.” “No, this sun is true.” They’re always in opposition, always contrary. They can’t both be true, and yet it’s getting to the point where each star’s existence appears as justified as the other.

I’m suddenly drowning in a world of definideums and definiens, ostensive and nominal definitions, provisos and pragmatic vindications. I used to think I knew how to properly use my noggin, but truth just got much more complicated.

So then I ponder: Is a half-baked understanding of logic worse than not using logic at all? If I appear completely non-logical at least I don’t put on the pretensions of seeming like I know what I’m talking about. If I argue like a foaming idiot, then I’m a foaming idiot. If I argue like a deft philosopher and my grounds of logic are flawed, I’m still a foaming idiot.

But what of when I argue as a foaming idiot but with the rational appeal of a deft philosopher? Have I rightly persuaded the masses of my views? It would appear that a flawed use of logic could be infinitely more dangerous than not using it at all, as it gives the argument an authority that it may not deserve. I consider myself a fairly rational person and I’ve managed to cook up some thoughtful arguments, but with my obvious lack of knowledge of the actual structures behind rationality, I have no right making the claims I do.

The world would be better off if I admit I have no idea what the crap I’m talking about and shut up.

But will I follow my own advice?

Hardly. It’s too much fun sticking red hot pokers in the eyes of idiotarians. I’ll commit my fallacies in the name of logic, not because I think I’m definitely right, but because I’m having a good time doing it. I am a punditry cowboy, lassoing up words and shooting the bad guys.

This week’s Statesman is out. Draw.

September 26, 2002

vermeer rolls in his grave

In Fiction class on Tuesday we were given a finger-nimbling exercise. We were to look at this painting by Vermeer, an 18th century Dutch artist, and describe it. We were to write a paragraph that stayed focused within the painting, and would make the image come alive for the reader.

I stared at it for a long time. I felt bored. The painting was too static. Who cares what’s going on in it? Well, my job it to make the reader care. But if I don’t care, how the hell could I make the reader care?

A dam burst. The following nonsense poured forth. I had no control over it.

She pours the milk. The milk is cold. The milk is from cats. Cat milk. It is to feed the other cats. Lots of rats these days in Holland, all infected with the plague. She concentrates on her pouring; cat milk is a precious commodity, and she knows that any spilled drop would call down the wrath of her master. She pours the cat milk into a pan on the table because if she tried to pour it on the floor it would summon all the cats of my house and where would she be then?! She would be drowning in cats, which, by any measure, is not a good way to drown.

Her manner of dress is quite sassy for a milk maid. I like the way her skirt bunches up when she sits down. Her puce-colored blouse is a bit revealing, given her more traditional profession. It suggests that her master expects her to deliver a bit more than milk.

She’s not my regular milkman. This sounds like the plotline of a twisted pr0n0.

Sometimes I eat bread. It is crusty and good. The cats sometimes jump on the table and eat the bread too, but it doesn’t taste like rat or pigeon or cat milk so they never eat much.

Not so many rats outside the city. That’s where they built the cat farms. The need for cats in the city had grown so great that the average cat owner was unable to keep the city supplied, so the king stepped in and developed an agri-business plan that moved all cat productions to the country.

My wicker baskets hang on the wall, filled with today’s paperwork. Life as a bureaucrat is exhausting, but at least I’m lucky enough to always find work. I am fortunate that I can afford so many cats and so much cat milk. The commoners aren’t so lucky. I glance out the window as a cart stacked high with dead rumbles past. The plague is a poor man’s disease.

These days the daught commers aren’t able to find work. They envisioned a world where people would have pigeon roosts in their houses and every time you needed to buy something you could just send out a pigeon with a little note tied to its leg. The pigeon would fly to its business, place the order, and soon a person would deliver the goods right to your door.

Well, the daught commers didn’t expect the rat explosion, which resulted in the cat explosion, which decimated the pigeon delivery infrastructure.