Saturday, February 3, 2018

Old history

I am not one of those who thinks the Nephite civilization was located in Central America. I don't think the Mayans were Nephites[1]. But I _do_ think there's an enormous amount about human history that we don't know yet, because figuring out information about the distant past is HARD when so much evidence is buried or missing.

[1] I think the Eastern U.S. is the obvious and better place to hypothesize a Nephite presence, for doctrinal and geographical reasons including the fact that the only Nephite artifact we can definitely source was found in the hill Cumorah, in upstate New York.

In any case, here's new evidence about a Mayan "megalapolis" just discovered: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/02/maya-laser-lidar-guatemala-pacunam/

-Max

--
If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

"Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else."

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Disney's Star Wars franchise

I saw Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Power Ranger in the theater today. I have so much to say about it now. I thought reading the Wikipedia entry had prepared me for it, but the experience exceeded all my expectations!

Contrary to what I had expected from reading the summary, the whole story was NOT pointless. The end of the movie leaves the story in a significantly different place from when it started. For most movies you might take that for granted, but from reading the reviews I wasn't sure that was going to be the case, but it was, and that was nice. You won't be able to skip over this movie and still understand the Disney Star Wars trilogy.

I liked the way Mark Hamill portrayed Jake Skywalker, a grizzled old Jedi Master clearly inspired by Luke Skywalker. The fact that they got the same actor to play both characters is a nice touch.

I liked the way Jake Skywalker tried to educate the audience in the ways of the George Lucas Star Wars universe (e.g. the Force is not just for Jedis; Luke Skywalker can't defeat the Empire just by waving a laser sword).

I liked some of the dialogue between Rey and Kylo (the "You're a monster," "Yes. I am," bit was particularly nice), and I sort of liked the Twilight-over-Skype-themed relationship they developed, while a high-stakes space battle was raging elsewhere. (A space battle which, knowing what I knew about the plot, had me asking, "Why are you throwing away this med-ship, foolish #Resistance? If lightspeed ramming is a thing in your story, why not have the med-ship ram the star destroyer? Why does the First Order not have custom-built lightspeed-equipped missiles for destroying enemy ships in one shot? Why don't both sides have such missiles? Why, sixty years after Star Wars, are they STILL flying around X-Wing fighters and basic TIE fighters?" But I digress...)

I also liked the space cows. The fact that they were made vaguely bipedal only enhanced how nonspecifically-disturbing they seemed. It was a nice touch.

My biggest takeaway: I am in awe. I'd like to say that I had no idea it was possible for a movie to be ludicrously bad on so many levels simultaneously--I'd like to say that, but I've seen /Thor/, directed by Kenneth Branagh, so it would be untrue. Still, in terms of characterization, plot structure, originality, world-building, military tactics, logic, and pacing--the Last Power Ranger manages to be bad at ALL of these. There were definitely times during the movie when I could not stop laughing. I am in awe.

I have soooooo much to say about this movie.

~Max


P.S. It makes noooo sense why, if Jake Skywalker just wanted to be left alone to die, he left behind a puzzle MacGuffin which, when assembled and correctly interpreted, gives the location of his secret hideaway. It's almost as if they introduced an unnecessary story element without any clear idea what purpose it was serving from the perspective of the characters! But of course they wouldn't do THAT...

P.P.S. Also I found the Power Ranger Foot Soldier fight in Snoke's throne room hilarious. "Now let's everyone take turns dying to the good guys. Be careful never to actually use your weapons to strike at a good guy who isn't ready for your attack. Oh, time for some grunting and grappling! Nobody else interfere until we're done fighting for control of this lightsaber!"

And don't think I overlooked the way Snoke wasted time gloating megalomaniacally about how "I cannot be betrayed.... I know EVERYTHING, bwahahahaha!" in order to deflect attention from the fact that betrayal between masters and apprentices is old hat in Star Wars. Palpatine betraying Dooku; Vader asking Luke to help him overthrow the Emperor; Palpatine tempting Luke to strike down (damaged, imperfect) Vader and become the new, more powerful Sith apprentice (Sith Lords, like certain Star Wars/comic book fans and the writers of The Last Power Ranger, are obsessed with "power" and who is more powerful than whom), Vader ACTUALLY betraying Palpatine and throwing him down a shaft, etc.

Or the way Snoke fetishizes Vader (who was a failure BTW, from Palpatine's perspective), or the strange way everyone fetishizes Luke Skywalker when there's a thousand generations of OTHER Jedi they should theoretically be aware of, not that anyone besides the Jedi themselves ever had any real reason to care about famous Jedi before this movie (notice how in Star Wars Episode IV, Vader gets mocked by the Imperial officers as a vestige of a dead religion).

There's so much to say.

P.P.P.S. Jake Skywalker's reaction to Rey's negligent discharge (as she claims) is pretty funny too. He's just like, "Oh, whatever." It shows that whoever wrote that script has no knowledge of weapons whatsoever.

Imagine that one of your friends accidentally melts the glass out of their car window. You ask them, "What happened?" and they say, "Oh, I washed the car and the window accidentally melted," and instead of asking, "How in the world were you washing this car such that MELTING THE WINDOW is something that can possibly happen?!?" you're like, "Oh, okay, whatever."

That's what it's like when Jake Skywalker casually accepts Rey's "I was cleaning my blaster and it went off and blasted a hole in the wall" story.

--
If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

"Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else."

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Mammoth extinctions


I looked into the North American mammoth thing, wondering how we know that mammoths were in Alaska up until 5600 B.C. Turns out it's not from fossil evidence--it's from DNA sampling of permafrost. Ergo, if there were no permafrost, we wouldn't know the mammoths existed. (Actually, if we had missed that one core, we wouldn't know mammoths existed.)

Again, the point here is that it's really hard to know ancient history, and there are a lot of true things that really happened which science will never know anything about.

-Max


from https://www.livescience.com/9771-mammoths-alive-thought.html

Woolly mammoths and other large beasts in North America may not have gone extinct as long ago as previously thought.

The new view — that pockets of beasts survived to as recently as 7,600 years ago, rather than the previous end times mark of 12,000 years ago — is supported by DNA evidence found in a few pinches of dirt.

After plucking ancient DNA from frozen soil in central Alaska, researchers uncovered "genetic fossils" of both mammoths and horses locked in permafrost samples dated to between 10,500 and 7,600 years ago.

"We don't know how long it takes to pinch out a species," said Ross MacPhee, Curator of Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History. "Extinctions often seem dramatic and sudden in fossil records, but our study provides an idea of what an extinction event might look like in real time, with imperiled species surviving in smaller and smaller numbers until eventually disappearing completely."

At the end of the Pleistocene, the geological epoch roughly spanning 2.5 million years ago to 12,000 years ago, many of the world's megafauna — giant sloths, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, stag-moose, and mammoths — vanished from the geological record. Some large species such as Equus caballus, the species from which the domestic horse derives, became extinct in North America but persisted in small populations elsewhere.

Scientists have blamed the extinctions on everything from human overhunting to a comet impact to the introduction of novel infectious diseases.

The swiftness of the extinctions, however, is not suggested directly by the fossils themselves but is inferred from radiocarbon dating of bones and teeth discovered on the surface or buried in the ground, the researchers involved in the new study point out. Current "macrofossil" evidence places the last-known mammoths and wild horses between 15,000 and 13,000 years ago.

But hard remains of animals are rarely preserved, difficult to find, and laborious to accurately date because of physical degradation, the scientists said in a statement today.

So MacPhee and colleagues decided to tackle the problem by dating the creatures through dirt. Frozen sediments from the far north of Siberia and Canada can preserve small fragments of animal and plant DNA exceptionally well, even in the complete absence of any visible organic remains, such as bone or wood.

"In principle, you can take a pinch of dirt collected under favorable circumstances and uncover an amazing amount of forensic evidence regarding what species were on the landscape at the time," said co-researcher Eske Willerslev, director of the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen.

The team collected soil cores from undisturbed Alaskan permafrost. Two independent methods (radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence) were used to date plant remains and individual mineral grains found in the same layers as the DNA.

"With these two techniques, we can be confident that the deposits from which the DNA was recovered haven't been contaminated since these lost giants last passed this way," said Richard Roberts of the University of Wollongong in Australia. "It's a genetic graveyard, frozen in time."

The core samples revealed the local Alaskan fauna at the end of the last Ice Age. The oldest sediments, dated to about 11,000 years ago, contain remnant DNA of Arctic hare, bison, and moose; all three animals were also found in higher, more recent layers, as would be expected. But one core, deposited between 10,500 and 7,600 years ago, confirmed the presence of both mammoth and horse DNA.

The team also developed a statistical model to show that mammoth and horse populations would have dwindled to a few hundred individuals by 8,000 years ago.

"At this point, mammoths and horses were barely holding on. We may actually be working with the DNA of some of the last members of these species in North America," said team member Duane Froese of the University of Alberta in Canada.

The findings are detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


--
If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

"Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Santa Clause (Yes, Virginia)

If my kids ever ask me about Santa, I will answer like this:

"Santa is real, but not in the way you think. 'Santa' is a guise-by-convention, a nom de guerre if you will, which we assume in order to do good without being named as individuals. There's no one living at the North Pole, but if anyone tries to tell you that there isn't any Santa Claus, they are mistaken."

100% true, and if they are old enough to understand the words they are old enough to understand the sentiment. Unlike with, say, the Easter Bunny, I'm sort of uncomfortable around people who tell kids there isn't any Santa Claus because it isn't really true. It's the truth but not the whole truth.

(Shout-out to Jim Butcher and Cold Days: it's a mantle!)

~B.C.

--
If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

"Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else."

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Star Wars: the Last Jedi (trailer 2)

So, I finally watched the most recent DisneyWars trailer. I haven't read many of the Star Wars books (maybe ten of them tops) but I still feel like this movie is a story I've read several times before.

Just like with Kyp Durron in the Sun Crusher books, Rey's storyline appears to be using Luke Skywalker mostly as a prop to showcase how Kyp/Rey is "even MOAR powerful than Luke!" Obsession with power made sense for Darth Sidious the megalomaniac Sith (not that it did him much good in the end) and it made him do interesting things that furthered the story; but in a film franchise instead of a character in a film franchise, that obsession becomes rather unattractive. (And of course they already did the Sun Crusher equivalent in The Force Awakens with their little long-range Death Star successor.)

I'm willing to consider this new DisneyWars movie a Star Wars fan-fiction movie, but I won't dignify it with the label of Episode VIII. Whatever else George Lucas was as a writer and director, at least when it came to Star Wars he was never derivative. Lucas's Episode VIII might have had bad casting and bad dialogue; but it would have a good story and interesting ideas, and probably would have introduced you to new corners of a vast and exotic conceptual universe. The Last Jedi is just going to be a rehash of ideas that George Lucas already made at least one movie about.

I'll pass on this one.

--
If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

"Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else."